The fallout of Zelenskyy’s secret citizenship revocations

24 July, 01:00 PM
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The authenticity of the presidential decree on deprivation of citizenship is unknown, but Hennadiy Korban has been forbidden entrance to Ukraine (Photo:NV collage)

The authenticity of the presidential decree on deprivation of citizenship is unknown, but Hennadiy Korban has been forbidden entrance to Ukraine (Photo:NV collage)

Ihor Kolomoisky, Hennadiy Korban, and Vadim Rabinovich, three powerful Ukrainian businessmen, have suddenly became targets in a rumored presidential decree on the revocation of citizenship. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy never confirmed the existence of this document, but Korban is no longer allowed into the country.

On the afternoon of July 22, an incident occurred on the Ukrainian-Polish border, which may well fall into the political history of the country, even though it isn’t directly related to the war. The incident involves Hennadiy Korban, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk Territorial Defense, who was trying to return to Ukraine: the border guards refused him entry and took away his passport.

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Thus, Zelenskyy repeats the move of his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, when the latter refused to let opposition politician and former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili into the country during his presidency.

The story with Korban began the day before. On July 21, Serhiy Vlasenko, an experienced lawyer and a member of the Batkivshchyna party, founded by Yulia Tymoshenko, posted on Facebook a presidential decree he had received from unnamed sources. The decree mentions people who "should be considered as having lost their citizenship" and provides the names of ten people. Most of them are little known: some Odessites, a Syrian, an Azerbaijani, a native of Uzbekistan, as well as Ihor Vasilkovsky, a local businessman and MP from the Servant of the People, and other characters.

All these people are known only to those who closely follow the activities of the Security Council - they appear on a recent list of known smugglers.

The revocation of citizenship of such characters would hardly have made the decree so resonant if it hadn’t included three other targets: billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, his former business associate Hennadiy Korban, and Vadym Rabinovich, an MP of the banned pro-Russian Opposition Platform - for Life party.

The day before, Ukrainian independent news outlet Ukrainska Pravda wrote an article about the possible revocation of citizenship of Kolomoisky, Korban and Rabinovich, citing their own sources. Vlasenko’s post, it would seem, only confirmed this information, but in fact, it raises new questions.

The notorious presidential decree that emerged from Bankova

The decree was dated July 18 on the scan provided by Vlasenko, and it lacked the president’s signature. It was also not listed on the website of the presidential administration, but documents regarding citizenship never appear there, unlike many others.

There were no official comments from the authorities either. Only Serhiy Leshchenko, an advisor to the head of the administration, wrote that Vlasenko probably received a copy of the decree from the Central Election Commission, where it was legally processed.

In addition to the fact that it was impossible to confirm the authenticity of the decree, experts were surprised by the list of persons who became its targets. Kolomoisky, who is under U.S. sanctions, used to have contacts with Rabinovich, and with Korban before that. But the current ties of this trinity with each other weren’t strong, and with other “conspirators” they aren’t visible at all. Even their locations are different: Kolomoisky is in Ukraine, Korban is in Europe, where he just recently had gone to to meet his relatives, and Rabinovich has been in Israel since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

“I have no logical explanation for this surprising list,” said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko to NV on the evening of July 21.

“Formal explanation: these people have a second and third citizenship. Kolomoisky himself confirmed this.”

According to NV, Korban, who was about to return to his homeland, was at a loss on the evening of July 21. He simply didn’t understand how to act and in which direction to move.

By July 22, the situation hadn't become any more clear. But as it was possible to establish some more details with the help of a high-ranking representative of the Servant of the People party in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. According to them, it was Korban who became the root cause of the appearance of the scandalous decree. And he turned out to be the first victim. Although the source has refused to comment on the fact of the existence of the document itself and its authenticity, on the afternoon of July 22, border guards took away Korban's Ukrainian passport. He himself confirmed this information on Facebook when he was at the Smolnik checkpoint.

“I still think that this is some kind of misunderstanding or a joke,” Korban wrote.

KOLOMOISKY’S INVOLVEMENT

The document which stripped ten people of citizenship looks strange, but it was clearly written by the President’s Office, a high-level source in the ruling party told NV, on condition of anonymity. This source compared the current situation with the pseudo-dismissal of Andriy Bohdan, Zelenskyy’s first chief-of-staff. At that time, a scan of the official’s corresponding statement appeared in the media, but the resignation itself wasn’t announced immediately.

All three main characters involved in the decree have two or more citizenships, states another high ranking source from the president’s party, in a conversation with NV. The other seven are "little-known people associated with smuggling and drug trafficking." Why are they all combined in one document? NV’s sources in the Servant of the People party did not provide an answer.

Political scientist Fesenko also cannot explain how this list was compiled.

“Perhaps the explanation is purely political”, says Fesenko.

“A signal to business and political elites: during the war you shouldn’t have an alternative haven.”

Yet Fesenko still doesn’t understand why such a signal wasn’t made in an explicit form.

“It is clear that this is a secret decree, but some explanation is still required," says Fesenko.

According to information that NV has collected, the deputy chief-of-staff of the Office of the President, Andriy Smirnov, was involved in preparing the decree and compiling a list of ten of its targets. He also undertook a media campaign to distribute this document, because he is well acquainted with Vlasenko: both are former lawyers who maintain friendly relations.

“Kolomoisky is furious at the appearance of his name on the list,” an influential resident of Dnipro, Kolomoisky’s hometown, told NV on conditions of anonymity, explaining the oligarch’s reaction.

“He doesn’t understand what this means at all.”

According to him, Kolomoisky, who previously admitted that he has passports of Ukraine, Israel and Cyprus, in a conversation with his business partners, said that "he will not leave it like this and is ready to sue."

A source in Zelenskyy’s team explained to NV that Kolomoisky had recently been holed up almost non-stop in the Jewish Menorah complex, in the center of the Dnipro, hiding from Russian shelling. And he retired not only from business, but also from socio-political life.

NV did not receive a response for comment from the oligarch by time of publication.

The situation with the possible termination of Kolomoisky’s citizenship may be based on the President's Office attempts to protect itself from some of the billionaire’s lawsuits in foreign courts regarding the denationalization of Privatbank. It can be beneficial for him to indicate the presence of a Ukrainian passport, said the founder of the public organization StateWatch, Oleksandr Lemenov, to NV.

But even without national citizenship, Kolomoisky cannot avoid the register of oligarchs. An expert at the House of Democracy NGO, Anatoly Oktisyuk, admitted in a conversation with NV that the decree might help Kolomoisky avoid being hit by the law on deoligarchization. But, according to Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov, foreigners who have business in the country may well be present in the corresponding register.

STUCK AT THE BORDER

All the oddities and inconsistencies of the decree published by Vlasenko have convinced some Servant of the People MPs that the published version of the decree doesn’t exist. They speculate that there is another decree, in which there is only one surname - Korban.

Several ruling party sources called this particular politician “the highlight of the list.”

Hennadiy Korban cannot return to Ukraine because border guards took away his passport (Фото: NV)
Hennadiy Korban cannot return to Ukraine because border guards took away his passport / Фото: NV

On the evening of July 22, the border guards refused to let Korban into his homeland, saying that his Ukrainian citizenship had been suspended.

A top official from the Ministry of Internal Affairs told NV on condition of anonymity, that his department doesn’t know anything about Korban's possible denial to enter the country. He suggested that someone misinterpreted the consequences of losing citizenship.

“If there is a decision either by the President of Ukraine, or another official, or a court decision that strips citizenship of, then step number one is the cancellation of traveling documents,” they said.

“And, of course, the police, border guards and other relevant services are informed about that. That's it."

According to this top official, in the case of loss of citizenship, a person can still enter the country with a different passport and there can be no prohibitions.

“Denial of entry can be based on non-payment of alimony, an unpaid fine for violating traffic rules, or if the presence of the person in the country isn’t in the national interest of Ukraine,” explained the top representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

“But none of these apply in this case. Maybe there was some confusion over it. Perhaps someone is deliberately mixing these approaches. I haven’t heard anything about an entry ban [for Korban].”

A senior MP from the Servant of the People party believes that "apparently the President’s Office wants to scare Korban for something."

According to one of Korban's close associates, his presence in the presidential decree on "the stripping of citizenship" could be the result of Korban’s communication with U.S. Congresswoman Victoria Spartz. The President’s Office might consider Korban the source of negative information regarding both Bankova’s actions and the chief-of-staff of the President’s Office, Andriy Yermak, that was released by Spartz in her statement to U.S. President Joe Biden.

Another reason why Korban could have had a falling out with the President’s Office is that he is close with journalist Yuri Butusov, who has criticized the Zelenskyy administration for its handling of the war.

Korban’s Territorial Defense team doesn’t understand how it is possible to act in such an unconstitutional way, revoking the citizenship of a person involved in the defense of the country.

“We are fighting against Russia, but more and more we are starting to look like it - a country where rights and freedoms don’t matter at all,” Korban’s ally believes.

Korban himself wrote from the Smolnik checkpoint, saying “I want to appeal to the President of Ukraine as the guarantor of the Constitution: is it possible to resolve this misunderstanding that happened to me on the threshold of our common home?”

“Whatever the outcome, the whole situation with the presidential decree will only bring negative consequences to Zelenskyy and his team,” said Anatoly Oktisyuk.

“The Saakashvili case shows that all these stories of stripping citizenship are very bad and they damage people’s reputations.”

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