Recent appointments suggest that Yanukovych does not trust the Party of Regions’ “cadre reserve”
Like Russia in the early 1990s, Ukraine is rapidly being overtaken by its president’s family. While Boris Yeltsin relied primarily on his daughter Tatiana, Viktor Yanukovych works through his elder son Oleksandr.
Countless journalist investigations show that long chains of intermediary companies that eventually obtain control over choice bits of Ukraine’s economy are increasingly often led by people linked to Oleksandr Yanukovych. Top-office appointees in the country are also persistently rumoured to be linked to him, and it is these cadres who are, as Stalin famously quipped, all-important. An overview of the latest appointments in the power structures suggests that the first phase of the familial overtake has been completed.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
The first harbinger was NBU chief Serhiy Arbuzov. In December 2010, the 34-year-old banker took over the helm from Volodymyr Stelmakh. Retrospectively, Arbuzov’s appointment heralded Yanukovych’s typical style of human resource management: a hitherto unknown person takes a top office for undisclosed reasons, and the aura of mystery never goes away. The Verkhovna Rada approved Arbuzov as chief of the NBU without even requesting a programmatic speech from him – an unheard-of fact for any European country, especially at a time of financial hardship.
The appointment of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko followed the same scenario. Before taking up the ministerial seat in November 2011, the 30-year-old police official headed the State Tax Service. In the 1990s, he worked in the city of Kostiantynivka, where Arbuzov made his career, and also in Makiyivka, the “talent foundry” of the current government. On the same day Zakharchenko moved to the Interior Ministry, his deputy, Oleksandr Klymenko, took his place at the helm of the State Tax Service.
All these fresh appointees have one thing in common – they are close to Oleksandr Yanukovych.
In February 2012, the president is likely to finish “building a new Ukraine” in one sector of public administration – the power structures. The Security Service is now headed by Ihor Kalinin who was in charge of training Yanukovych’s drivers who became guards when the current president was still in the opposition. Ex-chief of Ukroboronservis Dmytro Salamatin, who distinguished himself as the most fisticuff-happy MP in the Party of Regions, is now the new Minister of Defence. The Prosecutor General's Office did not find see a crime in his actions when he beat opposition MPs on the day parliament ratified the Kharkiv Treaties.
THE PRESIDENT’S GAMBIT
With the appointment of Kalinin, a professional KGB man, the SBU apparatus heaved a sigh of relief. After his predecessor Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, who had no professional expertise whatsoever in the field, the SBU officers and generals did not know what to expect from Yanukovych. In contrast, Salamatin’s appointment scandalised more than army generals — the man is said to get physical with his fists. He was born in Kazakhstan and still has Russian citizenship, according to some sources. (It is not clear when he acquired Ukrainian citizenship.)
Strikingly, both men have “genetic” links to Russia. Kalinin is a former KGB officer (but then, once a KGB officer, always a KGB officer), and Salamatin has little familiarity with either the Ukrainian language or the realities of Ukraine’s army. Nor are these officials from Donetsk-Makiyivka-Kostiantynivka too concerned with patriotism or other non-pragmatic things. All of this naturally made the public wonder: Are these appointments the Kremlin’s quota? Experts polled by the Ukrainian week suggest, however, looking at the Ukrainian president rather than Moscow. Kalinin managed a private security firm during the Orange government and headed the Directorate of the State Guard. He proved in practice his ability to protect Yanukovych despite all “obstacles” like the outrage of the public. (For example, he offered no comment on the April 21, 2010 tragedy when the president’s motorcade caused a car accident in which a taxi driver died. According to some sources, Oleksandr Yanukovych recommended Kalinin to his father in the mid-2000s.
There is no information about possible links between Oleksandr Yanukovych and Salamatin. But it is a known fact that Ukraine’s defence complex was structured as a strict vertical following the Russian pattern. Specialists disagree on the efficiency of the organization. For example, they say that until now export enterprises that were formally independent of each other were able at the same time to sell military equipment to two countries, such as India and Pakistan, that have strained relations. However, no-one doubts that the president welcomes the centralization of the defence sector, just like, for example, obtaining personal control over regional and district governors, the government and, through his party’s structures, most mayors and local councils.
Only one thing remains a mystery in this situation: How much influence does Oleksandr Yanukovych have over his men? His protégés have (so far at least) been viewed as the president’s men. And this perception is shared by the public at large and those who still wield real power in the country — the oligarchs.
At the same time, questions arise about the “long bench of professionals” that the Party of Regions has traditionally boasted of. The latest appointments suggest that it is either nonexistent or the president does not deem it an acceptable reserve for himself. So, we can soon expect to see new top-level appointments of people who have neither the authority nor much-vaunted “professionalism” but possess recommendations from people who have the president’s ear and, at the same time, are some distanced from the Party of Regions.
Under this scenario, Yanukovych may be preparing plan B in case the Party of Regions loses in the parliamentary election under the proportional system. With the Constitution that Ukraine has now, the greatest concern for Bankova Street is the 2015 presidential election. Year 2012 is just a link in this process, and if the necessary result is not achieved in autumn and the Party of Regions wins no more than 20-25%, it will be a top-priority task for Yanukovych to change the configuration of the government by distancing himself from the Party of Regions and attempting to establish a position above parties and political camps.
This gives Ukrainian oligarchs something to think about. The Ukrainian Week has predicted that the power structures will end up in the hands of the Family within a matter of months after the Interior Minister and the head of the State Tax Service are replaced. Then the president and his inner circle will be able to speak to their compatriots, regardless of their wealth, from a position of power.
However, this policy poses obvious risks for Yanukovych. One person is simply physically incapable of controlling everyone and everything involved in the formal political institutions and branches of the government. In this situation the Leader – as Yanukovych is called in the Party of Regions’ internal documents – will inevitably get stuck in the swamp of current intrigues which may eventually lead him into a blind alley.