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Will this man save the Ukraine? (Rinat Akhmetov- Photo: Wikepedia, Creative Commons License)

In the East and South of Ukraine, Russian militants, with infiltrated Russian forces (possibly 10,000 Russian troops disguised as “militias”), have made hash out of civil society. They are setting up “People’s Republics” and holding referendums at gun point and demanding unity with Russia.
The Ukrainian military response has been, in a word, feckless. Their “Anti Terrorism Operations” has had fits and starts, and a few dozen Ukrainian service members have been killed- the problem is that there still remain many pro-Russian moles and turncoats in their ranks and this process of exposing and removing them has not been completed yet, although it is evidently ongoing.
The Ukraine is going through a crisis of national identity with a mixed population in some regions that still hasn’t decided whether they want to be throw in with the Ukrainian national identity, let alone the state, or stay closed to Russia. We are witnesses to the rebirth of a true and exclusive, or at least primary, “Ukrainian nation”, and by nation I mean national identity expressed in culture, lifestyle, language, religion, heritage, and sense of national shared destiny.
It is therefore ironic that a man known for possible organized criminal ties, a man who was prominent in the Party of the ousted President (a Party, the Party of Regions, that favored a less then cohesive Ukrainian national union and that fomented Russian national identity), would perhaps become the savior of the Ukrainian State and guarantor of Ukrainian national unity.
The man’s name is Rinat Leonidovych Akhmetov. He is a 47 year old, blond haired, multi-billionaire and the owner of Ukraine’s largest steel manufacturing firm, Metinvest. The man is worth over $15 billion and employs over 280,000 men and women, but mostly men.
He looks the part of an older but still vigorous playboy, hardly the gnarled oligarch he is accused of being by those who claim he has funded some of the pro-Russian militias.
Whether or not he has funded these miitias, one thing is certain: something has indeed changed.
Over the past week his company’s agents throughout the region have given the workers one simple message: if the regions controlled by pro-Russian forces obtain independence or unity with Russia they will all lose their jobs and poverty will result.
You see, Metinvest serves clients to the West and in the event of a succesful forced secession of the eastern parts of Ukraine, where all Akhmetov’s factories and wealth are located, it is almost certain that those clients will go away. As for the east, Russia is a net steel exporter and would have no need for Metinvest’s products.
So in the simplest calculus, what may be a rather stark parochial interest on the part of Akhmetov and his workers could draw a former unpatriotic reluctant “Ukrainian” into the “nationalist” camp, even though he has yet to switch from his Party affiliation.
All of this has come to a head, starting in Mariopol where the locals have endured weeks of looting, car jackings, and disorder at the hands of disguised Russian forces and their local collaborators. On the 14th and 15th of May men from Metinvest’s local plants fomed up into 6 man squads and each paird up with two local police to fan out and clear the public spaces and streets of the separatists. Throughout the east, wherever a Metinvest plant exists, this has been repeated. The (for now) unarmed workers marched in, cleared buildings and checkpoints, took down the separatist flags, put up Ukrainian flags, and started patrols- and the lootings and car jackings stopped.
Now Akhmetov is talking about getting uniforms and there are rumors his 280,000 man “army” may being armed soon, and possibly with Kiev’s blessings.
This would hardly be a creditable force in conventional battle, but it doesn’t have to be that in order to dash Moskow’s imperial aims- squelching the militias and providing constabulary security will free up more Ukrainian troops to man their borders and be ready to deal with the Russian Army, should it roll across the border.
Akhmetov may hardly be a patriot, but he knows who butters his bread, and so do his workers- severing ties with Kiev and the West would spell economic ruin for him and his workers and now they suddenly realize that.