The good news is that President Viktor Yanukovych has finally gotten around to firing some of the deadbeats in his Cabinet.
The bad news is that he’s replaced them with two individuals with absolutely no connection to or roots in Ukraine.
The worse news is that they’ve been placed in charge of the “power” agencies, the Ministry of Defense and the Security Service (SBU).
And, lest you think you can now take a breath, the worst news is that both guys have a record of violence as long as Yanukovych’s security entourage.
It started on February 3rd, when Yanukovych made Igor Kalinin the head of the SBU. Then, on February 8th, he made Dmitri Salamatin minister of defense.
Kalinin joined the KGB in 1984, took part in the fighting in Afghanistan from 1986 to 1988, and remained in that august institution until 1992 (earning an Order of the Red Star along the way), when, for unknown reasons, he came to Ukraine and began teaching at the National Academy of the SBU. He stayed there until 2005, when he assumed charge of the Center for the Special Preparation of the Main Department “A” of the SBU. That bizarrely named and innocuous-sounding organization is responsible for training Ukraine’s counterterrorist Alpha special forces. What Kalinin was up to after 2005 is unclear (hiding from the Orange democrats is my guess), but after Yanukovych seized power in early 2010, he put Kalinin in charge of the agency that protects senior Ukrainian officials.
Salamatin has no known record of serving in the KGB or of fighting Islamic mujahedin. Instead, his experience with violence is that of a street tough (like Yanukovych, you’re no doubt cattily thinking). He’s been involved in at least two brawls with opposition deputies and one outright head-bashing of an official. I even posted about him on this blog when he and some Regionnaire thugs staged a vicious pogrom in the Ukrainian Parliament on December 16, 2010. Soon after that incident, Yanukovych promoted him to the position of general director of the state company that promotes Ukraine’s weapons exports.
Kalinin was born in 1960 in Moscow Province and spent most of his formative years in Russia. Salamatin was born in 1966 in Kazakhstan and spent most of his formative years there. So why place two guys with very tenuous ties to Ukraine—and with far more substantive ties to Mother Russia—in charge of the very institutions that are supposed to be defending Ukraine from what Ukrainians often refer to euphemistically as their “neighbor to the north”?
Now, it’s not as if there are no competent security experts within Ukraine. Nor is it clear that Kalinin and, especially, Salamatin are boy wonders.
Both are obviously Viktor’s boys, and that must be part of the explanation for their simultaneous rise to power. More important, that both have a Russian connection may mean one of two diametrically opposed things: either Yanukovych is getting set to cave to the Kremlin or the Sultan of Kyiv is drawing on tough guys who, he hopes, understand Russia and might just be able to stand up to Moscow. We’ll know for sure in the months ahead.
The implications of their appointments are even more important for Ukraine domestically. The fact that both are complete outsiders can only mean that Yanukovych is expecting serious trouble at home in the coming year and doesn’t think native cadres can do the job. And he’s right: his legitimacy is nil, the Regionnaires are bankrupt, Russia is rebelling, and the fall 2012 parliamentary elections must be won at all costs. If this is Viktor’s thinking, then he’s suffering from the delusion that the cracking of heads will stem his imminent fall. It won’t. It’ll only accelerate it, while costing lives.
But here’s the good news. Kalinin and Salamatin’s being outsiders means that there’s a real crisis of confidence within the Party of Regions and between the Regionnaires and Yanukovych. Ukraine has the talent, and the Regionnaires even have the talent, but the prez obviously doesn’t trust anyone but his ever-shrinking coterie of cronies.
By the way, when regimes crack, their downfall is usually imminent.
Photo Credit: Водник