“You should be afraid not of the special services, but of your conscience.” Rinat Akhmetov about war, power, investments and future trials with the aggressor
What was your first reaction when the Russian troops crossed the northern border? Did you have to get evacuated?
Rinat Akhmetov: "I was morally prepared and ready for the war to start. All our western friends had been talking about possible invasion of Russia for about four months. I faced the war in my bed at home in Kyiv. My assistant stormed in saying "Wake up, the war has broken out". Since then I have been staying in Ukraine and I have not been evacuated".
In contrast to some other representatives of large business, you didn't leave the country in the evening on February 23. Why? Is it that you had no premonition of it or you felt reassured by the confidence exhibited by Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the meeting with business representatives?
Rinat Akhmetov: "Following the meeting with the president on February 23, I had dinner with my friends at home in Kyiv. Most of us shared the confidence that the war would start. They asked me the same question: why didn't I leave the country immediately? My answer to you will be word for word what I said to them: I will face the war at home, in Ukraine, like all of you. It would be unacceptable for me, it would be a shame and humanely wrong to arrive in Ukraine and immediately fly back.
SCM moves some of its production capacities to the western part of Ukraine. Does it mean that you believe that Putin will not be able to reach those areas?
Rinat Akhmetov: Moving production capacities is a temporary measure we had to take to ensure the energy security of the country and save people's lives. As to what I believe: I believe in our victory, which means the Crimea and Donbas are parts of a united Ukraine.
You were a member of the Party of Regions and supported Viktor Yanukovych for many years. You represented the part of the elite with a pro-Russian stance as perceived by many people in Ukraine, that is you stood for closer union with Russia. After 2014 you've been underlining the patriotic position you have taken. What does Ukraine mean for you and how has your answer to this question changed in the last eight years? Who or what people have contributed to these changes more than others?
Rinat Akhmetov: "My position has not changed. I have always been pro-Ukrainian, just like my views and values. That is why I have been the biggest private investor, employer, and taxpayer in Ukraine for many years. I see Ukraine as a free democratic European country. In 2012, I ceased to be a member of parliament and have not been involved in politics for a decade. I have repeatedly stated that my entry into politics was a mistake. Unjustified and brutal aggression of Russian against Ukraine and war crimes committed by Putin have only further cemented my views: Ukraine must be independent and strong as never before."
Do you have confidence that your key business partner Vadym Novynsky who has obtained the Ukrainian passport just recently, also shares your patriotic feelings?
Rinat Akhmetov: "Yes, I do, and his statements confirm this".
Following the all-out invasion of Russia, you have been making much stronger and more radical statements than ever before. Why is it so? Aren't you afraid of becoming the target of Russian intelligence services and special forces? Your large business peers, for example Ihor Kolomoisky, Oleksandr Yaroslavsky and Serhiy Liovochkin have been keeping mum and remain silent.
Rinat Akhmetov: "On February 24, Russia waged a ruthless war. Russia attacked us without a single reason or pretext, and the Russian military have killed dozens of thousands of our civilians, children, women, and the elderly, and destroyed the country's infrastructure. Russia is committing genocide and war crimes in Ukraine. This is an honest and fair position rather than radical one, and I am insisting on this position and am not afraid of it. We should be afraid of self-conscious feelings of guilt and remorse rather than of special services. I am not going to keep mum in this situation, it's unacceptable for me."
It looks like there is a full understanding between you and the authorities. And you were in a tense confrontation with them just several months ago. What rules must the business and the authority follow to co-exist after the war is over?
Rinat Akhmetov: "There wasn't any standoff on my side. I am confident that we all, the President, the Government and every Ukrainian citizen, want Ukraine to be a free, strong and successful country. The Ukrainian army is fiercely fighting for our freedom. I believe that Ukraine should become a full-fledged member of the European Union as soon as possible. And the rules and relations between the business and the authorities have been in place for decades. We must follow these rules in our life and build the country according to these rules.
Which government officials do you keep contact with?
Rinat Akhmetov: SCM Group leadership keep contact with the Ukrainian authorities all the time".
Your Foundation has provided more than UAH 1 billion in aid. I am sorry for asking you a direct question: When is the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation going to run out of money? What is the budget?
Rinat Akhmetov: "The assistance comes from the Foundation, as well as from SCM businesses and FC Shakhtar. As of today I have allocated €100 million in aid to Ukraine. Over €70 million have been already utilised. We are helping the civilians who have suffered from the Russian aggression: we bring food and medicines. Our power engineers often risk their lives restoring power lines and helping Ukrainian cities, towns and villages return to normalcy. We are helping the Ukrainian army and territorial defenders. Where possible, we work to cover the battlefront needs. Our steel mills make anti-tank hedgehogs and steel for bulletproof vests. And we aren't going to stop. We will help Ukraine and Ukrainians as long as needed.”
Could you say how much loss has been sustained by SCM because of the war, in monetary terms? Are you going to demand to compensate all of it by Russia in court? Are you gathering documents to lodge a claim? When and where can it be submitted?
Rinat Akhmetov: “Following the large-scale offensive of the Russian Federation on February 24 2022, such plants as Azovstal, Illich Iron and Steel Works of Mariupol, Avdiivka Coke, Luhansk TPP, and dozens of other industrial infrastructure and green energy facilities have been partially or completely destroyed or mothballed. The pre-war capitalisation of these assets amounted to dozens of billions US dollars. We will definitely file claims against the Russian Federation and will seek proper compensation for all damages and lost businesses. We have already started very thorough legal procedures to address these issues. We will file claims with all international and national courts.”
It is clear that the worst scenario for Mariupol is occupation and complete destruction. Still, could you provide the estimate of losses sustained by Metinvest as a result of destruction of Azovstal and Illich Iron and Steel Works?
Rinat Akhmetov: “The replacement cost estimates show that the losses incurred by Azovstal and Ilyich Iron and Steel Works due to Russian aggression vary from US$17bn to US$20bn. The final amount will be specified in our claim against the Russian Federation."
How big is a margin of safety of DTEK, Metinvest, FUIB and Media Group Ukraine? DTEK has already defaulted on its obligations. What about the rest?
Rinat Akhmetov: "The situation in business is as difficult as in the Ukrainian economy. To date, we continue to service all our debt obligations. DTEK, together with its creditors, has already restructured its debt portfolio.”
What will be the focus of SCM future investment? Logistics, infrastructure?
Rinat Akhmetov: "We'll continue to invest in Ukraine after the end of the war. At SCM, we have been and will continue to be an active player in recovery and reconstruction efforts. We have two key priorities: rebuilding Ukraine's industrial capacities and ensuring its energy independence. To restore the country's bombed-out infrastructure, Metinvest Group will ramp up its steelmaking capacity, considering that we have temporarily lost Azovstal and Illich Iron and Steel Works with a total annual output of 10 million tonnes of steel. DTEK will continue developing the key area, green energy, and increase its share despite the temporary loss of 500 megawatts of wind generation. The company will also boost the production of gas and coal so much needed for Ukraine, produce electricity, and invest in grids. We have a very strong and highly motivated team and a vast expertise. We believe in our country and we believe in our victory.”
SCM companies have begun to fire senior managers with Russian passports. What is your role in this? Why didn't they do it before? And why did they actively engage them in the past?
Rinat Akhmetov: "I have never been engaged in staff recruitment. SCM is a professional team that determines the personnel policy on its own.”
According to media reports, you used to have complicated relations with the US authorities, and therefore you did not have a US visa. Do you feel any changes now?
Rinat Akhmetov: "The United States is a Ukrainian ally and, as the time has shown, it is also a great friend of Ukraine, and I am personally grateful for the unprecedented assistance provided to our country. I have never had any complicated relations with US authorities.”
Today, the West and our country are discussing a new Marshall Plan for Ukraine. What should be done for this assistance to be used as intended?
Rinat Akhmetov: “Ukraine vitally needs an unprecedented package of international assistance –a new Marshall Plan with the participation of all G7 countries, the EU and international financial institutions. The plan goal is to build a new, strong, and European Ukraine, a member of the EU, with strong institutions, the rule of law, clear anti-corruption rules, a democratic political system and fair treatment of citizens. This plan requires hundreds of billions of dollars and needs clear priorities such as a safe Ukraine with a strong army, creation of the new infrastructure, restoration of industrial potential, new transport logistics, energy independence and investment in renewable sources, food security, and social policy. Implementing these goals will take incredible efforts, professionalism and transparency from Ukrainian authorities, business, society and clear coordination with our partners. This coordination is possible as part of the ad hoc international intergovernmental consortium.”