Two weeks after unceremoniously losing his post of governorship of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast during an overnight meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, colorful oligarch Igor Kolomoisky has left the country. Kolomoisky had entered into conflict with the state when his de facto control of state-owned oil company Naftogaz was challenged by the Ukrainian parliament. What began as an imbroglio over control over state assets quickly metastasized into a symbolic confrontation between the president and the most visible representative of an oligarchic elite that behaves with complete impunity.
Now, after having been banned from entering the United States for several years, Kolomoisky is visiting America. (Full disclosure: I am the Paris correspondent for the English language television network Ukraine Today, whose parent company 1+1 Media Group is partly owned by Kolomoisky.)
In the wake of his ousting, Kolomoisky gave some thoroughly self-exculpating interviews. During one of these, he admitted that, “Poroshenko was patient with me for quite a while… If I were in his position, I would have kicked myself out in three months” instead of the nine months his tenure as governor lasted.
Rumors swirled over the tireless businessman’s future plans. Some speculated he was mulling a vindictive return to public life. That he would marshal his forces and topple the government. After a tactical retreat, a la Mikhail Khodorkovsky, he would scheme to become president. Still others prophesized that he would quietly retreat to his Swiss villa on Lake Geneva.
The news of his departure from Ukraine—and that the American embassy in Kiev had relented on the oligarch’s longstanding visa ban—was delivered over Facebook by reformist member of the Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament), Sergey Leschenko. Leschenko was one of the idealistic young MPs who fought against Kolomoisky’s power inside the Rada. His post, translated into English below, was understandably euphoric:
News on my favourite topic. Kolomoisky took advantage of a recent conversation with the US ambassador in order to expiate himself of his American visa ban. This was brokered by the rabbi of Dnipropetrovsk Kaminetsky, who is an American citizen. A special exception was made, and Kolomoisky was issued a short stay, single entry visa for the US, where he is now mostly devoting his spare time to attending basketball games. Kolomoiskiy’s family members, were in contrast, given ten-year visas. However, sources do not specify whether Kolomoisky had the visa placed in his Ukrainian, Israeli or Cypriot passports.
The final line is a subtle dig the fact that Ukrainian law expressly forbids dual nationality, and Kolomoisky has boasted to reporters about holding three passports (as he cheekily pointed out, triple citizenship isn’t forbidden under Ukrainian law).
Leschenko confirmed his comments over the phone, adding that he did’t know if Kolomoisky was moving to America permanently. As he put it, “President Poroshenko is indeed trying to curb his influence on the country.”
This news comes three days after the National Bank of Ukraine extended the latest in a series of stabilization credits to Kolomoisky’s PrivatBank. The stabilization loan of 695 million hryvnia (roughly $30 million) is to be repaid within two years and is secured against Kolomoisky’s private plane and personal guarantee. The funds have been provided in the wake of the erratic currency’s stabilization over the previous weeks. Their intent is to ensure that PrivatBank is able to fulfill its liabilities to individual depositors—the bank holds a quarter of the country’s private deposits and 15 percent of all assets in the banking system, and it is widely assumed to be too big to fail.
In related business news, this week an enterprising Kiev journalist began a business silk screening Kolomoisky’s coarse epigrams onto white T-shirts. Her company name, The Telki (The Wenches) refers to a particularly bawdy part of the tirade he directed at Radio Liberty journalist Serhiy Andrushko, who had been waiting for him to leave his offices—accompanied by his armed entourage— outside the Naftogaz building late at night. The T-shirt reads: “Sitting there. Lurking. Like a Telka waiting for her husband.”
The three lines have a 3-4-5 syllable structure and internal rhymes. The Russian is at the lowest register of vulgarity, but the laconic pithiness and syntactic construction are fairly exquisite. Along with being a successful businessman, politician, and executive, Kolomoisky is also a folk poet of Russian vulgarity.
As of now, there’s no information relating to the question whether the sharks in the aquarium at Kolomoisky’s Dnipropitrovsk office would be making the trek to America along with his family. Or whether he has ordered a T-shirt.
Vladislav Davidzon is Tablet’s European culture correspondent and a Russian American writer, translator, and critic. He is the Chief Editor of The Odessa Review and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and lives in Paris.