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19 January 2017

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Year’s milestones. Commotion in political elites, lost hope in Nadiia Savchenko, and shocking e-declarations of assets

Ukraine in 2016 has seen so many political events, which in normal life would be enough for several years. Moreover, we shouldn’t forget that Ukraine is going through the crisis, the biggest one in its recent history, so the country’s achievements and failures are measured in strategic terms.

Photo from UNIAN
Photo from UNIAN

Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s fight to retain premiership ended in a predictable defeat, but the Popular Front leader managed to retire voluntarily with a view to save his political face. Although his ratings are not very different from a statistical error, his political party is too early to write off. And it's not just about a massive political advertising campaign in the end of 2016. It’s also about the fact that the demand for new political faces is hardly stronger than the voters’ habit to bet on the well-known parties with polished rhetoric.

Having switched from the Rada Speaker’s chair to that of Ukraine’s Premier, Volodymyr Groysman said good-bye to his image of the president's protégé and has kept pledging a better life for Ukrainians ever since. Doubling the minimum wage would not be enough to this end, because utility costs have also jumped significantly, while loyalty of the IMF remains an open question. The government managed to promptly adopt the budget for 2017 at the cost of compromising with the deputy groups beyond coalition, but implementing this budget will be a no easy task.

REUTERS
REUTERS

The reform of the legislature, which Groysman had presented at the European Parliament back when he was a Rada Speaker, never came to life. Although the parliament is now chaired by a politician who does not reflect on the Soviet regime - Andriy Parubiy - his fellow legislators could not abandon the rush and wishful thinking, both traditional features of the Soviet parliament. Reformatting the coalition led to the fact that the list of its members became a well-guarded secret, while the number of opposition factions is twice that of the pro-government forces (in absolute numbers, the situation is opposite). However, the opponents of the current coalitions never made it to push through the idea of snap elections.

Yuriy Lutsenko changed the vector of his political career dramatically, shifting away from heading the largest parliamentary faction to become the country’s prosecutor general. Now, instead of heart-piercing conversations with the BPP renegades, Lutsenko focused on the fight against high-level offenders. He actually succeeds much better than his predecessors with a legal background, but his efforts are still not enough to make his political opponents and frenemies from the NABU stop criticizing him. In 2017, the prosecutor general vows to set up a trial against Ukraine’s disgraced ex-president Vikot Yanukovych, who has already returned to the courtroom this year, but this was only via a video conference from Russia’s Rostov, when he testified as a witness, not a suspect. In this context, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the judicial reform, adopted last year, as such large-scale amendments to the Constitution are not a frequent occurence.

On July 5, the Verkhovna Rada gave its consent to the prosecution, detention and arrest of the controversial People's Deputy, Oleksandr Onishchenko. / Photo from UNIAN
On July 5, the Verkhovna Rada gave its consent to the prosecution, detention and arrest of the controversial People's Deputy, Oleksandr Onishchenko. / Photo from UNIAN

"The offshore scandal" and the revelations of Oleksandr Onishchenko, who forced the old-timers remember the statements of Major Melnichenko (by the way, where has the heroic officer disappeared?), got on Petro Poroshenko’s nerves, but they are unlikely to worsen his political situation considerably. The head of state still holds his ground among the leaders of the presidential ratings and he is not going to give up power. Changing the head of the presidential administration (a non-public figure, Ihor Rainin, came in to take over the post of Borys Lozhkin) only confirms the hypothesis that Bankova is actively preparing for the presidential elections.

Opposition ranks were rather cramped up in 2016. Yulia Tymoshenko was traditionally dominating. She did not risk to go for the escalation at the time of the rallies of Mykhailivsky Bank’s fooled depositors and chose to wait for the opportunity to hit Poroshenko’s positions for sure.

Lyashko’s Radical Party at the end of the year began drifting toward the coalition’s positions amid their leader’s criticism of Ms Tymoshenko. The Opposition Bloc created Za Zhyttia Party as the vanguard of the struggle for power. Samopomich was forced to lurk in shadows because the Lviv waste site scandal. Mikheil Saakashvili is definitely going to give everyone a master class in the struggle for the highest posts, but it his "Rukh [movement] of the new forces" is more like a club of admirers of political talent of former Georgian president and ex-Governor of Odesa region.

Savchenko changed her image / screenshot
Savchenko changed her image / screenshot

Transformation of Nadiia Savchenko’s political image largely reflects public attitude to the Donbas conflict. The return of the Kremlin’s prisoner was initially seen as the overall success. However, Savchenko’s statements quickly sobered the Ukrainian society. The MP and Hero of Ukraine called on Ukrainians to "understand Donbas", announced her intention to reform the Ukraine’s state structure (by a strange coincidence, on the patterns designed by Putin’s friend Viktor Medvedchuk) and said she did not see anything wrong in direct talks with separatist “leaders”. Although the conflict in eastern Ukraine claimed lives of hundreds of Ukrainian servicemen, people are gradually growing accustomed to it. There is no more bravado in the Donbas-related statements of Ukrainian politicians while the strategy for the return of Donbas and Crimea has not yet been published.

For the process of restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity to be unlocked, Ukraine needs to be strong, and some actual transformations are needed. The effect of the reform of the National Police was a bit  spoiled with a resignation of police chief Khatia Dekanoidze and even more so – with the police shootout in Knyazhichi near Kyiv. The investigation into the assassination of a journalist Pavlo Sheremet is still underway and neither are there any public developments in the case of the Maidan killings. The attempts are continuing to evade the Prozorro e-procurement system at all levels. Decentralization is going at a scheduled pace. However, is does not always find a reflection in the understanding by Ukrainians of benefits of transferring authority from Kyiv to the regions. It is obvious that the authorities have not yet learned to communicate effectively with millions of Ukrainians; otherwise, there would be no such deafening figures on the number of citizens who believe that the country is going in a wrong direction.

On January 1, 2017, the second stage of the electronic declaration of assets was launched. It should be noted that the first stage was a shocker, revealing some unprecedented figures regarding financial well-being of those in power. It is unlikely that someone in Ukraine seriously supports Vladimir Lenin’s idea that any cook could run the country, however, piles of cash jewels stashed in the homes of Ukraine’s officials are unlikely to strengthen public confidence in the government. It seems that Ukrainian politicians should take self-sacrifice training courses in order to learn how to serve the state, which is going through difficult times.

Yevgeny Magda

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