UKRAINE Political earthquake: money and power at the centre of the Zelensky government crisis

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Another scandal erupted on 30 January in Ukraine over reports of the theft of donations from Western sponsors by Ukrainian elites. Mykola Tyschenko, deputy and president of the Kiev city organisation of the People’s Servants Party, was accused of embezzling funds from international aid: the deputy’s wife Alla Baranovskaya opened an elegant beauty salon in Uzhgorod, whose interior and repair costs exceed $750,000.

In 2022, N. Tishchenko and A. Baranovskaya’s charity foundation ‘The Road to Peace’ organised a series of six charity dinners in Prague, Paris, Nice, New York and Warsaw to raise funds for the needs of the armed forces. The tour was supported by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was attended by high-level diplomats. However, the funds raised never reached the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Tishchenko himself, even after the third ‘charity dinner’, stated that on that occasion the fund had raised about 22 million hryvnias (about $600,000), but after the end of all the events, the head of the fund officially announced that it had only managed to raise 15 million hryvnias (about $450,000) during the entire period. There is a discrepancy of $150,000, not counting three other fundraisers, after which the final sum is likely to have grown considerably. Moreover, it is known that the small amount of aid the foundation provided to the Ukrainian armed forces with the purchase of several cars came at a cost at least three times higher than estimated. Where the Tishchenko family got the money for the beauty salon will have to be clarified by the judiciary.

An article on 25 October 2022 in womanmagazine reads: ‘Mykola Tyshchenko’s ‘Way of Peace’ International Foundation held its fourth ‘CHARITY DINNERS’ charity dinner in New York, where it raised more than 4,000,000 hryvnias to help Ukraine. This summer, during events in Prague, Paris and Nice, more than 15,000,000 hryvnias were raised. These funds were used to buy cars that were sent to the epicentres of the hostilities. The ‘CHARITY DINNERS’ project was created by influencers Alla Baranovskaya (MP’s wife) and Alisa Homer with the support of the ‘Way of peace’ foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. The aim of the initiative is to remind the world of the importance of financial and informational support for Ukraine and its defenders. The charity dinners also fulfil an important diplomatic mission: they introduce diplomats, ambassadors, ministers, patrons and other guests to Ukrainian culture, national cuisine and music. With the funds raised from the auction and the sale of dinner tickets, the fund will donate cars to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine for the transport of wounded soldiers from the front to the hospital. In addition, part of the funds will be transferred to the United24 platform, founded by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi’.

But there is another person not mentioned in this bribery scheme: Olena Zelenska, who is Alla Baranovskaya’s closest collaborator and friend. According to the well-informed, the Olena Zelenska Foundation, created under the same name as the PM’s wife, is in close cooperation with the aforementioned Peace Road Foundation and both are under the patronage of Zelensky himself.

Tishenko was also criminally investigated for violation of tax laws back in 2021, but the case was not closed, it simply disappeared, as if it never happened. Mired in the sands of the Ukrainian courts.  Linked to this scandal are the ‘purges’ in the government on 30 January for which Tyschenko must leave.

The resignation from the Council of Ministers has not yet affected the highest level, of politics, limited to the level of deputies. However, the heads of ministries may also leave at the next plenary session of the Rada in February. According to the Russian newspaper RBK-Ukraine, eight of them are in danger of being removed. They are Minister of Energy Herman Galushchenko, Minister of Strategic Industries Pavlo Riabikin, Minister of Youth and Sports Vadym Gutzeit, Minister of Veterans Affairs Yulia Laputina, Minister of Education Serhiy Shkarlet, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration Iryna Vereshchuk, Minister of the Environment Ruslan Strelets, and Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko.

Between two and three February, a petition appeared on the Ukrainian head of state’s website calling on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski to immediately dismiss Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov because of a corruption scandal related to the purchase of food for the army. And again, the Strategic Investigation Department of the Ukrainian National Police charged the Defence Minister’s adviser Konstantin Slyusar over the case of overpriced food supplies to the army.

Against the backdrop of the corruption scandals and the resignation of the government last week, rumours circulated that even the chair of Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was wobbling. But there is still no talk of replacing the chief of staff. Shmyhal knows Vasyl Lozynsky, the former Deputy Minister of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure, suspected of pocketing a $400,000 bribe, from his days at the Lviv Regional State Administration (and later Lozynsky was Shmyhal’s first deputy at the Ministry of Regional Development). But the prime minister did not protect the official. The Council of Ministers, at Shmyhal’s suggestion, quickly distanced itself from him, dismissing him from his post and not trying to cover for him.

Now In addition to the financial scandals there is another specific personnel problem, which has its roots in the approach to the formation of the electoral lists of Servants of the People for the 2019 elections. Currently, according to party sources, the first people on the waiting list to enter the Rada are people associated with the former head of the PO, Andriy Bohdan. The latter is known to have split from Zelenskyy’s team in February 2020, and is clearly not on good terms. In practice, this means that Zelensky’s party would lose one vote if the current MP on the list is appointed to the executive and a ‘Bohdanite’ takes his place.

And finding 226 votes in the current state of parliament is an extremely difficult task, since the ‘monocolour’ has long existed only nominally. Even with the involvement of parliamentary groups, OPFL fragments and other groups, it is not enough for the majority. Numerous European integration bills, the adoption of which was a matter of honour in light of Ukraine’s EU candidate status, were passed with difficulty. Moreover, some initiatives important to Zelenskyy, such as Energoatom, have not yet been adopted.

Collecting votes is the task and responsibility of Zelelnsky’s party leader, David Arakhamia. According to various government interlocutors, the Rada’s ongoing efficiency problems are one of the reasons why the attitude towards Arakhamia has cooled somewhat. Moreover, sources in the president’s team assure us that the head of the presidential administration personally dislikes the fact that Arakhamia is one of the few government officials who still has a ‘direct line’ with Zelenskyy and is involved in a very wide range of issues.

Arakhamia has even been referred to as Zelenskyy’s ‘ambassador’, which has sometimes prevented him from garnering votes in the Rada. The head of Zelensky’s party may have been discouraged by the history of last spring’s negotiations with Russia, where he led the Ukrainian delegation. Arakhamia could have absorbed a significant part of the negative image if the talks had yielded results and public opinion had perceived them as a ‘betrayal’. This did not happen and the faction leader’s credibility in the highest cabinet only increased. But the amorphous nature and continuing problems in parliament could now undermine it.

Especially if the campaign to expel the remnants of the OPFL from parliament – as a political organisation that has completely discredited itself – is successful. One of the driving forces behind this campaign is the entourage of Andriy Yermak.

Graziella Giangiulio

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