“The Fatherland Party and I are one entity, and we share all our mistakes and victories, disappointments and successes,” former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko wrote from her cell. Her open letter, aimed at dispelling rumors about a back-door coup in BYuT-Fatherland, was published online on December 20. But the scandal should have been quashed a month earlier. Ideally, it should not have gained a foothold in the first place.
CHAINED DOWN BY A SERIES OF MISTAKES
It was clear in September 2011 that Tymoshenko would be in prison for a long time. So management of the party's current affairs and its parliamentary faction now rests with her close aides, led by her right-hand man, Oleksandr Turchynov. It is extremely difficult for them to contact Tymoshenko. In the past several months only her chief defense lawyer, MP Serhiy Vlasenko, has been able to meet her. In these conditions, rank-and-file party members inevitably wonder just how reliable communication with their leader.
And they did have their doubts after November 17 when the BYuT faction supported the presidential bill on parliamentary elections. The situation was all the more sensitive because the pro-government majority had enough votes of its own to pass the bill, so the 62 MPs, some BYuT MPs and those who are loyal to Arseniy Yatseniuk, who said aye were viewed as shameless traitors.
Before the vote Turchynov urgently gathered together BYuT MPs that were present and said in a “sad” voice, according to eyewitnesses, that, first, the faction was free to vote as it saw fit and, second, Tymoshenko did not have strong objections, but it was hard to contact her directly at the time. Of course, the MPs themselves were unable to verify this information. SEEDS OF DOUBT WERE SOWN
The situation deteriorated sharply 20 days later when BYuT faction leader, Ivan Kyrylenko, was forced to resign. His resignation came after he made a public statement that BYuT was prepared to “support unpopular bills” sponsored by the government in exchange for Tymoshenko’s release. The statement was immediately retracted on orders from Turchynov, and Kyrylenko announced his resignation at a faction meeting. Andriy Kozhemiakin was appointed head of the faction instead. BYuT tried to hush the scandal and Kyrylenko publicly approved of his own resignation, but it was too late. The mass media were already discussing a “back-door coup”staged by Turchynov and “KGB man” Kozhemiakin, who is an ex-SBU general. In this version, Tymoshenko is similar to Lenin in Gorky – isolated from the party and the world and close to death – politically and perhaps even physically.
The scandal was ratcheted up after EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle visited Tymoshenko in prison. On December 14, José Manuel Pinto Teixeira, head of the European Commission Representation to Ukraine, invited a number of opposition politicians from various camps to his office and told them that, according to Füle, Tymoshenko was very critical of the way her faction voted for the election bill. The next morning the information was leaked to the press. BYuT MP Serhiy Soboliev, who was also present at the meeting, hurried to deny everything, but his efforts were in vain, because no-one else at the meeting backed him up. In fact, those who agreed to offer any comments at all stood by what Teixeira allegedly said.
LOOKING FOR THE TRUTH
The Ukrainian Week reconstructed events after a series of off-the-record conversations. We have concluded that Tymoshenko was indeed less than excited to learn that BYuT had exposed itself to criticism from its supporters by voting in favor of the presidential bill. However, her fellow party members convinced her that their actions were forced: if they had not promised to support the draft law that incorporated a number of technical amendments proposed by the opposition, the pro-government majority would have passed its own draft law which would have been more conducive to falsification. Tymoshenko decided not to air the party’s dirty linen in public and offered this very interpretation in her open letter. However, she said straightforwardly that she did not approve the decision – it was adopted by “our political team,” she wrote. Quite possibly, even such vague formulations did not come easy to her. That her letter was being prepared became known to the present author several days earlier, but the text was finalized, according to our sources, in the afternoon on December 19. Another open letter – the one about a “faked” video showing the allegedly super comfortable conditions in which Tymoshenko is kept – came out much faster. The long time it took to publish the December 20 letter is indirect evidence that it was indeed personally approved by Tymoshenko. If she were completely removed from the affairs of her party, letters “on her behalf” could be published with much less delay.
There is no evidence to back up information circulated by the mass media that Tymoshenko personally sent a note to Turchynov demanding no support for the election bill. Turchynov’s inept handling of the situation – he failed to unambiguously deny the existence of such a note in his comments immediately after the vote – may suggest that it did exist. However, it is unclear how Tymoshenko, allegedly “isolated” from the decision-making process by her fellow party members, could learn about their intentions so fast and even manage to have a note delivered out of prison.
The situation with Kyrylenko’s resignation is more obscure. For one thing, one BYuT MP told The Ukrainian Week, that his replacement with Kozhemiakin simply “formalized” the status quo. It is no secret that the latter orchestrates the way the faction votes, its actions when blocking the rostrum, etc. He was in charge of these activities even when Tymoshenko was still at liberty. Either way, the former prime minister did not touch on this subject in her December 20 letter.
Tymoshenko's letter says that rumors of a rift in her political force are a “cynical provocation” and one in a series of special operations “carried out by [Viktor] Yanukovych’s inner circle … with the hands of willing or unwilling executors.” Government intrigues are the BYuT’s canonical version to explain where these rumors come from. But it is clear that they could not fail to emerge in the present circumstances. In fact, The Ukrainian Week learned that even if you attempt some investigative journalism, one risks being called a “henchman of the Presidential Administration.” On the political level, Tymoshenko’s “field commanders” argue, BYuT is being discredited through the efforts of supposed allies in the opposition, primarily Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party and ex-Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, who expects to acquire a high place on UDAR’s list. Hrytsenko dismisses the allegations as “nonsense.” He confirmed to The Ukrainian Week that José Manuel Pinto Teixeira indeed conveyed Tymoshenko’s dissatisfaction with the way her bloc voted but assured that he (Hrytsenko) did not leak it to the press. Curiously, The Ukrainian Week has learned that he is actively negotiating with Yatseniuk’s Front of Changes to jointly nominate candidates for the parliamentary election in majority districts and that they have already distributed part of the districts between their political forces. At the same time, a list of candidates common to all opposition parties is not the subject of negotiations now, so chances of it ever becoming a reality are very close to zero. As we come closer to the election date, BYuT’s situation is not going to improve in terms of either communication with its imprisoned leader or cooperation with other opposition forces. Meanwhile, as long as she has the status of a convict, Tymoshenko will not have the right to run for a parliamentary seat, and her fellow party members admit in private conversations that the BYuT will have to do without her. Tymoshenko is aware of this fact – in her letter she says that a “joint list of opposition candidates” could be headed by “a highly-principled and patriotic person of Lina Kostenko’s caliber.” Meanwhile, Tymoshenko’s absence from BYuT’s list would hurt more than any of the past “government intrigues” or mistakes committed by the bloc itself. The more Turchynov and his aides succumb to the temptation to drive up the hysteria, the more they will lose in the coming electoral battle.