Perhaps it was because the hour was late and I was cruising at 30,000 feet, having just left Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Italy an hour earlier that I pondered the future of one of Ukraine's best-known oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov.

Berlusconi, you recall, is the media mogul who became the elected politician. Ahkmetov is the once media-shy industry baron who became -well, here goes - Ukraine's prime minister-in-waiting.

When the idea was first broached with me several months ago by a Washington, D.C. businessman who intimated that he had firsthand information, I said something to the effect, "Yeah sure, and my grandmother is goaltender for Shakhtar Donetsk."

But the gentleman seemed well within his senses, so I tucked the information into the back of the cranium to let it gestate. Later, I brought up the subject with my learned colleague, former Kyiv Post editor Scott Lewis.

"No way," he said in a dismissive tone, as if I had just hopped off the proverbial boat. I promptly forgot about it. It was, of course, not news that Akhmetov is widely considered to be the power behind the Party of Regions, but one had to suspend disbelief to predict more.

Then, on this business trip to Rome, I couldn't get Berlusconi out of my mind. What do the super-rich do when there is nothing left to do? The answer was really not that far away: For more than a year, I had worked for John D. Rockefeller, Roman Numeral Four.

As his communications advisor, I had somehow managed to spend a portion of the $12 million he spent on a U.S. Senate race. I stuck with him like Krazy Glue for 14 months, and found what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in one of his short stories: "The rich are different from you and me."

Rockefeller won that race in the small state of West Virginia, and remains in the U.S. Senate more than 20 years later.

Of course, Rockefeller is not in the same category as either Berlusconi or Akhmetov. His was trickle-down wealth, and though his great great great granddaddy would be a super billionaire (in today's dollars), my friend Jay is merely a super-millionaire.

But that nagging question: What do the rich do when there is nothing left to do?

This, of course, is rhetorical. In Akhmetov's case, you grow the wealth, the empire, complete with fancy hotels and community charity projects. A taxi driver from Donetsk's airport to the Donetsk Palace (Akhmetov's hotel) is kept busy waving his arm from left to right pointing out Akhmetov-built facilities.

One supposes - and it is a proposition you and I will probably never face at such levels - that the joy is in the journey (At least that is what it says on a sudsy plaque I was given at my 40th birthday party). However, we speculate on the thinnest of reeds.

My first encounter with Rockefeller was when I was a bureau manager of United Press International in Charleston, West Virginia. He was running for governor, having lost a previous contest because he suggested that strip-mining was bad for the state. It was a politically courageous declaration, but rather dumb in coal country.

The second time around, Rockefeller hired two sharpies from New York to advise him, and they steered him clear of the potholes. However, in a rather corrupt state, the young candidate's advisors came up with the assertion, "He is too rich to steal."

At the time, I thought that the statement was politically crass, gilded with an arrogance befitting a six-foot, five-inch transplant from New York, one who breathed truly rarefied air. He seemingly was talking down to the Mountaineers of West Virginia.

I was wrong. The state had seen its share of corrupt politicians, and the average voter yearned for someone who was "too rich to steal." Rockefeller was twice elected governor, and I later helped him get to the U.S. Senate.

Perhaps there is not too much difference between my West Virginians and Ukrainians. They are fed up with corruption. Perhaps the "too rich to steal" moniker is right for the oligarch from Eastern Ukraine.

And perhaps, in her heyday, my grandmother could have been the goaltender for the Shakhtar Donetsk football team.
By Michael Willard, The Ukrainian Observer

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