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Candy Crush
Russia Gets Personal with Poroshenko

Moscow is going after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s personal holdings, seizing assets in a raid on the roughly $40 million Russian facility of his candy company, Roshen, in Lipetsk. The company is the backbone of Poroshenko’s huge fortune. Radio Free Europe has more:

The April 28 seizure is the latest in a series of raids against the factory in response to allegations by Russian investigators of massive tax fraud. But Roshen says the assault on the factory is a transparent attempt to hamstring Poroshenko at a time when he is desperate to hold on to a rapidly crumbling cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been at war with Ukrainian forces for more than a year. […]

Even before the April 28 asset seizure, the factory had been forced to let off 500 workers; production is expected to drop 30 percent this year.

His stake in Roshen and other major companies has become a political issue in Ukraine because of his campaign promise to divest. But some claim that the reason it has been so hard to secure a sale of the company, which RFE reports was earning more than $1.3 billion before the war broke out, is because of Russian meddling. A Ukrainian financial management firm in charge of the sale said that there are buyers in the United States, Switzerland, Italy and Russia making inquiries about buying the company, but that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has driven them away.

Not everyone is convinced:

“If he really wanted to sell Roshen, he could do it easily right now — as long as it’s under conditions that reflect the fact that there’s a crisis in eastern Ukraine,” says Ihor Boyko, the head of rival confectioner ZhL, in western Zhytomyr region. “It’s also possible to specifically pick a price that you know no one will ever accept.”

“Poroshenko knew what he was getting into when he promised to sell his businesses — just like now, there was a crisis and a war going on,” Boyko adds. “A businessman should keep his promises.” […]

Many Ukrainians are also concerned that as long as Poroshenko owns businesses on Russian territory — in addition to the Roshen factory in Lipetsk, he has several enterprises in Russian-annexed Crimea, including a shipbuilding and naval-repair plant in Sevastopol — he remains vulnerable to Kremlin pressure.

Nevertheless, the consensus view in Ukraine appears to be that Poroshenko has not yet let his business interests affect the decisions he’s made.

But what’s happening in this instance shows that having an oligarch as president—no matter how pure his intentions may ultimately be—presents special challenges. Even if Poroshenko gains some political capital for being so publicly bullied by the Russians in the near term, and even if he remains transparent and above-board about his holdings well into the future, these kind of entanglements leave him open to attacks from political opponents—especially from the nationalist right—should he ever try to come to some kind of accommodation with Russia. Moscow no doubt knows this and relishes tugging on yet one more lever at its disposal to destabilize Kyiv.

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  • Andrew Allison

    I’d like to see some evidence supporting “the consensus view in Ukraine appears to be that Poroshenko has not yet let his business interests affect the decisions he’s made.” The fact that he failed to keep his campaign promise to divest is, at best, suggestive.

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