Meet Ukraine’s Political Players Who Will Shape the Nation’s Future

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Meet Ukraine's Political Players Who Will Shape the Nation's Future

The recent upheaval in Ukraine has left us with a new cast of characters leading the country. So long as they were united in ousting President Yanukovych, they were interchangeable as far as non-Ukrainians were concerned. Now, though, the jockeying for position ahead of the May 25 elections has begun, and there are significant differences. The future of Ukraine will be heavily influenced by who winds up in control. So, in brief, here’s a who’s who:

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko: Head of the Fatherland Party, rival of President Yanukovych, and freshly released from prison, she is a definite contender for power. She’s also a crook and, in my opinion, guano crazy. She’s a billionaire who claims to have made all her money legally in the gas business after the fall of communism — as Balzac noted, “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.” She does not play well with others, and lost the PM’s job she had after the Orange Revolution due to incompetence. She also believes in astrology and believes she is the reincarnation of Eva Peron (that is not sarcasm nor snark — Google “Tymoshenko Eva Peron” and see for yourself).

Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov: He’s a first deputy chairman of the Fatherland Party, and became Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). An ally of Tymoshenko, he was seen as the safest pair of hands in the dying days of the Yanukovych government. He was also the first civilian head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU — officially has a role similar to the FBI, it is the successor to the KGB). A court failed to convict him of destroying a file about Semion Mogilevich from the SBU archive — Mogilevich was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List at the time. Turchynov may not run for president in May, but he will be a power before and afterwards.

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Arseniy Yatsenyuk: Yatsenyuk is also a member of the Rada for the Fatherland Party. He is 39, former foreign minister and ex-governor of the central bank. He’s seen by some as an anti-corruption crusader, and while I have no evidence to the contrary, I wonder how close you can be to Tymoshenko and still merit that title. He was one of the less compromising opponents of Yanukovych. He tweeted at the end of January: “No deal @ua_yanukovych, we’re finishing what we started. The people decide our leaders, not you. #??????????”

Vitali Klitschko: He’s the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world (don’t laugh, America elected an actor as its president — twice), and head of a pro-EU party called the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR, which in Ukrainian means “punch”). He has stated that the new government must be “formed on the principle of professionalism and integrity of each candidate.” He was more of a moderate during the recent unpleasantness than Yatsenyuk, and some hardliners resent him for it. Still, he’s thrown his hat in the ring, saying, “I’ll run for president. I am sure that there is a need to change principles of functioning of state authorities.”

Oleh Tyahnybok: He’s leader of the fourth-largest party in the Rada, “Svoboda” (freedom in most Slavic languages). Svoboda has observer status in the Alliance of European National Movements, which is the hard-right bloc in the European Parliament. It was founded as the Social-National Party of Ukraine. This has led some to think of it as neo-Nazi; national socialism can’t be that far removed from social-national, the argument goes. He seems to me to be anti-Russian, anti-communist, anti-Semitic, anti-EU. A dangerous man if he achieves real power, presuming he’s competent.

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Dmytro Yarosh: He heads up Right Sector, a right-wing group that includes both Ukrainian and Russian speakers. Right Sector’s members were overrepresented in the violent clashes with police during the recent violence. Yarosh has not made his ambitions clear, but Right Sector wants nothing to do with Svoboda, which it thinks is too liberal and conformist.

Dmytro Bulatov: He’s currently out of Ukraine receiving treatment for injuries suffered in fighting with the Yanukovych crowd. He was one of the big shots in AutoMaidan. The BBC says, “Its driver-members helping ferrying food and medicine to the Maidan camp, and later also transporting the injured to hospitals. Moving in motorcades, the AutoMaidan has provided an invaluable help with reconnaissance about police movements and has paid visits to the palatial residences of top Yanukovych figures — which proved to be highly embarrassing for the officials.” AutoMaidan says it’s going to stay in opposition to keep an eye on the new authorities.

Mykhaylo Dobkin: He’s Chairman of Kharkiv Oblast State Administration (sort of a governor of a pretty important state). With Yanukovych losing all credibility with everyone, the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine has itself a new leader. Dobkin will run for president, and I expect him to carry the eastern part of the country. He just said on Kanal 5 TV, “A total attack on the rights of the Russian-speaking population is under way, that laws are being adopted that threaten all those who do not accept fascism and Nazism.”

There are a few more, but these are the leading lights at the moment. I wish my friends in Ukraine all the luck in the world. As I look over this lineup, they may well need it.

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