Oleg Tsarev: Zelensky’s Team and Two Scenarios of Development for Ukraine – Western and Oligarchic

In an interview with the “ukraina.ru” agency the former deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Oleg Tsarev said that the new president will rule either with the support of oligarchs, or, with the West’s assistance, will do away with oligarchs. However, this will not make Russia cold nor hot as a result – Ukraine will continue its course towards the west.

Your forecast made long before the first round came true – Zelensky won. Although the inauguration hasn’t yet happened, but since Trump has already congratulated him, Zelensky can be considered as an electee.

“The situation with this call was amusing. Since Trump’s call to Zelensky’s mobile phone was absolutely unexpected, until the information had been checked, it was assumed that it was not Trump, but prankers…”

The elections have ended. Let’s talk about what will happen later. Recently Zelensky submitted his team in the number of 20 people. What will you say about Zelensky’s team?

“Ocean had 12 friends. Zelensky has 20. But also the tasks that are in front of Zelensky have a more substantial scale.

This team is young, with rare exceptions. Rather new. Just several acquaintances. All of them have knowledge of foreign languages. The majority of those presented are dollar millionaires who are established despite their age, they are people with their teams and with an ability to do business abroad.

Practically none of them have relatives in Russia. It means there is no mental ties with Russia. Relations with Russia will be built on a pragmatic basis. I.e., restoration of relations with Russia is possible, but only in that case that it will be favourable, and only to the extent that is becomes favourable.

Practically none of the presented 20 are connected with the old elite. This a two-edged problem. The new team is not connected with oligarchs, but also oligarchs have no leverage over the new team. And I will say – this is a historical chance for Ukraine. A chance to move oligarchs away from power.”

Can you say some words about the members of the team of Zelensky?

“Youth in Zelensky’s team come from the deputies and journalists Mustafa Nayyem and Sergey Leshchenko. I remember these girls. I thikn that they will remain working in the administration.

Ivan Aparshin is a colonel reserve officer, he was brought by Gritsenko. He is more older than the other members of the team. He is 62 years old. It seems to me that they were too quick to include him in the list. Not everything is clean for him in terms of corruption. If Zelensky will be obliged to later remove him from his post, then this, obviously, will be followed by reputational losses.

It is announced that he applies for the post of the Minister of Defence, or to head Ukroboronprom.

Among the members of the team there are those who already participated in the fight against oligarchs.

Andrey Gerus is an economic expert, in the past he was the Deputy Head of the National Commission in the Energy Sphere (NCES). He opposed the scheme ‘Rotterdam+’ which, according to experts, brought billions to Akhmetov and Poroshenko in equal shares.

If he was taken into the team, then I hope he will be the burier of this scheme. If it is accepted to accompany the closure of this scheme with arrests and imprisonments, then Andrey can seriously help with the investigation.

Danilyuk was involved in the nationalisation of Privatbank.

Sergey Ionushas is young and ambitious. Perhaps even excessively ambitious. He is capable of reforming the judicial system. However, this reform can be double. He can build both a judicial system independent of the authorities and such a judicial vertical that will be managed from the Presidential Administration.

There are several members of the team who have traces of corruption, and there are also such people as Daniil Getmantsev, who is accused of lobbying the lottery business, but I know for sure that there are no grounds to accuse him.

It is obvious that there is nothing constant. Over time the team will grow, but, on the other hand, there will be both inevitable mistakes and losses. At the time when we won local elections, I, as to the Party Regions leader in the Dnepropetrovsk region I had to hastily form a team of the Dnepropetrovsk region. Deputies of different level alone were about 4,000. Believe me, as much as I tried, selecting people, there were many mistakes.

The main ideologist of the team of Zelensky is Ruslan Stefanchuk from Ternopol, who is definitely not a person who will advocate for the interests of Russian-speakers or to stand up for friendship with Russia.

The same thing can be said about the person who is presented as responsible for the international relations – Aleksandr Merezhko, in the past he taught at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. He, obviously, also can’t be described as a supporter of the Russian world.

Except the presented 20 people, there are 50 more employees of the central headquarters, plus the employees of regional headquarters. Participation in the campaign headquarters of the winner of elections was always a good start for a career.”

So, oligarchs will not have influence on Zelensky’s team?

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“There are people who laid a hand to Zelensky’s election. Obviously, they will have influence.”

Can you name some names?

“Undoubtedly, the list should start with Igor Kolomoisky. Besides him, there is Khoroshkovsky, Levochkin, Gayduk, the Surkis brothers, and Avakov. It is said that the chairman of the Jewish Community of Kiev Aleksandr Levin actively helped. Some joined earlier, some later, some contributed a lot, some contributed less. Forgive me if I didn’t name someone. Pay attention — neither Akhmetov nor Pinchuka are on the lists.”

What should those who did not manage to get into this club of lucky persons do?

“Large business has a good way of receiving help and protection, and this way has a specific name — Igor Kolomoisky. However, his help can cost a lot of money.

Kolomoisky likes to share out the business and money of others 50-50. Look who flew to meet Igor Kolomoisky in Israel. There is a list in the media. Kolomoisky is almost the only connecting link between the other old elites and the president. Moreover, I consider that until a certain moment Igor Kolomoisky will indeed be able to lobby his and others’ interests.”

You said “until a certain moment”. Which moment?

“If not to look too far, then I would name two periods. One — prior to the parliamentary election. The other — after the parliamentary election. Kolomoisky, most likely, will have influence before the parliamentary election. After the election, I am not sure.

The West wants to include Ukraine in its global economic system. Ukrainian oligarchs impede this. The West always wanted to remove oligarchs from power and bring world corporations to Ukraine. It’s not Poroshenko, but the International Monetary Fund and the US who insisted on the nationalisation of ‘Privatbank’.

Poroshenko received his rather big interest payments from every sum that the state sent for the refinancing of Privatbank. Everything suited Poroshenko. But it did not suit the West. The West does not need oligarchs near Zelensky, and it for sure doesn’t need Kolomoisky near Zelensky. Therefore Kolomoisky’s fate is foggy.

Ukraine got stuck in a stage of oligarchical capitalism. With the help of Zelensky Ukraine has the chance of joining the world economy and transition to developed capitalism. But at the same time there is no doubt that it will be not accession, but absorption. It means that cheap money and new technologies can come to Ukraine, but all of this will be followed by the definitive loss of economic and political sovereignty.”

You saw Zelensky’s team. Tell us, it is capable of undertaking reforms? To win against corruption?

“I hope for it. I know that Zelensky’s team prepares and discusses programs and mechanisms that can cardinally reduce corruption and programs for reforming the judicial and law-enforcement systems.

They plan to introduce mechanisms that are capable of ensuring the functioning of the public contract between the authorities and the people. As far as I know, they plan to adopt a law on a referendum and a law on impeachment. It is a chance for Ukraine. A young and progressive team came to power. There is the desire to hope that they will succeed.”

All of us speak about reforms, the fight against corruption, and the public contract. Tell us, who will be involved in production and industry?

“Among Zelensky’s environment I see my good acquaintance Oleg Dubina. He is a good manager. He managed Krivorozhstal, DMK, he was the Deputy Prime Minister. At every place of his work he coped well with his objective. He is accused of participating in signing a gas contract, extremely unprofitable for Ukraine, between Ukraine and Russia.

But I know the circumstances of this case in detail. He has no guilt there. He is a team player. He acted clearly within the framework of instructions.

It is possible to say that Dubina is the last manager of such a level from the gold personnel list of Kuchma who survived. He can safely be put in the same row with Kirpoy and Kravchenko.

If Zelensky is able to install him as Prime Minister, then for the Cabinet of Ministers he can be quiet. Moreover, as far as I know, he will play only by the rules written by his leader. In this case his leader is Zelensky. None of the oligarchs will be able to either squeeze or buy him.”

But it will be difficult to replace the government. There is need for the approval of the Verkhovna Rada, and so it means that Groisman will remain for some time. Do you not assume that they will work well together with Zelensky?

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“I am sure that Groisman will do everything in order to keep his place and please Zelensky. Moreover, it shouldn’t be excluded that by all his efforts he even could achieve success and convince Zelensky that it exceptional, but he shouldn’t be left in his job. Groisman is a potential traitor. He owes Poroshenko for everything.

But he was loyal to Poroshenko only before his appointment to the post. There aren’t many people who he didn’t hold secret negotiations with. When he was appointed, Yatsenyuk offered him a deal: Groisman won’t break corruption schemes in the fuel and energy complex (the nuclear cycle) of Yatsenyuk, and in exchange receive 50% from them. And he still earns money behind the back of Poroshenko in this way even today.”

Do you have information about the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (NSDC)? About law enforcement agencies? Is it possible to clean them from corruption?

“You are correct to start with the NSDC. In conditions when there is neither a Rada nor a government, the NSDC is of great importance. I do not know who is considered for this position (the secretary of the Council, under the law, is chaired by the president), but I remember only several leaders capable, in a difficult situation, of not just making decisions, but also to ensure their implementation. This is Poroshenko, Turchynov, and Klyuev. I do not think that Zelensky will keep Turchynov, but if he does not immediately dismiss him, then it’s unlikely that he will do it later. Turchynov is a good organiser.

Among other things, the head of the SBU is important. I do not know who the choice will fall on: Smeshko, Nalyvaichenko, Khoroshkovsky, or someone else. But I do not know anyone from the acting heads of service who could really head the fight against corruption. I do not know any SBU Generals whose fortune would be less than ten million dollars.

Even if the Americans will supervise the department, then they all the same will steal. If to really set tasks for the reformation of the service, then I would install some younger, not spoiled, and no more senior in rank than Colonel.

The position of the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is very important. Recently the status of an employee fell very much. Radicals are engaged in racketeering and raider captures. The gambling and smuggling business are in their pocket. Nobody can do anything with radicals. A huge number of weapons are to hand. There are whole armies that are not state-controlled.

Narikashvilli-Petrovsky alone has 5,000 militants in Dnepropetrovsk. Not to mention ‘Azov’ and other structures. The new head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs will need to disarm in the shortest time possible the radicals and private armies created under the guise of security structures.

Well and, of course, a central role in the fight against corruption is played by the role of the Prosecutor-General. This person has to have faultless honesty.

I know three people who are capable of solving unsolvable problems – Andrey Portnov, Elena Lukash, and Renat Kuzmin. It seems to me that it would be correct to bring them back and task them with reforming law-enforcement structures.

We also missed a very important area of work. Zelensky’s team should be urgently involved in choosing governors. A lot of things depend on whether or not these people will be correctly selected. Candidates for the position of governor have to know their regions, they have to have the support of regional elite, and have a well-prepared team. Governors, as well as all the others who we spoke about, have to start work even before official appointments. The team must give a result in the shortest possible time. Reforms can be undertaken, so far there is still the support of the population. Because only one step separates being charmed and being disappointment. That’s why Zelensky doesn’t have a lot of time.”

Zelensky is Kolomoisky’s appointee. Some say that the repartition of Ukraine in his advantage will now start. In your opinion, how will Zelensky build relations with Kolomoisky, with the oligarchy in general, and will he become an independent center of force?

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“It is still too early to say how events will develop, it is just possible to present a number of scenarios. Zelensky needs to receive a majority in the Rada and appoint a government. He can do this after extraordinary or the next scheduled election, independently or relying on oligarchs.

The matter is that if Zelensky will sign an agreement with the oligarchy and Kolomoisky, then it is possible not to wait for an election. They will help him to collect a majority in the current Rada.

If he agrees with oligarchs, then he will be forced to create a governmental coalition (in the sense of a coalition with oligarchs). In this case he, eventually, will repeat Poroshenko’s fate. Systemic corruption and a lack of reforms, will be the result of its activity, and as a result a low approval rating and shameful resignation.

And the second option: leaning on the US, Israel, and Europe, he declares war on oligarchs, holds a parliamentary early election, forms the majority and becomes a president not related to oligarchs.

He gets foreign advisers, undertakes reforms, fights against corruption, and places a stake on the arrival of foreign corporations in Ukraine. Sells to foreigners the remains of what wasn’t yet sold. Ukrainian land, ports, railroad, and nuclear power plants.”

A choice between Scylla and Charybdis. Does Ukraine really have no other options? Will the last ties with Russia be really lost?

“Yes. This choice does not please. Either Poroshenko’s way with corruption and oligarchs, or Ukraine loses the rest of its sovereignty.

I think that economic ties with Russia will be re-established exactly so as far as it will be necessary for the functioning of the Ukrainian economy. That’s why people who waited for the complete restoration of relations with Russia – such ones that were, for example, under Yanukovych and Kuchma – will be disappointed. Ukraine leaves for the West, and the only question concerns the speeds of this movement. With the first option it will be more slower than the second one. I do not expect a sharp warming with Russia, but if Zelensky’s team indeed undertakes economic reforms and changes the course of Poroshenko, this cannot be done without peace-making in Donbass and at least some restoration of business cooperation with Russia.

And I think that here, the policies of Zelensky will be more pragmatic than Poroshenko’s. Anyway Zelensky said so little about his plans that so far we can only discuss it in the form of scenarios.”

Nevertheless, is a consensus between the local sponsors of the electoral company of Zelensky and representatives of the foreign states possible? Who will win and how will we understand who starts to win in this standoff?

“Already now, relations between foreign and domestic participants in his electoral team are not simple. Everyone wants to profit, but if some will win, then others will lose.

In the event of the preservation of oligarchical capitalism, global corporations will not be able to come to Ukraine. But on the other hand, such people as Kolomoisky came into politics – in this project – in order to receive power and money. And they will not abandon their goals so easily.

The main problem of Zelensky is not Poroshenko or Tymoshenko. The main problem is a systemic contradiction between the foreign and domestic participants of his electoral team. Now the side of domestic pals have a numerical superiority. But foreign ones have a non-standard set of especially effective tools that often show fantastic results when they are used on our businessmen.

The stronger and less dependant the president will be, the worse it will be for domestic sponsors. We can use indirect signs to judge the first results. Will Zelensky be able to appoint his head of administration – for example, Ivan Bakanov, or will he concede to pressure and appoint the one who will be recommended to him by Igor Kolomoisky? Time will show who will win. We haven’t to wait long.”

Last question. What do you think – Zelensky’s election is rather plus or minus?

“Let me answer with a joke. It’s unlikely and would look rather fantastical that after leaving office, Zelensky will return to the stage in his former role. Therefore Zelensky’s election as the president deprived us of an absolutely definitely good comedian.

But whether or not we got a good president is still a question, and will only time will tell. If to proceed from this logic, we already lost from the very start.”

Aleksandr Chalenko

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