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Combating corruption in Ukraine: Timeline of PR war for power

Aivaras Abromavicius. Photo: rian.com.ua

A few days ago, Ukraine’s Economic Development and Trade Minister Aivaras Abromavicius left with a bang. The foreign specialist resigned saying that the reforms in Ukraine were being blocked and that he was not going to be a cover for open corruption. "This is more than mere lack of support or political will. This is an active effort aimed at paralyzing our reform push," the minister told journalists last Wednesday. He named Ihor Kononenko, the Ukrainian president’s friend and one of the leaders of the parliamentary group of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, as one of those who kept pressuring him while he was in office. Abromavicius convoked the briefing instead of going to the Supreme Rada, where he was supposed to report on the results of his work. The same day, the Embassy of Sweden in Ukraine posted an open letter by the ambassadors of the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, who expressed their disappointment with Abromavicius’s resignation, with US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt calling the minister “one of the Ukrainian government's great champions of reform.”

Later, President Poroshenko invited Abromavicius to his office and asked him to stay and the minister promised to think it over. For many in Ukraine it was a flick of hope that the authorities would finally start the reforms. But for economists and MPs it was a signal that the PR war between the president and the prime minister was rising to a new level - a level involving even foreign diplomats.

Divide and rule in an American manner

It is not a secret that the Americans do not want any changes in the Ukrainian government. This is why, when asked about the possibility of Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s resignation, their Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said: “This would be a huge mistake. This would strengthen Kremlin’s belief that democracy in Ukraine is at its fall, not rise.” But the Americans’ concerns about Yatsenyuk have nothing to do with democracy or corruption. Simply, the existence of two camps – the president and the prime minister – gives them a freer hand in pushing their economic and geopolitical interests in Ukraine, for example, in wrecking any of Kiev’s attempts to implement the Minsk agreements. In Dec 2015, Poroshenko announced plans to adopt constitutional amendments on the special status of Donbass. Yatsenyuk and his parliamentary group objected that this required a referendum and blocked the amendments. It was then that the rumors about Yatsenyuk’s resignation began. And last week Poroshenko’s party even started to prepare for mid-term elections.

So, Abromavicius’s resignation may well be the Americans’ attempt to take the lead and to prevent the resignation of the whole government. Poroshenko was forced to ask the Lithuanian minister to stay and by doing this he made the change of the Cabinet less probable.

Timeline of PR war

While for Americans the support of Yatsenyuk is just a move in their geopolitical strategy on Ukraine, for Yatsenyuk this is a chance to stay in his office. In Kiev, Yatsenyuk and his company are called a “party of war.” This image helps them not so much to beat the “aggressor” as to pull at voters’ heartstrings and to wage a PR war against the president’s team. The war got especially hot last autumn, when the pro-presidential forces struck at the “grey figure” and the sponsor of Yatsenyuk, MP Mykola Martynenko: then journalist and now pro-presidential MP Serhiy Leschenko made public details of a criminal case against Martynenko in Switzerland. There he is accused of taking a bribe for a contract to supply Skoda’s equipment to Energoatom. Martynenko was forced to resign and now Yatsenyuk’s team is plotting a countermove against a man from Poroshenko’s camp: they are accusing Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin of shelving certain corruption cases. And US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and US Vice President Joe Biden support them in their charges. But Poroshenko’s precondition is change of the Cabinet, so, Shokin is still in his office.

From bad to worse. In Dec 2015, Spiegel published an article proving that the three-year campaign for releasing Yulia Tymoshenko was just a show. The role of a “martyr” Tymoshenko played at the times of Yanukovych helped the European a lot: the release of the “gas princess” was one of the key preconditions for EU Association.

For their successful campaign, German PR experts from GPRC got 500,000 EUR. Now Tymoshenko is on the margins of politics in Ukraine, so, the key target for Poroshenko was not she but Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Poroshenko is really keen to dismiss him. According to Spiegel, it was Avakov who paid for the PR campaign through his Investor Italia. It is not clear where the journalists have got Avakov’s e-mails from? They might have well got them from Ukraine’s special services and that might be a response to Avakov’s “attack” on Poroshenko’s man. We all remember how Avakov threw a glass of water at Mikheil Saakashvili in Poroshenko’s presence. The quarrel started when Avakov asked Saakashvili why he had contacted a “Russian oligarch from Uralkhim” concerning the Odessa Portside Plant, a facility controlled by Yatsenyuk’s men. Then Saakashvili called Avakov a corrupt official. And then we saw videos of Avakov’s throwing the glass at Saakashvili and of Saakashvili’s meeting the Russian oligarch. Though the latter one was a fake, it caused a scandal. The former president of Georgia is Poroshenko’s man, who keeps slating Yatsenyuk for corruption and now he is facing similar charges. So, Spiegel’s dirt against Avakov may well be Poroshenko’s counter-move.

Abromavicius’s resignation: “trace” of disgraced oligarch

It is not clear if it was the US Embassy who suggested Abromavicius’s resignation or if it was their joint project with Yatsenyuk’s team, but some media have already found the “trace” of the disgraced oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky in this PR show. The man whom the president’s man tried to impose on Abromavicius is said to be Deputy CEO of Naftogaz of Ukraine Andriy Pasishnik. It was he who supervised Ukrnafta and reported violations in that biggest state-owned company, where Kolomoisky owns 49%. It was that the Ukrnafta case that forced the oligarch to resign last year. Recently, the company was placed under the control of the Economic Development Ministry. So, it was logical that they in Kiev were planning to appoint Pasishnik as deputy minister so he could put an end to Kolomoisky’s control in Ukrnafta. The key opponent here might be Kolomoisky’s comrade, Yatsenyuk.

What matter here is that the resignation of the Lithuanian minister was not a reformer's outcry but just the next act of a banal PR war for power and that the Ukrainians are facing not a road to bright European future but a country where clans continue fighting for power and are making corruption-related scandals public only to sink their rivals.

Gennadiy Granovsky (Dnipropetrovsk), specially for EADaily

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