Analysis of the main conflicts involving the President in 2014-2019

In May 2014, Petro Poroshenko won the presidential election in the first round with almost 55% of the vote, for the first time in the newest history of Ukraine. In June 2014, at the time of the inauguration, Poroshenko enjoyed a record-breaking confidence of almost 75% of citizens. However, a number of high-profile corruption scandals, unfulfilled political promises, lack of desire to sell business, thirst for enrichment and propensity towards conflict caused a sharp fall in Poroshenko’s ratings. In this context, it seems paradoxical that Petro Poroshenko suffered the highest rating losses after his vacation in the Maldives, rather than as a result of corruption scandals.

According to fresh sociological surveys, the anti-rating of Petro Poroshenko is the highest among all politicians reaching 55% approximately. The rating of support of the current President varies from 13% to 18% according to various sociological surveys. However, the general political crisis of public confidence in the old elites, the presence of large administrative, financial and media resources still leave Poroshenko a chance to pass to the 2nd round.

In this “Exclusive at Glance” issue, we briefly analyse the main issues and conflict lines of political competition of Petro Poroshenko.

Looking back at the cadence of Petro Poroshenko, we see that his presidency is a continuous scandal. This review does not cover loud presidential appointments in the judiciary, the prosecutor’s office and the Security Service of Ukraine, pressure on the newly established anti-corruption institutions, etc. The list also does not contain information on other corruption conflicts around the President’s environment (Ihor Kononenko, Oleksandr Hranovskyi, Valeriia Hontareva and other politicians from the orbit of Poroshenko’s influence).

The main scandals involving Petro Poroshenko and his entourage in 2014-2019:

1. May 2014 – “Vienna Oligarchic Consensus”. On the eve of the President’s inauguration, the oligarch Dmitro Firtash said that Petro Poroshenko was elected by consensus among the main Ukrainian oligarchs. In addition, Firtash persuaded his client Vitalii Klitschko to refrain from the election, despite the fact that he had the highest ratings among the democratic opposition in 2014. As a result, Klitschko was elected the mayor of Kyiv, and Poroshenko became the President.

2. June 2014 – “The beginning of the systemic cooperation between the President and Viktor Medvedchuk”. Invited by Petro Poroshenko, Viktor Medvedchuk began to serve as a negotiating channel with Russia and the self-proclaimed “DPR-LPR”. In 2015, Petro Poroshenko and Viktor Medvedchuk started to build oil and gas business together; and Putin’s close friend turned into a monopolist in the Ukrainian market of liquefied natural gas. In 2017-2018, supported by Petro Poroshenko, Medvedchuk bought 112 and News One TV channels. Viktor Medvedchuk continues to be a negotiator in the Minsk Group, and in fact, he enjoys political immunity in Ukraine.

3. August 2014 – “Poroshenko’s refusal to sell his business”. In July 2014, Petro Poroshenko told reporters that he would not sell his entire business due to a poor international economic situation. However, it is known that even in 2015, Nestle Corporation offered Poroshenko to buy his Roshen company for USD 1 billion. Political rivals and civic activists constantly criticize Petro Poroshenko for using political influence to increase the profits of his companies and businesses of his entourage.

4. October 2014 – “Resignation of the Minister of Defence, Valerii Heletey”. One of the first scandals around the personnel decision of Poroshenko, which led to the Ilovaysk encirclement and other heavy losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the summer campaign in Donbas. Valerii Heletey has been responsible for the protection of Petro Poroshenko for a long time and, due to his loyalty, was appointed the Minister of Defence in 2014. Heletey’s resignation was demanded by volunteers, politicians and staff military officers. Currently, Valerii Heletey heads the State Service of Guard, which is fully focused on protecting the President during protests.

5. March 2015 – “Conflict of the President with Ihor Kolomoiskyi”. In March 2015, Poroshenko entered a long-lasting confrontation with Kolomoiskyi, which was accompanied by the resignation of Kolomoiskyi and Ihor Palytsia from the posts of heads of Dnipropetrovsk and Odesa regional administrations. During 2015-2017, under the pressure of Poroshenko, Kolomoiskyi lost control and representation in state-owned companies “UKRNAFTA”, “UKRTRANSNAFTA”, “NAK-NAFTOGAZ”, “Odesa port plant” and other small state-owned enterprises. The media holding “1+1” is also in the risk zone. However, the main loss for Kolomoiskyi is the nationalization of the “PRIVATBANK” bank in 2017.

6. Summer 2015 – “Disbandment of volunteer battalions, persecution of volunteers and veterans”. The process of disbandment of the “Right sector”, “Dnipro-1”, “Dnipro-2”, “Tornado” and other volunteer battalions. This procedure was followed by lawsuits, searches of security forces, protests and conflicts between the nationalists and law enforcement agencies. “Azov” was the only voluntary formation able to legalize and maintain its subjectivity in the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and remain the regiment of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The apogee of the confrontation of Poroshenko with the nationalists was a terrorist act (a grenade blast) on August 31, 2015, near the Verkhovna Rada, during the first-reading vote for amendments to the Constitution in terms of decentralization of power.

7. January-March 2016 – “Conflict of the President with the Prime Minister”. Arsenii Yatsenyuk accused Petro Poroshenko of commissioning and organizing political discrediting, which led to his resignation as Prime Minister in April 2016. Subsequently, this information was confirmed by Olexandr Onyshchenko who stated that, being instructed by Poroshenko, he spent $ 40 million to discredit Yatsenyuk. The political relations of Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko remain unfriendly.

8. April 2016 – «Panama Papers scandal». A group of international journalists has published information on the offshore business and foreign accounts of Petro Poroshenko. Information that the lawyers of the President created another offshore company on the day of the encirclement of Ukrainian troops by Russians near Ilovaysk in August 2014 was especially resonant. Ukrainian journalists concluded that Petro Poroshenko used offshores to reduce the tax burden on his business and legalize abroad the opaque funds obtained in Ukraine.

9. May 2016 – “Appointment of Yurii Lutsenko the Prosecutor General of Ukraine”. Yurii Lutsenko did not meet the criteria and qualification requirements for the post of Prosecutor General prescribed in the law, since he did not have legal education and 15 years experience in the prosecutor’s office. Under pressure of the Presidential Administration, the Parliament changed legislation for the sake of this personnel decision. In 2018, the oligarch Onyshchenko stated that the appointment of the President’s friend to the post of Prosecutor General in the Verkhovna Rada costed Petro Poroshenko USD 10 million.

10. May 2016 – “Putting into operation the Rotterdam Plus corrupt formula”. “Rotterdam Plus” is a methodology for the formation of the price for a fuel component (coal) in the production of electricity by thermal power plants in Ukraine. It was launched in May 2016. It is believed that the beneficiaries of this formula are Rinat Akhmetov and Petro Poroshenko.

11. June 2016 – “Conflict of the President with Andrii Sadovyi, the beginning of the garbage blockade of Lviv”. The reason for the conflict was the fact that the “Samopomich” faction refused to vote for the presidential bill amending the Constitution in the justice sector. A fire occurred at the local garbage area, resulting in the death of 3 rescuers. The garbage dump was closed, and local councils of Lviv oblast and other regions, being instructed by the Presidential Administration, refused to accept garbage from Lviv. As a result, cars with Lviv garbage travelled all over Ukraine, which negatively affected the ratings of Sadovyi and his “Samopomich” party. At the beginning of the election campaign in 2016, Mayor of Lviv Andrii Sadovyi stated that Petro Poroshenko offered him to conclude an agreement on the solution of the garbage problem in Lviv in exchange for political loyalty of his faction “Samopomich” in the Parliament.

12. December 2016 – “Publication of audio films by the fugitive oligarch Onyshchenko”. Former business partner of Petro Poroshenko and parliamentary coordinator, Olexandr Onyshchenko, began publishing a series of compromising materials on the President and his corrupt environment. The films contained information on the political corruption of the Ukrainian establishment, amounts of political bribes for politicians, Poroshenko’s relationship with other oligarchs, influence on law-enforcement bodies, etc. Two years ago, Onyshchenko’s films did not gain wide public resonance, since this information was not disseminated by the oligarchic channels 1+1, INTER, ISTV, Ukraine. However, before the end of the election campaign, Olexandr Onyshchenko plans to publish the next portion of the compromising materials on Petro Poroshenko. According to available information, the films will disclose how Poroshenko took gas business from Rinat Akhmetov.

13. March 2017 – “The beginning of the active conflict with the Minister of the Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov “. In early 2017, the President launched a systemic struggle against Avakov with the help of the NABU and controlled nationalist groups. In the meantime, Poroshenko began to seek the resignation of Avakov, but his goal was not achieved. The conflict between Poroshenko and Avakov gained an open form at the start of the election campaign.

14. January 2018 – “President’s Maldivian vacation with the family”. The journalists of “Schemes” agency published a loud investigation revealing that Poroshenko secretly rested in the Maldives under the name Petro Incognito and spent UAH 14 million on that vacation. Paradoxically, the scandal with the vacation has brought the most severe rating and image losses for Poroshenko, rather than the corruption scandals. After this scandal, according to the “Rating” group, the level of political distrust towards Poroshenko has increased by 20%.

15. March 2017 – “Blockade of Donbas”. The joint political decision of Petro Poroshenko and Oleksandr Turchynov was put into operation by the National Security and Defence Council almost two years ago and led to the breakdown of socio-economic contacts with uncontrolled areas of the Donbas, as well as economic losses.

16. February 2018 – “Expulsion of Mikheil Saakashvili from Ukraine”. In 2015, Saakashvili worked with Poroshenko and performed his political orders on discrediting Yatsenyuk and Avakov. Subsequently, after dismissal from the post of the head of the Odesa Regional State Administration, Saakashvili went to the opposition against Poroshenko. After almost two years of intense confrontation, the Ukrainian president decided to deport Saakashvili. The expulsion of Saakashvili took place in violation of the current legislation of Ukraine, had political subtext and was condemned by Western partners. Living in the Netherlands, Saakashvili continued to criticize Poroshenko and promised to return to Ukraine on April 1, 2019.

17. November 2018 – “Introduction of a martial law in Ukraine”. The incident in the Kerch Strait served as the basis for the introduction of a martial law. Petro Poroshenko wanted to use the introduction of a martial law to postpone the presidential elections to the fall 2019 and hold them in sync with parliamentary ones. The Parliament assessed the risks and did not agree to introduce a martial law throughout the territory of Ukraine, as it was demanded by the President.

18. December 2018 – “Scandal with Russian passports around the Deputy Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Serhii Semochka”. Ukrainian journalists conducted an investigation and found out that Serhii Semochka’s lifestyle did not comply with his official income, and his family had Russian passports and real estate in Russia and in Crimea. This investigation of potential “agents of Putin” in the power structures of the government also caused reputational attacks on Petro Poroshenko. Despite the loud scandal, Serhii Semochko remained the favourite of Petro Poroshenko. Due to his loyalty to the President, he actually became the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine.

19. February 2019 – “Decision of the Constitutional Court on amnesty in respect of illegal enrichment”. Petro Poroshenko initiated the decision that has crossed the achievements of anti-corruption reform. In fact, the Constitutional Court is under the control of the President.

20. March 2019 – “Corruption scandal in Ukroboronprom”. The journalistic investigation into corruption in the defence sector has caused a great political resonance due to involvement of the closest friend and partner of the President, Ihor Hladkovskyi-Svynarchuk. Due to this scandal, Petro Poroshenko lost 2-3% of ratings, undermined confidence on the part of Western partners and donors. Poroshenko also got problems with nationalists from the “National Corps”, who attend his events and demand to punish corrupt officials.