Avakov confirms vote-buying investigations of Poroshenko campaign
Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov confirmed that his officials are investigating several criminal complaints submitted by presidential contender Yulia Tymoshenko alleging vote-buying schemes by the re-election campaign of President Poroshenko. He didn’t say specifically whether criminal cases have been opened, as alleged by Tymoshenko. Among those accused of elections violations is MP Serhiy Berezenko, the deputy parliamentary faction head of the Poroshenko Bloc, he said in an interview with the dt.ua news site published on Feb. 22. “He is named as an organizer of schemes,” Avakov said. “He is a people’s deputy and investigations can’t involve him. But the fact remains that he’s mentioned in proceedings. Tymoshenko submitted an enormous pile of documents where Berezenko is also mentioned.”
Regarding allegations the Tymoshenko campaign is engaged in vote-buying, Avakov said the Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating them. (Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko is a close ally to President Poroshenko.) The interior minister denied any political alliance with Tymoshenko or any other presidential candidate, stressing that he’s committed to “ensuring the maximally honest process without schemes and falsifications.” He also pointed to incidents in which police investigated election fraud claims made by the Poroshenko campaign. In a Facebook post on Feb. 22, Avakov claimed that a provocation was being planned against him involving a large wire of foreign currency to one of his bank accounts, with the intention of accusing him of being on a candidate’s payroll.
The National Police, led by Avakov, was reportedly involved in an elections-related conflict on Feb. 21 in the city of Sumy with officers of the Security Service of Ukraine, which is controlled by President Poroshenko. Local police said they were informed of vote-buying occurring at a location, which they visited and arrested two suspects before releasing them. The two suspects were Poroshenko campaign workers who were allegedly distributing funds at the local headquarters, reported the pravda.com.ua news site on Feb. 21, citing anonymous sources in a prosecutor’s office. Local prosecutors reported on their website that they opened criminal cases against the police for abuse of authority. Meanwhile, local Security Service officers conducted a search of the police headquarters and filed criminal charges of abuse of authority, as alleged by Fatherland MP Vadym Ivchenko. It’s not clear if these alleged charges are the same as those pursued by local prosecutors.
Presidential contender Yulia Tymoshenko offered a full endorsement of Avakov’s work as internal affairs minister at a Feb. 22 press conference. “I am very joyful that for the first time in history of political elections, the internal affairs minister won’t be covering up falsifications and vote-buying that the current president will be committing,” she said. She also added, “In the context of the current political conditions, the Internal Affairs Ministry and Arsen Avakov are absolutely dedicated to working to prevent falsifications and vote-buying, and for the country as a whole to see who is truly behind the scenes of the presidential elections. And I welcome Avakov’s position,” she said.
Zenon Zawada: We had been holding out hope that Avakov would be playing the role of the neutral arbiter in the elections, despite mounting speculations that he has a tacit alliance with the Tymoshenko campaign. Had Tymoshenko’s remarks on Feb. 22 been more tempered, we would continue to believe so. But the boldness of her statements expressing full confidence in Avakov’s work leaves no room for her to criticize the police chief in case he makes statements or actions during the vote count that work against her interests. To us, this confirms the speculation that there must be some kind of tacit agreement between them.
MP Serhiy Leshchenko, who had been warning about a Tymoshenko-Avakov alliance for weeks, now believes Poroshenko will act to dismiss Avakov as internal affairs minister. Regardless of Avakov’s alliances, his dismissal would be a foolish move for Poroshenko that would backfire in dramatic ways. Instead, we believe the Poroshenko team has learned its lessons from the attempted early dismissal of Zurab Alasania, who is a far less influential figure yet nonetheless drew Western support for his reinstatement. If he tries to fire Avakov, Poroshenko risks turning him into an international cause celebre, but far bigger.
In the meantime, Avakov’s police will likely spend the remaining weeks of the election campaign battling with the president’s prosecutors and security service officers in cities throughout Ukraine. Naturally, this lays the groundwork for a chaotic vote count after the first round of elections on March 31. The key question remains of whether protests emerge during this time, and who will be able to bring out a significant number of serious protesters. At her Feb. 22 press conference, Tymoshenko warned of the possibility of protests. But we don’t believe her campaign alone has the ability to do this. Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s campaign won’t be protesting if he is determined to have qualified for the second round runoff.