Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 132

A controversy which recently broke out in Ukraine around the replacement of the director of the Mykolaiv Alumina Plant (MAP) suggests how Russian oligarchs may indirectly influence the Ukrainian presidential race. It could also affect Premier Valery Pustovoytenko, one of President Leonid Kuchma’s re-election campaign managers, who survived a no-confidence vote on unrelated issues in Ukraine’s parliament on July 6.

On June 28, Pustovoytenko’s government replaced MAP director Vitaly Meshyn with Mykola Naboka, the former director of a Kazakhstan-based ore combine. Meshyn refused to leave his post, sued the government in court and called a press conference in Kyiv on July 2 to tell journalists that the UK-based TransWorld Group (TWG) was interested in his dismissal. Naboka is a senior manager of TWG, which is controlled by Lev Chorny, who is close to the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Also on June 28, Berezovsky, accompanied by TWG manager Dmitry Bosov, and apparently attempting to avoid publicity, is said to have met privately with Pustovoytenko in Kyiv.

MAP is a key supplier of alumina to Russian aluminum plants, and the plant in Mykolaiv, which is not yet fully privatized, is seen as one of Ukraine’s most investment-attractive enterprises. MAP has long been eyed by TWG and the Siberian Aluminum (Sibalco) group–two businesses virtually controlling the Russian aluminum market. The media have speculated that Berezovsky would support Kuchma in the presidential campaign this year. Kuchma had supported Berezovsky in his position as CIS executive secretary last year (Zerkalo nedeli, July 3, June 26; STB, Kievskie vedomosti, July 2; Ukrainian agencies, June 28; Vremya, May 25). On July 6, in an attempt to smooth over the controversy, the government suggested that, instead of Naboka, a temporary manager, First Deputy Industrial Policy Minister Serhy Hryshchenko, be appointed to oversee MAP. Despite the fact that there is apparently no political force behind Meshyn, the MAP affair has been ammunition for Pustovoytenko’s parliamentary opponents on both flanks. On June 29, a group of nationalist MPs issued a statement blasting Naboka’s appointment as a “conspiracy with certain scandalously known politicians and companies” and called on Ukraine’s prosecutor general to investigate Pustovoytenko’s alleged involvement. Communists and socialists, who have been long planning to oust Pustovoytenko as a way of undermining Kuchma, also tried to use this episode to corroborate their no-confidence verdict against the government (Ukrainian television and agencies, June 29-July 6; UNIAN, July 1, 7-8).