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1 July, 2013 17:10   ▪  

The Economist: Ukrainian media market is being prepared for the election in 2015: few independent outlets are left

Last week news surfaced about the sale of the United Media Holding (UMH) to Serhiy Kurchenko, a secretive 27-year old multimillionaire.

“The owner of one of Ukraine's top football clubs, Metalist Kharkiv, Mr. Kurchenko is no ordinary oligarch,” The Economist writes. “His energy holding, renamed VETEK, recently bought for USD300mn a strategic oil refinery from Lukoil, a Russian energy firm, and is expected to soon become a direct importer of Russian gas.”

This only makes sense if you have top level political backing, and all signs point to the president, Arkadiusz Sarna, an analyst at OSW, a Warsaw think tank, argues in his comment for The Economist. “There are no accidental players on this market,” he says.

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“Mr Kurchenko is Mr Nobody,” Taras Berezovets, director of Berta Communications, a political consultancy comments for The Economist. “He says the youthful oligarch is a front for “The Family,” a group of loyalists surrounding the son of the president, Oleksandr Yanukovych. So far the group had expanded into energy and finance, but still lacked any serious media companies. Mr Berezovets believes the TV channels of StarLightMedia Group, Ukraine's largest media holding owned by billionaire Victor Pinchuk, make it the next logical target,” The Economist reports. “It is clear that the media market is being prepared for the election in 2015. The largest TV channel, Inter, was sold by Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi, a former security services head, to the head of the presidential administration, Serhiy Liovochkin, and Dmytro Firtash, a billionaire. Meanwhile, the last opposition channel, TVi, finally collapsed in April amid a murky ownership transfer, after months of licensing and tax problems.”

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In his interview to posted on July 1, 2013, Kurchenko denied the allegations of being a straw man, and promised to maintain editorial independence, in addition to investments of $100m. Some have called to give him the chance to prove himself, and that spending half a billion dollars for a couple of articles is unreasonable, The Economist writes. “But by jailing Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, Mr Yanukovych broke the unwritten law of Ukrainian politics, that you do not prosecute your predecessors,” says Berezovets in his comment for the publication. “Losing in 2015 could see him take her place. To avoid prison and destitution, one can argue, no price is too high to 

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