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The Gangs of Kyiv, and Odessa, and Dnepropetrovsk

The alliances in Ukraine’s presidential election bode ill for the country’s ability to unite once the votes are counted. From The Ukrainian Week.

by Oles Oleksiyenko 21 May 2014

Despite hopes of another chance to reboot the country after a second revolution, Ukraine is slowly entering the second round of squabbles within the once-uniform Orange team. The leaders in this presidential campaign are bringing back the groups of “Yulians” (after Yulia Tymoshenko) and “Viktorians” (the former team of Viktor Yushchenko, now embodied in the “Petrorians” after Petro Poroshenko), almost identical to those from the post-Orange Revolution years of 2005-2009. When Yushchenko was president and Tymoshenko was premier, they waged a bitter struggle against each other instead of reforming and strengthening the country. 

 

In the current campaign, the top three spots have been unchanged for a while. According to a late-April survey by the Rating sociological agency, Poroshenko enjoys the support of 43.4 percent of those polled. Tymoshenko has 13.9 percent. Serhiy Tihipko, Anatoliy Hritsenko, and Mykhailo Dobkin would get 6.7 percent, 4.5 percent, and 4.3 percent respectively.

 

Yulia TymoshenkoYulia Tymoshenko
A 6-8 May telephone survey by GFK Ukraine, however, showed much lower support for Tymoshenko and much higher for Tihipko, giving Tihipko, not Tymoshenko, the best chance to face Poroshenko in the second round. Of all the sociological agencies, GFK Ukraine’s predictions have been farthest from the actual results in previous elections, probably because it does not cover the entire electorate in villages and small towns, whose citizens account for nearly half of Ukraine’s voters. And Tihipko has always had better ratings in big and mid-sized cities, while Tymoshenko’s core electorate is in rural regions.

 

The names of the final pair in the second round may change, given that only 37 percent of those polled said they were sure of their choice in the Rating survey. Another 33 percent said they “were sure but their choice could still change.” Tymoshenko and Poroshenko have the most resolute voters, 54 percent of whom were confident about their choice. Twelve percent of those polled have not yet chosen a candidate.

 

However, it is other figures that look worrisome. If Poroshenko and Tymoshenko get to the second round, only 14 percent of citizens in the eastern Donbas region are prepared to vote for either of them. Two-thirds insist that they will ignore a ballot with these two candidates in the second round, essentially boycotting it. Twenty-two percent are still contemplating their choice for the second round. No other region in Ukraine has such extreme sentiments. Only 35 percent will ignore the vote in the Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk, and Zaporizhia oblasts if these two candidates make it into Round 2, while 47 percent will not vote in southern Ukraine. This could undermine the legitimacy of the election in the Donetsk region.

 

Despite the widespread Russian propagandist mantra about the government monopolized by western Ukrainians, all top candidates come from southeastern Ukraine. Poroshenko was born in Odessa Oblast, Tymoshenko comes from Dnepropetrovsk Oblast, Tihipko used to live in Dnepropetrovsk Oblast as well, and Dobkin comes from Kharkiv.   

 

THE COMMON AND THE DIFFERENT IN THE PLATFORMS

 

Tymoshenko openly claims her “will for power” and intentions to concentrate it in order “to break the current system.” Poroshenko speaks of the opposite, pledging to “become a guarantor of the newly reinstated parliamentary system … while not claiming powers that exceed the ones I am elected for.” Meanwhile, people who talk to him in person insist that his aspirations for absolute power are as strong as, if not stronger than, Tymoshenko’s.

 

Tymoshenko’s platform offers more populism that pops up in some contradictory promises. For instance, she pledges to extend a moratorium on the sale of farmland while ensuring the opportunity to sell state-owned farmland at the market price (which cannot be estimated without a land market). She also proposes to restrict the cost of leasing land to 10 percent of its market value (which, again, is impossible to calculate in a nonexistent farmland market).

 

Another pledge in her platform is to abolish special pensions and privileges for all top officials. This is, however, forbidden to do for those already receiving pensions. Tymoshenko is promising to ban fines for late utility payments “until welfare rises significantly.” This will result in arbitrary debts on utilities and gas, deteriorating utility services, an increasing burden on the budgets of all levels, and, eventually, a situation where disciplined pensioners keep paying for the wealthy who delay payments with impunity.

 

 

Petro Poroshenko addresses a crowd of supporters 20 May. Photo by Mykola Lazarenko/Poroshenko campaign press service.

 

Poroshenko is trying to distance himself from such populism. He claims that “all political platforms you have seen before were about pennies from heaven but they never come down” and “clearly, I support the rise of wages, pensions, and student scholarships,” but “we will spend money on all this as soon as we have it once we have built a new economy.” Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s platform suggests that he expects to transfer responsibility for the social-economic situation in Ukraine to the government, which is in charge of “running economic processes” under the constitution. As a guarantor of the constitution, rights, and freedoms, the president should only “create conditions” for social justice and an innovative economy, Poroshenko believes.

 

If he indeed does not intend to expand his powers, he and his administration will obviously act as expert observers who evaluate and instruct the government “responsible for running economic processes” and the parliament responsible for passing laws. When Yushchenko did that as president after the Orange Revolution, he faced harsh criticism from the Party of Regions, then in opposition, and from the majority of Ukrainian society that votes for the president and expects him to ensure full-scale transformations (voters don’t care how), rather than to merely advise the parliament and government, which turn out to be the bad cops.

 

Thus, just like with Yushchenko, Ukrainian voters will inevitably see the president as responsible for state policy. His attempts to criticize the government or parliament for ineffectiveness will most likely fuel another round of deep disappointment: the voters will interpret this as just another series of internal squabbles in “the single democratic pro-European team.” This will discredit Poroshenko and Ukrainian statehood overall, thus playing into the hands of pro-Russian forces and the Kremlin’s policy to subordinate Ukraine.

 

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

 

Both Tymoshenko and Poroshenko support lustration and elimination of corruption in state bodies, fair courts, honest law enforcers, a lower tax burden on business, and demonopolization of the economy. Meanwhile, both campaigns are staffed with representatives of the former government. Poroshenko has been criticized repeatedly for actively engaging people from the tandem of Serhiy Liovochkin, a Party of Regions lawmaker and former chief of staff to Viktor Yanukovych, and Dmytro Firtash, the gas tycoon recently arrested in Vienna on an FBI warrant, in the regions. Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party voted with the Party of Regions on acts that were not supported by the rest of the democratic coalition in the post-Maidan parliament. Svoboda members have blamed it for attempts to provoke their exit from the coalition so that the Party of Regions could replace them. As for oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov seems most interested in Tymoshenko’s presidency, given his difficult record with Poroshenko in the past. So is Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the Dnepropetrovsk-based oligarch and owner of Privat Group, who is gaining political weight under the rule of Tymoshenko’s allies in the interim government.   

 

The most troubling aspect is obviously the Russian trace. Poroshenko is said to engage people related to Viktor Baloha and Volodymyr Lytvyn, Andriy Derkach, and Dmytro Firtash. The latter two were always the key Russian lobbyists in Ukraine. Tymoshenko for her part has always been on good terms with the agents of Russian influence in Ukraine, such as Viktor Medvedchuk, his right-hand man, Nestor Shufrych, Andriy Kliuyev (former chief of staff under Yanukovych), and Tymoshenko’s one-time main adviser, Andriy Portnov (former deputy chief of staff for Yanukovych). Acting President and Tymoshenko ally Oleksandr Turchynov is known to have actively negotiated with Vadym Novynsky, Vladimir Putin’s “supervisor” in the Ukrainian parliament and business partner to tycoon Akhmetov. It is Tymoshenko’s allies who were mostly blamed for the lack of adequate actions to restrain Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbas in the first month after Yanukovych fled.  

 

The recent deadly incident in Odessa adds to the Tymoshenko controversy: Oleksandr Dubovyi, a member of parliament close to Tymoshenko and Turchynov, has been accused of being involved in covering up separatist groups and making sure that police chiefs avoided responsibility for helping or doing nothing to hold back separatists. Former Odessa Oblast Governor Volodymyr Nemyrovskyi and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko have both blamed him for lobbying for the appointment of the traitor police chiefs Dmytro Fuchidzhi and Oleh Lutsiuk. On the other hand, Poroshenko raises suspicions as his plants resume operations in Russia and his business operates freely in Russian-occupied Crimea. Some attribute this to his deals with Firtash, whose efforts in lobbying for Putin’s interests became obvious from his clearly pro-Russian stance during the EuroMaidan.

 

TIED BY HESITATION

 

Both top candidates have similar approaches to the language issue, and these approaches will do nothing to consolidate the nation or overcome the regional divide. Tymoshenko promotes Ukrainian as the only state language, with Russian and other languages having official status in the regions where the dominant majority wants that. This will subsequently lead to increasing Russification of a number of regions in southeastern Ukraine. Poroshenko pledges to preserve the status quo on the language issue, which means that the Kolesnichenko-Kivalov language law [giving Russian official status in some regions – TOL] will stay intact in its current version.

 

None of them is prepared to take steps to protect Ukrainian-speakers from Russification in southern, eastern and partly central Ukraine, let alone facilitate the actual rather than formal use of Ukrainian as the state language. Eyewitnesses claim that both Tymoshenko, and Poroshenko, as well as their families, speak Russian at home and in private life while switching to Ukrainian in public or to talk to people they find useful.

 

Both candidates promise to facilitate Ukraine’s defense capacity and European integration. Yet none mentions NATO membership in his or her platform. Poroshenko, as the most likely winner, seems only willing to follow the crowd on the issue of NATO as the only way to guarantee Ukraine’s security in the face of a continuous Russian threat, and even to accept the veto of the pro-Russian fifth column in southeastern Ukraine. Apparently, he will be the first one to lead Ukraine to NATO as soon as 70 percent of Ukrainians support the idea. While the share is 30 percent, he will not, since he would thus risk losing the Donetsk or Luhansk oblasts, Kharkiv, or Odessa.

 

Instead, both candidates offer useless options to replace NATO membership. Tymoshenko suggests an amorphous “European policy of common security,” while Poroshenko offers a reinforced version of the Budapest Memorandum. Both support elimination of any dependence on Russia, with energy the priority. Meanwhile, both support friendly, equal, and partner relations with the “future non-Putin democratic Russia,” which is hardly an option at all.

 

Both Tymoshenko and Poroshenko pledge to abolish local state administration and to delegate most of their functions to executive committees of local councils. In the current situation, however, that can only further fuel separatism and restrict ways for the central government to affect inefficiency in the regions. It would hardly liberate the central government from responsibility for local problems, as Poroshenko expects in his platform, since most Ukrainians remain paternalist-minded, especially in southeastern Ukraine. They will keep blaming the chaos in their towns and villages on the incapable central government. That will allow local authorities to fuel such sentiments via their loyal local media, while Russia will use this to aggravate pro-Russian sentiments.

This article originally appeared in The Ukrainian Week.
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