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Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Gosh, Viktor Yanukovych makes it too easy.

Two of his latest doozies concern personnel appointments to important government jobs: the head of the National Bank and the general director of a newly formed defense industry agency, Ukroboronprom.

The heads of central banks are usually distinguished economists or business people, individuals with impressive records, strong backbones, and policy experience. After all, they steer economies in troubled waters. Not in Yanukovych’s Ukraine. His answer to Alan Greenspan is Serhii Arbuzov. Never heard of him? Well, neither has anyone in Ukraine — except of course for Yanukovych’s cronies in Donetsk, where the 34-year-old Arbuzov has held a variety of leadership positions at the small Ukrainian Business Bank since 2004.

I don’t doubt that Serhii’s one smart cookie, but making him head of the National Bank is rather like appointing the president of a small credit union in Dayton, Ohio as the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Doesn’t quite make sense, right? Except that such nonsense makes perfect sense in Yanukostan, where competence is a threat to the rule of the sultan and loyalty is valued above all else. Naturally, potential investors will be thrilled to learn that the Ukrainian central bank will now be run as a fiefdom of the presidential administration.

Even more delightful an appointment was that of Dmitri Salamatin to the post of general director of Ukroboronprom. The 45-year-old Salamatin hails from Kazakhstan, where he received a degree in mining. Indeed, his entire career has been centered on mining and metals. Just how does ignorance of defense and security issues qualify him to head an agency that will presumably oversee the entire Ukrainian defense sector, including arms exports? Good question. One thing’s for sure, though: Salamatin is a faithful member of the Party of Regions—serving as parliamentary deputy since 2007—and a Yanukovych man. Big Dmitri also has big fists, having broken one opposition deputy’s nose in 2010. Oh, and he was one of the Regionnaires who actively participated in the December 16th pogrom in the parliament. You’d think that a president with a genuine commitment to rule of law would make Salamatin Ukraine’s good-will ambassador to Antarctica. But not Yanukovych: he rewards thugs, while preaching, on Christmas, that “the Lord God teaches us that we can improve our lives and build a strong country only with good works.” Sic.

Anyway, since the president of Ukraine has a peculiar understanding of the good, let me make a suggestion for prime minister: Nikolai Levchenko, the 31-year-old secretary of the Donetsk City Council. Never heard of him? He distinguished himself most recently by suggesting that foreign visitors to the 2012 UEFA soccer championship in Donetsk be lodged in army tents outside the city. (Sign me up for that, Nick!) But Levchenko’s real claim to fame goes back to 2007, when he acquired national notoriety for opining that Russian should be Ukraine’s state language and that Ukrainian should be reserved for folklore and jokes. Funny guy, that Nick, and tolerant, too — but what the heck.

My favorite Levchenkoism is his claim, also made in 2007, that he had read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace seven times. Yikes! Just do the math. The book has about 1,400 pages, which, multiplied by seven, amounts to about 10,000 pages of Tolstoy. Now, either the boy’s a phenomenal speed reader, or he reads nothing but War and Peace, or his job is a piece of cake and he has nothing to do. Personally, I suspect Levchenko only owns one book — but, then again, who knows: maybe the guy’s a genius? After all, Yanukovych completed two degrees in economics while heading Donetsk Province. And he’s made president.

In any case, as I was saying, Nick’s my man for prime minister. He can read, he’s a firecracker, and he can lift heavy objects. My guess is that he could also keep Big Dmitri on a short leash, unless the democrats provoke a pogrom against themselves and a bit of butt-kicking becomes, alas, necessary.

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