Those who believe Ukraine is in for real change will find the upcoming presidential elections rather anticlimactic: It is being contested almost entirely by oligarchs who, due to their great wealth of dubious provenance, rule large swaths of the country. A liberal Western-type democracy is hardly likely to come out this election.
When they head for the polls on May 25, Ukraine’s 36 million eligible voters will have no clue to the makeup or character of government administration any of those candidates plans to set up – any more than the intelligence agencies in Washington, Moscow, London and Berlin, which backed the changeover of power in Kiev. All that the 46 million inhabitants of Ukraine know for sure is that their country is falling apart and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, with no functioning army or effective forces of law and order.
The frontrunner for president is Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year-old business tycoon who owns a sizeable candy empire and is known to the public as the “Chocolate King.” He was the first and only Ukrainian oligarch to join the mass Kiev protests that drove President Viktor Yanukovych out of power last February. That is his political strength, according to the New York Times of Wednesday, May 21.
But this strength may not be so sweet.
Ad hoc partition will suit Moscow and the oligarchs
Last month, Poroshenko visited Israel for secret meetings with Russian oligarchs who came from Moscow to meet him and whom he lobbied for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s backing for his campaign.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources disclose that the Chocolate King failed to win Kremlin endorsement – open or covert. However, Moscow has indicated that it can learn to live with Ukraine’s tycoons, if they confine themselves to dividing among themselves control of the central and western parts of the country, while keeping their hands off the pro-Russian east, including Donetsk, Luhansk, and the annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Putin has given the oligarchs, as well as the Americans and Germans, to understand that Moscow will tolerate a Ukraine effectively if informally partitioned into federal spheres of influence. The oligarchs, too, sound as though they are amenable to this arrangement.
Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, and Igor Kolomo, a banker and the recently appointed governor of Dnepropetrovsk Province, are already acting to establish law and order in the country’s southeast. Akhmetov sent his steel and mining workers to maintain order in Mariupol and Makeyevka, and Kolomoisky is offering bounties for weapons and captured “terrorists.”
While the US and Western Europe are portraying these steps as drives to “repel eastern secessionists,” their practical effect has been to immobilize the few Ukrainian Army units still ready to stand by the interim government.
A tilt to the West and payment of Ukraine’s gas bill
The groundwork is therefore in place for future cooperation between Moscow and the next president to be elected in Kiev.
Will the Obama administration accept this ad hoc federal breakup of Ukraine? German Chancellor Angela Merkel certainly thinks so.
The oligarchs governing western and central Ukraine would likely move closer to the West than would have been imaginable under Yanukovych.
The US and Europe would retain their influence in Kiev, and American and European investments would be both welcome and secure, as the tycoons would tend to spend the moneys invested by Western companies on developing the country, rather than lining their own pockets.
Our sources reveal that Poroshenko, the Chocolate King, has promised Moscow that Ukraine’s overdue gas bill will be paid up, to make sure there is no question of Russia’s Gazprom disrupting supplies to Europe in the winter of 2014-2015.
On May 21, China’s National Petroleum Corp inked a 30-year landmark deal for the purchase of an annual 38 billion cubic meters of gas from Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas. This estimated $400 billion transaction may not take off if the flow of Russian gas to Ukraine is stabilized, because Moscow would not mind saving itself the outlay of $50 billion and time for building a new pipeline from central Siberia to the Chinese coast.