Yuriy Boiko, leader of Opposition Bloc faction, former Minister of Fuel and Energy and vice prime minister in Yanukovych's cabinet
At that time, none of his colleagues knew what was going to happen. Moreover, former members of the Party of Regions (PR) didn’t even know whether they would be able to work normally in Ukraine after the Maidan Revolution.
A month later, the EU and the USA imposed sanctions on Yanukovych and his clan. The list was drawn up directly in Ukraine by acting Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnitsky, and, surprisingly, there were a number of important names missing: Vadym Novinsky, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Yuriy Boiko, not to mention two odious oligarchs – Dmytro Firtash and Rinat Akhmetov.
Four years after the Revolution of Dignity, no other names have been added to the list. Moreover, one by one, Yanukovych’s ex-comrades have managed to unblock their accounts through European courts.
Oleksandr Yefremov is the only member of the Party of Regions currently in prison.
Other PR members, having waited for the first wave of revolutionary fury to pass, started coming out of their mouse holes and flexing their muscles. Uniting under the banner of the so-called “Opposition Bloc”, they got into parliament, and despite their notorious reputations, they occasionally used disputes within the government and Verkhovna Rada to pursue their goal.
Moreover, when three parties withdrew from the ruling coalition, their voices became beneficial to the authorities during critical voting in the Verkhovna Rada. Whenever Poroshenko’s Bloc and Yatseniuk’s National Front fail to agree, the government can count on the votes of several ex-PR members from the Opposition Bloc.
Today, the Opposition Bloc is among the top five most popular political parties in Ukraine, with a home base in Eastern Ukraine. The presidential candidate will probably be Yuriy Boiko, leader of the “Opoblok” faction, former vice prime minister. He currently ranks third after Yulia Tymoshenko and Anatoliy Hrytsenko.
A year ago, we repeatedly informed our readers about the importance of Boyko as a presidential candidate since the current Presidential Administration considers him a convenient opponent for Petro Poroshenko.
“Our slogan doesn’t even need to be changed – “We will save our country!” A simple and open campaign as we’re fighting a pro-Russian candidate.” remark the Poroshenko’s advisors.
However, if we’re to believe the latest surveys, it’s not a given fact that Petro Poroshenko will make it into the second round. That doesn’t matter to Boiko, and he’s just as convenient an opponent for Yulia Tymoshenko and Anatoliy Hrytsenko.
We investigated who is preparing Yuriy Boiko for the presidential election, what his new image will be, and why he’s ready to play “second fiddle” in the presidential race.
Ukrainian/American Technology & Expertise
Yuriy Boiko is a stone-faced and closed politician. He doesn’t like talking with people, and even less with curious journalists.
Boiko often appears on television – Inter (linked to Firtash and Lyovochkin), 112 (linked to Yanukovych’s close entourage) and Pryamy (linked to Poroshenko).
A few weeks ago, we bumped into Boyko and two assistants leaving the Verkhovna Rada.
“Are you getting ready for the presidential election?”
Boyko turned to us with his usual impassive face and said coldly:
“No, absolutely not… This question hasn’t come up yet.”
In fact, an important team of political technologists, who were selected by the former head of Yanukovych’s administration Serhiy Lyovochkin, had already been working hard for over a month on Yuriy Boyko’s candidature.
Two groups of experts are in charge – Ukrainian technologists from the Center for Political Solutions (Центр політичних рішень) and American specialists from ClearPath Strategies.
The Center for Political Solutions has already worked on projects associated with Lyovochkin. They conducted two campaigns for Vitaliy Klitschko during the municipal elections in Kyiv and the presidential campaign for Oleh Lyashko in Kyiv in 2014.
Previously, the Party of Regions was managed by American political consultant Paul Manafort, who subsequently ran Donald Trump’s campaign during the U.S. presidential elections. Manafort currently has major legal problems – money laundering, tax evasion and false statements – so, new foreign specialists – СlearPath Strategies – have appeared in the opposition camp.
“Americans have a lot of experience, and they constantly propose innovations, but they don’t have a good understanding of Ukrainian realities. So, we’ve hired a Ukrainian team to pull them back down to earth… and it’s turned out really great!” says a source.
Three American consultants – David Bluestone, John Garrett, and Kate McCartney – are regular guests in Kyiv, working on Boiko’s campaign.
David Bluestone specializes in strategies, developing and analyzing focus groups. At one time, he acted as advisor to the Venezuelan opposition’s presidential campaign against Hugo Chavez.
John Garrett works on the reputation of different politicians and corporate clients. His profile work includes branding, slogans and messages for target audiences. At one time, he worked on drawing up analyses of Mitsubishi’s policy.
Kate McCartney specializes in detailed studies of voters and analyses of public opinion.
The American team is responsible for campaign strategy and electorate work. The Ukrainian experts will manage Boiko’s image, developing messages and slogans – their work focuses on the candidate himself.
“Our work is comparable to Elon Musk’s rocket. The Americans say: “Look at these rockets!” and we say: “Guys, we only have Zhigulis [brand of cars manufactured in the Soviet Union by AvtoVaz in 1970-2012-Ed.], so let’s put our heads together and come up with something. So, they transpose the rockets with our Zhigulis.” explains a source from Boiko’s campaign headquarters.
Back to the Past
In order to better understand what kind of man Boiko really is, we should look into the candidate’s past.
Yuriy Boiko comes from the mining town of Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast. At one time, he worked as director of the Zorya plant, which produced explosives for the military industry. Later, he headed the oil-processing enterprise Lysychansknaftorgsyntez and was a member of the Supervisory Board of Ukrtransnafta.
However, the key to Boiko’s political future was his appointment to Naftogaz Ukraine in 2002.
While working as the president of Naftogaz, he met gas oligarch Dmytro Firtash. At one point, Yulia Tymoshenko fiercely accused Boyko of involvement in the creation of the RosUkrEnergo delivery routes, which Firtash controlled jointly with Gazprom. Boiko became so close to Firtash that in 2005 the oligarch asked him to be an arbiter in his divorce proceedings.
In 2006, Boiko was appointed Minister of Fuel and Energy in Viktor Yanukovych’s cabinet, and later, was promoted to vice prime minister.
He had a good and trusting relationship with the former president. Every Saturday, Yanukovych invited his vice prime minister to hunt at his estate in Sukholuchchya, attended by many other close oligarchs, ex-presidents and top politicians.
The general public became more familiar with Boiko due to corruption scandals related to the oil rig case, known as “Boyko’s towers”. This was a scam involving the purchase of two oil rigs, for which the state-owned company Chornomornaftogaz paid $400 million to a company in Latvia, where the false owners of the fictitious firm Highway Investments Processing LLP lived and worked (but actually, they were homeless bums, according to various investigations).
Last year, MP Serhiy Leshchenko even published a claim addressed to the General Prosecutor’s Office to withdraw Boyko’s immunity, demanding immediate detention and arrest.
However, in February 2018, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko announced at a major press conference said that the investigation lacked evidence of Boiko’s involvement in the corruption scheme.
Therefore, instead of facing prison bars, Boiko is free to take part in the 2019 presidential race.
A Mini-Kuchma and his Team
Although Boiko clearly avoids questions about the 2019 presidential election, this doesn’t stop him from participating in electoral meetings, which are also attended by all his political consultants, Serhiy Lyovochkin and another OpoBloc MP, Serhiy Larin. Sources predict that Lyovochkin will head Boyko’s campaign headquarters, and Larin will be his deputy.
Sociology studies, survey analyses, results of focus group, campaign messages and the candidate’s image have already been presented at the meetings. According to one close sources, Boiko’s role will be similar to the image created for ex-president Leonid Kuchma – “a practical and thrifty factory director”. At the same time, Boiko’s mannerisms should also resemble Yanukovych’s. This element will be underlined so that Yanukovych’s faithful electorate remembers the “good old days” and votes for the OpoBloc candidate.
“Did you see how Boiko beat up Lyashko when the latter called him a “Kremlin agent”? He got up, punched him several times, then sat down; his face was expressionless. That’s the kind of self-assured man our voters want to see.” enthusiastically state some OpoBloc members.
By and large, supporters of the OpoBloc leader are the same people who previously supported the Party of Regions. These are Russian-speaking residents of industrial cities, mostly women who clamour for a “strong fist” and “stability and security”.
Together with his image, Boiko’s team is currently working on his rhetoric for the upcoming campaign. There will be several messages, but they will be simple and understandable for the Eastern regions. Campaign slogans will include the re-establishment of relations with Russia, peace, and promises of stability and economic development.
Another important component of Boiko’s campaign are some VIP-fans/agitators, which are commonly referred to as “Boiko’s future cabinet” and are charged with campaigning for their candidate on radio and TV broadcasts and important events.
These include: first deputy chairman of Yanukovych’s Presidential Cabinet Iryna Akimova, former Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, political scientist Andriy Yermolayev, and OpoBloc MPs Mykola Skoryk, Mykhailo Papiev and possibly Nataliya Korolevska.
Getting into the Second Round
Such a presidential campaign will have several significant risks. One of the dangers is cozying up to the pro-Russian electorate, which will make Ukrainian patriots very angry. But, the biggest risk, no matter how strange it sounds, is Boiko’s victory, and this is clearly understood by his colleagues and supporters.
If Boiko wins, this will automatically result in a very hostile situation inside Ukraine. As a matter of fact, Boiko will probably be blocked on his way to the inauguration at the Verkhovna Rada.
However, the true purpose of Boiko’s participation in the 2019 is to enter the second round. According to the Lyovochkin-Firtash plan, a high level of support in the presidential election will boost the party’s ratings and will help them win the majority of seats in the next parliamentary elections.
“Boiko’s ambition is not to become president, but prime minister.” says a friend close to Lyovochkin.
To get into the second round, Boiko has to be the only candidate from the Eastern regions. First of all, this targets Vadym Rabinovych, who is associated with Viktor Medvedchuk, the compadre of Russian President Putin. According to recent sociological studies, the level of support for Rabinovych ranges from 5% to 7%.
According to our sources, Lyovochkin is currently negotiating with Medvedchuk and Akhmetov about nominating a single presidential candidate from the “opposition”.
However, it’s still difficult to persuade the oligarchs. Akhmetov’s entourage looks at Boiko’s candidature with a skeptic eye. In addition, Rinat Akhmetov has his own candidate – Oleh Lyashko, who has moved much closer to the oligarch over the past two years.
“Lyovochkin wants a lot of things. He’s already sent Kuchma off to well-deserved retirement, then Lytvyn, then he pushed Klitschko into Kyiv, and as for Yanukovych… well, that man has only himself to blame. Unless we get all of the Donbas, there will be no Boiko, no Vilkul, not one man from the Eastern region will be able to win the election.” says a close associate of Akhmetov indignantly, with a tinge of undisclosed nostalgia.