The Arrest Of Igor Kolomoysky Consolidates US Influence Over Zelensky Ahead Of Likely Elections
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 services 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 sanctioned Kolomoysky 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.