Azovstal is a name that became synonymous with Ukrainian courage following the siege of Mariupol. The Ukrainian Armed Forces used the vast network of underground tunnels and bunkers at the iron and steel works as their final line of defense before Russian invaders captured it in May.
Azovstal’s owner, the Metinvest Group — owned by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Rinat Akhmetov — lost more than 50% of its commercial enterprise since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it’s not a renewed assault that the group and Akhmetov are worried about. Indeed, a peace deal right now is very much off the table. It’s the potential for fatigue among Western partners that’s the primary concern.
“The biggest worry is the possibility of fatigue in the West if they get fed up with supporting Ukraine and try to impose a solution by cutting off supplies of weapons,” said Yuriy Ryzhenkov, Metinvest CEO, during a recent interview with BBC Radio 4 in London.
No Potential for a Peace Deal With Russia
A majority of Ukrainian citizens agree. According to an October poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, when asked whether the country should continue on the warpath or negotiate a cease-fire, a staggering 86% of respondents said they’d prefer fighting to continue. In early November, Gen. Mark Milley, the United States’ highest-ranking military officer and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he saw a “window of opportunity” for peace talks, stating that military victory was “unachievable” for either side.
Indeed, Ryzhenkov believes that the effects of a harsh winter will only serve to strengthen the desires of Ukrainian citizens to continue the fight regardless of the views of Western allies. “Actually, it [a harsh winter] will make them even stronger, because they know whom to blame for that. People know who is the root cause of the problems they’re suffering, so they’re more likely to actually join the armed forces, to support the armed forces even more than they do right now because they understand who the enemy is.”
War ‘Likely’ to End This Year
Casting his eyes over 2023, Ryzhenkov said that, from what he’s heard from military experts, “the war is likely to end [this] year. When that’s going to be, whether it will be spring or summer or autumn, nobody knows.”
When the war does eventually end, one thing is clear: Rinat Akhmetov and his Metinvest Group will return to Mariupol. Ryzhenkov said that after the occupation ends, “We will return to Mariupol. We will start restoring enterprises there, we will start restoring the industry. Of course, we will not rebuild the old industry in its prewar format. We will build there a new industry — more modern and environmentally friendly,” adding that Metinvest would expect some help with funding from the government, ideally through reparations from Russia.
It was announced earlier this year that Metinvest had set up a working group to prepare for the new project, with the goal of hopefully rebuilding the Azovstal plant once Mariupol is recaptured and liberated from Russian occupation.
Azovstal CEO Enver Tskitishvili says that there will be a broader range of products produced by the new plant. He also emphasized that the plant will be greener, saying, “We will build a plant that will be based on the principle of zero carbon emissions. It will be environmentally friendly steelmaking.”
Construction of the new Azovstal plant is expected to last several years, and Metinvest officials are planning to use the most modern and cutting-edge equipment available to complete the build. “It will be a very different plant. Perhaps it will not be in the same place, but somewhere nearby,” Tskitishvili said. Metinvest previously indicated that the plant will be located on the same site where Azovstal stood.
In closing, Ryzhenkov said that it’s unfortunate that Azovstal became famous not for the major projects it supplied steel to, such as The Shard skyscraper in London or many of the ships that cruise the Mediterranean, but because it was demolished. “The plant became world famous because it was destroyed. I think the feeling we all, and citizens of Mariupol, have is that we need to restore it. Azovstal is the symbol which we need to rebuild.”