Ukraine has repaid more than $100 million in debt to a company owned by Rinat Akhmetov, the nation’s richest man, in a possible sign that tensions between the tycoon and the president are easing.
Ukraine last week finished paying off 3 billion hryvnyas ($106 million) it owed to Akhmetov's DTEK for renewable energy it had produced, the company said in a January 24 statement.
Ukrenergo, the state-owned power transmission company, last year raised several hundred million dollars through a bond sale in order to pay off debt owed to the nation’s renewable energy sector.
The government paid back all companies except DTEK, which accused the government of discrimination and threatened to sue.
The failure to pay DTEK came amid reports of growing tensions between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Akhmetov over a host of issues, including energy prices, media coverage, and new restrictions on powerful businessmen.
Akhemtov, whose net worth is estimated at about $7 billion by Forbes, owns a large slice of the Ukrainian economy, including steel and power plants, coal mines, banks, and media assets.
Zelenskiy last year pushed through parliament a bill called the “anti-oligarch” law that would force individuals designated as tycoons to sell their media assets or refrain from political activity.
Akhmetov voiced his criticism of the bill and described himself as an "investor," not an oligarch.
Shortly after the bill passed parliament, Akhmetov’s television station stepped up its criticism of Zelenskiy, angering the presidential office, local media reported.
Akhmetov denied that he exerts influence over his television station’s programming.
The fight between the president and the tycoon worried some in the West, who said it was ill-timed, coming as Russia massed troops on Ukraine’s border in what the United States has said could be a prelude to an invasion.
Zelenskiy in late November said Ukraine's intelligence service had uncovered plans by a group of Russian and Ukrainian operatives to stage a coup.
Zelenskiy claimed the plotters mentioned Akhmetov in their conversations, which were allegedly intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence.
Akhmetov vehemently denied any connection to a plot, calling it a “lie.”
Earlier this month, people close to Zelenskiy said the two sides were seeking to ease the tension.
Aleksandr Paraschiy, an analyst at Kyiv-based Concorde Capital, said the government’s decision to repay DTEK in full is a “sign of a calming down of the conflict between the Ukrainian president and Akhmetov.”