Volodimir Zelenski’s Ukraine is defending itself from the Russian invasion and at the same time seems to want to clean up part of the oligarchic corruption that has dominated the administration’s resources for decades. The Ukrainian president on Sunday dismissed his defense minister, Oleksy Reznikov, who had led the country’s defense since the start of the war. The fall of Reznikov, who has not been personally accused of any corruption case but has covered up cases involving subordinates, covers up a more important fall.
On Saturday, the Ukrainian Justice prosecuted Igor Kolomoisky, the billionaire oligarch who launched Zelensky’s political career. He is accused of fraud, corruption and money laundering.
Zelensky declined to link Reznikov’s removal to corruption. This Sunday he said that “the Ministry needs new approaches and new ways of interacting with the Armed Forces as well as with civil society in a broad sense.” Zelensky had announced Reznikov’s removal on his Telegram account.
The now dismissed Defense Minister had been on a tightrope for weeks after another corruption case that happened too close to him. This time about the winter clothes he had bought for the soldiers. In recent months, his subordinates had been accused of paying commissions for imports of ammunition, food and military medical supplies. Reznikov always protected his subordinates from him and ended up falling. The Ukrainian press assures that he will go to London as ambassador.
The new minister, if Parliament accepts Zelensky’s proposal, will be Roustem Oumerov. A Muslim Crimean Tatar (Zelensky is Jewish), he is a member of an opposition party that allied itself with Zelensky after the start of the war. He is a financier by profession and has no experience with Defense policies.
But the dismissal of Reznikov and the appointment of Oumerov cover up a much more important fall, that of Kolomoisky. Two months ago he had to sit before a judge to answer for the accusations that now lead him to be prosecuted, but then no one believed that Justice would dare to take on a character who was at the origin of the president’s political campaign. He was able to free himself from preventive detention by paying bail of 12.5 million euros but he refused to do so and entered prison on the same Saturday.
Kolomoisky was for years one of the most important oligarchs in the Ukrainian political world. Protected behind his multimillion-dollar fortune created from a business empire of media, oil companies and metallurgical factories, all dependent on the ‘Privat’ bank, he dedicated himself to financing political parties and figures.
The dismissal of Reznikov and the appointment of Oumerov cover up a much more important fall, that of Kolomoisky. Photo EFE
Zelensky owes him the beginnings of his popularity because it was “1+1”, a television channel owned by the oligarch and one of the most important in the country, that launched the comedian and humorist Zelensky to stardom. At the end of the last decade, the now president starred in a television series in which he played precisely the president of Ukraine. Shortly after, in 2019, he won the presidential election.
Kolomoisky began to be annoying in 2021, when the United States included him in one of its sanctions regimes for corruption and money laundering.
Since then, Ukraine has legislated to limit the power of oligarchs in politics, especially limiting their ability to control the media. Ukraine must show the United States and, now especially the European Union, that it is fighting corruption if it wants the European Commission to recommend to the governments of the 27 this fall that the country open accession negotiations to the European Union. If opened, that process could take years.