On February 6, the General Director of the Kiev-based Aeronautical Scientific-Technical Complex (ANTK) Antonov, Dmitri Simonovich Kiva, was the victim of what had been initially reported as "an attack from a group of hooligans" that occurred in the entryway to his home. Kiva suffered what is described as "a severe blow to the head" and has been described as "in serious condition and in an unconscious state" in hospital.
Antonov is the only one of the major aerospace industrial design bureaus that was located outside of Russia during Soviet times. The company has become the nucleus of Ukraine's aviation industry, but it has suffered from a lack of state funding, plus Russia reneging on agreements to cooperate with Ukrainian industry on several joint programs.
The initial press accounts of who was responsible for the attack on Kiva are suspect because senior executives from state defense enterprises in Ukraine are rarely without a personal driver and/or bodyguard--they are unlikely victims of some random street violence. "People of his [Kiva's] position don't just walk unaccompanied down the pavement," said a Ukrainian defense industry official.
Adding mystery to the story is the fact that despite Kiva's rank and position the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) reported to official news agencies that it had no information on the incident, even though the attack would normally be regarded as a criminal act. "In our computer database there is no information," the head of the MVD's press office, Vladimir Polishchuk, was quoted as stating to the Russian Novosti news service.
It is now generally assumed that the incident was an unsuccessful murder-for-hire, which would explain both the MVD's and ANTK Antonov's unwillingness to comment on the case. The modus operandi of attacking Kiva next to his own residence is a hallmark of these type of killings. Further, the Ukrainian weekly newspaper 2000 reported that the attack on Kiva was related to a meeting he had chaired just one day earlier.
"On 5 February a pivotal moment for the Ukrainian aerospace industry occurred in the city of Kharkhov," the paper reported. "The resulting decision was for Antonov to merge with two other enterprises: the Progress engine design bureau and the Open Joint Stock company Motor Sich. Aviation specialists in Ukraine and Russia looking at this incident believe that this attack on Dmitri Simonovich was the work of those forces that are in opposition to this reorganisation of the aerospace industry."
There are any number of disgruntled parties that would want to prevent the merger of Antonov with the Zaparozhe-based Progress and Motor Sich. Some of the staff at the Ukrainian planemaker have been against any merger because it would mean having to share the revenues generated by the Anotonov Airlines fleet of An-124 Ruslan and An-225 Mriya aircraft (the two largest aircraft ever produced in the world) that the Kiev-based enterprise leases out for commercial cargo flights. These cargo delivery contracts are almost the only significant source of income that Antonov has had since Ukraine became independent 18 years ago, so there are those within the company who aren't very happy about the idea of seeing their profits support the operations of two newly-acquired partners.
There have also been attempts by Russian industry to take over Motor Sich because of its very lucrative business of producing and supporting engines for Russian-made helicopters. No such facilities exist in Russia, but to date the price that Ukraine has been asking for a controlling stake in the company has been more than Moscow has been willing to pay. This merger with Antonov would end any chance of Russia acquiring Motor Sich, and would consequently make sure Ukraine continues to reap the benefits of supplying helicopter engines--profits which Russian industry believes rightfully belong to them.
There are more reasons to suspect a Russian hand than disgruntled locals in Kiva's attempted murder. The acquisition by Antonov of Motor Sich would be regarded as a considerable setback to Russia's long-term objectives to take over the strategic assets in its neighboring, former republics. Additionally, the fact that the Ukrainian MVD appear uninterested in such a high-profile attack suggests that that the case has been handed to the Ukrainian Security Service's (SBU) Foreign Counterintelligence Unit.
The Ukrainian economy has suffered several major blows already during the turmoil of the last few months--plus Russia cutting off natural gas supplies at the beginning of 2009 and insisting on price increases for future deliveries. This situation, a marked upsurge in criminal activity and efforts by Russia to increase interference in Ukraine's internal affairs, has sparked fears that the country could return to the lawlessness and contract killings--such as the attempt on Kiva--that were the hallmarks of Ukraine's first years of independence in the 1990s.
What is certain is that Russia will continue to try and show that it can reach beyond its borders and into its former colonies to exert its will, destabilise the political and economic atmosphere when it is advantageous to do so, and eliminate individuals that are stand in the way of its own national objectives.
Josef Stalin was fond of saying "when there's a person, there's a problem. When there's no person, there's no problem." It seems that for the former Georgian strongman's ideological acolytes in todays' Kremlin, Kiva had become a problem. The question is how long before other senior Ukrainian figures begin to fall into the same category.
Reuben F. Johnson is a regular contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.