The other war in Ukraine: Zelensky’s fight against the corruption of his politicians and oligarchs

The moment Ukrainian police raid the home of oligarch and friend of President Zelensky, Ihor Kolomoisky, during this week’s anti-corruption investigation. (Ukraine Prosecutor)

In Ukraine, this week the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky declared another war with the aim of paving the way for the European Union (EU)finally accept the country as its 28th member. Several judges and prosecutors filed criminal cases against six former Defense Ministry officials and raided the home of an oligarch and former political ally of the president who was allegedly benefiting from Western aid to stop the invasion of Russia. This happened just a few hours before a visit to Kyiv by a high-ranking EU delegation. Zelensky had come to power in 2019 with a mandate to curb the rampant corruption that has plagued the country since it gained independence after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Just a few hours earlier, there had been a wave of resignations from senior government officials such as a presidential adviser, the deputy defense minister and the deputy attorney general. They apparently left their posts to avoid further indictment by prosecutors. The Office of Economic Security reported uncovering large-scale embezzlement and tax evasion worth 40 billion hyrivnia ($1 billion) by the former management of the two largest Ukrainian oil companies, ukranafta and ukrtatnafta. Evidence of overpriced purchases of bulletproof vests and food rations for soldiers was also found.

The most spectacular actions were the raids on the homes of the former minister, arsen avakovand the billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky. Leading the proceedings was the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Andrey Kostinwho said in a Facebook post that “Corruption in war is looting and treason.” And he even called some of the acts committed as “Russian crimes”.

Ihor Kolomoisky, corruption, Ukraine.
Old image of President Zelensky with the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky who financed his presidential campaign and who has now fallen out of favor in an anti-corruption campaign. (Facebook)

In reality, the Ukrainian justice had no choice but to act on the investigations carried out by the journalist Mykhaylo Tkach on the news site Ukraine Pravda. It was he who proved that the deputy head of Zelensky’s presidential cabinet, Kyrylo Tymoshenkohad moved during the Russian invasion to a mansion that he had allegedly bought from a real estate magnate, and that on weekends he drove an expensive car Porsche AG. He also revealed that his personal fitness trainer had made huge profits in recent months in deals with the state in which Tymoshenko had a hand.

The case of the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, it is even more complicated for Zelensky, since he owes his popularity and the financial push that brought him to the presidency. Kolomoisky amassed enormous power in the Ukraine in the chaotic period after the fall of the Soviet Union, building a financial empire that spanned chemicals, gas, media and finance. He managed his holdings through a series of offshore companies and the largest bank in Ukraine, PrivateBank, which he himself controlled. He was briefly appointed governor of the Ukrainian region of Dnipropetrovsk after the Russian invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014, when he became a national hero for helping to arm the Ukrainian armed forces. Despite this, he was faced with the then Ukrainian government and it was when he decided to support Zelensky in his political aspirations. His channel bypassed censorship for a satirical show in which Zelensky played a schoolteacher-turned-president, earning him national fame and catapulting him to power. The PrivatBank was already in the crosshairs of US justice. Sanctions were imposed on him in 2021 and a year later a federal civil lawsuit in Texas for fraud and embezzlement.

The other great character who fell out of favor was, arsen avakovwho had enormous power as Interior Minister during the seven years he held the position until his departure in 2021. His name was circulating on social networks in recent weeks as a suspect in maneuvers in a freak helicopter crash on the outskirts of kyiv in which his successor in office was traveling. He himself wanted to anticipate the action of the attorney general and published on Instagram that the investigators were interested in the contracts for the purchase of helicopters in 2018. Airbus H225 Super Cougar. The contracts, he clarified, were between the French and Ukrainian governments. He apparently excluded himself from the transaction that had been denounced at the time in Parliament.

The once-all-powerful Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, who this week appeared at the center of the anti-corruption investigation launched by the Zelensky government.  REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
The once-all-powerful Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, who this week appeared at the center of the anti-corruption investigation launched by the Zelensky government. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko (VALENTYN OGIRENKO/)

All this was below the negotiations for the delivery of funds and weapons to the Kyiv government since Russia launched the invasion.. Zelensky no longer had alternatives. If he wants to continue in the process of joining the European Union and continue to receive fresh funds, he has to show that he is willing to go all-out against corruption,” he explained to Sky News, Orysia Lutsevychresearcher and manager of the Ukraine forum in the Chatham House From london.

Although the Treasury Department clarified last Tuesday that it had found no indication that US funds had been misused in Ukraine, several Republican opposition lawmakers had been demanding precise anti-corruption actions as a requirement to continue supporting arms shipments to contain Russian forces. Similar positions were heard in recent months in the European Parliament. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, Ukraine remains among the most corrupt countries in Eastern Europeaccording to the index of Transparency Internationalhe. In 2009 it had 79 points when 100 is the one that marks the countries with the greatest social breakdown. Twelve years later, in 2021, he had improved and reached 68 points, although he remained far from the European average of 40/44 points. Until now, the Russian invasion had managed to cover up what continues to be an endemic disease in Ukraine and in a good part of the planet.

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