Kiev between America and Russia: Part 2 – Trump’s “Ukraine Audit” bodes Poroshenko’s End


February 3, 2017 – 

By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ – translated by J. Arnoldski –

Eduard Popov, born in 1973 in Konstantinovka, Donetsk region, is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia in Rostov-on-Don. From 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don. He has actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts for his native Donbass and has been a guest contributor to various Donbass media, such as the Lugansk-based Cossack Media Group. Popov has actively contributed to Fort Russ since June, 2016.

Foreword from Dr. Eduard Popov: I am grateful to have the opportunity to be featured on the pages of the authoritative and brilliant Fort Russ and be able to offer readers my views on the prospects of the emerging rapprochement between the United States and Russia, as well as the place in this two-way process occupied (or to be occupied) by Ukraine. Below is the second installment in my new three-part series on this evermore pressing topic. 

Continued from Part 1


As is well known, Ukraine did not occupy an important place in Donald Trump’s pre-election rhetoric. However, Ukraine paid especially heightened attention to candidate Trump’s opinion whenever it surfaced. Inexperienced Ukrainian diplomacy (Ukraine as a state emerged only in 1991 and a Ukrainian nation has still yet to form) hedged all of its bets on one player: Hillary Clinton. In addition, President Poroshenko’s regime [1] showed a complete lack of political culture and strategic thinking as Ukrainian media launched a real persecution campaign against Trump and the ex-head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Boris Lozhkin, even passed along “incriminating” materials on the head of Donald Trump’s campaign headquarters, Paul Manafort. 

Donald Trump seems to perceive the European continent as a zone of chaos – and rightly so. Ukraine is simultaneously the distant periphery of this continent and the epicenter of the chaos, a kind of black hole in which people and money disappear without a trace. In the beginning of the 21st century, Ukraine has become a new geopolitical Balkans of Europe.

The anticipated – by some with horror, some with hope –  correction of the United States’ policy towards Ukraine following Donald Trump’s victory has not yet begun. But Kiev is nevertheless already on the verge of panic. As this article is being written, bombs and rockets fired by the Ukrainian army are raining down on the cities of Donbass. The density of shelling and the use of rocket artillery has not been seen in Donbass for a long time. Experts, including the author of these lines, believe that this is Poroshenko’s reaction to the “Trump factor.”

But let us set the situation in Donbass aside for a separate study. We propose to direct the reader’s attention towards Ukraine itself or, more precisely, the two Ukraines that have emerged: the official Ukraine personified by the Poroshenko regime, and the Ukraine of the oligarchs and regional barons. We could also add a third Ukraine: the Ukraine of the neo-Nazi parties and battalions, but we have already discussed this in depth in a separate article. Today, Poroshenko’s Ukraine and the oligarchs’ Ukraine are in a state nearing open war which could lead to a new Maidan or, in the very least, to the president’s impeachment. This war’s beginning was sparked by Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections.

On January 26th, the American publication RealClearDefense analyzed the main problems gripping Ukraine in an article under the telling title “Ukraine’s Problem is Ukraine.” According to the Ukrainian publication Vesti which cited this article, Donald Trump plans to arrange an “audit” of the Ukrainian authorities by checking where Kiev has really allocated the funds received from the US under Barack Obama. 

In short, Ukraine’s main problems are named to be the following four:

1. the problematic organization of authorities caused by a large number of officials taking part in military strategy and procurement;

2. the absence of a unified strategic vision and budget accounting;

3. pro-Russian officials

4. overwhelming corruption

Let us note that the publication does not identify the biggest problem: the illegitimate status of the ruling Poroshenko regime and the former US administration’s accountability for the violent overthrow of President Yanukovych.

The third point on the list is also questionable. Already in the first days following the victory of the Euromaidan, Ukrainian government agencies were decisively purged of any so-called “pro-Russian officials.” In fact, this work was carried out long before. In the first half of 2010, the author of these lines more than once came into contact with Ukrainian deputies, politicians, and experts who constantly supplied reports on how the US and the West (including foundations from both the Democratic and Republican parties in the US, NATO humanitarian organizations, etc.) were consistently engaged in drawing the ruling Ukrainian elite into the channels of pro-Western policies. A system of work was organized with this aim. Trips were arranged for deputies, politicians, and experts (as well as budding young specialists) to visit the US and the opening of NATO centers at universities even in pro-Russian cities like Donetsk, etc. I’ll emphasize that all of this was being carried out even during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, whom the leaders of the Euromaidan called “pro-Russian.”

Thus, the purging of the Ukrainian political sphere of pro-Russian figures began long before the victory of the Euromaidan. Assistant to the US Secretary of State on European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, confirmed in an interview on CNN that the US had allocated as much as $5 billion “to support the Ukrainian people’s aspiration for a stronger, democratic government.” Part of this money was likely allocated for the outright bribery of Ukrainian politicians. There was also, of course, a hidden part of all this work including non-public negotiations and agreements with Ukrainian politicians on, among other things, personnel appointments. It is no coincidence that Yanukovych’s presidential reign was marked by the career advancements of collaborators and the disappearance and even arrest of genuinely pro-Russian politicians. The most famous among the latter examples is the leader of the Odessa-based Rodina Party, Igor Markov, who was arrested in October 2013 and spend several months in prison.

Thus, by the time of the coup, no more “purging” of the Ukrainian political field of pro-Russian forces was really needed. The ruling Party of Regions represented several groups competing against one another on domestic political and economic issues but overall in solidarity in matters of ideology (liberalism) and geopolitics (orientation towards the West, primarily on the EU). Put bluntly and crucially: it was a party of collaborators and conformists. 

But why did this American publication dedicate an entire point on an extra short list of Ukraine’s problems to this?

A correct answer to this question would be possible if we possessed information on this publication. Does it speak for the representatives of the new US President’s entourage? Or do Ukrainian lobbyists in the US perhaps (but not necessarily) opposed to President Poroshenko stand behind it? I am inclined towards the second possibility, but perhaps American readers could correct me. 

It is obvious that such lobbies are attempting to misdirect Donald Trump by pointing to the consequences (corruption) and not the reasons (illegitimacy and criminal government) for Ukraine’s problems. 

Donald Trump would be wise to refrain from being immersed in European chaos, and instead busy himself with cleaning the Augean stables of America before he is dragged into being involved in the Ukrainian mess. This obviously betrays the interests of the Ukrainian lobbyists in the US. Undoubtedly, in the near future we will see very high media and political activity on the part of these lobbyists. 

Also on January 26th, another piece of news came – this time straight from Ukrainian officialdom. Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alene Zerkal practically issued an ultimatum to Washington in an interview with Reuters. Implying the coming telephone talk between President Putin and President Trump, Ms. Zerkal stated that Ukraine should have a word in any agreement achieved between the US and Russia on settling the conflict in Donbass. 

“Since we are talking about the future of our country, we do not want to be excluded from negotiations. We do not want to be a playing card. We want to be a player,” Zerkal told Reuters.

Zerkal also stated that she does not believe in a “gentleman’s agreement” and supports Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s call for the West to keep the sanctions on Russia. Yet the Ukrainian foreign minister does not propose to include Russia in negotiations with Western countries during which the question of prolonging the anti-Russian sanctions is discussed.

The Ukrainian foreign minister’s statement speaks to the confusion, if not panic, that is gripping Kiev since Donald Trump’s inauguration. My sources with connections in Ukraine have confirmed that this attitude is prevalent in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The opinion of Ukrainian “volunteers” from the neo-Nazi battalions boils down to a simple formula: “Trump will gift Ukraine to Putin.” Poroshenko’s entourage, as far as we can judge, fears something else much more: a financial and political audit of the actions of the current Ukrainian leadership conducted by the US. This threat appears to be more real than the fears of Ukraine’s neo-Nazis. After all, changing out a failed leader for a more effective one is a well tested method of American policy in the former USSR, as in the case of Georgia, where the “Rose Revolution” overthrew pro-American President Eduard Shevardnadze and brought to power pro-American Mikhail Saakashvili.

The ruling Ukrainian establishment’s ill-concealed panic is paradoxically masked by categorical statements. Official Kiev’s opinion is expressed in the form of essentially an ultimatum. The foreign ministry’s statement is not an attempt to secure rights for Ukraine over the course of bilateral negotiations between the US and Russia, but an attempt to impose Ukraine’s monopoly over relations with Russia on Trump. 

Ukraine’s sense of tact has once again failed it. Even the inept and foolish attempt to interfere in the American elections did not teach the Ukrainian establishment elementary rules of political etiquette.

Shortly thereafter, a hefty scandal erupted in Ukrainian media over this incident. The Ukrainian foreign ministry stated that Elena Zerkal’s words were misinterpreted by journalists from the American edition of Reuters and their meaning distorted. Apparently, the significance and consequences of her scandalous ultimatum even became obvious for Ukraine’s amateur diplomats. 

Petro Poroshenko has now thrown in all forces in order to earn Donald Trump’s forgiveness. Before, the Ukrainian elite demonstrated contempt for the “outsider” candidate, Trump, but now they are striving to display extreme subservience. It has been openly said that Poroshenko has hired some lobbyist groups in the US and entrusted them with the hope of changing Trump’s attitude towards Poroshenko. 

However, Poroshenko’s domestic opponents, who together with him defamed Donald Trump, have now rushed to take advantage of the Ukrainian president’s thunderous foreign policy failure. Preparations for a new coup are almost openly underway in Ukraine. Whether such will take place in the form of armed street protests (a Maidan) or impeachment are important details, but do not supersede the essence of the situation. We will discuss this in the following, concluding part of our analysis. 

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To be continued in Part 3…

[1] We consider the qualification of Petro Poroshenko as “president” to be wrong. Poroshenko came to be head of state as the result of a coup d’etat, and is therefore some kind of Ukrainian analogue of Pinochet. Unfortunately, the “Ukrainian presidential elections” of May 2014 held after the country’s legal president, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced into exile, and the results of these “elections” – held literally under the gun – were recognized by the international community, including Russia. 

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