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Poroshenko Got Into a War in Transcarpathia

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Poroshenko Got Into a War in Transcarpathia

AP Photo/Sergei Grits

A chronicle of the failed state

This article originally appeared at Interpolit.ru, translated from Russian by Olga Seletskaia exclusively for SouthFront

Mukachevo could once again become a hot spot on the map of Ukraine. Poroshenko undertook the suppression of the local elite, in order to subjugate contraband flows in the region. The whole story is much more complicated than that presented by the official media. According to them, it was just a confrontation between the authorities and the “Right Sector”. The US ambassador is acting as the supreme arbiter in it.

In the Transcarpathian Mukachevo Part Two of the thriller that involves thugs from the “Right Sector”, corrupt policemen and corrupted deputies is brewing. Unlike in Part One, a fascinating and sometimes deadly battle, shrouded in smoke of contraband cigarettes, moved from city streets to the state prosecutor’s offices, to the pages of Internet publications, where opponents continue to pour compromising information on each other. However, one thing remains constant: the US ambassador Jeffrey Payette stays in the role of the sheriff, to whose wisdom and omnipotence all the warring parties appeal.

Love Letters

It is Payette and Igor Mosiychuk, (a former spokesman for the scandalous battalion “Azov” and now a member of parliament and a member of the investigative commission of the Verkhovna Rada on the July 11 events in Mukachevo), to whom anonymous employees of the Criminal Investigation Department Internal Affairs of Ukraine in the Transcarpathian region recently addressed their open letter. The essence of their claims is that the regional and city police managers require their subordinates to falsify materials relating to the incident in Mukachevo. The purpose is to compromise “Right Sector” and to hide evidence of joint actions of law enforcement and criminal elements during the events of July 11.

In short, local police authorities, despite knowing in advance about the arrival of the Right Sector in Mukachevo, about their routes and weapons that they were bringing with them to the unofficial capital of Transcarpathia, deliberately allowed Yarosh’s people (the Right Sector) to conduct a massacre of locals in the middle of the day. First the local police authorities video taped the massacre, and only after the violence was over did the police attempted to capture members of the RS (Right Sector). The “show” involved shooting and explosions, hostage-taking and multi-day search for criminals through thick forest thickets.

The authors of this anonymous letter focused specifically on the fact that the people’s deputy Mustafa Nayemu illegally and quickly acquired, with assistance of the now former head of the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs Sergei Sharanicha some parts of the police’s video, depicting the moment of the Right Sector’s attack on the guard of the Sport Center “Antares”, subsequent destruction of police cars with machine guns and grenades, and posted the video on the Internet. The local police authorities ordered their subordinates under threat of dismissal to destroy those fragments of the video, which show how on Saturday, armed members of the local organized crime groups freely enter and leave the ” Antares “. (The Right Sector had arrived at Mukachevo in order to punish the members of the local criminal group).

The unidentified whistleblowers explained their unwillingness to openly share their concerns with other members of the parliamentary IC (Investigation Committee – O.S.) (with Transcarpathia natives Valery Patskan and Valery Lunchenko ) by the fact that the first person is a ” godfather, best buddy and a business partner” of Mukachevo city police department chief Vitaly Shimonyaka, and the second one is the godfather and best friend of the deputy of Hustovsky city council Vladimir Shimoni (nickname Nick), who was previously convicted for being the head of the local OCG (organized crime group – O.S.). The whistleblowers also do not trust neither the new head of the regional police Sergei Knyazev, nor the Deputy Minister of Interior Vasyl Pascal, who require them to falsify criminal cases against the “Right Sector” activists, and do not want to deal with corruption and treachery in their own ranks.

It is worth noting that the anonymous fighters for police “purity” turned out not only to be honest people but they are also unusually lucky. By some luck, their open letter posted on some low-traffic Internet site, immediately caught the eye of Viktor Baloha, people’s deputy, head of a powerful Transcarpathian clan and one of the actual rulers of the region. It so happened that Baloha was very involved in the Mukachevo “Saturday event”. Being a man of no less principles than the authors of the letter, he immediately appealed to the Attorney General Shokin with a request to give full attention to the facts set out in the letter.

“Contrabass Play”

To understand all ins and outs of this epic, let’s take a look at its back history. Long time ago, back in the 90s, a former merchandiser and aspiring entrepreneur Viktor Baloha began his business activities in his home Mukachevo district under the “roof” of a very “influential” countryman Michael Lano , known in some circles under a nickname “Blyuk”. He was controlling the smuggling of tobacco and alcohol, as well as the production and transit of narcotics in his region.

Later, when Baloha built his career as a politician, moving under Yushchenko’s government from Chair of Governor of the Transcarpathian region to the Minister of Emergency Situations and later the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Baloha’s and Lano’s paths diverged, and their relations cooled off considerably. However, during the Yanukovych’s presidency, the President eldest son’s people “convinced ” Victor Baloha to concede the lion’s share of the smuggling “cigarette contrabass” traffic to the neighboring European countries. Baloha suspected (with some grounds – Lano and Yanukovych Sr. had mutual friends from the criminal world) his former boss Lano in being part of that deal. Lano later found refuge in the parliamentary faction of the Party of Regions .

Baloha failed to take revenge on Lano immediately after the February revolution. Firstly, there was no opportunity – being cautious by nature, Baloha tried not to go into the front ranks of the leaders of the Maidan. Secondly, Lano, who immediately quit the Party of Regions after they lost, found a secure harbor with prominent businessman Igor Eremeev from Volyn, who is close to Poroshenko. As a result, Baloha had to wait until the middle of this summer; over this period – February 2014 – summer 2015 Baloha has lured local activists of the “Right Sector” who have already gained experience of providing certain kind of services.

Roman Stoyka, commander of the reserve battalion of the RS, a former policeman, the smuggler with the experience (once he was shot down while he was trying to cross the border on hang glider) and son of the ex-chief of the personal safety of the Transcarpathian regional branch of the SSU (Security Service of Ukraine – O.S.) Basil Stoyka, became a senior “negotiator” between Right Sector and organized criminal groups in Mukachevo. Being Basil Stoyka’s son apparently, was the deciding factor in his being chosen by Baloha to be the main negotiator: in the past year and a half “Right Sector” used to rely on the support and protection of the Ukrainian Security Service.

That’s where the main miscalculation occurred, because at that time the head of SSU was not Valentin Nalyvaychenko, a big friend of Yarosh, but Vasily Gritsak, a “Poroshenko’s man”. Most likely, information about the upcoming Right Sector’s “special operation” leaked to the presidential administration from his department, where, presumably, they were delighted at the prospect of once and for all to finish with the pestered “Right Sector.” For such a case they even had to find a common language with Arsen Avakov, whose release from the post of interior minister in favor of Poroshenko’s minions has been Poroshenko’s long-standing goal. Avakov was quick to respond: in addition to long-standing dislike for Yarosh’s colleagues (from the time of liquidation of Sashka Bilyi), Avakov had some other attractive reasons for such a momentary union.

As a result of the concerted action of two sharply competing agencies (the Security Service and Interior Ministry) Baloha’s messengers were gently escorted from their base to Mukachevo through traffic police posts, none of which showed any interest in a full patrol of armed men jeeps, in the back of one of which a heavy machine gun was openly carried. “I believe that this was an action planned in advance by those who are on Bankovaya Street (a street in the Kiev city center, where the presidential administration is situated). It was envisaged to create a situation in Transcarpathia, which would make it possible to send troops to show who is who. Guys were provoked for the slaughter, because no road patrol officer stopped them on their way to Mukachevo, although they were aware of the situation. It was clear that the appearance of the bandits would provoke the situation once they see Right Sector, and then they would open fire” – Stoyka Sr. told reporters.

Stoyka-junior, who was set up by Lano in the owned by Lano sport center “Antares”, told us after the negotiations failed, that the main subject of their talks was to be the redistribution of spheres in the smuggling business. “Lano (Blyuk) began to tell me their policies on the territory of his smuggling business, and that he and Sharanich (head of the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs), will never let me in,” – said the commander of the RS. Mustafa Nyem, a member of the parliamentary faction “Block Poroshenko” (the one who miraculously got the official video), confirmed this version, “The main product of illegal export is cigarettes. They smuggle the cheapest ones to Germany and Italy. Profitability of the business is beyond dreams. For example, a van full of cigarettes, brings 470 Thousand Euro net (after bribes at all custom offices) profit per one trip from Ukraine to Italy. Three to five trucks full of cigarettes cross the border through Green customs corridor every week. According to local residents, all sides of the today’s conflict are involved in the cigarette smuggling business. Some were engaged in the organization, others took kickbacks for “roofing,” and the rest provided a “roof”. A trivial reluctance of one of the parties to pay tribute caused the armed conflict.”

According to a few witnesses, the guard of the sports complex, whose task was to provoke the “visitors’ ” aggression, inadvertently exceeded his authority and identified one of the visitors. For which he received a bullet in the head. Michael Lano, in turn, insists on his version of the conflict: that the representatives of the “Right Sector” visited him only with a proposal to provide a place in a sanatorium for their “brothers”, and a skirmish occurred because of inadequacy of one of the petitioners, whose psyche had lost stability after a concussion.

What happened next was not a typical militia “special operation”, but more like key scenes from the gangster movie. Perhaps because next to the Avakov’s commandos people, people in tracksuits and hunting rifles were looming. At first, the press centre of the Interior Ministry tried to present them as law enforcement officers, who arrived on a call directly from the training, without having a chance to change (so to speak, from the boat to the ball). But almost immediately many of the “athletes” were identified as active participants of local criminal gangs, friendly to Lano-Blyuk, after which security forces leadership went mute.

However, the spectacle was a success. Spectators got police cars set on fire by Right Sector (and the gas station and traffic police post), spectators got widespread use of improvised weapons (up to grenade launchers), and use as “human shields” a 12-year-old schoolboy, and an exciting chase in the final where militants having lost a few people killed, wounded and detainees, eventually took refuge in the impenetrable forests. The further – the more interesting: flying over the forest military helicopters, lines of military vehicles brought to Transcarpathia, urgent Yarosh’s arrival to rescue his people who barricaded themselves on their base, and a threatening President’s promise to equate the members of illegal armed groups as terrorists.

In short, all the necessary informational “aperitif” was now available to prepare the Ukrainian society to the correct perception of liquidation of yesterday’s “heroes of the Maidan ,” who “betrayed the revolution’s ideals”. On a high note US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt suddenly arrived in Mukachevo. He had his own opinion about the fate of the “Right Sector ” and their deeds (not to mention the need to reassure European partners, crazed by what is happening in Ukraine 60 km from the border with the EU ) .

Peace Enforcement

Upon completion of the inspection, the American diplomat told the press that “the phenomenon of the” Right Sector ” was exaggerated by Russian propaganda”, and it is better to regard the events in Mukachevo, ” as the criminal activities of groups and gangs who used a political symbol of the RS”. Payette also said the United States supported the position of the Ukrainian leadership as the use of force should be the sole responsibility of the state. After that, the conflict in Mukachevo dramatically waned. The siege of the base had been removed, and the militants (with the exception of a few detained in hot pursuit ) were sent to Donbass, “away from sin”. “Right Sector”, to save its face, announced protests (which quickly ended because of lack of protesters) and demanded that the Interior Ministry conducted impartial investigation. Here the hot phase ended.

Subsequently, head of the region Vasily Gubal lost his job, after he innocently said on television that such a routine procedure as the redistribution of contraband flows in Transcarpathia should be carried out lawfully. The head of the regional police Sergei Sharanich was removed from his position as well. But if the close Baloha’s friend Gubal was fired, the policeman Sharanich was transferred to Kiev to assume a post of the first deputy chief of the Criminal Investigation Department of MIA of Ukraine. This is indirect evidence of the success of the tasks assigned to him by senior management.

Interior minister’s happy face also said a lot at the ceremony of awarding fighters of the special division of MIA in Zakarpattia region, wounded in a shootout with militants of the RS. They were awarded with the departmental awards and individual guns. Unlike the President Poroshenko and deputy Baloha, whose important plans were ruined in Mukachevo, the minister Avakov had every reason to radiate optimism. According to leaked rumors, Michael Lano, in the midst of the scandal immediately left with his family on vacation in Italy, returned home safely after he agreed to concede to the main Ukrainian policeman Avakov part of his smuggling business. And now MP Blyuk breathes freely and easily, even though a laboratory for the production of synthetic drugs disguised as dumplings-making shop was discovered in the vicinity of Mukachevo. Traces of the lab, according to operative data of the SSU, lead to Lano’s criminal group. Lano currently is a prominent member of the parliamentary committee on preventing and combating corruption.

Hunting is On

Tranferred from the Lugansk region to Transcarpathia governor Gennady Moskal developed rigorous activity. On the Poroshenko owned “Channel 5”, he said that in the region “80% of supporters of the “Right Sector “have the three or four previous convictions.” Then he accused Lviv tobacco factory in being a major supplier of cigarettes to illegal shipments across the border. By his order, the smugglers at the border checkpoints were summoned to the Ukrainian Army. Moskal even took credit for the increased queue on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border. According to him this is an indicator that the fight against smuggling is having success (more thorough examination of goods passing the border).

Meanwhile, according to political commentator Stepan Sikora, it is impossible to prevent smuggling in one region only, because everything is controlled from Kiev: “All the cash goes to Kiev, and Kiev appoints the right people to the desired positions.” By the way, Baloha’s friend and Lano’s enemy, Head of the Transcarpathian customs Roman Krutyak retained his post after the Mukachevo events. Transcarpathian Prosecutor Vladimir Janko also remains in place. According to the expert Sikora, Moskal was actually appointed as governor of Transcarpathia before the local elections to finally ” clear” the area from Victor Baloha’s people. Baloha’s flirtation with the “Right Sector” completely turned Poroshenko against him .

Presumably, Baloha, who succeeded in this deeply criminalized border region, feels threat hanging over him. His financial and political power is being gradually taken away from him. For example, a rare real success of Ukrainian intelligence services in the fight against smuggling in the form of detection of two truckloads of counterfeit cigarettes is linked to the fact that shipping was prepared by people from the disgraced MP’s group.

Today Viktor Baloga can no longer count on the bayonets of the “Right Sector “, whose fighters at his command would make local deputies obedient. In connection with a shooting in Mukachevo, Transcarpathian Regional Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation on the creation of a criminal organization and the terrorist attack; and the Interior Ministry announced Roman Stoyka, the leader of Transcarpathian “Right Sector”, wanted. Earlier this month, during a failed attempt to storm Starognatovki in the Donetsk region, Stoyka’s accomplice with callsign Bison was killed. On the other hand, there is a silver lining: the aggravation of the situation in the ATO zone will become for yet alive Transcarpathian “Right Sector” fighters a powerful incentive to return home. Fighting with the local Transcarpathian policemen is not so dangerous as fighting in Donbass.

The whole story with the letter from suddenly being tired of living a lie policemen (published, incidentally, on the eve of parliamentary investigation commission’s arrival in Mukachevo) looks like an attempt to re-inflate the information noise around the case that many of the committee members (particularly from pro-presidential factions BPP) are ready to shove under the carpet. Perhaps this Baloha’s was activity prompted by the recent death of a businessman – MP Eremeev. His death decapitated the group “Will of the People”, which includes Michael Lano. Or maybe he was able to find allies in the fight against Poroshenko – it is not by accident that information about the letter from policemen and Baloha’s appeal to the General Prosecutor’s Office was spread first of all by the media owned by the Dnepropetrovsk oligarch Igor Kolomoisky .

It is noteworthy that the letter was addressed not only to the American ambassador (this is likely to present a mandatory formality of today’s Ukraine), but to Igor Mosiychuk, MP from the Radical Party Lyashko, which after a long standoff with Kolomoisky passed under his wing and is now openly supporting the “Right Sector”. And just a few days before the publication of the “cry of the soul of Transcarpathian law enforcement” deputy Mosiychuk expressed doubts about the objectivity of the final report of the investigation commission at a press conference in UNIAN, all belonging to the same Kolomoisky.

As Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt, he can now start planing another “punitive expedition” in Transcarpathia. Just in case. And not only there. Thank to the good efforts of his wards in Kiev “shuttle geography” promises soon to spread all across the country.

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