Behind the nice façade of a top government-level reshuffle, the new Ukrainian authorities are outrageously indiscriminate in other appointments.
On 27 February 2014, the Verkhovna Rada approved the new composition of the government with 331 positive votes. The “drastic revamp of the government”, something the people had demanded with such vigour, seemed to have been accomplished. Old government members recognizable to the public at large comprise less than half of the new Cabinet. However, numerous representatives of the “old guard” who have compromised themselves and wasted, in 2005-2009, the chance the country won after the Orange Revolution have been given less prominent offices. It is also more or less obvious that certain influential players are pulling strings behind the scenes. The key offices in the executive government are being divided between the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and Svoboda (Freedom) parties. Ihor Kolomoiskiy and Petro Poroshenko are the most active oligarchs, but other groups of MPs that have formed the coalition are also clearly in the ball game. Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR party has ostentatiously distanced itself from the process, evidently hoping to claim some government offices after its leader wins the presidential election.
Freedom has received the top offices in the defence, environment and agricultural policy ministries and the office of a vice prime minister, which was filled by Oleksandr Sych. Poroshenko put his people in the offices of vice prime ministers: Vitaliyy Yarema, one of Fatherland’s MPs who won in a first-past-the-post district, is the first vice prime minister responsible for the law enforcement agencies. Volodymyr Hroisman, mayor of Vinnytsia until recently, is now a vice prime minister and minister for regional development and the housing and utilities sector. Four ministers belong to the so-called Maidan quota: Minister of Culture Yevhen Nyshchuk, Minister of Youth and Sports Dmytro Bulatov, Minister of Health Care Oleh Musiy and Minister of Education Serhiy Kvit, former rector of Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Technocrats are also represented: Minister of Finance Oleksandr Shlapak, Minister of the Economy Pavlo Sheremeta and Minister of Foreign Affairs Andriy Deshchytsia. Other ministries are headed by Fatherland’s representatives, including those that Arseniy Yatseniuk has brought along from his Front zmin (Front of Changes) party.
Oleksandr Turchynov has signed edicts appointing the president’s representative in the Crimea and the new heads of regional administrations in the majority of oblasts. Formally, these people represent mainly Fatherland (Zakarpattia, Volyn, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson and Odesa oblasts) and Freedom (Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Zhytomyr, Poltava and Kirovohrad oblasts). However, party membership notwithstanding, most of them are linked to large local business whose interests they will evidently lobby in their respective regions. The background of the new governors in Zakarpattia and Ivano-Frankivsk suggest that, while formally representing Fatherland, they will, in fact, promote the interests of Viktor Baloha and Ihor Kolomoiskiy, respectively. The governor of Vinnytsia Oblast seems to be a creature of Poroshenko. Volodymyr Shandra, the new head of the Kyiv Oblast State Administration, was Minister of Industrial Policy and Minister of Emergency Situations in the Yulia Tymoshenko government. He was also elected to parliament several times with Nasha Ukraina (Our Ukraine) and is related to Viktor Yushchenko.
In the South-Eastern regions, potentially most vulnerable to Russian interference, the new Ukrainian government banked on the large local business or old local administrators. Ihor Kolomoiskiy, founder of the Privat group, is the new governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast; Serhiy Taruta, co-owner of the ISD group, heads Donetsk Oblast; Mykola Romanchuk, who was Director General of the Okean shipbuilding plant for many years, has taken the same top office in Mykolaiv Oblast. Information once leaked to the press suggests that Hennadiy Kernes, the ill-famous mayor of Kharkiv, is also under Kolomoiskiy’s influence. At the same time, Oleksandr Yaroslavsky, a Kharkiv billionaire who fell out of favour with the previous government, has thrown his support behind Ihor Baluta, a creature of Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, and spoken in favour of “one and indivisible Ukraine”. Serhiy Kunitsyn has been appointed the president’s representative to the Crimea. Before being elected to the national parliament with Klitschko’s UDAR, he was Prime Minister of the Crimea for many years and headed the Sevastopol City State Administration under Yushchenko. Kunitsyn is sometimes said to be linked to oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
For now, the most efficient appointee is Kolomoiskiy, not in the least because pro-Russian sentiments in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast are much weaker than in the Donbas or the Crimea and because his region is further removed from the border. Taruta was unable to prevent the storming of the regional council by aggressive youths on 3 March. Under their pressure, the council voted in favour of holding a regional referendum. (According to Taruta, a large number of these separatists have come from Russia and are financed from Russian sources.) But Taruta has already announced that all decisions passed by the council at the time will be challenged in court. Moreover, he has expressed hope that in stabilizing the situation in the region he will have the support of Andriy Shyshatsky, an alleged protégé of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov and the newly elected chairman of the regional council. Kunitsyn seems to be a ceremonial bystander in the Crimea, because its territory is being controlled by the Russian military and armed gangs of the so-called Crimean Self-Defence.
The new government is trying to show its loyalty to large business, particularly in the south and east of Ukraine. This is especially important to businessmen who have reasons to worry about losing assets they accumulated under the previous government. Yatseniuk said that the new government is not going to launch reprivatization and that “inviolability of property is the number one priority for the government, not only in the Crimea but also at the national level”. Large business seems to be willing to actively support the current government in its struggle for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to counteract Russian provocations. However, having received excessive power in some regions or other, certain oligarchs may exploit it to totally monopolize their regions and the central government may lose control over them in the future. Rhere is also a risk that Vladimir Putin may make deals directly with these oligarchs to have them switch allegiance to the Kremlin in exchange for certain guarantees and preferential conditions on the Russian market. This risk is especially high in the Donbass — if Russia annexes it without the consent of the oligarchs, they may lose all their assets. And Putin knows how to do it.
At the same time, Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Choice organization, is already at pains to exploit the dependence of the new government on large business. “Part of the citizens view the new regime as the government of oligarchs, the government of winners who ignore their language, history, culture and religion,” he said. One of the points crucial for overcoming the crisis and achieving stability in the country is, according to Medvedchuk, the demand to stop the government from becoming increasingly ruled by oligarchs. It is quite possible that socioeconomic factors and the well-grounded lack of popular sympathy for oligarchs who have made their fortunes in ways that are not at all civilized will become key additions to the present arguments in favour of reintegration with Russia. Clearly, Russia is pinning serious hopes on the next parliamentary campaign in Ukraine and will most probably try to launch a political project that will be an alternative to the Party of Regions.
At a 4 March press conference on Ukraine, Putin said he understood why “a simple Ukrainian muzhik” (historically, a peasant) is dissatisfied with what has been going on in the country “since the proclamation of independence” and wants fundamental change. It is also possible that a pro-Russian force or forces will try, during the next parliamentary election campaign, to persuade such “simple muzhiks”, especially among the disoriented population in South-Eastern and Central Ukraine, that “Bandera followers who serve oligarchs have utterly failed” and are incapable of fundamental change. The situation will improve, the argument follows, only if they are removed from power and some “Ukrainian front” or “choice” (naturally, pro-Russian and advocating reintegration with Russia) takes their place.
If the new government does not make some irreversible changes during this period, such plans may indeed become a reality, just like Viktor Yanukovych was able, seemingly against all odds, to return to power as soon as one and a half years after the Orange Revolution. In order to avoid these risks, snap parliamentary elections must be called as soon as possible before a wave of disappointment sweeps across the country. And the cadre policy must be remedied immediately.
The country does not need a nice façade of new faces behind which the “old guard”, the bulwark of the corrupt oligarchic model, quietly grab key offices, including at the middle administrative level. Meanwhile, an analysis of appointments shows that the new government has adopted a fairly cynical stance on the statement that after the second Maidan, “the country has changed and will no longer accept the old”.
There are many shady figures among the new appointees, which suggests either a total cadre drought of the new government or powerful shadow influences on its decision making. This may not be so obvious in the interim “kamikaze government” formed under pressure from the Maidan, but some people appointed to other offices can very quickly discredit the very hope for fundamentally new principles of forming the government team.
This is especially vivid in the law enforcement agencies which in the present conditions would have to be in the focus of special attention. First, the country was shocked by the treason of Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky. On 1 March, Turchynov appointed him commander of Ukraine’s navy but was forced to fire him the next day because he had shifted his allegiance to Sergey Aksyonov, the self-proclaimed “prime minister” of the Crimea. Then came the appointment of Mykhailo Kutsyn as Chief of the General Staff and Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. The media picked up the information that Kutsyn was in the centre of a corruption scandal in 2011 when he took possession of a building for receiving delegations in Lviv Oblast which belonged to the military.
Even riskier are appointments that are of less interest to the public at large. For example, Yuriy Pavlov, a Fatherland member and Deputy Chairman of the Kyiv Oblast Council until recently, now heads the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Defence Ministry. According to open sources, Pavlov has a large and varied business involving a number of companies in the construction industry, oil and gas trade, agriculture, etc. There are reports about, among other things, his involvement in various corrupt schemes and abuse of power in previously held offices.
General Viktor Hvozd, who headed the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Defence Ministry in 2008-2010, has been appointed head of the Foreign Intelligence Service. In one of his interviews, he called Serhiy Kichihin, chief editor of the odious weekly 2000, his “mentor”. Hvozd himself was featured in various media reports accusing him of involvement in corrupt acts, such as granting the status of combatants in former Yugoslavia to officials, the alleged sale of military equipment and weapons of the Ukrainian peace-keeping battalion there and lobbying the interests of arms dealers. For a while, he was considered to be close to Baloha, chief of Yushchenko’s Presidential Secretariat at the time.
Valeriy Baranov, an old ally of Volodymyr Lytvyn and a member of his People’s Party, has been appointed governor of Zaporizhia Oblast. At one point, Baranov was secretary of the Berdiansk City Komsomol committee and, later, mayor of the city. While in this office, he was criticized for helping to unlawfully apportion land plots on Berdianska Spit. Recreation centres were then built there, including by companies linked to his daughter, former governor of Zaporizhia Oblast Yevhen Chervonenko and the son of Volodymyr Rybak, the odious ex-Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada and leader of the Party of Regions.
The appointment of Mykhailo Bolotskykh to the top office in Luhansk Oblast also caused a scandal. Bolotskykh was born in Russia, took military training and for a long time headed the Luhansk Oblast Directorate of the Interior Ministry under Leonid Kuchma. He was Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations under Shandra and Baloha and took this top office when the ministry was transformed into the State Service for Emergency Situations by the Azarov-Arbuzov government. UDAR MP Iryna Herashchenko pointed out that in this capacity Bolotskykh abused office and provided material and technical support for the anti-Maidan at the budget’s expense. She later reported that she had filed appeals to the General Prosecutor’s Office to have his role and involvement in the anti-Maidan investigated. However, if the investigation takes place without Bolotskykh being suspended from office, it can only help separatist efforts of the Kremlin in Luhansk Oblast.
The United States is committed to working with its Allies and partners to keep pressure on Russia to live up to its commitments and to begin the process of peacefully restoring Ukraine's full sovereignty over Donbas