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17 September, 2013 18:32   ▪  

Radio Liberty: Oligarchs give Ukraine's President crucial support in EU drive

Ukraine's oligarchs have benefited in the past from the Soviet-style, opaque politics. But analysts say they are ready to sacrifice some of that to EU regulation, Robert Coalson reports for Radio Liberty

“As Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych forges ahead with his bid to bring his divided country closer to the European Union, he is getting support from a surprising source -- many of the country's leading oligarchs,” the article suggests.

According to Borys Kolesnykov, a lawmaker from Yanukovych's Party of Regions and one of the 50 richest Ukrainians according to "Forbes" magazine, support for EU integration is almost universal among the country's economic elite.

"There can't be any groups that don't support European integration..." Borys Kolesnikov, a Party of Regions MP and one of the 50 richest Ukrainians according to Forbes magazine, is quoted in the article. "The stronger the competition is, the more quickly Ukrainian enterprises will develop [and] if there hadn't been the Kyiv Dynamo [soccer team] in the 1990s, then [Donetsk] Shaktar wouldn't have been so good. Competition stimulates quality."

"This situation on the border will make Ukraine, Ukrainian business, and every Ukrainian stronger," Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest and most powerful oligarch, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "From this we must gain experience and look at ourselves -- what we have done correctly and what we have done incorrectly. If we analyze correctly, this will only make us stronger in the future."

According to U.S. economist Judy Shelton quoted by RL, "The drivers of economic growth are certainly changing as countries modernize and develop. But I would just point out that, right now, Ukraine exports to Russia about EUR 12.3bn worth of goods. They export more to the European Union -- about EUR 12.9bn worth. Those are last year's figures. And, as far as Russia being their energy supplier [is concerned] and that suggesting some kind of natural alliance, that has not really been a happy experience for these countries."

READ ALSO: Put in a Good Word for the Poor Oligarchs

In his comment for RFE/RL, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko says that “The European policy doesn't only bring economic advantages to the clans. The policy also brings them recognition. Or, to repeat that non-Ukrainian word, legitimacy… It doesn't mean they will suddenly become Europeans and embrace a European identity. It is a matter of pressure -- including social pressure. But the main driving force is their corporate and private interests, which luckily in this case correspond to Ukraine's national interests."

However, that does not mean, however, that Kyiv's European-integration policy is assured or that Russia does not continue to lobby powerfully for the Customs Union, the publication argues. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian's recent announcement that his country will join the Customs Union will bolster Moscow's efforts to pressure Ukraine, RFE/RL quotes Thomas de Waal, a Caucasus analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Armenia is only of medium importance, shall we say, to Russia," he says. "A much bigger prize -- in fact, the kind of central element for Russia in this Customs Union project -- is the participation of Ukraine.”

Moscow’s powerful levers are focused around Ukraine’s key industries such as steel, chemicals, and agriculture that still export predominantly to the former Soviet Union, including the Customs Union countries. The head of the aviation firm Motor Sich, for instance, told Interfax recently during a visit to Moscow that for "technology enterprises" signing the EU Association Agreement means "instant death." The owners and managers of many aging, noncompetitive plants also see their best interests in close relations with Moscow, the article claims.

According to former head of Ukraine’s SBU, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko as quoted by RFE/RL, the Ukrainian-Russian interparliamentary group is the most popular assignment among Ukrainian lawmakers, although he quickly adds that "not all" deputies in the group are working against Ukraine's national interests. Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko says these deputies for now seem to have been forced underground by Yanukovych and the pro-European lobby. But “they will support the official position, but when they are whispering in the smoking areas, they will say that it would be better for us to deal with Russia," he says. "There is such a lobby, but it is hidden. It is for now neutralized because people are simply afraid to go against Yanukovych,” Fesenko comments for RFE/RL.

READ ALSO: Yanukovych Follows in Kuchma’s Footsteps

On September 5, the Verkhovna Rada passed the first package of reforms demanded by the EU accords.

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