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Yanukovych gives top council post to Firtash

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Feb. 23, 2012, 11:12 p.m. | Business — by Kyiv Post

Dmytro Firtash

Kyiv Post

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has appointed billionaire Dmytro Firtash as head of the National Tripartite Social and Economic Council. The Feb. 17 appointment marks the increasing influence of Firtash under Yanukovych’s presidency.

Established in 2005, the council says it plays a central role in forming state policies. In a statement on Feb. 20, Firtash said that his aim as head of the council will be to establish “social dialogue” with government, which is a “European practice.”

“Today, in a period of economic and financial crisis, we see how much the role of such institutes is increasing in Europe” to find a compromise between the interests of business and government, Firtash said. “The sooner the National Tripartite Social and Economic Council finds answers to the most pressing problems, the sooner a single view on how to develop Ukraine will be formed.”

Firtash said special attention will be given to helping small- and medium-sized businesses prosper. He has close relations with Presidential Administration Chief Serhiy Lyovochkin, Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko and has been a partner in Ukraine’s largest television holding, UA Inter Media, with current Finance Minister and former Security Service of Ukraine chief Valery Khoroshkovsky.

Firtash established himself as a major player in the supply of Central Asian gas to Ukraine and further to Europe. Publicity shy in the early years, Firtash was co-owner along with Russia’s Gazprom of Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo, which monopolized the multibillion-dollar business of supplying Ukraine with natural gas from Russia and Central Asia.

In early 2009, then Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko cut RosUkrEnergo out as the intermediary supplier to Ukraine, inking direct supply agreements between Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz state energy company.

Firtash suffered an additional blow in 2009 when he lost control over Emfesz, a lucrative Hungarian gas trader. It was taken over by Swiss-registered RosGas, a company whose ownership remains unclear to this day.

Things turned positive again for Firtash in 2010.

Yanukovych, the candidate whom he backed, narrowly beat Tymoshenko in the presidential election. A year later, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for brokering the 2009 gas agreement with Russia that eliminated RosUkrEnergo.

The U.S. and European Union have repeatedly expressed concern that the Tymoshenko trial and other charges prosecutors are pursuing against her are politically motivated attempts to sideline the opposition leader from politics.

Meanwhile, Firtash’s business in Ukraine is blossoming under Yanukovych’s rule.

He has become an increasingly public figure in Ukraine, seeking publicity for philanthropic activities and investments. He has been elected president of the Ukrainian Federation of Employers.

Since Yanukovych took over as president, Firtash consolidated control over many of the nation’s chemical plants, increased his hold over th titanium business and acquired the big yet financially troubled Nadra Bank. He reportedly owns a large share of Ukraine’s regional gas supply companies and has been described as the nation’s single largest employer.
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