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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Richest Ukrainian Pledges Strong GDP

APAkhmetov, who is considered Yanukovych's main financial backer, attending a news conference Thursday in Kiev.
KIEV -- Ukraine's richest man, Rynat Akhmetov, pledged Thursday to reverse the country's sluggish economy and respect all post-Soviet privatization deals if his pro-Russian party takes power in upcoming coalition talks.

Akhmetov, an eastern Ukrainian steel and coal magnate, is considered the main financial backer of the Party of the Regions, which won the most votes in weekend parliamentary elections. He said he was ready to cooperate with anyone -- including the Orange team that stripped him of Kryvorizhstal, a steel mill he had bought from the state, taking a huge bite out of his billion-dollar fortune.

"Our door is open to everybody," Akhmetov said during a rare news conference.

The media-shy businessman's public appearances are usually dominated by people offering praise and asking fawning questions. Akhmetov initially appeared nervous in front of Kiev's media, which has grown far more aggressive since President Viktor Yushchenko's government lifted media controls. But he quickly relaxed, dodging probing questions with sarcasm and a smirk.

Akhmetov was a top candidate for Viktor Yanukovych's party, whose strong showing will make it the biggest faction in parliament. With all the votes counted Thursday, the Party of the Regions had 32.12 percent, Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc had 22.27 percent, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine had 13.94 percent, the Socialist Party had 5.67 percent and the Communists had 3.66 percent.

Since the Party of the Regions failed to capture a majority, it must seek a coalition partner among the Orange team if it hopes to enter the government.

Yushchenko has come under growing pressure to reunite with his former Orange Revolution partner, Tymoshenko, rather than reach out to Yanukovych. The president, however, appears to be keeping his options open and is said to prefer a so-called grand coalition that would unite his party with both Yanukovych's pro-Russian party and Tymoshenko's bloc. Tymoshenko, who wants back her old job as prime minister, has ruled out such an option.

"We are ready to sit at the negotiating table with any political party, including Yulia Volodymyrivna [Tymoshenko]," Akhmetov said. "But this table must be focused on economic development, national interests and uniting the country, not on dividing up posts."

Tymoshenko on Thursday sought to assure investors that she would be a solid steward of the economy. She said she would leave it up to the courts to determine which privatizations were corrupt.

Akhmetov, 39, spent some time last year out of the country while criminal investigators looked into his past dealings. No charges against him were ever filed.

Akhmetov pledged that the Party of the Regions would support freedom of speech, insist that Russian become a second state language and protect ownership rights, ensuring that there would be no more attempts to reconsider some of the privatization deals from the past. "It was ruining the economy," he said.