Will Zelenskyy target all Ukrainian oligarchs equally?
Seasoned Ukraine watchers raised a sceptical eyebrow two years ago when Volodymyr Zelenskyy swept to a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election. Despite pitching himself as the ultimate outsider intent on breaking the power of the country’s corrupt oligarchic elite, Zelenskyy’s campaign depended heavily on the backing of Ihor Kolomoisky, arguably Ukraine’s most controversial oligarch of all.
During the campaign, Zelenskyy appointed Kolomoisky’s personal lawyer as a key adviser, travelled abroad to confer with the then-exiled Kolomoisky on multiple occasions, and benefited from the enthusiastic endorsement of Kolomoisky’s media empire. Unsurprisingly, many viewed Zelenskyy as Kolomoisky’s candidate.
Not much has happened in the two years since to force a change in that assessment, even as Zelenskyy revives his commitment to “deoligarchisation” in a bid to boost his flagging popularity.
Kolomoisky was put on the US sanctions list earlier this year over allegations of corruption but remains apparently untouchable at home. He has not yet regained control of Privatbank, nationalised in 2016 after alleged fraud left USD 5.5 billion missing from its balance sheet. But nor has Zelenskyy succeeded in recovering those assets, as demanded by the IMF.
Meanwhile, government officials deemed a threat to Kolomoisky’s interests have been removed from their posts, including the Prosecutor General, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, who was pursuing an investigation of the oligarch, and the Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), Yakiv Smolii. Zelenskyy’s first prime minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, became another casualty after he tried to loosen Kolomoisky’s control of a state-owned electricity company.
Hints of the president’s continued personal connections to the oligarch were highlighted again in February 2021 when Zelenskyy breached Covid lockdown restrictions to celebrate his birthday at a private party hosted at the home of Kolomoisky associate Timur Mindich.