In Ukraine, oligarchs are off limits. Not anymore. Donetsk just became a true people's republic.
I almost fell off my swivel chair after it was announced today that Donetsk had seized 40 "enterprises" from Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.
I've been to Donetsk twice, right around the time that the Minsk II protocols were signed. Anyone who has ever been to Donetsk knows about Rinat. He owns half the city, after all.
Even after war broke out and he fled to Lviv with his football team, Akhmetov was still considered one of the feudal lords of Donbass.
I saw a lot of things in Donetsk that I will never forget, but one image that regularly floats up to the forefront of my mind is Akhmetov's private compound. You can't actually see it because it's guarded by endless high walls. But it spans about a city block.
I met so many families living in basements and Soviet bomb shelters who had had their homes destroyed by artillery shells. And here was Rinat's home, which spans an entire time zone. Untouched. Pristine.
Everyone in East Ukraine knows about Akhmetov. And everyone has an opinion about him.
Old women in a small village outside the city told me that he had given them humanitarian aid, and the locals were grateful. Some even speculated that he was bankrolling the modest pensions being paid out by the DPR to retirees who weren't able to cross into Kiev-controlled Ukraine to receive their government paychecks.
But everyone understood why Rinat was in Lviv while they were being shelled by fanatics from that same city. He's a businessman. And he has massive holdings in Donbass. The aid is a bribe.
More than one Ukrainian journalist told me that Rinat played a large role in convincing the rebels not to take Mariupol — even when it was largely undefended. A rebel-held Mariupol would ruin Rinat's lucrative export business operated out of the city's ports. And he couldn't allow that.
If you can remove yourself from the narrative of Washington-backed Kiev versus Russia, at least for a moment, the reality is that working-class Ukrainians are slaughtering each other while oligarchs, full of altruistic charity, make life just barely tolerable for both sides.
Their hope is that Ukrainians will be too busy killings each other to realize their common enemy is the handful of oligarchs who rule them all — east and west.
It looks like the table scraps Rinat was tossing Donetsk wasn't enough to distract them. This isn't just a response to the blockade — people are catching on.
The Luhansk rebel leader Alexey Mozgovoy spoke about this nearly two years ago:
I'd like to appeal to everyone who is fighting — on both sides.
People on both sides are fighting against the oligarchy. But somehow we only kill each other, ourselves. So we’re committing a slow suicide of sorts.
The “gladiators” need to break out from the “Colosseum”.
Instead, a new Colosseum is being organized. We’re burying ourselves.
Do we need it all? War for the sake of war? It’s stupid.
Does anyone remember why we have rebelled? Isn’t it clear that the ones we rose up against are ruling us now? For both sides.
Isn’t it time for us to come to our sense, military gentlemen? Otherwise, there won’t be a single one of us left.
And the ones we should be fighting against…they will be living on. Without problems. And everything’s going to be as it was before.
So I appeal one more time: start thinking.
Your brain should be working, not your grenade launcher. That’s when there will be order. While the guns are working, there will only be deaths.
Mozgovoy was assassinated in May, 2015.
Thank God Rinat just got the boot. Donetsk is now a true people's republic.
Let's hope this is the start of a nationwide revolt against the oligarchs who have financed this sick war.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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