Oligarchs and pro-Russian forces: sponsors and beneficiaries

Introduction of the Martial Law in Ukraine has changed the political agenda and may mobilize Russian-speaking voters in the South and East of Ukraine. According to sociologists, their share in the overall structure of voters is at least 30%, which is a serious electoral threshold for the oligarchs. Such a voter reacts sensitively to ideological issues of “peace-war”, the status of the Russian language, integration into the EU and NATO, in addition to the deterioration of socio-economic conditions. From a pragmatic point of view, the sharp polarization of Ukrainian society, the formation of the image of pro-Russian revenge and the fragmentation of the Opposition Bloc are beneficial to Petro Poroshenko. Unlike in 2005 and 2010 (when there was the Party of Regions and Viktor Yanukovych), now there is no single leader, and the pro-Russian voter is disorientated.

 

The annexation of Crimea and occupation of Donbas by Russians are rapidly reducing the chances of a pro-Russian candidate for victory in the presidential election. However, in the event of consolidation of efforts, the pro-Russian forces in the 2019 parliamentary elections may form the largest faction and become one of the major coalition partners. Therefore, both for Russia and for the majority of Ukrainian oligarchs, parliamentary elections in 2019 are important, rather than the presidential election.

The oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov and Dmytro Firtash continue a tense struggle for the control over the Opposition Bloc. At the moment, the political council of the Opposition Bloc is divided between Akhmetov and Firtash 50 by 50 percent, where each party may block any decision. According to available information, Firtash proposes Akhmetov to split amicably, and liquidate the Opposition Bloc in general (similar “gentlemen’s agreement” was entered into between the oligarchs in 2014 in respect of the Party of Regions; Borys Kolesnikov holds the documents and the seal. Back then, it was agreed that the Party of Regions shall not participate in the elections, and no one shall create new projects or carry out rebranding based on this party.). However, Akhmetov does not agree to the terms of “Firtash-Lyovochkin” and wants to take this brand under his full control.

In accordance with the party’s charter, the party congress is entitled to take important decisions. In this regard, the “coal group” of Rinat Akhmetov initiates the holding of the Congress of the Opposition Bloc on December 15, which is scheduled to expel the representatives of the “Lyovochkin-Firtash” gas group from the party and its governing bodies. The respective letters have been sent to regional party organizations, most of which (15 out of 24 organizations) are controlled by Akhmetov’s group. In turn, the “Boyko-Lyovochkin” group protests against the Congress promising to disrupt the upcoming party conference and calling Akhmetov a “political raider and a business associate of Poroshenko, who disrupts the true opposition”. Akhmetov also controls over the majority of majoritarian deputies who won in districts in the South and East.

Later on, the confrontation turned into a media format. However, coverage of the audience by the “Ukraine” TV channel owned by Akhmetov is 12%. “Inter” TV channel covers only 5 % and belongs to Firtash. For the better understanding – the largest information channel “112” has an audience coverage of only 1.1%. “NewsOne” channel has the coverage of 0.7%. Therefore, in comparison with Akhmetov, “Firtash-Leovochkin” positions are significantly weaker on all fronts. In addition, Akhmetov is an informal partner of Petro Poroshenko on the energy market. Akhmetov is also supported by Sergiy Tigipko, who has so far left politics and got oriented on helping the President to administer his business and banks.

At the moment, it is already clear that the “Firtash-Lyovochkin-Medvedchuk” group will support Yuriy Boyko as the presidential candidate, who recently united with Vadym Rabinovych and created the opposition platform “For Life”. Also, according to available information, Viktor Medvedchuk supports Yevgen Murayev as a new political face; Murayev launched separate political project “OUR” and the eponymous TV channel.

The situation with the presidential candidate from Akhmetov’s group is unclear until now, as it still undecided on the issue. So far, the testing and closed sociology surveys concerning Olexandr Vilkul and Vadym Novynskyi are being conducted. There are separate talks about possible participation in the election of Mayors of Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia, whose political recognition is low and does not pass beyond the industrial Zaporizhzhia and Donbas. But in general, the next parliamentary elections in 2019 are important for Akhmetov. And at the moment, his main tasks are to control the Opposition Bloc, support Oleg Lyashko in the election and build a new party oriented towards the industrial East and South.

In this context, it is also important to note the role of other oligarchs who invest in political projects that will compete for the Russian-speaking voter. This category includes Igor Kolomoiskyi guiding the “Revival” party (has strong positions in the Kharkiv and the Odesa regions) and “Servant of the people”, because Zelenskyi is also playing with a Russian-speaking voter who lives in large cities.

Viktor Yanukovych’s former colleagues demonstrate a serious activity as well (Sergiy Arbuzov, Olexandr Klymenko, Andriy Klyuyev, Olexandr Yanukovych and others). Political emigrants support a number of political parties and projects, and hope that they will soon be able to return to Kyiv, or at least to Donbas. Most of these projects and initiatives have scant ratings, but in case of serious financing and competent conduct of campaign around the structures of the CPU, they may count on success (despite the fact that the CPU is officially banned, its party structures, office, website and party asset continue to function).