The arrest of an opposition politician threatens to throw Ukraine into a domestic political crisis. President Poroshenko says it is about fighting corruption, but some government parties warn of ‘selective justice.’
«Dill vs. Radish»: what sounds like the title of a fairy tale, is a political poster in Ukraine. On it, an herb and a root, yet the radish looks obviously lazy and the typeface recalls the imagery of President Petro Poroshenko’s Solidarity party.
This summer, opposition politician Hennadiy Korban used such posters in an attempt to win a direct mandate for the Ukrainian parliament. The Ukrainian word for dill is «ukrop,» and the 45-year-old is chairman of the new political party of the same name. Many of its members fought against pro-Russian separatists and present themselves as patriotic. Korban lost the election.
However, in local elections on October 25, UKROP used such Poroshenko critical slogans to win some eight percent of the vote. Therefore, Korban’s surprising arrest on Saturday made big waves.
Memories of the Tymoshenko case
The arrest video released by the Ukrainian intelligence service SBU looked like an action film: Masked men in camouflage uniform attempt to enter Korban’s Dnipropetrovsk apartment. The door is eventually broken open with a crowbar, and the men crash in, taking the seemingly shocked politician away like a dangerous criminal. The attorney-general and SBU accuse Korban of embezzlement, kidnapping and being a member of a criminal organization. He denies the accusations. On Tuesday morning he was released, only to be re-arrested on new charges. The details are unknown.
The Ukrainian president defended the actions of the judiciary against Korban as part of the fight against corruption. The UKROP party complained of «political repression» and called on its supporters to join protests in Kyiv. There were also similarly critical denunciations within the governing coalition. Both the Fatherland party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko , and the Self Reliance party, led by Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, criticized Korban’s arrest.
The latter said the move felt like a «political persecution» from the days following former President Viktor Yanukovych’s flight to Russia — a clear reference to the internationally criticized case brought against Tymoshenko in 2011.
Power struggle with the oligarchs
Korban’s arrest could be «the beginning of a big showdown between President Poroshenko and his opponents,» said Kyiv publisher Sergey Rudenko in an interview with DW.
Rudenko says that one should look at the events surrounding Korban in the context of the «very difficult relationship» between Poroshenko and the influential oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Korban is considered to be a confidant of Kolomoyskyi. Both are exceedingly wealthy businessmen.
When Kolomoyskyi was appointed governor of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast after the transition of power in Kyiv in 2014, he took Korban with him. Both men helped the Ukrainian army in their fight against pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and are respected in the country for it to this day.
However, critics accuse Kolomoyskyi of having formed a kind of «private army» made up of volunteer battalions. Further, he fell out with Poroshenko over an oil company in 2015. Afterwards, the billionaire was forced to resign his governorship. Since then, his relationship with Poroshenko has been strained. Thus far Kolomoyskyi has said little about the arrest of his trusted ally Korban.
With the arrest of Korban, Poroshenko risks having waded into a deep domestic political conflict with unforeseeable consequences, say observers in Kyiv. Some see a threat to the governing coalition and even warn of new elections. For a country that has been rocked by war and heavy crises for the last two years, that would not be a good development.