Ukraine has a reputation of a being an oligarch-run country with huge vested interests in government and too little in the way of transparency.
But a newly formed Ukrainian Business Initiative includes 22 business leaders who pledge to conduct their affairs ethically and transparently from now on. They held a news conference on Feb. 1 in the Interfax-Ukraine news agency to announce their intentions.
Among the members are billionaire Victor Pinchuk, agricultural tycoon Oleh Bakhmatyuk, supermarket chain boss Henadiy Butkevich, lawmaker Serhiy Taruta, director of Ukraine’s second biggest gas station network Vitaliy Antonov and the chief of retail chains trading in electronics and footwear Volodymyr Tsoy.
“We were united by responsibility for our state and our proactivity, ” Taruta said. “If we do not act now we can lose Ukraine.”
The old era of influence peddling put Ukraine on a path “leading into a dead end, ” Taruta said. He insists that members of the initiative want equal conditions for running business, protection of private equity and fair judicial system.
In their declaration, the businessmen pledge to pay taxes fairly and to disclose contributions to politicians. They also promise to invest their money in Ukraine’s economy by creating new working places with respectable conditions and salaries.
“This is not a union of businesses but the union of individuals with personal responsibility toward members of the society, ” Antonov said. All are working toward a new and fairer “social agreement.”
The businessmen said their initiative will direct its energies to restore trust among business, civil society, government and Kyiv’s Western partners via dialogue and thus draw foreign investment.
“We want to create a foundation tasked with stabilization of the country and on the formation of an economic doctrine which we are ready to sign, ” said Ihor Liski, chief of the Aspen-Ukraine leadership school, which was co-founded by Pinchuk.
Some are skeptical.
“The nature of an oligarch is different from that of representatives of other big, medium or small businesses because oligarchy uses politics to get excess profits, ” Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst from Penta think tank told the Kyiv Post.
Initiatives started by people regarded as oligarchs “immediately evoke suspicion.”
Political expert Viktor Taran thinks the project can become a platform for a new political force, coming as calls mount for a change in top leaders.
“It cannot be a simple coincidence, ” Taran told the Kyiv Post. “The people who participate in the initiative like Taruta and Pinchuk have been always playing with politics. The success of their business empires was tied to their approximation to the authorities. This is something they have recently lost. That is why they need to return it.“
Representatives of the Ukrainian Business Initiative, however, said they have no political ambitions and are open for others entrepreneurs to join them.