Blow for Putin as Ukraine's oligarchs back Kiev
Published 10/03/2014 | 02:30
Vladimir Putin's gambit that Russia could change the course of the Ukrainian revolution at gunpoint has failed a crucial test as the country's oligarchs line up behind the new Kiev government.
Billionaire businessmen have accepted appointments to act as regional governors in three Russia-leaning areas of Ukraine. The fledgling government has also secured the important endorsement of the country's richest man.
Sergei Taruta, an industrialist who was named last week as governor of the Russian-speaking Donbass region, bluntly accuses Mr Putin of sending provocateurs to create chaos on the streets and provide a pretext for Russia intervention.
Mr Taruta has for decades personified the close links between the Ukrainian and Russian economies. He has run one of the biggest steel operations in Europe, the Industrial Union of Donbass, with substantial Russian shareholders.
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"I think of myself as the anti-crisis manager," he said. "People in this region have gone through difficult days. . . In politics I am a dilettante. . . I will only do it for six months or a year. In that time I want strong people to come into government and then I will leave them to it."
Mr Putin has criticised Mr Tartura's appointment and that of Igor Kolomoisky, who has become governor of Dnipro-petrovsk. Along with Gennady Kernes – the new head of government in Kharkiv – they are filling a vacuum created when President Viktor Yanukovych fled.
"They name oligarchs, billionaires as governors of eastern regions," Mr Putin mocked. "Naturally, people don't accept that."
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Alexsey Ryabchyn, a political analyst in Mr Taruta's capital, Donetsk, said: "The stance of the oligarchs has left Putin to rely on a few hard-left and fringe organisations. These have usefully provided protests that give Russian television the pictures showing that the south-east of Ukraine supports Russia. But actually the position here is that people want to protect their interests, not join Russia."
Rinat Akhmetov, the country's richest tycoon, has shifted his support from the ousted president, Mr Yanukovych, to rebuilding the government. He pledged to use his influence with his 300,000-strong workforce to fend off Russian pressure.
Mr Taruta argues there can be no question of accepting demands for a referendum on local autonomy or even secession, as has been scheduled in the Russian-controlled Crimean peninsula. "We want an independent Ukraine and a peaceful Ukraine," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)