2. Ukraine. So sudden and out of nowhere
Mid-summer is always characterised by low political activity and low interest in politics. Both the electors and those elected take a summer break. That is why the news of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili being stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship felt so sudden and out of nowhere. One thing is sure: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s team didn’t take a summer break, it is already working hard on getting ready for the 2019 presidential elections.
The decision to revoke Saakashvili’s citizenship came shortly after the first state visit Poroshenko made to Georgia earlier this month. It is quite possible that Saakashvili’s fate was discussed during meetings between Ukrainian and Georgian officials.
So far there has been no official reaction from the president, even the sharp tongued Saakashvili has waited a while before reacting to the news. Saakashvili has accused Poroshenko of making shadow deals with pro-Russian businessman and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and called the decision regarding his citizenship a political vendetta. He also says that Poroshenko acted like this out of the fear that opposition will start “anti oligarchic pact” protests this autumn. Many Ukrainian politicians and public figures have also commented and harshly criticised the president. Poroshenko is being called short-sighted and weak, but I believe it’s the opposite. This decision is not about Saakashvili, but about Poroshenko’s ambition to win a second term in the 2019 presidential elections.
Saakashvili’s case shouldn’t be analysed in isolation. It fits perfectly into the chain of events that suggest Poroshenko has started preparing for elections two years before they happen.
Many commentators agree that the symbolic launch of his re-election campaign started with a recent and controversial decision to ban Russian social media in Ukraine. It was followed by a prolonged campaign to discredit the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, who is also a leader of the Samopomich political party.
Sadovyi, unsurprisingly, has very good relations with Saakashvili; there has been speculation on the possibility of Sadovyi and Saakashvili joining forces in parliamentary elections. The hit was very precise, the topic was embarrassing: garbage.
Lviv’s problems became a topic on the national news, picturing Lviv as a city of chaos drowning in garbage. The story was so hyped it became impossible to decide whether the news about trucks with Lviv garbage being chased in all the regions of Ukraine were true, or staged. The idea behind this black PR campaign was very clear: to destroy Sadovyi’s image as the most successful mayor in Ukraine and turn him into a butt for jokes.
Then a few days ago it was announced that the State National Corruption Prevention Agency (NABU) will look into the affairs of opposition firebrand Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the Batjlivshchyna (Fatherland) party. This news was followed by an announcement from the PGO that it had launched a criminal investigation into Batjkivshchyna leaders over suspected illicit financing of the party.
These early birds suggest that the next target in the discrediting game will be former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is the biggest and most dangerous opponent of Poroshenko. It is worth noting that Ukraine’s prosecutor general Lutsenko is a close ally of Poroshenko, so his office’s interest in Batjkivshchyna is just the beginning of the story.
It all looks like stripping Saakashvili of Ukrainian citizenship wasn’t just a political or personal revenge, but an episode in the ongoing game of eliminating political rivals. It is a highly risky move, rather than a weakness, as some commentators in Ukraine have suggested.
One by one, Poroshenko is taking out opposition politicians, which leads to the weakening of the opposition in general. Two conclusions arise from that.
- Firstly, it’s certain that more challenges will be created for his political opponents; Saakashvili was just an episode in a larger story.
- Secondly, it looks like Poroshenko’s main ambition is to win a second term, rather than to gradually build an authoritarian regime in Ukraine.
- The bad news is that Poroshenko may only be able to win by consolidating power even further. As a result, what will be a short-run win for him, could be a long-run loss for Ukraine.
Activist, journalist and co-founder of Global Ukrainians, an international network of Ukrainians worldwide, Kateryna Kruk was awarded the Atlantic Council Freedom Award for her work communicating the Euromaidan revolution to the world. She predicted a frozen conflict in July 2014, which has largely come to pass, and now comments on the progress of crucial reforms in Ukraine.