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19 October, 2016  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

Storm clouds ahead for allies

Who is vying for leadership in the Poroshenko Bloc and Yatseniuk's People’s Front

The low poll numbers of the current ruling duumvirate and the rather uncertain political backdrop have provoked a surge of ambition in their members. It is as yet concealed, but no less strong despite that. The Ukrainian Week looks at what the current party allies could transform into and which social forces they can rely on.

If we look at the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB) in terms of the business circles that support it, the first thing that comes to mind is large Ukrainian monopolies, especially in agriculture, light industry, food processing, machine building and property development. There is no doubt that the owners of these businesses, including Yuriy Kosiuk, Oleksiy Vadaturskyi, Roman Matsola and Lev Partskhaladze, among others, will be right behind current President Petro Poroshenko until the bitter end. Mentally he originates from the same surroundings of more or less pro-Ukrainian business that gained its power less through its owners' outstanding managerial abilities than their proximity to government and almost unlimited access to the state budget.

This business will need political "protection" under any circumstances. If the PPB starts to lose its footing, there is no doubt that their ambition and rudimentary desire to survive in their respective industries will be sufficient for a new political project. Or a change in the leadership of one that already exists. There is no doubt that Premier Volodymyr Hroisman has considerable political ambitions that go beyond being his current premiership on a short leash. If such an opportunity arises, he will do everything in his power to become the leader of a party. Either in the form of the PPB or any new party to replace it.

Another politician to look at is Yuriy Lutsenko, who now as Prosecutor General seems to have been given carte blanche to lock up corrupt officials – especially those who are unable to come to an arrangement with him – and who must have drawn the appropriate conclusions from his disastrous spell as Interior Minister under President Viktor Yushchenko. In addition, he has truly become both intellectually and emotionally stronger following his two-years in prison. Needless to say, he dreams of being selected by Poroshenko as a successor. Since Ukraine is nothing like Russia, a direct transfer of power is obviously out of the question. It would rather be the case that President Poroshenko officially endorses Lutsenko’s candidacy. For example, after his own probable second term in office. Or even instead of himself, if the political situation in 2020 is completely unfavourable for him.

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A closer look at the current power structure makes one assume that Yuriy Lutsenko is the only man capable of – if the situation so requires – maybe not competing with, but at least replacing Poroshenko in some way. The bottom line is that he clearly has such plans, although he is careful to refute these ambitions in interviews. As shown by the example of Poroshenko himself, who never spoke about his political plans either, such behaviour is the most effective.  Those who shout about their political dreams rarely fulfil them, as all their opponents know in advance how to counteract them and who to attack. 

Currently, no figures of equal ranking to the aforementioned are in evidence in the political or business stables. Borys Lozhkyn, Poroshenko’s Chief of Staff until recently, is clearly not inclined, at least for now, towards a political future of his own. On the contrary, it seems that that he has taken great pleasure in returning to business. Vitaliy Kovalchuk, a founder of Klitschko’s UDAR party and now an important figure on Poroshenko’s circle, is a functionary who feels more comfortable in the role of "grey cardinal". Vitaliy Klitschko, who used to be the highest-rated presidential candidate out of the "Maidan opposition trinity", obviously regrets his decision to merge UDAR with the PPB, but now his hands are well and truly tied by his mayoral post in the capital. 

Ex-premier Arseniy Yatseniuk also tries to stay noticeable after becoming a scapegoat (whether he fully deserves this or not is another matter) for all the negative reactions to the economic decline of the past two years. The party he leads, People’s Front, has plummeted in terms of public support and did not even run in the latest local elections. Yatseniuk retired into the shadow after his resignation for six months, but made a bright and emotional comeback with a speech this September at the Victor Pinchuk-sponsored YES forum which moved to Kyiv after the annexation of Crimea. He certainly does not see his current status of merely head of the People’s Front as a normalcy for himself. And he will definitely attempt to storm the power Olympus once again. Therefore, his Yalta speech is yet another reminder of his political ambitions that have not faded. Whether his political ambitions will be realized hand in hand with the People’s Front is an open question. So is the future funding for the project. By and large, apart from its long-time heavyweights Mykola Martynenko and Andriy Ivanchuk, there are no significant national-level businessmen in what can be treated as the patriotic-Euro-Atlantic party in the PF. Therefore, the party’s resources directly rely on the proximity to power.

RELATED ARTICLE: The prospects of post-Maidan liberal parties

The influence of Oleksandr Turchynov who was, for a few months in 2014, Acting President, has plummeted as well. Contrary to Yatseniuk’s case, however, Turchynov’s loss of image has not been so dramatic. Moreover, he has gained the reputation of a decisive political with strong willpower. Ever since Turchynov acted as President in the role of the Verkhovna Rada Speaker right after the Maidan, his closet has become far more crowded with skeletons: the loss of Crimea, the start of war in the Donbas. Still, Turchynov has significant political capital. His current position as Head of the National Security and Defence Council is probably not enough to fit his power ambitions. Moreover, Turchynov has spent most of his political career in secondary roles at Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna. Therefore, it only makes sense to expect that he could start a political game of his own.

However, Turchynov's plans remain a mystery – all claims that this politician would like to take over Arsen Avakov's role as Interior Minister following a reshuffle were met with a categorical, although not very fiery, denial. After all, Turchynov is truly in an interesting situation: either de facto or de jure, he has managed to hold all of the highest positions in the country. It would seem that all the peaks have already been conquered. However, there is no doubt that his job in the National Security and Defence Council is not forever.

Speaking of concealed political ambitions in this faction, we must mention the People Front’s Andriy Parubiy first of all. He already holds one of the highest posts in the state hierarchy – Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada. However, this will not stop him. A new generation of ambitious politicians is forming within the PF too. In particular, they are united under the banner of NGO Free PeopleAndriy Levus, Serhiy Vysotskyi and others.

RELATED ARTICLE: Who comprises the President's team

Current Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, a representative of the People’s Front, is rated among the three leaders in power by influence, yet that does not keep him from seeking more. This ambition refers less to political leadership and more to offices in the executive branch. In fact, the only office higher than his current position can be that of the Prime Minister. After his de facto omnipotent control over the law enforcement system, Avakov will hardly agree to anything less. 

Translated by Jonathan Reilly

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