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A new Cabinet, old problems, and no political room – Ukraine

April 14, 2016

Some days ago an entry appeared regarding Arseney Yatseniuk’s expected, indeed scripted, resignation.

On 7th April the blog received confirmation from those same people behind the Odessa curtain that Prime Minister Yatseniuk would resign (officially) on 12th April.  He has now announced that intention.

Absolutely no surprise to quite a few, for it has been a fairly poorly kept secret.

For those pondering his replacement, it will be the current Verkhovna Rada Speaker and President Poroshenko prodigy, Volodymyr Groisman – 100%.  It has been his future role for at least the past 3 weeks, despite any rumours surrounding Natalie Jaresko.

For those that do not closely follow Ukrainian politics, effectively Ms Jaresko ruled herself out when stating she would only lead a technocratic government – for there will be snowballs in hell before a purely technocratic government leads Ukraine.

Ergo between the lines that statement not only ruled herself out of the PM race, but also makes it particularly difficult to continue as Finance Minister in a Cabinet of Ministers that is anything other than technocratic.  If she would only lead a technocratic government, why would she remain part of a government that clearly will not be?  The Ivy League lecture circuit awaits perhaps?

Indeed the composition of the new Cabinet of Ministers is also known – at least to this blog (and probably quite a few others – barring last minute changes that could derail the whole thing of course).  Unfortunately readers will have to wait for its official unveiling, or leaking elsewhere, for that composition was conveyed in the strictest of confidences.

Nevertheless, almost all was settled by 7th April – settled other than the issue of sorting out money among the odious shenanigans behind the curtain that is.  That issue is now almost entirely settled too.  Hence Prime Minister Yatseniuk announcing his resignation per the Grey Cardinal script(ure).

It would appear that the men behind the Odessa curtain did not have a wasted stay in Kyiv.  Few of the appointments they told this blog of on 7th April proved to be wrong – albeit clearly some last minute shuffling and Grey Cardinal deal making of the same names to different Cabinet seats occurred in mitigation on their behalf.

For the record, this is what they stated had been agreed on 7th April – (Red highlights what proved to be ultimately erroneous):

Prime Minister – Volodymyr Groisman.

First Deputy Prime Minister – Vitaly Kovalchuk – Stepan Kubiv

Vice Prime Minister EU Integration – Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze

Vice Prime Minister Humanitarian Affairs – Pavlo Rozenko – Vyacheslav Kyrylenko (Half wrong see next)

Vice Prime Minister Social Policy Pavlo Rozenko

Vice Prime Minister Emergencies & Development – Volodymyr Kistion

Verkhovna Rada Speaker – Andriy Paraby

Vice Speaker – Irina Geraschenko

Minister of Cabinet of Ministers – Alexander Sayenko

Minister of Finance – Alexander Danyluk

Minister of Social Policy – Andrey Reva (He was pegged as Health Minister)

Minister of Ecology – Max Nefedov – Ostap Semerak

Minister of Education & Science – Liliya Grynevych

Minister of Agriculture – Taras Kutovyi

Minister of Infrastructure – Volodymyr Omelyan

Minister of Energy – Ihor Nasalyk

Minister for Occupied Donbas – Volodymyr Kistion (Became VPM Emergenices & Dev) – Vadym Chernysh

Minister of Culture – Evgene Nyshcuk

Minister of Health – Andrey Reva – Vacant?  (Mr Reva became Minister of Social Policy instead)

Minister of Economy – Yulia Kuznetsov – dual role for First Vice PM Stepan Kubiv

Vice Prime Minister for Regional Development, Foreign Minister, Defence Minister, Justice Minister, Interior Minister, Minister of Information Policy and Minister for Youth and Sports would remain unchanged – as proved to be the case.

Thus little changed from 7th April with the exception that the men behind the Odessa curtain also stated the following, which has thus far not been announced:

A further role for VPM Regional Development Gennady Zubko as Minister for Civil Service, Minister for Political & Legal Reforms Ihor Koliushko, and Yuri Lutsenko as Prosecutor General – perhaps appointments yet to come when those offices are created or laws changed to facilitate appointment?

All in all, the week that followed the list given to this blog of agreed ministerial posts did not change much either in names on chairs, nor in the direction that the new government will (try to) take.

Which way to the Grey Cardinal/High Chamberlain Robing Room?

Which way to the Grey Cardinal/High Chamberlain Robing Room?

Thus the outcome of today’s unveiling will not phase or surprise those behind the political curtain of Odessa.  It is however necessary to point out that those behind the Odessa political curtain were not asked to Kyiv to lobby or coerce in order to get certain people in  certain seats necessarily.

Owing to the fact that Odessa has no oligarch per se, and thus those behind the curtain have good and longstanding relationships with those within all parties without exception, be they in power or opposition at any given time, it is unsurprising that their “negotiating” abilities were requested and be effectively employed to insure enough votes to form a (wafer thin) majority coalition and also to then subsequently insure enough votes to appoint the chosen names to the appointed seats.

Odessa being an extremely mercantile city has long since learned not to tie its political flag to any particular party or oligarch – and those behind its political curtain and local political personalities are wise men indeed.

Nevertheless, the challenges the new Cabinet face are several, all are gargantuan, and none are new.

Putting to one side the obvious on-going war in Ukraine’s east, the new Cabinet will have to effectively deal with strengthening the structures within their ministries and also strengthening the numerous institutions of State that require being independent of political meddling – somehow.

It will have to very swiftly get Ukrainian civil society and “external supporters” of Ukraine back on side.  That will require not only the passing of qualitative reform legislation, but the enforcing of its implementation too.

It will also have to deal with rampant, feckless and unhinged populism now that The Radicals and Batkivshchyna (and Samopomich to a lesser degree) will undoubtedly noisily promulgate henceforth.

Indeed Ms Tymoshenko, who has tacitly and subliminally been electioneering for some weeks, is very likely to push to the fore a “National Salvation Front” comprised of professionals and civil society members that meet and support her populist agenda – rather than have them create an alternative, sensible agenda for Ms Tymoshenko to promote.

To be entirely blunt what the nation actually needs salvation from, is the type of populist flapdoodle that Ms Tymoshenko peddles. Ne’er has it done Ukraine any favours historically, and ne’er will it in the future.

Another danger, both to the current/new coalition and also to the designs of Ms Tymoshenko, will be Governor Saakashvili should he quit or be sacked from his post in Odessa in the immediate future.  Civil society, political activists and a large part of the national constituency are likely to gather under his banner when it is eventually raised officially upon the Ukrainian political landscape.

Thus far, so far as this blog is aware, all courting and flirtation by Ms Tymoshenko toward the Saakashvili camp has been wisely rebuffed.  Such a policy should continue.

However, there is only one way to keep Governor Saakashvili from pulling the trigger on a political party/project – and that is for Kyiv to come through and provide the support that has been thus far missing.  Whether Kyiv can now provide that support even if it wanted to (and thus far it clearly hasn’t wanted to) with a wafer thin majority coalition that relies on too many Odessa MPs votes whose vested local interests the Governor threatens, remains to be seen.

President Poroshenko is faced with the same dilemma of that once faced by the White House administration when it comes to Governor Saakashvili – to hug him too closely and perhaps burn your own fingers, or not hug him closely enough and be subjected to the chaos that will inevitably follow.

Clearly there is no political room for a reversing maneuver when it comes to the reform path if domestic and external support is to be maintained.  The lack of either spells the end for the current Verkhovna Rada and Cabinet at a minimum.

That lack of political maneuvering room also applies to any populist impulses – and as of today, any and all failures to reform at a sensible pace through qualitative legislation and its effective implementation will be laid directly at the presidential door.  A perception that will be iron-cast when President Poroshenko shoehorns Yuri Lutsenko into the role of Prosecutor General.

If all of this seems a gargantuan task, it is made all the more difficult with a coalition majority vote of 227 at the time of writing, when it requires 226 votes to pass even the most basic of statute.  To be sure of passing necessary but unpopular legislation, that vote count provides for only a single coalition parliamentarian to be absent if all others without the coalition are against.

None can be sick, or lame, or lazy, or on official visits, no touring delegations etc for any critical vote.

Gathering Constitutional Majorities (300 or more votes) will very much depend upon the constitutional amendments put forward.  There is a reasonable chance of constitutional changes regarding the judiciary.  There is far, far less chance of the “decentralisation” amendments passing whilst every the single sentence relating to the occupied Donbas remains in the text – and even without it there remain issues that do not sit comfortably for parties like Samopomich when it comes to regional “Prefects”.

Thus with regard to the new Cabinet and its composition, it is not a question of personalities – the cult of personality has to be put to the sword in Ukrainian politics sooner rather than later. It is a matter of teamwork, a matter of being able to drive and strengthen institutions, making them responsible and accountable for what they do.  A matter of doing enough to keep external and internal support “on side”, and a matter of tackling the noisy populism head on and publicly, shooting the message dead but avoiding personality politics and shooting the messenger.

There are six months provided by law that prevents a vote of no confidence in this new Cabinet or any member therein.  Is this Cabinet capable of averting such a vote six months from today when faced with the same Verkhovna Rada and vested interests behind its composition, as well as almost no political room for maneuver insofar as external supporters and internal constituency demands are concerned?

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