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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Getting Outswindled by a Swindler

The Russia-Ukraine gas war officially ended in Moscow on Jan. 19, when Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a 10-year agreement. But there was a strange epilogue when Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko demanded shortly thereafter that the agreement be annulled.

Tymoshenko pushed very hard to include a clause eliminating the role of the controversial intermediary RosUkrEnergo. If Yushchenko gets his way, RosUkrEnergo will be the big winner.

As soon as it became known that Yushchenko was considering annulling Tymoshenko's agreement, there were media reports that Russia's prosecutor general had placed the nominal owners of RosUkrEnergo, Dmitry Firtash and Ivan Fursin, on a criminal wanted list. The official reason was their alleged ties to Semyon Mogilevich, who is also wanted by the FBI on charges of fraud and racketeering. In all fairness, it's hard to believe that there is "secret most-wanted list" from the Prosecutor General's Office; these announcements are always made public. But then again, there have always been lots of secrets coming out of Moscow, such as the secret terms for gas exports. And don't forget the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Yushchenko's political opponents constantly accused him of having close ties to RosUkrEnergo. But Putin controls the Russian gas business with an iron hand, and Mogilevich, who is suspected of being a co-partner in RosUkrEnergo, did not live in Kiev but in the upscale Rublyovka neighborhood of Moscow until he was arrested in January 2008 on tax evasion charges.

Let's suppose that Mogilevich approached the Kremlin in 2002, offering his services as a middleman to ensure that gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine went smoothly. And let's assume the Kremlin hired him in this capacity.

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Let's also assume that in 2006, two years after Yushchenko was elected president, Mogilevich (or his authorized representatives) told the Kremlin that he had Yushchenko in his back pocket.

Now let's assume that Mogilevich spent a lot of money buying up shares in Ukrainian companies and then presented the bill to Moscow, labeling it as "Yushchenko's cut." This made Kremlin officials extremely angry because they believed that Yushchenko was personally profiting from the deals, while they got no cut at all. Naturally, Yushchenko was not aware he was being "paid" all of this time.

Russia's criminal proceedings against Mogilevich began after RosUkrEnergo bought the Astrakhan gas field. That deal was later annulled and Mogilevich was arrested. You can certainly understand why the Kremlin would be upset. After all, it had apparently recruited RosUkrEnergo's owners to help expand Russia's influence in Ukraine -- mainly, to buy up Ukrainian companies, politicians and political parties on the cheap. But as it turns out, the money was used by RosUkrEnergo to purchase the Astrakhan gas field that Gazprom had its own sights on.

Let's suppose that this classic influence-peddling scam collapsed once it became clear that the intermediary had accumulated a gigantic sum of money with which it was attempting to buy Russian energy assets and conduct its own political games in Ukraine. It also ground to a halt when Tymoshenko became prime minister, because the middlemen could never have struck a deal with her.

It seems to me that the Kremlin leaders tried to mix foreign policy with a secret plan to buy another country's president, while trying to add money to their foreign bank accounts. It's no surprise that in the end, they got what they deserved, having been duped big time by a world-renowned swindler.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.