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Managing the fall

The Ukrainian political season of 2018 began in the Carpathian village of Huta last weekend. After New Year holidays, members of the so-called Strategic Seven came to the Synehora presidential residence located here since Leonid Kuchma's times.

Among those who accepted the president's invitation to "meet and talk in private" were Volodymyr Groysman, Ihor Raynin, Andriy Parubiy, Yuriy Lutsenko, Oleksandr Turchynov and Ihor Kononenko. 

It is interesting that Arsen Avakov rejected the invitation and did not come to Huta. Neither did Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Borys Lozhkin. And whereas the ex-head of the presidential administration said at once that he would not be able to attend, it was not clear until the very last moment whether the ex-prime minister was to come. At first, it was said that Arseniy Petrovych had back pain but then he got himself together and a car was sent to pick him at Ivano-Frankivsk airport, but he did not come after all.

Photo: politnavigator.net

"We are drowning with him. But why should we?"

Thus, the Seven (the name stems from the actual number of persons involved) failed to meet in its full composition. According to sources, in view of the "shortage", it was more of a friendly gathering rather than an important meeting of the country's top leaders. Initially, the meeting was planned to take two decisions:

a) appoint Oleksandr Turchynov as head of Petro Poroshenko's election campaign HQ;

b) work out a clear strategy for the future campaign.

Oleksandr Turchynov's nomination for head of the campaign in charge of Petro Poroshenko's bid for the second tenure has been on the agenda for a while now. It was considered settled back in the spring when it transpired that Serhiy Berezenko may have similar ambitions. And Poroshenko could not choose between the two companions. The issue was left hanging in the air, provoking a further fissure in the strained relations between the People's Front (PF) and the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB). As you may remember, the two parties were expected to join forces "in the name of the second term". This has not happened yet and is unlikely to happen.

Serhiy Berezenko
Photo: Max Trebukhov
Serhiy Berezenko

"There is no reason to hurry [with deciding/not deciding on the unification – Koshkina's note]," a senior PF member says. "We need to see Poroshenko's rating when he enters the campaign. Let us assume - it does not matter even on what terms - we publicly support the president already now. Then, six months later, it turns out that his ratings simply do not allow him to be re-elected. By no means. What does it mean? It means that we are drowning with him. But why should we?"

After the November congress of the People's Front, at which its political leaders announced their intention to participate in the presidential election (without the prefix "on their own", but still), the chance of the unification has further dwindled.

"For this [unification – Koshkina's note] to happen, the president should clearly say how we will go through the parliamentary election together, and who will get what as a result of the campaign. Today the ball is in the court of Petro Oleksiyovych, but he keeps mum. Why should we impose ourselves? They will come and give it all to us on their own. But it is not a given fact that we will take it," says another prominent PF representative, dropping a clear hint that Poroshenko is not the only "democratic" candidate.

And now two of the three PF leaders have made a case of snubbing the strategic meeting in Huta.

As for the third one, Mr Turchynov, those who have been in close contact with him recently say that Poroshenko indeed suggested that he chair the campaign but "the wording was not very specific".

The secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, for his part, put three conditions in exchange for his consent.

Photo: Serhiy Nuzhnenko
 

In brief, the struggle for the second term should exactly correspond to the slogan "to live in a new way", namely:

a) settle the Roshen issue. If you have already promised to sell it (as early as 2014), but then there were the story of a "blind trust" , other "delays" and so on, you still need to settle the issue. For example, hand the corporation over to your eldest son, Oleksiy;

b) leave Ukroboronprom alone. In all senses;

c) organize the work of the top-down command structure from Kyiv and "to the very outskirts" as a single whole. It should not be ruled by a corrupt interest.

These are correct conditions, there is no dispute. Yet the problem is that there is not a single person in Ukraine who could guarantee that they would be met.

Three campaign staffs for Poroshenko

For now, the head of state took a ritual pause. Ritual. There is almost no doubt that he will authorise Turchynov to oversee the "second term" mission - they have "grown" into each other too closely. It is worth noting that this idea has absolutely no support from some senior PF members, but their opinion is unlikely to be decisive.

At the same time, there are several more functionaries in the president's team who can manage electoral processes in a quality way (each at their own level). These are Ihor Raynin, Vitaliy Kovalchuk (who was in charge of the campaign HQ in 2014) and above-mentioned Serhiy Berezenko. Obviously, there will be work to do for each of them. In particular, there is an active discussion on the sidelines of the presidential administration on the strategy of forming three campaign staffs in parallel, which would not overlap in terms of functions and areas of responsibility.

Photo: LB.ua

The first one is conditionally called "public" and is designed for "external" and "internal" consumers. It must be chaired by a skilful speaker who has no notorious reputation, someone neutrally positive. For example, the head of the PPB faction in parliament, Artur Herasymov.

The second staff's task is to concentrate administrative efforts: contacts with governors and local elites. The two most obvious candidates for the role are Raynin and Berezenko.

And, finally, the third one should create and support satellite political projects and "dilute" competitors' assets. Here the obvious favourite is Vitaliy Kovalchuk.

"Who is on the team?"

"There is hardly any time left. For our own good, we need to answer a number of questions. First of all: who is on the team? For today, there are at least four potential presidential candidates in the pro-government camp: Poroshenko himself, Yatsenyuk, Lutsenko and Groysman," says one of the president's close associates.

"You should have seen how Groysman talks to Poroshenko now. His favourite phrase is 'What about me? I will do like the president does. I will go wherever the president goes.' That is, he is openly trolling him. Not to mention the fact that Groysman has learned how to work with parliament independently, he has his own HR policy, which he does not coordinate with anyone and so on," another source says.

"The scandal with Kolomoyskyy served a painful blow to Lutsenko. After Amsterdam, he had a very unpleasant conversation with the guarantor," says the third source. "Certainly, this does not mean that the president will give up on him. Even under the Western pressure, as was the case with Shokin. Yura is too important for him, knows too much, and there are simply no votes to replace the prosecutor-general. Nevertheless, we know where, how and how many times Oleksandr Tretyakov flew. And how he flew to Geneva without luggage and then returned with two heavy bags and went straight to Lutsenko's home," he adds.

Yuriy Lutsenko
Photo: EPA/UPG
Yuriy Lutsenko

Lutsenko naturally dismisses any allegations by his colleagues from the "political terrarium", saying that he does not take bribes in principle and that they are "just friends" with Tretyakov (which is indeed no secret).

"The West will step in between Poroshenko and his second term"

Amid all the above-mentioned details, the main question remains unanswered: what can candidate Poroshenko do to try and win? The presidential administration has no strategy or step-by-step action plan still.

An economic breakthrough? A tangible improvement in social standards? This scenario would be perfect, but there is no chance to have it implemented today. Needless to say, economic reforms are the responsibility of the Cabinet of Ministers and it does not necessarily want to share its success.

Ending the war? Out of question.

Western support? Certainly not this time. "The West will step in between Poroshenko and his second term. Surprisingly, but he can blame himself for this. All of us already understand this, but no-one has said it out loud yet. The only thing that pleases us is that the West has no alternative candidate for Petro Oleksiyovych. [National Anticorruption Bureau chief Artem] Sytnyk? Yes, you were the first to mention this. Maybe you are right. Although, publicly, he has not shown it yet. Neither has Vakarchuk. But he can be easily "diluted" with [TV producer and showman Volodymyr] Zelenskyy. In any case, all of them should be 'shot down' at take-off. Then it will be too late," say sources in the presidential administration in a hushed tone.

"The only thing that can help us win is if he turns out to be the best of the worst. But this is not really a good option, of course, " says another close associate (though not an official) of the president.

Another important condition for the victory is the consensus of elites. Specifically, among oligarchs. That is the way Ukrainian politics works, whether we like it or not.

Photo: EPA/UPG

For the time being, the presidential administration has 100% support from one "heavyweight" only. But the most significant one. We know his name.

"One detail is the price that will be paid for this. After all, the presidential election is followed by the parliamentary ones. So, we need to understand today what share in the coalition and in key portfolios he will have. And how we are going to 'sell' all of this to society and to the West," people in the presidential administration wonder, preferring not to mention Rinat Akhmetov in vain.

As for the other "heavyweights", today they are quite capable - even disregarding mutual hostility - of organizing an "anti-Poroshenko" coalition. The only question is who should they bet on? Yuliya Tymoshenko? No answer so far.

In addition, there are still two options on the political agenda. The first is constitutional reform. Back in the spring, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Arsen Avakov suggested a constitutional reform involving a significant delegation of powers from the president to parliament. "The guarantor will certainly not agree to this option. Although reform could be an excellent solution to the situation for all. For him, an argument for the second term. He could have said: I am the only truly democratic president, I am ready to cut my own powers. Again: if the second term falls through, it would be an excellent 'exit' option," one of LB.ua's regular sources in the presidential administration says.

However, he fails to mention that the reduction of powers is equal to the reduction of opportunities to capitalize on power. Simply put, to earn on it. Which became a bad tradition of all Ukrainian guarantors, except, perhaps, for Kravchuk.

Despite what I have said above, the option of a constitutional reform is still being discussed in the top offices. It also includes the establishment of the vice-president's post, which can be offered to one's closest political partners in return their support.

Option No 2 is a new party of power, to be formed either on the basis of the PF and the PPB, or a fundamentally new one, as Yuriy Lutsenko and Borys Lozhkin have insisted and still do. As I have said above, chances of implementing this project are dwindling, while new ideas come to the forefront, such as lowering the parliamentary election threshold "in package" with allowing blocs of parties to run for parliament. A lower threshold would be beneficial to everyone, except for Solidarity. Blocks are beneficial to all but the country as this would allow key players to "cooperate" indiscriminately, without any regard to party affiliation and other "subtleties".

A definite disadvantage for the president (whoever that will be) is a completely unmanageable parliament in 2019. "Unless we assign all the main posts subject to vote in parliament now and announce them at the start of the campaign, we will drown in internal competition. Everyone will work not for a 'collective', but for themselves. And we need exactly the opposite. Otherwise, it's a fiasco," a source in the presidential administration admits.

They admit it and make no secret of the fact that Bankova [street where the presidential administration is located] has increasingly less optimism about Petro Poroshenko's second term. Even among his closest associates. Again, they do not say it out loud yet, but they are already discussing it with each other. What is more, they are actively considering "alternative" bets. And a prospect of changing the electoral legislation, when the most odious characters will be pushed out "into the fields", is a trifle. A scenario of "sterile lists" (for parliamentary elections), which will be purged of any "toxic" characters, is attributed to the president's permanent spindoctor, Ihor Hryniv. But it is not the reason, that is not the only reason, why Ihor Kononenko came to like a district in Obukhiv District of Kyiv Region, which he visits several times a week.

Sonya Koshkina Sonya Koshkina , LB.ua editor in chief
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