The visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Ukraine has cut open some issues that had been discussed on the sidelines of the Ukrainian politics for several weeks. First of all, it’s about the possible dismissal of the Cabinet and the effectiveness of reforms undertaken by today’s government.
The Cabinet of Ministers is due to report on its work for the past year on December 11. However, we can already predict what will be voiced in the report. Ahead of his address to the parliament, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced seven achievements of the "kamikaze government" in 2015. "First, we have funded in full the Ukrainian army, which had been created ‘from scratch.’ Second - we have not delayed payment of a single kopeck of wages and pensions for the Ukrainian citizens. Third - we relieved international debts that we had not created, but we need to make a responsible decision on the restructuring of these debts," he said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channels.
The Cabinet did not dare to go for real risks.
Besides, Yatsenyuk reported as the government’s merits the drafting of a reform package for 2016, preparedness for the winter and getting rid of gas dependence on Russia. And, of course, he mentioned the political stability of the parliamentary coalition.
All of these points are quite controversial because the Cabinet did not dare to go for the really risky measures. However, it is possible that the ministerial failures could be explained by the fact that the government program was adopted for five years - up until 2020. So to say, everything that could be done in 2015, has been done, more or less: cooperation with the IMF was resumed, painful utility rates were raised, the gas is being purchased (although it’s the Russian gas, but we buy it in a reverse flow regime), the draft budget has been drawn up (although the deficit is more substantial than last year)...
It’s no accident that the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Groisman, pledges some hard talk with the Cabinet in the Parliament on Friday. But will it’s still a big question, whether this “talk” will result in the dismissal of the prime minister and, subsequently, the government.
Who’s next for the throne?
Despite claims of some MPs from the pro-presidential faction in the Verkhovna Rada that the signatures are being collected under the draft resolution of no confidence to the Cabinet of Ministers headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the faction’s and the parliament’s leaders do not support such an initiative. "The issue of government resignation is not on today’s agenda,” Yuriy Lutsenko, head of BPP faction, and Rada Speaker Groisman said in late November.
None of the major political forces have an alternative to the incumbent prime minister, considering a very short bench and a catastrophic fall of the party rating.
And it is not only about the shaky coalition and the risks of Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front leaving this coalition.
The key issue is choosing a candidate for the prime minister’s seat. The thing is that none of the major political forces have an alternative to the incumbent prime minister, considering a very short bench and a catastrophic fall of the party rating. At the same time, even if the candidate is hypothetically found among the members of the smaller factions and deputy groups, even if hypothetically found a candidate, this official would absolutely not gain the support of the Verkhovna Rada, as the minority cannot form the Cabinet.
However, each time a question is raised in Ukraine about Yatsenyuk’s resignation, people tend to think his successor either Yulia Tymoshenko, or Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, or Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili, not to mention some absolutely zero chance nominees as Anatoly Kinakh or Anatoliy Hrytsenko. And every time a new name is announced, it looks like some kind of test for public reaction to the candidate. "It's an old Soviet trick: spin a rumor about the ‘upcoming move’ and see how the people react, as well as the interested parties and political forces," said political strategist, director of Third Sector Center Andriy Zolotaryov.
No matter how much Serhiy Lyovochkin plays with Yulia Tymoshenko, giving her airtime, her relationship relations with the Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash remain far from warm.
According to the expert, the candidates to replace current Prime Minister have still not found universal support and, at times, they become inconvenient to key players, so the subject of Yatsenyuk’s resignation is constantly delayed. "For example, Tymoshenko is categorically unacceptable as a candidate, not only for Washington but also for a number of oligarchs. And no matter how much Serhiy Lyovochkin plays with Yulia Tymoshenko, giving her airtime, her relations with [the Ukrainian tycoon] Dmytro Firtash remain far from warm," said the political consultant.
There are long odds against the appointment of Minister of Finance Natalie Jaresko as prime minister, especially in light of the struggle between the parliament and her ministry for the “right” option of the tax reform.
Meanwhile, Mikheil Saakashvili has no party he could rely on as prime minister in implementing reforms. The President’s team is well aware of this. For example, the Head of the state, in response to a late September’s petition, said that there are no grounds for the appointment of the Odesa governor as prime minister. Moreover, "a necessary condition for the start of the procedure for the appointment of the Prime Minister of Ukraine is personal consent of the candidate with the appointment to this post, but Mikheil Saakashvili has not commented on this issue."
It was only in early November when Saakashvili voiced his ambition to take the post of head of government. He said he would like to take part "in big changes and reforms," taking any role, including that of a prime minister. In early December, he showed determination to change his current position to a higher one, announcing a list of Ukraine’s corrupt officials. Among others, this list included Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
"Saakashvili has set his sights on the prime minister’s post. But there is a problem. He has no [own] political force and he has no faction in the parliament. What is he to do? The answer is clear: first thing is to begin creating his own party, the second thing is to claim the seat, and the third is to seek early elections... The first and the second steps have already been taken, de facto. He is still to take the third one," said Taras Berezovets, a political strategist, director of Berta Communications.
However, there is another side to Saakashvili’s coin, as he did not mention the names of the officials from the President’s team. Besides, he failed to present evidence of the facts he revealed. "Society is red-hot with inaction of law enforcement agencies in fighting corruption, so it’s often ready to buy any high-profile charges, especially against the country’s top officials. However, in addition to the names, it would be great to see some facts," said Berezovets.
On December 11, Yatsenyuk has to respond in parliament to Saakashvili’s accusations.
Yatsenyuk’s team shares this opinion. "Yuriy Lutsenko said that Yatsenyuk has to respond in Parliament on December 11 to Saakashvili’s accusations... I’d like to ask where one can see Saakashvili’s documents and facts, confirming his allegations against Yatsenyuk. It would get ugly otherwise. The man is accused with no evidence, while he has to respond by presenting some evidence,” an MP from People’s Front, Oleksandr Sochko, wrote on Facebook.
A matter of skills
As a result, such revelations and scandals, to date, seem to be no more than the elements of the game for the public, including the western one. Yatsenyuk tried to appease the latter with the statement of his colleague Mykola Martynenko on lifting own parliamentary immunity amid information on him being under the investigation of the Swiss prosecutor's office. This weak attempt to cleanse the ranks, while there are no such attempts in the president’s team, can earn some points. However, we should not exclude that, after the "reformatting" of the Cabinet, Martynenko will pop up in some warm government seat.
The formula of compromise between the president and the prime minister suggested a castling - the replacement of several people in the government by the president’s and prime minister’s quotas.
By the way, it will be no surprise if Poroshenko’s ally, Ihor Kononenko, largely criticized lately, will also get a position in the Cabinet. Anyway, according to Andriy Zolotaryov, until recently, the formula of compromise between the president and the prime minister “suggested a castling - the replacement of several people in the government by the president’s and prime minister’s quotas." “There is a possibility that the sides will be satisfied with this for some time as Yatsenyuk has long been a convenient lightning rod for Poroshenko,” said the political scientist.
However, in his opinion, after such a reshuffle, the prime minister may become the weights on the President’s neck, “and they can drown together.”
In turn, the political scientist, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Analysis and Political Management, Ruslan Bortnik, said that, to date, Yatsenyuk is a technical prime minister anyway, who has "no ratings, no public support": "Either it is the resignation and political oblivion, or consent to compromises, in order to remain in politics."
One of these compromises could be a change in the Cabinet, providing for the incumbent prime minister to remain a ceremonial bystander. Roughly speaking, the vacant positions in the government, including that of a Deputy Prime Minister, will be filled with the President’s people. "The filling of the vacant positions in the Cabinet - this kind of reformatting is likely. Kononenko may take one of these positions," said Bortnik.
The main task of the renewed government will be to survive through the winter and early spring of next year. And, if by that time the economic performance will have got better, there will be no problem with the dismissal of the Cabinet and the appointment of a new prime minister and the ministers. There will be more than enough candidates who will be eager to come in amid recovery.
... Last year, the short visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Ukraine urged Ukrainian politicians not to play too much in the Game of the Coalition and not get bogged down in the division of ministerial posts. The result was a fairly rapid distribution of position in the future Cabinet. The current visit is timed to the first anniversary of the so-called "Kamikaze Government -2". And, no matter how sad it is to realize that the overseas visitors have an enormous influence on Ukraine’s political elite, Biden once again finds the right words to pacify ambitions of the Ukrainian prime minister and the president.
However, there is a good chance that both of the officials will need to let the steam of popular discontent out of the bowl until the end of winter. They will need to be to sacrifice some important figures from their entourage. Otherwise, with each new scandal, it will be more difficult to keep the situation under control.