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Too much, too little, too late? Probably

February 5, 2016

Your author having promised himself to blog as little as possible whilst wandering somewhat aimlessly around Asia for a month, has tried to let the resignation of Aivaras Abromavicius go without making any comment – however, as this entry exists, it was impossible not to write a few lines regarding the matter.

To state this resignation is a political disaster for both President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatseniuk is to be entirely frank.  It is also a disaster for the Ministry of Economic Development too – for there were several good Deputy Ministers unlikely to remain either.

Regular readers will have been aware of Igor Kononenko, presidential “enforcer”, the President’s long-term business partner, and leading member of the current “High Chamberlains/Grey Cardinals” nefariously  shuffling about behind the Ukrainian political curtain – as this previous entry (of several) made clear.

Indeed a reader may rightly wonder just how seamlessly interchangeable the names Poroshenko and Kononenko are at times domestically, when it comes to matters political, nefarious, or both.

That the maneuvering of Mr Abromavicius out of the Ministry of Economic Development would occur prior to any privatisation of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) was also predicted immediately after the political festive break by this blog.

“Indeed, if Aivaras Abromavicius is “rotated” during the Cabinet reshuffle and moved elsewhere in government – he is too good to be discarded – then it will be for purely nefarious reasons.”

Those purely nefarious reasons relate to the “management” of the privatisation process, and also the “management” of SOEs.

His removal as Minister from the ministry that will oversee such matters was clearly a matter of necessity for the dark powers behind the Ukrainian political curtain.  An honest man and a squeaky clean privatisation of SOEs is clearly not in their interests – even if an honest man controlling a squeaky clean privatisation programme is unquestionably in the interests of Ukraine.

The issue was how to remove Mr Abromavicius from the privatisation and SOE management appointment process when he was and is so highly thought of by Ukrainian civil society, society, and major donor nations to Ukraine.  Sacking him was clearly out of the question, so political dark arts were required.

Among a chain of events, Mr Abromavicius states he and his ministry were subjected to pressures under which the ministry could not work effectively.  Indeed it is claimed that a “Kononenko man” simply arrived as a newly appointed Deputy Minister to oversee Naftogaz and SOE management appointments – in short to oversee the corruption and money flows associated with state subsidies, recapitalisation and bad debt write-offs that flow into Naftogaz and SOEs, and then onward into nefarious pockets.

Mr Abromavicius stated the pressures placed upon himself and his ministry were from specific people – “These people have names, I will say one of these names – Ihor Kononenko”.

And thus a public and politically prickly resignation occurred.   Bravo Mr Abromavicius for having the moral fortitude to cause significant political damage to both President, Prime Minister and the “grey cardinals” lurking behind the curtain alike – not before time!

The political damage caused was swift in coming (within a matter of hours) via a public note signed by 10 Ambassadors to Ukraine from extremely significant nations as far as President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatseniuk, and Ukraine as a nation are concerned.  An unusual occurrence, but a necessary one, for the resignation of a much respected minister, and the public claims he made, could not and should not have gone without significant diplomatic response.  That it was so swift and public is a credit to those Ambassadors who did not quibble about signing up immediately.

Naturally President Poroshenko was forced to act swiftly in response, having a private meeting with Mr Abromavicius in an effort to have him retract his resignation and mitigate the already significant damage caused.

To be blunt, it seems unlikely that Mr Abromavicius would retract his statement.  He appears to have far too much integrity and moral fibre to return to office simply to save presidential, cabinet and Ihor Kononenko blushes.

He may well return to office (and hopefully he will) – but almost certainly not within the current government.

If he does, what assurances are there that Mr Kononenko, now under public scrutiny again (having been accused of nefarious acts not so very long ago by the then SBU Chief Nalyvaichenko – Nalyvaichenko was subsequently sacked shortly after making accusations against the President’s chum) will not undermine reforms once more?

Ihor Kononenko

Ihor Kononenko

In his defence, Mr Kononenko is now playing political theatrics in an attempt to mitigate the very real and significant political damage this has caused to his friend President Poroshenko and his relationships with the nations he is reliant upon.

Mr Kononenko has resigned as First Deputy Chairman of the President’s party – as if this is meant to signify in any way a reduction in his actual power within the party, or access to the President.  He has also “insisted” that both he and Mr Abromavicius undertake a lie detector test over statements made that Mr Kononenko refutes.  Further, he has also offered unconditional cooperation with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau over the matter.

The damage however is done.  None of this will mitigate for the resignation of Mr Abromavicius within certain capitals and their respective diplomatic missions, whatever may yet appear in the public realm, or whatever actions are taken.

The embassies of all the signatory nations to the note expressing ire over Mr Abromavicius’ resignation will all be very much aware of what Mr Kononenko is and has been doing since becoming the Presidential “High Chamberlain” (just as all were, and are, aware of the actions of Martynenko before the Prime Minister forced him upon his political sword).  As those embassies will be very aware of what he has been doing and with whom, when urgent questions were asked from respective capitals, those capitals are now very much aware of what Mr Kononenko has been doing, and with whom.

Mr Kononenko, and his friend President Poroshenko, will also be very aware that a good deal of what nefarious and/or odious actions Mr Kononenko has taken (in the President’s name, or by inference) are also now known and at the forefront in the minds of international interlocutors – and in a lot of detail too.

The choice therefore facing Mr Kononenko and President Poroshenko is one of Mr Kononenko’s political suicide (per Prime Minister Yatseniuk sacrificing Martynenko) or President Poroshenko taking significant and lasting (perhaps fatal) political damage among the nations he is relying upon for support.

Those nations are already clearly not going to settle for conversations that can be summarised as “And what about corruption President Poroshenko?” to be answered “Look at the Russians in Donbas breaking their agreements and killing us still” as an answer.

As President Poroshenko has not “released” the Prosecutor General, Mr Shokin, despite very robust public comment by international partners of note bluntly inferring he should go, is it likely that his old friend, business partner, political party “enforcer” (a role that will continue regardless of any formal position) Mr Kononenko will be sacrificed – or will President Poroshenko take more needless (and this time perhaps fatal) political damage?

What seems long ago, immediately after President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatseniuk both took office, it was stated here in the blog that they would and could take Ukraine only so far along any reformation road, for both would be either unable and/or unwilling to completely severe the nefarious ties to, or forgo entirely the corrupt money flows, of the old corrupt and cancerous system.

Thus far, despite the undeniable (slow) reform progress made (at least on paper), neither President nor Prime Minister have given any resolute indication (discounting rhetoric) that they are personally willing to do “whatever it takes” to build a nation upon the solid, rather than rotten, foundations any nation building requires.

It is already probably far too late for Prime Minister Yatseniuk to convincingly lead another government making claims of “reform” and “anti-corruption” as the agenda toppers.

The attempts by Mr Kononeko to mitigate the fallout of the Abromavicius resignation via his hollow political theatrics will fool nobody, and thus President Poroshenko has a definitive decision to make over his own presidential political future if he is in any way entertaining the thought of a second term (or perhaps seeing out a full first term).

It seems the current political class remain determined to snatch their own defeat from the jaws of their own victory.  Fortunately for Ukraine, it will survive and eventually reform in spite of, rather than because of, its current political class.

Now, back to the Asian sunshine whilst awaiting a “new” Cabinet of Ministers – or not.

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