Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New guard dog at Presidential Secretariat

A few days ago President Yushchenko appointed a new head for his Presidential Secretariat - 43 year old Viktor Baloha from the Zakarpattya region, who in recent years had been mayor of Mukachevo, chair of the Zakarpattya oblast administration, and latterly, Cabinet Minster for Emergency Situations.

He has been brought in to shore up and better protect the President's office against attacks from Yanukovych and PoR, possibly in the same manner that Viktor Medvechuk [a former SPDU(o) associate of Baloha's] fulfilled this role for former President Kuchma.
As with Medvedchuk, Baloha also has a decidedly 'mixed' background.

Both of them came to prominence in the '90's in the independently-minded westernmost Zakarpattya oblast which is geographically separated from the the rest of the country by the Carpathian mountains. Both were associated with shady business/political clans which burgeoned during this period. The oblast's proximity to western neigbours Romania, Hungary, Slovak Republic, and Poland inevitably makes 'import and export' an important part of the local real and shadow economies.

In the mid '90's a local 'strongman' [Hesha] began legalizing his large financial assets, and formed the largest commercial structure in the region - 'Barva', which dominated the wholesaling, distribution and retailing of products such as cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, medicines, construction materials, etc. in this part of Ukraine. One of its founders was Baloha.

Mukachevo is still regarded as a 'one company town' - the company being 'Barva'. The current mayor of Mukachevo is Vasyl Petyovka - Baloha's cousin, and the largest local TV station 'M-studio' is owned by Baloha.

As governor of Zakarpattya, he oversaw and allegedly participated, via 'Barva's sister companies, in reckless de-forestation of Carpathian forests.

Baloha is associated through his wife, with well over a dozen large enterprises in this region.

Although not is the same league as the oligarchs of the industrialized Eastern and Central Ukrainian oblasts, it could be said that his rise to power followed a similar path to theirs, evolving from 'wild' capitalism tainted with criminality, followed by entry into shady local politics, and finally maturing in a relatively stable position of power.

By appointing Baloha to head his Secretariat, President Yushchenko risks tarnishing even further his image as a 'goody-two-shoes'.

Yushchenko has today also recruited two former ministers to the Presidential Secretariat. They are Arseniy Yatseniuk, ex-economics minister, and Viktor Bondar, ex-transport minister.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a net-positive if it means that Yuschenko is going to be more engaged in Ukrainian politics.

It often takes fire to fight fire.