Though the decisions taken by Ukraine today – to legalise the radicals’ blockade of Donbass and to prepare action against Russian banks – are in themselves unsurprising, one interesting fact about them is the way they were announced.
Neither decision was announced by President Poroshenko, who is the country’s head of state and the head of its executive branch. Nor was either decision announced by the government headed by Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who is a longterm ally of Poroshenko’s. As it happens both Poroshenko and Groysman have been remarkably reticent about the coal blockade ever since it began.
The decision to legalise the blockade of Donbass was announced by Alexander Turchinov (pictured), who is the head of Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council, and who is a significant figure in Ukrainian politics in his own right, whilst the request to Ukraine’s Central Bank to propose sanctions on Russian banks operating on Ukrainian territory was also made by Turchinov on behalf of Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council, which he heads.
It may be that Ukraine’s legal and constitutional system makes Ukraine’s National and Defence Council the appropriate body to make these sort of decisions, though Ukraine’s chaotic legal and administrative structure and the notorious indifference of Ukrainian leaders to legal and administrative rules makes that a less than convincing argument to make.
However even if that were the case a statement from Poroshenko – the country’s leader and the nation’s President – explaining to the Ukrainian people the reasons for these important decisions and justifying the hardship they will cause, whilst making it clear that the decisions originate with him and that they have his full support, is the least one would expect in the circumstances.
Indeed the correct thing would surely be for the actual announcement of these decisions to have been made by Poroshenko himself, at the very least through the publication of a public statement issued in his name, or (much better) by way of a televised address to the Ukrainian nation.
Instead the nearest thing there has been to an announcement by Poroshenko is an elliptical comment he is reported to have made in a meeting with a senior EU official, an account of which was carried yesterday by his website.
After the seizure of these enterprises we cannot have any trade relations with these “confiscated” enterprises. We will not allow any of their activities. And we ask for support of these decisions, inter alia, through the enhancement of the EU sanctions against Russia, which allowed this brutal violation of international law.
This falls far short of an announcement of a total blockade of the territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. On the contrary it appears to say that Ukraine will only cease to trade with the former Ukrainian enterprises the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics recently nationalised in retaliation for the coal blockade. As such Poroshenko’s words if anything appear to rule out the idea of a total blockade. Certainly they provide no hint of the radical announcements made today.
It could be that Poroshenko did not make the announcement today because he is embarrassed by the weakness on his part that it shows, and because his own website shows that he was giving assurances only yesterday to an EU official that Ukraine was about to do something totally different.
If so then that reminds me of the way Ukraine’s previous President, Viktor Yanukovych, failed to announce his decision to delay implementation of Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU, leaving the announcement to his Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov. At the time I thought this was a act of extraordinary weakness on Yanukovych’s part, and in fact it set the pattern for his pusillanimous behaviour during the subsequent Maidan protests, which eventually caused his overthrow. If Poroshenko is now behaving in the same way, then it speaks extraordinarily poorly both of him and of his prospects as Ukraine’s President.
However there has also to be the further possibility that the reason Poroshenko did not announce the decisions today is because ultimately he didn’t make them. Indeed his comments to the EU official might even suggest he was resisting the idea of a total blockade as recently as yesterday, possibly because of EU pressure.
If so then Turchinov’s announcements today suggest that Poroshenko has been shunted aside, and that key decisions such as the decision to legalise the blockade of the Donbass are now being made without him.
In that case then that would suggest that Poroshenko’s authority as Ukraine’s President is seeping away, and that he is no longer fully in control, just as the Russian military move on Pristina in June 1999 during the Kosovo conflict, made without any order from Boris Yeltsin, was a clear sign that his authority as Russia’s President was seeping away.
This comes a few days after reports appeared in the Russian media claiming that Yulia Tymoshenko, Poroshenko’s long time enemy and bitter political rival, is making another visit – this time in secret – to Washington where early in February she had a brief meeting with Donald Trump, which looked to me like a case of Trump sizing up his options, and considering her as a possible alternative to Poroshenko. Suffice to say that I do not think it was a coincidence that on returning to Ukraine Tymoshenko immediately sought to oust Ukraine’s government by proposing a vote of no confidence in Ukraine’s parliament, a move which by using procedural devices the government however managed to block.
Anatoly Karlin has recently suggested in a highly insightful article for The Duran that the coal blockade is actually the product of a power play by an anti-Poroshenko faction within Ukraine’s elite led by the oligarch Igor Kolomoysky and Yulia Tymoshenko.
Turchinov, the head of Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council, who made the announcements today, is a longstanding political ally of Tymoshenko’s, though the two appeared to fall out in September 2014 when Turchinov joined the newly emerging party of the then Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Turchinov and Poroshenko have however never been close, and it could be that since Yatsenyuk’s removal from the Ukrainian political scene following his forced resignation as Prime Minister in April 2016, that Turchinov has returned to his old loyalty to Tymoshenko.
If so then the announcements Turchinov made today may be a sign that in the conflict between Poroshenko and the faction led by Kolomoysky and Tymoshenko, Turchinov is siding with the latter, and is once more working on Tymoshenko’s behalf, and that it is her faction and Kolomoysky’s which in the factional infighting is gaining the ascendancy.
In that case Poroshenko’s forced resignation or removal from office could be on the cards, though given the volatile nature of Ukrainian politics nothing can ever be taken as certain. There is in fact once again talk of new elections in Ukraine, which if Poroshenko is removed from the scene Tymoshenko would be expected to win. In that case Tymoshenko’s hurried visit to Washington could be intended to harden up whatever promises of support she might have thought she had been given by Trump and his team at the time of her earlier visit in February.
Regardless of what precise direction the factional infighting in Ukraine is taking, the political situation in Ukraine is again looking increasingly unstable. It is difficult to avoid the impression that Poroshenko is becoming weaker and is starting to lose control, with institutions like Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council – which ultimately controls Ukraine’s security forces – increasingly acting on their own and without reference to him. If so then Tymoshenko’s visit to Washington could be a sign that his enemies are circling, perhaps preparing for the kill.