Oligarchs are illegal. How the war weakened the position of the richest people in Ukraine.

The authorities have taken the first step towards launching the register of oligarchs. However, it is far from certain that the final list will include those who, before February 24, were considered to be the richest Ukrainians. The war greatly shook their positions both in business and in the political life of the country. 

The president’s relations with the oligarchs over the years of his tenure have been a continuous strip of turbulence and trench “wars”. Banking in some places turned a blind eye to the preferences that big business was trying to get for itself in various ways. But she never missed an opportunity to step on their “tail” when the scale of their influence began to seriously disturb Ophis.

Last fall, at the suggestion of Volodymyr Zelensky, the parliament passed a law that launches a register of oligarchs. This document forbids them to finance politicians and participate in privatization. At the same time, he obliges the persons involved in the register to declare their property and contacts with civil servants.

Under the definition of “oligarch” will fall those who meet three of the four criteria. These are political activity, control over the media, ownership of monopolies, as well as the presence of assets worth more than one million subsistence levels (UAH 2.39 billion as of January 1).

The law itself came into force in May of this year. But in reality, “deoligarchization” in the country began on February 24 and not thanks to the norms of the presidential document.

First went

The full-scale invasion of Russia smoothed out the contradictions between the authorities and the oligarchs. The President called on all political players and financial and industrial groups to be neutral and united. And they accepted this offer. Almost all big business, with a few exceptions, allocates funds for humanitarian aid and support for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

With the outbreak of the war, the country’s leading television stations lost their status as instruments for internal political intrigues and reprisals. The richest Ukrainians, in fact, transferred the main “buttons” under the control of the authorities. Their channels have joined the marathon, where they broadcast according to a single information program approved by the Office and the Ministry of Culture.

Approximately the same thing happened within the walls of Parliament. Lobbying issues have disappeared from the agenda of the Rada. And the majority of deputies, who not so long ago were referred to one or another oligarchic “pool”, now unquestioningly vote for all the projects and resolutions of the ruling team.

Oligarchs are illegal.  How the war weakened the position of the richest people in UkraineThe oligarchs have lost their leverage in the Verkhovna Rada (photo: president.gov.ua)

According to the Ukrainian Forbes, only the top five richest people in the country have already lost more than a dozen billion dollars in total since the start of the war. But despite the complaisance shown by big business and their huge financial losses, the president did not abandon his previous initiative and at the end of June issued a decree on the launch of the register of oligarchs.

As informed interlocutors of RBC-Ukraine admit, many potential defendants in this list hoped until the very end that Bankovaya would either revise their law or delay its entry into force. Indeed, in practice, the document does not greatly harm their position in Ukraine – it promises much more problems for their affairs abroad.

This explains the news, which in the pre-war period would certainly have been included in the main socio-political events of the year. Two weeks ago, Rinat Akhmetov announced the exit of his investment company SCM “out of the media business.” It included 10 broadcast and satellite channels, including “Ukraine” and “Ukraine 24”, as well as Internet resources and print media.

“This decision was dictated by the entry into force of the law “On the prevention of threats to national security associated with the excessive influence of persons with significant economic and political weight in public life (oligarchs).” As the largest private investor in the economy of Ukraine, I have repeatedly said that I was not, I am not and will not be an oligarch,” Akhmetov said in a statement.

The law on oligarchs has become one of the reasons for the businessman to reconsider the structure of his “empire”, the interlocutors in power are sure. The media group Ukraine has been an asset for Akhmetov for many years, generating political influence, not material profit. At the end of 2021, MSU received a net income of UAH 467.6 million, while its consolidated loss amounted to UAH 936 million.

“Akhmetov’s channels have ceased to perform a political function for him. Having abandoned the media, he, firstly, got rid of one of the criteria of an oligarch. All is not well with business now – this is an economically sound decision,” says one of the influential interlocutors in the government team.

Oligarchs are illegal.  How the war weakened the position of the richest people in UkraineMetinvest lost key assets due to Russian invasion (Photo: Getty Images)

One of the “pillars” of Akhmetov’s business – the Metinvest group, which he owns together with Vadim Novinsky – has already lost two of its key enterprises due to the war: the Ilyich Mariupol Iron and Steel Works and Azovstal. At the same time, according to the publication, their employees continue to be paid salaries. Another major asset of the holding – Avdiyivka Coke Plant, which is located right at the front line – was sent for conservation. And this is not the whole scale of SCM losses.

Another company of the businessman – DTEK, according to its director Maxim Timchenko, lost 70% of electricity production from renewable sources and 30% from thermal power plants. A large part of the land area of ​​Akhmetov’s agricultural holding HarvEast was occupied.

In addition to doing business within Ukraine, he has long been investing in foreign assets. And this is another factor that put him before a choice – to close his media outlets or to turn into a politically exposed person for foreign institutions. The second will greatly complicate his cooperation with international banks and creditors.

The third criterion that could provide Akhmetov with a place in the register of oligarchs is that his business partner has a deputy mandate. In early July, Novinsky, who was elected from the constituency in Mariupol, resigned from parliament. So the Donetsk billionaire has no direct political connections, at least in the Rada.

Oligarchs are illegal.  How the war weakened the position of the richest people in UkraineVadim Novinsky resigned his deputy mandate (photo: Vitaliy Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

Previously, in the session hall, one could count up to a hundred permanent or occasional “like-minded” SCM. This is a conditional group of “Pavlyukovites” within the “Servant of the People”, part of the Batkivshchyna faction and several majoritarians from the “Opposition Bloc”, who were coordinated by Novinsky.

But by themselves voting in the interests of Akhmetov is not enough to talk about the political activities of a businessman. Any shadow connection or situational performance of tasks will be difficult to “pull” to the wording that is provided for by law. And now, in the conditions of war, this partnership can be traced even weaker.

Period of loss

More than one influential politician in a conversation with the publication suggested that after Akhmetov other big businessmen could say goodbye to subsidized media. So far, there is no confirmed evidence that any other channel owners are preparing a media “démarche”. At the same time, figures and facts show that Viktor Pinchuk (ICTV), Dmitry Firtash (Inter), and Igor Kolomoisky (1+1) also suffer enormous losses due to the war.

Since the end of February, Pinchuk’s pipe and wheel corporation Interpipe has completely stopped production. In April, the company began to restore work, but due to the blockade of Ukrainian ports, management has to rebuild the usual supply chains and logistics. That is why the cost of transportation from the factory to the customer has increased significantly. According to Forbes, during the four months of the war, the cost of Interpipe decreased by 2.2-2.8 times.

Forbes estimated the losses of Kolomoisky’s Privat group at the end of May at $225 million. The biggest blow for her, however, as well as for the whole country, was the rocket attacks and the shutdown of the Kremenchug Oil Refinery, one of the most powerful plants in Europe. Before the Russian attack, this enterprise accounted for 45% of the Ukrainian market for gasoline and 15% for diesel fuel.

One of the largest producers of ammonia and mineral fertilizers in Europe, the Severodonetsk Azot Association, was under occupation and 70% destroyed as a result of hostilities. With the loss of this plant, the chemical business of Dmitry Firtash, merged into the Ostchem holding, lost a quarter of its value. Another billionaire’s enterprise, Sumykhimprom, was under frequent shelling when the invaders attacked the territories of the northern regions.

Oligarchs are illegal.  How the war weakened the position of the richest people in UkraineDmitry Firtash’s problems, which began in 2014, only got worse (photo: dmitryfirtash.com)

Another problem that the businessman faced in May of this year was the loss of a monopoly in the gas sales market. The government took 20 regional gas companies from the Regional Gas Company (RGK), which is attributed to Firtash’s orbit. They distribute approximately 70% of all gas in Ukraine. The reason that guided the Pechersk Court, transferring the corporate rights of companies to the state, is almost UAH 1.5 billion in non-payment for the use of state networks.

So far, only one of this “trinity” – Dmitry Firtash, is in danger of being directly included in the list of recognized oligarchs, interlocutors in the presidential team say. In addition to two points – assets and media – the billionaire can also be attributed to the third – political connection with deputies from the Opposition Platform for Life. But this is unlikely to further worsen the situation of his affairs.

Since 2014, Firtash has been forced to settle in Austria due to legal proceedings and attempts by American law enforcement officers to extradite him to the United States. And since June last year, the billionaire has also been under Ukrainian sanctions imposed by the National Security and Defense Council.

The federal authorities of the United States also have questions about Kolomoisky, who was allegedly deprived of his Ukrainian passport last week. Authorities remain silent about how the once-friendly oligarch earned Bankova’s “disgrace”.

But in informal conversations, this situation has already acquired completely polar versions. Starting from the fact that this is how the Office saves Kolomoisky from extradition to American justice. And ending with the fact that by suspending citizenship, the authorities simplify his extradition to the United States.

According to another version, by his decree, the president allegedly removed Kolomoisky from the threat of being included in the register of oligarchs. But a foreigner who has business and interests in Ukraine can also become a person involved in it – in the law itself there are no bindings to citizenship.

Oligarchs are illegal.  How the war weakened the position of the richest people in UkraineAccording to sources, Igor Kolomoisky could lose the citizenship of Ukraine (photo: dynamo.kiev.ua)

“For Kolomoisky, getting into the register does not pose huge risks. Given the scope of his problems and sanctions overseas, all Ukrainian rules of the game are acceptable for him. Moreover, unlike Akhmetov or Pinchuk, Kolomoisky can also, on the contrary, walk with throwing sarcasm at a meeting: “hello, I’m an oligarch,” one of the interlocutors in power noted.

In fact, the billionaire, by the will of the ruling team, was in limbo. And his future fate will depend on whether Bankovaya wants to pull this “hook”.

The formal reason could be that he had other citizenships, which he himself recognized more than once and, moreover, long before this situation. RBC-Ukraine tried to get a comment from Kolomoisky himself, but the businessman did not want to continue communication after learning the essence of our request. We also contacted Andrey Smirnov, Deputy Head of the Office of the Presidential Administration, who is called the author of this decree, but by the time the material was published, he had not responded to the messages in any way.

To get on the list of oligarchs, Kolomoisky needs to score at least one more item from the legislative list – politics or monopoly. And with them, not everything is clear. As sources told the publication last year, one of the leaders of the For the Future group in the Rada, Ihor Palitsa, severed business ties with Kolomoisky.

The People’s Deputy allegedly withdrew from the energy assets of Privat, but at the same time kept Bukovel for himself. It is not known for sure whether this was done on purpose because of the law. According to the version that walks surrounded by two businessmen, relations between them deteriorated even earlier.

Before the war, there were also up to two dozen deputies inside the Servant of the People, who were considered loyal to Kolomoisky. At first, the so-called “bearded” often stood up and refused to vote for pro-government initiatives, especially if they ran counter to the interests of the oligarch. But now, according to sources in the mono-majority, this group is dispersed and does not present any particular problems.

“Some of the ‘bearded’ people from the Dnepropetrovsk region generally seem to have gone over to Korban. Now they hardly vote for anything and don’t even appear at meetings,” said one of the interlocutors in the “top” of power.

Oligarchs are illegal.  How the war weakened the position of the richest people in UkraineThe war hit the assets and influence of Viktor Pinchuk (photo: Mikhail Palinchak / POOL / UNIAN)

In the case of Pinchuk, the situation is similar. In the Rada, you can count about a dozen people’s deputies, who are attributed to the orbit of a billionaire. But between them now there is no coordination with Pinchuk’s managers or a direct connection with the businessman himself.

“According to Pinchuk, there may be another indicator – monopolies. In fact, we have very few monopoly states legally recorded. In addition, through the efforts of his deputies, the law prescribed for the oligarchs exactly such a monopoly, which Pinchuk does not have. And this norm during the voting successfully passed,” one of the sources said.

According to the law, the person involved in the registry must either own a natural monopoly or occupy a monopoly position in the market “and maintain or strengthen such position within one year.”

***

Far from all government offices understand how the law on oligarchs could ultimately turn out in a war. The presidential team is clearly not going to roll back this initiative, calling the anti-oligarchic policy one of the conditions of the European Commission for Ukraine’s membership in the EU.

However, there is another recommendation of the EC: the law should be implemented taking into account the conclusions of the Venice Commission. There is still no verdict from this body; preliminary Ukrainian authorities expect to receive it only in the fall. The interlocutors of the publication explain the lengthy consideration of the document by the fact that the commission has not previously encountered an analysis of such initiatives.

Officials and deputies with whom RBC-Ukraine spoke also admit that after the assessment of the Venetian, the law will have to be amended. Until that moment, as the interlocutors believe, the authorities will not step up the launch and entry into the register of the first oligarchs.

“If the commission concludes that we need to rewrite this, that and that, and by that time we will already have a list of oligarchs, we may end up with problems, claims from the persons involved in the register in the courts. And we will also be forced to pay them compensation In addition, now this topic is no longer taking off. Everyone now has other concerns and a different agenda, “explained one of the sources.

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