Ukraine raids home of billionaire in war-time anti-corruption crackdown
- Intelligence agencies conduct large-scale raids ahead of EU summit
- House of billionaire former interior minister raided
- New US weapons will double the range of Ukraine
- Ukrainian soldier spoke about the battles with Russian troops in Bakhmut
Kyiv, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Security services raided the home of one of Ukraine’s most notorious billionaires on Wednesday, targeting a figure once thought to be a sponsor of President Volodymyr Zelensky in what authorities have described as a wartime anti-corruption purge.
The actions taken in the days leading up to the summit with the European Union appear to reflect Kyiv’s determination to demonstrate that it can command billions of dollars of Western aid and shake off its reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt states.
This comes as Kyiv has received a huge amount of weapons from the West in recent weeks, offering new capabilities – the latest expected this week to include missiles from the United States that will nearly double the range of Ukrainian forces.
Photos appeared on social networks showing Igor Kolomoisky, dressed in a tracksuit, watching what is happening in the presence of an SBU security officer at his home.
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The SBU said it had uncovered the embezzlement of more than $1 billion at Ukraine’s largest oil company, Ukrnafta, and its largest oil refinery, Ukrtatnafta. Kolomoisky, who has long denied his guilt, once held stakes in both firms, which Zelensky ordered to be confiscated in November under martial law.
Separate raids were carried out at the tax office and at the home of Arsen Avakov, who led the Ukrainian police as interior minister from 2014 to 2021. The SBU said it was cracking down on “people whose actions damage the security of the state in various areas,” and promised more details in the coming days.
“Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in war conditions, must clearly understand that we will put handcuffs on his hands,” SBU head Vasily Malyuk said on the SBU Telegram channel.
The Prosecutor General’s Office said Ukrtatnafta’s senior management, as well as the former energy minister, former deputy defense minister and other officials, have been notified of the suspicion.
Kolomoisky, who is facing fraud charges in the United States, has been at the center of allegations of corruption and litigation for years that Western donors say must be resolved in order for Kyiv to receive aid.
Zelenskiy, who first rose to fame as a sitcom star on Kolomoisky’s TV channel, has long promised to rid Ukraine of the so-called oligarchs but has faced accusations that he can’t take a strong stand against his former sponsor.
In his address ahead of the raids, he mentioned new anti-corruption measures ahead of Friday’s summit, where Ukraine is expected to take decisive steps towards EU membership.
“We are preparing new reforms in Ukraine. Reforms that will change the social, legal and political reality in many ways, making it more humane, transparent and efficient,” he said, promising to reveal the details in the near future.
LONG RANGE ROCKETS
Ukrainian forces, which recaptured chunks of territory from Russian forces in the second half of 2022, have faced a halt in their advance since November. Kyiv says the key to getting the initiative back is securing advanced Western weaponry.
Two U.S. officials said the new $2 billion military aid package, to be announced as early as this week, will for the first time include ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDBs), a new weapon developed by Boeing. (BA.N)
Cheap glide missiles can hit targets over 150 km (90 miles), well beyond the 80 km range of the HIMARS missiles that changed the course of the war when Washington sent them last summer.
This would put all Russian-occupied territory on the Ukrainian mainland, as well as parts of the Crimean peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014, within the reach of Kyiv forces.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the emergence of longer-range American weapons would escalate the conflict.
Last week, for the first time, Western countries pledged to provide dozens of advanced main battle tanks, a breakthrough in support aimed at enabling Kyiv to reclaim occupied territory this year.
But it’s still months before the arrival of new weapons, and in the meantime, Russia is gaining momentum on the battlefield, announcing an offensive north and south of the city of Bakhmut, its main goal for several months.
Kyiv disputes many of these claims, and Reuters is unable to independently verify the overall situation, but the locations of reported fighting clearly point to Russia’s gradual advance.
Troops fought from building to building in Bakhmut, moving barely 100 meters (yards) overnight, as the city came under constant shelling from the Russians, a soldier from a Ukrainian detachment of Belarusian volunteers told Reuters from the city.
The Ukrainian General Staff reported late on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had come under fire in Bakhmut and the villages of Klishchevka and Kurdyumovka on the southern approaches.
South of Bakhmut, Russia also launched a major new offensive this week against Vuhledar, a longtime Ukrainian-held bastion at the junction of the southern and eastern front lines. Kyiv says its forces are being held there for the time being.
The infusion of Western military and financial aid is putting renewed pressure on Zelenskiy to demonstrate that his government can clean up Ukraine.
Last week, he purged more than a dozen senior officials after a series of scandals and allegations of bribery in the biggest reshuffle in Ukraine’s leadership since the invasion.
Following Wednesday’s raids, parliamentary leader of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, David Arakhamia, wrote on Telegram: “The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change.”
Reuters report. Written by Peter Graff. Editing: Philippa Fletcher.
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