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16 September, 2016  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

The war of all against all

The new regular session of the Verkhovna Rada started on September 6. It looks like actors on Ukraine’s political scene, probably with the exception of Petro Poroshenko's Bloc and Arseniy Yatseniuk’s People's Front, have great expectations and ambitious plans for this fall seasons. Major oligarchs are likely to step up their game. The situation in the presidential team is not at its best either

For over a year, rumors circulated stubbornly about the dissatisfaction with his position of Chief of Staff Borys Lozhkin. Reportedly, President Poroshenko did not give this former media manager, who is used to managing a huge holding company and independently making serious decisions, enough room for maneuver. Instead, he used him simply as a liaison officer to communicate with the oligarchs. However, Borys Lozhkin wants real and relevant powers, which he will obviously not get. So, he finally decided to quit. Officially, he will now be dealing with investments in the respective Council under the President, and will remain his adviser. Lozhkin and Poroshenko have a very close business relationship, so he will stay on board of the president's team. In fact, entertaining political ambitions is too early for him, even if he has some. Instead, the appointment of Ihor Raynin, businessman, politician and formerly Deputy Head of Kharkiv Oblast Administration, indicates that Poroshenko is not going to change his style, and will keep only those administrators who will not question his authority and decisions.

People's Front, in turn, will only try to sit tight and not to recede from the positions of the Minister of Internal Affairs in the person of Arsen Avakov and the Justice Minister in the person of Pavlo Petrenko. Also, the party bigwigs will think hard about what to do next. The current rating of this political force, which only two years ago won the election with a landslide victory, gives them hope to enter the Parliament with just a couple dozen MPs as a maximum. This is way too little. Therefore, PF starts thinking about new political projects in the right-wing field. Vilni Lyudy ("Free People") led by MPs Andriy Levus and Serhiy Vysotsky come in handy here. It is also important to keep in mind Azov headed by Andriy Biletsky, who has repeatedly declared his political ambitions and whose curator is reportedly Arsen Avakov himself. The split of PF should not be expected yet, but some assumptions are already safe to be made.

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Yet, the main purpose of the ruling coalition will be to keep calm in the Parliament for as long as possible. Both the Presidential Administration and Yatsenyuk's team very clearly understand that they will hardly be once again as lucky as they were in spring, when the turmoil around the resignation and appointment of the Cabinet and Prime Minister helped them avoid early elections. Those wishing to rock the situation to achieve early parliamentary elections are plenty.

The very first and most obvious beneficiaries of a parliamentary crisis would be the populist front represented by Batkivshchyna and Oleh Lyashko's Radical Party. These political forces are persistently looking for issues that could stir up discontent in the Ukrainian society already perturbed by the war and economic hardships. Such issue will obviously be the utility tariffs.

In fact, the "populist alliance" already rehearsed protest rallies in spring and summer. But while at that time they only managed to bring to the streets the party activists and rally laborers for a pretty penny, in the fall, when Ukrainians receive new higher utility bills, the number of those not willing to pay and ready to protest is likely to rise significantly.

There is no doubt that the show under the slogan of "fighting for the nation's happiness" will also continue in Parliament. The same old bunch of Lyashko's and Tymoshenko's professional "fighters" will stage another attack in Parliament against the tariffs, appear on TV channels owned by their oligarch sponsors with rueful speeches, and demand the overthrow of the "chocolate factory."

The situation will be further exacerbated by the ex-members of the Party of Regions, using their still powerful media channels, such as Inter owned by Dmytro Firtash and Serhiy Lyovochkin, Rinat Akhmetov's Ukraina and Yevhen Murayev's NewsOne. Taking into account that Serhiy Lyovochkin, ex-Chief of Staff for Yanukovych and one of the top players of the Opposition Bloc, still has a significant number of his people in all parties and factions, there is no doubt that they have good chances of success. Add to that other parallel columns, such as the new party Zhyttya owned by Murayev and Rabynovych, Nash Krai, Vidrodzhennya, and Uspishna Kraina owned by ex-Tax Minister under Yanukovych Oleksandr Klymenko, a new party based on Yanukovych’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara's Socialists, Vasyl Volha's Left Union, etc.

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Two more liberal projects that appeared this summer on the political map of Ukraine should also be taken into account. These are the former Democratic Alliance led by MPs and formerly investigative journalists MPs  Serhiy Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayem and Svitlana Zalishchuk, and Mikheil Saakashvili's future party known as "Khvylya”, the Wave. They are already organizing protests against the Prosecutor General's Office during its conflict with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and defiantly calling not to give Ukraine the visa-free regime and the IMF tranche through stalled reforms. As the fall comes, they will make things hum using their media visibility and are likely to join the camp of those who want early parliamentary elections.

Their main competitor will be Samopomich formally led by Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, which has suffered a major blow in the Hrybovychy garbage dump fire scandal, but nevertheless still has its 7–8% support, and which shares its electoral base of urban intellectuals, and the claim for the "third force" title with the newly minted liberals. The situation requires Sadovyi and Co. to pick up momentum, since their image losses suffered in the last six months threaten the party's future.

But perhaps the most worrying factor for Bankova is the signs of discontent among the oligarchs, with whom Poroshenko allegedly has so far been able to find common ground. This is primarily Mr. Kolomoisky. Rumor has it that Ihor Kolomoisky is planning to go on the offensive as soon as the fall comes to recover his position in the oil and gas sector. Besides, we should not forget about UKROP party, the political arm of Kolomoisky who is known for diversifying his political assets. Therefore, he might venture to create additional political "satellites."

This autumn season is promising to be no less fun than the last fall or this spring. Any alliances and coalitions are possible in an attempt to stir the pot, which is rather dangerous in the current situation of the delicate balance that Ukraine is trying to keep. 

Translated by Anastasia Asianova

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