Archive for January 3rd, 2018

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Crystal Ball gazing 2018 – reshuffling the President’s men

January 3, 2018

Loathed as the blog is to embark on crystal ball gazing for 2018, (simply because there is every chance that progress will be minimal and defending previous gains will become the meme for 2018), in response to a reader’s email, there are a few possibilities worthy of note.

It appears President Poroshenko will base his 2019 reelection campaign upon the defence and national security platform – where to be fair, those running against him will have the most difficulty in undermining his tenure.

The front line along the occupied Donbas is now entrenched – literally – and further Russian/Russian sponsored surges into Ukrainian with the objective of taking and controlling more Ukrainian territory unlikely.

This is a war of political and societal exhaustion being waged by The Kremlin, and as such there is no political or societal need to make any further territorial gains for the sake of either improving its negotiating position or wearily attempting to grind away at Ukrainian public resolve.

Neither is there any end to this war in sight.  Ukraine matters more to The Kremlin than any other expedition it has, or may yet embark upon.  That was, is, and will remain the case.

However, while the armed forces are certainly far more professional, experienced, better equipped and trained than when President Poroshenko began his first tenure, there is still a very long way to go in order to meet and/or approximate with the numerous NATO standards which President Poroshenko has repeatedly (and rightly) stated is the aim.  Article 3 of the Washington Treaty is a worthy (and necessary) goal – albeit Article 3 should be viewed not only as a military goal, but also political, societal, and economic target too, for national resilience is much than having a respectable military.

As such the oligarch capture of large sections of the economy, and with corruption unambiguously being a national security issue, there is clearly a long way to go before Ukraine gets anywhere near Article 3 compliance and/or approximation.

Nevertheless, the teeth arms have radically improved in quality and ability over recent years, even if corruption and waste (often intertwined) in military logistics and production remain problematic.  The 2018 military budget is a record UAH86 billion – it remains to be seen (or perhaps not seen) just how much is lost to waste and/or corruption.  It further remains to be seen just what external lethal weaponry will begin to appear – and from whom (aside from Lithuania currently, and the US soon).

With the military being the most trusted of State entities by the public, clearly President Poroshenko will also spend more time embedding himself with the military in an attempt to reap the benefits of voter psychology.

This however will not be enough.  With a defence and national security electoral platform, President Poroshenko will have to be seen to be doing something (other than spending UAH86 billion) and rightly lauding those brave souls on the front lines, and getting defence and national security legislation passed and onto the statute books.

Ergo, with NATO standards as the declared objective, and electoral political framing and action a requirement, it seems almost certain that General Stepan Poltorak will either leave his post as Minister of Defence, or he will leave the military to remain in post.  The NATO normative is that a Ministry of Defence is headed by a civilian, which discounts General Poltorak whilst ever he remains a serving military officer.

The chances are he will be replaced – albeit there will be other military orientated openings to fill.

Who will replace him?

When Yuri Lutsenko was shoehorned in as Prosecutor General, it was clear that it occurred for a few reasons.  First his loyalty to President Poroshenko.  Secondly his ability as a “time served” Grey Cardinal to strike grubby deals behind the curtain (and subsequently not manage to jail any “big fish” during his tenure (how ever long that might be).  Lastly, he clearly wanted to return to the Cabinet of Ministers and the top of Ukrainian politics, but there were no suitable positions for a Grey Cardinal and former Interior Minister.  Prosecutor General was a high profile “parking” position.

Mr Lutsenko will want out of the Prosecutor General’s role as soon as is practicable.  That not one “big fish” has been convicted and gone to jail despite Mr Lutsenko’s oft bellicose public proclamations is hardly doing what is left of his political capital much good.  A role where “achievements” manifest is desired.

Thus moving Mr Lutsenko (perhaps Spring/Summer) to replace General Poltorak would deal with numerous issues for President Poroshenko.  Firstly a NATO normative will have been met.  Secondly yet more delays in (successful or otherwise) prosecutions relating to “sensitive individuals” may be further justified as any new appointment “familiarises” themselves in a new role.  Lastly, Mr Lutsenko returns to top tier politics and the Cabinet of Ministers (as well as a seat on the NSDC) leading a Ministry of Defence with its biggest ever budget.

There are also on-going issues within Ukroboronprom that may possibly see the current CEO, Mr Romanov (and others) removed.  There will probably be very senior vacancies for Poroshenko-loyal “government” and “military” personnel who may be looking for “parking” positions within six months.

As stated months ago, there is also a long overdue requirement to reform the SBU, which spends far too much time dealing with matters that are not its core competencies.  For example, in areas such as organised crime (which is a national security issue) its activities go far beyond “oversight” and intelligence, and manifest in almost daily operations that the police are more than capable of carrying out and investigating.

As such, SBU reform will require the surrendering of some responsibilities to other existing agencies – and if the new National Bureau for Financial Security comes into being, then economic intelligence is about as far as the SBU remit should go.

To be blunt, there is enough counterterrrorism, counterintelligence, and counterespionage work for the SBU to concentrate upon that an overseeing and intelligence gathering ability upon organised crime and economic issues from a national security perspective should mean all SBU resources are constantly very busy – without getting involved in daily “policing”.  Whether the current SBU Chief, Vasyl Hrytsak shares that view (having previously headed Department K – the corruption and organised crime department within the SBU) is perhaps going to be irrelevant.

In meeting NATO standards with a civilian as defence minister, is there a likelihood that the Ukrainian spook agency may also see a civilian head too.

The issue here being that with any civilian Minister of Defence by definition will be a politician as a Minister (perhaps Mr Lutsenko, perhaps not), while the head of the Ukrainian spook service would ideally be a civil servant rather than a politician.  The point being that intelligence is supposed to assist in shaping policy, and policy/politics should not shape intelligence product.  Ergo an a-political civil servant rather than a politician will be perceived as the “intelligent” way forward in the absence of a career spook heading the service.

Unfortunately the SBU has always been a political instrument of any sitting Ukrainian president – and remains so today.  Should Mr Hrytsak be replaced it will be because he is not “political enough” – despite his loyalty to President Poroshenko.  Who would replace him is simply speculation – but politician rather than civil servant would seem more likely.  It would be somebody with all the right clearances.  Perhaps somebody that will not be required to play a major role in the presidential reelection campaign and thus not missed, but by virtue of being actively within the Bankova already has presidential trust (which matters more than ability)?

The most likely candidates to run the Poroshenko reelection campaign would appear to be Ihor Rainin or Alexandr Turchynov – as to be blunt there are not that many people in Ukraine capable of running a national reelection campaign for the incumbent who can raise the money, strike the grubby deals, spend the money (without stealing it) effectively, do not require micromanagement, and have a vested interest in the incumbent winning and are yet coercive enough and without too many (current) sworn enemies.

The question is where Mr Turchynov sees his future, and how much of the People’s Front would follow him down a Poroshenko path, or whether Mr Rainin would frustrate the assimilation of the “best of the bunch” from the People’s Front and simultaneously make the final year of the Verkhovna Rada unworkable as the coalition fell apart.

The crystal ball now becomes more than a little blurry – and will perhaps stay that way until late Spring/Summer 2018 when President Poroshenko will have to decide who will run his reelection campaign.

Nevertheless, predictions within the next 3 to 9 months with regard to defence and national security in particular – Out will be some of the executive leadership of Ukroboronprom, and in particular the CEO, Mr Romanov.  Also out will be General Poltorak as Defence Minister.  Yuri Lutsenko wants away from the PGO and a return to top-table politics as a politician, and Mr Hrytsak’s SBU position could well be in danger as while politically subservient, he is not “political enough”.

Thus there will be vacancies to fill within the defence and national security framework, and Yuri Lutsenko as Minister of Defence answers political many problems – so maybe that will happen.  Whether General Poltorak or Mr Hrytsak would entertain a senior role at Ukroboronprom – who knows?  As there is no longer a requirement for formal legal qualifications to become Prosecutor General, there are numerous possibilities for a Lutsenko replacement – but a Poroshenko political animal it will surely be.  Perhaps somebody from within The Bankova.  There will also be a role to fill as head of any new National Bureau for Financial Security – if Mr Hrytsak is deemed to be “not political enough” to remain SBU Chief, would the same view apply for this new role?  That is open to question – if he were interested in the position at all.

Aside from that, the prediction for 2018 is that it will be a very difficult political year where domestic progress will be slow, and defence of what has already been achieved will become a priority – such will be the nature of a year where all domestic political eyes (and vested interests) look to the presidential and then Verkhovna Rada elections of 2019.

Naturally the external Russian threat will remain omnipresent – and expect cyber issues to cause more problems than military ones, though they will not be the only way Kremlin shenanigans manifest within Ukraine.

It will be necessary to keep the faith.

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