Oil Report

INTERVIEW-Ukrainian mogul Firtash predicts Kiev gov't will fall next year

VIENNA, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash said the Ukrainian government is politically bankrupt and will probably fall early next year, in his most outspoken criticism of the pro-Western leadership in Kiev since it came to power almost two years ago.

Firtash this week had to shelve a plan to return to Ukraine, after the authorities there said if he set foot in the country they would act on a U.S. warrant for his arrest on suspicion of bribery and money-laundering.

Speaking to Reuters in the Austrian capital, Firtash said he had lost faith in the ability of the government to conduct meaningful reform, and had decided Ukraine needed a movement which would push for political change.

“The current government is politically bankrupt. The quicker they leave power the better for the people,” Firtash, who denies the U.S. allegations, told Reuters in an interview.

“If the government does not fail today, then it will probably occur in the spring. It’s impossible to continue existing and not doing anything.”

“We need to change the situation. It’s not a matter of being behind the scenes, we need to support a movement and give the people of Ukraine something to believe in.”

Firtash has described the U.S. allegation against him as purely political and has challenged the warrant in the courts.

The industrialist, who owns substantial interests in Ukraine’s gas distribution and fertiliser industries, was a long-standing supporter of Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President forced to flee last year by street protests.

Until now, Firtash has been muted in his criticism of the new pro-Western government under President Petro Poroshenko.

If he decides to challenge Poroshenko, he will be a formidable foe because of his wealth and the influence he still wields in Ukrainian politics. (Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Lidia Kelly)