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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Do not say we did not warn you

The president chooses politicians of not only the Ukrainian, but also the Soviet past to form his team
12 August, 2014 - 10:09
Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1998

Some may have an impression that we are paying too much attention to the figure of Leonid Kuchma. But he leaves us no other option as a result of his “bustling activity.” Our goal is to put up warning “beacons” for the current government, and then it is up to the latter to choose. As President Poroshenko’s predecessors ignored the danger that was coming from Kuchma and his system, this brought them to an ignominious political end and this country to a tragedy, not to mention the loss of time. Incidentally, we also used to put up “beacons” for previous presidents, but…

Unfortunately, underestimation of Kuchma’s role in the contemporary history of Ukraine and his influence on the current events mislead many as to the causes of today’s problems. “As there’s a war going on here, this subject remains rather obscure. This applies not only to the Ukrainian grassroots, but also to the active part of society. There is no adequate reaction or instruments of influence,” political scientist Viktoria Pidhirna comments to The Day.

Some appointments in the current Presidential Administration are bad signals which show that the old political nets are gradually enveloping the new government. The 2004 events were the peak of public discontent with the Kuchma regime. Ruling this country for 10 years, he planted the main “bombs” under Ukrainian statehood. It is an oligarchic clan system, corruption in full flourish, dissenter hunting, the Gongadze case, etc.

“The ugly aggressive clan-based political system, bred and nursed by Kuchma and brought to perfection by his apt pupil Yanukovych, undermined the legal immunity of society to foreign and domestic deadly viruses,” says two-convocations MP Oleksandr Yeliashkevych in this Den column (No.90 of May 20, 2014). “Total corruption and arbitrariness of the insatiate authorities doomed Ukraine to bloodshed and sufferings; the death of hundreds of people; the loss of a considerable part of its territory, natural and invaluable human resources; and kindled cruel conflicts.”

The oligarchic clan system was so deep-seated that it could not be dismantled either during the presidency of Yushchenko (who, incidentally, was not exactly rushing to do so) or, all the more so, after him. The Yanukovych presidency was the worst “achievement” for Ukraine on the part of Kuchma, a hapless creature of the system. For example, the BBC documentary Putin, Russia, and the West quotes the Kremlin’s spin master Gleb Pavlovsky, who was in Kyiv during the 2004 Orange Revolution, as saying: “Unmistakably, it is Leonid Kuchma who fully managed Yanukovych’s presidential campaign. Yanukovych was in fact almost a powerless functionary in his own campaign (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= e1F_ENtkdZ8).”

We know only too well what all this ended up with. Yanukovych lost, only to win in 2010. His rule was the system’s “dead end branch.” From this angle, Euromaidan 2014 radically differs from the 2004 Orange Revolution events. Only great sacrifices made it possible to topple the Yanukovych regime and bring Petro Poroshenko to power. What can we see today? Kuchma has been appointed Ukraine’s truce envoy to try to settle the crisis provoked by Russian aggression. And even if these talks are of a formal and diversionary nature, this appointment is absolutely inadmissible, for it discredits the new government.

But the president announced one more appointment the other day. He decreed that Academician Volodymyr Horbulin will assume the office of presidential advisor and director of the National Institute of Strategic Studies (NISS).

“President Poroshenko has known Horbulin before, he was in close touch with him when he was bidding for power, he badly needed to know his point of view,” Viktor Nebozhenko, director of the Ukrainian Barometer sociological service, comments to The Day. “But this appointment basically means that the president has no political scientists and other high-profile experts in his inner circle, so he begins to mobilize older-age people. It is very sad that there are such people in the world of business and politics but there are no personal contacts among experts. So, the head of state took the line of least resistance – he appointed the one who had worked in the previous years. This means Poroshenko is totally ‘naked.’”

“There is a consolidation of old, not new, politicians around the president. In this case, the slogan ‘Live in a new way’ is being implemented the other way round,” Pidhirna stresses. “So far, we see no new approaches or new people. Appointing people like Shymkiv is an isolated instance, whereas past-it people are being gradually recruited on a mass scale. This is a very dangerous tendency which exposes the old algorithm of the political system. Some processes, now underway behind the scenes of the war, do not differ from what has been before. They may be different from the Yanukovych regime, but not from that of Kuchma.”

The point is not in our attitude to Horbulin but in that politics is a system of signs. If he were just an advisor, especially in defense industry matters, his experience would be useful. But it is an altogether different story when Horbulin is appointed director of the NISS. There are too many of them in sight. Kuchma and Horbulin, who have known each other since the Soviet era, worked together at the Pivdenmash plant’s communist party committee. Their families were on friendly terms, and they remained the closest friends during the Kuchma presidency. Besides, Horbulin was one of the authors of the concept “Kuchma the reformer against the Red threat” in the 1999 presidential elections, when tragicomedy was played with an artificially hyped-up candidate Symonenko and, as an alternative option, Vitrenko.

“Horbulin may be a good expert, and the trouble is not in his age (there are many people like him in US politics, and they work actively) but in the fact that these people come from not just the Ukrainian but the Soviet past,” Pidhirna thinks. “Both Kuchma and Horbulin are in fact Soviet politicians. Their involvement perhaps shows that the Presidential Administration thus intends to make it possible to negotiate with Russia and reach some compromise with the Kremlin leadership. But this is a wrong way.” And Oleksandr Yeliashkevych adds: “Putin is still sure he will force the US to reckon with him. And Kuchma is his main bargaining chip in these negotiations. The message is all too clear: Kuchma must persuade everybody, especially the West, to accept Putin’s conditions. Therefore, Kuchma as a truce envoy is a ‘trap.’”

“Yes, we can say that the ‘Kuchma group’ is working, but it is in fact being used as political ‘second hand,’” Nebozhenko says. “It is used in the most dangerous situations, where no progress is possible but familiar names are needed. You can use a microscope according to its intended purpose for 20 years and then drive nails with it in the last years. This is what resembles the use of Kuchma in the talks and of Horbulin in the NISS. For why should Kuchma, a man with billions of dollars in pocket, run about the bleak Minsk and pretend he is a peacemaker, when all ‘decent people’ relax in Sardinia at the same time? This means something forces him to do so.”

An advisor can be useful at any age, Henry Kissinger being a good example. But what matters here is the “credit history,” particularly if the plus is in the office of NISS director. They declare reforms and rosy prospects for the young, but, as a result, we see Kuchma as a truce envoy, the Lytvyn brothers in cushy places, and Horbulin in the office. We also know that Liovochkin was Kuchma’s first aide and Medvedchuk was the head of his Administration. But where is Tabachnyk, another head of the Presidential Administration? It is time to say goodbye to the past, which is very important for society. Otherwise, there will be a conflict between the officials who worked yesterday and the day before yesterday, in which the latter are sure to win. This system of signs is negative for the president. And the more this continues, the more difficult it will be to reach a new level.

“The president has quite a closed team,” Pidhirna says. “All the appointments astonish me because they have not in fact been explained. Society has changed and wishes to receive more information. The government’s closeness is laying the new groundwork for public discontent. Society has not yet seen any new algorithms and formulas in the work of the current authorities. I am more and more inclined to think that we have missed a chance for reforms. As a result, old political elites are staging a comeback. And there will be no progress without political reforms and systemic changes in the country’s setup, where society is supposed to play a great role, where there are social uplifts and a revised system of selection.”

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, The Day