Who needs the battle of the oligarchs in Ukraine

Kolomoisky openly challenged the government, and lost. Perhaps it is the first time that an oligarch and public affairs in Ukraine act as two separate entities, and even fighting each other. The defeat of the former governor of Dnipropetrovsk however could hide unexpected risks.

Photo: Volodymyr Petrov
Photo: Volodymyr Petrov

If Dnipropetrovsk is not facing the same fate of Donetsk, it is due to Igor Kolomoisky. Exactly how Donetsk has to blame Rinat Akhmetov for most of his misfortunes. But if the most powerful man in Dnipropetrovsk has avoided that his city, and his business, end up in the middle of the war, he did not do it either for patriotism or for philanthropy. If the oligarchs put something above the biznis, well, they wouldn’t be oligarchs.
Who has known the Ukraine before this war perhaps already knows what I mean. Lying in the deep Southeast of the country, Dnipropetrovsk is an industrial city filled with soviet prefabricated block and chimneys, inhabited by a big group ethnic Russians and a big majority of Russian-speaking people. Founded by Russian, with the name of Ekaterinoslav, and always watching east, culturally and economically. For instance, that's where intercontinental ballistic missiles of Russian warheads and space launchers are built. Dnipro, as youngsters call it, until a year ago had the same explosive potential of Donetsk and Luhansk. And maybe, it still has it.

The feud of Igor

But for those who visit today, Dnipropetrovsk has the appearance of the most Ukrainian among Ukrainian cities. Yellow and blue flags are everywhere. Patriotic slogans are painted on trams and on the walls of the city. The huge incomplete monolith on the horizon over the Dnipro river has been colored with the Ukrainian trident. And where there was Lenin - pulled down on a February night - there is now a photo of a little girl wearing a vyshevanka and saying "I love Ukraine". In Russian.

It’ impossible to take a walk in Dnipropetrovsk without stumbling in something that belongs to Kolomoisky. Owner of the first Ukrainian bank, a handful of airlines, of different television channels, metallurgical industries and the football club FC Dnipro, he also was and until a few days ago the governor of the region, appointed by the then acting president Turcinov, after Yanukovich fled the country. The most powerful man in the city is also head of the Jewish community, a strong component of Dnipropetrovsk. But Kolomoisky is also founder and funder of paramilitary Donbass and Dnipro battalions, as well as (unofficially) Azov battalion. And here it gets interesting. Because many think that these are nothing more than private militia under his command. The show a few days ago - when along with fifty of his soldiers Kolomoisky occupied the headquarters of Ukrafta, in response of a legislative reform that reduces the power of its shares in favor of the state-owned ones - proves just how dangerous is mixing money, power and private militias.

Dnipropetrovskaja Narodnaya Respublika

Kolomoisky “was resigned”, we would say. Many have applauded Poroshenko as the hero of the people against the oligarchs. But nothing in Ukraine is so linear. Starting from the fact that the very same Poroshenko is not a new kid on the block. He’s a millionaire and a member of that same economic elite that controlled the country for twenty years. We could say that the conflict of interest has never faded. The president owns companies that make business with the institutions as well as the TV Channel 5, which moved him into the election race. Since when he is in charge, he filled the structures of the state with his former managers and employees. Most recently, as Kolomoisky successor, he appointed Vitaliy Reznychenko, a former manager of Ukrainian Media Holding, of which Poroshenko owns a minority share, without any administrative experience.

Now many wonder whether Kolomoyski will follow Akhmetov’s footsteps of giving the region into the jaws of a new separatist Dnipropetrovskaja Narodnaya Respublika. But it is unlikely to happen, given the bad state of Akhmetov’s business in Donetsk (and also considering that people of Dnipropetrovsk are well aware how their compatriots in DNR are doing). Still, the risk of destabilization of a region so close, not only geographically, to the Donbass is tangible.



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