Ukraine’s richest man is to sue Russia for billions of dollars in compensation, claiming the invasion by Vladimir Putin has violated his property rights.
Reports suggest Rinat Akhmetov intends to file a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights against the Russian Federation for between $17bn and $20bn in losses after his steel plants in Mariupol were damaged and seized by Russian forces.
The billionaire entrepreneur has a complicated history with both the government in Kyiv and in Moscow and has been heavily involved in the Ukrainian war effort.
Who is he and where does his money come from?
Born in 1966 and the son of a coal miner, Rinat Akhmetov began snapping up mining assets in the 1990s during the “wild west” privatisation period that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent Ukrainian independence.
Akhmetov is the founder of System Capital Management (SCM), which owns steel and grain facilities across Ukraine, and has an estimated net worth of $6.93bn according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
A native of Donetsk in the east of the country, which is currently largely under Russian occupation, Akhmetov is the owner and president of the city’s most successful football club, Shakhtar Donetsk, and served as a member of parliament from 2006–2007 and 2007–2012.
Why is he suing Russia?
As the majority owner of Metinvest, Ukraine’s largest steel producer, he owns the Azovstal plant, in the port city of Mariupol, which has seen some of the war’s most intense fighting and was finally seized by Russian forces last month, the Financial Times reported.
A statement released on the SCM website claimed the tycoon had lost billions of dollars as a result of Russia’s invasion, with Insider estimating his wealth has tumbled 40% since the war began more than four months ago.
“As the owner of Azovstal and many other industrial facilities that have been targeted by the invading Russian armed forces, Mr Akhmetov seeks to ensure that Russia is held accountable for the destruction it is wreaking across Ukraine” the statement said.
In parallel with the lawsuit application, he has also filed an urgent request for interim measures, seeking a court order preventing Russia from engaging in further blockading, looting, diversion and destruction of grain and steel produced by SCM’s companies.
While local media quoted by Insider put the lawsuit at between $17bn and $20bn, “the exact amount of compensation cannot yet be determined due to the ongoing war”, says the Kyiv Post, although “Russia is expected to pay billions of dollars to Akhmetov”.
How has he been involved in the war effort?
Akhmetov first said he would sue Russia for damages over lost SCM revenue back in March, but was at the time focused on helping Ukraine win the war. He claims his businesses have provided both material and technical support to the Ukrainian military.
Speaking to Forbes, he pledged to rebuild Mariupol and the rest of Ukraine after the war ends, adding that he would “spare no expense or effort to achieve this goal.”
Akhmetov, who had previously supported the pro-Moscow Party of the Regions of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, has not always had the best of relationships with the government in Kyiv.
In January Radio Free Europe reported “growing tensions between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Akhmetov over a host of issues, including energy prices, media coverage, and new restrictions on powerful businessmen”.
It followed a so-called “anti-oligarch” bill pushed through parliament last year that sought to force individuals designated as tycoons to sell their media assets or refrain from political activity.
While Ukraine’s oligarchs “played a vital role in propping up the country against Russian aggression, cementing their political influence and their financial interests” following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Financial Times said that this time they “are playing a more passive role in the nation’s defence – donating money and supplies like millions of their compatriots”.
The paper claimed some oligarchs, including Akhmetov, have “mounted a PR effort to earn recognition for their philanthropic efforts”.
The Rinat Akhmetov Foundation is Ukraine’s biggest private charity and since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 has provided humanitarian aid to help save 3.5 million people from the Donbas region, according to EU Reporter.