Last week when the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting announced the awarding of regional television rights.The obvious champion among 130 bidders competing for 43 frequencies is a single company, Avers, owned by Ihor Palytsia, a parliamentarian and right hand of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. He also was sanctioned by the US earlier this year over allegations of “significant corruption.” Avers won more than a third of all frequencies.
David Clark (former special Adviser on Europe at the UK Foreign Office and now independent analyst specializing in foreign policy and European affairs) analyzes consequences of the Ukrainian President’s Office recent steps in the article for Atlantic Council.
The anti-oligarch bill recently signed into law by President Zelenskyy thus turned into a tightening of control in the hands of those who already enjoy too much media power. Kolomoisky already owns 1+1 Media Group, which counts eight television channels and controls around 20% of the audience.
It is worth mentioning these were his media that were used to promote the victorious election campaign of President Zelenskyy. Multiple accusations of Zelenskyy strongly connected with oligarchs like Kolomoisky obviously didn’t stop the President from strengthening their influence. He will definitely need it all planning his 2024 re-election campaign.
According to the anti-oligarch bill it is the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) that is to adjudicate who is oligarch and who is not, and this body is wholly under presidential control.
Can we expect the NSDC to look honestly at the connections between Kolomoisky and the Office of the President? Will it be able to uncover the full extent of Kolomoisky’s business and put him in line with other oligarchs? Some spice is added to the situation due to the recent leak of the Pandora Papers that revealed significant wealth of the President in offshores, much of it derived from earlier work for Kolomoisky. All mentioned above makes the conflicts of interest quite obvious.
Another problem in the bill is connected with smaller local oligarchic networks like Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov accused of running the city under the real power of the notorious businessman Hennadiy Korban.
By the way they both have partnered with Kolomoisky for many years. They stand accused of serious abuses of power such as a claim by the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine putting Dnipro among the most dangerous places for Ukrainian journalists to work. It is indicative that no action has been taken by the authorities in Kyiv over these allegations and none is expected. Korban and Filatov are now said to exert influence on Zelenskyy’s office via the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Kryrl Tymoshenko, a PR specialist and Kolomoisky associate from Dnipro who has worked with Korban and Filatov before. Supporting local elites despite their tricks becomes crucially important to Zelenskyy as he prepares to fight for re-election. He needs both: powerful loyal media and regional political leaders from across Ukraine who will work for support of the president as part of a newly formed Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.
Ukraine’s oligarchy issue cannot be solved selectively and any attempt to do so should not be tolerated by Western partners because such a policy ruins whole deoligarchization strategy. Since gaining independence in 1991 Ukraine lives in context of missed opportunities connected with weakness and inability of political elites to break with oligarchic consensus. The US and EU should be monitoring implementation of the bill and pressing for changes that reflect international best practice. Any revisions need to take into consideration the recommendations of the Venice Commission, which are expected by the end of the year.
As David Clark wrote: “If Ukraine's recently adopted anti-oligarch law fails to deal effectively and even-handedly with the problem of oligarchic influence, Western governments should signal their willingness to impose additional targeted sanctions on those who enjoy impunity despite being responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Experience has shown that this remains the most effective way to focus minds and encourage progress.”