Current affairs bring us back to the topic of the text published here in August 2020, “Fifth Columns of the Kremlin that Have not Disappeared Anywhere in Europe”, The Baltic Nations Also Save the Fifth President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko from the Revenge of the Kremlin.”
On 6 January, at the request of prosecutors, the Pechora court in Kyiv seized all the assets of former President Petro Poroshenko, currently the leader of the parliamentary party European Solidarity, including bank accounts, apartments, land plots and the politician’s shares in companies and banks.
In the second half of December, State Bureau of Investigations of Ukraine announced that Petro Poroshenko had ignored investigators who tried to hand him a summons to appear for questioning. The politician also left his homeland at that time (there are claims of a hasty and unplanned visit, in this case it looks more like fleeing), later he told that he would return to Ukraine on 17 January.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office accuses the fifth President of betraying his homeland (no more, no less) and of supporting terrorism for illegally buying coal from the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in the east of Ukraine, which have been occupied by the Russians and are not under the control of Kiev.
The same charges have also been brought against the former Minister of Energy of Ukraine Volodymyr Demchyshyn, as well as Viktor Medvedchuk, a deputy in the Verkhovna Rada of the pro-Kremlin opposition party Opposition Platform For Life, and godfather of the President’s of Russia daughter.
According to the version of researchers, in the summer-autumn of 2014, at the peak of the aggression of Moscow, Ukraine, which was experiencing a catastrophic shortage of energy resources (namely coal, which was being used to fuel its power plants), decided to import South African coal (SACF) instead of the mines in the occupied east of the country.
The first lot reached Ukraine in October 2014, but in November, at the meeting of the National Security and Defence Council, President Petro Poroshenko questioned both the quality of African coal and the adequacy of the price paid for it. The Prosecutor’s Office then declared that the coal was incombustible, opened a case, and supplies from the Republic of South Africa were cut off.
However, the aggressor Russia still refused to sell its coal unless Kiev bought it from the separatists. In December 2014, Ukraine finally agreed, signed contracts with four mines in the east of the country that were not under Kiev’s control, re-registered them in Kiev and opened accounts with the state-owned Ukreximbank.
Law enforcement officials of Ukraine believe that it was the pro-Kremlin Viktor Medvedchuk who pushed the Kiev government and specifically Petro Poroshenko to abandon coal from the RSA in favour of the separatists in the east of Ukraine and the ultimate aggressor Moscow. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has published records of his telephone conversations with Russian curators, in which the politician reports on the details of the “separatist” coal supply.
Times were very hard, decisions had to be taken quickly and often, most probably, as ambiguous, almost certainly not without legal reproach, and now the story has become the basis for a case on the support of separatists in the east of Ukraine and the threat to national security in general in 2014-2015.
The real or perceived legal prosecution of the fifth President could turn into a detonator of a political crisis. Was it in time?
In a statement on 6 January, European Solidarity Party lead by Petro Poroshenko, predictably called the seizure of its leader’s assets illegal, unjust, and adopted under pressure of the President Volodymyr Zelensky in the context of an inexorable increase in the external threat (in particular deployment of Russian military forces at the Ukrainian border).
According to the European Solidarity Party, internal contradictions are being fuelled instead of consolidating Ukrainian society in opposition to the Kremlin. However, Volodymyr Zelensky, like any other autocrat, is mistaken in thinking that seizing the assets of a political opponent will create a barrier to the entire opposition. Its power lies not in money, but in principles and the time-honoured values of statehood, as the recent history of Ukraine after 2014 proves.
On 6 January, the Party leader himself stated on his Facebook wall that he was convinced that even though the year 2022 in his country started with “black swans” (the theory of “black swans” as an unpredictable, rare event, not only in geopolitics, was put forward in 2007 by the Lebanese-born statistician and essayist Nicholas Taleb), the Ukrainian people will respond to any attempts of creating an autocratic regime in their country.
In the context of the closely followed events in Kazakhstan, the NATO and Russia security consultations, the Ukrainian opposition needs to be active, especially when inadequate people are in power. That is why he, Petro Poroshenko, will be working in Europe for a week, from 6 January to 15 January, on the affairs related to defence of Ukraine and its democracy, and on 17 January, as promised, he will be returning to Kiev, to meet immediately, as a deputy of the Rada, the Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova, not in defence of President Volodymyr Zelensky, but in defence of Ukraine against his incompetence.
Such uncompromising rhetoric (one cannot expect anything else) is, of course, to be written off as an instrument of political struggle – even under the “sword of Damocles” of a criminal case, which is quite typical in the post-Soviet space. It is not only in Ukraine that the elites started their “democratisation” after they had a clash of interests.
However, we have a geopolitical context, which is not lacking in drama. A Rada deputy from the Golos Party (whose group is not demonstratively involved in the pro-presidential vs. pro-Russian faction struggle) Serhiy Rakhmanin, in an interview with LB.ua on 4 January, pointed out that, in his opinion, Volodymyr Zelensky has not grown from a presidential candidate.
According to Serhiy Rakhmanin, European Solidarity Party did not set out to be a “war party”, just as Petro Poroshenko did not set out to be a “war president”, but the more the military aggression from Russia is highlighted in the public space, the greater the opportunity for the ratings of the fifth President, who is seen by a significant part of the Ukrainian electorate as the defender of the state, to grow. The sixth President is not seen by voters as a defender of the President.
President Volodymyr Zelensky is puzzled by the rising ratings of the European Solidarity Party and Petro Poroshenko personally, which could lay the foundations for a fall in his own ratings. Volodymyr Zelensky feels that he has to ruin the image of Petro Poroshenko as a defender of the state, which is why it was necessary to accuse him of at least treason. According to the Golos deputy, the current President saw it as a strong move.
A statement posted by the European Congress of Ukrainians (ECU) on Facebook on 2 January found signs of selective use of the law in the legal prosecution of the fifth President.
As head of the ECU Pavlo Sadocha, living in Portugal, summarised, allegations of high treason against an influential opposition politician can both seriously balance the situation in Ukraine and undermine the confidence of foreign partners in Kyiv. Ultimately, it could lead to weakening of international support for Ukraine, which is trying to resist Russian aggression.
Such a scenario is not out of the question no matter how unpleasant it is for Kyiv. Journalist Andrew Kramer points out in an article in The New York Times (26 December) that as Moscow mobilized its forces near Ukraine, the President of Ukraine surrounded himself with comrades from the humour studio Kvartal 95, 30 of whom he has appointed to prestigious positions, not only in the government, but also in the intelligence service and SBU. They do not necessarily have diplomatic, let alone military, experience.
Andrew Kramer gives an example of the Head of the Office of the Andriy Yermak, formerly a public lawyer and film producer. Head of the Security Service (SBU) Ivan Bakanov was formerly the head of the Kvartal 95 studio, and one of the President’s top advisers Sergey Shefir was a screenwriter and producer. And so on.
The article in The New York Times summarises that with such a professional team, the President Ukraine may find it difficult to cope with an invasion of up to 175,000 Russian troops, even if the United States provide support.
One of the signs is the reminder of former ambassador of Ukraine to Washington Valeriy Khaly, on the TV channel Ukraine 24 the day before the publication in the US newspaper that President Volodymyr Zelensky had promised to complete the reform of the judiciary in a meeting with his US counterpart Joe Biden. Instead, he is now ‘bringing’ a case that will end in nothing, just as the long-running previous trials against former Ukrainian leaders, such as Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia, ended in nothing.
In this context, the diplomat assumed that the accusations against Petro Poroshenko were made at the insistence of President of Russia Vladimir Putin (as a prerequisite for a meeting desired by Volodymyr Zelensky), for whom the fifth President of Ukraine is the main enemy.
A well-known human rights defender Yuri Yarym Agaev, living in the United States, told on 25 December: there is no doubt that it is now imperative for Ukraine to put an end to all the infighting and to rally around.
Finally, although already categorically divided, Georgian MPs unanimously encouraged the Ukrainian government to give up the prosecution of Petro Poroshenko. According to the appeal, Ukraine and Georgia are strategic partners, both in standing up to Moscow and in seeking a Euro-Atlantic partnership. In this context, the elimination of any signs of instability within the country is particularly important. It is therefore appropriate to refrain from politically motivated persecution of opponents.
The latter appeal could be considered hot, if you like, in the sense that Kyiv periodically expresses concern about the fate of the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, who returned to his homeland in autumn and who was imprisoned immediately afterwards.
In the “original” text, the plot of the rescue of Ukraine on 5 August 2020 is not just linked to the issue of the “fifth columns”. The algorithm of “columns” can be followed not on purpose, deliberately, but, let’s say, because of the political heat, the lust for revenge.
In this sense – whatever one thinks of the person – Petro Poroshenko has been, and still is, the test-paper for the test of both sustainability of democracy and statehood of Ukraine.
The devil is in the details. Oleksandr Turchynov, who avoided publicity as Secretary of National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine in 2014-2019 (and who basically created the armed forces of the state almost from scratch), argued on the TV channel Channel 5 on 6 July 2020 that Vladimir Putin needs the kind of brazenness in Ukraine that existed at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014. There is a growing crisis of governance in Ukraine, which could be a precondition for the Russian aggression.
Or former Rada deputy and leader of the national movement Diya Dmitry Yarosh, on 1 July 2020: the revenge of the Kremlin in Ukraine is systemic and multifaceted, for example, in the form of the politically motivated persecution, ordered by Moscow, of the fifth President of the state, the commander-in-chief of Armed Forces Petro Poroshenko, who, with all of his disadvantages, had been leading the resistance to the aggression of Russia for five years, and who had become arguably the worst personal enemy of Vladimir Putin.
Te theses have not become obsolete at all, rather even more up-to-date.
As a five-member deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Yuriy Kostenko has pointed out, what Vladimir Putin needs is a serious internal conflict in Ukraine, similar to the one that has just developed in Kazakhstan. This would be the ideal pretext for the introduction of the army.
For 30 years, the Kremlin has worked hard to rebalance Ukraine, but has never reached anything. This is not due to special merits of the political leadership, but because the Ukrainian society, which used to be distinctly uninterested in politics, has become increasingly aware, especially after “imperial moves” of Moscow in the last few years. 68-75% of Ukrainians do not even want to look towards Russia and associate their future with the development of democracy.
It would be good if the Ukrainian political class, maturing “in its own way”, did not destroy this vector.