Business Titans Seek to Ease Fears in Ukraine
By ANDREW HIGGINS 8:53 PM ET
Kiev is hoping that naming businessmen too rich to bribe to positions of power will help allay fears in the east.
"Too rich to bribe:" this seems to be a common bit of wishful thinking, but how often does it turn out that the guys best at clawing for money suddenly stop clawing? I have the impression that basically this worked with 19th Century Downton Abbey-style English landed aristocrats but nobody else. It certainly didn't work with the ancestors of 19th Century English aristocrats — you don't get Downton Abbey in the first place by being scrupulous.
More from the NYT:
DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine — Two months ago, Hennadiy Korban, a millionaire businessman, fled to Israel to escape retribution for siding with opponents of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. After Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster, he flew home in triumph aboard a private plane to begin a new life — as a harried civil servant.
Mr. Korban, 44, now works 14 hours a day in a drab Soviet-era office block here for a meager salary that he does not bother to take. Business, he said, was more enjoyable and far less stressful than trying to keep Ukraine together.
But since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, and with tens of thousands of Russian troops now massed on Ukraine’s border, to the east of this sprawling industrial city, men like Mr. Korban have become part of a frantic, all-hands-on-deck struggle against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Unable to throw money at the many problems besieging Ukraine’s bitterly divided east, the fragile and nearly bankrupt government in Kiev, the capital, has instead thrown rich people into a drive to convince the country’s Russian-speaking regions that their future lies not with Russia, but with Ukraine.
Mr. Korban’s boss is Ihor Kolomoysky, who was recently appointed governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region by officials in Kiev. Mr. Kolomoysky, a billionaire involved in banking, oil, metals and the media, ranks as the second- or third-wealthiest man in Ukraine, depending on who is counting. He said he has not counted his fortune himself, noting that “a real rich person is someone who does not know how much he has.”
Actually, I find that pretty unlikely, too.
Another of Mr. Kolomoysky’s deputies is Boris Filatov, Mr. Korban’s business partner in luxury shopping malls and other ventures. ...
The naming of wealthy businessmen to positions of power marks a curious twist in the Ukrainian revolution, which was driven in a large part by public fury at the extensive wealth of a tiny group of plutocrats who prospered under Mr. Yanukovych and, with a few exceptions, stayed on the sidelines throughout three months of protests against him.
Mr. Kolomoysky, who was mostly outside the country during the protests, said he came up with the idea not as a way to entrench himself and other businessmen in power, but as an emergency response to the fears of Russian speakers in the east, terrified by a revolution they saw as dominated by Ukrainian nationalists from the west.
“This is a signal to society,” Mr. Kolomoysky said. “If oligarchs are in power, feel at ease and view their future as being in Ukraine, then ordinary people will feel even more that they are not under threat.” He conceded, however, that average people “might not respect oligarchs or like them.”
But after being bombarded with Russian claims that fascists had seized power, he said, people in the east were heartened to see a move into government by multimillionaires with no interest in extremist turmoil or a neo-Nazi revival, “particularly when they are of Jewish origin.”
Mr. Kolomoysky, a Russian-speaking citizen of both Israel and Ukraine, lived until recently in Switzerland, where his wife and son still live. Mr. Kolomoysky and his deputy, Mr. Korban, are both Jewish.
Mr. Filatov describes himself as “100 percent Russian without a drop of Ukrainian blood.” He, too, fled to Israel in late January.
The traditional feudal solution is to make these regional ruling jobs hereditary to encourage the oligarchs to be "stationary bandits" with a long term interest in not despoiling the place too badly because their heirs will inherit it. That doesn't seem like a terribly great solution, but it seems to be better than having "roving bandits" expecting to get their's while the getting's good and fleeing when things get a little too hot for them.