The United States is closely watching signs of possible major anti-corruption moves in Ukraine involving the forced resignation of a billionaire governor and the arrest of two top state emergency officials.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for the resignation Tuesday of Ihor Kolomoisky, a powerful businessman who had been serving as governor in the key industrial region of Dnipropetrovsk. The controversy erupted last week after Kolomoisky, having clashed with the government over the future of a state energy company in which he is a stakeholder, sent a private security army to its headquarters in an apparent show-of-force to protect his interests.
Officials are watching what Kolomoisky will do now that he has stepped down and what impact the scandal will have on efforts to reform Ukraine’s government and stabilize the eastern region battered by months of fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
“We hope very much that he will do what his people have been signaling after his decision to leave the governorship, which is to be a successful and loyal member of the Ukrainian business community,” said a senior U.S. State Department official on Wednesday. “We’ll have to see how this plays out, but that would be our expectation.”
Ukrainian officials also arrested the head of Ukraine’s state emergency service, Serhiy Bochkovsky, and his deputy, Vasyl Stoyetskiy, on corruption charges during a televised meeting on Wednesday.
U.S. officials say Ukraine’s unfolding anti-corruption efforts reflect broader attempts to reform Ukraine’s government, where corruption has long been entrenched.
“I think one of the defining characteristics of this past year has been the very strong voice of Ukrainian civil society in holding their leaders to account, in demanding unity of effort among the country’s democratic forces, and in insisting that a return to business as usual, that is of the Yanukovych era and before, is simply unacceptable,” said the senior U.S. official. “And that was certainly the case in this crisis around Governor Kolomoisky and the role that he was going to play.”
The official was referring to Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in February of last year following months of protests against his government. He fled to Russia and is wanted by Kyiv and Interpol on corruption charges, amongst others.
Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to face a fragile cease-fire between army forces and pro-Russian rebels in the east. While much of the fighting has slowed, shelling continues almost daily across cease-fire lines.
The U.S. official said “Russians are still fueling the fight” and claimed that Moscow continues to be Ukraine’s greatest threat.