Rostislav Ishchenko: To Kill or to Save Poroshenko?

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Two-seasonal exacerbation – spring and autumn – are traditional for Ukrainian politicians. The spring one is short. It begins usually in April-May and already by July (the beginning of the parliamentary recess) it subsides. The autumnal one is long. It starts immediately with the beginning of the new political season (in the second half of September — early October), and can last all the winter — until March or even April.

All successful Ukrainian coups started in the autumn and won either by the new year or by the end of February. If an event lasts longer, then in March-May the government usually manages to reverse the situation in their favor, because all of the sponsors of the mutiny from among Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs started to prepare themselves for the summer holidays and sharply reduced their activity, and afterwards the mutiny fizzles out.

This year, the opponents of Poroshenko landed the first blow during the spring exacerbation. This was started the blockade of Donbass, started by Semenchenko & Co using the money of Kolomoisky.

The blow was done beautifully and intelligently. Objectively the blockade inflicted a lethal blow to the balance of the economy and finance of the country (it literally disconnected it from the ventilator). In addition, it seriously beat the financial interests of the Poroshenko-Akhmetov duo. These two factors were supposed to make power absolutely implacable against the blockaders. According to the idea, Poroshenko had to give the order for a forceful dispersal, during which blood would’ve been shed. This, in turn, would allow the mutineers to appeal to their “brothers-in-arms” from the volunteer battalions (which, by this time, were already integrated into the army and National Guard), as well as to a wide stratum of marginal but ambitious and armed “heroes of the ATO”. Then, Poroshenko had to leave under the threat of being blamed for unleashing a civil war against the “ideals of Maidan”.The main power resource of the country under the control of Avakov then acted in the same way that it is doing now. The National Guard and police had to pretend that they were dispersing the activists and that they still could not do it, hinting at the need to use the army in order to introduce a split in the army and finally discredit Poroshenko.

Then the President was able to wriggle out at the last moment. The blockade of Donbass had already gained momentum, the helplessness of the authorities was obvious. The activists transferred their actions to Kiev, formally opposing the branches of Russian banks, but also attacking the office of Akhmetov, and preparing themselves to blockade the administrative buildings. At this critical moment Poroshenko legalized and led the blockade, having knocked an ideological weapon out of the hands of opponents. He was forced to accept losses to the State budget, but Poroshenko compensated with interest for personal losses through new grey schemes (including “Pennsylvania coal”). And then the end of the political season arrived.

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This first blow, although it didn’t lead to an immediate victory of the oligarchic opposition over Poroshenko, but gave them invaluable experience. Firstly, it became obvious that the authorities don’t have a sufficient power resource even for successful local actions. Secondly, the position of the West was defined — complete non-interference in the internal conflict. No matter who wins in Kiev, they will still be a puppet of the West, that’s why the right to find out who of them is more important was delegated to the puppets themselves. Thirdly, it became clear that Poroshenko can’t rely on the support of not only the security forces, but also the regional elites, and that the central government authorities are ready to wait and support the winner.

The second blow, announced by Saakashvili back in August and implemented on the 10th September, was better prepared and much more dangerous for Poroshenko. In contrast to the situation with Semenchenko, where the beneficiaries of the attack on Poroshenko chose to remain in the shadows, this time a significant part of the political elite openly opposed the President. The character of the conflict also changed. In the spring, it was formally about different views on the issue of “trade with the aggressor”, i.e., about a fight over a purely political issue. That’s why when Poroshenko accepted the demands of the “activists”, there were no more formal claims against him, and it was impossible to justify the continuation of the conflict.

Now we are talking about a personal conflict along the lines of Saakashvili-Poroshenko, but also about the fact that the President is accused of abusing power and violating the law in the process of depriving Saakashvili of citizenship. In this situation, the court’s defeat, which Saakashvili insists on, will create the grounds for the impeachment of Poroshenko as a violator of the constitutional provisions. I.e., he a priori can’t agree to the demands of his opponents, as he could in the spring.

Thus, the situation with the security forces became even worse than it was in the spring. At the time, the State Border Service, the Interior Ministry, and the SBU collectively weren’t able to prevent the breakthrough across the border of only one person, who does not have in Ukraine a serious economic base, military support, the support of voters, nor the support of a serious political force. There was a clear sabotage by the security forces of the order given to them by the President.

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Moreover, the fact that is long-known but carefully concealed by the Ukrainian authorities manifested itself. The authorities virtually have no levers of influence over the local elite. The mayor of Lvov supported Saakashvili, and the city was no longer under Kiev’s control. Then a tour of other regional centres of Western Ukraine began. And nowhere were the Kiev authorities able to oppose the decision of local elites to provide support for the Georgian deprived of citizenship. Now a tour across Ukraine was announced, with the finish line on September 19th in Kiev. The success of this event will show that Poroshenko has little control outside of his administration, which encourages the departure of his remaining supporters.

I would also pay attention to the date of September 19th. This is the day of the beginning of events of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York with the participation of heads of State, which Poroshenko will participate in and which is supposed to last until 25th September. The opposition may take advantage of the long absence of the President and to victorious enter Kiev. Ideally, power should fall into the hands of the oligarchic opposition like a ripe apple. Poroshenko will be unable to lead the resistance from New York, and his departure will be perceived by bureaucracy as an escape.

The attempt to quell the resistance by force may lead to an internal escalation and new unrest, while responsibility for the bloodshed will be put on Poroshenko not only by the opposition but also by the West. Attempts to leave after previously giving the order to use the army to quell unrest are unlikely to invoke understanding among the Generals, who will rightly decide that they are being set up.

Poroshenko clearly expected to receive support from the West or to imitate this at the General Assembly. However, today it is clear that even if the West gives him some certain promises through unofficial channels, it is solely with the aim to lure him out of Kiev in order to clean up the field for mutineers.

Perhaps the last chance for Poroshenko is to come to an agreement with Avakov. The Minister of Internal Affairs, like others, plays his own game. The benefit of his position is that he can play both with Poroshenko and with the opposition. It is even better for him when they balance each other. Today, he implicitly flirts with the opposition, but doesn’t completely cut off his path to Poroshenko. If the latter can convince Avakov that he can give him more than the opposition can, then the Minister of Internal Affairs can quell the mutiny in a matter of hours. Especially as his certainty will become a signal also for other politicians and, more importantly, for bureaucracy and the security forces.

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Avakov has complex and ambitious relations with Saakashvili, Tymoshenko, and Kolomoisky, but also with Poroshenko too. For him, like for the West, it’s all the same who will win. The most important thing is to preserve and strengthen his position, the guarantee of which is control over the Interior Ministry. The police and the National Guard is the most powerful power resource in the country.

Will Avakov help Poroshenko? It is unlikely. In the fight against the opposition he will be obliged to go to street clashes (albeit moderate ones). But it is possible to remove Poroshenko peacefully. At least, everyone seeks this, and the West, as was already said, insists on solving the conflict in any way, but without clashes. But, in the end, it will be decided by the level of promises and guarantees of their implementation, which the parties to the conflict will propose to the Minister. Finally, in the absence of a firm external, political, and ideological motivation, everything is decided by basic greed. I.e., the fate of power in Ukraine should be solved by the ratio “price/quality”. In this segment, the opposition also has more opportunities than Poroshenko does. It simply remains to intelligently use them.

Whatever the option chosen for the solving of the current crisis (while in 90% of them Poroshenko will be removed from power), the integrity of the Ukrainian State already suffered more irreparable damage. Just like how in the fight against Yanukovych the opposition at the time released bandits and marginals onto the streets, armed them, but instantly lost control of them, the current opposition in the fight against Poroshenko showed the full de facto independence of regions from Kiev in domestic politics. This already can’t be cancelled or hidden. Farther, fragmentation will accelerate, and this is the main achieved result of the current crisis. And who will emerge victorious in the “fight of the Nanai boys in Kiev, by and large, isn’t important.

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