A former leader of Ukraine’s separatists and terrorist organization, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has come forward with information that links the group to a pact forged with Ukrainian billionaire Renat Akhmetov that has so far protected the port-city of Mariupol and his business interests in the region.
According to Alexander Borodai, a Moscow native who was instrumental in both the Russian invasion of Crimea and insurgency in Donetsk, Akhmetov has struck a deal with the DNR that has put him in a “favorable” position.
Akhmetov currently has many enemies in the Kyiv establishment, Borodai explains, namely rival oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Ukraine also has a limited number of ports, the largest being in Odesa, which is consequently controlled by Kolomoisky – who he says would never allow Akhmetov to operate there. The only means of exporting goods would then be via Mariupol, the port city said to be the next target of Russian-backed forces.
Mariupol has not been taken by the DNR because of an ongoing agreement between its leadership and Akhmetov. Borodai confesses that DNR forces left the city so “so that he can export products from the occupied territory” and that he has become an oligarch financing the separatist region.
“Therefore, the only option to safely operate business for Akhmetov [is for] Mariupol to remain under the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.”
The agreement between the two parties stipulates that, in exchange for protection, Akhmetov provide ‘humanitarian aid’ to the DNR and continue to pay the salaries of his employees, “who are nationals of the DNR.”
Borodai also dismissed suggestions that products from occupied eastern Ukraine could just as easily be exported internationally via an intermediary in Russia.
“No one of the Russian oligarchs will take it. Firstly, Russia is full of such products (iron and steel), it has nowhere to go,” and said that importers could easily trace the origin of the goods.
“And even if we did, they need Akhmetov’s salaries and aid, which if cut off would result in famine.”
Ultimately, the Donetsk insurgents can’t count on outside investment and needed a man who already held a vested interest in the region, making Akhmetov the perfect choice. For his part, Akhmetov has been forced to play both sides, fearing he could lose his liquid assets to Kyiv and physical assets to Donetsk, and with one food in each, unable to move.
The war has been an imperial revolution in the name of ‘Great Russia’
In addition, responding to the deteriorating situation in the occupied region, Borodai says that nobody promised the Donbas a “social revolution,” and that the ‘revolution’ in the Donbas is not a social-economic one, but “imperial and national, in the name of Great Russia.”
Last summer Donetsk militants and local supporters marched on Akhmetov’s Donetsk residence, but held back from raiding the compound after armed men from current DNR leader Alexander Zakharchenko’s Oplot group intervened. Others have called to nationalize his vast properties as penalty for refusing to ‘register’ his businesses and pay ‘taxes’ to the insurgent group.
In August, Akhmetov’s Donetskgormash heavy machine factory was converted into a military repair workshop for the DNR. Other property has since fallen under their control. Representatives under Akhmetov have denied operating under the DNR, but factory workers have continued working the floors of the occupied factories.
Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, is often accused of links to organized crime in the country and notoriously bankrolled deposed president Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. In a 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable, then U.S. Ambassador John Herbst referred to Akhmetov’s Party of Regions as “long a haven for Donetsk-based mobsters” and called Akhmetov the “godfather” of the Donetsk clan. Andrew Wilson, a scholar specializing in Ukrainian politics, categorized Akhmetov as a former ‘enforcer’ and ‘leader’ of crime boss Akhat Bragin’s “Tatar clan”, and responsible for the use of “mafia methods” to rise to power.