Rostislav Ishchenko: Poroshenko Goes All In

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


For the whole week I couldn’t understand why Poroshenko and his lapdog Prosecutor-General started smothering Savchenko, accusing her of preparing a coup. And suddenly the approval ratings of parties and leaders of Ukraine appeared. Then everything became clear…

Firstly, the story with Ruban was already inflated (there is “proof”, albeit not much). Secondly, pursing Ruban opened the path to Medvedchuk-Tymoshenko much more reliably the pursuit of Savchenko did. He, at least, was once in the “Ukrainian Choice” party (or cooperated with it). But Savchenko was simply paraded around parliament according to the party list of Tymoshenko’s “Fatherland”, and when it became clear that the traits of her personality as a “Hero of Ukraine” don’t allow to use her effectively, then she was quickly expelled from the faction.

Thirdly, Savchenko indeed periodically said different scurrilous things about Poroshenko, but who in Ukraine doesn’t say such things? Even high-ranking western politicians already blame and shame Poroshenko, using bad words. Savchenko didn’t have neither authority nor support in both Ukraine and beyond its borders. At the peak of her popularity she could gather about 100 people for a meeting, half of who extolled her, and the second half spat at her. The media forgot about her long ago. Endless repetitions of the same phrases became simply bothersome.

Fourthly, the assault on Savchenko gave her a chance, on the wave of hatred towards Poroshenko, to claim the position of a formal street leader – a position that was taken away from Saakashvili. Fifthly, as one would expect, Savchenko immediately stated that Poroshenko’s administration ordered her murder. Now anyone could kill her, and responsibility all the same will belong to Poroshenko. If the authorities could pin Savchenko’s murder – immediately after her arrival to Ukraine – on Putin (that, allegedly, he pardoned her, but he caught up with her), then after the Ukrainian authorities accused Savchenko of being a “FSB agent”, it is Poroshenko who the Ukrainian public will blame for any excesses vis-a-vis Savchenko. Even if it is managed to jail her, it will not only reduce the risk, but it will increase it. She will draw people’s attention as a victim of the hated regime, and any illness or trauma will be considered as an assassination attempt organised by Poroshenko.

I asked myself a question: why does Poroshenko himself destabilise the situation if he needs to just quietly sit and wait until elections, extinguishing any of the opposition’s attempts to opt for an overt standoff? The answer is: in order to try to correctly calculate votes using the administrative resource. It was clear that people won’t vote for him, but, with the opportunity to officially announce the needed result, this shouldn’t have worried Poroshenko.

And here the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) published the results of sociological research concerning the preferences of the population should parliamentary and presidential elections be held. In this research we are interested in the results of Poroshenko himself and the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko” (BPP) representing him in parliament.


BPP, with a result of 6.6%, found itself in sixth place, on the verge passing the Rada’s threshold (5%), in the same risk group withSamopomich (6%) and Svoboda (5.8%). This is if we take into account the votes of those who definitively decided to come to elections, because the general approval rating is even worse. Among all the citizens who have the right to vote, only 2.7% are ready to support BPP. But as the pre-election campaign hasn’t yet begun, since more than a year remains until the next parliamentary elections, parliamentary support for the president still has time to fall.

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The situation with the presidential approval rating of Poroshenko is even worse. As of now (the last survey was conducted in December, 2017), conceding first place to Tymoshenko, Poroshenko nevertheless kept a firm grip on second, and the gap wasn’t so great that it couldn’t be liquidated via falsifications. In February, 2018, Poroshenko immediately fell to fourth place, lagging behind Tymoshenko 2.5-fold (9.8% vs 24.6%). Moreover, he was overtaken by such marginal politicians as Lyashko (15.5%) and Gritsenko (12.5%). Moreover, Boiko (9.7%) and even Rabinovich (9.5%) are breathing down Poroshenko’s neck. The gap with Boiko and Rabinovich is close to a statistical error, so in reality Poroshenko can find himself in not even fourth, but sixth place in terms of approval ratings.

This data don’t give Poroshenko any chance in elections. Such gaps can’t be liquidated by any efforts, at least because, possessing knowledge of this data, the administrative resource starts to work against Poroshenko or sabotage his instructions.

It turns out that neither snap, nor early, nor parliamentary, nor presidential elections suit Poroshenko. He for certain would lose them now and, with even bigger probability, will lose them in the spring of 2019. The reason to play for time disappears. Now a coup isn’t needed by Poroshenko’s opponents (they, in principle, can even wait it out, although there is no strong desire to do so) as much as he himself needs one. He can hold onto power only by using force.

And here Ruban’s arrest doesn’t benefit him at all. Even if it is succeeded to force him to give the needed testimony and start inflating the Medvedchuk-Tymoshenko union, time and sensible legal accompaniment will be required. They are not the kind of people who can be easily jailed just because someone was forced to testify against them.

Moreover, having felt the danger in connection with Ruban’s case, the team opposing Poroshenko that is grouped around Tymoshenko and Kolomoisky already undertook reciprocal steps. On March 18th the half-forgotten fugitive oligarch Onishchenko appeared on the screens of the channel “1+1” belonging to Igor Kolomoisky, and live on air played two-three meaningless phrases recorded on a dictaphone and pronounced with a voice similar to Poroshenko’s. The interviewing journalist stated that off-screen she had the opportunity to listen to the tapes in more detail, that the information that is recorded on them has public value, and that it is about financial frauds and economic crimes committed at the request of Poroshenko. Poroshenko was shown that Yulia Tymoshenko and her team don’t plan to act like the obedient meek victims, and that they can bite in such a way that it won’t seem like a scratch.

It is clear that in the conditions of a public exchange of compromising evidence, Poroshenko’s approval rating will fall further. Moreover, Tymoshenko will receive support from the rest of the oligarchy, which perfectly understands that if Poroshenko is given the chance to finish off one political opponent, then afterwards the prosecutor’s office of Lutsenko will deal with the others.

The only chance of oppressing Tymoshenko will appear for Poroshenko if he manages to not only link her to preparing the forceful overthrow of Poroshenko’s government, but also to show that she is in a union with nazi radicals.

Today practically everyone in Ukraine dreams of removing Poroshenko from power, and oligarchs in this case are not an exception (maybe with the exception of Akhmetov). But they are also reasonably afraid that nazi bandits will replace the thief [Poroshenko – ed]. The people are afraid of real war and the oligarchs are afraid of the remains of their property being expropriated in favor of the radicals. That’s why if Poroshenko uses force not just against Tymoshenko but against the Tymoshenko-Nazi danger, then he has the chance of receiving if not the support, then at least the neutrality of some of society. The chance of this happening is less than he thinks (I will speak about this later), but the chance exists all the same.

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Savchenko is the ideal candidate for the embodiment of this link between Tymoshenko and the oligarchs. She served in voluntary battalions (she switched to them from the Armed Forces). Her statements were always rather radical, and she didn’t get on with systemic political forces. If she doesn’t manage to collect some 100-200 heroes of the ATO – who people in Ukraine long ago stopped distinguishing from systemic nazis – who will support her, then the authorities can organise this themselves. In reality, Savchenko doesn’t enjoy authority in this circle, that’s why Poroshenko’s side isn’t afraid of her being able to serve as a real point of assembly for the power component of the opposition. In addition, Savchenko hates Tymoshenko no less than Poroshenko does (in general it is hard to say whether she behaves normally towards anyone). For propaganda she is simultaneously a deputy who came to parliament at the head of Tymoshenko’s “Fatherland” party list, a friend of nazis, a FSB agent, and whatever else. I.e., she can be used as a scarecrow to influence the most different layers and social groups of the population of Ukraine.

Of course, this is an extremely adventurous and risky operation. Trying to “reveal” a fake conspiracy can provoke a real one — Savchenko was right when she said that 90% of the population dream of shooting all representatives of this government. Besides this, the part of the oligarchy that Poroshenko expects to neutralise or pull onto his side (together with their financial, media, and power capabilities) can quite decide that the forceful overthrow of Poroshenko threatens them with smaller dangers than his victory over “conspirators”.

Poroshenko hopes to frighten the oligarchy and systemic politicians with the threat of the extreme right-wing coming to power, the alternative to which is the disintegration of the country. But why should the disintegration of the country frighten them? Over the last half a year there has been active talk in politically engaged Ukrainian expert circles about the inevitability of the disintegration of Ukraine. And Ukrainian experts (neither Maidan nor anti-Maidan ones) never say aloud what oligarchs wouldn’t want to hear. Therefore, the oligarch is already morally ready for the disintegration of Ukraine and has to foresee the bonuses that can be squeezed out from this. Let’s now foresee them.

Today’s central power, in the conditions of a chronic deficiency of resources, is doomed to making attempts to dispossess oligarchical clans (at least even in their own interests, because the interests of the country long haven’t bothered anybody). I.e., it’s all the same to them whether it is Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, or someone else who will sit on Bankova Street – pressure on the oligarchy won’t be weakened. Thus, the central power isn’t capable of protecting the interests of Ukrainian oligarchs in the international arena, stabilising the situation in the country, giving them support at the expense of the State budget, nor obtaining loans. It makes no sense – on the contrary, it is dangerous. The only reason why the oligarchy has reconciled with this is because they fear losing political power should the territories of Ukraine become a part of neighboring states.

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But, over the last four years the Ukrainian oligarchs were already able convince themselves that none of their neighbors are especially eager to charge themselves with being responsible for the destiny of the territories plundered by them and a population that has been brought to poverty and despair. That’s why after reliably securing a) their lands (as separate regions or their conglomerates), having left for the formal central authorities only external representation and the management of some depressive – even by Ukrainian standards – measures, and b) regions absolutely unpromising in respect of robbery, it is possible to settle down relatively well – once again, according to Ukrainian standards.

The weak post-Poroshenko authorities will provide the international legitimacy of the allegedly preserved Ukrainian State, and the hands of the de facto sovereign owners of certain regions being freer will allow them, without waiting for Kiev’s permission, to organise economic interaction with foreign partners most favourable to them. Including Russia.

Of course, to organise such a confederation of oligarchical baronies is rather difficult, and in principle it is impossible in the conditions of Ukraine without civil war spreading to the territories that weren’t yet affected by it. But much like Poroshenko, who has nowhere to retreat because of the total collapse of his approval rating, the oligarchy doesn’t have much choice: either wait their turn to be sacrificed, or to try to separate from Kiev and to survive within the framework of separate feudal possession.

As is known, any plan is never completely realised in the form that it was conceived in. Moreover, the intellectual level of Ukrainian politicians and expert community in principle doesn’t allow the development of harmonious strategic plans – calculated over months, or even years – for consistent implementation. The only thing that the Kiev elite is able to do is a chain of tactical steps dictated by momentary interests, dangers, and needs. That’s why it is difficult to expect thought-over and coordinated actions from even those public groups that, allegedly, are interested in it.

Nevertheless, available sociological data (independent, by the way, of their absolute correctness) dictates to opposing political groups both the character and vector of their actions. Moreover, those who will act more dynamically (the opponent simply won’t be able to react) will have a higher chance of victory. The most important thing is that the Ukrainian State moves towards definitive collapse regardless of what option is chosen. Just that the speed of this movement depends on the certain actions of certain politicians, as well as how much blood this collapse of statehood will be accompanied by and in what specific form it will take place.

We have seen in recent months how quickly the degree of confrontation among the Ukrainian elite grows. At some point someone’s nerves won’t be able to cope, and the fight will move to an open phase, after which almost immediately (and in some options – along with it) the violent phase will come.

Poroshenko took the penultimate step towards absolute destabilisation when his law enforcement bodies started “revealing conspiracies”. An informal answer already followed. It it thus clear that his opponents won’t surrender without a fight. Further, only one thing is needed: to make the last step and to start “quelling the conspiracy” and “punishing the conspirators”. As soon as this will be done, the last ghostly chance
to preserve the current format of statehood will disappear.

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