As the Ukrainian presidential election, scheduled to take place on March 31, draws ever closer, Western politicians are going out of their way to protect it from “Russian meddling.” This protection, which became a sort of peculiar Anglo-Saxon sport in the United States and the UK, will figure highly on the agenda of the meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers on February 18, slated for a discussion of the coming Ukrainian election. A naïve reader of the Western press might wonder why the president of the “newly Westernized” Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has an approval rating of just 14%, trailing the comedian Vladimir Zelensky with his 21.9% and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with her 19%. Obviously, some “meddling” must have taken place…
A COUNTRY THAT’S A THREAT TO ITSELF
Upon a closer look, however, the Ukrainian election appears to be more in need of protection from its own forms of Ukrainian extremism and what to the untrained eye might appear to be idiocies, rather than from any meddling from the Russian side. Suffice it to present a brief list of the recent suggestions and real policy moves (some of them coming from the very top echelon of government) which were made in the heat of electoral hysteria. Not surprisingly, most of these suggestions and moves are tied to Russia.
Presidential candidate Vitaly Kupryi simply suggested that Ukraine should officially declare war on Russia, obliging president Petro Poroshenko to announce an immediate mobilization and to use a special law to start moving troops against the “aggressor.” Since Kupryi is a deputy in the Supreme Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), his draft bill, which enjoys the support of a group of equally belligerent deputies, has been officially registered and waits to be reviewed by parliamentarians. Until now, the Supreme Rada has demurred from traveling along this somewhat suicidal path, preferring other, longer, more oblique routes toward a catastrophe. Last week, the Rada made Ukraine’s road towards NATO and the EU legally binding through another special law, altering Ukraine’s constitution, where the neutral, non-bloc status of the country had been enshrined since the 1990s. The parliamentarians also continued working on a draft bill, which makes “denial of Russian aggression against Ukraine” (that is, stating the truth that the war in the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine is a civil conflict) a criminal offence, punishable by several years in jail. The leading candidate, acting President Petro Poroshenko, has not allowed his parliament to outpace him in belligerent idiocies. He declared the visits by Russian citizens of the Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula to be “heinous crimes — breaches of the Ukrainian border,” which should all be punished by several years in Ukrainian jail. (6.8 million Russian tourists visited Crimea in 2018 alone, so theoretically Poroshenko could land Ukraine into the Guinness Book of World Records as the country with the highest potential prison population).
FAKE CHOICE: “EITHER PUTIN OR POROSHENKO”
As for “Russian meddling” in the elections, some of the candidates, including Poroshenko, are manufacturing this “meddling” themselves, by continuously campaigning not for Ukraine, but rather against Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. For example, Poroshenko’s campaign ad, which was unveiled on the day his candidacy officially launched on January 29, showed a Photoshopped image of the acting Ukrainian president confronting his Russian colleague, with the caption: “Either Poroshenko or Putin.”
The reason why Poroshenko continuously tries to redirect the attention of voters away from the country’s real problems and toward Russia’s ostensible “invasion” is obvious. “Ukraine’s catastrophic economic situation does not leave Poroshenko any room for self-promotion. Economically, this candy billionaire, who became rich working in all the governments, from Kuchma’s to Yanukovich’s, turned up to be rather helpless,” says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, the head of the Kiev-based Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies.
In the last quarter of the year 2018, the average income of a Ukrainian household was 9,400 hryvnas (about $350). This prompted the IMF to declare Ukraine the poorest country in Europe: Ukraine has even bested Moldova for this dubious honor, a nation that was previously at the top of the poverty rankings with an average salary of $375. Oleg Lyashko, a flamboyant nationalist candidate from Ukraine’s Radical party, accused Poroshenko of “taking us to Europe via Africa.”
A SAD END FOR THE FOREIGN “SAVIORS”
No wonder Poroshenko stopped talking about fighting corruption and introducing Western standards of state management, the two pillars of his plans for Ukraine at the beginning of his presidency in 2014. The “parachuting” of foreign specialists into the government (the Georgians Mikheil Saakashvili and Alexander Kvitashvili, the Lithuanian national Aivaras Abromavicius, as well as an American citizen, Natalie Jaresko) ended in dishonorable resignations, coupled with scandals and mutual accusations. When he quit, former Minister of Economy and Trade Abromavicius and former Governor of Odessa Saakashvili accused Poroshenko’s entourage of far-reaching corruption, much worse than the practices under the former president, Viktor Yanukovich. It is interesting to note that both Saakashvili and Poroshenko’s first prosecutor general, Vitaly Yarema, initially justified violent protests against the “corrupt” Yanukovich in 2013 and 2014, when 38 policemen were killed by the US-supported “peaceful protesters” from Maidan. But they both now acknowledge that “corruption schemes have become even more intricate and harmful” for society today compared to the Yanukovich era. Not surprisingly, Yarema was fired days after making such statements.
“The rule of oligarchs over the economy and the extortion of bribes from citizens by state officials have not diminished since Yanukovich’s rule,” writes a popular Kiev-based blogger and political expert Viktor Datsyuk. “What is even worse, the greediness of the ruling elite destroyed the ‘oligarchic consensus’ that had existed in Ukraine for years.” In Datsyuk’s opinion, this may lead to a new Hobbesian “war of all against all” in Ukraine.
SUBMISSION TO THE WEST AS THE NEW CONSENSUS
Upon a closer look, again, a certain “oligarchic consensus” still exists in Ukraine, and that consensus is based on the total submission of the local oligarchs to the “overseers” of Ukraine, who operate from Washington and Brussels.
At the peak of the presidential campaign, Ukraine simply exploded with anger when Poroshenko refused to obey a ruling from Kiev’s administrative court. The court removed Ulyana Suprun from her office — an American of Ukrainian descent, the last of the “foreign specialists” still operating in the Ukrainian government with an American passport. Legally, the ruling of the court was correct: Suprun has been “performing the duties” of the country’s health minister without being officially appointed in due course and in violation of a law that prohibits non-citizens of Ukraine from occupying government positions.
“I gave her citizenship through my own decree,” Poroshenko said, brushing off questions about Suprun NOT relinquishing her American citizenship, as required by the Ukrainian law.
The last time the Western elite was so up in arms to protect a “foreign specialist” inside the Ukrainian elite was in 2017, when Poroshenko suddenly canceled his own decree granting Ukrainian citizenship to Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president. At the time, Saakashvili was in Western Europe, but somehow he made his way back to Ukraine through a border checkpoint inside a crowd of supporters in September 2017, and was met “by chance” on the Ukrainian side of the border by the heads of influential Rada factions Yulia Tymoshenko (the “Fatherland” party) and Andrei Sadovoy (from the Samooborona, or “Self-Defense” movement). Somehow, the border checkpoint was also visited at that moment by Valentin Nalivaichenko, the former head of the fearsome Ukrainian Security Service (SBU).
They all embraced Saakashvili with grim faces, not quite in keeping with a miraculous and “spontaneous” breakthrough across the heavily guarded border.
A few months later, when Saakashvili somehow fell out of grace with his Western supervisors and was evicted from Ukraine by Poroshenko’s special forces via a chartered flight to Europe, his “friends” Tymoshenko and Nalivaichenko did not lift a finger in his defense.
THE INEVITABLE INCUMBENT
Obviously, after the US and the EU allowed Poroshenko to eject Saakashvili from Ukraine without punishment, it became clear that they had no other serious alternative to Poroshenko. Most likely, they will “allow” Poroshenko to win, using the hugely negative public image of Tymoshenko (70% of Ukrainians do not want to see her as their president under any circumstances).
As for the people who are suggesting realistic alternatives to the current disastrous course, they are being stigmatized as “Russian agents” or, worse, “Putin’s friends.”
This is not a situation in which no news is good news, though. Poroshenko’s continued hold on power in Ukraine means the continued threat of another war in the Donbass, the persecution of political opponents, and dispossession and the loss of legal status for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. So, Poroshenko should not complain, when, as he himself told journalists, Vladimir Putin refused to take his phone call. “I did not want to help Poroshenko in his electoral campaign,” Putin explained. He had a good reason to say so.