Written by Nikolay Nikolayev; Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Valentina Tzoneva exclusively for SouthFront
The Ukrainian president received an offer he cannot refuse
The deep international crisis in Syria, which until the election of Donald Trump threatened the world with a World War diverted attention from all other international conflicts. Today, the picture changes and the new US administration is signaling that it is prepared to cooperate with Russia in the Middle East. The historic turn leads to changes in the dynamics of the frozen conflicts, along the Syrian crisis, where vectors of American and Russian geopolitics clash. Such hot spot is Ukraine, which again falls under the spotlight of international diplomacy. Exacerbation of the tensions in eastern Ukraine and the military clashes between government forces and rebels in recent weeks is explained precisely in this context. With the escalation of the conflict, President Petro Poroshenko makes desperate attempts to stay in power but it seems that his days are numbered.
The economic situation in Kiev deteriorates more and more daily and it’s no secret to anyone in Ukraine. Ukrainians are fully aware that the main reason for the crisis is President Poroshenko and this is reflected in the booming folklore of the jokers. According to a popular joke in the country, Poroshenko explained to the audience that in several years the Ukrainians will live as the people in France and a worried voice from the back row had asked: what will happen to France. While Ukraine has de-industrialized at a rapid pace, and the economy stagnated, the sole task for billionaire-President, as the opposition states, is to enlarge his wealth. When a Ukrainian retired lady sent her meager pension to Poroshenko in protest, the response she received was a request for more money; the joke goes around in Kiev. According to jokers, the president is even ready to recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics if they grant credit to the country. And while the funds from the EU and IMF are running dry, and the prey from the privatization diminishes, it becomes increasingly difficult for Poroshenko to balance between the powerful oligarchic groups, most of which have their own private armies. The president used to get out of such stalemate situations by removing competitors from the game but today this door is already closed.
Oligarchs Strike Back
After the noisy strikes against Igor Kolomoisky and Alexander Onishtenko, the two Ukrainian tycoons are preparing for revenge. Late last year, former MP Onishtenko, who was forced to leave the country in the summer after a corruption case, accused Petro Poroshenko, who holds power in Ukraine by directing western financial aid for military purposes and bribery, while gaining wealth with a close circle of loyal oligarchs. According to the influential rich Ukrainian, the president and his accomplices have stakes in all major enterprises in the country and it is impossible for someone who is outside this circle to make money in Ukraine. Onishtenko announced that he has submitted documents confirming the corruption of Poroshenko to the US. Dnepropetrovsk oligarch, Igor Kolomoisky is also included in the criticism. Kolomoisky is the mortal enemy of the president after he was removed from the post of governor and lost control of “Ukrtransnafta” and the first private bank “Privatbank”.
The greatest danger to the future of Poroshenko’s post, however, comes not from the ousted oligarchs. The facts show that Ukrainian billionaires are regrouping and will attempt to overthrow the head of Kiev. The Ukrainian mass media openly speaks that Poroshenko is in conflict with Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov who is ranked in the list of the hundred richest Ukrainians. According to various sources, in mid-December Avakov visited Canada and met with representatives of the US, who had discussed the possibility of overthrowing Poroshenko. The influential businessman from Zakarpattia region, Viktor Balogh, billionaire Victor Pinchuk, who is the son-in-law of former President, Leonid Kuchma and the oligarchs Dmitry Firtash, Rinat Akhmetov and Vadim Novinski are among the initiators called by the media in Kiev “pact for removing Poroshenko.” The signal for this was given at the beginning of the year when twenty MPs of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), led by former member of the parliamentary group “Block Petro Poroshenko”, Viktor Chumak, called for the adoption of the law “On special temporary Investigation Commission on removing the President in the order of impeachment.” Close to the ruling circles in Kiev explained that these oligarchs stand behind the initiative.
Yulia Tymoshenko’s party “Batkovshtina” supported the law and even issued an ultimatum to Poroshenko in connection with the bill for the resignation of Prime Minister Groysman. Analysts say that Tymoshenko has emerged as the most serious contender for the chair of the Ukrainian president. In addition to the support of most of the opponents of Petro Poroshenko, the contender counts on support from Republicans in the US. In late January, Tymoshenko traveled to Washington to participate in the traditional National Prayer Breakfast and became the first Ukrainian leader who met with President-elect, Donald Trump. According to the spokesman of the self-proclaimed Parliament of Novorossiya, Oleg Tsaryov, there is an ongoing active negotiation between Yulia Tymoshenko and the Republicans in the US in connection with the removal of Poroshenko.
With these moves the regrouped Ukrainian oligarchs made a proposal to Poroshenko, which he could not refuse – to go for good. “While Yanukovych fled to Russia, he has nowhere to escape to. America will not accept him.” oligarch Alexander Onishtenko warned. It seems, however, that the President of Ukraine and the group around him will not “take advantage” of the proposal. Poroshenko refused to accept the law on special temporary investigative commission, which would enable the start of procedure against him. In practice, this means that the President of Ukraine precludes the legitimate removal from office without elections. “If Poroshenko refuses to establish a special investigative committee on impeachment, the oligarchs will find alternative – perhaps a new Maidan,” Russian analyst, Alexander Artishtenko said. The prerequisites for it are present: destroyed small businesses, hyperinflation, sharply deteriorating living standards and rampant corruption, but as the experts comment, such a risky move is impossible without permission from Washington.
The efforts of the Ukrainian president are geared towards winning the blessing of Trump. The only move that Poroshenko could use to secure US support is a crisis in relations with Russia. That explains the escalation of conflict in the Donbass. For Poroshenko, the implementation of the political part of the Minsk agreements to end the conflict (amnesty for participants, decentralization of the country and the special status of rebellious areas- author’s note) means political death. Generally, the war serves as an excuse for the head of Kiev regarding the criticism by the opposition for failure in economic and social policy. A new Maidan will never attract public support while Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers are dying in Donbas. The chronology of the events supports the thesis. The increased domestic pressure against Poroshenko since the beginning of the year and the questionable support of Trump is combined with another important event. On January 28, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation in which for the first time in a long time, at the highest intergovernmental level, the crisis in Ukraine was discussed. The signal was decoded by Kiev and the next day armed clashes began in the region of Donetsk and Lugansk. “When it became clear that security can be ensured if the agreement is in place, Petro Poroshenko realized that now he will be required to implement political reforms, an amnesty law, a law on the special status of Donbass, the introduction of this status in the Constitution and elections- all of this coordinated with Donetsk and Lugansk. Once he realized this, he apparently realized that his days are numbered, if such a proposal is tabled in the Verkhovna Rada. Perhaps then it came into his head that it is not bad to shut his eyes to what volunteer battalions are doing, and perhaps he even suggested they should start shooting.” Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov said bluntly, casting entirely the blame for the resumption of hostilities on Poroshenko.
The escalation of the conflict in the Donbass seems like a risky move of a political leader desperate about his future. The deteriorating economic indicators of Ukraine, the fatigue of European and American leaders of Ukrainian kleptocracy and their willingness to cooperate with Russia is bad news for the new authorities in Kiev after the “euromaidan” from 2014. In the coming months it will become increasingly difficult for Petro Poroshenko to explain failures in domestic and foreign policy with the “Russian intervention” or the “hybrid war”. As they joke in Moscow, Poroshenko will no longer threaten to increase the bills of the Ukrainians, if Russia does not fulfill the Minsk agreement.