In the 1.6 years of Poroshenko’s presidency, the Lipetsk chocolate factory has taken a life of its own. ZRADAphiles see it as the reason why Azov and Right Sector aren’t torch parading on the Red Square right now, and why Ukraine’s economy isn’t rivaling Singapore or Switzerland. Poroshenko supporters on the Internet, particularly Twitter, jokingly refer to it as their super secret porokhobot headquarters. Western journalists, of all people, derisively point out how Poroshenko didn’t sell his holdings, and how Ukraine has the gall to trade with the aggressor. This same journalists will then proceed to bash Ukraine’s energy blockade of the Crimea.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. In the sprawling chocolate and cake empire that is Roshen, the Lipetsk factory is but a single node. It isn’t particularly important on its own, not when the bulk of Roshen’s confectionary-industrial complex is located in Ukraine – in Vinnitsya (the city of fountains and Zurich trams), Kyiv and Kremenchuk. It is only important by virtue of its being located in Russia – the same Russia that was quick to ban Roshen candy whenever it saw fit to ‘punish’ Ukraine. The same Russia that confiscated and ‘nationalized’ Poroshenko’s other property in the Crimea even before he got elected President.
Somehow, though, Russia did not nationalize Roshen’s Lipetsk franchise. This was probably the ‘aha!’ moment for ZRADA-infused Ukrainians: if Russia did not nationalize the factory, then surely Poroshenko struck some sort of deal with Putin! There is no other explanation! The exact details of the deal vary from ZRADAphile to ZRADAphile, ranging from Poroshenko selling Donbass for Lipetsk factory, Poroshenko exterminating ‘patriots’ for Lipetsk factory, Poroshenko selling Ukraine for Lipetsk factory, and the list goes on. Russia, however, is content with arresting the factory in question, then releasing arrest and locking it down again as it sees fit. It isn’t doing much (although Ukraine’s PATRIOTS are, to a man, convinced that it singlehandedly finances the whole Russian ‘hybrid war’ effort). It can’t be sold: not only there isn’t much market for confectionary corporations entirely situated in Eastern Europe, there aren’t many people that would want to buy a permanently paralyzed piece of property – even if the said piece wasn’t stuck in Russia, of all places.
Some suspect an even more insidious plan in the works – that Putin personally holds the Lipetsk factory hostage so it continues to exist – not nationalized or taken over, like Poroshenko’s Crimean properties – and fuel the anti-Poroshenko sentiment inside Ukraine. While a plausible explanation for some, it just comes off as too petty – even for someone like Putin or someone among his lieutenants.
Personally, I am of the opinion that the whole Lipetsk factory meme is purely Ukrainian by design – as in, started by people inside Ukraine. After all, for a ZRADA-infused society such as ours, looking for sinister conspiracies among those in power, only to blame your own failures on them, is perfectly natural. Azov and Right Sector can’t march on Donetsk/Moscow/Kyiv not because they’re useless showoffs or petty criminals, but because of the Lipetsk factory. Opposition Bloc won local elections in several towns/cities not because the ostensibly pro-European parties spend their time throwing corruption accusations at each other, but because of the Lipetsk factory. Just like your typical Russian vatnik blames the crumbling roads, the dilapidated infrastructure and the cancelled elektrichkas on President Obama, so his Ukrainian cousins (brothers!) blame everything on Poroshenko and his insidious Lipetsk factory.
Western journalists didn’t particularly like Poroshenko since he was elected, throwing around epithets like ‘Willy Wonka’ and the like. While I won’t be judging them for that – I am actually somewhat ashamed of my porokhobotship after that trouble with Reddit – I’d like to point out that countries don’t do complete 180s overnight, especially not countries that once had Russia as their number one trading partner. Ukraine did start trading more with the EU, and managed to cut its gas dependency on Russia by a considerable margin, but trade with Russia couldn’t just instantly grind down to a halt.
All I’m trying to say is that two can play at this ‘hybrid war’ game. Trading with Russia didn’t strengthen Russia – it strengthened Ukraine, allowing it to spend its own resources more judiciously and find its (admittedly somewhat shaky) footing. It strengthened Ukraine so much that it started playing its own game – banning Russian overflights, cutting Crimea’s electricity, and preparing for a full-on trade embargo starting from January 1st.
Poroshenko – and, by extension, Ukraine – is often accused of playing a fixed game, as if Putin was not a chessmaster but more of a cardsharper. As it turns out, the game may not be so one-sided after all.
There are no underhanded moves when your opponent fights dirty.