News You Really Need To See: “Ukraine’s Secret Weapon Against Putin: A Feisty Billionaire”

“Ukraine’s Secret Weapon Against Putin: A Feisty Billionaire”

The Wall Street Journal, June 28-29, 2014, p.A1

Leaning over a map of eastern Ukraine on his desk, Gennady Korban gripped a ballpoint pen and drew a squiggling blue line down its center.  The border, he said, marked the battlefront in his country’s war with pro-Russia separatists.  One side was stable, rid of ‘troublemakers,’ he said.  On the other are ‘maniacs,’ he said. … He called the border ‘Kolomoisky’s line’—after his billionaire boss, who is emerging as one of the more unlikely protagonists to emerge from Ukraine’s fight for survival.  When its high-profile conflict with Russia began, the fledgling government in Kiev was caught flat-footed, with an army with little fighting experience or funding.  Enter Ihor Kolomoisky, a 51-year-old outspoken banking tycoon.  Now recently appointed by the country’s president as governor of Dnipropetrovsk region in eastern Ukraine, he has decided to dip into his fortune to bolster that army and defend the homeland.   So far, that has included buying tires, car batteries and fuel for army units, as well outfitting local militias.  He also announced a program to buy up contraband weapons and offer a $10,000 bounty for any pro-Russia militant captured with a gun. … Mr. Kolomoisky declined to say how much he is spending personally to build up what his aides call the ‘Kolomoisky army,’ but experts estimate it is about $10 million a month just to fund the salaries of militia and police units, some of whom technically report to Ukraine’s army and interior ministry.”

Quickie Analysis:  Conflict makes for strange bedfellows.  Just a few months ago Kolomoisky was a Ukrainian banking oligarch living in Switzerland, arguably part of Ukraine’s problem when it came to enacting necessary economic reforms.  Now he’s a governor with a privately funded army and a grateful constituency.

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