Leading UK politicians are courting controversy by supporting a new European reform and investment programme launched today to help modernise Ukraine and which is backed by one of the country’s richest oligarchs currently fighting extradition.
Dmitry Firtash, the Ukrainian billionaire oligarch who has been a fugitive in Vienna for over a year while fighting extradition for fraud charges in the US, is one of the driving forces behind the new Agency for Modernisation of Ukraine, unveiled at a conference in the city.
Speaking at the conference attended by politicians and policymakers from around the world, Mr Firtash said that all parties – Ukraine, the EU and Russia – needed to come to the table to talk openly about all the issues and bring an end to war. He added that Ukraine is “basically bankrupt”, close to collapse and that power must be devolved to regions if it is to modernize and that it needs up to $300bn of new investment to help reconstruct the country.
Despite his tricky position, the Ukrainian businessman – who negotiated the first big gas deal between Ukraine and Russia nearly 10 years ago – is seen by many as an influential go-between in relations between the Kremlin and Kiev; by his critics as pro-President Putin.
Despite his controversial position, Mr Firtash has been leading the talks behind the scenes over the last few months to bring together politicians from Germany, France and the UK to put together the new AMU which has the support of the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko and, for the first time, the Trade Unions of Ukraine – which represents 70 per cent of the private sector of the country - and the Federation of Employers.
If the reform programme meets with the Ukrainian government’s approval, then the next stage of the plan is to launch a billion-dollar reconstruction fund later this year to international investors. So far more than 20 of the country’s leading oligarchs – including Mr Firtash, Rinat Achmeto and Victor Pinchuk – have indicated they will invest in the fund.
Lord Risby, one of three co-founders of the AMU and chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, told the Independent from Vienna: “This is a noble cause and offers Ukraine some ray of humanity during its troubles. All of us involved in the new agency are dedicated to helping the country by improving law enforcement, introducing anti-corruption measures, improving health and trade in the country.”
In response to a question about working with the controversial Mr Firtash, Lord Risby said: “Who is not controversial figure in this situation?”
The Conservative peer added Mr Poroschenko has given his backing to the new plan which is an important signal regarding Ukraine’s entry into the European future and an alternative to reigning violence and destruction. “It is also a strong sign of European solidarity. We believe that Russia also wants stability in the region and will support the plan.”
Other figures from the UK involved include Lord Macdonald, the Liberal Democrat peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions, who will be leading reforms for law-enforcement in the country as well as Lord Mandelson, former Labour spinmeister, who is to take charge of trade.
Germany’s Peer Steinbruck, is to head finance and tax while France’s Laurence Parisot, head of the employers federation, is to look after the economy with Bernard Kouchner in charge of health. Former South African President, F.W Klerk is also involved in the reconciliation programme.
Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher, and Karl-Georg Wellman, the German politician, are co-founders and advisors to the agency alongside Lord Risby.
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