Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the Ukrainian billionaire with ties to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, says he plans on being "a nuisance for many" in the country for at least the next five years.
Kolomoyskiy, who faced investigations and government pressure in Ukraine during the presidency of Zelenskiy's predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, has lived outside of Ukraine for almost two years, splitting his time between Israel and Switzerland.
In a wide-ranging interview with the RBK media group, his first with a Russian media outlet in the last five years, Kolomoyskiy played down his relationship with Zelenskiy, who he said he had seen only once since the president's inauguration.
"Sometimes we correspond via WhatsApp, we joke, talk about nothing important. But we rarely speak now because he has so much to do," said Kolomoyskiy, who returned to Ukraine four days before Zelenskiy's inauguration.
"I wouldn't give him any advice until at least 100 days pass since the inauguration. Although, maybe, if I were to say something, it would be a wish, not exactly advice: When you choose your appointees, choose those you trust, and bring professionals in next to them," he added.
Questions about the extent of ties between the president and the billionaire who owns the TV station that has hosted Zelenskiy's comedy programs and his hit sitcom Servant Of The People have swirled since Zelenskiy swept to a landslide victory in an April presidential election.
Kolomoyskiy said he had known Zelenskiy since 2008 and the two started talking about a possible run for the presidency in 2017. But he added that he did not give financial support to Zelenskiy's presidential campaign, though he acknowledged that the entertainer had a contract with the tycoon's 1+1 television channel, which "was the only help."
'Not Going Anywhere'
He also confirmed that the president's chief of staff, Andriy Bohdan, used to be one of his main lawyers in the last five years.
The tycoon also said there were people in Ukraine and elsewhere who'd like to see him disappear from the scene, which he maintained isn't going to happen.
"There are many people who would like me to leave and go somewhere else, but they'll have to wait. I’ll be a nuisance here for the next five years," he said.
Kolomoyskiy's conflict with Poroshenko peaked after the nationalization of PrivatBank in December 2016 with the backing of the International Monetary Fund because risky lending practices left the financial institution with a capital shortfall totaling billions of dollars.
Kolomoyskiy, one of the bank's former main shareholders, opposed the move and a Ukrainian court ruled on April 18 that the nationalization was illegal. Ukraine's central bank is appealing the ruling.
Kolomoyskiy also served briefly as governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region before Poroshenko dismissed him in 2015, accusing him of setting up a private militia and trying to take over a state-affiliated oil company.
Talking about his conflict with Poroshenko, Kolomoyskiy still praised the former president, saying that he "saved the country from you [Russians]" after Moscow illegally annexed Crimea and fomented separatism in Ukraine's eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in 2014.
"[Poroshenko] stopped [Russia's] aggression. I can criticize him in any way but not in front of you. We will mend fences ourselves, without you," Kolomoyskiy said, adding that he did not have any business in Russia and did not plan to have any "until Crimea is returned to Ukraine."
"[Russia] is a major sponsor and a source of this civil conflict. If Russia was not there and left the place alone, we would end the matter in a peaceful manner to satisfy all sides in two weeks, maximum," Kolomoyskiy said.
The region he governed borders the Donetsk region, one of the two regions held in part by Russia-backed separatists whose conflict with Kyiv's forces has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
Investigation Reports Based 'On Rumors'
Kolomoyskiy said he had assets in the conflict areas, but that he won't invest in rebuilding the regions where there is conflict "until your beloved armed forces leave our territory."
"There is a war going on, how can we invest there. I have a factory there. I can't start it, it cannot work there, because you [Russia] are there," he said.
Russia seized and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula five years ago and has since given military support to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Further away from the region, Kolomoyskiy said reports in the United States that the FBI was investigating him for financial crimes, including money laundering, were based "on rumors."
"Nobody can know anything before charges are filed or the case is closed after the charges are dropped. It is possible that investigations are under way, but I am not aware of them," Kolomoyskiy said.
Asked if the FBI could come to Kyiv and arrest him there, Kolomoyskiy answered that it would be very unlikely.
"The FBI comes to Kyiv all the time. To come to Ukraine to extradite someone? There must be a court warrant, that is one thing. Another thing is that Ukraine does not extradite its citizens. A huge number of people would like me to leave the country, but they will wait in vain," he said.