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Ex-Ukraine Interior Minister Gives the Inside on Oligarchs' Wars and Dealings

Vitaly Zakharchenko served as Yanukovich's interior minister. He explains how power really works in Ukraine. Some of the stuff going on:
  • President Poroshenko consults with powerful oligarch Kolomoisky lest he be in trouble with volunteer battalions
  • PM Yatsenyuk fires a warning by arresting a minister sponsored by Kolomoisky on TV during a government meeting

This is an excerpt form an article that originally appeared at RIA Novosti. It was translated for RI by Aleksei Shestyan

Zakhar Vinogradov: Vitaly Yurioyvyich [respectful patronymic], there are now events in Ukraine that are truly shocking the political elites of our countries and the expert communities. The resignation of governor of Dnipropetrovsk Igor Kolomoysky, the arrest proceedings right in the middle of a parliament meeting of the Cabinet Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Bochkovsky ....

<figcaption>Vitaly feels sorry that Ukraine hast lost international prestige</figcaption>
Vitaly feels sorry that Ukraine hast lost international prestige

How do you, as former Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, assess these developments? What’s going on? Is it a political struggle? A fight against corruption? A show of force?

Vitaly Zakharchenko: I think the two events are linked, and they are directly related to the nature of Ukrainian society. Ukraine was developed into an oligarchic state and is currently in the process of redistribution of property. Both the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004/5 and however you want to name the one in 2014 — of course, these were both not real revolutions but essentially oligarchic coups d’etat.

Oligarchs launch such coups (and, mind you, fund them) in order to exact even greater profit and income. They push their people into power structures and eventually themselves come into power, as Igor Kolomoysky did. And all this is for the sake of one goal: to squeeze out others’ property and to receive preferences from the state towards their personal enterprises, which receive state orders and so on.

Hence, from this struggle, you see the resignation and arrests of senior officials. But I would not exaggerate the political importance of these events, mainly because the oligarchs, the current President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and the former governor of Dnipropetrovsk Igor Kolomoysky, are closely linked. Therefore, I think there is some far-reaching political game. 

Here is a simple example. Everyone knows that during the February meeting of the Minsk quartet — Putin, Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko — the Ukrainian president left the meeting for a long time and spoke on the phone to someone .... But very few people know who spoke to the Ukrainian president — it was precisely Igor Kolomoysky. I know that for sure.

What did they say?

The Ukrainian president turned to his colleague on the “oligarchic team” with a request: to support him in the country by every means with his (Kolomoysky’s) resources if Poroshenko signed the Minsk Agreement.

After all, Igor Kolomoysky carries a lot of weight not only in various businesses, but also in the politics of Ukraine (he has his own covert faction in the Verkhovna Rada). But most importantly, he has a large influence among the volunteer battalions. Their numbers, according to various estimates, range from 30 to 50,000 soldiers. This is definitely a formidable force. The Ukrainian president turned to him for support so that, they say, these “volunteers” would not carry him off when he arrived back in Kiev after signing the Minsk 2.0 peace agreement .... 

Regarding the arrest during a parliamentary meeting of the Cabinet Minister of Emergency Situations: well, that is something beyond the current situation. The guilt of Minister Bochkovsky has not yet been proven; he has not even been questioned. But already in the eyes of the Cabinet and of the Ukrainian people, there is a judgment because all of this was shown on TV, where they handcuffed him live on air. All this is not so much a fight against corruption, which is allegedly led by [Arsen] Avakov and [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk.

It was enacted rather to be a show of force, an attempt to show what will happen to those who don’t align with the current prime minister. It is known that Bochkovsky is a Kolomoysky man — and then what happened ended up happening. This move made it clear to other ministers that working with other oligarchs (not Yatsenyuk) is definitely off limits .... Of course, all this has nothing to do with the fight against corruption and other abuses.

So, after all that, it looks like the fighting against Kolomoysky and his supporters is continuing ...

Yes. But this is what it is — spiders fighting inside a bank. You know, it’s really a kind of retaliatory move by Yatsenyuk, whose man is Interior Minister Avakov, the one whose people carried out the arrest of the Minister of Emergency Situations during a Cabinet meeting. Pay close attention to the public display of this arrest.

Perhaps, in our history, there was only one similar case. This was Beria’s [Soviet politician and leader of NKVD secret service under Stalin] arrest during a meeting of the Politburo in 1953. And there, mind you, this was due to the danger of a coup d’etat, which could have been prepared by the almighty Beria. And the case here? ...

Probably exactly what I’m talking about, a demonstration to show who is the boss, or a game of consolidating power for Yatsenyuk. Once again, as a lawyer, I can say one thing: the arrest of an official of that rank, shown all over the country on TV, and even during a meeting of the Cabinet, is in fact unprecedented — especially considering the fact that neither the investigation nor the court found Bochkovsky guilty, and that has not yet been proved.

Vitaly Yurioyvyich, you are well aware that Poroshenko used to work together in the Cabinet with Viktor Yanukovych. You have, for sure, a lot of mutual acquaintances. What can you say about Poroshenko as a person?

Cunning, crafty, aiming to profit by any means. He never says what he thinks or thinks what he says. Such a feature comes from the businesses of the ’90s. By the way, he started his business in Moldova, where he earned his first million. I know we had information that in the life and businesses of Poroshenko not everything was clean. But since Moldova was another country, we did not pursue it. 

In Ukraine, he conducted his businesses more carefully, much more carefully. But, you know, I do not completely understand the origin of his money. I know for sure that this is largely money from his father, who had a previous conviction for economic crimes in the ’80s. And of course today, Petro Oleksiyovych does not like to remember this. 

In Ukraine, when he was the owner of enterprises, banks and media, he constantly went to high offices, including to [Arsen] Azarov, in order to try to get any — if not always by lawful means — tax exemptions, concessions and so on. And he succeeded, under Kuchma, under Yushchenko, and also under Yanukovych. By the way, all of his patrons he ultimately, in a political sense, “threw away”. The most pain, of course, was felt by former President Yanukovych. Well ... what can I say? He is such a person.

Few people know it, but I know for sure that after the Orange Revolution in 2004/5, Poroshenko personally went to Rinat Akhmetov [one of the biggest oligarchs] with the requirement to give him part of his business assets. Akhmetov refused, and after that there was the “accidental” arrest of the closest friend of Akhmetov, Borys Kolesnikov. His business ambitions were not forgotten after the current presidential cycle. His company produced a variety of products required for the front, such as heaters. It turns out that Poroshenko’s businesses profited from the war. It is advantageous that the homes of Ukrainians are cold. In this, his business is growing.

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