On August 2 the Kyiv Court of Appeals released from custody Donetsk regional council head Borys Kolesnykov. He is one of the two top representatives of the old corrupt elite that Ukrainian prosecutors have managed to catch since the Orange Revolution. Trans-Carpathia’s former governor, Ivan Rizak, remains at large. Kolesnykov has not been acquitted, and the investigation into his extortion case is continuing, but his release from detention suggests that he stands a good chance of avoiding a guilty verdict. There are signs that Kolesnykov may be spared due to his demonstratively cooperative mood. He has dropped opposition rhetoric, making it clear that the Donetsk “clan” wants a truce with Kyiv.
Kolesnykov, as head of the Donetsk branch of former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, actively backed Yanukovych’s bid for the presidency last year. He also was one of the organizers of the Eastern Ukrainian gathering of high-placed Yanukovych supporters in Severodonetsk at the height of the Orange Revolution last December, at which calls for secession from Ukraine were reportedly made. That is why when Kolesnykov was taken into custody on April 6, the Donetsk council accused Kyiv of political score settling. Kolesnykov was charged with extorting shares of Bily Lebid (“white swan”), a shopping mall in Donetsk, from its owners in 2003 and of making death threats against them. But the Donetsk “clan” tried to spin the case to the public as an instance of political persecution, and Kolesnykov’s supporters were bused from Donetsk to Kyiv to organize a tent camp to demand his release.
Since then, the tent camp has died a quiet death, Yanukovych has been slowly sinking into political oblivion, and the “clan’s” informal leader, Renat Akhmetov, has been evading a police summons for questioning abut an assassination attempt dating from the 1980s (see EDM, July 25). The Prosecutor-General’s Office (PGO) opened a case against Kolesnykov’s main defense lawyer, Andry Fedur, over the publication of information about bank accounts related to Bily Lebid’s former owners, effectively isolating Fedur from Kolesnykov’s case. Given all these adverse circumstances, it was generally expected that Kolesnykov would stay in prison for another five months, as the PGO requested. But the court ruled to release Kolesnykov under a formal pledge not to flee — not even requesting bail, though Akhmetov’s System Capital Management company was ready to offer $10 million to bail Kolesnykov out.
Kolesnykov said that his release was totally unexpected, and he promised to cooperate with the investigation. He flew home to Donetsk on the day of his release, August 2, but, having received a summons from the investigators within hours, demonstratively flew back to Kyiv for questioning on August 3. This u-turn occurred despite Kolesnykov’s diagnosed heart condition and his immediate hospitalization upon coming home. Being a law-abiding citizen, Kolesnykov emphasized, he arrived at the PGO at the first call.
He is no more the irredeemably opposition-minded man he used to be. In his numerous interviews after the release, sounding positive and constructive, Kolesnykov spoke against “politicizing” his case. He has made an effort not to criticize the government, blaming his imprisonment on the low professionalism of specific investigators. Interviewed by the pro-government Channel 5, Kolesnykov urged cooperation between “the orange camp” and “the white-and-blue camp,” meaning the Donetsk team. “I do not just hope for, but I am sure that the two sides will establish normal cooperation,” he said. “I want [Yanukovych’s] Party of Regions and [Yushchenko’s] Our Ukraine to shake hands with each other,” Kolesnykov told the Gazeta po-Kievski newspaper.
Asked by Gazeta po-Kievski whether he would run for parliament next year to join the opposition forces there, Kolesnykov said something unthinkable six months ago: “I see myself among the forces doing good for Ukrainian society. It is not a matter of principle for me whether this will be [as part of the] opposition or the constitutional majority.” Being at liberty, it should be easy for Kolesnykov to avoid a court verdict on his case altogether by running for parliament in order to gain parliamentary immunity, Zerkalo nedeli predicted.
Kolesnykov personifies the dominant mood among the Donetsk elite, which hopes to preserve its status quo in exchange for dropping its earlier-announced plans to build a strong opposition to Yushchenko. “Let Kolesnykov go and there will be no war,” Zerkalo nedeli quoted Akhmetov as reportedly telling government representatives. The reality may be simpler — the law-enforcement agencies are apparently short of evidence and professional investigators to indict Kolesnykov or anybody else from the Donetsk “clan” for corruption, while the Donetsk team lacks the skills and means to organize a viable opposition. But any kind of truce with the likes of Akhmetov and Kolesnykov would only add to the growing disappointment that Ukrainians feel regarding their new government.
(Channel 5, August 2, 3; Gazeta po-Kievski, August 5; Zerkalo nedeli, August 6)