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Poroshenko in Odessa 10th April – Changes afoot

April 9, 2015

As has been mentioned far too often – because it has been far too long – Odessa has not seen a senior national politician in almost a year.

That is to change on 10th April, when President Poroshenko and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov descend upon the city, amongst other things, marking the anniversary of the liberation of the city from the German-Romanian occupiers of WWII/The Great Patriotic War.

The Interior Minister will announce the creation of a new municipal police service, a copy of that soon to begin work in Kyiv.  Thus from 20th April, competitive, transparent applications for roles in the new municipal police force will commence (without the high profile dignitaries present that attended in Kyiv for photo-ops undoubtedly).

By the 1st June, therefore, Odessa will have 3 separate police services.  It will have the National Police (including the criminal investigation, “special” units, etc.), its own newly formed and recruited Municipal Police, and the Military Police.

All jolly good.

However, as mentioned many times before, Odessa is also one of the few Oblasts that does not have “a friend of a friend” of the President as the Oblast Governor.  “Friends of friends” is an appointment theme that has featured strongly for the President – as mentioned here when commenting upon the replacement of Ihor Kolomoiski as Governor of Dnepropetrovsk a few weeks ago:

“President Poroshenko has moved swiftly to appoint an Acting-Governor in Dnepropetrovsk – he has temporarily appointed the Governor of Zaporozhye, Mr Valentin Reznichenko. However, prima facie it would appear to be little more than an act of desperation – no offence meant to Mr Reznichenko.

Mr Reznichenko has two major pluses as far as the President is concerned. The first is that Mr Reznichenko was born in Dnepropetrovsk and is therefore a local – at least by birth. No parachuting in of an otherwise “alien” Presidential loyalist required – even if few in Dnepropetrovsk will actually know who Mr Reznichenko is. That said, when other household names from Dnepropetrovsk consist of the likes of Yulia Tymoshenko or Viktor Pinchuk, choices to replace the (in)famous Igor Kolomoiski with a similar “big name” are necessarily more than a little limited, if not politically impossible.

The second plus is that Mr Raznichenko is indeed a loyalist to the President – or at least he is a loyalist to, and long term friend of, Boris Lozhkin, current head of the Presidential Administration. (However, President Poroshenko has known Mr Reznichenko for 15 years, according to the President in a statement when appointing him as Governor of Zaporozhye – “This man I’ve known for 15 years. He is strong-willed, effective leader who understands the problems of the economy.”)”

Having run out of trusted and loyal friends of his own, almost all those placed within the Presidential Administration or heading ministries, the President has been busy filling other critical posts – and the posts of Governor will become critical when “decentralisation” occurs at the year end – with “friends loyal to friends that are loyal to him – as noted above.

To a degree, a deniable power vertical – or at least a power vertical that is deliberately one step away from blatantly so.  That said, regional governors are appointed by the President, and ever has it been thus, that regional governors have been loyalists to the presidential incumbent of the day.  Perhaps more important than ever, is loyal regional governors to the President, if “decentralisation” is not to mean losing control of the nation (or parts of it) entirely.

This in turn raises questions over the proposed changes to Constitutional and electoral law that envisaged a move to elected regional governors – though it seems unlikely that this issue will be dealt with any time soon – political expediency.

Anyway, the current Odessa governor, Igor Palitsa is neither friend, nor friend of a friend, of President Poroshenko, and is therefore due to be exchanged as the slow but sure presidential maneuvering continues.

Thus, two days ago this tweet:

With all senior politicians having steered well clear of Odessa for far too long, it seems highly unlikely that the President would miss the opportunity to replace Mr Palitsa whilst here – it may be another year before he (or any other senior politician) bothers to come back, after all.

The question is therefore one of potential replacement – and the President, as ably displayed by the desperate moves in Dnepropetrovsk, has run out of “loyal friends”, and the well from which to draw “loyal friends of friends” seems also to be running dry too.  An issue further complicated by a lack of “loyal friends of friends” from Odessa.

Appointing a suitable, local, loyal “president’s man” in Odessa is therefore somewhat problematic when keeping within the current “1 person removed from the body” framework – in fact it cannot be done.

The “local man” with any degree of loyalty to President Poroshenko – or political allies – is clearly problematic.  Top of a very short list of those that tick at least some boxes would probably be Alexie Goncharenko, who ran the presidential election campaign for Poroshenko in Odessa last year.  Having been Chairman of the Regional Administration prior to becoming an MP for Block Poroshenko/Solidarity, and a long serving local deputy (for two parties and an independent), he knows very well, who’s who, what’s what and who’s doing what.  His appointment would upset to one degree or another, the local elite such as Sergei Kivalov, the current Mayor Trukhanov, and many others.

There is also the possibility of the ex-Mayor, ex-UDAR MP Eduard Gurvitz, who is currently kicking his unemployed political heels.  His appointment would be a disaster for Mayor Trukhanov, as there is much bad blood between the two men.  However, as the “Old Guard”, he is likely to accommodate the likes of Sergei Kivalov far more than current Governor Pilatsa has, or potentially, more than Mr Goncharenko would.

Does President Poroshenko owe Klitschko’s UDAR still?  If so, Gurvitz is a likely appointment.  If not, then from his own party, the ever ambitious Goncharenko is likely to provide the loyalty required for a step up upon the political ladder, but also cause large ripples within the Odessa elite’s pond.

Aside from these two, only one or two other remote and unlikely local options presenting themselves – and it is doubtful they could control the ex-Regionaires/Opposition Block MPs, the behind the curtain business elite, a nefarious Mayor that remains far too close to his mafia past (and associates), not withstanding the ability to actually force the implementation of reform policy.

Of course, 10th April may come and go with Governor Palitsa remaining in post – but as the senior politicos rarely leave Kyiv to visit the provinces, it seems unlikely that the President will miss the opportunity to personally replace the Odessa Governor whilst in the city, inserting one of his own(ish).

 

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