MOSCOW — The United States placed sanctions Friday on a Ukrainian business tycoon seen as the most powerful figure in the country outside of the government, signaling an aggressive new approach by the Biden administration to dealing with corruption in Ukraine.
The businessman, Ihor Kolomoisky, an oil and media magnate, was already under investigation in the United States on accusations of embezzlement and fraud, and of using the proceeds to buy commercial real estate in Cleveland, Ohio.
At home in Ukraine, he is one of the most prominent of the ultrawealthy class of post-Soviet oligarchs and has been both an ally and a political albatross for President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukrainian oligarchs exercise outsized influence in the country, controlling the news media and at times financing entire factions in Parliament at odds with American and European efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s pro-Western geopolitical orientation. They have done so even as they kept money in Western banks and investments and sent their children to live or study in Europe and the United States.
statement, Mr. Blinken said Mr. Kolomoisky had used a position in government as a regional governor in Ukraine for his personal benefit. While acknowledging that the Ukrainian holds no official role today, Mr. Blinken said he posed a risk for “ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions,” an apparent reference to his efforts to influence the Zelensky administration. Mr. Zelensky has denied he is beholden to the businessman.
published an article saying he plans to diminish the role of the oligarchs in Ukraine’s politics.
But that is no simple matter. Mr. Kolomoisky controls a faction in Mr. Zelensky’s political party, the Servant of the People, without which the party would not have a majority in Parliament. Mr. Kolomoisky’s television station supported Mr. Zelensky in the 2019 presidential election.
Handling Ukrainian corruption has been politically tinged in the United States, too.
President Biden has long experience in Ukraine, having handled that portfolio as vice-president in the Obama administration — activities that figured prominently in the first impeachment of President Donald J. Trump.