Saturday, June 7, 2014

Eurozine - Ukraine's puppet masters - Sergii Leshchenko - A typology of oligarchs

It'll be a long haul, but it can be done. Having systematically charted the careers of the people who drove Ukraine to the brink of destruction, Sergii Leshchenko grapples with the question of how to shake Ukraine free of the oligarchs' grip.

For nearly 20 years, oligarchic clans have contributed significantly to building contemporary Ukrainian society. They emerged as Soviet state property was transferred to new ownership, and replaced the traditional "red directors". Different groups of oligarchs have alternated in achieving positions of power, and must be held responsible for the disintegration of Ukrainian politics, leading to the bloodbath in Kyiv in the winter of 2014. Yet without the clans opposing Viktor Yanukovich, public protest would probably not have stood so much chance of success.

In Ukraine oligarchs are characterized by a heterogeneous variety of attributes that define their status and influence. These consist, among other things, of parliamentary mandates and assets in the media as well as in the form of football clubs, church connections, private jets and art collections. Combined with considerable financial resources, all this allows them to exert influence on the politics of the country and thereafter to earn money through politics, creating a closed circle for the acquisition of personal wealth.

Oligarchs prefer litigation in London because they do not trust the judicial system in their own country, even though they themselves have corrupted it over the course of many years. They send their children to the Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland and the London School of Economics in the British capital, because they do not trust the education system in Ukraine. They surround themselves with dozens of bodyguards because they do not trust security in a society that they have corrupted and destroyed. They spend their summers on yachts in the Mediterranean, in Sardinia or on the Cote d'Azur, and their winters in Courchevel in France. Stars of the Soviet stage or yesterday's western idols perform for them on their birthdays. As the former US ambassador in Kyiv, John Herbst, put it so well in a conversation with me: "The best place to enjoy the wealth you have stolen from your compatriots is not in Ukraine, but in Paris, London or New York."

Perhaps the most prominent Ukrainian oligarch is Oleksandr Volkov, who helped forge the victory of Ukraine's second president Leonid Kuchma in the 1994 elections. At the time, Kuchma was an opposition candidate with no loyal media of his own. Volkov owns Gravis, one of the first private television channels in Ukraine, and offered this platform to Kuchma – subsequently to be rewarded with the post of presidential advisor. As he later boasted, he came to the presidential administration in a Mercedes 600, wearing a Rolex watch on his wrist.

Volkov's reputation was ambivalent. He had been indicted under Soviet rule and, after the fall of the USSR, went into various kinds of business. A criminal case was opened against him in Belgium. Although, in time, Volkov lost his job as presidential advisor, he continued to be involved in politics for many years. In 2004 he mediated between Boris Berezovsky and Yulia Tymoshenko, and helped to finance the Orange Revolution. Even now, 20 years after Kuchma's election, he remains a Ukrainian parliamentary deputy, and is vice-chairman of the budget committee.

Complete story at - Eurozine - Ukraine's puppet masters - Sergii Leshchenko A typology of oligarchs

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If you're seeking more information about how the world really works, and not how the media would want you to believe it works, these books are a good start. These are all highly recommended.

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