Sunday, December 7, 2014

Finally, Ukraine has a New, Complete Leadership
In the midst of a tumultuous year, filled with instability, political upheavals and revolution, intrigue, treason, treachery, political and national rebirth, national consolidation, corruption, killings, two elections, brutal occupation of Ukrainian lands, a new government and a savage Russian war, the Ukrainian nation still has been making significant strides toward democracy, political stability, reinforcing its sovereignty and severing its chains with Russia.
And that should be the takeaway of the past 12 months.
Notwithstanding pundits’ premature, unfair grumblings and warnings about the revolution’s failure because of the erratic pace of transformations, the Ukrainian nation and its leaders understand clearly the dire consequences of defeat.
First, it would surely mean satisfying Putin’s goal of re-subjugating Ukraine in the Russian prison of nations. It would mean the return of corruption, dictatorship, russification, de-nationalization and economic stagnation. These reasons are enough to keep everyone’s – or almost everyone’s – eyes focused on that target and overcoming all obstacles.
The presidential elections in May brought to power a nationally aware, business oriented, pro-NATO and EU president. The parliamentary elections in October assembled deputies, the majority of who have the same profile. Political parties in favor of closer links to the EU and NATO won an absolute victory in the Verkhovna Rada, handing President Petro Poroshenko a mandate to end the domestic and external conflict and steer the Ukraine away from Russia’s orbit toward Europe.
In the past few months, Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk have demonstrated single mindedness in policies and ideas and the ability to lead the country without divisive, public squabbles. This mature conduct at the pinnacle of government authority is exactly what the nation needs at a time of war with Russia and domestic instability. Any sign of discord will be exacerbated by Ukraine’s internal and external enemies that are stage-managed by Russia.
Last week, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine resumed its constitutionally mandated deliberations and the first item on the agenda was the selection and adoption of a new government. Western media took note of the pervasive pomp, ceremony and expressions of unity that characterized the first day’s session.
More than two-thirds of the 450 legislators voted for Yatseniuk to remain as head of government, a post he has held since the Maidan Revolution ousted Viktor Yanukovych. Yatseniuk raised his hand to the president and declared to cheers: “Here is my hand for carrying out all that you have just said from this tribune. This is our joint responsibility,” he added before striding over to Poroshenko and warmly embracing him.
Regardless if it was staged or sincere, Ukrainian leaders are honor bound to display unity and steadfast dedication to the cause of strengthening the nation, subduing Russia, rooting out corruption and cronyism, and leading Ukraine toward acceptance by the EU.
The president and prime minister have unprecedented backing beyond the nation. The five-party coalition is expected be the most stable and powerful pro-western administration Ukraine has had in 23 years of independence, enjoying a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Poroshenko outlined a strong reformist agenda during the inaugural parliamentary session, calling for the immediate overhaul of a justice system that he decried as corrupted from the top down. He warned that the justice system’s corruption and deficiencies posed a national security risk.
“It is quite clear that the primary reason for the low standard of life of the majority of Ukrainians is the totally corrupted government apparatus,” he was quoted as saying.
He further said a successful reform program would enable Ukraine to consider applying for European Union membership within five years. With a doubt, European affiliation would give Ukraine a major economic and political shot in the arm. Even the preparation phase ahead of acceptance will benefit officials and people.
Poroshenko said Ukraine is enjoying a unique chance thanks to the responsible Ukrainian people to fulfill what he called a simple formula: “to avert the threat and use the chance.”
Emphasizing his intention to maintain amicable relations with parliament, Poroshenko said: “I am a reliable ally of the parliament in the implementation of reformatory, pro-European coalition agreement. I will be guided by the Constitution of Ukraine, which clearly, or relatively clearly, distributes powers and responsibilities. I will do everything possible for the coordinated work of Verkhovna Rada, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers.”
That is the measurement of success passionately and unequivocally demanded by the Ukrainian people.
“Our policy must be aimed at gradual movement from the country of the Revolution of Dignity to the Country of Dignity itself. I want you to remember those who sacrificed their lives for Ukraine every time you enter this hall. It is also related to me when I enter the administration on Bankova Street. You must remember those who died hundreds of kilometers away and those who died a few blocks away from here, on the Heavenly Hundred's alley. You must also remember those who are alive and need efficient governance, successful reforms, developed economy, social guarantees and justice,” Poroshenko appealed.
Yatseniuk, the 40-year-old bureaucrat from Vinnytsia, said the new government should work to pull the country back from the brink of collapse. Indeed, he has been doing a good job leading the government through hellfire and brimstone.
“On our shoulders rests the weight of historical responsibility -- to preserve the state and win our independence,” Yatseniuk told lawmakers ahead of the vote, adding, “Ukraine is at war, people are in trouble and it depends on us to stop the aggression.”
“We have faced external aggression, namely a Russian military invasion, which is nothing else than an encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and our independence. It is an attempt to destroy Ukraine. They can fight with our army and, probably, they can defeat it, but they can never defeat the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian nation,” he said.
Yatseniuk tasked the members of the Cabinet of Ministers with developing an Action Program, which will include their top three priorities for 2015 and how to implement them. He outlined his vision in hands-on terms:
“Every minister has full authority in the ministry as well as full responsibility. You are selecting your deputies, as well as managers. The parliament demands of me, I demand of you. And the Ukrainian people demand of us.
“On our further work. We will hold a special cabinet meeting on the Action Program of the Government of Ukraine. This program must meet the key goals and objectives, I emphasize once again, there are five of them.
“The first issue, national security and defense.
“The second issue, economy, reform of the tax system and reform of the single social tax.
“The third, the fight against corruption.
“The fourth, energy. We need to complete the reform of the energy system of Ukraine, most of all I worry about the deficit of the National Joint Stock Company Naftogaz Ukrainy, which exceeds the state budget deficit. While the public deficit is now UAH 68 billion, the deficit of Naftogaz UAH makes up UAH103 billion.
“And the last issue on the agenda is public administration reform.
“These five key tasks have to be in the Action Program of the Government and, dear friends, we have not time to ‘warm up,’ we only have time for specific actions as well as the results of these actions.”
  • To these goals, I’d add for the record:
  • Defeat, subdue and expel Russia from Ukraine.
  • Complete EU accession requirements.
  • Bring to justice in Ukraine all criminals, traitors and Maidan killers who fled the country.
  • Formally designate Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment.
  • Give oblasts, cities and local municipalities authority similar to America.

Poroshenko’s plan to appoint Ukrainians from the diaspora to serve in the government was approved. He granted citizenship to Georgia-born Aleksandr Kvitashvili to serve as health minister, US-national Natalie Jaresko, who hails from Chicago, to be finance minister, and Lithuanian Aivaras Abromavicius to serve as economics minister.
“There are absolutely extraordinary challenges facing Ukraine – an extremely difficult economic situation, Russian aggression, the need for radical reform and the fight against corruption. All this requires innovative solutions in the government,” Poroshenko explained, hopefully adding that not having been associated with Ukraine’s life may have excluded them from the country’s old-boy network.
Speaking of the law on the National Anti-corruption Bureau that will soon enter into force, Poroshenko also offered to appoint a foreign person as head of the given bureau. “This person will have one advantage – absence of ties in the Ukrainian political elite,” he noted.
On a very practical level, parliament and the cabinet are tasked with holding together a collapsing economy.
“Ukraine is in a vicious financial crisis. Threatened constantly by Russian military aggression, the country faces a financial meltdown within the next four months,” economist Anders Aslund observed in a column last week. “At the end of October, its international reserves fell to $12.6 billion, below the threshold considered critical for solvency. The hryvnia exchange rate is falling exponentially. As a consequence, most of Ukraine’s banks are collapsing. The public debt is skyrocketing and is likely to double to about 80% of GDP this year. Inflation is set to rise to 24% this year and then surge further.”
However, the new parliament will not be a lovefest. The strongest opposition to the pro-EU majority’s plans will come from discredited allies of Yanukovych and ex-members of his disgraced Regions Party, which dominated Ukrainian politics until the revolution. His former supporters heaped all the blame for the uprising and its bloody conclusion on the protesters and ousted president personally, and reconvened in a new party called Opposition Bloc.
Among newly elected leaders of the Verkhovna Rada is Volodymyr Hroysman who was elected speaker. A Jew by heritage, Hroysman, 36, is considered the third-most important post in the country after the prime minister and president, and is the first to stand in for the president if the head of state is unable to fulfill his duties. He was previously mayor of the central city of Vinnytsia and joined the government in February 2014 as deputy prime minister for regional policy. His appointed is noteworthy in the wake of Russian accusations of Ukrainian anti-Semitism.
Parliament endorsed Pavlo Klimkin to remain as foreign minister. His contributions in that capacity since the spring have been in line with nation’s view of Ukraine’s national, pro-EU & NATO vector. Colonel-General Stepan Poltorak was endorsed as defense minister. He became commander of the Ukrainian National Guard on March 19, 2014, and previously he was commander of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's Interior Troops for the period between February 28, 2014 and March 12, 2014. He also served as superintendent of the Interior Minister Academy in Kharkiv.
An airborne officer from Lviv, however, in an email to me cautioned that Poltorak, 49, belongs to the old-boy network of technocrats, bureaucrats, diplomats and career military officers, stemming from the days when he was a captain. This fraternity does not shy away from graft and favoritism.
“It is sad that key posts are still awarded on the basis of personal loyalty rather than professional ability,” he said.
Two of the nation’s demands of their new leadership, beyond national awareness, pro-NATO and EU, and distancing Ukraine from Russia, have been political unity in the hallowed halls of government, and an end to cronyism and corruption, and transparency. Cronyism, especially, is a sin that the new officials of new Ukraine must avoid.  
Maidan ousted Yanukovych in February and sought to sweep away the corrupt and treasonous political elite. However, Ukraine’s new leaders are still viewed with suspicion by millions of compatriots who brought them to power but still question their appetite for radical change.
Fortunately there are parliamentarians who seem to be ready and willing to remind officials regularly of the people’s skepticism. Among them is Volodymyr Parasiuk, known as “sotnyk” during Maidan, one of its heroes who publicly threatened Yanukovych to leave Kyiv or else. In His Facebook post last week, he said:
“I will never let anybody besmirch the illustrious glory of Maidan. For this is the basis of our struggle and only the power, given to us at the cost of the lives by our heroes, that makes our nation move forward.
“Volodymyr Hroysman will either be a normal head of parliament or he’ll go away. Because the demand of every Ukrainian is transparency and fairness in adopting any decision. If you want to run the state – run it; want to assume responsibility for it, assume it. But you will do it correctly and not how you want to do it,” he said.
Parasiuk added that he came to the Verkhovna Rada to “break the system and I will do it any way possible and accessible for a deputy.
In a guest column in The Wall Street Journal on December 5, Poroshenko wrote: “On the external front, we are united in fighting for our freedom and for our future as an independent nation—a fight that has implications for all of Europe and global security. Domestically, the new government’s attack on inefficiency and corruption will further bind Ukrainians together. The Gospel teaches us that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. We won’t give this chance to the enemy. Day by day, Ukrainians are unifying as citizens, as governors and as Europeans.”
Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been doing their share for Ukraine. They have been expressing their will, fighting, dying and giving their mandates. Now it’s time for the three branches of government to stand up and do their share without excuses and explanations.