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Poroshenko Vows No 'Private' Armies For Governors Amid Oil Firm Standoff

Ihor Kolomoyskiy, billionaire and governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says the country's governors will not have their own private armies, a vow that comes as tensions escalate among Ukraine's ruling elite.

"As for territorial defense, it will be subordinated to the clear-cut military vertical and none of the governors will have their private armed forces," Poroshenko said at a March 23 meeting with military commanders.

Poroshenko spoke a day after armed men occupied the Kyiv headquarters of state-owned energy company Ukrnafta.

Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko said on March 22 that the armed men who occupied the Ukrnafta building were linked to billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy, governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region.

Ukrainian lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem says the armed men attacked and beat him on March 22 when he tried to enter the building to inquire about the occupation.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported that Kolomoyskiy arrived at the Ukrnafta office the same day and said the increased security was aimed at fending off corporate "raiders."

The Ukrainian government controls Ukrnafta, though Kolomoyskiy's PrivatGroup holds a 43 percent stake in the firm.

Ukraine's parliament this month passed a law on state firms that would eliminate PrivatGroup's blocking vote on the supervisory board of Ukrnafta, the country's main oil company.

On March 19, Kolomoyskiy came to state-owned oil-transit company Ukrtransnafta after the company's supervisory board replaced its chief, Oleksandr Lazorko, a Kolomoyskiy associate.

Kolomoyskiy, whose PrivatGroup holds a 42 percent stake in Ukrtransnafta, was upset to see journalists at the site and verbally assaulted an RFE/RL reporter there.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) accused two of Kolomoyskiy's deputies in the Dnipropetrovsk region of obstruction of justice and financing criminal groups.

Valentyn Nalyvaychenko told reporters in Kyiv on March 23 that Deputy Governors Hennadiy Korban and Svyatoslav Oliynyk had threatened SBU investigators with armed groups in an effort to stop investigations into organized criminal activities in Dnipropetrovsk.

Nalyvaychenko added that the armed group that occupied the Ukrnafta headquarters in Kyiv had links to criminal groups in Dnipropetrovsk.

Nalyvaychenko said Poroshenko had ordered the disarming of the group at Ukrnafta.

Korban, for his part, dismissed the allegations, saying that a Ukrainian parliamentary investigative commission should call for Nalyvaychenko's dismissal if he did not provide evidence to support his claims.

Korban accused the SBU of "sheltering" smugglers transporting "scrap metal, vodka, and cigarettes" in the areas of military operations in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have fought a bloody war against Russian-backed separatists.

Kolomoyskiy has financed battalions of pro-Kyiv forces fighting the separatists, which Kyiv and Western governments accuse the Kremlin of supporting with weapons and personnel.

Earlier on March 23, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov ordered private security firms to give up their weapons within 24 hours and to withdraw from the streets.

"Private security groups [working for] businessmen and politicians will not roam the streets of cities," Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.

He said the order applied to everyone, including Kolomoyskiy and billionaire tycoons Viktor Pinchuk and Rinat Akhmetov.

Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Denisenko on March 23 called for a demonstration to be held in Dnipropetrovsk on March 25 to protest against a creeping "authoritarian and totalitarian regime" in Kyiv and "attempts to fracture Ukraine."

TASS reported on March 23 that four parliament deputies had resigned from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc faction over the dispute surrounding Kolomoyskiy.

This latest eruption of tensions in Ukraine's notoriously fractious politics comes amid what Kyiv calls continuing pressure from the Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

Ukrainian authorities on March 23 accused the rebels of moving tanks, weapons, and fighters closer to the line of contact with government forces in the east of the country.

The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, said that six government soldiers were wounded in the previous 24 hours, despite a cease-fire deal signed in Minsk last month.

Fighting has lessened since the cease-fire took effect on February 15, but fighting persists and the prospects for a resolution of the conflict are clouded by disputes over other aspects of the peace deal.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, TASS, Interfax, Ukrayinska Pravda, Interfax, UNIAN, and Reuters
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