Britain’s newspaper The Independent recently reported: “Some of the most extraordinary allegations of violence, murder and corruption ever seen in a London commercial legal dispute have emerged in High Court documents” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/oligarchs-at-war-claims-of-murder-among-ukrainian-billionaires-in-high-court-case-10107612.html). The case involves oligarchs from a well-known, troublesome eastern Slavic country. But one must disappoint the Western reader here, for this is not another horrid tale about Putin’s Russia. Rather, it is about the West’s new ‘beacon of democracy’ in the former Soviet Union: Ukraine.
At the center of the scandal is the Maidan-appointed governor of Dnepropetrovsk and financier of several neo-fascist groups, oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskii. He is infamous not least of all for his crass, even unconvincing denial of any involvement in the July 2014 MH17 shootdown in which he called the tragedy “a trifle” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrfKZUttEwE&feature=youtu.be). In any ‘normal country’ – a phrase usually used reserved for what Russia supposedly is not – such a statement would lead to one’s firing from his official position. In Maidan’s Ukraine, however, Kolomoiskii was appointed and kept in office as governor of one of Ukraine’s most powerful regions – Dnepropetrovsk.
Kolomoiskii: Just Another Post-Soviet Berezovskii
It is sometimes assumed that Russia is an outlier in the post-Soviet space – the only force preventing a flowering of democracies across the region. In reality, most post-Soviet states are pretty much the same. Religious and ethnonational intolerance, corruption and criminality are the rule rather than the exception. For example, in most post-Soviet states we find a plethora of powerful oligarchs who undermine the rule of law by embracing corrupt bureaucrats and the criminal underworld. Thus, we find in Ukraine a number of Russian-style Boris Berezovskiis, perhaps the most odious of which is Kolomoiksii. Recently, Kolomoiskii was accused of several murders in the British court proceeding by competing Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, who lives in Kensington, Great Britain and is a personal friend of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Kolomoiskii and his chief business partner, Henaddiy Boholyubov, are the targets of a lawsuit brought by fellow Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, for more than $2 billion in damages for unfulfilled deals regarding iron ore mining investments. The case involves Pinchuk’s claim that he gave Boholyubov and Kolomoiskii $143 million for purchase of an iron ore mining business from the state, but instead of handing control of the mine to Pinchuk they sold half of it to Ukraine’s richest man prior to the Maidan revolt, Donbass oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. Pinchuk is asserting that the mining assets are now valued at $1 billion and he is owed another $1 billion in unpaid dividends. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/oligarchs-at-war-claims-of-murder-among-ukrainian-billionaires-in-high-court-case-10107612.html)
The case has brought to the surface the dark underside of Kolomoiskii’s and in general Ukraine’s gangster-style business elite. Boholyubov recently accused Mr Pinchuk of witness tampering and sought permission to bring contempt of court charges. Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor, Svyatolslav Piskun, a witness in the case, claimed he had been coerced. But Mr Pinchuk’s lawyers responded with allegations that prosecutor Piskun had helped to cover up several murders and attempted murders ordered by Kolomoiskii. The latter, it is alleged, also ordered a Ukrainian lawyer be attacked for refusing to leak details from a client. Thugs beat up one of the lawyer’s colleagues mistakenly before assaulting Kolomoiskii’s actual target. Kolomoiskii “then arranged the killing of the gang members who botched the attacks… and sought to cover up these murders,” claims Pinchuk’s witness statement. It is also alleged that The Kolomoiskii’s bodyguard SY Nikitin, who ostensibly arranged the attack, was found floating dead in a Ukraine river. The attack’s leader was later found dead with two slashed wrists. No autopsy was carried out in either case, and the gang leader’s death was recorded as a suicide; a gunshot wound under his chin ‘overlooked.’ Exhumation of Nikitin’s body revealed approximately 10 stab wounds, contrary to the unharmed body suggested in the original death report. Pinchuk’s lawyers’ cite an official Ukrainian prosecutor’s resolution: “I.V. Kolomoisky threatened [the lawyer] with murder, a few days later, when [the lawyer] had not complied with IV Kolomoisky’s demands, the latter decided to murder [the lawyer] out of revenge for failure to comply with his instructions.” “To implement his criminal intent, he asked SY Nikitin, his personal security officer, to organise the assassination… thus, IV Kolomoisky entered into criminal collusion with SY Nikitin and ordered [the lawyer’s] pre-meditated murder.” An arrest order for Kolomoiskii was drafted, but Piskun buried it after being ‘requested’ by an intermediary for Mr Kolomoiskii.
The second witness claiming to have been coerced by Mr Pinchuk was a rabbi described by one Ukrainian press report as “the spiritual leader of Jewish oligarchs”, Shmuel Kaminezki. Kolomoiskii gives generously to Jewish groups and heads one himself. At the same time, Boholyubov’s lawyers claim Pinchuk attempted to bribe the rabbi and threatened to withdraw his annual $1 million charitable contribution to support to his association, but Pinchuk’s lawyers counter that Pinchuk continued his donations to the community and cite friendly emails and invitations from him after the allegeded threats and bribery attempts. Pinchuk claims that the rabbi was afraid to cross Kolomoiskii and told Pinchuk that doing so “would mean a bullet to my head.” His lawyers also state that Kolomoiskii threatened to have him drafted into the army and dispatched to the Donbass front and had his media outlets publish allegations of his involvement in the 2000 murder of Ukrainian journalist, Georgiy Gongadze during the presidency of Pinchuk’s father-in-law, Leonid Kuchma. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/oligarchs-at-war-claims-of-murder-among-ukrainian-billionaires-in-high-court-case-10107612.html). The fact that Kolomoiskii appears to be a thug and murderer is important because in addition to being governor of the powerful Dnepropetrovsk region, his influence casts a net across all Ukraine.
Beyond his administrative resources in Dnepropetrovsk, Kolomoiskii has established a larger network of political, business, and military power. His business holdings and wealth extend his tentacles to Kiev and the heart of Ukraine’s Maidan regime in both the executive and legislative branches. Kolomoiskii’s recent ‘business’ activity in Ukraine fills in this disturbing picture and marks an escalation into the political realm that threatens to unravel the Maidan regime. He finances the National Guard and numerous volunteer battalions ostensibly subordinated to the defense and internal affairs ministries establishes him as a de facto warlord.
Kolomoiskii’s political network of clients is based not only in his own governorship by in several others to which he has secured the appointment of allies by Poroshenko, including the key Odessa governorship. In the central government in Kiev, Kolomoiskii secured seats for his political clients in Ukraine’s Supreme Rada in the October 2014 re-election. A primary beneficiary of his patronage was the neo-fascist Right Sector party, which also infiltrated candidates into several party lists, including those of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (BBP) and the National Front of Ukraine (NFU), the largest factions in the Rada headed by President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, respectively. In addition to his clients in those parties’ Rada factions, Kolomoiskii created his own, called ‘Economic Rebirth’ (Ekonomicheskoe vozrozhdenie) or just the ‘Rebirth’ faction.
Kolomoiskii’s business holdings in the energy, aviation, metals, sports and media sectors, making him the third most powerful oligarch in post-Maidan Ukraine with some $1.35 billion in assets (http://www.forbes.com/profile/ihor-kolomoyskyy/). He founded the country’s largest bank and banking and industrial holding company – Privat Bank and owns stakes in Ukraine’s largest oil company – ‘UkrNafta’ (42 percent of shares), a major oil transport company UkrTransNaft (no shares but his holding manages the company), the Dnipro soccer club, TV station ‘1+1’, among other entities.
Perhaps most importantly, Kolomoiskii has completely undermined the basic principle of state sovereignty and authority – the monopoly on the means of coercion – by essentially setting up his own provate army like a warlord or Cossack chieftain. Once Kiev declared its so-called ‘anti-terrorist operation’ in April 2014, Kolomoiskii financed both the national Guard and numerous volunteer battalions, which in many cases were dominated by neo-fascist, ultra-nationalist, and national chauvinist elements like Right Sector. The armed battalions in particular became Kolomoiskii’s potential and already, in part, kinetic private army, and they could play a key role in any large-scale confrontation with Kiev.
Kolomoiskii’s client battalions, set to receive military training from the US and already receiving said from Great Britain, are responsible for war crimes and other atrocities before and during the Ukrainian civil war (you probably know it as “Putin’s war” or “Russia’s war”). Thus, the Kolomoiskii-neofascist nexus is a curious mixture of ideologically-driven violence and criminal business violence. He has generously financed the neo-fascist ‘Right Sector’ and the political campaigns of some its leaders getting the likes of Right Sector’s leader, Dmitro Yarosh, elected to the Supreme Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.
Right Sector itself, in particular Yarosh, are allowed to roam Ukraine’s countryside banning activity it disapproves of, seizing businesses and attacking civilians. Yarosh and the Right Sector played the leading role in the horrifying May 2nd terrorist attack in Ukraine’s glorious southern city of Odessa. A deadly mix of Right Sector shock troops, soccer thugs, and local police burned alive and otherwise slaughtered at least 40 unarmed anti-Kiev activists at the Trade Union House. Right Sector claimed responsibility for the Odessa pogrom, noting “about a hundred members of ‘Right Sector’ and patriotic-minded Odessa residents countered the rebels” and that “Dmitro Yarosh ignored the ‘expedience’ of the election campaign to coordinate the action against the Russian aggression.” Its website celebrated the slaughter as “another bright page in our national history.” (http://pravyysektor.info/articles/ato-po-narodnomu-abo-chomu-ne-vladimir-putin-ne-vviv-vijska/) Yet Yarosh remains and was allowed to run in the presidential election in May. Since then, the authorities in Kiev have made no mention of him, no less made any attempt to detain him. According to some information, the May 2nd pogrom may have been a joint operation organized and carried out by Kolomoiskii and Yarosh’s Right Sector. Right Sector has its headquarters in Dnepropetrovsk and maintains a strong presence in Odessa. In several regions Kolomoiskii has been able to deploy Right Sector thugs to kick governors and mayors out of office, literally, and have allies from other ultra-nationalist groups like Svoboda appointed in their place.
More recently, Kolomoiskii has thrown down the gauntlet before the central authorities, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in response to their efforts to gain control over certain business structures over which Kolomoiskii was able to gain control in recent years. In February, deputies from the PPB faction in the Rada introduced a bill that would amend Ukraine’s law on stockholder associations to facilitate wresting UkrNafta from Kolomoiskii’s hands. The amendments would lower the number of stockholders required for a quorum to vote on convening a stockholders’ meeting to shareholders representing 50 percent of the company’s shares plus one as opposed to 60 percent as previously legislated. As this amendment went through the legislative process, the temperature began to rise between the Poroshenko and Kolomoiskii clans and was reflected in their respective media holdings in stark form.
On the March 12th, Friday evening broadcast of the popular Ukrainian television talk show ‘Black Mirror’ (Chernoe zerkalo) on channel ‘Inter’ Aleksandr Velichko, the head of the legal department of Kolomoiskii’s Dnepropetrovsk Oblast administration, said that his scandalous recent nine-day abduction had been organized by Kolokoiskiy’s deputy governor, Gennadii Korban, and Yarosh’s Right Sector funded on and off the battlefield by Kolomoiskii (www.youtube.com/user/podrobnosti). Velichko, claiming to be hiding abroad, detailed his captivity at the hand of the PS goons while being held at PS’s base, which he said was “rampant with Kolomoiskii people” and is located in Donetsk’s village of Peski. According to Velichko, he was told to write and sign a note with a negative information on the mayor of the city of Dnepropetrovsk, Maxim Romanenko and was threatened with physical violence and the use of “cold weapons” (knives, blades, etc.). They also threatened to shoot his knee, cut off his finger, make me an invalid, cut up my family and force him to listen over the cell phone while they “cut his family “into pieces.” He said he therefore signed and was let go, adding: “After the horror I fear for my life. And only under the guarantee of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine am I ready within the law to testify against Korban. If the Attorney General’s Office will not stop Gennady Korban, he will kill me and my family. And as long as Korban is at large and represents the interests of the regional authority, not a single resident of Dnipropetrovsk region can be safe” (www.youtube.com/user/podrobnosti). This occurred on the background of no less than eight ‘suicides’ of former Yanukovich regime and Party of Regions officials in the last month. Denepropetrovsk mayor Romanenko is said to have been tied to local Denepropetrovsk oligarchs loyal to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich that Kolomoiskiy seeks to defeat (www.ng.ru/cis/2015-03-16/1_ukraina.html).
It should be noted that new Ukrainian Finance Minister and former American USAID official Nataliya Yaresko will play an important role in designing the privatization mechanism. She is believed to have received government grants from the State Department immediately after leaving USAID and used them to build her own business as well as a cadre of businesses and business people who would be interested, perhaps, in overthrowing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (http://johnhelmer.net/?p=12317 and http://johnhelmer.net/?p=12437).
The Rada finally passed the noted stockholder quorum law on March 19th after a stormy morning session that forced the Rada’s speaker to declare a break. Numerous Rada sessions have ended in violence, intimidation or the blocking of the podium to prevent opponents from speaking or introducing measures, as occurred on this day (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/93052-deputaty-ot-bpp-ustroili-demarsh-v-rade). With this vote, the authorities had deprived Kolomoiskiy control to ‘Ukrnafta.’
On March 20th Kolomoiskii, with men in camouflage with machine guns, burst into and occupied the office of UkrTransNaft in order to kick its temporary director recently appointed by the state from its office and return Kolomoiskii’s client to the director’s chair. As he left the building to his armed men, Kolomoiskii was met by a group of journalists, and one from Radio Liberty asked him what he was doing there. He cursed her out in the crudesty of language; all of which was videotaped and went viral on the Internet and television news. In response, Poroshenko issued a ‘reprimand’ of Kolomoiskii for his ill treatment of the journalist, but not for entering the offices of state company with armed men. Even this reprimand has no practical consequences for Kolomoiskii, personally, politically, or financially. Nevertheless, Kolomoiskii’s Privat Bank blocked the accounts of all of Poroshenko’s businesses, which the president promised but failed to sell or put into trusts while running for president.
Then on March 22nd men in camouflage with machine guns seized the office building of the majority state-owned oil company ‘Ukrnafta,’ surrounding it with metal railings. Ukrainian media reported Sergei Leshchenko, a Rada deputy from the Poroshenko Bloc, as saying the building’s occupiers were from the Kolomoiskii-financed ‘Dnepr 1’ battalion. ‘Dnepr 1’ includes at least some, if not many neo-fascist elements, including Right Sector, which helped organize this Kolomoiskii-loyal battalion (http://www.echo.msk.ru/news/1516388-echo.html, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij, and http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/3494140-vkhod-v-ukrnaftu-blokyruuit-avtomatchyky-podekhala-mylytsyia). Some of its fighters were reportedly also involved in the recent killing of a SBU officer after he tried to stop their car loaded with contraband in Donbass. One the Poroshenko-Kolomoiskii showdown heated up and the SBU announced its investigation, Right Sector rejected any involvement (http://pravyysektor.info/news/informatsijne-povidomlennya-3/). With his seizure of UkrNafta, Governor Kolomoiskii openly challenged President Poroshenko and his attempts to consolidate state holdings against Kolomoiskii’s business empire.
Matters soon escalated. In the evening of March 22nd, fighters were removed several volunteer battalions at the Donbass front and sent to Kiev, according to Vesti-uke.com (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93459-v-dnepr-otpravili-dva-batalona-nacgvardii). This very likely included Right Sector and other neo-fascist fighters financed by Kolomoiskii being marshalled by the oligarch to help in the growing confrontation with the Poroshenko. At about the same time, Rada deputy Mustafa Masi Nayem was roughed up by Kolomoiskii’s armed men guarding the UkrNafta building in central Kiev when he attempted to enter the building to see who the armed men were on the authority of his status as a people’s deputy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8a_zT0SClc&t=81).
Another of Kolomoiskii’s Dnepropetrovsk deputy governors, Andrey Denisenko, then issued a statement saying that Poroshenko was trying to fulfill a clause in a “secret protocol” to the Minsk 2 agreement he signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 17th which required Kiev’s authorities to fire Kolomoiskii and destroy Right Sector (See 23 March 2015, 18:52 in Vesti Ukraine, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij). Denisenko was a member of the the neo-fascist Right Sector until September 2014 and ran for and won a seat in the Rada on the Petro Poroshenko Bloc’s (PPB) slate of candidates in the elections last October (http://pravyysektor.info/news/informatsijne-povidomlennya-3/). It is worth noting that therefore Denisenko, like several other PPB Rada deputies held simultaneously in the executive branch of the Dnepropetrovsk Oblast administration under Kolomoiskii. For his part, Korban stated that the Kiev authorities are “thieves” who “lied” about decentralizing the system about the results of the ‘anti-terrorist operation’, and the number of casualties, and it is time for them to go (See 23 March 2015, 19:17 in Vesti Ukraine, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij).
If these statements were not enough, Kolomoiskii’s deputies called for a veche or public gathering of the population in Dnepropetrovsk on March 25th at 6:00pm in order to rally support behind him in his battle with Kiev (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93505-naredpy-dnepra-vyshli-iz-partii-poroshenko-i-zovut-na-novoe-veche and See 23 March 2015, 18:27 in Vesti Ukraine, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij).
Nayem later gave an interview to ICTV saying that Poroshenko, PM Yatsenyuk and MVD chief Avakov had arrived at a common position regarding Kolomoiskii’s armed incursion into Kiev and the calling of a veche in Dneprpetrovsk, adding that Kolomoiskii was alone “with a small group of followers” (Vesti Ukraine, http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/93557-najem-kolomojskij-ostalsja-odin-s-nebolshim-krugom-storonnikov and Vesti Ukraine, 23 March 2015, 00:06, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij). With the troika’s agreement, the president issued a decree sending two National Guard battalions from Kiev to Dnepropetrovsk in order “to ensure the protection of public order,” according to the National Guard’s Twitter blog. (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93459-v-dnepr-otpravili-dva-batalona-nacgvardii and https://twitter.com/ng_ukraine/status/579962974791696384). Later, the presidential administration denied that Poroshenko had taken such action.
On March 23rd the Poroshenko government upped the ante against Kolomoiskii. Poroshenko issued a statement saying that all “territorial defense” should be “tightly subordinated to a military vertical” and “no governor will have his own allowed pocket VSU (Armed Forces of Ukraine).” Shortly before this statement SBU Chairman Valentin Nalyvaichenko announded that Poroshenko had issued an order that the fighters occupying UkrNafta be disarmed and removed from the premises (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/93499-poroshenko-prigrozil-otobrat-u-kolomojskogo-batalon-dnepr). Nalyvaichenko also made public the fact that three Dnepropetrovsk Region deputy governors of Kolomoiskii’s – Korban (mentioned by Velichko regarding his abduction), Svyatoslav Oliinyk and Andrey Denisenko had been questioned days earlier regarding their possible participation in the murder of the SBU agent investigating contraband in Volnovakha, Donetsk (http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij).
Rada deputy, former Dnepropetrovsk deputy governor and close Kolomoiskii associate Boris Filatov immediately rejected any such connection (http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij). Another pro-Kolomoiskii Rada deputy Vitaliy Kupriy resigned his position in the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB) and urged other deputies in the party’s parliamentary faction to join him in forming a new one. He was quickly joined by Denisenko, Filatov, Valentin Didych and Aleksandr Dubinin. The PPB countered by announcing that it would convene a meeting of its faction in the Rada to discuss whether these Kolomoiskii men should be expelled from the faction and party (23 March, 17:46 and 19:52, Vesti-ukr.com, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij).
In addition, Kupriy blamed Nalyvaichenko of violating the law in carrying out the interrogations, which he states he attended, and accused the SBU of carrying out abductions, not the Dnepropetrovsk administration. He also leveled 10 serious charges against Poroshenko: failing to divest himself of the Channel 5 television station and the Roshen plant in Lipetsk, Russia; colluding with “anti-state oligarchs” and gave instructions to block investigation into the “crimes” of the Yanukovich regime; amassing “billions” together with his “minion” Ukrainian National Bank Chairwoman and destabilizing the financial system; covering up the Ukrainian military leadership’s incompetence leading to excessive war casualties; in agreement with Putin suspending the process of ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court so he would not be “put behind bars” for “war crimes in the Donbass;” failing to reform law enforcement and the tax system while supporting “anti-people’s budget” and social welfare cuts; delaying the establishment of an independent Anti-Corruption Bureau; unlawfully influencing the judiciary; covering up the process by which the killers of journalist Georgii Gongadze were able to avoid the death penalty; blocking the rehabilitation of political prisoners of the Yanukovych regime; prosecuting peaceful protesters who criticize the government; and supporting “selective justice” and inaction in cases involving human rights violations. (https://www.facebook.com/vitaliy.kupriy/posts/940053002695297?fref=nf and http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93513-jeks-deputaty-bpp-obvinili-poroshenko-v-milliardnyh-hiwenijah-i-ubijstvah-na-donbasse). This amounted to no less than a political declaration of war against Poroshenko and his administration.
On March 24th Rebirth Rada faction deputy Vitalii Barvinenko introduced into parliament a bill that would have repealed the amendment reducing the quorum for shareholder meetings at majority state-owned enterprises (http://www.epravda.com.ua/rus/news/2015/03/24/535193/). At the same time, Poroshenko’s side seemed to try to walk the crisis back by having MVD adivisor and rada deputy Gerashchenko state that ‘Dnepr 1’ fighters had not taken part in seizing the UkrNafta offices. This seemed to be matched by Kolomoiskii’s side when his deputy governor, the noted Korban, said that the veche initative was not theirs, but rather spontaneous and announced they were not planning secession and would give up their property holdings to preserve Ukraine (March 24, 3:00 and 8:10, Vesti-ukr.com, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij). Filatov stated on his social media pages that although Poroshenko wanted to avoid Kolomoiskii becoming the country’s second most significant political figure, the former’s “lying and thievish inner circle” produced just such a result. He also announced the date for convening the veche would be March 28th but added that the idea was not his but rather belonged to deputy governor Denisenko. It was later announced that the veche was now conceived to be a “meeting” in support of “the unity of Ukraine and the patriotic team of the Dnepropetrovsk Oblast Administration.” Kolomoiskii soon told a foreign journalist that although he did not want it, there was apossibility that the veche would turn into an uprising (March 24, 13:32, 16:34, 18:19 and 18:39, Vesti-ukr.com, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij).
As fears of violent confrontation mounted across the country. The news agency Vesti Ukraine endeavored to survey the loyalties of the volunteer battalions. The neo-fascist-dominted battalion ‘Azov’ populated by members of the neo-fascist party Social-National Assembly commanded by the party’s leader Andrey Biletskiy was inclined to stay out of the conflict between “porokh and Beni”, as one put it, but were ready if ordered by the National Guard to “restore order” in Kiev. ‘Dnepr 1’ was divided in its loyalties between pro-Poroshenko and pro-Kolomoiskii fighters. The fighters of two of Right Sector’s battalions, on the other hand, stood fully behind Kolomoiskii (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93563-dnepr-1-my-svoih-ne-sdaem-chast-nashih-uzhe-v-kieve). Vesti Ukraine also reported that an “arsenal” of weapons was reported missing from Dnepr 1’s weapons stockpile (March 24, 16:04, Vesti-ukr.com, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij).
Ukraine MVD chief Arseniy Avakov, who remained oddly quiet during the crisis and is considered by many to be a Kolomoiskii man and is a patron of the volunteer battalions, finally issued a statement saying that in future a state guard company rather than private companies or volunteer battalions would guard public buildings (March 24, 17:07, Vesti-ukr.com, http://business.vesti-ukr.com/93481-poroshenko-vs-kolomojskij-hronika-sobytij). Porosenko went further stating that all battalions would have to be subordinated to the Defense Ministry or be liquidated and promising he would “burn the ground under” those who go to the Donbass front and fight but “marauder and kill” (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/93991-poroshenko-vydvinul-dobrovolcheskim-batalonam-ultimatum). This seemed to indicate that Poroshenko will seek to deal with the battalions who refuse subordination to state organs by pursuing war crimes and general criminal charges against them.
Denoument: Poroshenko Victorious
Just after midnight on March 25th Poroshenko met with Kolomoiskii and the former granted the latter’s ostensible request to be relieved of his duties in Dnepropetrovsk. Deputy governor Korban ‘was also resigned’ (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93718-poroshenko-uvolil-kolomojskogo-s-dolzhnosti-glavy-dnepropetrovskoj-oga). This was a rather light sentence considering Kolomoiskii’s behavior over the preceding 48 hours, which ranged far outside the bounds of legality. The degree to which he and his team were unscathed is even more astonishing given the outrageous statements and threats they addressed to the Poroshenko and his administration.
This may have been the result of a comprehensive deal struck between the president and the oligarch. It was reported that Poroshenko agreed not to pursue Kolomoiskii in return for the latter’s resignation, his agreement to pay all of UkrNafta’s debts to the state, and agreement that the volunteer battalions will be subordinated to the state. It was also reported that Kolomoiskii has decided to enter politics himself and form a new party rather than seek to place others in position of power by way of backroom deals (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93916-kolomojskij-vytorgoval-u-poroshenko-spokojnuju-zhizn). A source in the presidential administration, however, claimed there was no deal, and that the subordination of the volunteer battalions and the payment of UkrNafta debts were state policy and part of the adminitration’s “plan” (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/94036-kolomojskij-i-poroshenko-ni-o-chem-ne-dogovorilis).
According to PPB Rada deputy and former journalist Sergei Leshchenko, a pivot point in the crisis was pressure exerted on PM Yatsenyuk, who may have been leaning towards Kolomoiskii or at least remaining neutral in the conflict, by US Vice President Joseph Biden. As a result of that intervention, Yatsenyuk openly sided with Kolomoiskii, prompting the latter to back down. A harsh reaction from Kolomoiskii’s ally, Boris Filatov, suggests this account could be accurate (http://business.vesti-ukr.com/94125-lewenko-rasskazal-o-davlenii-bajdena-na-jacenjuka-iz-za-kolomojskogo).
At any rate, after the meeting between the two, both parties sought to smooth things over in public. Poroshenko seemed to support Kolomoiskii’s supposed political transition, assuring the country of his “patriotism” during a visit to, significantly, the Academy of the National Guard in (http://vesti-ukr.com/harkov/93940-poroshenko-v-harkove-pozdravil-nacgvardiju-i-nazval-kolomojskogo-patriotom). For his part, Kolomoiskii attributed the conflict to unidentified “enemies” who “wanted to drive a wedge” between himself and the president (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/93986-kolomojskij-zajavil-i-mirovoj-s-poroshenko). The two even held a joint press conference in Dnepropetrovsk on the March 26th demonstrating the absence of conflict. Poroshenko noted that he “valued” the oligarch for “taking on enormous responsibilities in difficult times” (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/94036-kolomojskij-i-poroshenko-ni-o-chem-ne-dogovorilis).
Deals can be broken, and it remains to be seen what steps Poroshenko and Kolomoiskii might take next. Can the deal hold or will the latter’s property holdings become the focus of a government investigation and privatized to fill the state’s depleted coffers? Will or can Poroshenko actually refrain from ordering an investigation into Kolomoiskii’s holdings and his acquisition of them, given the media’s ability to make them an issue that taints Poroshenko? What effect will this have on other oligarchs and the privatization process supposedly to come? Will Poroshenko actually try, no less succeed in subordinating the volunteer battalions to the state and establish its monopoly on the organs and application of force? If such an attempt is made, how will the unruly forces of neo-fascist battalions, Right Sector, the Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine, among others, respond? Will Kolomoiskii have any sway over the battalions so they comply? If deprived of their protection, funding, and weapons, will the neo-fascist groups be marginalized politically? Having lost their protection and under threat of being disbanded, will they refuse to subordinate themselves to state organs and instead revolt, perhaps attempting to seize power somewhere in the regions?
The Maidan regime’s mid-March misadventures were part of an intensifying struggle for position as Ukraine supposedly prepares to carry out a major privatization campaign over the next few years that Kolomoiskiy and other oligarchs seek to gain from. However, it is much more than that. Ultimate power and even ideological struggle are involved.
Thus, this is possibly the first battle in a larger war for the fate of Weimar Maidan Ukraine. A disparate set of coercive, oligarchic and nationalist warlords – not the brave young people who began the Maidan demonstrations so their country would transition from one of numerous post-Soviet ‘trashcanistans’ (to use Stephen Kotkin’s phrase) to a European country – are driving events in the country. One definition of fascism is the overlap of authoritarian state power and large capital interests. It appears Ukraine is developing in the ‘right’ direction, rife with corrupt and criminal oligarchic clans that have, and continue to privatize the state while violent neo-fascist para-military groups like PS function as their political and business shock troops.
Kolomoiskii and Poroshenko are the leaders among such forces at present, but other, no more democratic forces are positioned to replace them. Poroshenko is a relative moderate and the only horse in town capable of holding the ultra-nationaists at bay. Kolomoiskii has proven willing to ally with the most unsavory elements among Ukraine’s plethora of neo-fascist, ultra-nationalist and simply chauvinist organizations and volunteer battalions. An inkling of things to come may be Right Sector’s “urgent” announcement to its members that a meeting of its members at all levels in Kiev will be held on March 29th. In unprecedented fashion, attendance was deemed “mandatory” (http://pravyysektor.info/news/oholoshennya-kerivnykam-ps-kyjivskoji-oblasti/). Andrey Stempitsiy, commander of the Right Sector’s volunteer battalions, the so-called Volunteer Corps of Ukraine, seemed to threaten violence in a statement issued the same day, saying: “We have organized ourselves on the basis of Article 65 of the Constitution of Ukraine (“National defense, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, respect for its state symbols, are the duties of citizens of Ukraine”) and carry out coordination with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other state forces to prevent anarchy in the war. We hope the Gneral Staff will be in more active solidarity with us in defending the common state, where it is noit that one is legitimate and another subordinated units! Civil war is the worst thing that can happen now!” (http://pravyysektor.info/news/7723/). The volunteer battalions, in particular the neo-fascist-dominated ones, still represent a potential for the formation of dual or multiple power, a precursor of revolution and, as we have seen in the Donbass, civil war.
For now, instead of democracy the Maidan ‘regime’ resembles the less than orderly Ukrainian tradition of anarchy or, at best, controlled anarchy, so-called ‘hetmanshchina’, as noted by Russian political scientist and Yeltsin era presidential advisor Sergei Stankevich. Under this “unique form of organizing power” from 17th century Ukraine’s semi-feudal Cossack tradition, the top leader or ‘hetman’ had to alternately befriend and battle both “shaky friends and incomplete enemies” among the Cossack chieftains. He had to constantly keep at bay, balance and unite competing, independence-oriented, regional Cossack clans or ‘hosts’, whose chieftains, like today’s oligarchic barons, jockeyed between him and other chieftains, sometimes drifting towards different foreign protectors, depending on the location east or west of the Dnepr river (http://izvestia.ru/news/584414).
Thus, hetman Poroshenko must contain and balance competing and ambitious oligarchic and nationalistic chieftains like Kolomoiskii, Yarosh, Yatsenyuk, Avakov, Pinchuk, the more wayward DNR’s Zakharchenko and LNR’s Ihor Plotnytskii, and many, many others. Poroshenko impressed during the crisis, conducting himself quietly, firmly, prudently, and magnanimously in victory. Kolomoiskii, however, is positioning himself as an opposition force, and the popularity rating of the government is in decline. Thus, Poroshenko may simply have moved Kolomoiskii, Right Sector, and perhaps others into the societal opposition, which could rise as the economy falls. In addition to its internal problems, Madian Ukraine is beset by interference from foreign powers backing and drawing to their side the hetman and freewheeling chieftains.
So it remains to be seen whether in conditions of economic contraction, growing competition over shrinking resources, civil war, foreign meddling (from east and west), ideological extremism and intolerance, Poroshenko can steer the Ukrainian ship of state to stability and democratic transition. No less importantly, how will this chess game and complex dynamic facilitate or confound Minsk 2 and the search for peace in Ukraine and security in Europe.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.