A complex drama is playing itself out in the Ukraine, one which has implications that could affect the relations between Russian and the US. And at the center of the conflict is a Jew, a very wealthy Jew.
One hour after he was dismissed from his position by President Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian Jewish billionaire Igor Kolomoiski resigned as governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region. The dispute was over control of two state-owned firms, in which Kolomoiski owns a minority share.
Kolomoiski was appointed governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region in March 2014.
The region has great strategic importance for its heavy industry and proximity to the Russian border. It has enclaves held by Russian-backed separatists.
He is credited with ensuring public order in the area in the stormy days following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of fighting along the border between the two countries. Kolomoisky is being replaced by Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of a nearby district.
Kolomoiski is vilified by some and loved by others. He has donated millions for Jewish causes all over the Ukraine, but especially in Dnepropetrovsk.
He has also spent millions of his own money preparing Ukraine’s army to fight against Russia. In April 2014 Kolomoiski offered a bounty for the capture of Russian-backed militants and incentives for the turning in of weapons. He also is believed to have spent $10 million to create the Dnipro Battalion, and also funds the Aidar, Azov, Dnepr 1, Dnepr 2, and Donbas volunteer battalions.
Kolomoiski is a billionaire listed by Forbes as the 377th richest person in the world with $3 billion. In 2012 Forbes rated him the third richest person in Ukraine.
Kolomoiski has a unique way of doing business and has used Privat’s “quasi-military forces” to enforce hostile takeovers of companies, sending a team of “hired rowdies armed with baseball bats, iron bars, gas and rubber bullet pistols and chainsaws” to forcibly take over a Kremenchuk steel plant in 2006.
He has also used “a mix of phony court orders (often involving corrupt judges and/or registrars) and strong-arm tactics” to replace directors on the boards of companies he purchases stakes in.
The conflict with Russia has left the Ukraine in dire straits and since the conflict began in February of 2014, it has been ruled by a small group of very wealthy oligarchs, Kolomoiski being one of the major players.
The elected president, Poroshenko, is also very wealthy and part of this power game. To put it simply, President Poroshenko was feeling threatened by Kolomoiski’s growing power and influence.
He decided to limit the economic power of Kolomoiski by replacing the board of one of his companies, Ukrnafta.
The building of UkrNafta was occupied by men in arms, evidently members of the Dnipro-1 battalion, financed and armed by Kolomoisky.This led to him being dismissed and then quitting.
Kolomoiski has a triple Ukrainian-Israeli-Cyprus citizenship because dual citizenship is not recognized by Ukraine. Kolomoski explained that: “The constitution prohibits double citizenship but triple citizenship is not forbidden.” He runs his financial empire from Switzerland, though his residence permit is now in question.
Kolomoiski is a figure that stands between the East and West. Two days after his appointment as governor, Vladmir Putin described him as a “unique crook” and declared that he was unpopular with the citizens of Dnipropetrovsk and should not be governor. Western publications disagreed.
Russia is asking for Kolomoyskyi to be put on Interpol‘s wanted list. On 2 July 2014 a Russian District Court authorized his arrest in absentia for “organizing the killing of civilians”.
The Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk, the recipient of much of his good will, wrote this:
“Dnepropetrovsk’s Jews together with other ethnic and religious communities, along with most residents of the area — and we hope with the majority of Ukrainian citizens wherever they live — want to say a word of thanks and appreciation to Igor Kolomoisky and his colleagues who selflessly led the most important area in the country in its hour of need,” the statement said.
But even within the Jewish community he is a figure that polarizes. He is the president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine.
In 2010 he was appointed as the president of the European Council of Jewish Communities] after promising the outgoing president he would donate $14 million, with his appointment being described as a “putsch” and a “Soviet-style takeover” by other EJCJ board members.
After several ECJC board members resigned in protest, Kolomyski quit the ECJC and, together with fellow Ukrainian oligarch Vadim Rabinovich, founded the European Jewish Union.