Into the perceived Kolomoiski vacuum – Ukraine (and Odessa)

March 26, 2015

Following the resignation of Igor Kolomoiski, and its acceptance by President Poroshenko in the early hours of this morning, whom and what overtly fills the political/power vacuum will no doubt be the subject of both speculation and analysis.

As previously written, some time ago, Mr Kolomoiski is (and remains) the last true oligarch worthy of the name – pending the unforeseen comeback of his peers:

“He financed volunteer brigades as well as directly funding the Ukrainian army when political leadership was in disarray. His prima facie loyalty to the nation resulted in him being appointed as Governor of Dnepropetrovsk.

Mr Kolomoisky has also inserted friends and acquaintances in other positions of power when Ukraine was politically reeling from Crimean events and those that followed – the Odessa regional governor is an example.  He also part funded the Odessa Mayor’s campaign.  Indeed, Mr Kolomoisky de facto controls everything from Dnepropetrovsk westwards in southern Ukraine when it comes to local government.

Mr Kolomoisky financially backed several political parties in the RADA at the last October 2014 elections, as well as the president’s election campaign.  He also financed numerous “independent MPs”.  Thus his political power is not dependent on holding any office.

There is no need to write reams relating to his control over significant percentages of Ukrainian GDP, or his control within several strategic sectors of the Ukrainian economy.”  

The emboldened sentence is to be remembered whilst this entry continues, for it is extremely unlikely that Mr Kolomoiski will disappear from (the puppetry behind the curtain of) Ukrainian politics – just as he was always active prior to becoming the Dnepropetrovsk Governor, so it seems likely he will continue now.

Indeed, now that he once again holds no political office, and therefore once more has no public political face to present, he may well become far more mischievous than when he was holding office.  The number of “owned” Rada MPs, the occasional Mayor, and deputies in numerous local administrations from Dnepropetrovsk to Odessa, insure that his ability to politically influence from behind the curtain continues.  This method has traditionally always been Mr Kolomoiski’s preferred modus operandi, having previously shunned public office.

There is also the longstanding rumour within the Rada, that both Messrs Kolomoiski and Lyvochkin/Firtash have decided to “reset” the Rada in 2016 – between them “owning” enough MPs to make the current Rada almost unworkable.  That may perhaps be mitigated by a Cabinet reshuffle, as alluded to here – or not.

That said, much depends upon any deal struck between President Poroshenko and Mr Kolomoiski in the early hours.  Perhaps an agreement to cast aside the political ambitions (if he had any) of Mr Kolomoiski in return for maintaining his business and economic empire?  Some form of grubby little deal was reached to end the public silliness, and unless the US has a sealed indictment it was prepared to unseal, ala Mr Firtash, should Mr Kolomoiski not decide to fall on his sword, a grubby little deal between these two men there certainly is.

Nevertheless, the perception of a power vacuum presents itself, most notably in Dnepropetrovsk’s Governor’s Office – though elsewhere also.

President Poroshenko has moved swiftly to appoint an Acting-Governor in Dnepropetrovsk – he has temporarily appointed the Governor of Zaporozhye, Mr Valentin Reznichenko.  However, prima facie it would appear to be little more than an act of desperation – no offence meant to Mr Reznichenko.

Mr Reznichenko has two major pluses as far as the President is concerned.  The first is that Mr Reznichenko was born in Dnepropetrovsk and is therefore a local – at least by birth.  No parachuting in of an otherwise “alien” Presidential loyalist required – even if few in Dnepropetrovsk will actually know who Mr Reznichenko is.  That said, when other household names from Dnepropetrovsk consist of the likes of Yulia Tymoshenko or Viktor Pinchuk, choices to replace the (in)famous Igor Kolomoiski with a similar “big name” are necessarily more than a little limited, if not politically impossible.

The second plus is that Mr Raznichenko is indeed a loyalist to the President – or at least he is a loyalist to, and long term friend of, Boris Lozhkin, current head of the Presidential Administration.  (However, President Poroshenko has known Mr Reznichenko for 15 years, according to the President in a statement when appointing him as Governor of Zaporozhye – “This man I’ve known for 15 years. He is strong-willed, effective leader who understands the problems of the economy.”)

Zaporozhye must surely be hoping for a similarly “qualified” replacement if Mr Raznichenko remains in Dnepropetrovsk – and Dnepropetrovsk must be wondering how effective a man whose career is entirely in media management will effectively replace Mr Kolomoiski.  The nation, perhaps, is wondering when there will be an appointed Governor whose “qualification” exceeds being a “friend” of the President, or “a friend of a friend” of the President.

Regardless, Mr Raznichenko has been chosen to fill the Kolomoiski power vacuum in Dnepropetrovsk – and it is unlikely that the vast majority of locals will create too much of a problem for him.  Problems, if they come, will come from the minority who see a weak Governor, and the remaining official, and grey, structures of Mr Kolomoiski (and perhaps Mr Pinchuk if his people regroup effectively with the passing of ex-Governor Kolomoiski).

In Odessa, however, the situation is somewhat different.

Igor Palitsa, long term friend and business partner of Mr Kolomoiski remains the Governor of Odessa.  However, as of two days ago, Mr Palitsa is now without Mr Kolomoiski’s “volunteers/paramilitary” patrolling alongside the local police.

The perceived weakening of Governor Palitsa’s (and by extension Mr Kolomoiski) power with the removal of these “volunteers” has immediately been seized upon.

As mentioned a few days ago, firstly, Mayor Trukhavov (albeit currently bought and paid for/rented Kolomoiski ally) is trying to speedily legitimise his “Municipal Police/Guard” via local legislation – despite no national legislation providing for Mayor Trukhanov’s extra-MIA/extra-Military entity in the city.  A small army/police entity reporting directly to, and directly controlled by, the city mayor – namely Mayor Trukhanov – is perhaps not the best of outcomes with a man long associated, by his own admission, with the Odessa Mafia.  He has enough “illegitimate groups” at his disposal already.

Yesterday evening Sergei Kivalov, one of the most despised, nefarious and untrustworthy characters in Ukrainian politics, announced on his Facebook page that with the removal of Mr Kolomoiski’s “volunteers/paramilitary” from patrolling alongside the police, several hundred students from his “Law Faculty” in Odessa would replace them:

“В связи с тем, что охранные структуры губернатора Палицы больше не помогают милиции обеспечивать порядок в Одессе, мы не можем оставаться в стороне. В Национальном университете «Одесская юридическая академия» существует целый факультет по подготовке сотрудников правоохранительных органов, в частности милиции. Хоть с завтрашнего дня мы готовы выделить несколько сотен студентов старших курсов, которые совместно с одесскими правоохранителями будут патрулировать улицы нашего города. Студенты факультета по подготовке следователей ОВД – будущие стражи порядка, которые уже на старших курсах университета имеют профессиональную практическую подготовку. У них достаточно опыта, чтобы войти в состав милицейского патруля. Естественно, все необходимо сделать официально, чтобы потом всякого рода провокаторы не кричали на каждом углу о «титушках из Юракадемии». Последнее слово – за руководителями областной и городской милиции. Не стоит забывать, что мы живем в сложное для страны время. Сейчас, как никогда, нужно быть начеку в связи с участившимися взрывами в нашем родном городе. Безопасность одесситов превыше всего.”

As is his habit to misuse his students during electioneering via coercion or bribery, undoubtedly he can be no more trusted in his motivations in the use of his students when “policing” the city either.

Yesterday also saw the pro-active launch of “Operation Porto Franko”, mentioned here almost two months ago.

“……in Odessa, there are indeed seeds being sown over the past few weeks for a project amongst the conspirators, called “Porto Franco”.  In the past 3 weeks, a good deal of money has arrived in Odessa for the promotion of this project when the time to activate it arrives.

Those behind it are the usual political suspects – Messrs Markov (from afar), Presman, Skoryk and Rabinovich.  Their aim is to give Odessa a special status in Ukraine as a free port – as the name “porto franco” infers.  The remnants of Party Rodina are preparing to be activated (now the money is here). Trolls for the “Odessa Forum” and on-line media are being recruited.  The local media owned by these men is prepping to make the “porto franco” argument  A Bill to be submitted to the RADA seeking a special free port status for Odessa is being drafted in dark conspiratorial corners.

The motivations of these conspirators is naturally not the benefit of Odessa.  The special status has far more to do with yet more nefarious enrichment and far less accountability to Kyiv.  Defrauding and shameless theft of the decentralised Odessa budget sits atop the agenda.  Some of these men are also close to the Kremlin, and thus would have little compunction if the porto franco project was (mysteriously) co-opted by the SVR and GRU along the way.  The money that has arrived in Odessa over the past 3 weeks to finance this project is not theirs – despite them all being obscenely wealthy and capable of financing such an effort.”

Unsurprisingly, within 48 hours of Mr Kolomoiski’s “volunteers” leaving the city, Alexei Tsvetkov, via Igor Markov’s Timer media outlet, announced a pro-active “education campaign” regarding “Porto Franko” – inferring the absence of the “volunteers” now provided the right opportunity to do so.

In short, the Odessa ex-Regionaires, within 48 hours of perceiving a Kolomoiski vacuum, and/or weakening of Igor Palitsa as Odessa Governor, are wasting little time in overtly testing the political waters and strength of resistance therein.  If there be no resistance, giant leaps backward beckon for Odessa if those in Kyiv are not watchful and picking up on these little revisionist (or worse) indicators.

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