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The War Has Reined In Ukraine’s Oligarchs, at Least for Now

WorldThe War Has Reined In Ukraine’s Oligarchs, at Least for Now

For weeks, they fended off Russian assaults, holed up in a vast steel mill under barrages of missiles and mortars. And when the Ukrainian troops defending the Azovstal plant finally surrendered in May 2022, the mill had been reduced to rubble and twisted metal.

The fighting at Azovstal, in the besieged city of Mariupol, was a signature moment in the early months of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

It was also a major setback for Ukraine’s richest man, the plant’s owner.

With the destruction of Azovstal, the owner, Rinat Akhmetov, lost an industrial jewel accounting for one-fifth of Ukraine’s steel output — a multibillion-dollar loss that dealt a severe blow to his longtime grip on the Ukrainian economy.

Mr. Akhmetov’s case underlines how the war, by ravaging Ukrainian industry, has curbed the power of the country’s so-called oligarchs, tycoons who have long reigned over the economy and used their wealth to buy political influence, experts say.

In the war’s first year, the total wealth of the 20 richest Ukrainians shrank by more than $20 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Mr. Akhmetov took the biggest hit, losing more than $9 billion. He is one of only two billionaires left in Ukraine, down from 10 before the war, according to The New Voice of Ukraine newspaper.

Now, the Ukrainian authorities plan to use their wartime powers to try to make a clean break with the oligarchs. The aim is to reduce their influence over the economy and politics, and to prosecute those who engaged in corrupt practices, carrying through on policies that President Volodymyr Zelensky had promised to pursue before the invasion.

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