On Thursday 8 September, Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko fired Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and her cabinet. In a public speech to the nation he claimed his hand was forced by Timoshenko herself and argued her cabinet was caught up in PR initiatives rather than implementing government policy. The bickering and public fall-out marks a clear end to the honeymoon of the victors of the so-called “orange revolution”.
This is the culmination to a series of crises. The immediate catalyst was the resignation of Aleksandr Zinchenko, a former Yuschenko loyalist, who orchestrated his Presidential election campaign but has since defected to the Timoshenko camp, from his position as secretary of state. The reason he gave for his decision was the corruption of Petr Poroshenko, the secretary of security and defence, a former oligarch who bankrolled Yuschenko’s election campaign, and other politicians. Poroshenko, who himself resigned on Thursday before the cabinet was dismissed, has countered with accusations directed against his bitter enemy Timoshenko, who pipped him to the post of Prime Minister. After all the hype of the “orange revolution” it is business as usual in the degenerate world of Ukrainian politics, a den of thieves who have a flair for stabbing each other in the back.
This outbreak of scandal in turn was triggered by the re-nationalisation of an alloy metal factory in Nikopol. Poroshenko backed Russian oligarchs while Timoshenko backed Privat, a Ukrainian group. What is at stake here is potentially the establishment of the biggest consolidated group in the production of ferrous alloys necessary in steel production, a sector currently reaping record profits. On June 19 Yuschenko declared that “politics should not interfere in questions of privatization” after meeting with Russian metals’ magnate Aleksandr Abramov. This was clearly a public rebuff to Timoshenko who kindly advised her Russian friends not to risk their money. The enterprise was renationalized, which is what the former PM was lobbying for as a step to selling it on to her business allies.
Other public disputes include Timoshenko’s move to restrict the price of petrol, alleging that Russian oil companies were using high prices to ruin the agricultural sector. Yuschenko eventually had to intervene, overruling her and building bridges with Russian business.
Although the split therefore comes as no surprise President Yuschenko himself seemed to think it would be possible to avoid it. Following Zinchenko’s resignation he tried to build bridges between his hostile “allies” and appease the Timoshenko camp by agreeing on the resignation of Poroshenko. However, he was outmanoeuvred by Timoshenko. One of her ministers, Nikolai Tomenko very publicly resigned on Thursday morning, blaming the influence of Poroshenko in decision making, which apparently contradicts the laws of Ukraine. The fact that actually Timoshenko was more influential is ignored, just as the fact that if decisions really were made by Poroshenko it would mean that she was a weak Prime Minister, unable to dictate the course of her government.
With Tomenko’s resignation the initiative passed out of the hands of Yuschenko, who was made to look a weak, unskillful politician who was not able to assert his authority over his ministers. This is entirely in character for the former head of the central bank. His planned press conference was suddenly thrown back by an hour while he figured out how to react, appearing in public before his speech writers could prepare a speech for him. What a disaster!
He said that the agreement he had brokered “was unfortunately broken, but not by me.” This attempt to lay the blame on Timoshenko foreshadowed her attempt to lay the blame on his coterie but Yuschenko’s words are perhaps a little more felt. “It is unfortunate that unity was broken on her initiative,” he must be thinking, “if only I had had the same idea and sacked her earlier. I could have blamed her bungling of the economy, where growth is falling and inflation is rising. Instead the economic problems might be laid at my door now that she is no longer responsible for the running of the country…”
This is particularly unfortunate for Yuschenko because now Timoshenko looks like beating his party in the parliamentary elections set for March next year. These are vital elections as thereafter the Prime Minister will be the most important position, as opposed to that of the Presidency. This follows reforms initiated by former President Kuchma, who aimed to be the leader of the country without having to extend his term as President. The upshot is that after all the trouble Yuschenko went to in his presidential election campaign the spoils of victory could be wrestled from his grasp, with Timoshenko returning as Speaker of the Rada or Prime Minister.
The artificial nature of the “orange revolution” is indicated by the fall from grace not only of Viktor Yuschenko but his former rival Viktor Yanukovich. Despite winning an apparently respectable 44% in the run-off election with Yuschenko and vowing to fight on he is now left empty-handed and very much in the doldrums. Yanukovich’s base, particularly the party of the Regions has seen its support ebb away, divided between those prepared to make compromises with the new leadership and those who are being swept aside by it, including a number of regional leaders previously allied to Yanukovich. He has been completely unable to shape the opposition that exists in pro-Russian areas hostile to Yuschenko, whose support was based mainly in the west of the country and in Kiev. His former backers, including Rinat Akhmetov, the oligarch who owned the Krivorozhstal giant factory that Timoshenko renationalised, now look set to back “Working Ukraine”. When his team “Shakhter” of the Donbass won the Ukrainian football league, influential business and political figures basked in glory at a triumphal celebration in the town centre, where Yanukovich was nowhere to be seen while last year he would have been a VIP face.
Another detail in connection with the elections that underlines how hollow the “revolution” was last year is attempts of Timoshenko to outmanoeuvre pro-Yuschenko factions by allying her bloc with former Kuchma supporters. The secondary, personal divisions within the elite are important to Russia and the west to the degree that they can use them to get a foothold to further their interests, but they offer nothing but more of the same to the masses.
The shifting configurations within the elite, while underlining the rotten nature of the system, the selfish interests of the politicians and their inability to develop the country, do not change anything fundamentally. We have seen this already in the change from Kuchma to Yuschenko and no one can doubt that the same will apply whatever the results of the elections in March. The elite itself has not been changed and neither is this possible under capitalism. The only alternative is to expropriate the elite economically and politically, with the entrance of the working class into politics, and the renationalisation of the factories under workers’ control. Only with ownership and management of the economy in the hands of the working class can industry be based on catering for the needs of the population, and eradicating the scourge of unemployment and poverty. And only in such a system can workers themselves make decisions in a spirit of solidarity for the benefit of the majority and not in the narrow interest of a lying, corrupt and indecently squabbling elite.