It appears that the truce that has held between Ukraine’s major oligarchs since the Maidan uprising is breaking down.Yesterday evening, Igor Kolomoisky, the strongman governor of Dniepropetrovsk, who also happens to be personally bankrolling many of the militias fighting Russian-backed militants on the eastern front, sent a detachment of camouflaged, armed men into Kiev to seize the offices of Ukrnafta, the state oil company in which Kolomoisky has a large ownership stake (42%), and which is still currently being run by his loyalists.This morning, Petro Poroshenko ordered Ukraine’s security services to disarm Kolomoisky’s men. No word yet on what has happened since the order.This chain of events started on Thursday, when the Ukrainian parliament passed a law allowing a shareholder’s quorum to be lowered to 50% + 1 share, which is the stake that the Ukrainian government holds in most of its state assets. When a Kolomoisky loyalist was removed from Ukrtransnafta (the state-owned oil pipeline operator) on Thursday night, Kolomoisky walked in to the company’s offices accompanied by several camouflage-wearing enforcers, and emerged defiant hours later to deliver an impressive barrage of obscenities at a journalist from RadioSvoboda (Radio Liberty).A partial translation of the above exchange, and the subsequent analysis of Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg is excellent:
Asked by a Radio Liberty journalist what a regional governor was doing at a state company’s office so late, Kolomoisky replied (I’m editing out copious cursing): “I came to see you. I have no other chance to see your face, Radio Liberty. Why aren’t you asking how Ukrtransnafta was seized and Russian subversives got in here? Or have you come to see Kolomoisky? We liberated the building from Russian subversives who had seized it, and you and your Liberty are sitting here watching like a dame watches for her unfaithful husband.”Apparently, Ukrainian energy minister Vladimir Demchishin, who visited Kolomoisky from Ukrtransnafta, got a more convincing explanation, because he decided against calling the police to oust Kolomoisky from the building. Sevgil Musaeva, editor of Ukraine’s most popular news website, Pravda.com.ua, quoted a Ukrainian official as saying Kolomoisky told Demchishin that if needed he could bring 2,000 volunteer fighters to Kiev, “because enterprises are being taken away from him.”
And that is exactly what Kolomoisky did, sending a detachment of camouflaged, armed men to Kiev on Sunday to secure the Ukrnaft, who told journalists they were from the “Dnepr-1” battalion.This is an ongoing, developing story—and a critical one for Ukraine’s future. If Ukraine’s elected government is able to bring a major, well-armed oligarch—one with massive stakes in the energy sector—to heel, its prospects for the future will be brighter. If not, an already-steep climb out of the morass of civil war and more than 20 years of bad governance and plunder could well become impossible.