A satirical look at Ukraine’s political scene as of April 26, 2014…
Who is Up?
Petro Poroshenko– in 29 days Ukraine will elect a new president. However the race is less of a competition than a coronation as Poroshenko has maintained a solid lead of 15-25% over his nearest rival (former 2005 nemesis Tymoshenko. Now comes the payback for accusing him of corruption in September 2005…). Some polls even suggest he will win without a runoff and all polls show him win decisively against all opponents if a runoff actually occurs. There is a Georgian saying, “he is already in chocolate” meaning that he successfully rich. Well, in this case, he literally is in chocolate, wealthy, and will soon be successful in wining the presidency too.
Valentin Nalyvychenko – the SBU Chief is a seasoned veteran All Star on a roster of rookies. While the army and police are struggling to get their bearings and perform anti-terrorism operations, the SBU is nabbing spies, separatists and saboteurs by the bushels. Ukrainians are suspicious of GMO foods, Western medicines and cloning, but in this case, Ukraine should drop their objection to cloning and create as many Nalyvychenkos as possible.
The FSB– They have been persistent, aggressive and inventive in trying to subvert Ukraine – and the war is not over yet. There is a story about a strongly religious widow who never spoke ill of anyone. Then one day, some mischievous kids bet each other that they could get her to say something bad about someone. The kid asked the old widow, “what do you think of the devil?” The widow paused to think and the boy smiled as he was about to win his bet. Then the widow replied, “well, he sure does work hard…” Give the FSB credit, they sure do work hard.
Igor Kolomoyskiy – Ukraine second richest man is the leading candidate for “Governor of the Year”. He has quelled separatist sentiments in Dnipropetrovsk, put a bounty on the heads of rebels, bought fuel for the military and called Putin “a schizophrenic of short stature”. He may never get invited to Wharton Business School as a guest lecturer on “business ethics”, but in a time of war he has risen to the occasion and become a standard by which other governors are currently measured.
Independent Mayors – this species was almost extinct under Yanukovych but it turns out that they were just in hibernation. In Odesa and Cherkasy, the species is poised to return to their natural habitat on May 25 when mayoral elections take place in those two cities. Former mayors Eduard Hurvits and Sergiy Odarych are the front runners to win their respective contests. Both individuals have always been pro-Western but maintained an independent streak on behalf of their constituents that was never appreciated by the Yanukovych government. Thus, trumped up criminal cases and fraudulent elections were organized to eliminate them. Now hunting season is over and nature is returning to its normal state.
Sergiy Tyhypko – good candidate but the wrong timing. His independent streak (see above for warmth of appreciation by the previous government for independent thinking) helped save Ukraine from martial law and oust Yanukovych when he persuaded his parliamentary allies to take part in the emergency session. Narrow sighted leaders of the Party of Regions took revenge by booting him from the party weeks later. Had he been the nominee of the party, he could have built upon his 15% performance in 2010 and salvaged the base vote of the Party of Regions. Instead he is running third in the race but at least can score a moral victory by getting more votes than the “official” Regions candidate Dobkin. In addition, when he eventually forms his constructive opposition faction in parliament, it stands a chance of displacing the Party of Regions in the next parliamentary election as the main opposition party.
Party of Regions – once on top of world (or at least Ukraine), this party is looking like a washed up, heavy metal rock band that just lost its lead singer, guitarist and drummer to drug rehab and prison. They may yet be able to reinvent themselves with a comeback tour this autumn (during tentatively planned parliamentary elections) with some new faces and a clean cut, “boy-band” image, but for now their records simply aren’t selling. Dobkin, their presidential nominee is running fourth and is stuck around 5-6%. Nonetheless, they maintain a base of heavy metal (or is it coal miners?) fans in the east and south that still want to rock – but are looking for a tune that inspires them again. They also maintain the largest faction in parliament (although it’s half the size of two months ago). More importantly, none of their leaders have joined sides with the Russian separatists. Thus, the party will survive and be a force to be reckoned with in Ukrainian politics (they won’t be reduced to a warm up band) but they will won’t be playing to packed out stadiums anytime soon either.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk – faced with a thankless task of persuading Ukrainians to sacrifice financially now in exchange for a better future, Yatsenyuk’s long term job security doesn’t look particularly optimistic. Yet for the moment, he has risen to the occasion and enjoys at 53% approval rating (higher than Obama’s). He has successfully negotiated the intravenous drip of loans from the IMF and European partners and is following the film script for the screen test perfectly. However, the casting call for the next “Expendables” movie (the best film analogy for war time Ukrainian politics) calls for a charismatic action hero and Yatsenyuk seems more suited for the role of an aristocrat in a BBC Jane Austin marathon. In politics, being the smartest guy is rarely rewarded and unfortunately for Yatsenyuk, his own ambition, arrogance and inability to successful maintain constructive relationships with coalition partners will eventually bring about his downfall.
Vitaliy Klitchko – his deal with Poroshenko essentially appears to have check-mated Tymoshenko’s return to power but it has stunted Klitchko’s and UDAR’s political growth in the short term. Yes, Klitchko and his party are likely to win the Kyiv mayoral and city council elections next month. However if parliamentary elections take place in the autumn, what happens next? Polls show UDAR’s rating now falling under their 2012, 13% performance due to Poroshenko’s rise (via his Solidarity Party). In addition, Klitchko’s decision to stay out of the current government has many of his supporters in parliament questioning the wisdom of that decision now that the Kyiv mayorship is the only tangible prize in sight for the time being. However, if Klitchko’s and Poroshenko’s deal will result in key ministries being awarded to UDAR leaders after the presidential election and stay intact for a joint parliamentary election ticket, then the gamble will have paid off handsomely.
Religious Tolerance in Ukraine – since 1991, Ukraine has been an oasis of religious tolerance in the former Soviet Union. The acting President Turchynov is a Baptist which is astounding in a predominantly Christian Orthodox country where Baptists make up less than a quarter of a percent of the population. During the daily prayer services on the Maidan, practitioners of different faiths take part including: Ukrainian Orthodox, Greek and Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Autocephalous, Protestants, Evangelicals, Jews and even Muslims. In fact, there is just one confession noticeably absent: the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church’s abundant blessings on Yanukovych and other criminals of the former regime, as well as indifference at best- and opposition at worst – to the events of Euromaidan is shameful. In addition it helps to fuel separatists such as those in Donetsk who distributed flyers calling on all Jews to register with the new authorities. Ukraine will hopefully overcome this episode but for now, religious tolerance is in question.
Who is Down?
Yuliya Tymoshenko – is like a businesswoman who cornered the candlestick market shortly after the invention of electricity: time has passed her by. Yes, she is relevant and a factor to deal with in the interim but barring the election being postponed, her political trajectory appears on a downward slope. She has managed to restore part of her old coalition and move into a distant second place in the polls but she loses decisively in all runoff polls. In the meantime, MP’s are leaving her party (Orobets, Tomenko, etc) – a sure sign that she represents the past and not the future. She may yet rally in the autumn with a strong performance in the parliamentary elections, but for now the voters have seen the “man behind the curtain” and realize that the Great Wizard of Oz- is but a regular person after all.
Arsen Avakov – the Interior Minister is a talented guy. Ironically, if Yanukovych/Kernes hadn’t stolen the mayoral election from him in Kharkiv in 2010, he would still be in that post. Instead, he had to hide out in Italy until he won parliamentary immunity and now is the Chief Cop in Ukraine. Unfortunately the militia is rife with corruption and bad apples. And so far, Avakov has struggled to keep the bad apples from spoiling the bunch. His anti-separatists efforts in his native Kharkiv have been successful but other efforts have fallen flat. In the meantime he has become embroiled in a fight with Right Sector and already has protests calling for his dismissal. As a result, 51% of Ukrainians view his performance so far as unfavorable (vs. just 31% favorably). He is a prime candidate to be replaced after the presidential election when the new president gets to propose his/her nominee for parliamentary approval.
Mykhailo Dobkin – the new lead singer for the Party of Regions rock band isn’t exactly connecting with its hardcore fans. Mired in single digits, his campaign has less than 30 days till the election to turn things around. You almost feel sorry for the guy, as he is like the guy who finally got promoted to Ship Captain – moments after the Titanic hit the iceberg…At this point all he can do is try to hold on to the Party of Regions base vote and prevent further defections – the equivalent of rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic.
Obama’s Ukraine Policy (or lack thereof) – has been naive, reactive at best, and dangerously disengaged. There have been many Democrat Presidents who stood up the Russians and as a result, the Kremlin backed down. For example, JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Clinton bombing Russia’s pal Milosevic back into the Stone Age in Serbia, and even Jimmy Carter at least tried an Olympic boycott. Obama has responded with slap on the wrist sanctions, the provision of American canned fast food to Ukraine’s military (even though Ukraine is one of the world’s top food producers), and now a bizarre plea that he hoped Putin would save him “if he was drowning”. Obama’s Ukraine policy is the the equivalent of checkers to Putin’s chess. Sure, both guys are using the same board (Ukraine), but only one is playing to win. Be watching for Obama to pump an umbrella in the air after the next Geneva talks and proclaim that he has achieved “peace in our time” as the Russian tanks roll into Kyiv…
Victor Yanukovych – will soon have to do American Express commercials to be remembered (or the Rus-diktator-bank equivalent). “Do you know me? That’s why I carry the Rusdiktatorbank Express card. Never flee a country without it!”. The most recent IRI poll showed just 4% of Ukrainians having a favorable opinion of him. On top of that, the Kremlin keeps him banished to the province of Rostov so that other disgraced dictators like Abslan Abishidize (former Adjara strongman) won’t even vouch for him to be a member of the local Russian Kiwanis club – let alone invite him to their “fully functional, dictator’s dacha” in the Moscow suburbs for shashlik. Yanukovych is reduced to sporadic press conferences in Rostov (with ever declining media attention) to babble about how “they still love me in Yenakyivka baby…”