12.02.2016 | Pressure grows on Ukraine’s President Poroshenko over defector’s corruption accusations

Disillusioned former allies of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko have broken a taboo on accusing him of corruption. Now a whole host of political foes are likely to follow suit.

It wasn’t the resignation but what came after that made headlines after Ukraine’s Lithuanian-born economy minister Aivarus Abramovicius quit on 3rd February.  He publicly accused Poroshenko’s closest ally of corruption,  shattering the taboo against personal criticism of the “wartime president”  that has been an unspoken rule in Ukraine’s mainstream media.

"My team and I do not want to be a cover for blatant corruption, puppets for those who want to control public money the way this was done by the previous authorities.  These people have names, and I will name one of them.  This is Ihor Kononenko,” Abramovicius said at the press conference.

Kononenko served with Poroshenko in the army, and the two went on to build a business empire together ranging from finance, confectionary, automotive to shipbuilding interests.  Kononenko is now regarded as the grey cardinal of Poroshenko’s political party Bloc Petro Poroshenko (BPP), created in 2014.

It took a figure of Abramovicius’ international high standing to break the taboo about presidential corruption.  Now the question is what further fair and unfair claims will follow against Poroshenko, and how these will impact on political discourse – and on Poroshenko’s already crumbling ratings.

A realignment of Ukraine’s political spectrum can already be observed in the wake of Abramovicius’ resignation.  Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party Batkyvschina, which is a close second to Poroshenko across the country, is reported to be taking on board Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the pro-western, US-trained head of Ukraine’s security service SBU.

Poroshenko fired Nalyvaichenko unexpectedly in 2014, replacing him with a member of the SBU old guard.  According to Nalyvaichenko, this occurred after the SBU started investigating the activities of offshore companies linked to the president and Kononenko – and has threatened to make public what he found out.

Now, following a joint visit to Washington, DC, by Tymoshenko and Nalyvaichenko this week, he has a political platform to do this.  Nalivaichenko’s suave and intelligent demeanour allied with Tymoshenko’s firebrand rhetoric and historic grudge against Poroshenko could be a potent combination, if they can also secure access to prime time TV.

With the Poroshenko corruption taboo broken, a general bandwagon of allegations against him may get rolling, driven by all sides of the political spectrum with a grudge against him – from nationalists, oligarchs to the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc.  This will put added pressure on Poroshenko’s rating.

One man who may be having a schadenfreude moment is Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk.  Yatsenyuk has for months now been the target of an emotional anti-corruption crusade by former Georgian president, now Odessa governor, Mikhail Saakashvili – with Poroshenko’s evident silent consent.  Saakashvili is widely seen as eyeing Yatsenyuk’s job.

Yatsenyuk has a strong interest in BPP’s rating plunging.  The rating of his own party People’s Front, BPP’s coalition partner, is currently close to zero.  This means that any decision by Poroshenko to hold snap parliamentary elections would see his exit from political life.  But the lower the BPP rating falls, the less likely pre-term elections become.