POST TIME: 12 December, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 11 December, 2019 11:19:20 PM
Dmytro Firtash: A Ukrainian oligarch with global connections
Austrian courts must still decide whether Firtash will be sent to face U.S. justice, but he is already exporting the practices he has employed in Moscow, Kiev, and Vienna

Dmytro Firtash: A Ukrainian oligarch 
with global connections

The Kremlin’s influence over political and business networks is everywhere these days, or so it would seem. Russian-style disinformation, corruption, and military doctrines are regularly discussed in the U.S. press. These stories often appear incredible. Yet, individuals like Dmytro Firtash, one of the most powerful billionaire oligarchs in Ukraine, demonstrate that one can avoid justice by working political networks and bringing influential individuals on his payroll. The West has long criticized such actions in Russia and Ukraine, But Firtash also demonstrates that such practices are not only found in Kyiv and Moscow.

Firtash is a particularly controversial oligarch. For nearly six years, the U.S. Department of Justice has sought his extradition from Austria on corruption charges. Firtash’s reputation stems from his role in fixing Ukrainian gas markets to the Kremlin’s advantage—helping to ensure that Moscow kept a tight grip on its neighbor in the pre-Euromaidan era.

Acting through the firm RosUkrEnergo, a joint venture between Firtash and Russia’s state gas giant Gazprom, Firtash not only aided the Kremlin’s political agenda, but also enriched himself in the process. The firm paid discounted prices for Russian gas imports, while passing major mark-ups onto the Ukrainian government. Firtash thus became a billionaire at the expense of Ukraine’s budget. This wealth gave him the spring board to do business not just in Ukraine, but around the globe, even after allegedly admitting ties to infamous Russian organised crime boss Semyon Mogilevich.

Firtash’s ties to the Kremlin enabled his wealth and ultimately caused him to become ensnared in a fight with U.S. prosecutors. Firtash was arrested in Vienna in March 2014, just days after former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, on U.S. charges that he bribed government officials in India in order to secure a titanium investment intended to supply parts for Boeing. Firtash has fought the case tooth and nail, arguing the timing of his indictment demonstrates it was politically-motivated—Austrian law prohibits extradition under such circumstances. Numerous Austrian courts have heard and issued rulings both in Firtash’s favor and ordering his extradition. Austria’s Supreme Court finally approved the extradition this June, with the Justice Ministry swiftly approving the move. However, a lower-level court ruled that Firtash’s attempts to re-open the case must be heard. His extradition is therefore once again in limbo. Crucially, he has not been alone in the fight.

Firtash already had a strong network of Russian and Ukrainian businessmen and politicians to call on. One Russian oligarch, for instance, paid Firtash’s 125-million-euro bail after his assets were frozen. Yet, rather than rely on these ties, Firtash has cultivated a new suite of allies in Austria. These individuals are far more influential west of Vienna’s Landstrasse, where Firtash has been renting a palatial home.

The former Hapsburg capital celebrates its imperial past. Its balls attract Hollywood royalty, members of waning aristocratic houses, and political arrivistes. Austria’s neutrality in the Cold War helped it become a hub of espionage, and such activity has continued even after the Soviet Union’s fall.

Firtash may have been outraged at the U.S. extradition attempts, but Vienna served him well as a new base. If Paris is a city of lights, Vienna is a city of organisations. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries set up shop in Vienna in 1965. When the Soviet Union and the West united to create the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1973, it too found a home in Vienna. After Firtash arrived in Vienna, he too quickly set up an organisation, launching the “Agency for the Modernisation of Ukraine” in March 2015. The organisation promised to release a new agenda for reforming Ukraine within 200 days, and it dutifully did so. The agenda aimed to “modernise the country,” including trade, economic reforms, and political changes. Left unsaid was how this was supposed to be enacted, and the plans went nowhere. The agency’s true agenda seems to be far more self-interested—it serves to bring influential European politicos onto Firtash’s payroll.

    Eurasia Review