The Poroshenko-Trilemma

On the Architecture of a House of Cards

Poroshenko became a political animal. His speeches in front of the international audience made this clear. At home he is spreading the impression that he is a man who is dedicated to fight for the right thing whatever it takes. If we compare Poroshenko at the beginning of his legislature and now, the change is remarkably. He is facing a riddle which is tightly bounded to his regency. Let’s name it the ‘Poroshenko-Trilemma’.

A trilemma is a choice between three unacceptable options. I roughly describe its architecture and say some words about its implications for the actual situation in Ukraine.

Let’s assume you are Poroshenko… well, try harder, you can make it! There are three main levels to deal with and on each level you face a dilemma:

Level 1: Territorial Integrity vs Domestic Control
Ukrainian paramilitary movements are needed to fight DPR/LPR but they are hard to control. Their existence bears the risk of political radicalization, secession and so on. [1] It’s the dilemma of fighting outside opponents while dealing with internal contenders.

Level 2: National Interest vs Personal Incentives
You are playing with others on the playground and you are the one who is in charge. There are other big kids as well but your opinion is crucial when it comes to the question of who gets the hottest toys. This is to some degree legit since it’s better someone is in charge and the younger kids aren’t fighting over the toys. This pictures the context of an oligarch doing politics, toys are assets and privileges.

Now a hoard of sneaky kids from another part of the city zoom race to your playground in order to take it over. In such a situation there are various options with different impacts on the integrity of the playground and the security of your personal toys and those of your best friends, whoever they are. There is always the taste of economic-political masturbation when regulators are regulating themselves, it isn’t better under martial law. [2]

Level 3: Militarization & Civil Society
Militarization of society doesn’t necessarily mean the end of civil society, thought it’s risky if coordination and balance of powers isn’t functioning well. The scenario of highly armed Ukrainian factions fighting each other is very dark. Such a conflict can start as a rivalry over a parking lot and end up on secession or a failed state.

The rivalries among Ukraine oligarchs exist, factions are formed and armed. The institutions are not in a position to prevent a possible escalation of internal rivalries. Not speaking of outsiders who easily can disturb the balance of power within the elite. Not even thinking of new actors entering the scene.

That’s the risk of arming the Ukrainian society, there is no problem as long the elite forms a unity towards outsiders. This becomes harder as soon the outside threat decreases. It’s the question whether to take a highly needed credit with high interest rate that is killing you in the long run.

This level seems like a combination of the previous ones. Keeping the conflict on a certain level while managing internal opponents and preventing a brutalization of society. But it’s also the decision whether to sell the nations soul to the devil (or trying to cheat him) due to the nations existence. This level will be a challenge for Poroshenkos successor. Maybe Hamid Karzai can be hired as consultant since he has some references in that field and might be looking for a new challenge.

The tricky thing is that every action must face the reality on each level, since all levels are relevant all of the time – and interdependent. Every dilemma must be solved in consideration of the other two. The game can be lost on each level but there is no way to win it on all levels. Usually this kind of problem solving is accompanied by symptoms of clinical paranoia. Not easy to solve this trilemma, respectively to govern Ukraine.


[1] OK, practically there is not much choice than letting them do their thing. But it is a choice to what degree they are recognized as legitimate soldiers and seen as part of the army. The dilemma was solved to some degree by granting legal immunity for paramilitary actions during war

[2] I don’t want to speculate to what degree Poroshenkos decisions as man in charge were shaped by his assets. The dilemma is obvious. But maybe this one I snapped on Twitter weeks ago. Possibly I mix up something or it’s Novorussian disinformation, so don’t take it as a reliable source and do your own research. Before the ceasefire agreement Poroshenkos factory in Russia wasn’t working. Suddenly there were tweets that the factory is running again. The next day there were reports on a meeting between Putin and Poroshenko. The following week the framing of the ceasefire started. If you have further info on that, feel free to tell me.