Ukrainian ID Award will go to Oleg Sentsov
KANIV -- On Saturday, Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora around the world will conduct a global flashmob to support the imprisoned cinema-maker.
Oleg Sentsov became the first laureate of the Ukrainian ID Award, founded by International Economic and Humanitarian Forum Ukrainian ID.
The film maker is recognized for his unbreakable will in defending the ideals of freedom.
The announcement was planned for July 7 during the solemn award ceremony of the Ukrainian ID Forum. However, as stated by Forum President Nataliia Zabolotna, the health condition of the cinema-maker, who started his hunger strike in Russian prison on May 14, demand urgent actions for the release of Oleg Sentsov.
“Oleg Sentsov is a man of culture, a Ukrainian filmmaker who became the symbol of relentless struggle for freedom and civil dignity all-over the world. We planned to announce his award on July 7, along with other laureates of the Ukrainian ID Awards. But we cannot waste a day, not even a minute, for supporting and enhancing pressure on Russian authorities who cynically continue to imprison and isolate Sentsov -- pushing him to the edge of life and death,” comment the Organizing Committee of the Forum.
Global flashmob #FreeSentsov starts from Tarasova mountain in Kaniv on July 7 at 19:00. It will be joined by the global Ukrainian community.
Organizing Committee of the Ukrainian ID Forum appeals to all Ukrainians regardless of their countries of residence to organize meetings in support of Sentsov-- on main squares of their cities and in front of embassies of the US and Russia.
“From the summit of Tarasova mountain, a sacred place for Ukrainian culture, we appeal to all Ukrainian diaspora to save Oleg Sentsov together. We gather in advance of the July 16 Helsinki meeting of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, when Russia’s occupation of Ukraine are to be discussed, along with a de-escalation process between the two states. We ask all Ukrainians everywhere to make Russia believe: human dignity and values of freedom cannot be sold or destroyed, being fought for generations of Ukrainians. We will pressure both the US and Russia to urgently resolve the issue of all Ukrainian political prisoners,” stated Nataliia Zabolotna.
She also noted that giving the Ukrainian ID Award to Oleg’s representatives in Kaniv, at the Taras Shevchenko Memorial Museum, will be specially symbolic due to the similarities in the fates of both artists.
“In 19th century, Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko was imprisoned by the authorities of Russian Empire for his spiritual opposition to its murderous and inhuman policy. In 21st century, a Ukrainian filmmaker is imprisoned by a neo-imperialistic government for the same reasons. They both are heroic incarnations of Ukrainian culture: authentic, inspiring and unbowed. And they both are deemed to be eternal symbols of freedom in the souls of Ukrainian people,” underscored Nataliia Zabolotna.
Oleg Sentsov – Ukrainian cinema-maker, screenwriter and writer. Was a Euromaidan activist and civil struggle figure against the occupation of the Crimea by Russia. In May 2014 Sentsov was kidnapped by the FSB in Simferopol and arrested for allegedly preparing an act of terror. In 2015 Russian court found him guilty and sentenced him to 20 years at a maximum-security prison. Numerous international organizations and civil society figures recognized the sentence as political and demanded Russian authorities to free him.
On May 14 Oleg Sentsov declared an open-ended hunger strike, demanding to free 64 Ukrainian citizens who were kidnapped and sentenced by Russia for similar political motives.
On June 25, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, issued an official appeal to Russia’s President to pardon Sentsov.
Currently Oleg Sentsov is imprisoned in Corrective Colony No. 8 “White Bear,” in Labytnangi, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, north of the Arctic Circle.
International Economic and Humanitarian Forum Ukrainian ID is a dialogue platform initiated by Ukrainian Humanitarian Development Foundation in 2018. The first edition will take place on July 7 in Kaniv. The topic of the Forum is “Roadmap for Tomorrow” to create an action plan for Ukraine and world in modern economic conditions and principles of human security.
Speakers include: John Herbst (director, Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center), Natalie Jaresko (Executive Director of Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, Former Minister of Finance of Ukraine 2014-2016), Dmytro Bondarenko (CEO, “LIGA” Group), Gennadiy Chyzhykov (president, Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Christopher Dickey (world news editor, The Daily Beast), Lilia Hrynevych (Minister of Science and Education of Ukraine), Anna Nemtsova (correspondent, The Daily Beast, Newsweek), Vlasta Shovkovska (chief of “Ty ne odyn” Charitable Foundation 1+1 Media), Michael Bociurkiw (journalist, writer, commentator), Kadie Ward (senior advisor, PLEDDG project), Yurii Tkachenko (Governor of Cherkasy region), Alexa Chopivsky (Executive Director of American Center for a European Ukraine, Executive Director of Ukraine House Davos), Thomas Brunner (managing partner, “AgroPlus – 2006”), Yurii Filyuk (CEO of "23 restaurans" company, co-founder of urban project "Warm City"), Daniel Bilak (Director UkraineInvest and Chief Investment Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ukraine), Costa Vayenas (Director of the Procivis Think Tank at Procivis AG), Pavlo Gvozdenko (Deputy Head of the State Water Resources Agency of Ukraine), James Brooke (founder, Ukraine Business News).
To find out more about the Forum and register for participation, please visit www.ukr-id.com.
Ukrainian ID Awards – annual award for outstanding achievements and best practices towards prosperity and humanization of the humankind. It is awarded to citizens of any country or organization (except political) who make a great contribution to sustainable development. The author of the sculpture of the Ukrainian ID Awards is a young sculptor from Kharkiv, Serhii Shaulis.
Putin May be Planning a Post World Cup Surprise
by James Brooke
KYIV --A Russia-Ukraine water war may emerge after the World Cup final on July 15.
Just as President Vladimir Putin made his move to invade Crimea immediately after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he could decide that it is once again time for decisive action after the Russia-hosted World Cup wraps up.
Currently, a tense situation is building on and around the Black and Azov seas. Ukraine long ago cut off the flow of water to Crimea;. But this summer's drought is pushing Russian authorities on the peninsula to ration water. At the same time, Russia is strangling ship traffic to Berdyansk and Mariupol, Ukraine’s two major steel exporting ports on the Sea of Azov. A Russian-instigated military response is not implausible.
For Russian authorities on Crimea, the bone-dry canal from Ukraine is a convenient scapegoat. Without Dnipro River water flowing from Ukraine through the North Crimea Canal, agriculture on the peninsula has collapsed. A new Euromaidan report estimates that, with this summer’s drought, Crimea may only have adequate water for 1 million of its 2.5 million inhabitants.
But even in April 2014, when Ukraine shut off water flows to Crimea, the canal was a far cry from its glory days as a “Great Construction Project of Communism.” With the collapse of the Soviet Union, canal maintenance also collapsed. By 2013, water flows were one-third of historic highs in 1980s. And there are new claimants to the water. It now irrigates fields in Ukraine’s drought-struck Kherson region.
Ukraine’s position is that Dnipro water will return to Crimea when Crimea returns to Ukraine.
To get around this, Russia seems to be creating a bargaining chip: freedom of navigation on the Azov. On May 15, Putin inaugurated a new bridge over the Kerch Strait, linking Crimea with Russia’s mainland. According to the director of Mariupol port, the new bridge is so low that 144 of the ships that visited the port in the last two years can no longer dock there. It is cutting off shipping to Mariupol and Berdyansk, the ports for two major steel-producing regions, Donetsk and Zaporizhia.
From these ports, there is no easy rail connection to Kherson, Ukraine’s closest Black Sea port. A train from Mariupol to Kherson takes twenty hours. The 420 kilometer road trip takes only six hours, but trucking steel makes it uncompetitive in world markets. The Kremlin knows this.
At the same time, Russia has beefed up its Sea of Azov naval flotilla, partly by shifting six shallow draft gunboats by rail from the Caspian Sea. Russia’s Azov flotilla now includes six artillery boats, six amphibious ships, and two missile corvettes.
In May, Russian Navy and Coast Guard forces started detaining Ukraine-bound ships for “inspections.” Russia can legally do this, based on a 2003 agreement that classifies the Sea of Azov “an internal sea of two states.”
Stopping vessels carries an economic cost. Since April, the Russians have stopped and “inspected” as many as fifty Ukraine-bound ships. With some ships detained for as long twenty hours, shipping deadlines are missed. Costs to shipping companies can mount as high as $15,000 per vessel, Ayna Chagir, Mariupol Port spokeswoman, tells the Kyiv Post.
Shipping at both ports had been declining, but this pressure is accelerating the trend. Through May, cargo to Mariupol is down 14 percent year over year. Now, insurers are raising rates, shippers are looking for alternatives, and some seamen are refusing to go the Sea of Azov.
On the water, Ukraine has no navy ships and only a few Border Guard patrol boats.
With a disproportionate conflict increasingly possible, Ukrainian strategists increasingly talk of creating a “mosquito fleet.” In this scenario, Ukraine would put to water small, high speed power boats armed with shoulder-held ship-killing missiles, Mykhailo Samus, deputy director for Foreign Affairs of the Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies, writes.
With tensions rising, the main hope is that the Kremlin is following an old Soviet ploy: create a problem, then offer the solution. The tradeoff would be water flows to Crimea in return for freedom of navigation for Ukraine in the Sea of Azov.
But Russia also has two possible military responses to Ukraine’s actions.
A Russian military push to the left bank of the Dnipro would be costly and difficult to hold. This “land corridor” from Russian-controlled Donetsk would mean driving 350 kilometers west and holding a long thin line against partisan and conventional attacks from Ukraine.
Plus, it’s unlikely Ukraine will be blindsided again by a Pearl Harbor-style surprise attack. Ukraine has wargamed many times over defense strategies against a new Russian land grab. Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union would turn the sanctions machinery into high gear.
A less difficult military strategy for Russia would be to break out of northern Crimea in an eighty-five kilometer race to the Dnipro headwaters of the canal. From a dam at Tavriysk, the canal elbows through southern Kherson region, stretching for 115 kilometers to Russian-controlled Crimea. To have a protective buffer around the canal, Russia would have to control about 3,000 square kilometers. Nevertheless, sabotage of the 115 kilometer aqueduct would be easy—by drones, cruise missiles, or special forces units on the ground.
A deadline may be looming. Sunday, July 15 is the final match of the World Cup.
One week before, at the July 9 Ukraine-EU Summit, President Petro Poroshenko plans to discuss Russia’s growing military presence in the Azov with EU leaders. Poroshenko wrote last week on his Facebook page: “We look forward to a firm position of the EU regarding new Russian challenges for security in the Black and Azov Seas.”
One week later, on July 16, Presidents Trump and Putin meet in Helsinki. Restoration of Ukrainian water for Crimea in return for freedom of the seas in the Azov could as emerge as "a deliverable win-win."
Four years ago, I was a correspondent at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Fresh from covering Ukraine’s Maidan protests, I asked on a mid-February conference call with experts in Moscow and Washington: what if Putin invades Crimea?
I was all but laughed off the line.
At the time, Putin was basking in the favorable Olympics publicity, smoothly socializing with visiting officials. On the closing night of Sunday, February 23, the fireworks were spectacular. But Russia’s leader looked tired.
We now know that he had been up all night meeting with security service chiefs, planning the takeover of Crimea, 500 kilometers to the westd
This article first appeared June 28 on the Atlantic Council's Ukraine Alert Blog site.
Seaworthy River Barges Could Handle Big Portion of Black Sea Grain Exports
From Cherkasy to Morocco? It would get grain trucks off the roads and save money
By Jean-Jacques Hervé
KYIV -- The Black Sea grain market has grown steadily since 2000 when Russia and Ukraine returned to world export markets after an 80-year absence.
The Dnipro, Don and their tributaries drain a continent-sized Black Sea hinterland, bringing tens of million tons of wheat, corn and sunflower oil to river and seaports. But, the capacities of deep-sea ports remain limited despite major investments over the last decade in Chornomorsk, Yuzhny, Tuapse and Novorossisk. Major projects are planned to dredge access channels deep enough for larger boats, such as Panamax, which require drafts up to 12 meters.
Transport costs along the value chain – from field to fork — are key factors for setting final costs of commodities at destination. It is difficult to reduce the price at the first step: bringing new grain harvests to elevators for cleaning and drying.
A second transport usually takes grain to a seaport elevator for shipment and export. Sometimes that operation needs an intermediate elevator. Most transfers use trucks and roads.
In Ukraine, only one third of grain moves by rail because of a shortage of wagons and bottlenecks with the state railway company. In Ukraine, little grain moves by river barges. In Russia, about 35 million tons are carried from grain producing regions to river elevators or seaports.
Thus, transport to a sea port may require three transfers to elevators. This process that can cost more than the transport itself.
Here is where seaworthy river transport vessels can play a role.
The first argument deals with business. Agro holdings, in spite of their ability to deliver large amounts of grain to seaports, are reluctant to mobilise high liquidity and to be thus at risk. They often feel more comfortable shipping smaller amounts of grain -- 5,000-10,000 ton loads carried by sea-river ships. Midsized producers cannot produce grain volumes of the size needed for a Panamax (60,000t and more) or even a Handymax (25,000t). For them, barges are perfectly suited.
Both large and midsized agro companies holdings try to diversify their clients. They are interested in B-to-B contracts, which can be fulfilled with seaworthy river barges that move offshore to the Black and Mediterranean seas.
Second, a seaworthy river barge reduces the time and the cost of grain transport by road or rail to the Black Sea. This helps save roads — a large problem in Ukraine — and allows better use of limited financial resources available for road reconstruction.
Third, traceability of grain is easier to assess in direct transport from farm to sea -- or river -- destination. Many problems arise during transhipping operations offshore with limited control. Direct B-to-B deliveries also help with compliance of International Maritime Organization rules, and simplify compliance with International Commercial Terms.
Fourth, geography and geopolitics play a role. The new bridge over Kerch Strait now limits Azov Sea and to boats with air drafts under 33 meters and water drafts of 8 meters, So Ukraine’s two ports on the Azov -- Mariupol and Berdyansk -- and Russia’s ports on the Don estuary — Azov , Taganrog and Rostov-on-Don — will only be able to handle barges going to Black Sea for transhipment to Panamax or larger boats able to use the Danube system.
Why should these river boats stop for transhipment when sea-river vessels would allow then to make direct deliveries to Mediterranean ports in Southern Europe and North Africa?
The Black Sea offers promising perspectives. The region now ships every year 85 million tons of grain to world markets. The split is 40 MT from Ukraine and 45 MT from Russia.
Modern sea-river vessels in the 5,000-20,000 ton cargo class are designed with raised bows and sterns to prevent capsizing in case of strong roll and pitch. They are more expansive than standard river barges of same capacity. They have to be equipped with sea and river systems of navigation. They need movable funnels and command cabins. But, economy of shipping costs allows for amortizing design differences.
Sea-river navigation is a part of global cost killing effort along the whole chain.
The Black Sea is an excellent candidate for these new seaworthy riverboats, for delivering grain cargoes to Mediterranean ports -- and up the Danube to deliver grain to central and northern Europe.
Jean-Jacques Hervé is a French consultant in agribusiness in Ukraine. He served in Ukraine as a counsellor to the Government and Board Member at Credit Bank Ukraine. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Viking Battles Corruption -- in Odesa
ODESA – For the second time in 1,000 years, a Viking rune stone has been raised by Odesa’s Black Sea waters.
The pretext for raising the latest stone is an event that elsewhere is often commonplace – a victory over corruption.
“I have had more legal battles in my three years in Odesa, than in my 30 years in business,” Thomas Sillesen, board chairman of BIIR, a Danish design and engineering firm.
Sillesen stood at the site of his victory over municipal corruption, Primorska 3a, a lot occupied by a dilapidated Soviet-era building, facing the cranes and train tracks of the port. Two years ago, with his engineering outsourcing firm expanding, Sillesen bought the lot from a bank that foreclosed on an owner who had not made payments on his mortgage for almost seven years.
Shopping Center Gold Mine
This seemingly straightforward deal was clouded when the owner of the neighboring lot decided to build a shopping-entertainment center. Immediately, the previous owner started fighting to reassert ownership. Decisions by local judges and prosecutors went his way.
Sillesen fought back, taking his case to Prime Minister Groysman, the EBRD, Members of the European Parliament and the press. Eventually, the pressure became too great. The Odesa Appellate Court ultimately ruled in Sillesen’s way in February.
Sensing victory, Sillesen commissioned Eric Sandquist to carve and color a rune stone from Jutland granite in the style of the Vikings who plied the Black Sea and the Dnipro River in the 10th century.
On one side is the mask of Odin – the ancient Norse god of war, knowledge, wisdom and protector against evil spirits.
On the other side, is a raven, the war bird of the Vikings. The black bird clutches the snake of corruption in its claws.
Sandquist inscribed the six-ton boulder with the same runic alphabet used 1,000 years ago by Grani to carve a stone memorial to Karl, his business partner. This memorial was discovered in 1905 on Berezan, a Dnipro delta island 40 km east of here. Today, the ancient stone is in the Odesa Archeological Museum – only 200 meters up a hill from Sillesen’s dock side stone.
Sillesen, a bullet-headed man with the build of a prize fighter, is enough of a realist to see that this may only be round one in the battle to curb corruption that retards economic growth in Odesa.
At the port, ships no longer arrive flying the flag of Maersk, the world’s largest container ship operator. In March, the Danish carrier curtly announced it was ending services to Odesa, directing customers to nearby alternative ports.
Sillesen says the same bureaucratic barbed wire that entangled him scared off a Danish company that would have hired 500 workers in Odesa to build steel frames for wind turbines.
“We found the site for them, then we lost in court,” Sillesen recalls of his initial proceedings in the Primorska 3a site. “They ended up deciding ‘no’. We set them up in Vietnam.”
Denmark Needs Odesa Engineers
On the up side, publicity over the case is winning more business for BIIR, which is based in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city.
In addition to having such blue ribbon Danish clients as Maersk Oil and Vestas Wind Systems, BIIR helps smaller Danish companies that are outgrowing the country’s workforce.
“In Denmark, we have the lowest unemployment ever,” he said of the nation’s 4.8% rate. “There is a huge pressure to find engineers. A lot of Danish machine factories are not getting engineers they need. We help these companies survive.”
Competing Danish engineering companies have set up outsourcing operations in Poland and Prague. Sillesen says Ukraine’s image scares them from going further east.
Despite the competition, BIIR’s challenge now is to manage growth. With half of the company’s workforce of 250 working in Odesa, Sillesen believes that he will add another 100 Odesa jobs over the next year.
“The funny thing about our corruption case is it makes us popular in Denmark,” he said. “In Denmark, people appreciate the fact that we have principles, that we will fight for our principles.”
For comments and story tips, James Brooke is reachable at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ukraine in the 2020s: Kaniv Forum Calls for Culture with Economic Development
KYIV -- Driving through Ukraine, a casual visitor often encounters a depressing feature of the the post-Soviet landscape: boarded up ‘Houses of Culture,’ libraries working on reduced hours, sports clubs privatized for real estate developments, and children’s summer camps disappearing into forests.
Rather than look away, Natalia Zabolotna believes Ukraine should face up to its ‘humanitarian deficit.’
“An economy cannot successful if there is a humanitarian deficit,” she warned over coffee in Kyiv recently. “A country without culture is just a territory. The Ministry of Culture reported in 2016 that 1,800 libraries were closing.
To focus discussion on reviving and democratizing culture, Zabolotna is holding “Ukrainian ID” a day long “International Economic and Humanitarian Forum.”
Following a model successful in Europe and the United States, the Forum will draw panelists and participants out of the capital to the relaxing small city setting of Kaniv, 140 km south of Kyiv. The forum is reminiscent of intellectual and policy retreats held in the Berkshires, a scenic area equidistant from New York and Boston.
Zabolotna believes that by pulling participants away from the distractions of Kyiv, the dialogue will be relaxed, but high level.
Kaniv, a port city on the right bank Dnipro, sets a high standard. It is known nationwide for holding the hilltop grave of Taras Shevchenko, the Shakespeare of Ukraine.
Zabolotna, a pioneering art manager who ran Mystetskyi Arsenal from 2010-2016, is drawing on her connections for high level panelists, including: Volodymyr Omelyan, Infrastructure Minister; Natalie Jaresko, former finance minister; Diane Francis, editor-at-large of Canada’s National Post; and Christopher Dickey, world news editor, The Daily Beast.
Partners include: The Atlantic Council; the US-Ukraine Business Council; the Bohdan Hawrylyshyn Family Foundation and the Canadian Embassy.
Information on participation can be found at the Forum website -- http://ukr-id.com
Moment of Truth Nears for Ukraine Investors Riding Out Turmoil
By Marton Eder
(Bloomberg) -- Investors holding Ukrainian debt are approaching a crucial moment as the country counted among the shakiest emerging markets prepares for a vote that can alleviate a swirling political crisis -- or tip the nation deeper into turmoil.
One of the five countries listed by the Institute of International Finance as the most vulnerable to a stronger dollar and rising global interest rates, Ukraine is in the midst of a political upheaval that has the potential to curb its foreign funding.
Of the other four, Turkey and Argentina have suffered full-blown currency crises since the study was published a month ago. Lawmakers in the capital Kiev are facing a make-or-break moment as they try to push through legislation required to keep receiving money from the International Monetary Fund. Making matters worse is a public spat between the country’s premier and finance minister, two of the key officials working to restore the $17.5 billion aid package.
The risk is that investors who are largely ignoring the turmoil at the moment suddenly rush for the exit if things go badly wrong, as happened in in both Argentina and Turkey last month. “Our base case about the anti-corruption court has long been that an eleventh hour compromise with the IMF would be reached and therefore we’ve looked past all the noise,” said Richard Segal, a senior analyst at Manulife Asset Management Ltd. in London who sees more value in notes with a maturity of up to six years.
The crisis could come to a head on Thursday, when lawmakers are due to vote on a bill that would set up an anti-corruption court, one of the conditions of unfreezing the IMF bailout. Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman threatened to quit if they reject it.
The stakes are high for Ukraine, an eastern-European nation with more than $20 billion of outstanding dollar debt, because it hasn’t managed to fully replenish its foreign-currency reserves since a sovereign debt crisis three years ago. The balance currently stands at around $18.4 billion, about half of its former level. “The absence of financial support from official creditors increases the vulnerability of the country’s economy and financial market, especially when access to global capital markets is limited,” the central bank said in the minutes of last month’s rate meeting, published on Monday. Policy makers on May 24 left the benchmark interest rate at 17 percent, Europe’s highest.
The rate-setting panel paid special attention to growing risks for developing economies, highlighting Argentina and Turkey, according to the minutes. Failure to restart the flow of IMF funds may trigger more rate hikes and tighter controls on the foreign currency market, the central bank said.
In its note published May 3, the IIF said that Ukraine, China, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey appear most vulnerable to changes in risk appetite due to a combination of relatively high financing needs, less-than-adequate reserves and weak institutions. High demand for developing-nation debt helped Ukraine to sell $3 billion of dollar bonds last year, pushing back some of the debt burden.
A plan to offer another $2 billion this year might prove more difficult because a recent sell-off in emerging markets has pushed up borrowing costs. Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk, who is lobbying for the the anti-corruption bill to be passed, has warned that it will be difficult to tap the market without the IMF funding, which has already been delayed for a year.
The minister’s future in the government became uncertain last week when his conflict with Hroisman over a personnel appointment burst into the public. Danylyuk’s predecessor Natalie Jaresko and former Central Bank Governor Valeriya Gontareva left their posts amid political infighting.“The general danger is that Ukraine has a history of muddling through with policy steps,” said Andreas Schwabe, an analyst at Raiffeisen Bank International AG in Vienna, which has a hold rating on the bonds. “Authorities have said that they think Ukraine can issue debt without the IMF, which they can probably do, but it will be more expensive.”
With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska.
To contact the reporter on this story, Marton Eder in Budapest at email@example.com
An Investor Worry: Ukraine’s Presidential Elections Are Wide Open
In contrast to Russia, no one knows who Ukraine’s next President will be
Monday May 21, 2018
By Timothy Ash
Opinion polls suggest that elections for the presidency in Ukraine, due to be held in March 2019, are wide open.
The polls themselves should be taken with a huge degree of skepticism as generally they are produced for political parties or media groups with particular oligarchic interests.
Tymoshenko Leads Polls
But a general theme are that former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko tops the polls, albeit in the low teens followed by a bevvy of other political figures in the single digits.
That Yulia Tymoshenko tops the polls is not entirely surprising as she remains an adept political operator and campaigner. Indeed, she is a political dynamo, has a knack of appealing to a particular core constituency, and has retained a strong grass roots political machine unparalleled in Ukraine.
While polls show Tymoshenko has extremely high negative ratings, she also manages to retain a loyal core base of support which has not eroded much over the years. Her core support is likely in the 10-15% range. But given her campaigning prowess she is likely guaranteed 15-20% in the first round presidential contest. In a field likely to be very large this time around - perhaps a dozen or more candidates - Tymoshenko is almost guaranteed a place in any second round run off.
Looking at the range of rivals to Tymoshenko, President Poroshenko lags very badly --- back in fourth or fifth place, in mid single digits. It is tempting to think that with the power of office and patronage behind him that Poroshenko could still muscle out also rans to secure a second round contest with Tymoshenko. But incumbency never plays that well in Ukraine - remember former President Viktor Yushchenko who polled miserably in the elections of 2010, failing even to get into the second round.
And opinion polls suggest that in a runoff of two unpopular candidates, Poroshenko would still likely lose to Tymoshenko. Poroshenko is currently selling himself as the last reform hope for Ukraine, a moderate reformer who at least keeps the country stable and can work with the West -- trying to contrast this with the unpredictable Tymoshenko. But I think voters increasing see little difference between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko who hail from the same oligarchic class.
To pull ahead of the field and eventually beat Tymoshenko, Poroshenko has to pull something significant out of the bag - some kind of endorsement from Western allies, or new impetus on the EU or NATO front. On the latter, there is talk of referenda on EU and NATO membership, perhaps held in parallel to the presidential poll. Poroshenko would then try to sell himself as the politician with the best international relations and experience to deliver on these big projects.
The problem with both Tymoshenko and Poroshenko, and indeed many in the field, is that they are establishment candidates. They represent Ukraine’s old, and still ruling, oligarchic order. Indeed, both Tymoshenko and Poroshenko have been in and around government for the best part of 20 years. To many, they represent failed policies of the past. This explains why both have such tepid poll ratings and high negative ratings.
Looking at the rest of the field, a similar complaint can be made of many of the other candidates.
Boyko: Pro-Russia Candidate
Opposition Bloc leader, Yuriy Boyko, is a former member of Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine government, a party which had Poroshenko as a former founding member. Similarly, he is oligarchic political establishment. Boyko polls in the mid-single digits, like Poroshenko. But the perception that he would represent a more pro-Russian view/orientation, makes it almost certain that he would lose to Tymoshenko in any second round contest. Polls show that two thirds of Ukrainians still have a Western orientation. Boyko’s chances might increase should, by some miraculous chain of events, the 2 million voters from DPR and LPR and 3 million from occupied and annexed Crimea be returned to Ukraine proper. But even then, I think he would be beaten by Tymoshenko as the orientation of the country had decidedly shifted Westwards since 2014.
Former Defense Minister, Comedian
Former defense minister under Yushchenko, Anatoly Hrytsenko, also consistently polls in the mid-single digits but above Poroshenko, and would certainly continue Ukraine’s Western orientation, But he struggles to sell himself as a reform alternative. Few known reformers seem to be inspired by his candidacy. It’s unlikely that he would be able to beat the dynamo Tymoshenko in any second round vote
A bevy of populists are in the pack, including the leader of the aptly named Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, and the comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky. He bears a striking similarity to Beppe Grilllo and his Five Star Movement in Italy. Zelensky could be one to watch - the proverbial joker in the pack. It is unclear who his ultimate political backers are. There is lots of concern that he may well be another oligarchic ‘political project’, which many see as a cancer on Ukraine’s political scene and surely damages democracy.
There is much talk of potential for the appearance of a Ukrainian Macron. That said, while Macron created a new political movement, he was still very much French establishment in his own origins.
If a Ukrainian Macron would offer a break from Ukraine’s oligarchic power politics, a few names have been mentioned:
PM Groysman: Ukrainian Macron?
First, Prime Minister Volodomyr Groysman arguably best matches Macron’s CV. Clearly, as a former protege of President Poroshenko, he has trappings of the oligarchic class behind him. While in office he has steered a relatively independent tack from Poroshenko, much to the irritation at times of the current incumbent in the presidential palace. The rumor mill has it that he is strongly backed by former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who himself is thought to be close to other oligarchic backers (Akhmetov, et al).
Groysman’s main advantage is his relative youth. I guess he represents a new breed of Ukraine’s oligarchic elites who perhaps could be persuaded to break the existing cartel of the dozen or so oligarchs who dominate Ukraine’s economic and political landscape. He would be the young gun candidate, but of the old elites. Some would see him as too engrained in the old oligarchic traditions to be able, or willing, to impart the radical almost revolutionary change now needed by Ukraine. By pinning his colors to the mast to stall IMF required energy price hikes, Groysman showed his more populist and less reform minded instincts.
He clearly has higher political ambitions and seems to be seen by people such as Yatsenyuk as a politician with a future. This perhaps explains his tortuous relations with President Poroshenko, who seems to just tolerate him in his current position as prime minister, more because trying to remove him would create more problems with the Rada in trying to appoint a replacement. Net-net I struggle to see Groysman making it into the second round of any presidential contest. He just fails to offer anything that new and different.
Sadoviy from Lviv
Second, Andriy Sadoviy, mayor of Lviv, and leader of the reform minded, Samopomnich (Self Help) Party, is seen by some as offering the best chance of change. Sadoviy has a business/mini oligarch past, making his fortune in media. But he has pushed himself as a liberal market democrat and reformer - tweed jackets and trendy academic spectacles add to the image of an academic or IT entrepreneur.
Unfortunately question marks remain as to what compromises his Samopomnich Party has done to fight its own battles against the party of power and the establishment. Its support for last year’s blockade in the East suggested closer relations than some might like with those around the oligarch Kolomoisky. Maybe this was just a case of an enemy of mine is an enemy of yours, but it has raised doubts.
Third, and perhaps the most intriguing and promising is the pop star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk. In many respects he seems to tick all the boxes of being beyond the close circle of oligarchs and establishment politicians. He is well educated -- PhD in Physics and has been taking a degree in public administration in the US over the past year - readying himself for something. He is a liberal thinker and entrepreneur of sorts.
Encouragingly, he has gathered around him a crew of talented market friendly reformers. Opinion polls show him in the mix - mid single digits -- without even declaring himself as candidate. This suggests upside if he eventually declares and starts campaigning. He could be the biggest threat to Tymoshenko. But he seems cautious, perhaps overly so, in throwing his hat in the ring. Perhaps he is fearful of failure, or does not think his time is right, and it might be in 2023.
But by then it might be too late. Many people would say Ukraine needs a new fresh face now. The risk is of continuation of oligarchic stranglehold and slow death of the economy. This latter scenario sees the flight of young, skilled Ukrainians (1.3 million in Poland), and worrying trends in opinion polls towards a desire for order, populism and nationalism. The emergence of a candidate like Vakarchuk would offer hope that these trends can be reversed.
Sytnyk: NABU Head
Another to watch is Artem Sytnyk, head of National Anti Corruption Bureau, or NABU. He is young and from a different generation than the likes of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko. But he has carved out major political enemies in his current role. Should he decide to run, many would fear that he might use some of the “kompromat” gleaned in his current role against political opponents in any campaign. But the fact that he has created many political enemies is also part of his political appeal: he has shown guts to go after some high profile names. Whether this can translate into political acumen and a successful campaign is another matter. There are suggestions of efforts by political elites to oust Sytnyk from his position as head of NABU. That might be enough to launch Sytnyk’s political career as he could become a rallying and focal point then for reform groups.
Will Poroshenko Change the Rules?
There is an emerging third scenario. Facing certain electoral defeat next March, Poroshenko opts to cling onto power through constitutional reform. Poroshenko might push changes which would move Ukraine from a presidential/parliamentary democracy more to a parliamentary system, with a largely figurehead president. Poroshenko might seek constitutional change in the Rada before bringing forward parliamentary elections. Under the current system of mixed PR and constituency based electoral rules, parties close to power tend to do best. By going to early elections and perhaps combining the vote with referenda on NATO or EU membership, Poroshenko would aim to sustain for himself a majority, or head of a coalition, in the Rada. This would head off the threat from Tymoshenko et al, and sustain himself in power beyond 2019. Here, it is hard to see deputies in the Rada voting down reforms which would give themselves more power and political patronage.
Tymoshenko Hard to Beat
Reviewing the above, on current trends, and unless Vakarchuk gets new found inspiration, or Sytnyk decides to run, Tymoshenko looks set to secure the presidency in the 2019 elections.
This would mean a more populist reform course, but unlikely any meaningful change in the oligarchic political cartel which has run Ukraine so badly over the past 27 years. I might be wrong about Yulia.
Poroshenko: Win Elections Through Military Victory?
But as the election approaches and if Poroshenko does not see any pick up in his ratings, he may well be tempted to go for constitutional reform. Likely he would use IMF/market financing in the run up to any vote to pump prime growth. But beyond the election, I don’t see a major step up in reform or really any systemic changes in the way Ukraine is run. Again oligarchic interests will dominate.
Poroshenko might also be tempted to boost his electoral chances by pushing a security agenda in Donbas, pushing Putin for concessions in the East while Russia’s leader is focused on the FIFA World Cup and desperate to avoid more damaging Western sanctions. This might actually see Ukraine go on the offensive in the East to try and recapture territory and bring a speedy end to the war. Any Ukrainian leader who achieved the latter would surely be guaranteed electoral victory in 2019.
Timothy Ash is senior sovereign analyst for Blue Bay Asset Management in London.
Ukraine: A Land Of Economic Problems Or Opportunity?
Friday April 20th, 2018
Two years ago, Ukraine came out of recession – but so far the country has only managed to achieve modest economic growth. There seem to be a number of factors limiting Ukraine’s economic progress: its strained relationship with the western institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), internal political struggles with rule of law and corruption and the ongoing war in the occupied eastern territories.
However, according to Editor-in-Chief at the Ukraine Business News (UBN) James Brooke, there is reason to be optimistic about Ukraine’s economic future. The latest report cites a new production line from one of Ukraine’s biggest food processing companies, 13 new gas wells in the Lviv region and the introduction of Ryanair flights to and from Ukraine as indicators of the country’s improving economic situation.