On July 15, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko appointed a new governor in Zakarpattia region and appeared with a bill saying that all armed people in peaceful regions – other than those permitted to have arms – should be regarded as terrorists. In other words, they will be destroyed. According to several experts, the last incident in Mukachevo – when a group of Right Sector fighters first engaged in a shoot-out with the men of Mikhail Lanyo (an MP who controls the local contraband activities) and then, when forced to retreated, started firing at the police – has become a chance for Poroshenko to kill three birds with one stone: believed by many to be trying to build an authoritarian West-controlled state in Ukraine, the Ukrainian president will now be able to destroy one more influence center, to stifle separatist moods and to get rid of uncontrolled fighters.
When speaking about armed people, Poroshenko did not mention the Right Sector (a force banned in Russia for extremism) and even said that he had nothing against volunteer battalions. But it was clear who he was talking about. Poroshenko changed the governor of Zakarpattia not so much to fight that region’s “traditional business” - contraband – as to tame its unpredictable owner Viktor Baloha and to deprive the Right Sector of its sources of income in Zakarpattia.
Baloha has long been regarded as the unofficial sponsor of the Right Sector fighters. The incident in Mukachevo was just one of his attempts to use them in fight for full control of the region, but, quite unexpectedly, it sparked a massive public outcry. Both Lanyo and Baloha are sure that Poroshenko was aware of their possible conflict. No surprise that he sent former journalist, now MP Mustafa Nayyem to cover the events.
It was Nayyem who invited people to Maidan for a cup of tea when Yanukovich refused to sign the association agreement. We all know what that tea-party ended in. And we have all seen already how the owner of the Roshen confectionary empire can use any situation. From a peace-maker, thrown by national extremists off a tractor, Poroshenko turned into president - unlike many of Maidan’s real activists.
Even though many people have called the situation in the west of Ukraine the “second front,” we are inclined to believe that this is just part of Poroshenko’s plan to destroy one more influence center and to get rid of the Right Sector fighters. The “second front” advocates say that seeing no single step on the part of Poroshenko to fight corruption and to carry out reforms, the national extremists have decided to do it on their own. But we tend to think that Poroshenko just used this situation to come out of the deadlock he had put himself by fostering national extremism. It is really dangerous for Poroshenko and his team to have a force of thousands of uncontrolled armed people in a country facing social-economic crisis. And it was also the wish of the West to see no more national extremism in Ukraine.
In Zakarpattia, Poroshenko used the same mechanism he used against Kolomoisky and Aydar in Dnipropetrovsk. Against the Right Sector it may prove not as effective as against Aidar but Poroshenko has no alternative. The Dnipropetrovsk case was simple: Poroshenko just waited for a scandal that would discredit Kolomoisky and his men and would allow him act against them legally.
After the war, Aidar fighters moved not only to Donbass to torture people and to steal property but also to peaceful regions to take control of local businesses. Poroshenko reacted by merging Aidar with the Defense Ministry and replacing its commander Serhiy Melnychuk. The protest actions organized by the most loyal Aidar fighters in response gave Poroshenko a chance to accuse Melnychuk of having created a criminal group. Now that Melnychuk has been deprived of his deputy immunity, he may face a life in jail.
Until quite recently oligarch and former governor of Dnipropetrovsk region Ihor Kolomoysky, with his financial empire, Dnipro and Dnipro-1 battalions and control over Kharkiv, Zaporizhia and Odessa regions, has seemed to be unsinkable.
Kolomoisky freely used his armed fighters against his rival, billionaire Rinat Akhmetov: he blocked his businesses and even the humanitarian cargoes he sent to Donbass. And Poroshenko closed his eyes on this. But one day in March in Volnovakha national security officer Viktor Mandzyk was killed by MP Andriy Denysenko’s assistant Denys Hordeyev. Following the incident, the sides accused each of giving a cover to smuggling businesses. Denysenko forced his assistant to surrender. Hordeyev turned out to be a member of Dnipro-1 Battalion and the Dnipropetrovsk office of the Right Sector. It was a pretext for Poroshenko to say that Kolomoisky’s team was engaged in smuggling activities.
His first step was to change the Kolomoisky-controlled managers of Ukrtransnafta and Ukrnafta. Faced with the threat of losing his sources of income, Kolomoisky sent his fighters to seize the office of both companies. Following the incident, Kolomoisky was summoned to Poroshenko’s office and was forced to resign. Today he is somewhere abroad. What Poroshenko told him then is not known. But no less important factor here is that Kolomoisky was also summoned by the US Ambassador to Kiev.
Kolomoisky’s resignation was a strong blow for its key beneficiary, the Right Rector. And now that force may lose its sponsors in Zakarpattia. The new governor of that region General Hennadiy Moskal knows how to tame local bosses. In Zakarpattia, he used the same methods he used in Lugansk: he will ruin the existing smuggling schemes and will take some people away from the local trough. He already governed Zakarpattia in the early 2000s, from where he was sent by Kuchma to Crimea to deal with local criminals.
According to the police, they in Kiev perfectly know who in Ukraine has arms and where. So, their new law will give them a free hand to arrest whomever they like. The Right Sector will be the key target as this force constitutes the biggest threat for Poroshenko. Until recently the national extremists have refused to join any official military structure and have obeyed only to Dmytro Yarosh but now that the Right Sector will lose its sponsors, Yarosh will face a dilemma: to lose control of his fighters in exchange for state support or to refuse to join the Defense Ministry and to stay half hungry. In its time, the Fascist Azov Battalion chose to join the Interior Ministry.
Yarosh has few options. He may start an armed conflict and ask other volunteer battalions to support him. But he has no guarantees that they will do it. It is a generally known fact that Yarosh is very careful. During the Maidan his radicals lost very few men as they preferred provoking conflicts to taking part in them. The same was true during the war in Donbass.
One more problem here is that not everybody in the Right Sector obey to Yarosh. During the Maidan that force was formed by four national extremist movements. One of them, the Fascist Patriots of Ukraine split right after the start of the war in Donbass and turned into Azov Battalion. In the meantime, the Rights Sector was admitting whoever expressed any support for its extremist ideas. As a result, Yarosh has no full control over that force. The last news was that one more battalion split from the Right Sector and joined Azov.
But this was not the key loss for Yarosh. In late June, Poroshenko dismissed his closest comrade, chief of Ukraine’s Security Service Valentyn Nalyvaichenko.
One more problem for Yarosh is that he is no longer supported by people as his men keep using patriotic slogans to cover their crimes all over Ukraine. When recently Right Sector fighters seized the Dolinsky Oil Refinery and stole 1.5mn UAH from the company’s safe, the force placed an article on its website, which said that the company was owned by the family of Yanukovych and sponsored self-defenders in Donbass.
With no more public support and financing, the Right Sector will face destruction if tries to confront Poroshenko. But Yarosh has one trump in his hands. Now that Ukraine is facing economic collapse and general corruption, more and more Ukrainians are beginning to ask themselves what they are fighting for in Donbass. Even Hennadiy Moskal said recently that very soon Ukraine may face a coup. “Somebody may think this is impossible. But I have heard such calls from many volunteer battalions,” he said.
So, the president will have to act till the next election or till the next winter, at the latest, when growing unemployment, high tariffs, low wages and no heat and light will give the Right Sector a chance to organize mass riots.
True, Poroshenko has a safe and proven way-out – a new war in Donbass. On the one hand, this will give the president a chance to distract the Right Sector’s attention, but, on the other hand, this may grow into a mass slaughter. He will hardly want to face such an outcome, but it is he who has put himself in this hopeless situation.