Ukraine politics: Ukraine's party of business

By bne IntelliNews March 1, 2006

Olesya Oleshko -

The Ukrainian elections are over and talk has turned to forming a coalition out of the three biggest parties:

The Party of Regions, which officially won the election; the eponymous Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYT); and the thirdplaced party of President Viktor Yushchenko, Our Ukraine. But no one was talking to what is essentially the parliament's fifth biggest faction - a subgroup within the Party of Regions that is headed by Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. The invisible bloc (call it BRA) didn’t campaign, had no manifesto but still managed to get more votes than the Communist Party which officially came in fifth.

Akhmetov is the president of Systems Capital Management - a conglomerate made famous by a glitzy advertising campaign in the West last year - and the financial force behind the Party of Regions. He included at least 50 of his own people on the Party of Regions' list, who apparently include his driver and secretary - though Akhmetov himself denies this.

Of the 186 seats that the Party of Regions won in Ukraine's parliament, the Rada, at least 20 are Akhmetov employees or associates.

BRA is not homogenous, but a mix of Systems Capital Management directors, employees of affiliated companies and representatives of Akhmetov's soccer team FC Shakhtar Donetsk. The most exotic character, according to local media, is Akhmetov's ex-bodyguard Vladimir Malyshev, who is Number 64 on the party list. Many of these new deputies have criminal pasts or, at the very least, questionable business reputations.

Akhmetov is ambitious and clearly wants a bigger say in parliamentary decisions (optimists would argue the oligarchs used to buy votes, but at least now they have to campaign in elections to gain the same influence). At the same time, he wants to expand his business into new markets in the EU, which tend not to welcome the presence of staff with criminal pasts. Therefore, the tycoon appears to have hit upon a novel way of killing two birds with one stone: he is now replacing his most compromised people at his company with highly skilled professionals, and moving the shady ones into the Rada, where they enjoy parliamentary immunity.

The result of this “restructuring” is that Akhmetov will have a more transparent and Western-orientated business, while heading one of the most powerful factions in the Rada.

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