President Vladimir Zelenskyy meets the equator of the cadence as an inexperienced surfer who has climbed the crest of an ocean wave. Into the storm. Now he has a very meager choice. Either by some miracle find a way to cope with the elements, or he will simply be washed away.
After the situational upsurge that lasted from the moment the first high-profile sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council until Independence Day, a turning point has come in Zelenskyy's political trajectory. It is accompanied by a whole range of negative factors. From the economy and energy to the deepening conflict with the oligarchs. Public spanking at Schuster's show last Friday is only a beginning. The external environment is also deteriorating.
Now, in addition to everything, the United States and Britain unanimously declare about Russia's military preparations, which is confirmed by Defense intelligence of Ukraine: from the end of January the Kremlin will be technically ready to launch a full-scale invasion capable of destroying Ukraine as a state.
Whether it will happen is unknown. At a minimum, the threat of invasion will be used to blackmail Europe, increase internal destabilization and ultimately undermine Zelenskyy's power.
If the energy sector begins to collapse, the discontented population exhausted by the epidemic will be more willing to believe in anything. And in Poroshenko's interpretation of the story with the "Wagnerians", and in the world conspiracy with chipping. Last year's “tariff riots” proved that it’s easy to scale up protests even in winter. It is elementary for Zelenskyy's opponents to indicate that the authorities are not in control of the situation.
How can Zelenskyy theoretically answer? Let's consider an example of very fresh solutions.
Rotation took place in the Cabinet of Ministers two weeks ago. Who will remember now which ministers were appointed and who were fired?
What, for example, can be said about First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Sviridenko if Daniil Getmantsev remains the frontman of economic policy? Surely she is busy with something important, but this has not yet added points to the authorities.
In the same way, the new Minister of Strategic Industry Pavel Ryabikin is still invisible. He inherited an unenviable inheritance. But he could not identify a fresh stream even against the background of Oleg Urusky.
What can we tell about the new Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk and the new Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov?
The shock from the very fact of Vereshchuk's appointment passed, but it didn't get any easier. For two weeks, she distinguished herself with a number of unsuccessful statements about The Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine and worked out a couple of news stories created for her by Reznikov's team. The website of the Ministry of Reintegration reports on all kinds of payments that were set up by the previous management, and another routine.
Of the substantive points, I want to note one alarming one. Vereshchuk literally immediately announced that she would not pass through parliament the Cabinet's draft law on a transitional period, which is causing hysteria in Moscow. The document has been postponed until 2022. In fact, this is a very serious rollback.
Vereshchuk also did not clearly react to Putin's decree, which actually integrated the temporary occupied territories of Ukraine economy into Russia. Although this is her paraffia. That means she doesn’t take a punch.
Among other things, soon the Deputy Prime Minister is at risk of facing a personnel crisis. According to rumors, all but one deputy reintegration ministers from Reznikov's team refused to work with Mrs. Vereshchuk. And not so much with her as with her main adviser Rysbek Toktomushev. His attempts to lead the ministry are strongly opposed. One of the deputies - Vyacheslav Shapovalov - has already been reappointed by the Cabinet of Ministers to the Ministry of Defense. The rest work a maximum until the end of the year and are going to go anywhere, just not to be associated with the new boss. Exactly the same sentiment reigns at the middle level.
Apparently, this is one of the reasons for the decline in her media activity. In the first days in office, Vereshchuk did not skimp on comments, but then she sharply slowed down.
The persons who worked in the Ministry of Labor and Defense in 2016-2019 are already actively driving wedges to the new Deputy Prime Minister. Out of despair, she can pull them up, which will turn the Ministry of Reintegration into an empty place.
So we can expect subsidence. Irina Vereshchuk can continue to effectively act as the speaker of the government against Poroshenko, but what is good for a deputy is not enough for a deputy prime minister.
Against this background, Reznikov started off like a champion. First, he immediately removed the conflict between the Minister of Defense and the commander-in-chief, because of which Khomchak and Taran were fired. Reznikov and Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny regularly appear together and in every possible way emphasize that they are working in tandem.
Secondly, the minister did not leave the parliamentary committee for two days to approve the changes to the state defense order, which had been hanging for several months. Moreover, he publicly emphasizes that he considers the deputies to be partners and wants to find a common language.
Thirdly, he actively visits military units and has already twice visited the Joint Forces Operation zone. The first time he inspected the positions on the front line and drove from Zolote to Mariupol. For the second time he presented awards for the Day of Ukrainian Air Assault Forces.
He also examined the key objects of the Ukrainian Navy from Berdyansk to Odesa. This is an important sign: while all attention is focused on Belarus, the leadership of the defense department is assessing the tone of the army in the south. This means that escalation is expected from there.
Cherries on the cake. At an interval of a day, Reznikov met with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace in Kyiv and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Washington.
According to my information, the visit to the United States was very successful. It was possible to immediately organize a conversation between the head of the joint chiefs of staff of the United States, Mark Milli, with Valery Zaluzhny.
In addition to the Pentagon, Reznikov spoke with the influential Republican Senator from the Armed Services Committee James Inhof, as well as the moderator of the Ukrainian issue in the State Department, Victoria Nuland.
As I was told by sources at our embassy in Washington, he had at least three other high-level private meetings. Two of them are with the leadership of the US National Security Council, which is part of the presidential apparatus. That is, already on the first visit, Reznikov bypassed everyone who influences the format of defense cooperation with Ukraine and determines the US policy in this area. This is a good sign.
Thus, in one aspect, Zelenskyy succeeded. He got a minister of defense, with whom the West agrees to speak. This is a lot.
But there remains the other side - the reform of the Ministry of Defense itself and the modernization of the army. But here the situation is critical.
Reznikov was not just sent to extinguish the fire - he was thrown into the mouth of the volcano. Only one fact: the draft state budget for 2022, approved in the first reading, provides that the Ministry of Defense has a hole in the amount of UAH 2 billion for cash support and social payments to servicemen. That is, the budget is initially in deficit even for the most protected items, not to mention everything else. It is difficult to change something here. After all, by the second reading you will have to satisfy the wishes of the people's deputies in order to preserve the crumbling majority.
If you take the defense procurement plan, it's just hell. This year, the state defense order was completed at least in some part, in the next year, in principle, it may not be. At all. Because back in the spring, formal procedures were to be launched to implement the new law on defense procurement from January 1, 2022. But nothing was done, and these formalities cannot be accelerated. It is necessary to develop and pass through all the approvals by-laws, and then approve them by the decision of the Cabinet. If Reznikov manages to unblock the state defense order by the summer, this is a bureaucratic feat.
But by that time there will be disruptions in the supply of the most essential. There will be problems with nutrition and uniform, not to mention ammunition. Because this year they did not bother to order them.
The Ministry of Defense will not be able to spend several billion hryvnias from this year's budget, because the previous leadership did not bother to organize the work. In particular, hundreds of millions, intended for the purchase of housing, will be "burned". And nothing can be done here.
That is, Reznikov enters a situation with extremely unfavorable inertia. And he technically will not have time to close even the main holes before noticeable failures begin. It's just that the procedures are arranged. The only hope for that is that due to his qualifications, he will be able to minimize damage better than others.
Sources in the Ministry of Defense told me that Reznikov kicked off systematically. On the very first day, a comprehensive audit of the department was launched. The raid knocked down several odious personnel appointments made by the previous minister, Andrei Taran, on the last day.
Already dismissed ("of his own free will") Yuliy Gere - one of the former minister's deputies, a native of Kryvyi Rih, allegedly "with immunity" and high patronage on Bankova. His positions were unshakable, as people close to the retiree did not hesitate to talk about at every corner. Apparently, they spoke too loudly.
The remaining deputies are suspended, recruiting has not been stopped, interviews are being conducted ...
In general, despite the fact that the appointment is strong enough, the chances of the overall success of the new defense minister are not clear. The situation is too neglected, and Reznikov has practically no one to rely on. The staff of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff is packed with representatives of various general clans and lobbyists of schemakers. They need to be cleared to zero. And it requires time which is absent. Plus, they have learned to wait and expose anyone who tries to change the system. Reznikov and his people run the risk of being “burned out” in this job, because they will have to take on the negative accumulated over the years ...
What's in the bottom line? Of Zelenskyy's four appointments so far, only one looks like a strengthening. And that is temporary, because a wave of problems rolls on. The option to reset ministers has been emasculated in fact.
Next time, you will have to change the entire Cabinet. But the problem is that the Cabinet is not a subject. The failures of the Cabinet of Ministers are not perceived as the failures of Denis Shmygal. These are the failures of Zelenskyy personally. Early parliamentary elections may become an unpleasant reality. Which also do not bode well for the authorities.
In a word, at the equator of the cadence, the soil began to slip from under Zelenskyy's feet. He desperately needs a new support, a breakthrough theme. "Big construction" and "billions of trees" no longer work. In fact, the countdown has begun, which in politics has an unpleasant property - it is accelerating.
Every day the loyalty of those close to you will melt away, and their requests will grow. After the new year, Zelenskyy must present something that will throw a bridge at least to the parliamentary elections. If this does not happen, then you can forget about the second cadence right now. Winter can be a verdict.