Who is Up?
- Igor Kolomoyski – the Dnipropetrovsk Governor and country’s second richest man continues to make headlines for his “outside the box” plans. After putting cash bounties on separatists’ heads last month, Kolomoyski decided to finance the building of a physical wall between Ukraine and Russia along the eastern border. Just as Hadrian’s Wall on England’s northern border was erected to keep barbarians out of Roman England, the Kolomoyski Wall on the eastern Ukrainian-Russia border will be designed with essentially the same purpose (albeit 15 times longer than the Roman Emperor’s original wall due to far better armed “non-Romans”). In the meantime, Kolomoyski appears to be positioning himself to overtake Akhmetov (see “Who is Down” below) as Ukraine’s richest man by the end of Poroshenko’s term in office. He has already succeeding in terms of influence with the government, now we will see how that translates into net worth.
- Arseniy Yatsenyuk – in this poor economy, it’s important to hold on to any job –even if that job is the thankless task of being the Prime Minister of Ukraine. Following Poroshenko’s victory in the election, one of his first announcements was that Yatsenyuk will stay as Premier Minister. Yatsenyuk’s early moves to secure IMF and other Western funding to bail out Ukraine’s economy earned him an extension of his work contract to avoid the unemployment line. Now all he has to do is turn around an economy expected to decline by 5% this year, win a war, reduce epidemic corruption, and make enough reforms to meet European standards before November and the post-parliamentary election aftermath. Rome was not built in a day – but for now, Mr. Yatsenyuk has about 20 weeks to rebuild Ukraine and continue his probationary work period.
- Andriy Kobolev – it is rare to see anyone from Naftogaz Ukraina ever do anything in the country’s best interests. And it remains to be seen if Ukraine will prevail against the Goliath known as Gazprom, but the 35 year old Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolev has the courage of a young King David. Not only has he stuck to his guns (and stayed on message) that the gas price should be $268 and not $486 as demanded by Gazprom, but he forced the Russian giant to blink first and drop its’ price to $386. With a huge assist from the Europeans, he managed to kill the South Stream project to limit Gazprom’s ability to circumvent Ukrainian pipelines. Then as true evidence that his tough negotiation tactics are succeeding, it was Gazprom that was first forced to file a case in the Stockholm Arbitration Court. Everyone knows that when you are reduced to filing cases in the Stockholm Arbitration Court, you have no chance of winning anything other than a Pyrrhic victory and the right to whine about “being done wrong”. Yes, Ukraine has now been forced to pre-pay for gas but it comes at the start of summer when Ukraine doesn’t need massive gas supplies. In addition, Ukraine has adequate underground reserves, a new influx of shale gas from Western Ukraine and new pipeline reversal agreements with Slovakia to get through until December without any major problems. More importantly, if anyone experiences problems in the coming weeks, it will be the Western European nations that have been playing footsy with Gazprom. Hence, all the more reason for “Old Europe” to do more to help Ukraine. While Kobolev pushes for a $326 price compromise, any dollar less than $486 is already a victory. Keep an eye on “Kobolev the Giant Slayer”…
- Andriy Deshchytsia – is a respected, professional diplomat who was likely (but not guaranteed) to keep his job following Poroshenko’s election. However, Deshchytsia sealed his job security by an off the cuff, phallic reference about Vladimir Putin over the weekend. Not only did his comment go viral but it resonated strongly with Ukrainians and other sick of Putin’s chauvinism. Even if Poroshenko wanted to replace Deshchytsia, he cannot now for fear it will appear reactionary and based solely on the phallic quip. It is suspected but not confirmed that Deshchytsia’s numerous meetings Victoria “Locker Room Language” Nuland might have influenced his remark. At this rate, expect “your momma” comments to come from other Foreign Ministry spokespersons in the coming months as Ukrainian-Russian relations continue to deteriorate into the gutter.
- Petro Poroshenko – the bad thing about winning an election without a runoff and winning the most votes in every region of the country (the first time it’s been done in Ukraine’s history), is that there is almost nowhere to go in popularity but down. While at the moment President Poroshenko retains his public support, he has tough decisions to make on how to end the war -whether through “kumbaya” peace negotiations or through a Golda Meir style “Operation Wrath of God” to terminate the terrorists with extreme prejudice. He also must weigh devolving powers to the regions and Constitutional changes. In addition, with parliamentary elections likely in late October, Poroshenko must dust off his old Solidarity Party and conduct the political equivalent of assembling an aircraft at 30,000 feet. Thus, look for Solidarity Party to soon become an updated version of Kuchma’s 2002 “United Ukraine Bloc” and to absorb various business interests into a single election bloc. It won’t be a masterpiece of political art (in fact, without the fig leaves it might even be considered pornography), but it will adequately serve his purposes –at least through the election.
- Vitaliy Klitchko – his election partnership with Poroshenko proved successful in helping him become Mayor of Kyiv and appears likely to continue after the parliamentary elections when the two are planning to unite to form the new parliamentary majority and government. However, being Mayor of Kyiv is not an easy job. With Euromaidan activists refusing to vacate Independence Square, a contentious collection of deputies on the city council, and the unsexy tasks of fixing potholes, installing streetlights, and rounding up stray dogs awaiting him, Mr. Klitchko may find his greatest challenge yet. In addition, Klitchko’s UDAR party must fend off challenges to it’s right-center base of support from Svoboda, Lyashko’s Radical Party and Hritsenko’s Civil Platform. It’s a lot like those Rocky films: just when you defeat one tough opponent, another even tougher one, rises up to take his place in the next movie…
- Anatolyi Hritsenko – the former Defense Minister is one of the smartest and most pro-European politicians in the country. His determination and persistence paid off when he received 5.5% of the vote in the presidential election. His party, Civil Position, is now decently positioned to win seats on the party list ballot in the autumn parliamentary election. However, Mr. Hritsenko is not considered particularly talented at finding common ground with friends and allies. Throughout his career he had major public disputes with various former allies including Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Yatsenyuk and Klitchko. In the middle of Euromaidan, he even left the Motherland faction to become an independent deputy. His positions are principled and it is likely that he will receive enough votes to form his own faction in the next parliament. However it is only a matter of time before the headlines read, “Hritsenko Leaves Faction of Hritsenko Citing Irreconcilable Differences”.
Who is Down?
- Rinat Akhmetov – what a difference half a year makes. Instead of being Ukraine’s richest man and a highly influential “power behind the throne”, Akhmetov is facing potential business loses due to the war, threats upon his life from separatists, fear of traveling abroad to avoid arrest like fellow oligarch Dmitro Firtash, and a highly uncertain future. His public relations attempts at painting himself as a pro-Ukrainian patriot fell flat and only managed to anger the Russian separatists who now seek to “nationalize” his Donetsk businesses. In fact, the failed attempt at painting himself as pro-Ukrainian was the biggest disparity in public relations spin versus reality since “Baghdad Bob” tried to convince reporters that there were no US troops in Baghdad moments before the city fell in 2003. Akhmetov has survived and thrived in difficult circumstances before, but if he ever had thoughts of doing a “Bill Gates” and giving away his fortune to retire early – this would be the time.
- Barrack Obama’s Ukraine Policy (or lack thereof) – let’s face it, Obama never counted on having to deal with foreign policy crises and he appears to enjoy the work about as much as a full body cavity search at the airport. His initial response to Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests was to delegate it to Joe Biden in the same manner in which he would pawn off a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting or a funeral of a Third World leader to the Vice President. Now that Putin’s aggression towards Ukraine has proven to be more than a “take two aspirin and call the United Nations in the morning” problem, Obama still is clearly pained to get involved. When he does take the time to weigh in, it is only to prevent defensive arms sales to allow Ukraine to protect itself and thereby putting himself in the same category as Vladimir Putin – in that they are the only two persons on the planet opposed to such sales. Do not be surprised that if soon a bi-partisan vote from Congress ruins Obama’s afternoon golf outing and forces him into the uncomfortable role of explaining why he is vetoing arms sales to Ukraine.
- Svoboda Party– while Svoboda leader Oleg Tyahnybok wasn’t actively campaigning for President, his dismal performance of 1.2% combined with recent polls showing Svoboda party in low single digits has set off alarm bells. With Poroshenko’s election and subsequent right to appoint his own governors, some Svoboda leaders like MP Iryna Sekh aren’t waiting for the call from the human resource manager. Sekh resigned as Lviv Governor to return to parliament (she never resigned her mandate). With Svoboda’s rating falling due to changing voter’s needs and preferences, parliamentarians like Sekh who won in single mandate districts (rather than the party list) are preparing for the autumn election. Svoboda won 11 districts in 2012 and will now work to defend those seats in the autumn as the party can no longer count on confidently passing the 5% barrier on the party list side of the ballot. In addition, with Poroshenko not likely to need them in the coalition after the election, Svoboda has become expendable. Thus, barring a reversal of fortune, Svoboda risks becoming the biggest “one hit wonder” since Vanilla Ice.