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Who Are the Oligarchs Counting on in Ukraine's New Parliament?
31 July, 2019
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Servant of the People Party Leader Dmytro Razumkov (left), Head of the President’s Office Andriy Bogdan and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the headquarters of the party, Kyiv, July 21, 2019 Photo: Ratinsky Vyacheslav / UNIAN

Over the years, plenty of Ukrainian businessmen and oligarchs have been part of the Ukrainian parliament. Privat Group co-owner Ihor Kolomoisky has never been one of them. But for the past 15 years, Kolomoisky has maintained a political presence by helping MPs get into parliament. This year was no exception. 

More than 20 future MPs have worked for the businesses of Kolomoisky and his partners, or held senior positions in the Ukrainian Association of Patriots (UKROP), a nationalist right wing political party of which Kolomoisky is a member and sponsor of. 

The UKROP party was created in 2015 by two of Kolomoisky’s former deputies in the Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration- Hennadiy Korban and Borys Filatov. It was supposed to be a patriotic opposition to President Petro Poroshenko. And it was meant to unite volunteer veterans, who blamed the then president for the Battle of Ilovaisk (an August 2014 event that saw 366 Ukrainian soldiers killed and a further 429 injured) and the Minsk agreements, as well as volunteers.

In the spring of that year, Poroshenko fired Korban and Filatov from their posts. At that time, Korban was accused of a series of crimes, including kidnapping. Subsequently, law enforcement officers detained Korban, and his case was taken to court. While Korban was sitting in detention, UKROP party leadership changed and there was no place for any of the founders. Later, Kolomoisky became a member of the party. Korban entered into an agreement with aggrieved MP  Sergei Rudyk, and received 1.5 years probation, but had not been involved in politics since. Meanwhile, the UKROP party took part in local elections and, according to Denis Borisenko, now has more than 2,000 MPs in local councils. Its co-founder Borys Filatov won the mayoral elections in Dnipro, but quit the party in 2018. 

Most of the future MPs associated with Kolomoisky and his businesses got into parliament through President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party. Just like the head of state, they are now promising to prove that they are not “Kolomoisky’s puppets.”

Hromadske looks at what kind of influences oligarchs will have in the newly elected parliament. 

The Union of 1 + 1 and UKROP 

Before the elections, Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk, a candidate from Servant of the People, had no political experience. She had previously worked as a journalist on Kolomoisky's 1+1 television channel. But when polls closed in the 96th district of Kyiv, she had secured herself a seat at the table. 

Denis Borysenko, a member of the political council of the UKROP party and deputy of Kyiv regional council, helped Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk procure her seat. He met voters with her and gave her use of his MP meeting space for election headquarters for the duration of the campaign. UKROP became part of Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk’s team. 

Borysenko assures that it was his initiative to help Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk and that he didn’t take any money for it. “It’s just help that comes from the heart,” he told Hromadske. The politician says that Kolomoisky, who heads the accounting committee at UKROP, had nothing to do with his decision to help the Servant of the People candidate. 

Member of UKROP party’s political council and Kyiv regional council deputy Denis Borysenko., Kyiv, July 15, 2019. Photo: Victoria Sloboda/Hromadske
This volunteer work significantly reduced the cost of Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk’s campaign, which was around 400,000 hryvnias ($15,700). For comparison, Oleksandr Kornienko, chairman of the election headquarters of Servant of the People, told Hromadske that a typical campaign runs from 1 to 1.5 million hryvnias ($39,000-59,000).

Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk herself does not consider her work with Kolomoisky’s channel nor the free assistance of UKROP representatives as proof that she is “Kolomoisky’s person.”

In the parliament, she promises to toe the party line, including voting on bills that could harm Kolomoisky. 

“Maybe I am just a decent and honest girl whom everyone helps, have you thought of that?” she asked a Hromadske journalist. 

Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk is not the only representative of 1+1 elected to parliament from the Zelenskyy’s party. 

According to the Servant of the People party list, the General Director of 1+1, Oleksandr Tkachenko was also elected to parliament. At the same time a presenter of 1+1, Oleksandr Dubinsky and journalist of 1+1 Sergei Shvets won major constituencies. 

Another name to add to that list is Artem Kovalev, General Director of the UNIAN news agency, which is also owned by Kolomoisky. They also don’t consider themselves Kolomoisky’s men. 

Servant of the People party leaders have also distanced themselves from Kolomoisky. Party chairman Dmitry Razumkov said that during the presidential campaign, 1+1 employees maintained balance and helped many, calling them professionals.

Kolomoisky himself assured that the former 1+1 employees ran for parliament without his consent. “They are fleeing to politics,” he said in an interview with publication Novoye Vremya. 

General Director of 1 + 1 Media Oleksandr Tkachenko (center) and journalist, TV presenter Oleksandr Dubinsky (right) at a Servant of the People party meeting, Kyiv, June 9, 2019
Photo: Sokolovskaya Inna/UNIAN

 

Further Integration

UKROP not only helped candidates secure a seat, but also partially integrated into the party. In the Dnepropetrovsk, Volyn, Ivano-Frankivsk regions and in Kyiv, former UKROP members ran in the majority districts of the Servant of the People party. 

In the 20th district in Volyn, Vyacheslav Rublev was victorious. Before the election, he represented UKROP at the regional council, headed the regional party and was an advisor to the head of the regional council, Ihor Palytsia, who is also a member of the political council of UKROP and a business partner of Kolomoisky.  

Member of the UKROP political council and Ihor Kolomoisky’s business partner Ihor Palytsia, Kyiv, May 21, 2019. Photo: The official UKROP Facebook page
 

Palytsia, along with the head of UKROP, Taras Batenko, and MP Iryna Konstankevych  were elected to parliament as self-nominees. 

Rublev was not the only former head of a party branch of UKROP, who entered parliament as a  Servant of the People MP. Bohdan Yaremenko, who previously headed the Kyiv party organization, won as a Servant of the People MP in the capital’s 215th district. 

Oleksandr Yurchenko, in the Holosiyiv district of Kyiv, also won a seat in parliament. Earlier, he headed UKROP’s party organization in this area. 

Two more former party members of UKROP, Igor Fris and Alexander Matusevich, also won seats as Servant of the People candidates. 

The greatest representation of former UKROP members is located in central Ukraine, Dnipropetrovsk region. Yuri Mysyagin, Vladislav Borodin and Dmitry Cherny, who are members of the UKROP faction in the Dnipropetrovsk regional council, ran on the Servant of the People ticket and won.

According to Boris Denisenko, a member of the UKROP political council, UKROP decided against participating in the parliamentary elections, because it did not have proper time to carry out the procedure of primaries- the inner-party selection of candidates.

Nevertheless, he doesn’t hide the fact that during the presidential campaign and now UKROP supports Zelenskyy. 

Servant of the People party leaders do not consider the concentration of former UKROP members within their ranks to be a problem. 

“The UKROP party has not been the worst political force in the past five years. It was never in possession of a lot of power, it is widely represented in the local government, where it did not excessively humiliate itself, like other political parties have done,” says Oleksandr Kornienko, adding that, in addition to UKROP, representatives of other parties helped candidates throughout the parliamentary electoral campaign. “Regional council deputies from the Revival party helped...there was even a candidate who was a member of the local council from Petro Poroshenko Bloc.” 

Head of the Servants of the People electoral headquarters Oleksandr Kornienko, Kyiv, July 15, 2019. Photo: Victoria Sloboda / Hromadske
 

The representative of the political party Revival, whom Kornienko mentioned, is Svyatoslav Oleynik, the first deputy head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional council. In 2015, in local elections, he was elected as a candidate from the Revival party. 

At the same time, the leaders of Revival, Vitaliy Khomutynnik and Vikor Bondar, did not hide their friendly relations with Kolomoisky and that Khomutynnik was also the oligarch’s business partner. 

Oleynik has his own relations with Kolomoisky. In 2014, when the oligarch headed the Dnipropetrovsk regional state administration, Oleynik became one of his deputies. 

Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration Ihor Kolomoisky (center) with Svyatoslav Oleynik (left) at the Yuzhmash plant in Dnipro, October 21, 2014
Photo: Sergey Isaev/UNIAN

Three Ways

The main difference for the oligarchs in this parliament is that their insider team is no longer formed by MPs from a variety of parties. Instead, each of the largest Ukrainian oligarchs is associated with only one faction. For Kolomoisky, that’s Servant of the People. 

Dmytro Firtash and the conditional group RosUkrEnergo (Serhiy Lyovochkin and Yuriy Boyko) are counting on a third of Opposition Platform - For Life composition. Just like the newly minted oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, who is Firtash's partner in this political project.

Ukraine’s richest citizen, Rinat Akhmetov, set a record- none of the parties that formally defended his interest made it into the parliament. As a result, the owner of the SCM Corporation needs to be content with support from only seven MPs.

Dmytro Firtash (right) is counting on a third of the Opposition Platform in the new parliament. Meanwhile, only seven MPs will now represent Rinat Akhmetov’s interests (left) in parliament. Photo: Ivan Frolov/UNIAN.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is the only big business owner to have his own political party- European Solidarity. Formally, Poroshenko retains the signs of an oligarch (owns big business, TV channels and has influence on the authorities), but stresses that he does not manage his assets and that during his presidency he transferred them to the management of “blind trust”.

In general, three different strategies are in play in the oligarch’s fight for political power within the parliament.

First, the landing strategy is employed. For Kolomoisky that meant, “landing” his people in the “Servant of the People” majority. The oligarch did not find the time to speak to Hromadske, but one of the MPs who maintains close relations with Kolomoisky, on condition of anonymity, agreed to explain his strategy. That strategy is to get 10 to 20 deputies from Servant of the People into parliament so that they could influence the position of the presidential faction on key questions. 

Second, is the integration strategy. Poroshenko and Medvedchuk personally led their teams into parliament. However, two different approaches were used. Medvedchuk led a party of loyal compatriots that have worked with him for more than a decade.

Poroshenko this time refused to bring a list of business partners and made a bid for self-sufficient politicians (Mustafa Dzhemilev, Andriy Parubiy), military and volunteers (Mikhail Zabrodsky, Yana Zinkevych).

The owner of the EastOne Corporation, Victor Pinchuk, went the other way. A billionaire who was an MP himself from 1998–2006, rejected both the strategy of “dropping” his people into parties and candidates from majority districts. The only exception is Dmitry Kisilevsky, Corporate Relations Director at Interpipe, which belongs to the oligarch. He won the election in the 24th district as a Servant of the People candidate. 

Although associated with Svyatoslav Vakarchuk’s Golos Party, Pinchuk did not infiltrate the party with MPs but with contracts for political advertising. 

Therefore, despite the new composition of parliament, it’s too early to talk about complete "deoligarchization" of the legislative body.

/By Maxim Kamenev

Translated and adapted by Allison Martinez-Cortes and Natalie Vikhrov