Dmitry Firtash is the Keyser Söze of Ukrainian politics — a mystery figure about whom you hear two very different stories. According to one version, he’s a benign self-made businessman who gives generously to charities around the world, with the power — perhaps greater than any other Ukrainian citizen — to steer his troubled country towards stability and prosperity.
According to the other, completely unproven version, which he denies, he’s Putin’s bagman, another of those crooked oligarchs who made their money through dirty means — and is now about to get his just deserts at the hands of the US legal system, which has the power to extradite him, imprison him and seize his billions.
Now’s our chance to find out, for here he is, finally, in a chair in front of me. He’s 48 and has watchful grey-blue eyes, a beaky broken nose, a close-cropped beard and the air of a man very used to being obeyed. He’s polite, even allowing himself a quick, sweet smile at times, but intimidating. When, for example, his young translator fails to make the grade, the speed with which he is ejected from the room and replaced is terrifying. If he doesn’t like your questions — he irritably batted away my first one, when I tried to get him to sum up, as simply as possible, the political situation in Ukraine — he lets you know. But once he has warmed up he’s unstoppable.