Oligarchs Propose a Referendum



Oligarchs Propose a Referendum

Rada Deputy Viktor Baloga proposes to hold a referendum on
the status of the Donbass.

By Vladimir Dergachev

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

Influential Ukrainian oligarchs have spoken against
continuing the war against the Donbass separatists. Viktor Baloga, a Rada Deputy and
the “boss of Transcarpathia” proposed to make this issue the subject of a national
referendum. Similar proposals were made earlier by Gennadiy Korban, deputy
governor of Dnepropetrovsk, Igor Kolomoysky’s second in command. According to
the experts, the situation had begun to seriously threaten the positions of the
financial elite and requires a change in approach.

Viktor Baloga proposed to hold a referendum on the question
of whether to continue the war or let the South-East go. According to the
deputy, the choice is simple: “either a civilized parting of ways or a war for
many years which will weaken the state, finish off the economy, and make every
Ukrainian even poorer”. “If the people are prepared for it, we fight on. But if
not, the referendum will determine that the occupied territories are not part
of Ukraine, Putin will not give them back to us, as if it were damaged goods.
But in strategic sense we will be able to save the state, strengthen the
economy, grow stronger, and carry out reforms,” Baloga wrote on his facebook
page. At the same time Baloga hopes that Donbass will soon “see the light” and
ask to return to Ukraine.

Several days earlier Igor Kolomoysky’s deputy Gennadiy
Korban appeared with a similar announcement. “The local politicians ought to
understand: if their blitzkrieg fails, then you have to lay down your crown and
negotiate. Like they do in business,” he said in an interview with

When asked with whom to negotiate, with Putin or the
separatists, Korban answered “We need to negotiate. I don’t know with whom, I
can’t comment on that. Maybe with Zakharchenko. I would negotiate if I had no
more strength… The main task is not the economy or the corruption, it’s the
fact that people are dying. We are bringing back the remains every day, it
affects you…But in Kiev they are treating this like statisticians, while we see
it with our own eyes… I think it is possible to reach an understanding even with
the devil himself, so long as people stop dying.”

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Ukrainian political scientist Vadim Karasev reminds us that “Kolomoysky
and Baloga are very influential figures in Ukraine’s politics. The first
controls the territory closer to the separatist-held East, the other the
western region of Transcarpathia. They cannot be considered “doves,” therefore
their agreement on the question of a ceasefire is really telling. They are not
pacifists, but they understand that the war can spread to neighboring
territories, and that they also need a respite to continue state-building and
military reforms,” says Karasev. “Due to his indecisiveness, his going back and
forth between the peace and war parties, Poroshenko is starting to lose. His
indecisiveness means that the political initiative is passing to the People’s
Front of Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Aleksandr Turchinov, who favor war. It’s far
from clear that their coming to power would be beneficial to Kolomoysky, and it
certainly would not be beneficial to Baloga.”

According to the expert, Poroshenko must find a compromise
agreement with the separatists and Moscow. “Both peace at any price and war
until final victory are losing strategies.”

The head of the Ukrainian Politics Institute Konstantin
Bondarenko believes that the war is not yielding perceptible results and
therefore it causes anti-war sentiments among the population. In his view, “Korban
and Baloga are expressing the points of view which they see and hear among the
population. I know both Korban and Baloga to be smart politicians who came out
of business and who closely watch the popular sentiment.  The same Korban was present at creation of the
volunteer battalions, and as late as half a year ago was one of the radical
politicians. But today the war is senseless bloodshed, and nobody can formulate
the ultimate purpose of the war. The politicians with the most common sense are
proposing to find an exit out of the situation,” says Bondarenko.

Since the last summer, the anti-war position was embraced by
the Party of Regions, the Opposition Bloc, and then Poroshenko’s “Solidarity.”
Most recently that position was joined by Baloga and the former “hawk” Korban.

According to Bondarenko, Baloga is considered to have
influence over Transcarpathia, since his clan controls all five electoral
districts. Moreover, he worked as the director of the president’s secretariat
under the Yushchenko administration, and was considered to be the “grey eminence”
of the Yushchenko political machine.

Bondarenko believes that Baloga is expressing the prevailing
sentiments in Transcarpathia. Similar attitudes are appearing also in
Dnepropetrovsk. According to Bondarenko, “even a month ago Kolomoysky was
considered to be a member of the party of war.” But now the “hawk” camp which
is represented by Yatsenyuk, Turchinov, and Avakov had lost a serious ally.

The statements by members of the Ukrainian elite are being
made against the background of deteriorating military situation. The army of
the self-proclaimed republics is encircling the city of Debaltsevo of the
Donetsk region, where a major grouping of UAF is based. The success of
pro-Russian separatists threatens to repeat the annihilation of the Ukrainian
forces at Ilovaysk.

The escalation of conflict occurred in January, when the
collapse of negotiations became evident. Now the self-declared republics insist
on retaining the control of the territory captured since the signing of the
September documents (some 500 square kilometers). Ukraine is not prepared to
take such a step, and is carrying out a military mobilization simultaneously
with DPR.

Translator’s Note: Baloga made news about a week ago, when
he took Poroshenko to task (on twitter, no less) for allowing Ukrainian forces
at Debaltsevo to be surrounded. One of the formations trapped there is a
mountain infantry brigade based in Transcarpathia. It is also interesting that
Korban became a more prominent figure just as another of Kolomoysky’s deputies,
the ultra-hawkish Boris Filatov (known for, among other things, for his
infamous facebook post in which he called on the government to “negotiate
first, hang later”, as a means of dealing with “separatists”) had vanished from
the social media altogether. Both oligarchs no doubt fear the very “volunteer
battalions” they had helped to create and even finance. If Yatsenyuk,
Turchinov, and Avakov want to continue the war until victory, they will have to
find a way to finance it, and sooner or later they’ll have to start breaking
the oligarchs’ piggy banks, using the very same “volunteer battalions” that
Kolomoysky helped create. Because if Kolomoysky is calling for a referendum to “legalize” Novorossia’s independence, it’s probably safe to say Yarosh might have a different opinion on the issue. 

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