Ukraine’s richest man breaks silence to call for talks
Ukraine's richest man Rinat Akhmetov on Friday made his first public comments on the more than three weeks of protests that have rocked the country, calling for talks and condemning violence.
The influential mining magnate and owner of the Donetsk football team released a statement through his SCM holding company which was carefully-worded but nonetheless represented a crucial intervention in the crisis.
The tycoon, who for years bankrolled the Regions Party of President Viktor Yanukovych and once sat for it in parliament as an MP, appeared at pains not to take sides in the crisis.
But he said people had taken to the streets to “look for answers” after Yanukovych’s decision not to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union.
“The fact that peaceful people took to the streets for peaceful demonstrations means that Ukraine is a free, democratic country. Ukraine will not turn off this road. This is very good,” Akhmetov said.
He condemned the violent clashes at some of the protests, without singling out either protesters or security forces. “The fact that people suffered is unacceptable,” the tycoon said.
Akhmetov — who according to the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine is the country’s richest man with a $14.9 billion fortune — said it was important now to have a “balanced approach” and for all sides to sit down for negotiations.
“Politicians, government officials, the opposition, and moral leaders of the country must sit down at the negotiating table and make a decision we will be proud of,” he said.
Encouraging Ukraine’s leaders to take brave and potentially unpopular decisions, he said: “While politicians may lose their ratings at the negotiating table, the most important thing is to ensure that the rating of Ukraine goes up.”
Soon after Akhmetov’s statement was released, the party of world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko announced the opposition would take part in talks with Yanukovych.
Akhmetov’s firms and championship-winning football side are based in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, the political stronghold of Yanukovych.
He has usually been seen as the president’s top business ally.
However some analysts have suggested he may have bristled recently at the rise of younger oligarchs within the president’s circle — notably Sergiy Kurchenko, 28 — in a rival group known as the “Family”.
Ukrainian media commentators have noted also that Akhmetov’s Ukraine channel has given full and balanced coverage of the protests, prompting some to see signs of discontent with the president.