Between the Maidan and the Kremlin: how billionaire Victor Pinchuk has become hostage to politics

The road from the central square of Kiev, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the main battlefield in recent fights between the the opposition and Berkut, to the estate of billionaire Victor Pinchuk, takes about 40 minutes.
Origin source
It runs through the streets of the old town, crammed with dusty Soviet skyscrapers avenues and highways - for the city. Somewhere in a forest two security agents, armed and equipped with walkie-talkies, collate your documents with a list of invited guests. And finally you are on the territory of the estate area of ​​113 hectares.

This place, with its giant Japanese garden, authorship sculptures by Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst and a glass pavilion by architects of the Olympic stadium in Beijing in recent months has been to Pinchuk "golden cage", where one of the richest people in Ukraine observed the telecast of the Kiev Revolution.

A businessman with a fortune of $ 3.2 billion by Forbes inferior national ranking only to Rinat Akhmetov, watched the crowd go by thousands of singing peace songs to zakidyvanie security forces with stones, as unidentified snipers shoot unarmed people, and finally, as the regime falls, Viktor Yanukovych, and the new government can not concentrate power in his hands. Now on the screens Russian troops invaded the Crimea, and the country is on the verge of territorialnogo decay. "We were shocked - says 53-year-old Pinchuk. - To see the live how people die, horribly. " The billionaire was not a passive viewer: "We were constantly on the telephone - with businessmen, politicians, our friends in the West and East, we discussed what can help in a crisis situation." People Pinchuk delivered on Maidan medicines to treat the injured. "My thoughts were always with them", - assured the billionaire.

He himself on the barricades for the time of civil war and has not appeared. But do not blame Pinchuk: many of his "colleagues" on the Forbes list have fled the country since the beginning of the escalation of the conflict in order to ride out the terrible time in London and other "safe havens" for wealthy foreigners. At the same time before the eyes of an example of "the chocolate king" of Ukraine, Roschen factory owner Petro Poroshenko, who was not afraid to stand side-by-side with the protesters and take political risks when an outcome is by no means it was predetermined. Pinchuk took up a position somewhere between the two extremesmi. "The goal of any businessman - to do everything possible to avoid bloodshed and to find a compromise, contributing to a peaceful settlement," - he told Forbes, when the fighting in the Maidan was in full swing.

It can not be accused of inconsistency. A year ago, Pinchuk said: "Optional become a member of the European Union. At the same European values ​​- a strong civil society, rule of law, human rights, freedom of speech - will solve a huge number of Ukrainian problems. But without Russia's success, we still do not get. "

His dual world - a direct consequence of the harsh realities of business: successful businessman in his own first of all obliged to trade relations with Russia. For Pinchuk, do not forget about the presence in Moscow of sufficient leverage in February Eurasian Economic Commission threatened his company's "Interpipe" increase taxes on the pipe. Father-billionaire - Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who gave a start in politics Viktor Yanukovych, who in February escaped from the country, in advance, according to his oponenty, moving abroad billions of dollars. All logical premise suggests: to protect the status quo - the most advantageous position to Pinchuk.

But business interests is not limited to the figure of the billionaire. From the rest of the Ukrainian oligarchs it differs international renown in several alternative forms. First - charity. In January, at the height of protests in the Maidan, one of the rare foreign trips entrepreneur began an official visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos. In Switzerland every year Pinchuk holds a panel session devoted to issues of patronage, with guests-level speakers Bill Gates and Richard Branson. "He has created the incredible people-a network of volunteers throughout the world", - said the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose non-profit educational foundation, working in Ukraine, received from the owner of "Interpipe" in 2012 $ 500 000. Pinchuk actually the first among the Eastern European business He joined the movement "The giving Pledge» (giving Pledge). This initiative, which was invented by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett,It brings together the wealthiest people in the world, giving a public commitment to donate to charity at least half of personal wealth.

No less is known Pinchuk and as a leading investor in the region in contemporary art. Every year he spends millions of dollars on training programs, grants and exhibitions.

Even during the fighting in the Maidan less than 300 meters from the barricades businessman in a chamber setting, opened an exhibition of works by the Belgian artist Jan Fabre.
What for? How it will help the country, is rapidly rolled into the abyss? "Beauty will save the world" - responds Pinchuk quote from Dostoevsky - or rather, "The Idiot," the protagonist of the novel.

And literary allusion in his case is not limited to quote. As Prince Myshkin, unable to choose between the woman, whom he wants to marry out of compassion, and the woman he loves, Pinchuk is going through an internal moral battle between the mind and the heart, between the business and the attitude of the homeland.

Business on the ruins of the empire

For virtually any native of Eastern Europe over Soroand s motive rational decision at a certain point it becomes banal: survival. With this incentive were not hearsay familiar to parents Pinchuk. Their Jewish roots in the Soviet Union often became an unofficial barrier. Authorities closed the synagogues, many Jewish national quota cut off from the possibility of studying in universities. An engineer by training, father and mother of the future billionaire was forced to hide their origin. Shortly after the birth of her son in 1960 in Kiev, the family moved to the east, where Pinchuk grew up - in the Russian-speaking industrial Dnepropetrovsk.
Already in his youth he demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities. Excellent Communicative, Pinchuk was the pioneer organization and joined the Komsomol. The Metallurgical Institute, he received a PhD.

Financial success Pinchuk largely was the result of a confluence of circumstances. He patented an innovative method of production of seamless pipes right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. With the collapse of the Union of aspiring entrepreneur founded the company "Interpipe" to convert its ncientific developments in the business. Contact collected over the years of study at the university and to communicate in the League, helped him to quickly reach prospective customers such as gosgiganty Russian "Gazprom" and "Rosneft". His first million-dollar Pinchuk earned in 1992, and ahead loomed incredible new perspectives and influential enemies.

When Ukraine and Russia became independent states, ambitious young entrepreneurs "with links", to which the owner of "Interpipe" promptly their bearings in the new circumstances, and were the main beneficiaries of the chaotic privatization of large chunks of state property. Pinchuk went on the classic post-Soviet oligarchs way: he opened the bank and seized control of two industrial companies Dnepropetrovsk, buying shares from labor groups, which in the conditions of a sharp drop in the level of income had to survive, and not think about the future and the long term. "He was a real innovator and also well versed in the pipe business," - remembers Alfred Kozlowski familiar BillionEPA with the university time that the businessman has entrusted management of his first privatized plant.

Competitors could not help but notice the growing influence of Pinchuk. His main opponent was the current political leaders of Ukraine, recently released to freedom of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, at that time controlled the largest gas company in the country were directed. In the "dashing 90" presence of such powerful enemies it was fraught with unpredictable consequences and survive (in all senses) of a large business without the "right" friends and understand the realities of the market was not easy. Winter of 1996, attacked by unknown Pinchuk, handcuffed him and placed a mask and a gun to my head.

In captivity businessman he missed a 60-year anniversary of her mother in her day of birth kidnappers brought the owner of "Interpipe" a glass of vodka and snacks, so that he drank to her health.

Even today Pinchuk refuses to talk about these events in more detail. In the negotiations on the payment of ransom of $ 2 million if it took two days, but in the end everything ended well. "I still can not talk about it - conStateira entrepreneur. - Home, I'm still alive. "

Unpleasant scenes from the past, he says over breakfast at his estate (on the table - cheese cakes, pancakes with sour cream and fresh berries). The dining room is attached to Pinchuk's wife. 43-year-old Elena, dressed in black and white T-shirt and jeans blonde, played a decisive role in the fate of her husband. "We have the same attitude to many things", - she says, and lists: art, books and music. But in terms of the choice of the chosen business it became a billionaire as an important political maneuver.

Hostage policy

In the 1990s, many oligarchs eager to power: someone - to protect assets, someone - to do his business empire even bigger with the help of administrative resources. Pinchuk is no exception: from 1998 to 2006, he was a people's deputy. His business interests at this time have gone beyond the pipe business and spread to the gas industry and the steel industry. There was a conflict of interest or, in any case, his threat.

"Combining business and politics is very difficult," - says the former championIra heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, now one of the leaders of the Maidan, and the presidential candidate of Ukraine.

The decision to marry Elena Pinchuk only complicates the situation. His wife - the daughter of Leonid Kuchma's presidency of which (1994-2005) Ukraine has gone through a series of political scandals, accusations of corruption in the country's leadership to the suspicion of being involved in the first persons of the assassination of journalists (these factors, coupled with fraud in the presidential election-2004 eventually led to the "orange revolution"). They met in 1996 at a children's presentation, sponsored by the Pinchuk. Both at that time had already been married. "I did not know who he is, - says Elena. - But we quickly found out how much we have in common. " The wedding was played in 2002.

One of the richest people in the country could now be called the president "Dad."

Accusations that Pinchuk has received a special status by which cranks opaque deals, appeared almost immediately after the wedding. "This is an absolute lie, - categorical Kuchma. - At that time he had already usedl owner of two city-forming enterprises in Dnepropetrovsk. "

Technically, that's right. But it is true, and something else: after businessman affinity with the president, he quickly privatized several industrial companies, including "Krivorozhstal" - large steel plant for which Pinchuk $ 800 million paid in conjunction with the richest man in Ukraine Rinat Akhmetov and other investors.

After leaving Kuchma as president of transaction "Krivorozhstal" has become a favorite target for critics of the new government. A longtime enemy of Tymoshenko Pinchuk now sitting in the chair of the Prime Minister and did not hesitate to call the privatization of steel giant "theft" of government property, referring to the non-admission to the auction of foreign investors. As a result, under the pretext of violation of the national interests of the transaction it has been disavowed. It soon became clear that Pinchuk and Akhmetov did not have the most generous investors: to re-auction the Indian tycoon Lakshmi Mittal plant laid out for $ 4.8 billion.

"I did everything according to the law. From the viewpoint of Artisticness no claims to show us was impossible. The deal was not unfair - still insists Pinchuk. - My personal mistake was underestimating the political component. As President-in-law, I should not have done this. "

His political misfortunes did not end on the story of "Krivorozhstal". Another billionaire factory for the production of alloys at him from under the noses of nearly stole another Dnepropetrovsk influential business group - with tacit blessing of the leaders of the "Orange Revolution." Pinchuk decided to fight: the TV channels belonging to it have launched an active campaign on charges billionaire opponents in an attempt to raider attacks honestly privatized assets acquired at fair market value in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation, and the government Tymoshenko has receded. Pinchuk has retained its 25 percent stake in the company and in 2007 united all the assets in the group EastOne. Although the head office of the holding company is located in Kiev, legal business management comes from a safe distance - from London. Protect yourcapital, the billionaire began intensively reinventing its image, focusing on the positive perception of the West.

Ukrainian connected

After the winter of events it seems that it was in the last century, but since the September conference, held in Yalta, Pinchuk, less than a year. The Livadia Palace - the same one which in 1945 decided the fate of the postwar world, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill - gathered two hundred dignitaries billionaire by Israeli President Shimon Peres to the former prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti. Ironically, in the Crimea, a week preparing to announce its readiness to enter into Russia, Pinchuk during the last ten years, conducted an event dedicated to the strengthening of relations between the West and Ukraine.

Some scenes of the conference now seem surreal. Here at the panel session "The World Tomorrow" Pinchuk friendly chats with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (businessman-philanthropist generosity of many contributed to the fact that he began to take the most influential lobbyists in the world). That economist Larry Summers, eqwith CIA director David Petraeus and the chief of Interpol discussed the risks of destabilization of the international session on "Future Shocks". That Hillary Clinton becomes the star of the conference during lunch on a vast terrace of the palace, uttering a pep talk about the benefits of Ukraine: resources, educated population and, most importantly, chocolate. Although a few months later by the Yalta prosperity was gone, then all the guests were convinced that Ukraine has made a final choice in favor of an alliance with the West. President Viktor Yanukovych announced the conference rostrum: "We need to move towards European integration." And after all the guests danced on the Yalta coast until Pinchuk, weaving between his new friends, deftly coped with the role of a moderator parties.

"Now that I have sufficient resources, I should be good for the country", - said the billionaire. His generosity extends not only to reputable guests from the West. Pinchuk is also actively engaged in philanthropy in the country to Ukrainian youth absorbed the global agenda and has been open to the world. By invitationuw businessman in Kiev to meet with the students came to the founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales and physicist Michio Kaku. Trendy art center billionaire in the capital, regularly organizes exhibitions of avant-garde artists such as Anish Kapoor and Takashi Murakami. These exhibitions, according to the businessman, "remains an important means of modernization of Ukraine."

"It applies to everything with passion" - this last Venice Biennale described Pinchuk famous musician Elton John.

In Italy, the billionaire gave a magnificent reception in the palace of XV century building overlooking the Grand Canal. John is familiar with Pinchuk to work together in the global AIDS programs, she visited during the Biennale exhibition organized by a businessman art funds, with the competition for artists under the age of 35 years (the prize was $ 100,000). According to the musician, indifferent approach billionaire felt in everything that has been "in business, in politics, in art, and charity."

In recent years, the four listed areas added education. Pinchuk sponsored plGUSTs programs for students, designed for Western ideological values. Thus, he prepared a fertile ground for a new Maidan. Every summer for the past seven years by businessman allocated $ 810 000 to 350 courses for gifted students from across the country. Graduates of these courses may qualify for scholarships from Pinchuk in the case of admission to the most prestigious universities of the western level of Harvard and Oxford. more than $ 500 000 per year scholarship program cost the owner of "Interpipe".

In a traditional address to the students Pinchuk always encouraged young Ukrainians do not miss the chance offered to them fortune, and always continue to absorb new knowledge. As an example, he often brought their own progress in alpine skiing, scuba diving and learn English. And it is unlikely the businessman had in mind the fact that after several years of watching on television when he said: "Guys, the best of you should go into politics."

The role of global "connected" and the reputation of a "democratic" oligarch Pinchuk helped get rid of the negative associationstions with violent methods, which did not hesitate a major Eastern European business in the period of primitive accumulation of capital. "All Ukrainian elite - are the real criminals, but it is different - said Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. - How you can protect yourself? Only by becoming an important figure in the international level and doing a lot of good for the country. "

But this whole chamber diplomacy and investment in culture and education mean today, when Ukraine was close to collapse in different directions? Are the good deeds Pinchuk to help the state, located on the verge of collapse? The economy on the brink of default? "Defense" on the brink of military conflict with Russia?

Answers to these questions Pinchuk looking for right now, in crisis circumstances, try on new roles. "We have a unique chance to participate in building a new state," - he said two years ago. But the people that fought with the police on the Maidan, the businessman is still too little to do. On the one hand, its role in the proRessam, demonstrating civil society in Ukraine, is undeniable. On the other, like Pinchuk says, "you understand that civil society has committed such a huge step forward, you're left hopelessly behind." Now he has to rethink the purpose of all its non-profit activities.

After the revolution, the entrepreneur has already refused an offer to become the governor of one of the eastern regions of the country. "I do not think I would be useful in this role," - he explains. Nevertheless, the heart of billionaire today fully with their homeland: "Ukraine remains the only Ukraine within its present borders. And we must not allow to divide it into parts. " Unlike the hero of "The Idiot" Pinchuk seems to have made a choice in favor of the woman he loves.