The Ukraine is exploding in violence and rebellion over their government's decision to turn away from a partnership with the European Union in favor of one with Russia. As Rachel Maddow explains in the segment above, this isn't something that hatched overnight. It's been brewing for awhile, and exploded into violence as a defiant President Yanukovych stuck to his guns on the Russian deal.
On its face, this looks to be a righteous endeavor on the part of the rebels. However, the more I read about it, the less enthusiastic I am, especially when I see comments like this from think tanks like Cato:
"The changes that occurred after the Orange Revolution weren't simply deep enough. This time around, it appears that the disenchantment is so strong that there is a genuine opportunity to make a fresh start," said Dalibor Rohac, policy analyst with the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.
"For Ukrainians this is a chance to get on a different trajectory from the one the country has been on for the past 22 years and become eventually a part of prosperous, democratic Europe."
From April 2012 to March 2013, the Cato Institute sent $245,000 in grants to what they describe as Russia/Independent States on their most recent tax filing with the IRS. Other conservative libertarian groups like Freedomworks and even the for-profit Breitbart.com "news" organizations are expanding operations globally to influence elections in favor of conservatives.
The Ukrainian oligarchs are standing by their man, but perhaps they're not interested in competing with American oligarchs. Here are some details on who owns the Ukraine:
Ukraine’s oligarchs got rich during the privatization sales of former Soviet-owned industries and factories shortly after independence in 1991. The country’s main industries of mining, metals, chemical production, and energy distribution were snatched up by individuals, who then reaped millions in profits.
Corruption and politics have always had a close relationship in Ukraine. The oligarchs have benefited for two decades from close relations with government officials, who have at times turned a blind eye to their activities in exchange for support. At other times, politicians have enabled their oligarch supporters to get richer through key government appointments and a lack of transparency in government contracts.
As a result, many of the oligarchs have remained loyal to President Yanukovych and the ruling Party of Regions.
Among the most influential of the oligarchs is Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. Like Yanukovych, Mr. Akhmetov is from the eastern Donetsk Oblast, and is considered to be the financial backer behind Yanukovych’s political rise.
Akhmetov’s fortunes are in the country’s steel and coal mining industries, energy distribution, and banking. Forbes Ukraine estimates that he’s worth about $15.4 billion. Akhmetov’s financial support for the Party of Regions also secured him a loyal bloc of deputies in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.
Another oligarch with considerable wealth and influence is Dmytro Firtash, whom Forbes Ukraine estimates to be worth $673 million. Mr. Firtash’s main interests are in chemical plants and media holdings, and he also has a group of loyal deputies in the Rada supportive of Yanukovych.
In the end, it boils down to a country in turmoil because the oligarchs took far too many liberties and economic opportunities away from the Ukrainian people. That isn't really all that different from what happens here. But I'm concerned that there is some outside agitation stirred by our very own oligarchs, who stand to profit by agitating conflict in order to wrest control of national assets away from Ukrainians, whether it be oligarchs or a future middle class.
In December, Koch Industries acquired Molex for $7.2 billion. Molex is a global company which maintains business centers in Ukraine, Russia, Poland and other European countries. The acquisition does not necessarily suggest anything untoward, but the Molex acquisition was the first I found with operations in that country. Would there be a vested interest in exacerbating the underlying conflict in order to create enough chaos to dislodge the oligarchs?
I don't know. I do find it curious that countries with dangerous levels of unrest -- Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand -- are struggling under the burden of oligarchies, inequality and corruption, something the libertarian Kochs know a lot about.
Perhaps this statement from Koch Industries' press release about the Molex acquisition reveals more than they intended:
"We’re looking forward to applying our Market-Based Management philosophy at Molex to help identify and capture additional opportunities.”
These protesters need to be careful not to trade one set of oligarchs for another.