00:46 GMT01 November 2020
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    Commenting on the Ukrainian political system's descent into a series of slapstick altercations between supporters of President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, journalist Leonid Bershidsky lamented that, mere days after Joe Biden "asked Ukraine's political leaders to play nice," the two sides are again at each other's throats.

    Last week, a session of the Ukrainian parliament turned violent after Poroshenko Bloc MP Oleh Barna attempted to remove Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk from the podium during a speech, literally picking him and trying to carry him off the stage, flowers in hand. The spectacle quickly degenerated into a full-scale fistfight, and, as expected, become the subject of hilarious internet memes.

    Then, on Wednesday, Odessa Govenor Mikheil Saakashvili got a glass of water thrown in his face by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, the two men shouting recriminations in one another's direction over corruption allegations.

    That incident led to its own series of memes and jokes.

    But not everyone is laughing, least of all Kiev's ostensible allies in Washington. 

    In his editorial for Bloomberg View, contributor Leonid Bershidsky lamented that, having ignored Vice President Joe Biden's request that Ukraine's political leaders "play nice," the "quiet war between the teams of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and President Petro Poroshenko" has only intensified, "turn[ing] "publically and comically violent."

    According to Bershidsky, a liberal Russian journalist who firmly supported Ukraine's Maidan revolution, the situation is becoming dangerously reminiscent of the failures "of Ukraine's previous attempt to break with Russia's dominance and embark on a European path."

    "From 2005 to 2010," the journalist recalled, "then President Viktor Yushchenko's faction clashed repeatedly with that of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, rampant corruption undermined the economy and reforms proved fake. This led to the election of President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted last year in a bloody uprising."

    Now, according to Bershidsky, the incident involving Yatsenyuk and Saakashvili's water to the face again threaten to destroy the country's fragile pro-Western coalition.

    The journalist recalled that Vice-President Biden, who graced Kiev with a visit earlier this month, explicitly "warned Poroshenko that Ukraine's Western allies want to avoid the political upheaval that Yatsenyuk's firing would entail." 

    If Poroshenko loses the support of the prime minister and his allies, the ruling coalition will collapse, paving the way for early parliamentary elections. This, Bershidsky warns, threatens to "sideline reforms, sorely testing the patience of impoverished and often armed voters."

    With the president trying, and failing, to put the emerging scandal to bed, the conflict between the political forces of the Maidan has since spun further out of control.

    On Monday, Interior Minister Avakov, a Yatsenyuk ally, accused Saakashvili, the Poroshenko-appointed governor of Odessa, of attempting to sell a chemical plant to a Russian businessman. This, Bershidsky hinted, was a direct response to Saakashvili's accusations earlier this month that the prime minister was involved "in financial schemes that, he claimed, drained $5 billion a year from Ukraine's coffers."

    With Avakov throwing a glass of water in Saakashvili's face and calling him "a militant scumbag…looking for a pretext to resign with a loud bang, having failed in his job," the former Georgian president barked back, vowing that he would not retract his accusations against Yatsenyuk and his team. 

    Presidential spokesman Svatoslav Tsegolko refused to release the video of the incident (which Avakov released later anyway), on the grounds that "such street-style altercations disgrace the country." Yolodymyr Omelyan, a deputy-transport minister who resigned last week, echoed his embarrassment, saying that "what is going on is truly a shame, a disgrace, a paucity of both spirit and ideas. I'd resign again if I could."

    Lamenting the political system's degeneration into shouting matches, fistfights and other forms of political slapstick, Bershidsky warned that now "bureaucrats drafted from the private sector after Ukraine's 'Revolution of Dignity' are probably tempted to leave, too."

    Furthermore, Poroshenko, according to the journalist, is caught in a vice, incapable of openly supporting either Yatsenyuk or Saakashvili. 

    "If he openly backs Yatsenyuk, Saakashvili may revolt and challenge him. The explosive Georgian is popular in Ukraine, and has more political experience…Siding with the Odessa governor, though, would mean ousting Yatsenyuk, triggering an early election and irritating the US, where Yatsenyuk and [Finance Minister and US citizen Natalie] Jaresko are popular figures."

    All the while, Bershidsky suggests, Russia's political class is "enjoying the show," with "a dysfunctional, scandal-ridden Ukrainian government [being] just what Putin needs. Unfortunately, the combatants appear to be past caring. Saakashvili sees himself as a fearless anti-corruption crusader, though he hasn't accused anyone on Poroshenko's team of graft despite numerous opportunities. Yatsenyuk is trying to keep his job and defend his record. Poroshenko is torn between remaining on good terms with the US and consolidating power."

    Ultimately, the journalist warns, "if this circus continues, another revolt could break out," with Kiev's "primitive aggression and venality" threatening to "quickly become too much [for the Ukrainian people] to endure."


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    media analysis, public reaction, media, Rada, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Petro Poroshenko, US, Ukraine
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