Results of 2021 for Ukrainian oligarchs. Part 1
In 2021, the Ukrainian oligarchy was finally structured into three camps.
The first camp is the ruling authority of “President Zelenskyi-oligarch Kolomoiskyi”, which determines the parameters of access to state monopolies and the principles of de-oligarchization. In 2021, after the removal of Dmytro Razumkov from the post of speaker, an informal ruling coalition between the “Servant of the People” faction and “Za Majbutne” group of Kolomoiskyi was firmly established.
The second camp is the neutral oligarchs who are cooperating with President Zelenskyi and providing the authorities with all the necessary resources, including access to the media. In return, the oligarchs receive business preferences and immunity from the law enforcement bodies. This group of oligarchs includes Viktor Pinchuk, Serhii Liovochkin, agrarian businessmen Yurii Kosiuk (“MHP”), Andrii Verevskyi (“Kernel”) and Oleksandr Hereha (“Epicentre” group).
The third camp includes opposition oligarchs who have a personal conflict with Zelenskyi or Kolomoiskyi: Rinat Akhmetov, Vadym Novynskyi, Petro Poroshenko, Viktor Medvedchuk, Kostiantyn Zhevaho and Dmytro Firtash.
Zelenskyi’s main tools in the fight against the oligarchs are the sanctions of the National Security and Defence Council, as well as the so-called law “on oligarchs”. According to available information, the first names of oligarchs will be entered in the register in May 2022. Therefore, 2021 passed in the light of preparatory work for de-oligarchization in Ukraine. According to our information, Ihor Kolomoiskyi was the ideological inspirer and initiator of de-oligarchization, who sold this idea to Zelenskyi.
It is worth noting that electorally this topic is very attractive, because Ukrainians consider the oligarchs the main evil and the brake on reforms. However, the implementation of this idea of de-oligarchization did not always yield results, as it was selective and politically motivated. It operated on the principle of “everything for your friends – and nothing for enemies”. For example, former President Petro Poroshenko also carried out the de-oligarchization in 2014-2019, as a result of which Kolomoiskyi’s business empire was almost destroyed, and Poroshenko and Akhmetov quickly became richer. With the help of de-oligarchization, Poroshenko wanted to become an oligarch №1 and stay in power.
Now, Kolomoiskyi has swapped places with Poroshenko and Akhmetov, and the co-owner of the “Privat” group seeks revenge on enemies and compensation for the lost assets. Kolomoiskyi has a very large political influence on Zelenskyi, and is now the last bastion to deter the offensive of the anti-presidential oligarchic coalition. In fact, Kolomoiskyi-Zelenskyi would not be able to maintain the current architecture of power without the “Za Majbutne” political group and Channel “1+1”.
Zelenskyi’s goal in de-oligarchization is to limit the influence of oligarchs on politics, to ensure absolute loyalty of TV channels, to remain in power after 2024.
Kolomoiskyi’s goal in de-oligarchization is to destroy Petro Poroshenko for nationalizing the sacred cow of “Privatbank” and expelling him from Ukraine. In addition, Kolomoiskyi wants to break the business monopoly of his main rival, Rinat Akhmetov, in order to privatize on favourable terms the assets of “DTEK” and “Metinvest”, which can be nationalized. Therefore, the new redistribution of the oligarchic property market is in the interests of Kolomoiskyi who is constantly talking about the review of privatization conducted in the 2000s. In any case, Kolomoiskyi incites Zelenskyi to a decisive war with the oligarchs, so that the President is more dependent on the oligarch and is constantly threatened.
The Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimated the wealth of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov at USD 11.7 billion, placing him 190th on the list of the richest people on the planet. In general, Akhmetov’s business developed very well in 2021, thanks to high international prices for steel and iron ore; also, DTEK of Akhmetov made good money on electricity sales to the EU, which is why large reserves of coal were burned.
In 2021, Akhmetov set a course to optimize and structure his business, which led to the sale of some of his assets. In early 2021, Akhmetov completed an agreement to sell a network of the “Parallel” gas stations (60 gas stations in the controlled Ukraine, and another 80 gas stations in the SADLR). The SCM has valued its refuelling portfolio at USD 22 million. Thus, Akhmetov completely left the business in the field of trade in petroleum products. In the summer of 2021, Akhmetov sold his coal mines in Russia “Obukhovskaya” and “Don Anthracite”. The Russian press reported that Akhmetov sold Russian coal mines for USD 20 million, while he bought them in 2012 for USD 39 million. In addition, in the summer of 2021, Akhmetov prematurely terminated lease agreements with Ukrainian mines, which had exhausted their resources and needed large investments for coal production. Akhmetov’s SCM sold “Vodafone”, one of the largest telecom operators in Ukraine – “Vega Telecom”. The deal costed USD 15 million. Akhmetov’s SCM has sold one of the largest insurance companies in the corporate segment in Ukraine – “ASKA”. The deal costed USD 5 million.
The SCM has identified that the metallurgical sector, green energy, agriculture and banking remained priority areas for business development.
Thus, in July 2021, the SCM bought the Dnipro Metallurgical Plant, one of the largest producers of steel and cast iron, at an auction for USD 35 million. At the end of 2021, the First Ukrainian International Bank (7th place in the ranking of Ukrainian banks) owned by Akhmetov announced the negotiations for the purchase of Idea Bank. In addition, during 2021, Akhmetov’s agricultural holding “Harvest” actively invested in agricultural projects, increased its land portfolio, and bought agricultural companies. As for other investment projects in 2021, Akhmetov’s SCM has invested about EUR 500 million in green energy, as well as about USD 300 million in the “Ukraine” media group. Another EUR 100 million euros of net profit for Akhmetov in 2021 was earned by “Shakhtar” football club. At the end of 2021, Akhmetov’s son Damir bought another villa in the suburbs of Geneva for 40 million francs.
In January 2021, Akhmetov’s older brother, Ihor Akhmetov who managed “Shakhtar” FC and helped administering “DTEK” and “Metinvest”, died. Ihor Akhmetov was more than a brother, he was a moral authority for Rinat. According to our information, Rinat Akhmetov was very saddened by this loss.
However, the main event for Akhmetov, which brought risks to his business, was the oligarch’s conflict with Zelenskyi. According to available information, relations between Zelenskyi and Akhmetov began to deteriorate rapidly due to the speaker of Parliament Dmytro Razumkov who was openly supported financially and in the media by oligarch Akhmetov. Zelenskyi perceived this as a personal insult, because he brought Razumkov into big politics and gave him the highest position in the hierarchy of power. Secondly, Zelenskyi perceived this as a political threat, as Razumkov presented himself as a direct competitor in the 2024 elections; and Akhmetov acted as a political conductor, playing with various political projects. Of course, Kolomoiskyi played a role in fuelling the conflict between Zelenskyi and Akhmetov, by convincing the President that Akhmetov, Poroshenko and Medvedchuk wanted to bring Razumkov to power and put Zelenskyi in prison. Therefore, Kolomoiskyi skilfully played on Zelenskyi’s phobias, and pushed the President to dismiss Razumkov from the post of speaker. After the resignation of Razumkov, the President’s Office finally lost its mono-coalition, and the “Servant of the People” faction was forced to seek support from the oligarchic groups “Za Majbutne” and “Dovira”. Of course, such support was not free, and it made the President’s Office dependent.
In fact, since the second half of 2021, the conflict between Akhmetov and Zelenskyi has been growing. The President’s Office has accused Akhmetov of organizing an energy crisis made possible by the monopoly of “DTEK”; at a press conference, Zelenskyi accused Akhmetov of preparing a coup; law 5600 was adopted limiting the rental profits of metallurgical oligarchs to some extent (this provision is not deadly for Akhmetov, but it is not pleasant for the oligarch who has not used to losing a penny in state monopolies). In November 2021, the government blocked payment to DTEK in amount of UAH 3.5 billion for green energy production; Akhmetov filed lawsuits against the government in Ukrainian and European courts. In addition, it is worth mentioning the fines imposed on Akhmetov by the Antimonopoly Committee; restrictions on the use of old railway cars and an increase in railway tariffs for the transportation of cargoes “Akhmetov’s group of goods – ore, coal, steel, metal products”; decision of the Ministry of Energy on the possibility of introducing a temporary administration on private energy companies that disrupt the “heating season”; introduction of new environmental standards at enterprises that pollute the atmosphere; as well as large fines imposed on companies that do not allow the environmental inspections to enter their territories. The latest novelties were adopted after the man-made accident at the Burshtyn CHP, when arsenic leaked in August 2021, and the Prosecutor General’s Office has even opened a criminal case against DTEK. These were all “greetings” for Akhmetov from the President’s Office in 2021, and most likely, it will be even hotter in 2022. Therefore, Akhmetov will defend himself from Zelenskyi-Kolomoiskyi by political methods, with the help of the media, and in case of extreme danger – he will use a tool to protests of miners and metallurgists in Kyiv. Akhmetov has successfully done this in 2015.
Oligarch Akhmetov, being the richest oligarch in Ukraine, does not always successfully invest in political projects. Currently, Akhmetov has a lot of political projects and start-ups in his political deck, which are promoted on his oligarchic channels. These are the project of Razumkov; the project of “Hroisman-Yatseniuk-Avakov”; the project of Ihor Smeshko; Radical Party of Oleh Liashko; partly the “Batkivshchyna” party of Yuliia Tymoshenko; Opposition bloc; about 5 regional parties of mayors in Donbas; the projects of journalist Hordon and Dr. Komarovskyi that are being tested, etc. However, in general, the great political solitaire does not give Akhmetov a competitive advantage over other oligarchs who have their own political force in Parliament, or the purchased representation of “buttons-MPs”. Akhmetov has his own mini-group of Razumkov in Parliament, but all this is being done with a view to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Summing up, the business of Akhmetov developed very well in 2021. In turn, political relations with the authorities were the worst in Akhmetov’s history. Of course, Akhmetov will hope for a deep gas or energy crisis that would force people to protest in the streets, resembling the events taking place in Kazakhstan today (in Ukraine, there is a high risk of freezing in February, and rising prices for everything due to expensive gas, which will not be enough until the end of the heating season). It is likely that Akhmetov will be included in the list of oligarchs in May 2022. This will be the starting point in the new confrontation between Akhmetov and Zelenskyi.
2021 was a year of fiasco for Viktor Medvedchuk, as the oligarch lost all his political influence. It is fair to say that Medvedchuk suffered the most from the sanctions of the NSDC and Zelenskyi’s policy of de-oligarchization.
On February 3, 2021, President Zelenskyi issued a decree imposing sanctions of the NSDC against Medvedchuk’s ally Taras Kozak who was the nominal owner of TV channels 112, ZIK and NewsOne. This was the main mouthpiece of Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine, which promoted pro-Russian narratives and actively destroyed Zelenskyi’s ratings. According to our information, sanctions against Medvedchuk’s channels were imposed by Zelenskyi for the reason that Zelenskyi lost about 15% of the rating, and the public confidence in the President fell sharply. The second reason for sanctions against Medvedchuk was link of Putin’s friend with Poroshenko who is accused of the same case in the coal trade. By and large, the President’s Office was interested in forming a strong “Poroshenko-Medvedchuk” link in the media. However, it is true that thanks to Poroshenko’s efforts, Medvedchuk returned to top politics, created a large media pool of channels, and gained access to Putin’s cheap petrodollars.
The third reason of sanctions of the NSDC against Medvedchuk is Kolomoiskyi who had joint business with Medvedchuk (now the assets and accounts of Medvedchuk’s companies are frozen, and Medvedchuk’s dividends are shared by other shareholders, including Kolomoiskyi).
At the end of February 2021, Medvedchuk, his wife Oksana Marchenko, Taras Kozak and his wife were sanctioned by the NSDC for selling oil products to the “DPR-LPR” terrorist organizations. Another decision of the NSDC obliged the oligarch to return to state ownership the so-called “Medvedchuk pipe”, the oil pipeline “Samara – Western direction”. In the spring of 2021, Viktor Medvedchuk received two suspicions: treason against Ukraine in connection with oil and gas production in the Black Sea in collusion with the occupiers of Crimea, and treason in connection with agreements to supply coal from the occupied territories of Donbas (SADLR).
On May 11, 2021, Prosecutor General Iryna Venedyktova signed a suspicion of treason against Medvedchuk and an attempt to plunder national resources in the occupied Crimea. Law enforcement agencies suspect that Medvedchuk has conspired with Russia to produce oil and gas in the Black Sea. In addition, in 2020, Medvedchuk provided Russia with information about the location of a hidden unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
In this case, Medvedchuk was placed under 24-hour house arrest. The Security Service of Ukraine has received court permission to detain his accomplice MP Taras Kozak who is hiding in Moscow. On October 8, 2021, Medvedchuk was declared suspected in treason and aiding and abetting the activities of a terrorist organization by organizing the supply of coal from the SADLR to the territory of Ukraine controlled by Kyiv.
In December 2021, Viktor Medvedchuk’s house arrest was extended (case on coal trade with terrorist organizations “LPR-DPR”); in another case of looting national resources, a precautionary measure in the form of a personal commitment was chosen for Medvedchuk. One way or another, Medvedchuk will remain under house arrest, and as a result will not be able to lead active political activities and control political processes in his party. Currently, Medvedchuk is remotely trying to maintain control over the “For Life” faction and party being a joint-stock company along with Serhii Liovochkin and Yurii Boiko. Due to the fact that Medvedchuk cannot provide for the party financially, most local deputies and party organizations in the regions refocused on “Liovochkin-Boiko”. It is also worth noting the interesting trend that Medvedchuk began communicating normally with Rinat Akhmetov, although they used to be enemies. It is noteworthy that all top speakers and experts of Medvedchuk now go to Akhmetov’s TV channels; according to our information, many of them even receive salaries from Akhmetov, as Medvedchuk cannot cover such expenses now. In the election of the mayor of Kharkiv, Viktor Medvedchuk openly supported Akhmetov’s candidate – Mykhailo Dobkin, and forbade “For Life” to nominate other candidates (Kharkiv Regional Organization “For Life” is controlled by Vadym Rabinovych).
Medvedchuk’s lack of his own TV channels, lack of big and easy money from Russia, as well as house arrest and internal division in “For Life” – led to a sharp drop in the party’s ratings. The electorate of the “For Life” goes to Muraev’s party, a little to Razumkov and to Yuliia Tymoshenko who is now actively promoting socialist topics. According to various opinion polls, in the case of early parliamentary elections, the “For Life” would gain no more than 10%. In the end, if Medvedchuk retains control of the party, he and Akhmetov will be able to bring a purely left-wing communist party to the next Parliament, which will articulate pro-Russian narratives.