I guess its official now. With the appointment of a new Cabinet headed by his trusted ally and protégé Volodymyr Groysman, President Poroshenko has divorced himself from the essential purpose and spirit of what fueled the Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan. The revolt against egregious corruption is no more. All of the most prominent and effective anti-corruption crusaders are now gone from the cabinet. Instead, Poroshenko has engineered a new Cabinet composed of “safe” allies and cronies who he can control and who will do his bidding.
Make no mistake, the wrangling over a new government these past few months has not been about reviving a stalled reform and anti-corruption movement. It has simply been an exercise by Poroshenko to consolidate all state power in his hands, power that until now had been shared with an obstreperous Prime Minister Yatseniuk, himself not exactly a shining light for the reform movement.
With full control of the government, Poroshenko can now focus on what appears to be his primary motivation, namely safeguarding his personal fortune and that of his oligarchic buddies. No doubt, we will hear all kinds of polished PR about his commitment to rooting out corruption and accelerating reform, but what I am sure we will see instead is a return to a lethargic gradualism as far as making any real inroads against the established and deeply entrenched leeching of the people’s pockets. He will implement just enough change to create a façade of reform, while making Ukraine safe for all the Akhmetovs, Kolomoiskys, Firtashes, and others to safeguard their fortunes while keeping on milking the Ukrainian economy and controlling the levers of power.
The Maidan demanded revolutionary change. What Poroshenko has unfortunately succeeded in doing through skillful PR and sophisticated political maneuvering is blunting the revolutionary passion and creating an illusion of progress without really addressing the core issues. While it is true that much progressive legislation has been passed in the last two years, Ukrainians know full well that this means little if the judiciary and legal system are not only unwilling to enforce it, but have been actively involved in sabotaging those reformers that are trying to implement much needed change. The last two years are replete with examples of dedicated and idealistic reformers quitting the government in disgust, when it became quite clear that too many of the leadership ranks in the government had no desire whatsoever to change their predatory and corrupt ways.
The case of Prosecutor General Shokin is but one glaring example of the lack of motivation on Poroshenko’s part to really tackle corruption. Despite Shokin’s blatant efforts to subvert all anti-corruption efforts, Poroshenko refused to get rid of him until public and media pressure became too overwhelming. Even more scandalously, before he left, Shokin was allowed to purge his organization of almost all of the reformers that had been appointed to his staff.
During the past few weeks, there had been high hopes and speculation floating about that US born investment banker Natalie Jaresko might be asked to form the new government. She had indicated that she was interested, but made it quite clear that she would only do so if she was assured that the new Cabinet would be formed on the basis of skills and reform credentials, and not on political influence. I guess it was naïve of her to think that Poroshenko would agree to something so rational. Instead, we have a cabinet that was created explicitly on political considerations.
No doubt President Poroshenko firmly believes he can manage any resultant political fallout from his latest political maneuverings. He has a strong ego and faith that he can manipulate the media and the electorate to his advantage. There is no doubt that he has exceptional political skills having survived and prospered under all of Ukraine’s governments of the past two and a half decades. The next year or two will show whether that is true or whether another Maidan will show him as it has some of his predecessors, that they will only tolerate failed promises so far before they take more direct action.