Does Kolo­moisky’s exit sig­nal start of real crack­down against oli­garchs?

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLEG SUKHOV [email protected] Kyiv Post staff writer Oleg Sukhov can be reached at [email protected]

Igor Kolo­moisky was dis­missed as gover­nor of Dnipropetr­o­vsk Oblast in the early hours of March 25.

Shortly af­ter noon the same day, the head of Ukraine’s Emer­gen­cies Ser­vices, Ser­hiy Bochkovsky, and his deputy, were hand­cuffed on sus­pi­cion of cor­rup­tion in the mid­dle of a Cabi­net meet­ing. The scene was broad­cast live on na­tional tele­vi­sion. The two of­fi­cials are sus­pected of tak­ing kick­backs from the pur­chase of fuel at ex­or­bi­tant prices.

Is the na­tion wit­ness­ing the rule of law fi­nally tak­ing root? Is this a power play? Or are th­ese merely public re­la­tions stunts?

Some ob­servers have said that Kolo­moisky’s res­ig­na­tion may in­di­cate Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko’s in­creased clout in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Prime Min­is­ter Arseniy Yat­senyuk to get rid of the ty­coon’s in­flu­ence.

The res­ig­na­tion fol­lowed the pas­sage by par­lia­ment last week of a bill de­priv­ing the oli­garch of his de facto con­trol of state-owned oil and gas ex­trac­tor Ukr­nafta. At the same time, the gov­ern­ment re­moved a Kolo­moisky pro­tégé as head of oil pipe­line op­er­a­tor Ukr­transnafta.

Kolo­moisky re­sponded by send­ing armed men to both com­pa­nies while ex­plod­ing in a curse-laden tirade at jour­nal­ists.

Ob­servers say the fu­ture will show whether Kolo­moisky’s res­ig­na­tion and Bochkovsky’s ar­rest were a cheap show in­tended to im­press the public and the West or a demon­stra­tion of gen­uine po­lit­i­cal will. A lot will de­pend on the whether sus­pects are suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted, and whether the gov­ern­ment cleans up state-owned com­pa­nies and re­duces the in­flu­ence oli­garchs have on them.

Vik­to­ria Syu­mar, a law­maker from Yat­senyuk’s Peo­ple’s Front party, told the Kyiv Post that the most qual­i­fied, in­de­pen­dent peo­ple should run state com­pa­nies. They should be hired through a trans­par­ently com­pet­i­tive process, and pos­si­bly be West­ern ex­ec­u­tives. Oth­ers main­tain that the firms should be pri­va­tized at trans­par­ent auc­tions – a mea­sure for which Poroshenko has re­cently pushed.

An­other cru­cial is­sue is whether Kolo­moisky’s res­ig­na­tion will have im­pli­ca­tions for other oli­garchs, in­clud­ing Ri­nat Akhme­tov, Vik­tor Pinchuk, Dmytro Fir­tash and Kon­styan­tyn Grig­or­ishin, among oth­ers.

The ty­coons have dom­i­nated Ukraine’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic life for most of its nearly 24 years as an in­de­pen­dent state. “No­body doubts that Kolo­moisky is an oli­garch but he’s def­i­nitely not the only one and he’s a pro-Ukrainian oli­garch,” Syu­mar says.

Some ar­gue that Kolo­moisky’s am­i­ca­ble exit from his job is an in­di­ca­tion that some kind of agree­ment had been reached with the pres­i­dent.

An­other the­ory is that Poroshenko – him­self a bil­lion­aire oli­garch – was mo­ti­vated not by the in­ter­ests of the state but by his own busi­ness in his strug­gle with Kolo­moisky. Last week the for­mer gover­nor ac­cused some of the pres­i­dent’s al­lies, in­clud­ing Poroshenko Bloc law­maker Ihor Kononenko, of in­stalling a loyal as­so­ciate at the helm of Ukr­transnafta.

Kolo­moisky’s res­ig­na­tion also prompted a de­bate over the ex­tent of his in­flu­ence over Yat­senyuk and his al­lies, who have of­ten been ac­cused of be­ing in the oli­garch’s pocket. Yat­senyuk’s fac­tion, how­ever, voted with Poroshenko’s to pass the Ukr­nafta bill, sug­gest­ing that claims of Kolo­moisky’s in­flu­ence over Yat­senyuk were greatly ex­ag­ger­ated.

Syu­mar de­nied that Kolo­moisky was fi­nanc­ing her party and said that Yat­senyuk “sup­ported the Ukrainian state’s in­ter­ests in the dis­pute.”

“We should divide the busi­ness story and the po­lit­i­cal one. Po­lit­i­cally, we sup­port (Kolo­moisky) in what he was do­ing, in his ef­forts to help vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions,” she says, adding that they did not sup­port Kolo­moisky as a busi­ness­man.

The oli­garch has been praised for turn­ing Dnipropetr­o­vsk Oblast into a bul­wark against pro-Krem­lin sep­a­ratists last year. He suc­ceeded in those ef­forts far bet­ter than for­mer Donetsk Oblast Gover­nor Ser­hiy Taruta and Odesa Oblast Gover­nor Ihor Pa­lyt­sya, Syu­mar says.

The Kolo­moisky saga may also have reper­cus­sions for the fate of vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions, some of which have been ac­cused of be­ing his “pri­vate army.”

He has re­port­edly fi­nanced the Dnipro, Azov and Don­bas bat­tal­ions, which are part of the In­te­rior Min­istry, and also has links to the Right Sec­tor’s mil­i­tary unit, which has no legal sta­tus, and Dnipropetr­o­vsk-based pri­vate se­cu­rity firm Sich.

Pavlo Kishkar, a com­bat­ant in the Don­bas bat­tal­ion turned law­maker from the Samopomich party, de­nied by phone that there were any links be­tween his unit and Kolo­moisky, how­ever.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov has ar­gued that Kolo­moisky does not have much sway with the bat­tal­ions now, and they have been firmly in­cor­po­rated by his min­istry. Mean­while, Se­cu­rity Ser­vice head Va­len­tyn Na­ly­vaichenko said on March 25 that all “il­le­gal” mil­i­tary units, in­clud­ing those in Don­bas and in Dnipropetr­o­vsk Oblast, should be dis­armed. The state­ments were likely a ref­er­ence to the Right Sec­tor and Sich, the se­cu­rity firm.

Ser­hiy Bochkovsky, head of the State Emer­gency Ser­vice (C), be­ing ar­rested by a po­lice of­fi­cer at a Cabi­net meet­ing on March 25. (kmu.gov.ua)

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