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A billionaire with his own private army is fighting the government in Ukraine

 

 

Igor Kolomoisky was once called Ukraine’s “secret weapon” as the 52-year-old billionaire raised his own private army to fight off separatist forces attempting to capture the country’s third-largest city. Now the government in Kiev faces a dangerous stand-off with one of its most important allies.

The banking magnate was sacked by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday.

In March last year Kolomoisky, who founded Ukraine’s largest commercial bank Privat Bank, had been appointed governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a predominantly Russian-speaking region in the east of the country.

After the collapse of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government led to neighbouring regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declaring their independence from Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast became a flash point: the government became desperate to halt the rebel advance there and the separatists became equally intent on reestablishing it as part of what Vladimir Putin termed Novorossiya, or New Russia.

With the situation descending into war the region found itself exposed and the new government in Kiev was ill-equipped to offer it either the financial or military resources required to hold off the Moscow-backed separatists. So the job fell to Kolomoisky. Or rather Kolomoisky took it, with Kiev’s grateful acceptance.

At a cost of around $10 million a month, according to the Wall Street Journal, Kolomoisky began to build up his army. By June last year the so-called Dnipro Batallion consisted of 2,000 heavily-armed troops, with a further 2,000 in reserve under the command of Kolomoisky’s close ally and self-described “conflict manager” Gennady Korban.

Although a businessman, Korban was no stranger to life and death situations having survived an assassination attempt in March 2006 when his car was shot at my machine-gun wielding attackers. Both men are known for their aggressive business methods, although they claimed that in other countries their actions would simply be dubbed as “mergers and acquisitions”.

Having managed to keep Dnipropetrovsk in government hands despite fierce fighting, the appointment appeared to have been a success. That, however, was thrown into doubt last week when armed men in masks stormed the headquarters of state-owned oil company UkrTransNafta in the Ukrainian capital Kiev following the sacking of its director Oleksander Lazorko, a key ally of Kolomoisky.

 

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