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16 December, 2015  ▪  Roman Malko

Push and Shove

The Cabinet is bound to be shuffled. The bargaining is already underway. The new one is unlikely to be a government of technocrats

On the first anniversary of his Cabinet, when Premier Yatseniuk was about to deliver the yearly performance report, he had nothing much to boast. So, the headline-grabbing incident with a fellow MP Stepan Barna may have been a welcome, albeit embarrassing intervention that stole some public attention from the Cabinet’s accomplishments.

President Poroshenko's achievements have not been much greater than Yatseniuk's. If one day he had to stand in front of not the few carefully selected journalists, but of his actual opponents to report on what he has done for Ukraine, chances are he would welcome some similar situation to divert attention from his own performance.

In the bottom line, all achievements of the authorities after the Maidan can be described as flogging a dead horse. Something has obviously been done, Ukraine has the new police and the army put together haphazardly. But all of this has been done against the odds and out of despair, rather than according to a strategy. Obviously, some things will have an effect later and the next generation of reformers will build more transformations on those. However, the main thing that Ukraine badly needs has not been achieved. The system has not changed.

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When anyone talks about the lack of political will in that regard, this is not something abstract. Each will has its name, and today this will is called Petro Poroshenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk. They are the ones who have the power today and who bear the full responsibility for the situation in the country. They select their teams, they make decisions, and they could have started dismantling the system, if they wanted to. Of course, the system is too complex and too rigid. However, there are some obvious things, changing which could deal a fatal blow to it. Yet, with all due respect to the reformers, the payment of wages in envelopes at the Presidential Administration that its employees report on the condition of anonymity is not quite consistent with the aspirations to fight corruption. Similar practices naturally exist in the Cabinet. Some ministers also tell in private about some mysterious sponsors helping them to stay afloat. Such things are at least incompatible with reforms, and so is the existence of the old corruption schemes, the distribution of posts, the redistribution of the spheres of influence, etc. Officials can talk for hours about how difficult it is to change something during the war and to assure us that we are slowly but steadily moving to victory, that we will recover Crimea and the Donbas peacefully. But there are some obvious things that bring this all to nought, such as, for instance, the inaction of the President with respect to the reappointment of the Central Election Committee, or his unwillingness to bring order to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

It was not by chance that America’s Vice-President Joe Biden told Ukrainian bureaucrats to stay put when he visited. The Obama administration probably remembers the latest epic battle between Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, and sees the possible outcome of the current standoff between President Poroshenko and Premier Yatseniuk, "united in their quest to change the country”. So, even if Americans have not managed to chill the political heat between Ukraine’s President and the Prime Minister completely, they still have some tools to prevent it from exploding for now. What the President, the Prime Minister and the Vice President discussed face-to-face will remain a secret. However, we have heard the main message: "Don't waste your country." Question is, whether it was heard by those to whom it was addressed primarily.

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The Cabinet is bound to be reformatted. The bargaining is already underway. There are no hopes that this time it will be a government of technocrats instead of a coalition government where posts will be distributed to stakeholders. Who will remain in it from the old team will again depend on the results of the bargaining. Obviously, the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who is Yatseniuk’s man, has nothing to fear. He is the only one who can boast of at least some accomplishments (the new police) and the only one on whom Yatseniuk can rely.The other messages were: Minsk Agreements should be strictly followed, the situation should not be destabilized in the hope for early elections, the Prosecutor General’s Office should be sorted out, and all agreed action plans should be implemented. Realizing that they can have no immediate effect on the Ukrainian authorities and that they are running out of time, with the presidential election around the corner, Americans have probably to preserve the status quo and to secure themselves against surprises. The Ukrainian authorities have again received a “deferred sentence”, but this deference has put a heavy burden on them. The presidential team would rather have more space for maneuver than what has been provided by Biden. They dream of getting rid of Yatseniuk, who has not only become the embodiment of everything bad in the voters’ eyes himself, but also casts his shadow upon the President. They would be happy to sack him already today, but it would be difficult to replace him quickly. Candidates may well exist, and agreeing them with all groups of influence in the Parliament would not be unrealistic. However, the process may take long and entail a number of unpleasant surprises. Besides, the Pechersk elites also realize perfectly well that the deference obtained from their foreign trustees gives them no guarantees for the same from their own people.

All this will happen only after the budget is adopted, and that is not going to be easy. Judging from the "professional" work of the reformers' team that keeps "forgetting" about some major expenditure items (for example, the draft budget does not provide funding for the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, although the President recently urged MPs to correct this mistake), its adoption will be accompanied by serious squabbles and scandals. Then, the collapse of the coalition may become a fait accompli before the first attempt of negotiating the distribution of ministerial portfolios takes place.

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Whether we are heading to early elections dreaded by the US and some factions in the Parliament (such as the Premier's People's Front because of its plummeting rating) is an open issue. In theory, snap elections would be in the best interests of many parties (including Batkivshchyna, Samopomich, Liashko's Radical Party, and the Opposition Bloc), but the President is unlikely to take the risk. It would be easier to organize a new broad coalition in the Parliament than play this risky and costly game. Another thing is that the Presidential Administration will definitely try to get rid of Yatseniuk in one way or another, at least to release tension in society and also to redistribute financial flows. Of course, Yatseniuk will not want to become a sacrificial lamb, but there is little he can offer in resistance.

It is hard to predict what will happen next. In a country where the fired cops go out in the streets to protest, people have lots of unaccounted weapons, and where the degree of dissatisfaction is growing with every talk show and every new utility bill, anything could happen. And the authorities still have to amend the Constitution according to Minsk Protocols, decide on the elections in the occupied territories of the Donbas, resolve on the blockade of Crimea and do something with courts and prosecutors. All of this requires, as a minimum, some political will and some common sense. The society's fatigue of lies, manipulations, machinations and false reports that have become the main professional activities of the current authorities might sooner or later play the devil with them, and even good old Biden will not help. Or would not. At least, he has already said that this was a last warning.

 


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