Volodymyr Zelensky is used to getting his way when it comes to money. Look at the untold billions US taxpayers have given his country to defeat Russian aggression.
Money from the private sector has been much less easy. Witness the chilly reception he received from bankers this past week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It spoke volumes about the enormous challenge Zelensky faces not just to beat back Vladimir Putin’s hordes, but also to repair the damage they unleashed on his economy.
The WEF, of course, is an annual gabfest of Wall Street elites and globalist financiers who talk about weighty issues even if they never seem to get anything done. This year’s event at least promised to achieve something concrete because Zelensky would be in the room with some of the world’s most powerful bankers and he really needs their money.
Wall Street has shown a keen interest in investing in Ukraine. The banker class (like the rest of us) admires the country’s resiliency. The financial community also appreciates the geopolitical urgency in preventing Vladimir Putin from re-establishing the old Soviet Union on the backs of the Ukrainian people.
And they liked Zelensky’s pitch in Davos: Despite the continued hostilities, inflation in his country is down to below 6% from as high as 30%; the economy is growing. He plans to open the vital Kyiv airport in the coming months. The western part of the country is pretty safe from bombing, he explained.
Led by JP Morgan and Jamie Dimon’s team of Mary Erdoes and Vince La Padula, an investment fund is ready and waiting to be formed. As this column has pointed out, JP Morgan has held a series of private meetings with potential investors because the country is in many ways an amazing investment opportunity. Ukrainians are both educated and productive when bombs aren’t aimed at their homes and businesses.
And the banker bigwigs like Dimon of JP Morgan, Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, the Carlyle Group’s David Rubenstein, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman, plus a rep from Larry Fink’s BlackRock asset-management empire acted like they were ready to make a deal first before the cameras and then in front of Zelensky himself during a private meeting where they discussed how to repair infrastructure, build a tech economy, and manufacturing.
Yet Zelensky came away empty-handed, I am told. Not a single hard commitment was made last week by people running the world’s biggest investment houses.
There was a little good news for Zelensky out of Davos: Robert Kraft, yes, that Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, has been part of the JP Morgan-led discussions on rebuilding Ukraine for the past year or so, and he is now seriously considering building factories in Ukraine.
Before Robert became synonymous with a team that regularly (until recently) won Super Bowls, he was big in the paper manufacturing business. Sources tell The Post he and his son and business partner, Jonathan (they run the eponymous Kraft Group holding company), are eyeing sites in the far-less war-torn western part of Ukraine and could decide to proceed with building a factory or two later this year.
A Kraft Group spokesman says the company “has had a couple of preliminary discussions about the potential for doing something in the future but nothing is imminent.”
The looming Kraft investment is estimated at around $100 million. That’s good, but small compared to the private investment needed to create jobs and economic growth, and the amount that Wall Street could raise under the right conditions.
And the money is waiting, which is a good sign. My banker sources say Zelensky has convinced the investment big shots that he is rooting out corruption, a big obstacle for any significant capital raise. They also like what they’re hearing about his economy bouncing back.
It’s the war that’s preventing Wall Street from fully opening its wallet. The problem, simply put: Investors know there is no return on capital for bombed-out tech startups.
During the closed-door talks, first reported by me at Fox Business, Zelensky might have made his predicament even worse. He did not indicate that he’s ready to hold peace talks with Putin, the man he recently called “Hitler.”
That means private money in any significant sum isn’t happening anytime soon. I’m sure Dimon told Zelensky just that. The JPM honcho also must have told Zelensky that Ukraine would have access to billions of dollars from private equity, institutional investors and rich Americans the second the bullets stopped flying, but not a second before.
Manchin on the march
Last week at the home of PR impresario Robert Dilenschneider, powerful West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the long-time political moderate, explained to a group of potential donors why he can’t stand Donald Trump’s divisiveness and Joe Biden’s feebleness, and why another candidate is needed to run for the White House because the future of the country is at stake.
Manchin didn’t explicitly say he was running for president as an independent on the so-called “No Labels” ticket, the nonpartisan organization he has been with the past few years.
But there really isn’t any other reason to be in Darien, Conn., on a cold winter night unless you are running, so stay tuned.