Rostislav Ishchenko: Candidate Tymoshenko – Last Chance at the Fourth Time of Asking

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On Tuesday, January 22nd, the congress of the “Batkivshchyna” party, in the presence and with the assistance of many influential Ukrainian politicians, nominated Yuliya Tymoshenko for the presidency. This is her fourth attempt…

Yuliya Tymoshenko declared her presidential ambitions for the first time in 2004. But back then the West hastily made a choice in favour of Yushchenko, and Tymoshenko was obliged to abandon her candidature. Tymoshenko lost the 2010 elections to Yanukovych, who managed, with the help of Paul Manafort, to convince Washington of his full loyalty. As a result, Tymoshenko’s attempt to not recognise the results of elections and to gather a Maidan failed, and she ended up in prison (formally for signing a gas agreement with Russia, which is still in effect today).

In 2014 the West placed a stake on Poroshenko, and Tymoshenko again lost elections, although on the eve of Maidan she was considered to be the leader of the opposition and the main opponent of Yanukovych. Nevertheless, the old enemy of Tymoshenko and minister of the government of the overthrown president Yanukovych became the president. Tymoshenko, who was jeered by radicals on Maidan, deceived and abandoned by former colleagues, held background roles for a long time.

At this moment Poroshenko made a mistake. Certainly, he needed to finish off Tymoshenko, definitively forcing her out of politics. The level of political support and real possibilities of Poroshenko in 2014 allowed him to do it (if, of course, her worked accurately). It wasn’t possible to jail Tymoshenko, but it was possible to consistently target her few remaining colleagues, turning her into a toxic political asset and depriving her of the support of the business and political elite.

Of course, in the place of a marginalised Tymoshenko another opposition would grow and another leader would appear. But Ukrainian politicians know very well that there is no political opponent more dangerous than Yuliya Tymoshenko. On the way to her goal she doesn’t stop before anything, she fights with enviable stubbornness and stands on her feet to the end, even in a hopeless situation.

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From today’s candidates that serve as an alternative to Poroshenko (who still haven’t yet announced their candidacy), nobody except Tymoshenko could gather such a representative assembly in one hall. More precisely, Zelensky could do it, but only at a concert, not at a party congress.

Filaret, who was just gifted Tomos, and who again proclaimed himself “patriarch”, came to see Tymoshenko. Valentin Nalyvaichenko, who already announced his candidacy for president, also came to see Tymoshenko. Both figures are important and symbolical. Both are well versed in the intricacies of Kiev politics and always keep their finger to the wind. Both are orientated towards the US (Nalyvaichenko in general was recruited by the CIA long ago). Both enjoy authority in the circle of radicals. Their appearance at the congress must show those who have doubts that Tymoshenko has the informal support of the US, and that in a critical situation she can obtain her own power resource [the use of physical force – ed] represented by these same radical groups that the electoral campaign of Petro Poroshenko is focused on.

This congress is a well organised psychological attack on Poroshenko’s environment. People who placed a stake on the owner of “Tomos” are being shown that this card has been outplayed, and that all inveterate and informed politicians who always support the winner have sided with Tymoshenko. This is a technically well executed attempt to loosen the unity of Poroshenko’s support group, seed in his environment disbelief in a victory and mistrust towards each other, and to stimulate side-switching and treachery. Ideally, there is an attempt to deprive Petro Poroshenko of resources not only for a victory in elections, which he already lost before they began, but also of the opportunity to falsify the results by leaning on administrative and siloviki resources.

However, the situation for Tymoshenko is not as simple as it may seem at first sight. She can’t win in just one round, her approval rating is obviously insufficient, and it is impossible to rapidly increase it — all somehow considerable groups of voters are already being seduced by other candidates. The problem of the second round will be considerable for Tymoshenko if Poroshenko will not be in it. Her election program is completely focused on fight against Poroshenko, it is very difficult to sharply change theses and make adjustments for the opening of her campaign against a new opponent in truncated time on the fly.

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Meanwhile, any applicant who entered the second round of voting will simply replace in their promotional materials the name of Poroshenko with Tymoshenko and will quite naturally continue their information campaign. Yuliya Tymoshenko and Petro Poroshenko have been in power for a long time, they held key posts, consistently supported a pro-West orientation and two Maidans, so they completely bear responsibility for the country’s problems.

Tymoshenko tries to bring a spoiler into the second round who will hand over the elections to her. But if the spoiler suddenly receives the support of voters and becomes the favourite, then they stop being a convenient whipping boy and start becoming a dangerous rival.

One more problem that Tymoshenko has is that since the moment of the coup of 2014 anti-Maidan forces were squeezed out from politics, and thus Maidan doesn’t need to be consolidated any more. Among Maidan’s representatives there is a rigid internal fight. This means that in the second round consolidation can happen only against Poroshenko, who is hated by all the country. If Poroshenko doesn’t enter the second round, then everyone will play for themselves, and thus Maidan forces will be split up. Moreover, in such a situation it’s possible that there will be a consolidation of voters against Tymoshenko, who is not only the carrier of the highest presidential approval rating, but also of the second highest anti-rating [opposite of approval rating – ed]. It is a paradox, but two recognised favourites in the electoral campaign are at the same time the most hated politicians of Ukraine.

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The third problem for Tymoshenko is that it is impossible to win the current elections cleanly. The counting of votes takes place only with the help of law enforcement resources. But both sides using law enforcement resources can provoke spontaneous clashes between their supporters, which will benefit Poroshenko since he will be able to accuse the opposition of disrupting elections, thus solving the problem of extending his reign and having the opportunity to justify himself in front of the West by accusing the opposition of disrupting elections.

And the fourth and most important problem that any Ukrainian politician who will win elections will face — what’s next? During the course of elections socio-economic expectations and hopes for a sharp improvement in the standard of living will increase. At the same time, a considerable part of the available resources will be absorbed by elections, and it will be necessary to pay groups of influence for support. It is possible to obtain the necessary resources only via the expropriation of political opponents or at the expense of the people. Both ways lead to further destabilisation, which at a certain stage develops either into spontaneous national revolt, which the authorities may not have enough resources to quell, or a rigid clash between elite groups.

So it isn’t enough to become president. There is a need to cling onto power and the country, but there is no space for manoeuvre, and resources – both political and material – have been exhausted. In general, this is that case when it isn’t known what’s worse — defeat or victory.

But Tymoshenko maniacally wants to become president just like Poroshenko did once upon a time, so she will fight for her last chance up to the end – not only her own end, but the country’s end too. This also applies to Poroshenko.

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