By DOUGAL MACDONALD with an update by TONY SEED
The 2019 Ukrainian presidential election was held on March 31 and April 21 using the two-round system. A surprising total of 39 candidates ran for president on the ballot. Since entry into the campaign costs a non-refundable $90,000, speculation was rampant that some candidates were nothing more than straw men put forward by various factions of the rich simply to drain votes away from their opponents.
In the first round of presidential voting, no candidate received an absolute majority of the votes. Actor/comedian Volodomyr Zelenskiy, whose only political experience is acting on a popular TV show, received 30 per cent of the first vote and incumbent president Petro Poroshenko received 16 per cent. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko came a close third.
A second round of voting was held on April 21 between the top two candidates, Zelenskiy and Poroshenko. Zelenskiy ran under the banner of the Servant of the People Party, named after the TV show he stars in, while Poroshenko ran as an independent. Following the second voting round, the Ukraine Central Election Commission declared Zelenskiy the resounding winner with 13,541,528 votes or 73.22 per cent of the votes. Poroshenko received 4,522,320 votes or 24.45 per cent of the votes cast. The overall voter turnout was calculated as 62.8 per cent.
Compared to other European countries, the Ukraine president, who is directly elected by the people, has a great deal of power. He or she can veto Parliament, commands the military, heads national security, appoints one-third of the judges, represents the Ukraine internationally, and leads foreign policy. The president appoints the prime minster, with the consent of the Rada (parliament). While in office, the president is immune from prosecution.
Role of the oligarchs
The presidential election revealed once again how real power in Ukraine is held not by the people but by about a dozen businessmen or billionaire “oligarchs.” The oligarchs, who have a combined wealth amounting to a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product, constantly battle each other for increased profit and political power, using the Ukrainian people as their cannon fodder. Some of them have close connections with the European Union while others are more tightly linked to Russia.
The oligarchs became rich after the so-called fall of communism in 1991 by helping themselves through “legal” and illegal means to valuable government assets belonging to the Ukrainian people which they made into their own private property. Poroshenko is one such oligarch who emerged from these battles over the spoils. His main financial interests are concentrated in the confectionary company Roshen and the all-news TV Channel 5. He also has business holdings in the manufacturing, agriculture, and financial sectors.
Zelenskiy is not an oligarch in his own right but he is strongly backed by the third richest man in Ukraine, Igor Kolomoisky, who owns the TV station which broadcasts the program that Zelenskiy stars in, Servant of the People. Kolomoisky owns major interests in metals, energy, aviation, and media, including Burisma, Ukraine’s largest private gas firm. Hunter Biden, son of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden who just announced he is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president in 2020, sits on the Burisma board.
Poroshenko and Kolomoisky have carried on a long-running feud which broke out after Poroshenko first became president in 2014 through the U.S.-backed parliamentary coup. In the 2010 election, most of the oligarchs supported Victor Yanukovych who became the new president.
At the end of November 2013, Yanukovych rejected a pending trade agreement with the European Union which would have allowed European monopolies to grab Ukraine’s crucial energy markets, calling instead for closer ties with Russia. Yanukovych then signed several agreements with Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 17 that would reduce by a third the cost of Russian gas sold to Ukraine. Russia also agreed to lend $15 billion to Ukraine on easy terms.
The agreements with Russia led to the U.S.-backed parliamentary coup that removed Yanukovych on February 22, 2014 and, eventually, to the appointment of EU-friendly Petro Poroshenko in June. Between November 2013 and February 2014, Poroshenko had actively and financially supported the U.S.-backed Euromaidan protests against Yanukovych’s government to advance his own economic and political interests. In March 2015, President Poroshenko sealed a deal with the International Monetary Fund, controlled by the world financial oligarchy, giving Ukraine a $17.5 billion, four-year loan and firmly tying the country to U.S. and European interests for years to come.
The feud between oligarchs Poroshenko and Kolomoisky began with a dispute over Kolomoisky’s control over two state-owned energy companies, UkrTransNafta and Ukrnafta, which was only resolved by U.S. threats to undermine Kolomoisky’s overseas interests. Then in 2016 the Poroshenko government nationalized Kolomoisky’s Privatbank, Ukraine’s largest bank. The government also persuaded the UK to freeze over $2.5 billion of Kolomoisky’s overseas assets. Kolomoisky now lives in exile in Geneva and Tel Aviv.
The links between Zelenskiy and Kolomoisky are numerous, although Zelenskiy insists he is a “free agent.” Zelenskiy is Kolomoisky’s employee and Kolomoisky’s TV station gave Zeleskiy free air time to campaign politically. Investigative journalists report that Zelenskiy made at least 13 visits to Kolomoisky in exile prior to the presidential election. The two men also share the same lawyer. Finally, Kolomoisky has stated on more than one occasion that if Zelenskiy wins the election he will return to Ukraine from his exile.
What lies ahead?
Ukraine has become the poorest country in Europe even though propped up by billions of dollars from the West aimed at keeping it under Western control. Ukraine’s numerous problems include economic instability, corruption, cuts to social services, a nine-fold hike in the price of gas heat, intermittent shooting wars, killings of innocent civilians, street demonstrations, foreign intrigue, and the passing of state laws favouring one bloc or the other. Since 2015, an estimated 1.3 million Ukrainians have left the country seeking work elsewhere.
To give one example of corruption, Poroshenko promised when elected to end corruption but he has been exposed not as its opponent but as a participant in it. The Panama Papers released in April 2016 showed that contrary to his pledge when he took office in 2014 to sell Roshen, Poroshenko had instead set up an offshore company in the Virgin Islands and moved his company there just after being elected. The move potentially saved him millions of dollars in Ukrainian taxes. Another Panama Papers revelation was that while president he had spent half a million dollars on a secret family vacation to the Maldives in 2017.
The reactionary forces give a number of bogus reasons for the problems now facing Ukraine: the communist past, the Russian present, the personal failings of whoever happens to be president, and so on. But these are all diversions. The real root cause of the many problems in Ukraine remains the private takeover of the state by the oligarchs. Poroshenko, Kolomoisky, other oligarchs, and their backers in Europe, Russia, the U.S., and Canada are all playing out their private economic battles in Ukraine to the detriment of the Ukrainian people.
While they make themselves out to be Ukrainian patriots with only the people’s interests at heart, the only goal of the oligarchs is to further enrich themselves by trying to mobilize popular support for their front men for their own private interests. The oligarchs looted the peoples’ state assets to initially enrich themselves and they are continuing on the same path now that they have increased their economic and political power. The recent election of Zelenskiy will not improve conditions for the people by any means but will only sharpen the fundamental contradictions continuing to tear the Ukraine apart.
TML Weekly, April 27, 2019 – No. 15. Slightly edited with graphics and captions added by TS.
Postscript by Tony Seed
Zelensky was inaugurated as president on May 20. He barely survived a vote of non-confidence of prime minister Grosyman. A president without parliamentary support does not achieve, even with the best of doctrines and intentions.
The political influence of the United States is great, but not to be overestimated, given the intense inter-imperialist rivalry. No less a role in Kiev is played by the Germans and the French (on behalf of Germany). Zelensky’s first call was to Macron, not to Washington. He had met Macron before that. The meeting was organized by Bernard-Henri Levy, the Zionist “philosopher.”
According to an official release, the US Presidential Delegation to the inauguration included:
- U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry:
- His Excellency Kurt Volker, United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations
- His Excellency Gordon D. Sondland, United States Ambassador to the European Union
- Mr. Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs, National Security Council
- Mr. Joseph Pennington, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission for the United States Embassy in Ukraine
“The United States strongly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and continued reform efforts, particularly as Ukraine seeks closer integration with the West. In November 2018, Secretary Perry launched the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Energy Dialogue to cooperate on many of the energy issues facing Ukraine. In addition to the Dialogue, Perry introduced and hosted the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation (P-TEC) this past March, which aims to bolster the energy security of Ukraine and the Central and Eastern European region.”
So they are there to advance the US fight against Germany and Russia over control of energy, which is natural gas, which is pipelines, and so forth. They mean “energy security” under the US multinationals.
It is also possible that Trump may look to make a deal with Russia and end the conflict in Donbas. Already the US ambassador Marie Yovanovic has been recalled to Washington, and it is known that both she and Poroshenko fed the information on Paul Manafort to the Clintons to be used against Trump (Ukrainegate). It is speculated that Volker is next to go. He is a very experienced imperialist and operator, the aide-de-camp of the late Sen John McCain and has taken charge of his international network.
Meanwhile, both the Atlantic Council of NATO and Canada are indirectly attacking Zelenskiy on the question of Russia.
Poroshenko, who before the election had an approval rating of 5 per cent in a poll funded by Global Affairs Canada, was nevertheless supported by Canadian Foreign Minister Chyrstia Freeland and the reactionary Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC). The Liberal government allocated $24 million towards meddling in the election, including deploying several hundred “monitors” on per diem salaries, mostly supplied by the UCC. An indication of the “impartial and neutral” character of the mission is that the deputy head, Olya Odynsky-Grod, is a member of the executive committee of the UCC. Grod is the daughter of the late alleged war criminal Wasyl Odynsky.
Interestingly, Freeland, the foreign minister, did not herself personally congratulate Zelenskiy. Canada sent only its defence minister to the inauguration, who played second fiddle:
There seems to be a consensus of the oligarchs behind Zelenskiy. It will not last. The Ukrainian people are very discontented with the oligarchic institutions, the civil war, and the ultra-nationalists from Galicia and very much want peace with the Donbas.