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Commentary: Petro Poroshenko's House Of Cards

Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) have a behind-the-scenes role in ensuring Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk survived a no-confidence vote on February 16? (file photo)
Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) have a behind-the-scenes role in ensuring Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk survived a no-confidence vote on February 16? (file photo)

Congratulations. You have just witnessed a big-budget spectacle titled The Reset, in which the main roles were played by the president [of Ukraine], his prime minister, and members of parliament.

I am not going to analyze why the deputies of [oligarchs Rinat] Akhmetov, [Ihor] Kolomoyskiy, and [Viktor] Pinchuk did not vote no-confidence in [Prime Minister Arseniy] Yatsenyuk. The prime minister has been working fruitfully with them for some time already. All you needed to do was to watch the latest talk shows on ICTV and 1+1 in order to know that those votes weren't coming.

The real question is about the faithful "army of the president," whose voting shows that either the president has lost his influence over his "business wing" (which is unlikely) or....

...Or the failure of the vote for Yatsenyuk's dismissal went according to a prearranged script in which President Poroshenko was either an active participant or, at the least, the behind-the-scenes puppet master. Let me tell you how it worked.

In the last round of voting, quite suddenly, 20 deputies of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc did not vote in favor of the no-confidence motion.

At 7:50 p.m., parliament voted on a resolution expressing dissatisfaction with the cabinet of ministers. Two hundred forty-seven voted in favor, including 120 votes from Poroshenko's bloc. This preliminary vote had no legal consequences. But 15 minutes later, at 8:05 p.m., a vote was held on a much more significant resolution -- the vote of no-confidence in the government. This vote entails a raft of concrete consequences, including a change in the head of the executive branch. It was the moment when parliament would vote on a matter that was of the greatest importance to the president -- the replacement of the government, which he had just called for a few hours earlier. And on this resolution, the Poroshenko bloc provided…22 fewer votes. Not two fewer votes, but 22 -- votes that somehow melted away in the course of 15 minutes.

Let's look more closely at who did not vote for it. The list includes businessmen who are afraid of only one thing -- attracting the anger of Poroshenko. Look at the names of those who did not vote in favor: [Ruslan] Demchak, [Hleb] Zahoriy, [Borys] Kozyr, [Andriy] Pavelko, [Oleksandr] Tretiakov. People who are loyal to Poroshenko personally. Or take General [Viktor] Korol, who has developed a close relationship with Poroshenko over the course of several renditions of the Verkhovna Rada. Speaker [Volodymyr] Hroysman and his faithful [Vitaliy] Tkachuk also did not vote in favor. Or the manager and business partner of [Borys] Lozhkin by the name of [Hryhoriy] Shverk. In this situation, every vote was worth its weight in gold.

One Eloquent Fact

In general, it seems strange to hold a vote of no-confidence at a moment when there clearly were not enough votes to support it. But Hroysman, who is always able to work around the legislature, in this perilous moment decided to go ahead with a vote instead of putting the matter aside for further study.

But let's look at one more, very eloquent fact -- how deputy Oles Dovhiy voted. Dovhiy is President Poroshenko's man inside the group of businessmen/deputies called People's Will. In terms of influence, he has already surpassed his friend, Serhiy Berezenko. Dovhiy gathers up votes for Poroshenko in critical situations -- and he never speaks out against Poroshenko's positions.

And, at the most critical moment, when the vote on Yatsenyuk's removal was at stake, he removes his voting card. Look at the results of the vote -- it says that Dovhiy was absent. But the cynicism of the situation becomes clear when, after the vote was counted and it was clear that the government would not be removed, Dovhiy filed a request with parliamentary officials asking that his vote in favor of the no-confidence resolution be recorded!

Maybe you don't believe me and you think that perhaps Dovhiy really wasn't in the chamber? Luckily, the plenary sessions of the Verkhovna Rada are recorded. And at the moment of the vote on no-confidence in Yatsenyuk, it can be clearly seen that Dovhiy was sitting in his place, turning around to speak with Volodymyr Lytvyn and…not voting.

What is more, it wasn't just Dovhiy who asked that his vote be added after the fact -- a total of four People's Will deputies did so. All of them, at the moment of voting, removed their cards from the system.

Why did People's Will, whose gas producers ([Yaroslav] Moskalenko and [Oleksandr] Onishchenko-Kadyrov) are always fuming at Yatsenyuk for raising the fees they pay and who are always looking for ways to endear themselves to Poroshenko, suddenly decide not to vote?

Why pay so much attention to the unfortunate Dovhiy? Because he is Poroshenko's debt collector on the free political market. Dovhiy has been connected with [Serhiy] Berezenko and [Ihor] Kononenko for many years and by many projects going back to the days of their joint work in the Chernovetskyy bloc. Now he is in charge of Poroshenko's political outsourcing beyond the framework of his coalition. He is the president's soldier, more devoted to him than many of the members of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. And who -- with all these amusing maneuvers of removing his card and then later asking for his "in favor" vote to be added after the fact -- has given away the entire game.

Paying A Higher Price?

Of course, losing his devoted Prosecutor-General [Viktor] Shokin was painful for the president. However, he should have made this sacrifice back in December when he promised to get rid of Shokin in talks in Kyiv with [U.S. Vice President] Joe Biden.

Now, in February 2016, a good opportunity came along not just to surrender Shokin, but to "sell" him as a significant concession on Poroshenko's part, as a signal of his readiness for a "reset" that did not happen because of parliamentary resistance.

In reality, it isn't even certain that Shokin is leaving, inasmuch as in recent weeks the country has seen several examples of people "withdrawing" their letters of resignation. But if he does leave, then the loyal Yuriy Sevruk will take his place. And, by the way, an acting prosecutor-general does not have the right to ask parliament to lift the immunity and sanction the arrest of any deputies. But that doesn't seem to bother anyone.

In front of the entire country, a back-room deal was played out, and the word "reset" is now no less discredited than the word "deoligarchization."

P.S. As usual, you will ask: What next? Such spectacles do not pass without leaving traces. All of the participants will pay a price. Having rejected the "soft scenario" of changing a government that is riddled with corruption, we will arrive at a more forceful scenario in which popular anger will demand that everyone pays a much higher price. And then early elections won't seem like a catastrophe, but like a life preserver.

This blog post appeared on the website of Ukrayinska Pravda.

Serhiy Leshchenko is a journalist, an activist of the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protest movement, and a member of the Verkhovna Rada -- Ukraine’s parliament -- from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

Translation by RFE/RL's Robert Coalson