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Ukraine and MikhoMaidan: the small bang theory

Mikheil Saakashvili. Photo: news-front.info

Not only the MikhoMaidan is alive – despite the skepticism of Russian political experts – but is becoming more and more radical. The attempt to seize the October Palace in Kiev was quite symptomatic. Our political experts often refuse to admit obvious facts. Let’s try to show a more systematic approach to this problem.

Is Washington willing to retain its control over Ukraine? Yes, it is: the hopes that the White House has gotten tired of Ukraine and will give up on one of the biggest post-Soviet economies are groundless.

The Americans have paid almost nothing for their control over Ukraine ($5bn for democracy building is just $200mn-300mn a year). As regards their military assistance, they are supplying the Ukrainians mostly with the arms they are not going to use any more. And the losses they are sustaining as a result of their sanction policy are tiny if compared with the size of their economy.

The Russians are spending $3bn a year to support Donbass and will continue to do it even if the conflict is frozen as that region will remain dangerous and will hardly be attractive to investors. For the Russians, the sanctions are rather painful.

The Americans’ presence in Ukraine blocks the Kremlin’s plan to assemble the post-Soviet jigsaw puzzle and keeps tensed the Russians’ relations with the EU. Ukraine is a strong foothold for the Americans just 1,500 km away from Moscow and they will hardly cede such a big and valuable buffer zone.

In other words, this is an example of a big strategic win with almost no costs. And the Americans will hardly give up on it.

The Americans’ strategic goal in Ukraine is to create a stable anti-Russian regime rather than a zone of chaos. Ukraine’s collapse would cause problems with transit and refugees. Transit is no longer a problem for Russia. Refugees would cause some local problems but would help the Russians to neutralize the demographic consequences of the 1990s (a slump in the number of able-bodied Russians in the near future).

If Ukraine is divided, Russia will enlarge its zone of influence. And this will become a warning for the other pro-Western post-Soviet regimes. The Russians would certainly make the best of this scenario. But for the time being, the Americans have no grounds for letting this happen.

In other words, they want to eternalize the results of the Maidan but not Poroshenko’s regime. For them, Poroshenko was a palliative from the very beginning.

IMF reforms have never made anybody popular among his people. Economic crisis in Ukraine was inevitable. The association with the EU was one of the key goals of the Americans in Ukraine (their most loyal puppet Arseniy Yatsenyuk was the author of almost all isolationist initiatives in Ukraine). The break-up with Russia was inevitable as you cannot build an efficient anti-Russia without breaking the economic and cultural ties with Russia.

Any revolutionary or pseudo-revolutionary crisis develops according to the same scenario: in three-four years, people get tired, in eight-ten years, they get disappointed and the story ends in a remodeling in its different forms. In Eastern Europe, the advocates of shock therapy policies have been replaced by Socialists.

Poroshenko’s second term will hardly bring prosperity into Ukraine. The declared GDP growth is based on construction and trade (mostly imports) rather than industry. But very soon, Ukraine is due to repay its foreign debts and has little if any hope for rescheduling.

In other words, despite all the efforts of his propaganda machine, even if reelected, Poroshenko may finish his second term with the rating of Yushchenko. And this may cause some unexpected bang or a serious setback.

Poroshenko is just a palliative for the West. Unlike the Ukrainian voters, the U.S. Department of State has good memory and in 2014, it was well aware who the new savior of the Ukrainian nation was. In the mid-2000s, the U.S. embassy in Kiev qualified Poroshenko as an extremely corrupt but cooperative politician: a big corrupt businessman in an offshore-based economy was the best option for the Americans and looked as a guarantee against mass repressions and new corrupt schemes. It was a compromise that helped the Americans to stabilize the regime at its early stage.

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So, no matter how problematic Poroshenko may still be, the West will probably push him into the second term. And if you have no way to prevent protests, you should try to lead them to the goal that will serve your interests.

But there is one more front of resistance: democracy implies rule of democrats and presence of voters. But the latter sometimes vote for non-democrats. And here the Americans have the so-called deep state – a whole system of independent agencies, appointed by the president and the Supreme Rada for terms that may turn out to be even longer than the terms of their appointers.

In Ukraine, the Americans have a National Anti-Corruption Bureau, a Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and a Specialized Anti-Corruption Court.

This is their weapon against the Ukrainian elite. In Ukraine corruption is not only omnipresent but is also very primate: so, it will not a big deal for a pro-American anti-corruption agency to lock up any government officials. Strategically, this is a way for the Americans to keep the Ukrainian regime within the anti-Russian mainstream. Tactically, this is the Sword of Damocles for Poroshenko and his “team.”

The Americans have a whole set of capacities for taming rebels. The best example is Ihor Kolomoisky and his colleague Dmytro Firtash. The former has lost his Privat Bank and his “princedom” in Dnipropetrovsk, the latter has been accused of giving a bribe to… the Indian authorities. The Ukrainian elite keeps its assets mostly in offshore zones and is strongly dependent on western market. On the other hand, the big Ukrainian business (except Rinat Akhmetov’s pre-Maidan empire) is very small and vulnerable. In other words, the Ukrainian kinglets stand in awe of their big western boss.

This is the outer contour of the conflict. Inside, we have a split in the Ukrainian elite and protests in the streets.

Our experts claim that those protests indicate the collapse of Ukraine as a state, but the reality is that all of them are controlled by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is in full control of the situation –be it the blockade of Donbass or Saakashvili’s heroic escape. Wherever the interests of Poroshenko and the “opposition” coincide, the Ukrainian law enforcers are quite efficient.

Avakov was obviously eager to set the regime against the MikhoMaidan: otherwise, he would not have withdrawn his troops from the streets just to give the protesters a free hand to chase Ukrainian MPs.

Avakov is backed up by oligarchs. The conflict between Poroshenko and Kolomoisky was just the top of the iceberg. The President’s men did their best to wreck Kolomoisky’s Sberbank deal. In the eyes of the Ukrainian oligarchs, Poroshenko is a scofflaw – Yanukovych and Avakov in the one skin.

Despite the liberal theory, change of government in developing countries is not an obstacle to corruption and oligarchy but a stimulus for them. Each new group in power are aware that their successors will appropriate their property, so, the only way for them is to appropriate as much as possible before the next regime comes. Their principle is “to steal and to escape.”

Under such conditions, Poroshenko is not ready to resign – even despite the criticism of his western partners – mostly because he will not only lose his property but may also face criminal proceedings.

And there are several factors that can help him to stay in power. First, the West will hardly take the risk to organize a new coup in Kiev. Second, today Ukraine’s economy is not as shaky as it was in 2015. Third, the Ukrainian oligarchs are not as strong as they were before. Fourth, consumption in Ukraine is growing and this will give Poroshenko more points during the next presidential race.

What does this have to do with Russia’s interests? Lutsenko’s statement about “the Kremlin’s hand” in the MikhoMaidan means the opposite: the Americans have managed to tame the protesters. Poroshenko’s dethronement would not give the Russians any advantages. It would just stop the protest wave. And the Russians would hardly like to see Saakashvili in his place.

The paradox of this situation is that Poroshenko is actually the “best choice of the Ukrainian people” for the moment.

Yevgeny Pozhidayev

Permalink: eadaily.com/en/news/2017/12/20/ukraine-and-mikhomaidan-the-small-bang-theory
Published on December 20th, 2017 08:38 PM
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