Is the Vlasenko case a mechanism of pressure against disloyal MPs or an element of geopolitical provocation?
On March 6, the Higher Administrative Court revoked the parliamentary mandate of Serhiy Vlasenko, leader of Yulia Tymoshenko’s defence team in court. The decision was based on the fact that Vlasenko failed to cancel his lawyer’s certificate in a timely manner. In the Court’s opinion, he was thus combining his activity as an MP with commercial activity as a lawyer, which is illegal for MPs.
On the one hand, this precedent signals that the Presidential Administration has finally found a “yes-man” mechanism to pressure disloyal MPs, whose Constitutional immunity no longer entirely protects them. According to the Constitution, MPs vote for a decision to revoke their peer’s mandate in parliament. However, legislators would not necessarily give this convenient decision, due to solidarity and fear that such a precedent could someday turn against part of the pro-presidential majority. Now, the regime no longer needs this parliamentary support as it already has control over three other decision-making components. The first is the parliamentary Procedure Committee. It decides whether individual MPs can combine certain positions. It is currently dominated by the Party of Regions and Communist Party members and chaired by the Party of Regions’ Volodymyr Makeyenko. The second component is the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, who files requests to revoke an MP’s mandate to the Higher Administrative Court. Currently, the speaker is the Party of Regions’ Volodymyr Rybak. The third component is the Higher Administrative Court, which makes final decisions and is under the president’s control. The verdict of the Higher Administrative Court does not have to be approved by parliament.
This scheme enables those in power to revoke quite a few mandates of opposition MPs. From UDAR’s Vitaliy Klitschko, for instance, whose sports license is not suspended. Or Hennadiy Moskal, known for his sharp criticism, because he is listed as a lawyer in the Unified State Register of Lawyers. If necessary, interested parties can find such skeletons in the closets of many opposition MPs who were once involved in activities other than politics. The key to success is to find any fault, and then catch up on it, using the well-known scenario. Moreover, finding one is not too difficult since some opposition politicians feel surprisingly secure, even though they should have realized over the years of Yanukovych’s presidency that they should always keep an eye out for pitfalls.
As a lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko should have realized that his valid lawyer’s certificate could be used as an official excuse to launch a case on charges of combining MP and commercial activities. He could have terminated the certificate a while ago. The same applies to Hennadiy Moskal and Vitali Klitschko, as well as several other MPs. Once the mandate of a disloyal MP is revoked and he is stripped of Constitutional immunity, the Prosecutor General can take a closer look at his biography.
On the other hand, the Vlasenko case has a geopolitical flavour to it. According to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, the Kremlin was seriously concerned with the outcome of the latest Ukraine-EU Summit. Putin instructed all authorities and diplomats to disrupt the signing of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement at any cost. First and foremost, they should intensify efforts in European capitals. Plus, Vlasenko’s revoked mandate looks very much like yet another attempt to add an extra reason for the EU to refuse to sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine. There is no reasonable explanation for the Vlasenko case after Yanukovych signed the document in Brussels undertaking, among other things, to solving the selective justice issue, other than an intentional provocation to focus the EU’s attention on the fact that not only has the current situation not yet been resolved, but has reached an absurd level. Meanwhile, more and more appeals are coming up in the EU, demanding for the latter to refuse to sign the Association Agreement until Yulia Tymoshenko is released, as well as requests for personal sanctions against representatives and sponsors of the Yanukovych regime, such as the petition of 20 French MPs to the EU.
There is an assumption that the scheme to revoke Vlasenko’s mandate was orchestrated by Andriy Portnov, who until recently, was one of the top officials responsible for legal matters in the Presidential Administration and often linked to Viktor Medvedchuk. The latter does not hide his efforts to disrupt European integration and promote Ukraine`s joining the Customs Union. The latest proof was the protest of a handful of Ukrainians in Brussels against Ukraine’s European integration during the Ukraine-EU Summit set up by Medvedchuk’s Ukrainian Choice NGO for an episode on Russia TV channel. If the assumptions of Portnov’s or Russia’s influence on the case are true, there are two possible scenarios for what will happen to Vlasenko’s MP mandate. One is that the power of the hierarchy that Yanukovych has built for himself is being used against him under his own nose. If Putin succeeds in disrupting the EU-Ukraine association without involving Yanukovych, he will have greater leverage to get what he wants from Ukraine’s President in the gas integration talks. The other is that the provocation with Vlasenko was authorized by Yanukovych himself as he tries to urge the EU to refuse to sign the Association Agreement. This would allow him to continue his current balancing act. The latter would signal his big mistake as less likelihood for the signing of the Association Agreement because of the Vlasenko case or other similar actions would automatically give the Kremlin more leverage.
For Ukrainians incarcerated in the occupied territories and in the Russian Federation itself, things could get much worse in 2018. Only serious international pressure is likely to make Moscow release these political prisoners