Ukrainian oligarch shows opposition to separatists

Pro-Russian insurgency faces growing opposition and lack of volunteer fighters

Workers at the  Azovstal Iron and Steel Works protesting against pro-Russian armed separatists in Mariupol,  eastern Ukraine, yesterday. Factories in two cities supported billionaire Rinat Akhmetov’s call for a show of opposition to the rebels. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Workers at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works protesting against pro-Russian armed separatists in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, yesterday. Factories in two cities supported billionaire Rinat Akhmetov’s call for a show of opposition to the rebels. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Wed, May 21, 2014, 01:00

Ukraine’s rebels have entered open conflict with the country’s richest man, as their insurgency appeared to stumble ahead of a presidential election that they vow to sabotage.

Billionaire “oligarch” Rinat Akhmetov told his employees to down tools for a period yesterday in defiance of the separatists, and launched a withering attack on their self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

The tycoon’s intervention and “warning strike” by his workers was supported in Donetsk by drivers honking car horns in opposition to the rebels, who appear troubled by a lack of public support.

Mr Akhmetov’s words carry great weight, given the billions of euro he controls, his former role as chief financier of ousted president Viktor Yanukovich and his party, and as employer of some 300,000 Ukrainians – most of whom work at coalmines and metalworks in restive eastern areas like his native Donetsk.


‘Fear and terror’
“People are tired of living in fear and terror. They are tired of going into the street and coming under gunfire. There are people walking around with guns and grenade launchers. Cities are witnessing banditry and looting.

“Is this a peaceful life? Is this a strong economy? Is this good jobs and salaries? No!” Mr Akhmetov railed.

“I will not let Donbass be destroyed. I was born and live here. That is why I am calling on everyone to unite in our fight,” he said, using the term for the rustbelt region centred on Donetsk, and then taking direct aim at the rebels.

“Just tell me please, does anyone in Donbass know even one representative of this DPR? What have they done for our region, what jobs have they created?” he asked, accusing them of sowing chaos that amounted to “the genocide of Donbass”.

“I want to tell everyone – we will not stop! We shall not be frightened. No one will frighten us including those calling themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Denis Pushilin, the former casino croupier and pyramid scheme salesman who styles himself the chairman of the breakaway region, said that “due to the unwillingness of regional oligarchs to pay taxes into budget of the DPR, a decision has been taken to start the process of nationalisation”.

“Akhmetov has made his choice,” he added. “Unfortunately it is a choice against the people of Donbass. The payment of taxes to Kiev equates to financing terror in Donbass.”

Mr Akhmetov’s long refusal to publicly condemn the separatists frustrated Ukraine’s government, but in recent days he intensified criticism of the rebels and sent his workers out to patrol with police in the flashpoint city of Mariupol.

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