April 9, 2021
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on April 8, “A senior U.S. State Department official has said it is time for Ukraine to tackle corruption and weak institutions, including going after Dmytro Firtash, whose natural-gas holdings have made him one of the country’s most notorious, and powerful, oligarchs.
The April 8 comments by George Kent, the deputy U.S. assistant secretary of state who oversees Ukraine, come as President Joe Biden makes Kyiv’s progress on reforms a greater priority in the bilateral relationship.
Speaking at a meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, Kent said graft and a weak judiciary made up an ‘internal threat’ in Ukraine, and he compared it with the external threat Kyiv faced from Russia.
‘The time has now come to start making the tough decisions to rein in the influence of oligarchs and the systemic corruption,’ Kent said. In his speech, Kent highlighted Firtash, a tycoon who made his initial wealth trading Russian natural gas in the 1990s, as an example of Ukraine’s flawed justice system.
Firtash became the official partner of Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom in trading firm RosUkrEnergo, the monopoly importer of natural gas to Ukraine during the late 2000s. He made hundreds of millions of dollars during the short lifespan of RosUkrEnergo, which analysts called an unnecessary middleman.
U.S. officials have also alleged that Firtash has ties to Russian organized crime. ‘Everyone knows that he started out as the front for Russian gas interests,’ Kent said.
In March 2014, U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging Firtash with corruption in connection with an Indian titanium project that the U.S. aerospace giant Boeing was studying. U.S. officials have sought Firtash’s extradition from Vienna since then. He has denied the charges, saying they are politically motivated.
Ukraine has never charged Firtash with a crime. He continues to make millions of dollars a year in the country’s graft-ridden energy industry through his control of gas-distribution companies.
‘Why is it that it is the U.S. who indicts and goes after corrupt Ukrainians?’ Kent said. ‘It’s time for the Ukrainian leadership and the justice system — rather than not making decisions against corrupt oligarchs — to use Ukrainian institutions to go after corrupt Ukrainians and hold them to account,’ he said.”