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Yanukovych’s playground battle

Yanukovych_EU_0.jpg

Ahead of the Ukraine-EU summit, Europeans are attempting to understand Ukraine (and, more accurately, its current leadership) from a rational point of view. This is where they are going wrong, says Roman Kabachiy

Roman Kabachiy
17 December 2011

Within Europe there are both supporters and opponents of Ukraine’s European integration – currently the former are scratching their heads, and the latter are rubbing their hands together with glee. There may be no Ukraine-EU summit on 19 December after all, and there may be no ceremonial signing of the Association Agreement. Instead, perhaps, the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych will fly to Moscow that day, to ‘size up’ the international agreement of the Eurasian Union which, as yet, Ukraine has no part in. Yanukovych, at least, has been rather vague about his potential whereabouts: ‘I will be where I need to be’. On 14 December Ukrainian journalists still hadn’t received accreditation for the summit, but it was announced that a pool of journalists had been organised to fly… to Moscow on the evening on 19 December.

'The people, who believed that the country had set off on the path to democracy, elected Viktor Yanukovych. However we all became witnesses of how fragile Ukrainian democracy was, how easy it was to change the electoral legislation, how simple it was to put one’s political opponents in prison, while smiling nicely and continuing to tell fairy stories about ‘Ukraine’s European election’.

Possible fiasco

Poland was clearly embarrassed: its presidency of the EC could end in the fiasco of a Ukrainian trend towards eastern politics. In recent times Presidents Yanukovych and Komorowski have met twice; Komorowski flew to Ukraine with his Swedish colleague Bildt and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski. Yanukovych really didn’t want to fly to Wroclaw on 15 November ‘because of the fog’. Nevertheless it had to happen, and he repeatedly justified himself, saying ‘it does not impact upon the independence of Ukrainian justice’ in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko. But Bronislaw Komorowski didn’t believe this and after a few days flew to Kyiv ‘to have a look at the building preparations for a memorial to the Polish victims of repression’. And again got nowhere. After these failures my Polish colleague, the Polish Radio journalist Tomasz Kulakowski wrote that ‘in Poland everyone was furious. Except former president Kwasniewski.’. And I understand why it didn’t bother Kwasniewski. Because for ten years he practiced politics with the early and later Kuchma who, in his mentality, wasn’t that much better. Komorowski, with his correct Catholic upbringing, his university education in history, participation in Solidarity [Solidarność] and five children, is attempting today what the ancient Greeks called ‘casting pearls before swine’.

Yanukovych

Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych had had his scrapes with the law: s a boy, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for theft (he was released early); later he got two years for violence. In 1978 ,the Donetsk county Court annulled both convictions.  

Minister Sikorski also tried to reason along similar lines to his president. Under the pretence of attending ‘a Shaktar match at the invitation of Mr Akhmetov’, he attempted to influence Yanukovych through the richest Ukrainian, the main creditor of Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions. Ukrainian publicist Vitalii Portnikov was right when he wrote that the ministers had taken on an impossible mission. Sikorski’s notions, Portnikov elaborated, ‘are based on western perceptions of the role of “oligarchs” in post-Soviet politics and their interest in access to western markets. But it is clear that it is impossible for Akhmetov to enter the market by losing control over the country – because after this he simply would not have anything to enter with. Objectively, therefore, Akhmetov is an ally of Yanukovych.’

While the West tried to influence Yanukovych obliquely (‘once again we express our concern’) and more forcefully (‘while Tymoshenko is in prison, the agreement will not be signed’), and western journalists ask in stupefaction how the behaviour of Ukraine can be explained, in Ukraine itself everything has long been clear. Firstly it is difficult to explain to the West that in such a transitional (still!!) country one must not equate the ideas of the government with those of the people. That is, to use phrases like ‘Ukraine no longer wants into the European Union’ or ‘Ukraine has chosen to return to Moscow’s embrace’. It is true that the presidential election in 2010 was democratic. The then head of state Viktor Yushchenko created all the conditions necessary for all those disappointed by his unsuccessful governance to choose his new opponent. The people, who believed that the country had set off on the path to democracy, elected Viktor Yanukovych. However we all became witnesses of how fragile Ukrainian democracy was, how easy it was to change the electoral legislation, how simple it was to put one’s political opponents in prison, while smiling nicely and continuing to tell fairy stories about ‘Ukraine’s European election’.

It is also worth considering why post-communists from amongst Kwasniewski’s group understand the language of Yanukovych and Kuchma. One needs to get inside the world of the mad 1990s (reminiscent of Chicago in the 1930s), when post-Soviet and post-Socialist states, for years, lived in conditions of victorious hyperinflation, suffered the supremacy of street gangsters, the instant enrichment of some individuals and the catastrophic impoverishment of others. Yanukovych does not, of course, aspire to be a new Gaddafi or Pol Pot, but he has in his blood a lust for power which has its roots not only in the above-mentioned 1990s but also in his impoverished orphan childhood. Tymoshenko sits in prison because only she is capable of taking away that which he has taken so long to reach. It was her, the future prime minister, who called for Yanukovych to leave the state residence Mezhyhirya. Then Yushchenko helped Yanukovych, and now the residence is enclosed by a fence six metres high and resembles the palaces of Arabian sheiks. One needs to get inside Yanukovych’s head in order to understand why he finds letting Tymoshenko out of prison threatening.

The boy Vitya          

Tatyana Nikolaenko, a columnist of the most respected Ukrainian political website ‘Ukrainian Pravda’, has meticulously described the Ukrainian president psychological state. In her opinion piece ‘The infantile war of Viktor Yanukovych,’ she explains his behaviour using the psychology of a small boy in a sandpit whose favourite toy is in danger of being taken away. There is no point being surprised, much less laughing! While the bureaucrats in Brussels swing from ‘concern’ to ‘indignation’, Ukrainians – in the words of Nikolaenko – observed how ‘victorious in the presidential elections, Viktor Yanukovych has realised his childhood dream. He became tsar, able to take everything in the world for himself.

'The boy Vitya is long grown up, and therefore there can be no ‘babying’ from European partners along the lines of ‘here’s a sweet for you, and you let Tymoshenko go’.

And of course, he will tolerate no encroachment upon that which he considers he has a perfect right to.’ If western politicians ponder such playground dilemmas, then they will understand why the offended Yanukovych flew (literally) over Brussels, where his visit to Fidel Castro in Cuba and also to Brazil was planned. He also explained his behaviour before his journey in aggrieved terms: ‘I’m flying in that direction [to Brussels] on Thursday anyway … I’m not going to beg from anyone. If I need to, I’ll fly further.’

The boy Vitya is long grown up, and therefore there can be no ‘babying’ from European partners along the lines of ‘here’s a sweet for you, and you let Tymoshenko go’. Boys who grew up on the streets of the Donbass mining community only understand the language of force. The question is only how much the European Union wants Yanukovych to hear and understand.

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