nb_cid nb_clickOther -tt-nb this.style.behavior='url(#default#homepage)';this.setHomePage('http://www.aol.com/?mtmhp=acm50ieupgradebanner_112313 network-banner-empty upgradeBanner
Search AOL Mail
AOL Mail
AOL Favorites

Crimea's new leader, a man with a murky past now working to tie his region to Russia

Crimean Premier Sergei Aksyonov

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) - Two weeks ago, was a small-time Crimean politician, the leader of a tiny pro-Russia political party that could barely summon 4 percent of the votes in the last regional election. He was a little-known businessman with a murky past and a nickname - "Goblin" - left over from the days when criminal gangs flourished here after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Times have changed.

Today, Aksyonov is the prime minister of Crimea's regional government and the public face of Russia's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula. He is, by all appearances, a man placed in power by Moscow who is now working hard to make Crimea a part of Russia.

He also leads a brand-new army, 30 men carrying AK-47s who are still learning to march in formation. "Commander!" they greeted him Saturday, when they were sworn into service in a Simferopol park.

Speaking at the ceremony, the former semi-professional boxer said that while Crimea's March 16 referendum would make the peninsula a part of Russia, he holds no grudge against Ukraine.

"We are not enemies with those soldiers who pledged loyalty to the Ukrainian state," he said, referring to the soldiers now barricaded into bases across Crimea, unsure what will happen to them. They will be allowed to leave for Ukraine if they wish, he said.

He is, he insisted, a peacemaker.

But the people of Simferopol remember Aksyonov by his 1990s name, "Goblin."

"He wasn't a criminal big shot," said Andriy Senchenko, now a member of Ukraine's Batkivshchyna party, which was at the forefront of the Kiev protests that led last month to the downfall of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych. Senchenko described Aksyonov as a "brigade leader" in a gang that was often involved in extortion rackets.

While Senchenko is not unbiased - his party opposes Aksyonov's push for Crimea to become part of Russia - the editor of the region's main pro-Russian newspaper, Crimean Truth, also accused Aksyonov of being in a criminal gang. Mikhail Bakharev made the allegations five years ago, when Aksyonov first emerged on Crimea's political scene.

Aksyonov, who denies the allegations, sued Bakharev for defamation and won, but a higher court later dismissed the case against the editor.

Today, with Aksyonov at the center of Crimean politics, and with the Russian soldiers who back him deployed across the peninsula, Bakharev now insists he was mistaken.

The stories about a criminal past "were just his enemies attacking him," Bakharev said during an interview, shifting nervously and clearly unhappy to be discussing the topic. He said further investigations showed Aksyonov had no ties to criminal gangs.

He now counts himself as an ardent Aksyonov supporter, calling him "a confident and brave person who is not afraid to take responsibility."

Crimea has been swept into turmoil over the past two weeks, as Moscow, furious over the fall of Yanukovych and the pro-Western outlook of the new government, used hundreds of Russian soldiers to seize political control of the peninsula. The Russian soldiers - who Moscow insists are members of a Crimean self-defense force that Aksyonov created last year - ringed the regional parliament. Then, with armed soldiers inside the chamber, Aksyonov was named prime minister.

His critics say it's clear that Aksyonov is simply a puppet, someone installed by Moscow to ease what has become, in effect, a Russian takeover of its former territory.

"If six months ago someone would have told me that Aksyonov would become prime minister, I would have laughed," said Valentina Tsamar, a prominent Simferopol journalist with the TV channel Chernomorskaya.

It was a sudden rise to power for Aksyonov, who didn't go into politics until 2009 when he united three pro-Russian organizations into the Russian Unity party.

The party reached out to Crimea's large Russian-speaking population with political advertisements that compared anti-Yanukovych protesters to Nazis and promised a golden age for Crimea replete with vineyards, jobs and well-off tourists.

He also insisted he had no intention of splitting off from Ukraine. Just three weeks ago, he told The Associated Press in an interview that the party "has never wanted Crimea to separate from Ukraine."

But the advertisements did little good. Russian Unity's rallies were notable for their paltry turnouts, and it took just 4 percent of the votes in the 2010 elections.

Local journalists say Aksyonov first emerged on the political scene with the backing of Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of Crimea's parliament and a prominent builder now embroiled in scandals over unpaid bank loans and failed construction projects. Konstantinov's company, Konsul, collected money from Ukrainians to build homes but never finished the projects, according to reporters who have looked into the deals.

"Now these people have no apartment, and no money," said Sergey Mokrushin, an investigative journalists with Chernomorskaya who spent months examining Konstantinov's finances.

Official investigations, though, never apparently began. Members of the parliament are immune from prosecution, and Konstantinov's powerful ties to the now-ousted Ukrainian ruling party meant investigations could be easily stalled.

"He's untouchable," Mokrushin said.

He does, however, have supporters.

Gennady Ivanchenkov, a 56-year-old Simferopol economist, said he's impressed with Aksyonov's leadership in such a tumultuous time. As for Aksyonov's past, he isn't sure the "Goblin" stories are true, and even if they are he isn't worried.

"Those pages of his life, they are not relevant," he said. "You know, the '90s were such dark times and now I can only judge him by what he's doing now."

Join the discussion

1000|Characters 1000  Characters
Bob March 09 2014 at 9:42 AM

Until the Crimeans are able to elect honest politicians, they, and Ukraine, will have the same problems over and over. The people will find out soon that this guy is a crook, a dictator, and another coup will take place, over and over, until they figure out that they have to get honest, or well meaning, people as leaders.
Look at all the other countries that had "democratic elections" finally, only to find out later that they had elected dictators.
It takes time, for the people to figure this out,,, time some counties dont have. Maybe indeed they might be better off under the control of Russia, it might right now be the best thing for them, as they probably can't survive on their own.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
eeodjo March 09 2014 at 10:48 AM

This is the reason why Russia always get into any kind of conflict. Figure it out, the pro Russian Ukraine's "Ex" president Yanukovych was already branded by Putin as failing his presidential duties. Yet Putin believes in him and his lies about the Ukranian people, which prompted Putin to seized Crimea and gets his military force ready for combat. Now, a brand new, "Unknown"-power seeking small time politician emerges from some kind of garbage and takes the lead in Crimea. Why is it that small type of hoodlums always makes the big splashes? I hope Putin learns before it is too late.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
atisonc March 09 2014 at 10:28 AM

Maybe this guy is part of the landmine cleanup committee that King Phillips Daughter in Law and William and Harries Mother tried to cleanup before she died. Lets give Russia time to pick up their own trash. Y'know,??

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Gerrie March 09 2014 at 9:51 AM

if you are one of the former Eastern Bloc countries you are watching this very carefully and making plans with Europe not to let this happen to them! this might be the best thing to happen to open they eyes of Europe going into the future....

Flag Reply +1 rate up
fabiolenoir March 09 2014 at 10:28 AM

I hope they dont bring their problems in the US and to other EU countries. We already have enough of immigrants and polictal assylum seekers...

Flag Reply +3 rate up
kdarmon58 March 09 2014 at 10:23 AM

Everyone needs to vote for the people they want in any office. But so many do not but are the first to say we need change. Get out and vote.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Gerrie March 09 2014 at 9:49 AM

we call this "out of the pot to the frying pan"! good luck Crimeana...

Flag Reply +3 rate up
alamaden March 09 2014 at 9:24 AM

One more in an extremely long list of demagods that are created by AOL/HP in its search for stories that are based on ___________ you fill in the blank hp... sad but all the public now wants after these last 6 years of charades is the truth and nothing but the truth.... and you ( no offense btw) tell the public stories that are light years from the truth.... Grow up !

Flag Reply +2 rate up
wfathertime March 09 2014 at 9:27 AM

Mob law never worked before what makes them think it will now.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
fernandezarthr March 09 2014 at 9:49 AM

....All of sudden many Russian think that Putin is doing is the same thing America does,.........That is a bad comparison,........America, Liberates the Oppress, Empowers people...................Russia is the opposite...........Russia, subjugates, takes away Freedoms, enslaves...............so don't go around your spreading you stupid messages of ......."Liberation"........we Know what Communist are all about!!,........

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
ankichavez fernandezarthr March 09 2014 at 10:01 AM

it seem that you have been indoctrinated by the education system and the media in this country like most of the people. My advise: do lots of research, do not trust the corrupt US media, FOX news included. At the end of the tunnel you'll see the light.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
aol~~ 1209600



World Series

More From Our Partners