Friday, May 16, 2014

Ukraine's Muslim Billionaire Akhmetov Holds Balance of Power

Powerful Muslim Crimean Tatar, Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in Ukraine, is a self-made billionaire son of a coal miner. He may hold the balance of power in Eastern Ukraine's tensest standoff since the Cold War.

Rinat Akhmetov
Before the Russians moved in and took control of the Crimea earlier this year, thousands of Akhmetov's fellow Tatar Muslims had marched in opposition to the Russian take-over of the region.

In 1917 communist takeover of Russia, Tatar Muslims were one-third of  south eastern Ukrainian population. Then in 1944, Joseph Stalin accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany and ordered their mass deportations. Nearly 200,000 Crimean Tatars were sent to Central Asia by freight trains. Nearly half of all Crimean Muslims died in 1944–1945 from hunger and disease. Their property and territory were given to mostly ethnic Russians who were resettled by the Soviet Union in Crimea.

Akhmetov's decision to support Ukraine's unity may turn the tide against the pro-Russia separatists in the Ukrainian conflict  He has ordered thousands of his steelworkers  on Thursday to restore order and establish control over the streets of Mariupol. They now appear to have routed the pro-Kremlin militants who had seized control of important government buildings several weeks ago.

By late Thursday, Akmetov's miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk, though they had not yet become the dominant force there that they are in Mariupol, the region’s second largest city and the site just last week of bloody confrontations between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants, according to The Globe and Mail.

 Here are excerpts of a Washington Post report on Akhtemov's crucial role in the crisis:

 "Two days after Akhmetov deployed workers from his steel plant to restore order in a region torn by separatist violence, calm appeared to return Friday to the center of this eastern city. A few steps from a recent deadly clash, people lunched on sushi as a song by Katy Perry played. Near the scorched city council building that had been held by pro-Russian militants, a group of Akhmetov’s unarmed steelworkers lounged and smoked cigarettes as they kept watch." A few blocks away, at the ruins of the city police building where at least seven people died last week, retired steelworker Oleg Krivolapov welcomed Akhmetov’s intervention. “He has his factories, his industries, a lot of money — he could do a lot,” said Krivolapov, who trusts that his former colleagues at Akhmetov’s Ilych Factory can keep the peace. “Of course, he should have done something sooner.” 

Whatever Akhtemov's motivations may be, let's hope he can pull off what the US, Europe, NATO and the government in Kiev have failed to do so far. Let's hope peace returns to Ukraine soon.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Putin Challenges US Exceptionalism

Syrian Crisis

Hui Muslims in China

Turkish Soaps in Pakistan

Muslims Demographics in West

Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

US Dollar is Global Currency


Riaz Haq said...

Trouble in Ukraine was started by US by orchestrating the removal of President Yanukovych seen as pro-Moscow by the West. There were leaked taped phone conversations of a US State Dept official and US Ambassador to Ukraine which showed US picking a replacement while Yanukovych was still in charge. Putin is reacting to it in ways that the West did not expect. The West badly miscalculated Putin's strong reaction in spite of earlier warning signs seen when Georgian President made provocative moves in Abkhazia in 2008.

Riaz Haq said...

Journalist Explains How Panama Papers Opened Up The World's Illicit Money Networks


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Before Donald Trump was elected president, some of his business partners on Trump-branded hotels and condos and the Miss Universe pageant were oligarchs from Russia and former Soviet bloc countries who kept a lot of their money hidden in the secret world of shell companies. Those business partnerships are the subject of the final chapter of my guest, Jake Bernstein's new book, "Secrecy World."


GROSS: Well - and as you point out in your book about the Panama Papers, it became hard - it became difficult for Donald Trump to get funding from U.S. banks because of his bankruptcies or near bankruptcies and because of all the money he spent in civil suits. So he looked to other places. And I guess Russia was one of those places. The oligarchs were among those people he turned to.

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, he absolutely, you know, hungered for that money. And he was doing business with people who were very much in that orbit, you know, people like Tevfik Arif who is - had a company called Bayrock and worked with Trump on the Trump SoHo, which Trump gave naming rights to and did other stuff for you. And Tevfik Arif is a guy who made - his family made their initial fortune the fall of the Soviet Union. They ended up with a bunch of chemical factories that had been privatized.

GROSS: So another investor in Trump SoHo through Bayrock was Alexander Mashkevich, a Ukrainian billionaire. Who's he?

BERNSTEIN: Alexander Mashkevich is - now sort of claims - even though he was on investor handouts for Trump SoHo, he claims that he never actually invested in it. So that's sort of an open question. But Mashkevich is part of a group of folks who are - do heavy - were heavy into mining in Africa and other places. There was quite a bit of controversy about their activities there. And they were sort of sketchy enough that even Mossack Fonseca had some red flags about their activities and had second thoughts about taking on companies from them. And Mashkevich, ironically, was on the same boat in Turkey with Tevfik Arif during this prostitution sting. Now, both men claim that it was not prostitution. They were just on this boat with a lot of young women. And it was completely, you know, above board, so to speak.


BERNSTEIN: So the company behind this was called Bayrock. And the person behind Bayrock was Tevfik Arif who is a - originally a Russian guy - Eastern bloc guy who comes to America and starts doing real estate deals. And he had extensive business with Trump. He had - his office is actually in Trump Tower, you know, right below Trump's office in Trump Tower at the very top of the building. And Tevfik Arif is a guy who has some questionable moments in his past, including he was ensnared in a prostitution sting in Turkey that ultimately goes nowhere because none of the young girls would testify. And Arif also received money from a shady Icelandic conglomerate with questionable revenue sources funneled through the secrecy world.

Riaz Haq said...

Timeline of Events: The 2013 Miss Universe Pageant

Russian singer Emin Agalarov speaks onstage with his father Aras Agalarov during a news conference after Brady won the Miss USA 2013 pageant on June 16, 2013, in Las Vegas.

British-born music promoter Rob Goldstone began representing singer Emin Agalarov, son of billionaire real estate investor Aras Agalarov. At the time, Emin was married to Leyla Aliyeva, the daughter of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev.

March 21, 2013
In a Facebook post from New York, Goldstone announced he would be attending the Miss USA pageant in June. He served as a preliminary round judge at the event.

May 31, 2013
Emin Agalarov released a music video featuring 2012 Miss Universe Olivia Culpo. This collaboration led Golstone to meet with the head of the Miss Universe Organization, Paula Shugart, according to Mother Jones.

June 15, 2013
"Fun meeting with Donald Trump," Rob Goldstone posted on Facebook.

June 16, 2013
During the Miss USA pageant, Trump announced the location for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant: Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia. Trump was joined on stage by Aras Agalarov, president of Crocus Group, and his son. The elder Aras later told a Russian news outlet that Trump greeted him warmly, saying, "'Look who came to me! This is the richest man in Russia!'"

Later in June, the Russian parliament passed a series of anti-gay laws. In an interview with Miss Universe co-host Thomas Roberts before the event in November, Trump defended his decision to keep the pageant in Moscow.

June 18, 2013
Trump tweeted about the upcoming pageant. "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?" he wrote.

November 9, 2013
Miss Universe took place at Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia. Emin Agalarov performed at the event.

November 13, 2013
In an interview with Forbes, Emin Agalarov said Crocus Group, "may theoretically consider a possibility of building a Trump Tower as one of our skyscrapers."

Riaz Haq said...

Islam in Russia
By 2020, Muslims are expected to account for one-fifth of the population.

The Muslim community in Russia continues to grow, having reached 25 million, according to the grand mufti of Russia, Sheikh Rawil Gaynetdin.

In a recent interview, Gaynetdin has told Anadolu news agency that the Muslim community in Russia is indigenous and continues to grow in acceptance with Russia's other faiths.

Russian Muslims
Growth factors: Now 25 million people strong, Gaynetdin attributed the growth in Muslim population two main factors: the high birth rate among Muslim families, and through the arrival of people from Central Asia.

Origin: "Islam came to Russia in the seventh century. Followers of our Prophet Muhammad came to Russia 22 years after he left earthly life."

"They came to a city that is currently known as Derbent, it is in Southern Dagestan. And the first Adhan, call to worship, in Russia, was made on the lands of Dagestan," the mufti said.

More than 58 peoples, nationalities and ethnic groups have historically practised Islam, Gaynetdin said.

Regional concentration: Sheikh Gaynetdin said most Muslims in the country live in the Moscow region and other major metropolitan areas such as St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
There is also a high concentration of followers of Islam in the regions where Islamic states were located before the formation of a single Russian state; today, these regions are Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the republics of the North Caucasus, the mufti said.

Official recognition: He also noted that Islam was declared as the state religion in one of the states located in the territory of present-day Russia - in the Volga Bulgaria, in 922, which was 66 years earlier than the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity as the state religion of Kievan Rus.

He said the number of Muslims was also mentioned in the population census.

Composition: The majority of Russian Muslims are Sunnis of Hanafi school of thought but there are also some Sunnis of Shafi'i school and Shia, Gaynetdin said.

"Russian Shias are mainly Azeris and Tajiks from Pamir and they are small in number. Most Shias live in Derbent, southern Dagestan.

"In Moscow, only one community is registered as Shia," he said.

Community Organisation
"In Russia, there are three federal centres and we believe that this is the best option for the management of Muslim religious affairs in Russia," the mufti said.

In Moscow, there is the Council of Muftis of Russia

The Muslim Spiritual Authority is in the city of Ufa.

The Muslim Spiritual Authority is in the Caucasus, which acts as the coordination centre of Muslims in the North Caucasus.

United Ummah: "We do not divide Muslims into Shias and Sunnis, for us they are all members of the United Muslim Ummah [community]," Gaynetdin said.

When guests from the Middle East visit Russia, they say ties within the Russian Ummah were exemplary, the Mufti explained.

No pope: "Islam is a very democratic religion, we do not have one hierarchy like in Christianity."

"There is no pope or Ecumenical Patriarch for Islam. In Islam, each country has its own spiritual institutionalisation."

Riaz Haq said...

Moscow's official population is based on its residents with "permanent residency." It's believed there are an additional 1.8 million official "guests" on temporary residency through visas or documentation. Those without documentation, mostly from Central Asia, are believed to add another 1 million people.

The predominant religion is Christianity, with the Russian Orthodox Church being the most popular, as Moscow is the capital of Orthodox Christianity in the country, and a part of Russia's historical heritage in a law passed 16 years ago. Muslims, meanwhile, account for 14% of the city's population.

Interestingly, Moscow also had the largest community of billionaires in the world in 2013. The country fell to the number three spot in 2016, trailing behind New York City and Hong Kong.

Riaz Haq said...

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's decision to replace his defence chief has been seen primarily as an attempt to clean up corruption. But the appointment of Rustem Umerov, a Crimean Tatar and a Muslim, is a signal that Ukraine is serious about returning Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Speculations about the replacement of Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's defence minister since November 2021, have been rife for months.

While personally not accused of any wrongdoing, the man by President Zelensky's side since day one of the Russian full-scale invasion was seen as unable to stop corruption penetrating his ministry.

Military procurement scandals and accusations of bribery against officials at enlistment centres made him damaged goods in the eyes of Ukrainian society, currently in need of a morale boost in the wake of a slower than expected offensive.

This is where Rustem Umerov comes in.

The 41-year-old is a government official who for the past year headed Ukraine's State Property Fund, but is best known for negotiating with Russia and for organising successful prisoner exchanges.

Not a complete unknown but not someone in the media spotlight either, he is a Crimean Tatar born in exile and an active member of this ethnic community, trying to reinstate its cultural identity and its place in the world.

Most importantly for Ukrainians, he has not been accused of corruption, embezzlement or profiteering.

Mr Umerov came into politics in 2019 when he ran for parliament with the reformist "Holos" party, which he later left to become a government official.

Before that he worked in the private sector, first in telecoms and later in investment.

In 2013, he founded a charity programme to help train Ukrainians at the prestigious Stanford University in the US.

But the defining part of his identity are his Crimean Tatar roots and the role they can play in Ukraine's firm intention to return Crimea.