The Arrest of Igor Kolomoysky Consolidates US Influence Over Zelensky Ahead of Likely Elections

Yves here. It seems difficult to fathom why Igor Kolomoysky returned to Ukraine to get himself arrested, since he was bunkered in Switzerland and reportedly had enough of his former fortune left (Alex Christaforu reported yesterday $800 million; I haven’t attempted to verify) to live comfortably. And Kolomoysky would hardly be the first rich person to hide out in Switzerland on a long term basis; recall Marc Rich, convicted for criminal tax fraud in the US and after a very long time in exile, pardoned by the US. One has to assume someone he trusted baited him to come….confirming that no one in Ukraine who has any influence can be trusted.

The other peculiar part of this saga is the apparent volte face by Zelensky on elections. Recall Ukraine has already shut down all opposition press, banned opposition parties, and has been attacking Russian Orthodox churches and considering a formal ban. So having elections with this as a background is a farce, and Zelensky had accordingly said none would be held until the war was over. But the cancellation of elections made it too easy to depict Ukraine as a non-democracy and was embarrassing to the US. So it appears that fake Ukraine elections will be coming in 2024.

By Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst who specializes in the global systemic transition to multipolarity in the New Cold War. He has a PhD from MGIMO, which is under the umbrella of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Originally published at his website

In an ironic twist of fate, this oligarch went from pulling the Ukrainian leader’s strings to having his life ruined by the same man who he thought was his puppet.

Many observers were shocked when the SBU arrested Zelensky’s former patron, oligarch Igor Kolomoysky, on charges of fraud, corruption, and money laundering over the weekend. The Ukrainian leader then thanked the security serves in his evening address “for their determination to bring every case stalled for decades to a just conclusion.” This development comes two and a half years after the US sanctionedKolomoysky on related pretexts, thus suggesting that the latest move was endorsed by them.

His arrest is due to several converging factors that also explain why it happened at this particular time. First, the vicious blame game that broke out between the US and Ukraine last month over the failed counteroffensive threatens to derail their relations if it isn’t soon resolved. At the core of this dispute are US accusations that Ukraine is arrogantly ignoring the military-strategic advice that it’s been given. Accordingly, the US has an interest in removing those who it suspects of negatively influencing Zelensky.

It’s unclear exactly what sway Kolomoysky might have still exerted over Zelensky after the latter fell largely under US influence since the start of Russia’s special operation a year and a half ago, but it makes sense why Washington wouldn’t want to risk the chance that he could play a role in their escalating spat. This observation doesn’t explain why he was arrested only just now, however, thus leading to the second relevant factor regarding the urgent need to manage Ukrainian and US public opinion.

People in both countries are growing fatigued and frustrated with this conflict. The challenge this poses for Ukraine is that it reduces support for prolonging the proxy war, plus folks are now starting to remember some of his other unfulfilled promises like fighting corruption. As for the US, a lot of Americans no longer want to fund Ukraine, or they at least want accountability for how their money is being spent after fearing that figures in this infamously corrupt country are stealing their tax dollars.

It therefore made sense for Zelensky to finally stage a public spectacle by allowing the arrest of his corrupt patron. He killed two birds with one stone by satiating both publics at no cost to himself. In fact, the latest phase of his anti-corruption campaign actually works in his political interests, thereby segueing into the third factor pertaining to the newfound US pressure on him to hold presidential elections next spring as planned.

Zelensky will almost certainly run for re-election even though he hasn’t yet officially announced his candidacy. He’s still somewhat popular with his people, as are most leaders whenever there’s a conflict being fought on their territory (or the territory that they claim as their own in this case), but his failure to effectively fight corruption despite prior promises disappointed many. By letting the SBU arrest his former patron Kolomoysky, however, Zelensky hopes to regain some of his base’s lost trust.

These three factors – the US wanting to consolidate its influence over Zelensky as bilateral ties become more complicated; the need to satiate the Ukrainian and US publics’ anti-corruption demands; and the incumbent’s undeclared re-election campaign – account for Kolomoysky’s arrest at this particular time. Simply put, it serves both states’ interests. In an ironic twist of fate, this oligarch went from pulling the Ukrainian leader’s strings to having his life ruined by the same man who he thought was his puppet.

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  1. Polar Socialist

    I have seen some claims in Russian social media that the recent decision in Ukraine to treat corruption as “treason” is actually an attempt to move this whole “anti-corruption” pretense from US controlled National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to Ukrainian controlled SBU.

    And since NABU is not really about reducing corruption, but making sure the right people get their cut of it, it means Zelensky’s gang trying to take over the control of the money flow.

    Taken together with this article it would appear there’s a sort of fight going on behind the scenes – who gets to loot the most before the final collapse, perhaps?

    1. cousinAdam

      Just like “Papa Joe” having nothing to do with son Hunter’s business dealings- incidentally, Burisma was busy looking for oil/gas (fracking?) in the Donbass right in the vicinity where MH 17 was shot down- tough luck I guess…. I also remember allegations that Ihor had Ukraine’s sovereign gold loaded into one of his planes when he bailed for Israel/Switzerland- probably stored in a Privat Bank vault? Somebody better call “Vicky Noodles”! And tell her to bring some good cookies! (apologies for the excess of cynical snark – haven’t caffeinated yet ;^\ )

      1. britzklieg

        No apologies required. Excess cynical snark is all that’s left when cancellation and content moderation disappears rational argument.

      1. cousinAdam

        After sufficient caffeine and some “cui bono” musings I’m thinking that Zelenskyy the Elder got burned by his (now ex-) business partner so under the bus he goes. The timing is rather sublime-I will definitely “stay tuned“ to see how this plays out!

  2. John R Moffett

    Having grown up in the 1970s, I am always amazed now at the complete lack of any anti-war movement in the US. Just the opposite, it seems war is in fashion here. Not sure how the propaganda works considering the track record of the US government lying to the public about all previous wars. People I grew up with who were anti-war back then now seem pro-war, and yes, they watch the TV news, so that is the likely explanation. I never get any good answers when I question them about the endless lies told by the government in the past as to why they believe the lies now. The power of propaganda and I suppose a desperate desire to think they live in a country that only does good things.

    1. Donald

      In my experience liberals think they should trust the mainstream press because conservatives don’t. It doesn’t occur to them that the mainstream press and also the outlets like Fox that conservatives prefer could both be dishonest, though often on different subjects.

      So if you are skeptical about the current proxy war you are a dupe of Putin, just like the Trump voters. The fact that this is just McCarthyism doesn’t register to them.

      Also, I think the majority of Americans only care about foreign policy as another arena for criticizing the American politicians they oppose. Mainstream liberals were outraged by torture when it was a tool to beat Bush back in the days when they hated him. When Obama said we needed to look forward and not back, they dutifully accepted that the rule of law wasn’t important. Of course for Trump’s actions it is. So the antiwar sentiment during the Bush era was in many cases not based on principle. The antiwar movement amongst many liberals largely vanished once Obama was in office.

      1. Screwball

        In my experience liberals think they should trust the mainstream press because conservatives don’t. It doesn’t occur to them that the mainstream press and also the outlets like Fox that conservatives prefer could both be dishonest, though often on different subjects.

        My PMC friends were having this conversation the other day. Someone suggested a “non-partisan” news website, which launched a conversation about what news outlets have a “bias” vs. ones that are outright lying to people.

        Of course they all thought Fox was nothing but lies, and those deplorables were eating up the lies like candy. When someone brought up MSNBC was the same as Fox, they had a cow. How dare you! MSNBC is NOTHING like Fox; they might be a bit partisan, but bring you accurate news, which Fox doesn’t. Some even went on to ask “what exactly has MSNBC ever lied about?”

        Really? Russiagate for 7 years would be my first answer of course, but as George Constanza said “it isn’t a lie if you believe it.”

        But these are the same people who think Rachael Maddow is a top notch journalist, and they call Keith Olbermann “King Keith.”

        There is no way out when people are this disillusioned and stuck in their cognitive biases and hate. That goes for both sides of the unhinged partisan $hitshow we are now living in.

        1. Carolinian

          Sounds like my brother or just like my brother. Americans were against war when they had some skin in the game and could be drafted or knew those who were. Now it’s all just a TV show like any other and you pick your favorite TV stars by who you identify with. Perhaps for Americans television is the opiate of the people. Although suggesting this is true can generate a great deal of hostility. You are attacking their virtual friends.

          TV execs fully understand this and especially Roger Ailes who said “you are nothing if you aren’t on TV.” MSNBC is run by his disciples even if they are pitching a different story line.

      2. tet vet

        The anti war movement went away with the end of the draft. It’s been replaced with : “Thank you for your service.

        1. Helena

          Precisely! So long as the comfortably well-heeled chattering classes have no fear that *their* sons & daughters won’t be conscripted, why on earth would they oppose a war?

        2. Uncle Doug

          This ^

          What the MIC learned from Vietnam is that Americans don’t much care about young people coming home in boxes and body bags as long as they aren’t their conscripted sons and the sons of their neighbors. All of the post-Vietnam “antiwar movements” have been a mile wide and an inch deep. And over in the blink of an eye.

      3. Starry Gordon

        It may be that the lack of an anti-war movement in the US is evidence, not of enthusiasm for war, but a sense of total hopelessness and lack of engagement on the part of the people for the activities of their ruling class. That feeling could become important, indeed, decisive at a time of crisis. If I were a member of the war enthusiast class I would not be reassured by it.

        1. some guy

          So we could get to the point where the vast majority of the people who would never raise a hand against the DC FedRegime would also not lift a finger to defend it?

          1. JBird4049

            >>>So we could get to the point where the vast majority of the people who would never raise a hand against the DC FedRegime would also not lift a finger to defend it?

            I have not heard any real reason for voting for one side or the other except that they are the lesser evil. Why would anyone actively defend you when all you can positively claim is not being Cthulhu?

    2. John Cole

      I think you have to look back at some of the policies that Dick Cheney advocated / implemented to see where the anti war movement lost momentum: no draft, no evening news video of our troops in hot fighting, no photos of flag draped coffins coming home, no taxes to pay for the war. It was out of sight out of mind.

      1. Adam Eran

        Good points. What you don’t see doesn’t exist…

        Meanwhile, a little recommended reading for the NC commentariat: Malcolm Harris’ Palo Alto: A history of California, capitalism and the world. … This describes the depth of the militarism in the U.S. It was essential for Silicon Valley’s existence.

        Oh yes, and that MMT “Job Guarantee” … It already exists. It’s called the U.S. Military.

        Anyway, I doubt many people appreciate the length and depth of the US commitment to belligerence. Harris corrects that omission.

    3. Felix_47

      Nothing here that a significant increase in taxes to finance war and a draft with no Bidenesque pediatric asthma or Trumpian heel spurs or a Bushian no show National Guard position as an excuse could not fix. The average American does not care if it does not cost them money or their children’s lives. Right now a significant number of well paying jobs throughout the country are MIC jobs. Let us send 10,000 US draftees to the Donbass and enact an across the board 20% VAT and see how long the Dems stay in office and the war lasts. The people do not demand representation because so few of them are taxed.

  3. Alan Roxdale

    Recalling Zelensky’s own rise to power via television, one shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that this is all elaborate theatre.

  4. Brooklin Bridge

    The question arises, how does Zelensky plan to make sure Kolomoysky doesn’t “get even”? Kolomoysky must have a lot of compromising information. The U.S. seems to have a lot of deals that are just too good to refuse..

    Or, “elaborate theatre” as Alan R (above) suggests.

    1. The Rev Kev

      ‘Kolomoysky must have a lot of compromising information.’

      That is almost certainly why the Ukrainian SBU has him under lock and key. Kolomoysky probably figured that he was safe as he knew so many secrets, not only of Zelensky but also those far-right figures whom he financed going back to 2014. By locking him up, Zelensky has now shown what awaits any other members of Kolomoysky’s network of what will happen to them if they oppose his regime. With this war going on so long, the Zelensky regime must be mentally stressed out and near the point where they will start to eat their own in a bid to keep power.

      1. Brunches with Cats

        Rev, don’t forget that K also was reported to have been the frontman for the owner of Burisma, a former head of the Ukraine Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources. He apparently used that post to award gas drilling licenses to his own company. As I recall, the connection came up during the fiasco following Trump’s call to Z looking for dirt on Biden. The corruption charge against the former minister was never fully investigated — shocking, I know. /s.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Zelensky is such a media hero, negative stories can’t hurt him as they will be dismissed by the regime change karens. The perception of Zelensky as a loser is the real issue. Americans don’t want to be associated with a loser. Since Ukraine’s official motto is “anything not nailed down”, the only compromising information would be a plan to move against the brown shirts.

      I think support for a colonels’ (guys who can’t steal enough to bug out) coup is the real internal threat. The defense minister was just axed too.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        The question I ask myself is, how does Zelensky think he’s going to survive this. The war is not exactly over but it is clearly lost. Someone has to get the blame, and as Senile Joe won’t be in the frame, Z is the only choice. When does he try to cut and run to Egypt (or whatever other opulent mansion)? The Nazi’s will be watching him keenly, as possibly will the CIA and current KGB lookalike. Anyway, if some one has to pay, he’s a good choice, failing (naturally) the appearance of Biden or the MIC in the dock.

    1. Whiteylockmandoubled

      What’s so great about the elections is that the techniques are known. The US has been at this game for decades. Ed Herman dissected it 40 years ago:

      1. Adam Eran

        Only 40 years? What about Robert Caro’s Means of Ascent describing “Landslide Lyndon” stealing his senate seat in the mid 20th century?

  5. steven t johnson

    Being shocked that a rich Jew is arrested in a fascist country? It is almost certain that irregular and sporadic anti-Semitic atrocities against unconnected Jews (and Rusyns and Tatars and Roma/Sinti and the odd Jehovah’s Witness) are ongoing. No doubt it’s all permissible and the money will flow so long as the fascists aren’t too indiscreet. But the social strains on Ukrainian society (such as it is) are no doubt generating intense pressures in the fascist elements to so to speak make hay while the sun shines.

    1. The Rev Kev

      You do know that Zelensky is also a ‘rich Jew’ too don’t you? This is not about religion. This is about money and power enough to make and keep it. And the best way to do that is through a fascist regime.

    2. Not buying it

      As they say, if you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime. The “detained” person in question is an oligarch, which by definition is a crook with at least one double citizenship . Where is, and who’s enriching themselves from US an and EU aid? To try to hide under the antisemite trope is convenient, until it isn’t.

  6. rudi from butte

    Sounds like Azov ain’t going down alone. Wow…didn’t see that coming. Really? I’m pretty sure Zelensky
    never signed up for any of this insanity other than initially believing his campaign platform…peace, prosperity etc. and that he was the man for the job. The Russians of course know this and my guess is if Zelensky could get to the other side (Russia) with his entire family… he would. Ultimately, it’s probably his only chance of staying alive. Florida? Yea..right.

    What amazes me is how he keeps it even somewhat together. Must be good stuff. That and a constant dose of fear. I also think the Neo-cons will soon be pushing for de-Nazification as well. Azov will want their hides as well. What a(nother) tragic mess!! Happy Labor Day!

  7. Susan the other

    Strange analysis. Too bland, almost banal. Almost sounds spit-polished by the CIA. Maybe Kolomoysky is headed for the same fate as Epstein. To claim that this arrest cleans up the corruption is absurd. Same for the “defense minister.” With all the departments of defense in this world, defense would be (could be) a different organization were it not for all the lucky opportunities created by terrorism and corruption. I betcha that Burisma lives on. It is such an insidious pretense to claim that public opinion makes a difference. But as Graeber said, we can simply turn our backs. Ignore the scapegoat. Walk away. Public opinion is ignored or manipulated – but public revulsion is a sea change.

    1. Brunches with Cats

      Totally agree with you, Susan. I almost stopped reading after “observers shocked by arrest,” but I’m overdue for contributing something meaningful to comments (have been out for several weeks due to cataract surgery), and reading the article is required. I’m pulling together some notes and links, but for now just wanted to chime in with the obvious: that this article is totally devoid of even a veiled hint of a suggestion that top officials from US and other Western countries/organizations are up to their eyeballs in this disease-ridden cesspool.

      1. ComradePuff

        For what it is worth, I got a masters degree in International Relations/Political Science at MGIMO in 2017, and I even sourced Korybko a few times.

        I can tell you that his boilerplate level of insight is completely in line with the level of political intelligentsia in Russia, at least as it was several years ago. I was honestly stunned by my experience there and I would have told anybody who would have listened that the academia there – the most elite and influential in Russia – fell into two camps, either absurdly naïve or borderline treasonous, and the borderline traitors seemed to have the run of the place. As astonishing as it was to see a Yeltsin-era 5th column still making policy, it really did explain why Russia has found itself in existential crisis after crisis since the dissolution of the USSR.

  8. ChrisPacific

    Not a lot of detail on how or why he was able to be arrested – as Yves says, it’s strange that he would be in Ukraine. None of the stories mention it, and although there is a photo of him standing in a doorway confronted by military types reading something to him, it’s captioned as “when the charges were read” or some such, and isn’t explicitly described as an arrest.

    It makes me wonder if it’s possible he was secured earlier, in another country maybe, and brought to Ukraine for a photo op to make it look like he was arrested there. It seems unlikely this could happen in Switzerland, but if you were the CIA then you might create some reason for him to travel to an ostensibly safe third country where you can lean on the local government to let you grab him.

    Pure speculation on my part, of course, but not entirely far fetched – I’m guessing Edward Snowden doesn’t travel a whole lot outside Russia these days. Theoretically if this happened then Kolomoysky could bring it up in court, but they could apply pressure in various ways to prevent that (see e.g. Gonzalo Lira).

  9. Not buying it

    Depends on what his cut was from US financial and arms aid, which seems likely. It’s what oligarchs do. In addition, the billions in aid for the Ukrainian offensive that isn’t, must be accounted somehow in order for the American tax payer to passively accept another multi billion tranche.

  10. WillD

    It’s difficult to see how a future presidential election in Ukraine can be regarded as democratic when Zelensky has banned opposition parties.

    It will be just another western-sponsored facade (or should I say ‘farce’?).

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