Sunday, November 30, 2014

Protesters Accused President Petro Poroshenko of Breaking Promises

Tragedy and Farce

Tensions between president and prime minister may further derail Ukraine

Nov 29th 2014 | KIEV |


“SHAME! Shame! Shame!” roared the crowd when Ukraine’s leaders appeared at a recent ceremony honouring the Maidan victims. 

Protesters accused President Petro Poroshenko of breaking promises. A year after their “revolution of dignity” began, the politicians are being anything but dignified. A month has passed since the general election and still Ukraine has no government. Fights over cabinet posts or parliamentary seating speak to a lack of urgency. “It’s a circus, a kindergarten,” says Maria Zhartovskaya, political correspondent for Ukrainskaya Pravda, a website.

Now five pro-Western parties have signed a coalition agreement. Mr Poroshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the prime minister, promise that the government will follow soon. But competition is hampering negotiations. The voters unexpectedly put Mr Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front first in the election. That was a blow to Mr Poroshenko, and leaves Ukraine with two power centres. The pair have descended into disagreement and posturing, raising fears of a repeat of the tensions that emerged after the Orange revolution.

Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatsenyuk have never been close. Ukraine’s Western allies are working hard to keep them together. Yet efforts to merge their parties into one ahead of the election failed—some say the two could not agree on a name. Lviv’s mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, whose Samopomich party is the third arm of the coalition, frets about “misunderstandings and little fights”. The main ones are now over the jobs of interior minister, justice minister and parliamentary speaker.

In this section control over ministerial posts is also paramount for Ukraine’s oligarchs, who continue to exert pernicious influence. Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta think-tank talks of an “animal” struggle for territory. Chief among the current pack is Ihor Kolomoisky, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region and an active supporter of the war against the separatists. Arsen Avakov, who as current interior minister oversees many of the volunteer battalions, is said to be linked to Mr Kolomoisky.

The coalition deal has some good features, including a promise to scrap legal immunity for deputies. Svitlana Zalishchuk, a Maidan activist who entered parliament with the Poroshenko block, says that outside experts helped to draft the text. But she admits that the old rules still applied to choosing the cabinet. Ministers are being chosen based on party affiliation. Alexander Paskhaver, an economist who advised two former Ukrainian presidents, concludes that “there are no signs that they’re preparing for real reforms”. 

Western diplomats urge patience, pointing to the fact that Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatsenyuk have managed to hold the country together under enormous strain. Western pressure remains a powerful weapon: the coalition deal came just before a visit by America’s vice-president.

The agreement also makes NATO membership a goal, which Russia’s deputy foreign minister warns could lead to further escalation. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s senior military commander, visited Kiev on November 26th just as the Ukrainians announced that two Russian planes had violated their airspace a day earlier in the separatist-controlled Donbas region. Russia could launch another offensive at any time, but for now the Kremlin seems happy to use the Donbas to distract Kiev from reform, weakening the country from within.

Sustained economic pain could spur more turmoil, including separatism in other pro-Russian regions. Mysterious explosions this month in the Ukrainian-held city of Kharkiv, including one outside a military base, are troubling omens.

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