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Soft power of 2019 Ukrainian presidential election: Who law enforcers to back?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Find out the supposed political bets of Ukraine’s MIA head, Prosecutor general, anti-corruption bodies, and far-right groupings
12:20, 14 March 2019

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Ukraine’s MIA head Arsen Avakov, who calls president Poroshenko’s election grids assigned operation “a meanness,” promises to punish his cherished far-right National Corps for attacking Poroshenko’s meeting (as part of the election campaign) in Cherkasy. Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko cannot decide who is more antipathetic – Oleg Gladkovsky, leading figure of scandal on embezzlement in Ukrainian, or Denys Bihus, journalist, who revealed this major corruption scheme. The position of Vasyl Hrytsak, head of Ukraine’s Security Service, is still unobtrusive. How will the leaders of the law enforcement bodies behave during the elections?

Related: 19 police officers hospitalized after clashes with far-right in Cherkasy

Now it seems that the position of forces is determined. There are security officials who are ready to support the current president Poroshenko, and there are those who are in Yulia Tymoshenko’s camp. However, the whole structure is likely to be reset between the first and second rounds. Especially if the leader of the polls Zelensky is elected to the second round.

It would be interesting to watch at the top officials and the law enforcers. Let us conduct a reconnaissance of the forces of the main opponents. Let us begin with the Ministry of the Interior.

"Police are with the people"

Ukraine has become accustomed to post-election excesses. So the question of how the security forces will behave in force majeure is more than topical. There were some cases when the police "were with the people," as well as against it. For example, the student revolution of 1990 passed without the use of violence against its participants. On the other hand, “Kuchmahate” campaign of 2001 (against the then-president Leonid Kuchma, -ed.) ended with the mass beatings of the “Kuchmahate” supporters and their conviction to long prison terms. The Orange revolution was peaceful, it was accompanied by touching fraternization with the police and carnations stuck in the shields of the law enforcers. The Revolution of Dignity was a real Bloody Winter, with the shooting of the Heavenly Hundreds and other excesses.

Related: Wannabe prez Zelensky as Kolomoisky's bargaining chip in struggle for his lost business

However, it is worth noting that in this context, there is no “bad” or “good” police. There are security forces that receive an order, and there are security forces who have not received the relevant orders. In 1990 and 2004, there was no direct order to attack. But in 2001 and 2014, the end of the protests was resolved by force. What would happen this year after the CEC to announce the winner of the presidential race?

No one knows the answer to this question. A certain cyclical nature of our history promises that the supposed Maidan-2019 will be bloodless. However, the experts suggested that we should step out of the paradigm of historically significant social upheavals, and consider the role of Arsen Avakov, current MIA head, from a more mundane point of view.

"The police have ample opportunities during the elections because the police accompany the bulletins and the election protocols, it responds to violations of the electoral legislation, and this is the only law enforcement body beyond the president’s control," Dmytro Sinchenko, chairman of the Association of Political Sciences, assures.

The position of the police in the current elections would likely be non-interference in the process and ignoring minor offenses if necessary. At the same time, however, Avakov "has something to offer, besides the influence on the Ministry of Internal Affairs: he has the opportunity to influence the decisions of the district and district commissions through controlled candidates. If we talk about the possibility of the Maidan, one can hardly expect that the next election will lead to it, because now the population’s level of trust in all the candidates is too low, and the main competitors do not offer radically different directions of the state’s development, ”adds Bohdan Petrenko, Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Institute for Extremism Studies.

Related: Far-right National Corps demand to arrest those who embezzled Ukrainian army funds

Empty bluster

The public position of Arsen Avakov himself is clear and definite: in general, he doesn’t take sides with the processes but promises to punish the violators of the law. However, his official declarations always differ from his thoughts and intentions. A month and a half ago, MP Serhiy Leshchenko announced an insider dealing that Avakov was approaching with Yulia Tymoshenko, and the parties have already concluded a pact.

Related: Kurt Volker, U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch meet with showman Zelensky

MIA denied this, and the minister himself made an angry speech about the organization of the " electoral grids."

 “I want to warn cunning political technologists before it’s too late: MIA and the National Police are carefully studying this information, we will not allow bribing the voters and buying up votes,” Avakov declared. The official meant Poroshenko, thus he indicated that he himself is on the other side of the barricades.

A little later, on February 10, the police actually saved the Tymoshenko’s rally, isolating far-right pro-SBU (that is, pro-Poroshenko) C14 and Traditions and Order members that allegedly came to ask Tymoshenko, who ordered the murder of Ukraine’s anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk. Still later, a bunch of Avakov’s charges regarding the use of president’s “electoral grids” were used against Poroshenko. After that, the tone of Avakov’s appeals of the chief security official became quite impudent.

Related: Ukraine's far-right might disrupt meeting between Volker, Yovanovitch, Poroshenko in Odesa

Whose side is he really on? The position of Arsen Avakov is currently close to a win-win. He offers his services to someone whom he considers a potential winner, but afterward he can change the position, depending on polls. But the main task of the minister is not to win the presidential elections, but the parliamentary elections.

“The MIA head understands that the key challenge for the Cabinet is not the election of the president, but the election of the parliament. The parliamentary coalition suggests the candidatures of the majority of the ministers, including MIA head," Bogdan Petrenko comments.

This task would be much harder. If Tymoshenko wins, Avakov would preserve his the Minister’s Ministry’s office, and his party (National Front) would be included into Tymoshenko’s future electoral list. According to rumors, Arseniy Yatsenyuk (National Front leader, Ukraine’s former PM, - ed.) might become the PM again.

The cooperation of Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and the National Front is supposedly so strong that the parties are already agreeing also on amending the Constitution and announcing of a parliamentary form of government. The latter, however, looks rather dubious: everyone who has any ambitions of Tymoshenko does not believe in her willingness to voluntarily cut back long-awaited powers.

So, handing out certain advances, Yulia Tymoshenko might be just bluffing. After receiving the cherished mace, the head of the Batkivshchyna party might negotiate with her fellows in a completely different tone. Moreover, Avakov is betting on Tymoshenko.  

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Related: Record of Tymoshenko-Kolomoysky talk published: We will not settle down until we reach goal

Does Tymoshenko know about the double (if not triple) game of her longtime comrade? Taking into consideration her political experience, most likely, yes, she knows it. But, bluffing herself, she does not interfere with bluffing others.

All the president's men

Unlike the Ministry of the Interior, Ukraine’s Security Service (or rather its head) has an extremely narrow space for maneuver. The activities of the Security Service of Ukraine in elections are far from the revolutionary Maidans. The function of the Service is cybersecurity and the neutralization of attempts at external interference. But, besides this, the acting head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Hrytsak, is a man of Petro Poroshenko. “If the Minister of Internal Affairs is appointed by the parliament, then the candidate for the head of the Security Service of Ukraine is the president’s prerogative. So Hrytsak knows that he will not get anywhere from this boat,” said Kost Bondarenko, director of the Gorshenin Institute.

Hrytsak is not trying to escape from the presidential boat. His service is now actively exposing the pro-Russian agents in the Ukrainian segment of the Internet, that is, is engaged in its direct duties. The body has been accused of interception of presidential candidates; it also points to Hrytsak’s faithful friendship with Petro Poroshenko. In addition, Yulia Tymoshenko has directly accused the Security Service of organizing provocations against her, pointing to the president as the customer of such actions. In a word, Bankova seems to have no reason to doubt the loyalty of the SBU.

Related: Ukraine's Tymoshenko: 'gas princess', prisoner, and next president?

The presidential vertical also relies on a number of other power pillars. The anti-corruption departments of the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC), National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAP), although they themselves are involved in the scandals (like NABU lately). Still, they hold in their hands the fates of the candidates, having sufficient compromising evidence on each of them.

Let us not forget about the Prosecutor General's Office. In fact, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko’s support of Petro Poroshenko was successful and even more than successful.

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Kost Bondarenko states: "Lutsenko understands that no matter how the situation develops, he will lose his current position and, most likely, will return to politics." The Attorney General does not hide such plans. In the autumn of 2018, Lutsenko said that after March 2019 he would give up his current position, go to parliamentary elections as a member of "a winning team."

Whom does he treat as a winner? Obviously, the current president. (In any case, his style of communication with Yulia Tymoshenko, which can be called frankly boorish, allegedly leaves no hope that these two will ever find a common language.) But if it happens that she wins the presidential election, will Lutsenko get along with her? It is likely that yes.

Read the original text at 112.ua.

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