It has to be said that Viktor Pinchuk of all the Ukrainian oligarchy has always been the most intriguing for this blog.
Firstly, compared to the others, Mr Pinchuk is actually a clever guy. He had managed to become a multi-millionaire through his engineering creativity before marrying the daughter of former President Kuchma – and thereafter leveraging that marriage during the Kuchma epoch to move from being a multi-millionaire to a billionaire.
His time directly (rather than indirectly) in Ukrainian political life as a parliamentarian was really rather brief and began in the same year as his marriage to former President Kuchma’s daughter in 2002 and ended with the “Orange Revolution” of 2004/5 with Mr Pinchuk having backed Viktor Yanukovych. Despite easily being able to buy his way into any parliament, he chose not to do so.
Since then his political influence has been indirect insofar as manifesting via parliamentarians both national and local that are loyal to him. It should also be noted that “his people” are generally far more subtle than the drones of Kolomoisky, Firtash or Akhmetov.
He also has a penchant for collecting famous friends – The Clintons, Damien Hirst, Elton John etc.
In fact, aside from feeding from the State subsidy trough and self-interest indirect political machinations, Mr Pinchuk set about rehabilitating his image through philanthropy and his own foundation from 2006 onward with very little domestic public oratory or prose.
The annual YES conference is a Pinchuk brainchild that he funds – which in 2016 notably saw Mr Pinchuk pay Donald Trump to speak at (albeit a speech lacking in clarity and not without technical problems) via a video link despite his association with (and donations to) the Clintons for many years.
Perhaps a lesser known fact was that during the “Revolution of Dignity”, Mr Pinchuk funded the provision of medical supplies to treat the injured.
Aside from a few historical legal battles, most notably with Ihor Kolomoisky over assets, Mr Pinchuk rarely features in the news – unlike many of his peer oligarchs. There is in fact very little that can be attributed to him personally by way of public statements or on the record oratory. Clearly a deliberate policy on his part.
It was something of a surprise therefore when an article appeared in the WSJ, authored by, or ghost written and then attributed to, Viktor Pinchuk. The article has ruffled many Ukrainian feathers, both political and societal, being prima facie interpreted as a plan for capitulation to The Kremlin.
In a nutshell he spoke (wrote) out in favour of elections in the “DNR” and “LNR” by politely forgetting about Crimea if it meant an end to the deaths in the occupied Donbas, the abandoning of any thoughts of joining NATO and the creation of a formal understanding that Ukraine would not be joining the EU any time soon.
Now to be fair, there are those on the Crimea Committee of the Verkhovna Rada, even of patriotic leaning, that have privately told the blog that they foresee Crimea returning to Ukraine only if the Russian Federation implodes in similar fashion to that of the USSR – and if that be so then the returning of Crimea will be an issue dwarfed by the ramifications of such an implosion for Ukraine more generally.
That said, there is none on the said committee that would advocate anything other than “Crimea is Ukraine” as a domestic and international policy – quite rightly.
With regard to the EU, as previously written the Association Agreement (and DCFTA) is not an instrument that takes Ukraine into the EU. Only the completion of the Aquis Communautaire can do that – and that is a process Ukraine has not even asked to commence. The simplest way to view the Association Agreement is as a document that brings “European norms” to Ukraine at a speed at which Ukraine can achieve them – ie it brings “Europe” to Ukraine at a speed and in chunks that Ukraine can handle/digest. For Ukraine to go to the EU, an entirely different thing, then it is the Aquis that is the only route – a route more demanding than anything within the Association Agreement.
Likewise, whatever Ukraine may or may not do with NATO, it is currently a long way from being at a civilian and military standard by which it could join.
In short, Ukraine is decades away from meeting the requirements of the Aquis for EU accession – if it ever applies. It is probably about a decade away from fully meeting the civilian and military standards required for NATO entry – should it ever ask to join.
Those are the bureaucratic realities and limitations of Ukrainian reformation and their speed – notwithstanding political limitations of those that would have to agree to any Ukrainian accession. None of this is a secret. The respective institutions know it. The Kremlin knows it. Ukraine knows it. And Mr Pinchuk knows it.
The domestic angst naturally, insofar as NATO and the EU is concerned, comes from his call for codification of such matters and the legislative boundaries they would place upon Ukraine for at best, uncertain and ill-defined “gains”. Peace at any cost does not bring peace – it brings an armistice fated to fail at some undetermined point in the future.
Why then, has Mr Pinchuk who rarely makes public statements, decided now is the time to make such a statement and one that is guaranteed to irk the public, the political class, and paint him as a Kremlin stooge domestically and among many of Ukraine’s “friends” abroad?
Is it a reaction to witnessing fellow oligarch Dmitry Firtash exiled to Vienna, or Ihor Kolomoisky lose PrivatBank to nationalisation, or seeing all oligarchs with fingers in high energy usage industries (including Mr Pinchuk) now subject to energy pricing that sees an end to subsidies/most favoured user status? It seems somewhat unlikely.
Will the oligarchy now find common ground for a robust fightback against the government in 2017, and this is somehow Mr Pinchuk declaring unity? Also somewhat unlikely.
Has Mr Pinchuk simply decided that giving in to The Kremlin is the only way to undo the current deadlock? Maybe, maybe not.
Has he been bought off or manipulated by Moscow somehow?
As the chances of any of his WSJ points being implemented are currently very slim at best, and will make him extremely unpopular at home, how does Mr Pinchuk benefit from his unusual public intervention?
All questions to be asked.
Also to be asked are why make such statements now, and why chose the WSJ to do it in?
The answer may be that the article was written and published in the WSJ specifically for one reader. That reader being Donald Trump.
It may well be that Mr Pinchuk has little belief that what he has written will become policy and be implemented.
He may well not believe that this is the right policy either.
However, just as with voting at the UN, it is not that uncommon to see some nations prima facie voting against their own interests in order to curry favour with others – in the full knowledge that the vote will be vetoed by yet another.
Maybe it was written to defend the business interests of Mr Pinchuk in the USA?
Perhaps the end result here, considering Mr Pinchuk’s penchant for collecting “friends” like the Clintons, Damien Hirst and Elton John etc, is that Mr Pinchuk may be seeking to become the Ukrainian “name” most liked and granted most access by Donald Trump – no differently than Nigel Farage is angling to get (and may succeed) more personal interaction with Donald Trump than UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
If Mr Pinchuk can achieve a personal status that grants him more access to Donald Trump (and a kinder ear) than President Porosehnko simply by writing something he believes Mr Trump would read agreeably within the WSJ, then he may feel it a gamble worth taking with the repercussions among Ukrainian domestic politics a prize worth chasing.
Perhaps a lens through which to view Mr Pinchuk’s rare public prose? Perhaps all it takes is being a billionaire, a few well chosen (if never implemented) words in the WSJ agreeable to a personality like Mr Trump and suddenly Mr Pinchuk becomes “Don’s man in Ukraine”.