Archive for December 19th, 2017


Security and Defence Reform – The Poroshenko election platform?

December 19, 2017

As Ukraine enters 2018, and with presidential elections in March 2019 and Verkhovna Rada elections in October 2019, the pre-election electioneering has already begun.  In truth it began to take shape in the summer of 2017 and became obvious by October 2017.  Little now happens within the political class without one eye being upon 2019.

As has been written here many times already – all the low hanging reform fruit has long since been picked.  The requirement to cede to external pressure at the expense of domestic “vested interests” has also subsided – for now.  The wiggle room for the President to avoid further infringing upon those “vested interests” has radically reduced, as had the scope to “compensate for losses incurred” through other means.

Hence both sabotage (or attempts thereof) of existing reforms and policy from across the political spectrum, together with blunt attacks upon institutions beyond Bankova influence via institutions that are subordinate to it, reflect the more limited room to maneuver and also attempts not to rock the domestic “vested interests” boat prior to elections – for the majority of those “vested interests” will expect “assurances” if they are to get behind the current leadership.

As such reform and policy change (not the same thing) have slowed to the point of glacial whilst trying not to rock the domestic “vested interests” boat, and yet simultaneously to do enough to remain “the least worst option” for external supporters of Ukraine.

Not an easy balancing act to accomplish when also trying to gather sufficient votes to be reelected – and later sew together a majority coalition that is at the very least sympathetic toward The Bankova after the Verkhovna Rada elections.

It seems improbable that President Poroshenko can deliver all the promises made during his previous election campaign prior to 2019 even if he wanted to – for to do so will not sit well with the “vested interests”.  Some promises made have been delivered.  Others are nowhere near to delivery nor even on the agenda beyond rhetoric.

It is of course always easier to be in opposition.  There is no pressure to deliver policy or reform.  Currently few if any opposition figures give any hope of being any better than the current incumbent – some would certainly be worse.  The usual tired names offer the same wearisome outcomes – 6 or 9 months of progress following election, followed by a return to insuring “vested interests” are serviced and illicit cash flows are redirected.  That, and naturally then a period of political (and thus business) “score settling”.  So goes the unofficial political timetable following elections.

The opposition presidential candidates will do little more than point to the promises unfulfilled – and make promises to fulfill them for the most part – as well as engage in the usual political intrigues and “scandals”.  There is likely to be very little new, creative, or imaginative reform proposals or policy gems forthcoming from them – and what does come forth will probably be flapdoodle for the most part.  Ukraine is already obligated to the Association Agreement.  There is already a ratified and binding plan.  The choice is to meet those obligations – or not.

Yet there will have to be a theme for the presidential election for the incumbent.  One that draws attention from failures and deliberately slow progress in certain areas, but that will yet capture the attention of the voting constituency relating to perhaps themed past successes, future trajectory, and that which is actually deliverable without rocking the “vested interests”, yet meet with broad public approval.

It will not be enough for The Bankova to point to past successes (and perhaps foolish to point to those it is on occasion widely perceived to have tried to undo).  It is also time to relegate distractions like Misha Saakashvili to the status of exactly that – distractions.  Some of what has seemingly passed as “strategic thinking” within The Bankova over the past few months has been nothing short of counterproductive.

Further it will not be enough to measure the successes there have been, against the historical failures of other candidates when they held high office.  To state Ms Tymoshenko has only ever delivered an entirely onerous gas deal in 20+ years of politics will fall somewhat flat.  To claim Yuri Boiko was a top, Kremlin friendly, Yanukovych apparatchik also has limited impact.  Contemporary Ukrainian political figures and their past misdeeds, fecklessness, and biases are already known.  Thus although reminders there will be, the level of voter impact minimal.

Nobody will take any statements by any such presidential candidate relating to combating the oligarchy by stripping assets or investigating them and throwing them in jail with any seriousness (and the way to combat them is to throw open the economy, protect external investors and thus dilute their grip upon it – sector by sector if necessary, even if that prolongs and protects certain “vested interests” by adopting such a sectoral approach).

As there is no desire to have a fully functioning anti-corruption court prior to elections in 2019, progress will be thus timed.  But progress, slow as it will be, shall be visible.  Nevertheless, judicial reform has not exactly been the high watermark legislatively, and is yet to show any significant results either.  Perhaps not the best campaign platform – at least as of the time of writing.

Other reforms and policies, if effectively implemented (consistently the biggest failure of Ukraine) may begin to bear fruit in a tangible sense at the right time politically (education, health, plus the usual political bribes of minimum wage and pension increases etc) – so are the best laid plans.

Perhaps the simplest and safest theme for The Bankova presidential campaign is one of security and defence.

Yes there is continued corruption within the MoD and MIC, and naturally that does no favours for the nation and those defending it, but there has been, and is visible progress within military reform – and the military currently tops the “most trusted” of State entities as far as the public is concerned.  Nevertheless, despite continued corruption, and albeit with eternal assistance, Ukraine has managed to hold the line and defend itself insofar as the current kinetic warfare in and around the occupied Donbas is concerned.  The price is high in blood and treasure – such is the nature of war.  The price of capitulation or appeasement is higher.

When all is said and done however, Ukraine is heading in the right direction when it comes to defence policy, spending, and national capabilities.  That is not to say (nukes aside) it can match an aggressive Russia in an all-out slugging competition, but the point is to make such an all-out slugging competition prohibitively expensive in Russian blood and treasure.  There is still some way to go before a prohibitive defensive resilience on land, sea, air and cyber can be said to have been achieved, but progress is undeniable.

Defence therefore is seemingly fairly solid political ground, and thus a reasonable election platform – except that defence goes hand in hand with national security.

With regard to national security, just over a month ago the blog raised the issue of SBU reform – or indeed the profound lack of it – and pondered the possible reasons why reform has not been forthcoming when it is so clearly required.

The 18th December witnessed a statement from Alexander Vinnikov, the Ukrainian Head of Delegation to NATO, in which he stated 2018 would be the year that a civilian Minister of Defence would be appointed (per NATO normative), national security legislation would be introduced, and reform of the SBU would occur.

So will playing with the nuts and bolts of the SBU, a focusing on what it should be doing, and equally what it should be doing far less of, together with statutory changes in 2018, make defence and national security a solid election platform containing far less political booby traps than other reform and policy areas for March 2019?

The answer is perhaps.

The potential problem with national security as a reelection platform is that it addresses both external and internal threats – and one such major internal threat is corruption.  It is for good reason that corruption has long been recognised as a national security issue by many nations.

Corruption weakens the State, its institutions, its politics, its economy, and its society.  All become less resilient – and that returns the Ukrainian constituency to Article 3 of the Washington Treaty, and focuses upon an area where any presidential reelection campaign would prefer not to go – corruption and the fact no big fish have gone to jail, and “vested interests” remain just as “vested” and as entrenched.

All that said, the SBU, and national security more broadly is in dire need of reform – so whether or not defence and national security is to become the presidential reelection platform (in the absence of better alternatives), is not to detract from the envisaged 2018 reform (on the presumption that reform is meaningful and beneficial, and not just a paper exercise).  National security reform is long overdue.

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