Anatoliy Grytsenko: I am best choice for president
One thing Anatoliy Grytsenko does not lack as a candidate for president is self-confidence.
“Of those who will supposedly take part in the elections, I’m the best prepared for this job,” Grytsenko, 60, said as he met the Kyiv Post in a café in central Kyiv for an interview on July 9.
He might be drawing his confidence from the recent polls. According to one poll published on July 12 by the Rating Group Ukraine research center, 9.7 percent of Ukrainians would vote for Grytsenko in the March 2019 presidential election.
That might not seem like an impressive number, but it places Grytsenko second behind Batkivshchyna Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, with 17 percent, and ahead of Yuriy Boyko, the leader of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc, which has 45 seats in parliament, who polls at 8.9 percent.
Some earlier polls were even more favorable to Grytsenko, showing a smaller gap between him and the leader, Tymoshenko.
“How did we achieve this? It’s simple,” Grytsenko said. “With no access to the central TV channels, we’ve been working with people in the regions. I’m always on the road.”
The politician also links his good polling numbers to the public’s disillusionment with the current political elite — especially President Petro Poroshenko.
More than 50 percent of Ukrainians wouldn’t vote for Poroshenko in 2019, according to the Rating Group Ukraine poll.
But Grytsenko is hardly a new face in Ukrainian politics — something Ukrainians yearn for, according to pollsters.
He served as defense minister and then secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, leaving the job in 2012, and was elected in parliament twice — with ex-President Viktor Yushchenko’s Nasha Ukraina and Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna political parties.
Grytsenko already ran for president — twice. In 2010, he got only 1.2 percent of votes. He did better in 2014, winning 5 percent and the fourth place, finishing behind Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, and the Radical Party leader Oleg Lyashko.
But just months later, his party Civil Position lost the parliamentary election, failing to get the required minimum of 5 percent.
While experts blame Grytsenko’s poor teamwork for his past failures, the politician says the Ukrainian authorities’ attempts to discredit him torpedoed his 2014 candidacy.
Grytsenko was defense minister from 2005 to 2007, serving under three prime ministers –Tymoshenko, Yuriy Yehanurov, and Viktor Yanukovych, who later became president and was ousted into exile by the EuroMaidan Revolution in 2014.
It left him vulnerable to criticism: Grytsenko was one of the defense ministers under whose watch the Ukrainian army suffered catastrophic decline, leaving it unable to stop Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
In 2014, the Prosecutor General’s Office launched several criminal investigations against top defense ministry officials allegedly involved in selling off Hr 1.8 billion worth of weapons between 2004 and 2015.
The biggest sale allegedly took place during the time Grytsenko was defense minister in 2005–2007, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko’s spokeswoman Larysa Sargan claimed in 2016.
The Prosecutor General’s Office told the Kyiv Post it's investigat- ing the alleged mismanagement by several top defense officials, including former defense ministers, but wouldn’t disclose their names.
Grytsenko branded these allegations as an attempt by Poroshenko’s circle to destroy a political rival.
“Poroshenko is just afraid that he will have to answer for his wrongdoing, so he keeps throwing mud at me,” Grytsenko said, adding that if he becomes a president, Poroshenko would face investigation and trial.
Poroshenko’s Administration didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
The investigation got more attention this June, when the parliament, where Poroshenko Bloc has the biggest representation, created a commission to investigate corruption in the military in 2004–2014.
The commission was created when Grytsenko started to poll well, pointed out Grytsenko’s ally Yehor Firsov, an ex-lawmaker who was voted out of parliament after he quit the Poroshenko Bloc.
Serhiy Zgurets, a military expert and head of the media and consulting company Defense Express, says Grytsenko was an effective defense minister, increasing the defense budget from Hr 5.9 billion in 2005 to
Hr 8.9 billion in 2007 and doubling the hours of military training in the army.
However, Grytsenko’s abrasive leadership style earned him enemies, according to Zgurets.
“He fired some people from the Defense Ministry who then turned against him,” the expert said. “Grytsenko as a leader is too sharp and undiplomatic.”
But Grytsenko describes himself as an exceptional manager who trusts people, delegates work and doesn’t micromanage. By that, Grytsenko tries to prove he is a better fit for the presidency than Poroshenko.
“He doesn’t trust anyone and wants to be everyone — the chief of staff, the head of the central bank, an ambassador,” Grytsenko said.
Not a team player?
Being described as an individualist by experts, Grytsenko says he wants to team up with democratic opposition leaders and new faces in politics.
Two small parties merged with Civil Position in May: Firsov’s Alternative Party and independent lawmaker Dmytro Dobrodomov’s People’s Control Party.
For a while, Grytsenko was considering an alliance with Samopomich, the political party of Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, which has 20 seats in parliament.
Grytsenko says that back in 2017 he was ready to give up his party and merge with Samopomich. He changed his mind after the polls started coming in, showing him way ahead of Sadovyi. In a July poll by GFK Ukraine research company, Sadovyi had 2 percent, while Grytsenko had 6 percent.
One July 19 Sadovyi announced he and his party would take part in the elections separately.
Grytsenko now looks to team up with young liberal politicians like Sergii Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayyem, Svitlana Zalishchuk, and Democratic Alliance party leader Vasyl Hatsko. Grytsenko’s party has already paired with Democratic Alliance once, for the 2014 election.
“We must unite in one fist as soon as possible and win the presidential and parliamentary elections to create a synergy of power,” Grytsenko said.
The problem is, some of his potential allies are suggesting holding primaries to pick a single candidate for the March 2019 election. Grytsenko won’t have it: He is all for joining forces, but insists he has to be the candidate.
“As of today, I have the highest chance of victory,” Grytsenko says.
He has one surprising believer: Serhiy Lyovochkin, a lawmaker with the 45-member Opposition Bloc faction and a political heavyweight whose career peaked when he was chief of staff in the Yanukovych government.
“Grytsenko can beat anybody in 2019,” Lyovochkin told the RBC Ukraine news website in May, adding that to win Grytsenko needs to “unite the democratic babies around him,” referring to the young reformist politicians.
The July poll by GFK Ukraine partly backs this allegation: According to it, the poll's leader Tymoshenko would beat everyone in the runoff except for Grytsenko and two show business stars who are rumored to consider running — Svyatoslav Vakarchuk of Okean Elzy pop-rock band, and actor and showman Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Because of Lyovochkin’s praise, some alleged Lyovochkin could be secretly funding Grytsenko. Both Grytsenko and Lyovochkin denied it.
It’s not cheap to run for president. A campaign costs approximately $15– 20 million, according to Grytsenko. He said he spent much less in 2014 — just around $3 million, and won 5 percent of votes.
“I don’t know yet how much I need this time. It must be several million dollars for political ads, billboards, and canvassing,” he said.
But who will fund it? Grytsenko isn’t a rich man by any account. He receives a monthly military pension of Hr 13,800 and a Hr 1,500 salary as a part-time lecturer at the National Kyiv Mohyla Academy. He says that his wife, Yuliya Mostovaya, the chief editor of the popular Dzerkalo Tyzhnya newspaper, makes “more than Hr 20,000 a month.”
Grytsenko believes he can run the campaign on contributions from individuals and businesses.
But in the first three months of 2018, his party’s 3,000 members and sponsors only contributed about Hr 1.6 million, according to their financial report.
Ties and plans
Grytsenko denies getting funding from oligarchs, who are the usual piggy banks behind every Ukrainian election.
But if an oligarch offered money with no conditions attached, he could take it, Grytsenko said on Zik TV channel on July 9.
Grytsenko has been noticeably close with Victor Pinchuk: he and his wife have attended or spoken at Pinchuk’s events, and his daughter is a program director at the Victor Pinchuk Foundation.
Still, deoligarchization is among his plans were he to win in 2019. He vows to get rid of monopolies and make big business pay taxes and stay away from politics.
Grytsenko claims he was told that some oligarchs (that he would not name) have reacted to this message positively.
Other than that, Grytsenko’s plans for Ukraine are vague. He wants to raise living standards, achieve an economic breakthrough, adopt effective anti-corruption legislation, and much more. How he will achieve all of this is still not clear.
Anatoliy Grytsenko, leader of the Civil Position political party and ex-defense minister, sits for an interview with the Kyiv Post in a Kyiv cafe on July 9. (Volodymyr Petrov)