Premiership Up for Grabs: The one year anniversary of the current Ukrainian government will not be remembered for a defense of its accomplishments, but rather for the circus-like spectacle of an angry MP trying to wrestle Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the ground. As the Prime Minister went to the podium to make the case for his government to continue into the future, Parliamentary Deputy Oleg Barna walked up to present him with a bouquet of roses. Unlike most flower presentations in Ukraine though, no sooner had the Premier accepted the bouquet and attempted to place it on the podium, when Barna attempted to put the Premier in a move best described to World Wrestling Federation fans as a variation of the “cobra crotch clutch suplex”. Before Barna could slam the Premier to the floor though, dozens of MP’s raced forward to join the melee. If only some metal folding chairs had been available, the Ukrainian Parliament could have surpassed “Monday Night Nitro” on the Nielson ratings.
After the ruckus was broken up, Parliament allowed Yatsenyuk to complete his address – albeit in a slightly higher pitched voice than usual. Meanwhile the Poroshenko Bloc sent mixed messages on their response. Faction Chairman Yuri Lutsenko apologized and said Barna had behaved “outrageously” but that he would NOT be expelled from faction. At the same time, Poroshenko Bloc MP Taras Patushenko said that the faction held a meeting and HAD expelled Barna – in direct contradiction to Lutsenko’s statement. MP Barna, for his part, claimed he had quit the Poroshenko faction on Friday (the date of the incident) “five minutes ago” to the Parliamentary Committee on Procedural Rules. That committee then proceeded to suspend Barna from the next five parliamentary meetings.
Barna is a parliamentary newcomer who was elected with the Poroshenko Bloc from Ternopil district #167 (Chortkiv) by a 29-16% margin over his nearest rival in 2014. Barna serves as a Member of the Parliamentary Committee on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Monitoring Compliance with Legislation. Apparently discontented with Yatsenyuk’s compliance with anti-corruption legislation, Barna began gathering signatures for Yatsenyuk’s dismissal. Well, at least that is the official version…
What is clear is that Yatsenyuk’s Premiership has been “on the ropes” (in wrestling terms) since late summer. His personal rating and the rating of his People’s Front Party have fallen into the 2-3% range. His party’s ratings were so dismal that they didn’t even compete in the local elections last month. It was expected that after his speech last Friday, that Parliament would then vote to dismiss him. However following the “free for all”, two motions to dismiss Yatsenyuk were tabled. Once again Parliament proved itself to be a circus sideshow while simultaneously evoking sympathy for the embattled Premier. Thus, the first recorded “cobra crotch clutch suplex” in Ukraine’s Parliament had the effect of buying the Premier more time to do his job.
The wrestling session in the Parliament follows a visit from US Vice President Joe Biden earlier in the week. Biden personally addressed the Ukrainian Parliament, and while the speech was free from any “cobra crotch clutch suplex”, the Vice President delivered a political “pile driver” move against corruption, and staunchly in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Biden’s message was clear: Ukraine has “one last chance” to get things right on the corruption front or risk losing America’s support. In addition to bringing an early Christmas to Kyiv in the form of $190 million in new technical assistance, Biden endorsed the Finance Ministry’s plans for the budget and tax reform (in a stark rebuke to the proposal of Poroshenko MP Nina Yuzhanina), lobbied for the firing of Prosecutor General Victor Shokin, and confirmed that the US government will never recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea. Biden stressed the urgency to reform quickly by stating, “What happens in the next year is likely to determine the fate of the country for generations”. Biden added, “Future generations of Ukrainians will look back at this moment. Did they deliver for us? Did they fundamentally change the nature of the country or did they not? History will be a very, very harsh judge if there is failure”. Just in case lawmakers were dozing during the speech, Biden invoked the memory of the victims who died during Euromaidan by calling on Parliament not to “betray” their memory and noted that the Orange Revolution “failed due to corruption and the institutional weakness of the state”. In short, Biden has a better pulse on what Ukrainians want than most members of the Parliament and government. Given that Biden’s term as Vice President expires in 13 months, perhaps Ukraine’s Parliament should pass a law like Georgia’s to allow foreigners to serve as Prime Minister?
Speaking of foreigners serving as Prime Minister, the two leading candidates to replace Yatsenyuk (when he eventually is dismissed) are in effect foreigners (or at least foreign born). Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili is openly campaigning for the post and has been a consistent critic of Yatsenyuk since autumn when he first smelled “blood in the water’. Saakashvili’s attacks on Mykola Martynenko (formerly Yatsenyuk’s chief political financier who is linked to a bribery case in Switzerland) helped lead to his resignation days prior to Biden’s visit. Saakashvili’s “open warfare” against Yatsenyuk had led to private, verbal reprimands from the US State Department, but produced opposite results as the Georgian’s attacks have only intensified. This is because the State Department has serious concerns about Yatsenyuk’s role in corruption, and is actively looking for ways to circumvent assistance to the central government and to deliver it directly to reforms efforts of the Odesa Governor.
The other leading candidate to replace Yatsenyuk is Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko. As the most successful minister in the Ukrainian government, she has not only negotiated a record $40 billion USD IMF bailout package and won a 20% concession from debt holders, but now has won the support of the IMF to change lending rules to stave off Russian demands for debt repayment. Vice President Biden specifically endorsed her budget proposal for 2016 by insisting that Parliament pass an IMF compliant budget rather than the other proposals floating in Parliament in recent weeks. This is a direct rebuke to Poroshenko Bloc MP Nina Yuzhanina who had called for a budget which would have taken Ukraine off the IMF track. Yuzhanina, a former auditor for the Poroshenko family, has been critical of the Finance Ministry for months with the open support of Poroshenko Bloc Deputy Faction Head (aka “The Enforcer”) Ihor Kononenko. Kononenko views Jaresko as dangerous to his financial interests and influence, and has begun a campaign against her. While Jaresko’s support is growing, unlike Saakashvili she is not campaigning for the Premier’s post, and appears content to do her job before returning to the private sector. Other names mentioned as possible Yatsenyuk replacements when the Premiership is “up for grabs” (in a political manner rather than a physical groping manner demonstrated last Friday) are Volodymyr Groisman the Speaker of Parliament, and National Security and Defense Chairman Oleksandr Turchynov.
While Yatsenyuk’s position is now secure for a while longer (maybe till spring?), what is not clear is Barna’s motivation for the assault. Presumably by collecting signatures to dismiss Yatsenyuk he was trying to make a blunt point that the Premier should be removed from office. Black and white billboards in Kyiv on the day of the speech contained the message “Run Away, Rabbit, Run Away!” (a reference to Yatsenyuk’s nickname as “rabbit”) – although it is not known who paid for them. Thus, the “official” scenario is exactly as the story was presented. That is, Barna opposed Yatsenyuk’s continuing as Premier and was so outraged that he assaulted him in Parliament. However, in Ukraine anything is possible and another version of the story is making the rounds on Bankova Street. In this version, Barna who was/is an ally of the President, agreed to be the scapegoat in a staged incident to distract attention from the demands for Yatsenyuk’s dismissal. Given Biden’s insistence that the coalition stay together and in effect keep Yatsenyuk in place, the government needed a way to prevent the Premier’s dismissal by Parliament. With the vote count uncertain, Barna’s diversion created sympathy for Yatsenyuk and anger at Parliament – the perfect ruse to keep the Premier on the job a little longer. The plan is said to have been the brainchild of MP Yuri Lutsenko, and Barna was promised ample financial resources from Bankova Street to ensure his re-election. What is known is that the shopping carts filled with cognac bottles were being carried into the Presidential Administration on Friday evening to celebrate the continuation of the government.
If the latter version seems cynical, consider another story originating from the Presidential Secretariat the day before Biden’s visit: With US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt already criticizing the work of Prosecutor General Victor Shokin, it was clear Vice President Biden would call for Shokin’s removal. In preparation for this conversation, the Presidential administration prepared a “Potemkin Village” or more aptly a “Potemkin Theater”. That is, the President met with Shokin to let him know Biden would be sitting across the table and strongly criticizing him. The President then let Shokin know that he too would be joining in and criticizing his performance. Shokin was told to “sit there, nod and agree” during the painful discussion. However to help Shokin endure the political spanking, Poroshenko is said to have recommended to Shokin that he should “have some vodka shots before the meeting, as it will help you get through it”. If true, the story suggests that Ukraine’s government is interested only in cosmetic reforms to keep US taxpayer assistance continuing, rather than fundamental reform which improves the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.
Cabinet Moves: On Friday Infrastructure Minister Andriy Pivovarskiy resigned, citing his desire to return to the private sector. Pivovarskiy was considered one of Ukraine’s bright reformers and his loss bodes poorly for the government’s desire to make comprehensive changes in the future. Pivovarskiy noted the difficulties in attracting and retaining quality staff due to the embarrassingly low government salaries. The resignation is viewed as the beginning of several cabinet post shakeups expected this month. It is not yet known if Health Minister Aleksandr Kvitashvili’s resignation will be accepted by Parliament. Kvitashvili first resigned in June and has attempted to do so a total of four times. However under Ukraine’s antiquated, “indentured servitude” labor legislation, individual government ministers cannot simply quit their jobs. Only Parliament has the power to remove them from the duties. Thus, Kvitashvili has faithfully returned to the ministry each work day to continue until liberated from his job. Kvitashvili lost the support of President Poroshenko and Governor Saakashvili, instead relying on Yatsenyuk as his political “roof”. Adding intrigue to the matter is the potential candidacy of Odesa MP Oleskiy Goncharenko. Goncharenko, a former Party of Regions local official turned Poroshenko Bloc Member of Palriament, headed the President’s election headquarters in Odesa last year. Goncharenko’s friendship with the President’s son Oleksiy (also a Poroshenko Bloc MP) gives the nomination an additional boost. Goncharenko and Saakashvili have had a strained relationship since the October Mayoral elections when Goncharenko trumped the Governor in an argument over replacing election commissioners. Goncharenko’s promotion to Kyiv would potentially remove the tensions between the two – unless of course Saakashvili becomes Premier…
Meanwhile, Information Policy Minister Yuri Stets offered his resignation from the controversial ministry. Citing his success in fulfilling “the four functions of the mission”, Stets’ departure is likely to pave the way for the closure of the ministry. A Ministry of Information Policy was immediately criticized by the media for its’ dictatorial sounding name at a time when the country was still reeling from the post-effects of the Yanukovych regime. Stets, a close Poroshenko ally, is expected to re-emerge in a new ministry post during the upcoming cabinet shakeup.
In other anticipated moves, Viktor Shokin has demonstrated his political survival skills and is likely to stay in the post until his fight with lung cancer is finished. Yatsenyuk’s “fatwa” against Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn appears to be going nowhere as the Energy Minister maintains the support of the President, and Yatsenyuk has his hands full preserving his own job. Finally, in an effort to promote Aivaras Abromavicius “up and out”, some actors on Bankova Street have floated the possibility of making him Vice Premier for Euro-Integration. On the surface this sounds like a promotion for the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, however in reality the newly created ministry would have little power and influence. In effect, the goal would be to remove the Lithuanian born Abromavicius from the coveted Economic Development and Trade Ministry to replace him with someone who would better serve the financial interests of Ukraine’s elites. Simultaneously Abromavicius would be sent out as a “cheerleader” for Ukraine to smooth ruffled feathers in the West over concerns about mere cosmetic, rather than structural, reforms. Abromavicius however, is wisely avoiding this Ukrainian “siren song” and reiterating his desire to continue as the Minister of Economic Development and Trade. In the end, Ukraine’s government needs Abromavicius far more than Abromavicius needs his post in Ukraine’s government. Be watching for new faces – as well as some familiar ones -in the coming days as the Cabinet of Ministers is shaken up.
Central Election Commission Changes: Following the completion of the National Local Elections and Runoffs, Parliament is preparing to replace 12 of 15 members of the Central Election Commission. While technically the terms of the members ended in June, the preparations for the Local Elections took priority and the members stayed in their posts. Now with the elections over and an interval before possible Donbass elections in spring, the President and Parliament are finally tackling the issue. Under the law, the President proposes candidates for approval in consultation with Parliamentary factions. Thus, the President will propose a dozen nominees but Parliament will have the final say on their approval. Of course, having the terms of 80% of the commissioners ending at the same time represent one of the multitude of changes needed in Ukrainian legislation. Given the seven year terms of commissioners, staggering the terms so that just two per year are ending would ensure continuity of operations, preserve institutional knowledge and ensure effective and smooth transitions. Nonetheless, as former President Leonid Kravchuk said, “we have what we have”.
Within those realities the President and Parliamentary factions have proposed their candidacies in preparation for a vote sometime before the last plenary session of Parliament on December 25th. Given the importance of ensuring representation of different opinions on the commission charged with certifying democratic elections in the country, nominees from each faction have historically been approved. However as evidence of another glaring weakness in Ukraine’s election law and Constitution, in theory the ruling party could propose only its nominees for approval. In practice though, not even Yanukovych dared to do this. A more equitable and stable system would both stagger the terms and ensure that each faction in Parliament have a representative. Members would serve their seven year term and then according to what factions are present in Parliament, old faction nominees would be replaced or reappointed accordingly. With two members changing every year, new blood and ideas would be injected gradually into the system allowing for a reflection of the new political realities while simultaneously preserving the stability of the institution and traditions.
For unknown reasons, perhaps in hopes of getting Parliamentary approval for all its nominees (unlikely) or perhaps as a negotiating tactic, the Poroshenko Bloc proposed 13 candidates. It is believed that now that Yatsenyuk has bought additional time as Prime Minister that Poroshenko will actively begin to disregard the “lame duck” and promote his people for key posts rather act in a consultative manner. Others contend that Poroshenko expects three or four to be voted down in hopes of getting nine members on the CEC. Poroshenko’s 13 candidates are:
- Svitlana Kustova, Honored Lawyer of Ukraine. Kustova served as Poroshenko’s Representative to the CEC during the 2014 Presidential Election. She is expected to be nominated to serve as the new Chairperson of the CEC if Parliament confirms her appointment. The Chairperson of the CEC is elected by the CEC members.
- Vitaliy Holovchuk, a law professor at the Research Institute of Management, Administration and Law of Vinnitsya National Agrarian University. In addition to Holovchuk hailing from Poroshenko’s hometown, his candidacy is believed to be pushed by former Yushchenko Deputy of Chief of staff Anatoliy Matviyenko (another Vinnitsya native).
- Serhiy Repetskyi, lawyer for Status Law Firm. Repetskiy ran unsuccessfully for Kyiv city council as a candidate with Solidarity Party.
- Bohdan Dubas is a Lviv native who was passed up for appointment as the regions’ Governor earlier this year. Dubas’ appointment is lobbied by Stefan Kubiv, Poroshenko’s former Presidential Representative in Parliament and National Bank Chairman. Dubas served as Deputy Premier of Crimea under Yushchenko and Deputy Mayor of Kyiv in 2014.
- Iryna Shvets the Acting Director of the Stolytsia communal enterprise (“Capital”). In 2014 she served as a Member of the Kyiv City Election Commission for UDAR Party and her candidacy is supported by Mayor Vitaliy Klitchko.
- Yuliya Kyrychenko a constitutional lawyer and expert with the Reanimation Packet of Reforms. Kyrychenko has experience working at both the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Ukraine. She also worked in Yushchenko’s Presidential Secretariat as the Head of Constitutional Reform in 2006.
- Alina Zahoruyko who is an assistant to current CEC member Yuliya Shvets. Prior to that Zahoruyko worked from 2007-2012 as a Specialist to Parliament on Legislative Support for Law Enforcement which headed by Shvet’s father, Viktor Shvets. Shvets has worked as a lawyer to Yuliya Tymoshenko.
- Olesiya Zubrytska an assistant to Poroshenko Bloc MP Oleksandr Tretyakov (Kyiv District #129 Svyatoshyn Rayon and former Deputy Chief of Staff to Yushchenko). Zubrytska, age 36, campaigned for city council in Kyiv this October as a Solidarity Party candidate.
- Semen Stetsenko the First Deputy at the Institute of the Penitentiary Service. Stetsenko’s candidacy is perhaps the most controversial due to his long history in the Russian military. Stetsenko graduated from the Kirov Military Medical Academy in Saint Petersburg in 1997. In 1998 he was the Head of the Medical Service Training Center and Military Academy of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in Saint Petersburg. In 1999 Stetsenko served as the Head of the Research Laboratory of the State Institute for Advanced Training of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in Moscow. Stetsenko began his work in Ukraine in 2004 when he became the Head of the Department of Administrative Law and Management of the Internal Affairs of Kyiv National University of Internal Affairs. In 2007 he switched to become Head of the Theory of State and Law Department of Legal Disciplines of the National Prosecution Academy of Ukraine. Finally in 2013 he joined the Institute of the Penitentiary Service in his current post. Stetsenko’s candidacy is odd given his lack of connection to election administration as well as his long career with the Russian Ministry of Defense.
- Olha Zheltova is the Deputy Head of the Secretariat of the Parliamentary Committee for Legal Policy and the Judiciary. Her candidacy is supported by the Chairman of the Committee, MP Ruslan Knyazevych (Poroshenko Bloc).
- Olha Aivazovska the Director of the OPORA civic watchdog organization. However upon learning of her nomination, Aivazovska quickly stated that she did not consent to be appointed and if elected, would not serve. Instead, Aivazovska endorsed the candidacy of Volodymyr Kovtunets (See below) and called on the reformers in Parliament to back his candidacy.
- Volodymyr Kovtunets, an election lawyer who previously worked as a top expert for a USAID funded election administration program (2001-2008). Kovtunets is well regarded by the diplomatic community in Kyiv and his candidacy has the support of OPORA, CVU and the Reanimation Packet of Reforms.
- Mykhailo Verbenskyi who served as the Chief of Staff to Interior Ministry under Yuri Lutsenko. In September he submitted his name for consideration to serve in the Accounting Chamber.
Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, in coordination with Deputy Speaker Andriy Parubiy and Justice Minister Petrenko proposed three nominees:
Incumbent Deputy Chairman Andriy Mahera. Mahera has served two terms on the CEC dating back to February 2004 and was reconfirmed in 2012. Mahera was one of three CEC members (with Davidovych and Stavnychuk) who refused to sign the protocol certifying Yanukovych’s fraudulent “victory” in the November 2004 Presidential Runoff Election. More recently, following the impeachment of Yanukovych, Mahera has de facto been running the CEC. This is because the incumbent Chairman, Mykhailo Okhendovskiy, is closely linked to Victor Medvedchuk (Kuchma’s Chief of Staff who is now accused of funding separatism in Zaporizhya and who asked Vladimir Putin to serve as ‘godfather’ to his son). Okhendovskiy was allowed to continue with the title as Chairman of the CEC following Yanukovych’s impeachment – albeit in a neutered capacity. Mahera has consistently proven capable and objective during his 11 years on the commission. However the word on the street is that Bankova is looking for “new faces” (regardless of competency and experience) which could endanger not only Mahera’s continued work on the commission, but the overall objectivity and operations of future elections. The Reanimation Packet of Reforms is backing Mahera’s candidacy.
Leontiy Shypilov a constitutional lawyer and an adviser to Deputy Speaker Andriy Parubiy. Shypilov teaches international law at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and has the support of “Maidan Self-Defense” deputies in Parliament.
Hanna Onishchenko the Minister to the Cabinet of Ministers. Her potential departure from the Cabinet of Ministers is further evidence of the numbered days of the Yatsenyuk government. Prior to her current post, Onishchenko served two months as Deputy Justice Minister (March to May 2014) and for ten years as a lawyer for the firm A-Lex, which represented both Privatbank and UkrNafta (businesses largely controlled by Ihor Kolomoyskyi). Justice Minister Petro Petrenko is backing her candidacy.
The Opposition Bloc has ambitiously proposed six candidates for the CEC on the argument that half of the posts should go to the opposition. Their nominees include four current and former CEC members:
Vitaliy Zhuravsky a three time former Member of Parliament (most recently elected from Zhytomyr District #66 in Malyn) and member of the Party of Regions. Zhuravsky’s sole legislative achievement was drafting the controversial “libel and defamation law” which made him “One of the Ten Greatest Enemies of the Ukrainian Press” according to the Institute of Media and Independent Media Trade Union. In September of 2014 while campaigning in failed re-election bid, Zhuravsky was thrown into a trash dumpster by protestors near Parliament.
Yuri Danylevskyi, a three term member of the CEC (and most senior) who has served since 1999. Danylevskyi was fired by Parliament on December 8, 2004 prior the third round of the Orange Revolution election but re-emerged in June 2007 as part of the quota of the Party of Regions.
Oleksandr Chupahin, a two term member of the CEC who has served since December 8, 2004. Chupahin was previously part of the Socialist Party quota to the CEC.
Oleksandr Shelestov a CEC member since June 2007. Shelestov was awarded the CEC post for his work prior as the Head of the Legal Department for the Party of Regions.
Serhiy Dubovyk the Deputy Chairman of the Secretariat of the CEC. Dubovyk was the Secretary of the CEC member from December 2004 until June 2007. CEC Chairman Okhendovskiy appointed him as an adviser in October 2013 where he served until taking his current post.
Serhiy Rumpa a Member of the Board of the National Depository of Ukraine. His candidacy has the support of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.
The other five factions in Parliament were more humble in the number of nominees they agreed to propose and offered just one each. They include:
Samopomich proposed Yevhen Radchenko. Radchenko is the Development Director at Internews Ukraine and previously held key positions with the OSCE and Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog organization. Radchenko is also a Member of the Venice Commission since 2009.
Radical Party proposed Oleksiy Kocharmin an assistant to MP Oleg Lyashko. Kocharmin worked in the Crimea Prosecutor’s Office in 2013 (pre-annexation) supervising observance of laws in the defense sector. MP Lyashko filed suit in summer citing the President’s failure to propose new nominees to Parliament for the CEC in a timely manner. In an interesting Ukrainian court decision, the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine acknowledged that the President failed to act in a timely manner while simultaneously refusing to require the President to actually submit the list of nominees to Parliament.
Motherland proposed Zhanna Usenko-Chorna for reappointment. Usenko-Chorna has served on the CEC since December 8, 2004. Since June 2007 she has served as Deputy Chairperson of the CEC.
Renaissance Faction proposed Alla Baslayeva, a Darnytsya Rayon Judge (Kyiv City) and as the former Head Legal Consultant to the Secretariat of the CEC which represented the body to the courts.
People’s Will Faction proposed Vitaliy Maksymyak the Head of the Parliamentary Secretariat’s Human Resources Department since 2011. Maksymyak originates from Volyn where he served as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor in 2010. People’s Will faction is closely associated to the late MP Ihor Yeremeyev (who died in a horse riding accident this summer) and his business partner MP Stefan Ivakhiva who both represent districts in Volyn oblast.
The most likely outcome appears to be that the President will select four nominees, give People’s Front three (due to the fragile state of the coalition), and the other factions except Opposition Bloc – will receive one each. The Opposition Bloc may get two nominees as a bone from the President. In the end though, Parliament will have the final say. With election fraud remaining a constant threat to Ukraine’s democratic development, the selection of new CEC members will be an important leading indicator of the government’s commitment to Western values.
Cosmos Comeback in Georgia?
Former Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskiy announced his new political project “For a Happy Georgia” and stated his desire to run for Parliament in the Republic of Georgia next October. Chernovetskiy, nicknamed “Cosmos” for his sometimes aloof and bizarre mannerisms (as well as his stated goal of flying into outer space with his cat named Yasha), served three terms in the Ukrainian Parliament and was twice elected Mayor of Kyiv (defeating current Mayor Vitaliy Klitchko in 2006). Making use of his nearly one billion dollars in wealth from the sale of Pravex Bank, Chernovetskiy created a highly effective retail political machine associated with gifts of food, clothes and other items to increase turnout of his voters. This political machine helped to win multiple elections in Kyiv to both Parliament and the Mayor’s Office. While Chernovetskiy has often been criticized, he has rarely failed in business or politics. Even his resignation as Mayor of Kyiv in 2012 (after Yanukovych appointed his own executive and stripped him of most budgetary powers), turned out to be vindicated when Yanukovych was impeached two years later.
In August 2011 it was reported that Chernovetskiy held dual Ukrainian and Israeli citizenships (in violation of Ukrainian law). In an ironic twist following Chernovetskiy resignation as Mayor in June 2012, Georgian President (and now Odesa Governor) Mikheil Saakashvili gave the Kyiv Mayor Georgian citizenship. Since 2013 Chernovetskiy’s charitable foundation named “Social Partnership” has worked in Georgia and has conducted a dozen programs aimed at helping disadvantaged children and the elderly. Chernovetskiy’s first wife, Alina Aivazova, was born in Georgia and has Ossetian origins. More recently Chernovetskiy built a large villa in Georgia and is known to prefer spending time there rather than Ukraine. Given the immigration wave of Georgians to Ukraine in the last year in hopes of renewing their political fortunes, it was inevitable that some Ukrainian politicians would attempt to turn the tables and renew their political careers in Georgia too. Chernovetskiy has made a career of being underestimated by the establishment. It is not inconceivable that he could beat the odds again and win election to the Georgian Parliament next year. It was an eccentric billionaire named Bidzina Ivanishvili whose well financed campaign led to his election as Prime Minister of Georgia in 2012 and ousted Saakashvili’s team from power. Could an eccentric Ukrainian-Georgian billionaire oust Ivanisvhili’s “Georgian Dream” party from power next autumn?
Personnel: Volodymyr Yelchenko was appointed as Ukraine’s new Ambassador to the United Nations (UN). Given Ukraine’s recent appointment to the Security Council, the post takes on additional influence and duties. Yelchenko, who served as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Russia until he was recalled following the Russian annexation of Crimea, is a career diplomat. Yelchenko’s family has a long political history as his father was Minister of Culture during Soviet times (1971-1973). Volodymyr Yelchenko previously served in the same UN post on behalf of Ukraine from 1997-2001. From 2005-2006 Yelchenko served as Ambassador to Austria and was appointed Ambassador to Russia under Yanukovych in July 2010. Yelchenko replaces Yuri Serheyev who has served since 2007. Prior to the appointment, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin’s name was frequently floated for the UN post.
Dates to Watch (for Ukraine unless otherwise noted):
December 25: $3 Billion in Russian Bonds are due for Payment: Ukraine rejected Russia’s offer to repay just one billion per year for the next three years. With the backing of the US and IMF, rules were changed to allow Ukraine to technically default on the Russia debt to force them to accept the same terms as other lenders. This represents a major victory for Ukraine’s negotiating position (and financial health).
January 31, 2016: New EU Expiration Date for Donbass related Sanctions on Russia
January 31, 2016: End of the Current Session of Parliament.
April 20, 2016: Donbass Local Elections in the Occupied Territories: The date looks increasingly less likely to be achieved but for now at least, April 20th is the target. Leaders of the so-called DPR and LPR have refused to agree to Ukrainian legislation governing the election.
February 2016: Stockholm Arbitration Hearings on Counter Claims between Naftogaz and Gazprom. Naftogaz is seeking $16 billion dollars and a decision is expected by June 2016.
June 23, 2016: New EU Expiration Date for Crimea related Sanctions on Russia