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Onishchenko – The politics of sacrificing your own

July 6, 2016

The 5th July saw the Verkhovna Rada vote to strip MP Alexander Onishchenko of his immunity (and impunity) and provide for his arrest by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) – naturally as is almost always the case, not before he had left the country.

In fact, so long has it taken for this event to occur – weeks – Mr Onishchenko could have walked to Austria where he currently is apparently, in order to avoid arrest.  Trail in absentia seems likely for Mr Onishchenko, albeit his co-accused in alleged nefarious natural gas scams may not all manage to escape the clutches of Ukrainian law enforcement.

Undoubtedly Mr Onishchenko will attempt to avoid extradition (when requested) from Austria with political persecution as the grounds to frustrate Ukraine.  It remains to be seen if such attempts will be successful, or alternatively whether a quick dash to Russia awaits.

Nevertheless, the Verkhovna Rada parliamentarians managed, the “Old Guard” somewhat begrudgingly perhaps, to raise enough votes to support the NABU request to arrest Mr Onishchenko (if they ever get the chance).

As MP Alexie Goncharenko stated (the blindingly obvious) following the Onishchenko vote, it is now time for the Verkhovna Rada to once and for all raise the 300 votes to remove MPs immunity en masse (pursuant to a long since submitted Bill to do just that which was then passed at its first reading) to prevent the continuing farce of votes to remove immunity long after those parliamentarians (or judges) to be arrested have left the country.

Whether Alexie Goncharenko actually believes his own rhetoric, or whether it is simply a populist statement easily made in the recognition of a very unlikely scenario of a successful 300+ vote is difficult to gauge.  On balance, knowing Mr Goncharenko for some years, in this case he probably believes in what he says – rather than using such rhetoric to create a PR bubble to raise his profile in the immediate term as he tends to do every so often.

However, what was far more interesting than the outcome of the vote to strip the immunity of Mr Onishchenko and allow his arrest (which was always likely upon the first NABU request), were the antics of Ms Tymoshenko and the Batkivshchyna Party before, during, and after the vote.

Mr Onishchenko has long been rumoured to be a major backer/financier of the Batkivshchyna Party.  Perhaps not a shock to readers that a man now wanted for allegedly nefarious gas dealings would finance a party led by a woman of an allegedly similar background.  Vested interests therefore for Batkivshchyna, Yulia Tymoshenko, and the “sympathies” of many of the “Old Guard” that are also entirely absent integrity and untainted criminal histories that may yet resurface.

Normally Ms Tymoshenko wastes no time in speaking for the Batkivshchyna Party from the podium within the Verkhovna Rada.  Indeed it is especially easy to do when spouting populist flapdoodle that will simply not get the traction within the Verkhovna Rada voting chamber, but can be pushed into the media for the purposes of pre-election populist electioneering.

However, it is not particularly comfortable as the Party leader to stand at a podium and announce that the Batkivshchyna Party position is to vote to remove the immunity and allow the arrest for corrupt gas practices of a long term party financier.  After all, those corrupt practices may very well have been financing the Party a reader may suspect.

The problem being for Ms Tymoshenko, to be seen to vote against the first ever NABU request to the Verkhovna Rada as a political party that claims to want to fight corruption would also never do.

Dilemma!

Very unusually therefore, and in what may be inferred as either a politically sly, or morally weak (or probably both) moment, Ms Tymoshenko had the ever faithful Sergei Sobolev take on the role of an unwilling Judas and announce the Batkivshchyna Party voting line position at the Verkhovna Rada podium.  Her absence at the podium cannot fail to have gone unnoticed by regular political on-lookers.

Further, of the 19 Batkivshchyna Party parliamentarians present, only 9 actually voted.

Clearly Ms Tymoshenko, to maintain the facade of anti-corruption warrior voted against the interests of her party financier.  In mitigation, and obviously with her explicit or tacit consent, the “Old Guard” of her party either did not vote whatsoever, per MPs Serhiy Vlasenko and Boris Tarasyuk failing to enter their voting cards into the machine when the vote took place, Hryhoriy Nemyria registered an “Abstain” in the vote count, and Alexander Kuzhel was recorded as absent – despite being present and lounging around in the Presidential Chair in preparation to block the workings of the Verkhovna Rada for the rest of the afternoon post the Onishchenko voting.

(For the record, 273 MPs voted to allow the prosecution of Onishchenko, 265 for his detention, and 263 for his arrest – Yes readers, it took 3 votes to allow NABU the legal parameters to fully do their job regarding Mr Onishchenko.)

Immediately after the voting, as the above paragraph infers, Ms Tymoshenko returned to the Verkhovna Rada centre stage to announce that Batkivshchyna was joining the long running, albeit sporadic, Radical Party blocking of parliament.

The Radical Party blocking of the functioning of the Verkhovna Rada relates to a long-standing call to create a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into (implicitly President Porosehnko’s) offshore entities and associated corruption and/or tax avoidance.

Its attempts to create the said investigative entity were not supported by enough parliamentarians – its cause not helped by its own leaders demand to lead the Commission of Inquiry.  It is enough that Oleh Lyashko is the Verkhovna Rada resident clown – every circus has one and the Verkhovna Rada is indeed (at times) a circus – but it is not necessary for that circus to make the clown the headline act, particularly when it is the clown demanding he be so.

The Radicals, true to their populist form (without ever offering sensible alternatives/solutions) are also demanding a reduction of gas tariffs (the raising of required by the IMF upon which Ukraine is dependent) and a new law stipulating where domestically produced gas must be used.

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Ms Tymoshenko who remains the undoubted Queen of Populism (and of absent policy) also makes great pains to raise the gas tariff issue (despite having agreed when PM to raise prices in a similar deal with the IMF, to then break that deal and subsequently lose IMF funding), and having moments before seen her Party financier left to a rule of law suitable only for the likes of the hoi polloi, decided her Party will join the Radicals in preventing the Verkhovna Rada from functioning – there has to be a political cost to nobbling her Party financier after all.

Thus Alexander Kuzhel could not vote to unseat the Party financier (and therefore was saved voting against a longtime ally)  because he was involved in preparatory legislation blocking acts being sat in the President’s Chair and unable to vote from his own voting booth.  Returning heroine of Ukraine, Hope Savchenko, sat in the Speakers Chair (perhaps not a wise move on her part), and Yulia Tymoshenko, together with Radical leader Oleh Lyashko blocked the podium.

A reader may note that Ms Tymoshenko probably has no real interest in a parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into offshore shenanigans, shell companies, trusts, tax avoidance et al as advocated for by the Radical Party.  The Ukrainian media is historically replete with details of Czech, Greek, Cypriot entities tied to her, as do US court documents from the Lazarenko case after all – notwithstanding any “Panama-esque” issues current or future.

Suffice to say that the gas tariff issue that seemingly only now warrants joint action with the Radicals in preventing the functioning of the national legislature, but previously has been portrayed solely a Batkivshchyna cause in its orchestrated PR/media framing, is but a convenient cover for exacting a political price for the political demise of Alexander Onishchenko.

How long this coalition of physically blocking the functioning of the national legislature will last remains to be seen.  How long will Ms Tymoshenko want to be seen working with the court jester?  How long can the court jester suffer the ego of Ms Tymoshenko?  Therein perhaps is the answer.

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