The Party of the Regions is like the mythological Hydra: cut one head off and three more grow in its place. Instead of the thrashed ‘regionals,’ Ukrainians will be treated to three parties laced with former Yanukovych allies: Vidrodzhennia (Rebirth), Nash Krai (Our Region), and the Opposition Bloc. What’s more, all three have realistic chances of forming the local government in individual counties and towns.
On the one hand, this fragmentation plays against the once monolithic regionals, as the new parties are likely to drown each other out and cannibalize their own electorate. On the other hand, a worrisome trend has developed. Instead of helping bury the debris of Yanukovych’s party once and for all, the current administration and Ukraine’s oligarchs are openly approaching regionals and to draw certain individuals into power-sharing in exchange for their loyalty.
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It has to be said, that only one of the three Hydra heads is the real one: the Opposition Bloc is the only genuine heir of the Party of the Regions, formed as it was of people loyal to Rinat Akhmetov, Dmytro Firtash and Serhiy Liovochkin and currently operating as an independent force. Vidrodzhennia and Nash Krai are clones intended to con voters. The former is a political force originally founded by Heorhiy Kirpa, the railway boss assassinated in late 2004, and revived now by Ihor Kolomoyskiy. Nash Krai is controlled by the Poroshenko Administration. Still, this doesn’t mean that these pseudo-regionals will not constitute a threat to Ukraine.
What end such games might lead to need not be explained. Of course, such partners will likely be obedient puppets and will subserviently support the right decisions coming from upstairs. Should the political situation in the country change suddenly, however, there’s no doubt that these proprietary political prostitutes will in fact run to the other camp and stick a knife in the back of their former allies. It has to be admitted that regionals are very talented at betrayal.
Vidrodzhennia is going into the election campaign under the tutelage of Kolomoyskiy’s one-time deputy in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast State Administration, Sviatoslav Oliynyk. Oliynyk himself is running for the oblast council under its banner. The fact that Vidrodzhennia’s ranks are mostly filled with former regionals, including such odious politicians as Vitaliy Khomutynnyk and Kharkiv Mayor Ghennadiy Kernes doesn’t seem to perturb Oliynyk in the least. As he puts it, Vidrodzhennia has welcomed those regionals who were generally against separatism and consider themselves patriots, while all the “bad guys” joined the Opposition Bloc. This is being seen as a blatant lie and says a lot more about Oliynyk and his boss than about the political entity they have formed.
“With local elections happening right now, I see that the radical elements of Ukrainian society are demanding new revolutions and is saying that those now in power have failed to live up to the people’s hopes,” Oliynyk said in a speech at the parties congress on September 22. “Still, the Opposition Bloc is running in this election, although it has nothing to offer other than its desire for a comeback and a return to the trough. Vidrodzhennia is the one party that’s been able to keep the lines of communication open and to unify healthy, creative social forces.”
For those who believed in Kolomoyskiy as the Patriot, this turn of events has been a very unpleasant surprise. It turns out that the tycoon has no qualms about befriending Kernes, whose hand, according to many witnesses, was deeply involved in the anti-Ukrainian chaos that took place in Kharkiv last year. In fact, he was known for a series of Ukrainophobic attacks even prior to that.
For Kolomoyskiy to ally himself with Yanukovych’s former party members leads to yet another fairly obvious conclusion: the UKROP party, which has gained the trust of many ATO volunteers and veterans, and which has been proclaiming itself the party of patriots, is being managed out of the same office as Vidrodzhennia. Regardless of their apparent ideological differences, the two political forces are akin to communicating vessels and those who are campaigning in their ranks actually have no ideology whatsoever.
The situation with the Nash Krai project raises even more concerns, as it is being run from government offices. In order to attract and use a part of the regional electorate in the southern and eastern oblasts, the Poroshenko team has thrown together a 7-day wonder consisting of former Party of the Regions members who were rank-and-file rather than high-profile figures. Unfortunately, they also include separatists and collaborationists. For instance, in Mariupol, the candidate for mayor from Nash Krai is the incumbent, Yuriy Khotlubey, who spoke at anti-Ukrainian rallies in the spring of 2014, issued an invitation to the Russian invaders, and cooperated with DNR militants during the occupation of his city.
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Moreover, the Presidential Administration is not especially hiding its management of the Nash Krai project. At the beginning of September, Poroshenko Bloc MP Maksym Yefimov chaired the Nash Krai council in Kramatorsk and is now promoting the party on billboards. When Yuriy Lutsenko, the Poroshenko Bloc faction leader in the Verkhovna Rada, was asked about this, the one-time Interior Minister and high-profile Orange Revolution figure acted as though he knew nothing about Yefimov’s newest political favorites and promised to get to the bottom of it. That was as far as it went, needless to say.
The head of the military-civilian administration in Donetsk Oblast, Pavlo Zhebrivskiy, also makes no bones about his ties to Nash Krai and has openly expressed support for it.
“Maybe they did some things that weren’t quite above-board yesterday, but today they are prepared to carry out our platform,” Zhebrivskiy told journalists by way of explanation regarding his strange bedfellows. “Why not? Let’s cooperate with them. Let’s forget their past sins and work for the good of the country today. Because, as I’ve said before, there’s a real shortage of smart people.”
Like Kolomoyskiy’s people, Poroshenko’s team say that these PR clones they have set up consist of only good managers and righteous, patriotic regionals. “Imagine that there is a good, experienced and well-respected manager in a city who is ready to uphold the laws of Ukraine,” Zhebrivskiy told Dzerkalo Tyzhnia with remarkable candor in a recent interview. “But he was once in PR. Now somebody’s ready to give him a certain niche, a chance to show what he’s worth and to manage a city. This is something between the Poroshenko Bloc and PR. What you might call roughly a holding tank, a transfer point. Why? Because the government is suffering from a desperate shortage of qualified professionals.”
It’s easy to see what the consequences of such a devil’s pact might be. What’s more, given the actual state of the region, the phrase “good manager from Donbas” has a hollow ring to it, if not an absurd one. Those who are now in power are repeating the mistakes of Viktor Yushchenko with remarkable consistency, paving the way for a comeback of rogues and traitors. This is what Nash Krai is today: a political Frankenstein completely managed by and dependent on the Presidential Administration. But tomorrow, the situation could turn in such a way that the leftovers of PR will pull themselves together into a formidable force that will do everything in their power to stop Ukraine’s progress, following orders from the Kremlin.
At one time, President Yushchenko kept fighting with Yulia Tymoshenko, whose power kept growing, reviving the vanquished Yanukovych with his own hands and signing the death warrant of thousands of Ukrainians. Having risen from the political grave, Yanukovych ran roughshod over Yushchenko and his “dear friends,” whose numbers included the current governor of Donetsk, Zhebrivskiy.
Despite such painful experience in their past, the one-time Orange team is happily handing the ax over to Ukraine’s executioners in the foolish hope that they will only use it to cut a kovbasa.