March 7, 2014

Halya Coynash

Nobody expected a proper “referendum” from the puppet government in the Crimea, but it would be difficult to imagine anything more farcical than the ballot paper posted on the Crimean parliament’s website.

The document, in three languages – Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar – contains the following:

Ballot Paper for the all-Crimean referendum of March 16, 2014

Mark with any symbol in the box beside the variant of the answer which you are voting for.

1.  Are you for the Crimea re-uniting with Russia, as a subject of the Russian Federation?

2.  Are you for the reinstatement of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of the Crimea and for the status of the Crimea as part of Ukraine?

A ballot paper left unmarked, or where both variants are marked shall be invalid.

There are multiple problems with this document.

Firstly, there is no possibility of voting for the status quo.  Those who choose to take part in this event can place their doodles, signature or tick for one of two very different options: becoming a part of the Russian Federation or reinstating a constitution in force for around 13 days back in 1992 which declared Crimean independence.

It is just conceivable that some voters will know that on May 5, 1992 the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea adopted a “Declaration of State Independence of the Republic of the Crimea”, and that a constitution under these conditions was adopted the next day.  It was suspended on May 19, and considerable amendments made on September 25 that year.

It is more likely that squiggles will be given to the first option which is at least comprehensible.

Secondly, it is also quite unclear how the result of this vote is to be determined, with no indication as to the minimum turnout. .

A monumental change to the peninsula would not only be guaranteed by the lack of an option for staying put, but some pitifully small number of people could decide whether the Crimea becomes a part of Russia or goes it alone altogether.

Referendums in general need to have clearly articulated questions to which people answer yes or no.  They should also not take place under the watch of armed soldiers without insignia speaking Russian without an accent.

The decision to bring this “referendum” forward to March 16 was passed behind closed doors a mere 10 days earlier, on March 6.  Parliament “decided” to join Russia and to have this “confirmed” by referendum.

The explanatory note asserts that “nationalist forces, having seized power through an unconstitutional coup are flagrantly violating Ukraine’s laws, inalienable rights and freedoms, including the right to life, freedom of thought and speech; the right to speak ones native language. Extremist gangs have made a number of attempts to get into the Crimea in order to exacerbate the situation, cause an escalation in tension and unlawfully seize power”.

It was never possible that this so-called referendum could have much credibility since Ukraine’s Constitution clearly stipulates that any change in Ukraine’s territory must be put to a nationwide referendum.  That the puppet government in the Crimea and the Kremlin should have resorted to such an inept and thuggish parody was harder to anticipate.

Even a legitimate referendum could not be organized in 10 days.  Ukraine’s new leaders have stated clearly the vote will not be recognized and the Central Election Commission has suspended access to the Voter Register in the Crimea and Sevastopol (which has separate status according to Ukraine’s Constitution).

Attempts to present this as an infringement of the rights of people in the Crimea will also not wash.  The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars has called on all residents of the Crimea to boycott the event.  The lack of support of the Crimea’s indigenous people, up to 15% of the population, strips it of any legitimacy.

Western countries, as well as the UN Security Council have made it quite clear that the result will not be recognized.  That should have made Aksenov and his Kremlin patrons back down.  Instead they appear to have opted for grotesque farce.

This article first appeared in and is reproduced here with the author’s permission


December 16, 2013

 David Marples

 Is EuroMaidan going to change the face of Ukraine irrevocably or can the forces of the government and President Viktor Yanukovych recover? Is this Ukraine’s version of an Arab Spring or something that ultimately will change little?

 We have watched with fascination the development of events in Kyiv over the past three weeks but the outcome remains uncertain. Although the protesters have demonstrated the ability to attain crowds in excess of 200,000 on a regular basis and have established emphatically their presence in the square, the presidency and government remain in place. Aside from the largely symbolic toppling of the small Lenin statue on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard, there have been few discernible changes to date.

Generally, the Western world has watched with benign detachment, with EU leaders offering some platitudes of encouragement and expressions of satisfaction that so many people support the country’s links to Europe and away from Russia. Few souls could watch without emotion the titanic encounter on December 11 between the demonstrators and the Berkut when the latter attempted but failed to clear the square in the early hours. That event demonstrated the commitment of the civic uprising.

But looked at from the perspective of the president—and that is not something that is especially easy to do—how should the situation be assessed?

For the moment, government buildings and the president’s residency are secure. There has been no attempt to storm them. Thus while a renewed attempt to clear the square is currently not feasible, daily business can continue. Indeed the president will visit Vladimir Putin in Moscow tomorrow, ostensibly to return waving the paperwork for a substantial new loan and proclaiming: “It is financial peace in our time.”

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has survived for now. At the somewhat unpalatable round table of the current and past presidents, there was a suggestion that he should be the first sacrifice. Yanukovych baulked at the notion. Azarov and his Donetsk-based cabinet are still in authority.

Western leaders have not come down unequivocally on the side of the revolution. John McCain does not represent Barack Obama. In fact he is a “loose cannon,” known for his savage attacks on authoritarian governments, but not for bringing about their removal. Ukrainian American nationalist leader Askold Lozynskyj, who has also addressed the crowd in the Maidan, is another.  For Yanukovych, nothing could be better than having right-wing demagogues express their support for the cause.

European leaders are another matter. Some have spoken of improving the terms of the Association Agreement. But no one has stated overtly that future discussions will be limited to the opposition. Thus in theory, the Azarov government could still go to a future meeting at some point, providing it is firmly committed to signing.

The Europeans have gone further than they did in 2004-05, when the Yushchenko presidency was affirming its commitment to the EU. But for the sentiment in Ukraine to retain momentum, a guarantee of future membership would be an astute step, whatever the current state of the Ukrainian economy or democratic processes.

Russia, like Yanukovych, is doing little other than encouraging its media to make disparaging remarks about the protests, deflating numbers and highlighting extremist elements. Few in the Moscow leadership will have endured sleepless nights because of musical concerts in central Kyiv.

Is the opposition leading or following the EuroMaidan? It is difficult to tell. Certainly the opposition leaders are present, and often. They make speeches, they are defiant, but they urge caution, peaceful protests, which is what one would expect of democratic politicians.  What else can they do?

It is unlikely that they can effect change through Parliament. They do not have sufficient delegates. It is uncertain whether a call for a general strike would meet with approval, particularly in the eastern industrial regions, where there is much, justifiable fear over what a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU would bring.

Their best hope would be early presidential or parliamentary elections. In the latter case they might include a motion to eliminate the office of the presidency altogether. But how are they going to enforce this demand? What further pressures can be brought on the government to resign? The round-table discussions continue, now including the opposition, but that is a small concession for Yanukovych to make, as is the suspension of Kyiv city officials who authorized the crackdown on December 1.

It also raises another issue: who really controls Ukraine? No other country in Europe is so dominated by oligarchs, figures who have amassed grotesque wealth but lack political ambitions other than to be left alone in their wealthy playground.

Most of these oligarchs would like the door to the EU to be wide open. But that does not mean closing the one to Russia either, particularly for figures like Dmytro Firtash, the president of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine, who has exploited the gas conflict between the two countries. Oddly, there have been few protests against the inequalities manifest in Ukrainian society. Yet the Regions Party is, if nothing else, visible proof of the power of the wealthy, in this case Donetsk and Kyiv-based businessmen.

And oddly, Yanukovych might reflect, despite the portrait of Tymoshenko on the Maidan Christmas tree, there is no overwhelming chorus screaming that the first step must be her immediate release. One reason might be the vested interests of other leaders in spearheading the revolutionary cause, which could be undermined by her formidable presence in the square. But it was Tymoshenko’s continued imprisonment that ultimately destroyed the prospects of the Vilnius summit. And she is a more dangerous foe than any other leader.

The best allies of the president—in addition to a Russian loan—are cold weather and shortage of supplies to the Maidan. Ultimately, he must reason, the crowds will dwindle, and the Berkut can retake the square, preferably without violence—or at least, anything that can appear on camera. He retains the support of a solid third of the country. His oligarchs have not rejected him, though perhaps they could wish for a more assertive and self-confident leader.

Thus while his credibility as president is seriously in doubt, Yanukovych may not be entirely crestfallen with the development of events to date. The EuroMaidan is looking increasingly like the July Days of 1917 in Petrograd: a mass uprising without leaders and without an end game in sight.

Uneasy, Disturbing Developments in Ukraine

December 3, 2013

I. Konotop

No matter how composed you think you are you can’t help but feel a bit shaken by the events of the last three days in Kyiv. Twenty years of living in Ukraine have long ago lulled me into a sense of ‘protest as festival’ perception of the way socio-political discontent manifests itself in Kyiv. In particular the peaceful nature of the Orange Revolution turned this ‘success’ into an iconic self-image of the way Ukrainians perceived the symmetry of their  anti-government protests and the way such events were ‘expected’ to play themselves out.

This illusion was brutally shattered for everyone  by the events of Friday and Sunday night. Ukrainians are now waking up to the reality that both they as a people and their criminal regime may be closer to the ‘Tahir square’ model of political protest than they care to believe. My feeling is that this reality check and reversion to the ‘world mean’ is extremely disturbing for the average Ukrainian and the implications of what this might bring for him/her.

Whether the vast majority of protesters on the Maidan  choose to recognize it or not but they, and their triumverate of leaders, have actually been been placed on notice that this time their peaceful model of regime change had better succeed, or else. The option of a peaceful resolution of the current stalemate is still on the table but it demands a well structured collapse of the existing political order and a stable withdrawal of key players in the political elite from the levers of power. It also needs to provide a plan for an orderly safe departure for themselves, their families and their assets to countries (un)known. There are no half way measures to a revolution. To believe otherwise is delusional. To believe this will happen is becoming equally delusional as well. Today a colleague of mine, who is close to such issues, informed me that a fully armed battle regiment of Berkut arrived today in Kyiv from Zhytomyr. The Berkut on the streets of Kyiv for the last week have not been deployed with any firearms. Tensions may mount and mistakes and miscalculations on both sides could prove lethal.

Whether intended or not the blood and violence of the last few days was an acid test for both sides and an opportunity to gauge how much both sides are prepared to dish out and absorb. The Maidan today is the most vulnerable. Its strength is ephemeral and its stored up energy risks being quickly depleted if the ultimatums on the Maidan are deflated and transformed into negotiations at the table. Each concession to negotiate will only serve to restore the moral legitimacy of the regime and they in turn will be sure to drag this process out for as long as possible till the residual energy of the Maidan is totally spent. This is a serious risk with each passing hour. Only an effective general strike can serve to re-energize the Maidan and keep up the pressure on the regime on a daily basis. To the extent that such a strike is a work in progress its still premature to make an assessment of the effectiveness of these tactics. Time and weather play against the Maidan. Paralysis, defections and a depleting Treasury play against the regime.

In parallel to these events the  country needs to also confront another disturbing homegrown reality. For far too long the mainstream press and liberal reform thinkers have dismissed the extreme radical nationalist right with contemptuous disregard as as a creature of someone’s ego driven mania which can be bought and sold for political purposes. This it has been for sure. However that is not to say that they haven’t evolved and will/are developing a sustainable life of their own on the margins of society. Their absolute numbers (several hundred) and the scale of violence they were prepared to inflict and endure came as a shock to everyone at Sunday’s peaceful protest. What initially began as fringe co-participation on the periphery of Sunday’s march quickly turned into a hijacking of the day’s protest as witness the reports in the international media. Did the organizers of yesterday’s peaceful protest not recognize this? Anticipate this? Prepare for this? Obviously not as they took no preventative steps to suppress it although, to their credit, several opposition leaders played a visible role in trying to quell it once it began. The continued denial of the potential of the extreme radical nationalist right to destabilize peaceful protest, whether self driven or by request, can not and should not be ignored. The signals were there for many years, especially at annual Pokrova commemorations, –  and their numbers continue to grow.

This is an ominous development as these extremists could still inadvertently play a significant part in the way the current political stalemate plays itself out. There is no confirmation that they have completely disappeared from Kyiv and that they won’t put in another appearance before this crisis is over. Moreover the nature of their ideas and the similarity of tactics suggests that there is an uneasy crossover between them and the established Svoboda party which espouses many of the same ideas. For us on the periphery the distinctions often seem blurred and unrecognizable. One can be forgiven for thinking that it is inconceivable that the two camps are not in communication with each other, either directly or indirectly.

In the longterm, a potential failure of the current Maidan risks further alienation of the young and disaffected in the western regions of Ukraine. Rather than scaring them away, the blood and  violence of the last weekend will only serve to reinforce the conviction for some that violent revolution is the only viable method to remove post-soviet elites and their collaborators from power. Misguided as some may say this to be, to ignore them may be worse, as the recipe for this scenario was already experimented with in Europe in the mid-twentieth century. In the interim one senses that Ukraine will drift closer to the Balkan-Mediterranean camp of EU countries which have a substantial right-wing dimension to their socio-political life. The reasons  are largely the same, a perception that their mainstream opposition leaders are incompetent or ineffective.

The writer is a resident of Kyiv.

What do Ukrainians want?

November 28, 2013

David Marples

The mass protests in Ukraine that began last Sunday brought back memories of the Orange Revolution of 2004. But to what extent do they reflect sentiment throughout Ukraine?

Many media accounts have reduced the impasse to a simplistic equation: the people of Ukraine wish to remove the country from the dominion of the Russian bully (Putin) and commit to the free society of the European Union. President Viktor Yanukovych appeared to have taken the correct path, but halted on the brink of the summit in Vilnius where he was to have signed an Association Agreement with the EU for two reasons: pressure from Russia and refusal to release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Some reporters have cited a recent press release from the company GfK Ukraine, which conducted an opinion poll in October, suggesting that support for the EU agreement has risen sharply among Ukrainian residents (to 45%) while that for the Russian-led Customs Union has fallen dramatically to (14%). Earlier the tallies were more or less even. Ottawa-based analyst Ivan Katchanovski, however, points out that the GfK polls have been unreliable in the past and have tended to exaggerate support for affiliation with Europe and ask questions that were not very clear to the respondents.

The complexity of the situation in Ukraine today is exemplified in a new poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology between November 9 and 20, 2013, i.e. on the eve of the protests in many Ukrainian cities. The first question was framed as follows: If there were to be a referendum on the question should Ukraine join the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, would you vote for it, against it, or decline to vote? The results showed 40.8% in favor and 33.1% opposed.

Broken down by region, support for joining the Customs Union was very high in the East (64.5%), high in the South (54%), moderate in the Center (29.6), and lowest in the West (16.4%). Looking at the age demographics, it is the older generation that is mainly in favor, including almost half of those over 70, and decreasing with each age group to 32.1% among those aged 18-29.

Turning to the results for a referendum on Ukraine joining the European Union, 39.7% were in favor and 35.1% opposed. Support came chiefly from West (66.4%) and Center (43.4%), while only 18.4% of those living in the East were supportive. Over 50% of those aged 18-29 backed the idea, but only 28% of those aged over 70.

Thus it is fair to say that Ukraine is divided not only regionally, which has been evident since independence in 1991, but also demographically by age group.

One cannot take these results as definitive because the question of Ukraine joining the European Union is purely speculative. The GfK poll had asked only about support for signing an Association Agreement with the EU. But if one accepts that those who support the AA would also be likely to favor full EU membership for Ukraine at a future time, then one can make several conclusions from these polls.

First, it is the younger generation that is most committed to the EU and in turn comprises the vast majority of demonstrators in Kyiv’s Independence Square, as well as in other cities. But they do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of the older generation (over 40), and are contrary to the views of those over the age of 55, a group that comprised over 28% of Ukraine’s population last year.

Second, it is Western Ukraine that is the main supporter of the EU, as one might expect given its geographical location and history, especially the strongly anti-Soviet sentiments in the past, and anti-Russian perspective today.

Third, those who would prefer Ukraine to join the Customs Union live in the key industrial centers, comprising such cities as Donetsk, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk, though not the capital Kyiv. These regions are facing an economic crisis with faltering industries, as well as negative birth rates and declining living standards.

The East, however, is the heartland of the ruling Regions Party and President Yanukovych.  By signing the Association Agreement in Vilnius, Yanukovch would have incurred a rupture within his own party and lost the support of others, such as the Communists, who have long favored closer integration with Russia.

Given such a dangerous divide in society, the best option for the government might have been to do nothing, the policy of longtime president Leonid Kuchma (1994-2004) and of Yanukovych until the Europeans raised the stakes by offering the Association Agreement. That option disappeared when Russia made it clear that the possibility of a parallel 3+1 membership of the Customs Union was not on the table and that Ukraine must make its choice.

As analyst Oles Oleksiyenko put it in an article of November 22, “Yanukovych has outwitted himself.” He believed to the last minute that he could gamble on the stakes being raised and getting a better deal from either the EU or Russia. Unfortunately, despite the mass protests that appear so vividly on our TV screens, there is no overwhelming support in Ukraine for either option.

Mission Improbable

November 23, 2013

Who’s Oiling the Propaganda Machine?

Halya Coynash

The propaganda preparations behind the refusal to release Tymoshenko and rejection of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement began months ago, gaining momentum through November.  While Russian pressure and strangulation of the economy were undoubtedly real, the calls from industrialists and others to not sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement were suspiciously closely coordinated with mounting intransigence over Yulia Tymoshenko.  The following looks only at the active role played by Viktor Pshonka, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General and a Swiss-based NGO in concentrated moves to associate the imprisoned former Prime Minister with Ukraine’s economic woes and justify her continued imprisonment.

Pshonka’s claims at a press briefing on Nov. 19 that Tymoshenko has more than $500 million in Swiss bank accounts were drearily familiar.  The attempts to create a “new Tymoshenko case” began in early November over disputed funds in bank accounts opened by Pavlo Lazarenko.  There is, however, one added nuance. Pshonka announced that his office was cooperating with a Swiss human rights organization on measures to “return this money to Ukraine”.  The absurdity of the suggestion that an NGO could assist in retrieving money allegedly held in Swiss bank accounts is only one of the many aspects of the recent allegations which don’t bear scrutiny.  What does warrant the closest attention is the role actually played by the said NGO.

An interim report produced by the Organized Crime Observatory (OCO), the outfit which Pshonka was referring to, prompted a recent call by anti-corruption lawyer Halyna Senyk for western NGOs to do their homework on Ukraine.  While sharing that author’s bemusement over the shoddy quality of the report and highly selective presentation of corruption in Ukraine, I would draw issue on one point.  Performance is judged by the homework task assigned and there are grounds for questioning what task the OCO and its president, Nicolas Giannakopoulos have undertaken, and who is behind it.

The first announcement of OCO interest in Ukraine (and, for most of us, of the NGO’s existence) came in September this year. State-run Ukrinform announced that the Geneva-based NGO had “started a research and assessment on compliance regarding organized crime and public sector corruption in Ukraine”.   This was supposedly “part of the EU initiatives to study the inclusion of former USSR countries in the EU” and was to engage all kinds of “international partners, universities and research centers from Europe and the United States”.

On Nov 13, just two months later and on the day that the call from industrialists to delay the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was made, the OCO felt the need to hold a press conference and issue an interim report.  Its press release has the interesting title “OCO President says crime must not go unpunished” and some truly startling conclusions.  Its president, Nicolas Giannakopoulos was asked “whether OCO felt it appropriate, based on its review of legal documents from the United States and Switzerland, that Tymoshenko should be freed ahead of the EU summit at Vilnius.”   Giannakopoulos responded as follows: “Ukraine should be ashamed if it releases Tymoshenko as democracies should not bow to pressure in relation to crimeEvidence from the United States points to a clear link with Pavlo Lazarenko and the laundering of money from the pockets of Ukrainians.  Crime is crime and must not go unpunished.

The super-fast track interim report itself has a lot to say about Lazarenko and Tymoshenko including the following: “the former PM Lazarenko faced two trials, one in Switzerland and one in the United States and served years of prison, being considered as the paradigm of the political corruption. The other, the former PM Tymoshenko, was sentenced in Ukraine for the same facts and seems still to be considered as a political victim”.

Even OCO’s zealous haste cannot explain the astounding inaccuracy of this assertion. Any statement from the EU, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, US State Department, etc would have told these “researchers” that Tymoshenko was convicted over alleged “abuse of office” in connection with the 2009 gas accords with Russia. It was her 7-year sentence after a flawed trial for an essentially political decision which prompted international condemnation for what was universally viewed as the politically motivated prosecution of Yanukovych’s main rival. The rest of the report can be downloaded from the OCO website, should the reader feel the urge.  The above-mentioned article by Halyna Senyk is a useful guide to some of the especially noticeable omissions, such as the mega wealth amassed by Viktor Yanukovych’s sons, his controversial residence at Mezhyhirya, the role of the courts in raiders’ attacks and others.

Since these topics are regularly reported both in the Ukrainian and western media, failure to mention them is particularly telling.  If, as claimed, the OCO “study” due to be completed in September 2014 really does have European Commission funding, one must seriously ask why.  Attempts to find a grant on the EC’s Financial Transparency System were not fruitful.  The interim report itself states that “this research is funded by private donors who all have interests in the development of the European Union…  We would like to express our gratitude to our donors who at this stage wish to remain anonymous.”

The specialists and institutes given in the credits to this opus may or may not know about their alleged input.  The contribution of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, who receives special thanks “for the information and documentation his offices provided”, is certainly not in doubt.

Nor is it difficult to imagine why “the donors” behind this study would wish to remain anonymous.  Ukraine’s current leaders have rejected an opportunity for growing integration with the EU which was supported by an absolute majority of the Ukrainian population and which may not be repeated.  They have done so following secret negotiations with Russia. The attempts to present the debacle as based on Ukraine’s economic or “national security” needs are entirely unconvincing.   Added proof of the questionable motivation behind Yanukovych and Co’s latest move comes from squalid attempts to manipulate public opinion against Ukraine’s most prominent political prisoner.


October 5, 2013

David R. Marples

This paper will examine the prospects for Ukraine signing the Association Agreement with the EU and provide an assessment of the potential pitfalls and advantages of potential cooperation, as well as the responses of the leadership of the Russian Federation, which has made great efforts to persuade Ukraine to commit itself to the more closely intertwined Customs Union. It will also analyze the political and economic situation in Ukraine and offer some perspectives of the likely impact on them of the association with the Europeans.

Early Steps

Ukraine entered a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU in 1998, and in May 2009, It joined the Eastern Partnership Project, an initiative of Poland and Sweden that also encompassed six of the EU border states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Ironically, aside from Moldova, all of them were founding states of the Soviet Union in December 1922, though at that time the three Caucasian states formed a single bloc. In December 2011, at the 15th EU-Ukraine summit, the two sides entered final negotiations to establish a political association and economic agreement to replace the original PCA, namely the Association Agreement (AA).

On 30 March 2012, the partners initialed the AA, which included a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The EU requested a number of reforms in Ukraine to be in place before the final signing. They included improvements to the legal and juridical systems, prison confinement, changes to the election laws, and positive steps toward the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose arrest the EU perceives as politically motivated and based on “selective justice.” The release earlier this year of another high profile political prisoner, the former Minister of Interior Yuri Lutsenko, on 7 April 2013, appeared to be a major step in the right direction, but his case was less problematic for the Ukrainian leadership. Still, the stage seems set for three of the state in the Eastern Partnership—Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia—to sign Association and DCFT agreements with the EU at the Vilnius Summit on 28-29 November.

Political Situation in Ukraine

Ukraine’s political situation was only made more complicated by the parliamentary elections of 2012, in which the ruling Regions Party attained a plurality, but overall a clear minority of votes, and five parties attained the minimum percentage required to enter the parliament: Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), Udar (The Blow), the Communist Party of Ukraine, and Svoboda (Freedom). Western observers pointed out several flaws in the election and considered it “not completely free.” The Ukrainian Cabinet today is dominated by ministers from Donetsk region, which us also the home base of the country’s president, and Regions Party member, Viktor Yanukovych. In July 2012, at the latter’s behest, parliament accepted a controversial language law, guaranteeing regional status of languages where 10% of more of the population speaks them. Specifically the law empowered Russian speakers in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, where they predominate. Though the president had long threatened to introduce such a law, he was not necessarily expected to do so because of the polarizing impact it was likely to have.

Notably over recent weeks, Yanukovych has also quelled dissidence in his own party ranks on the issue of signing the Association Agreement, though earlier this summer opinion polls highlighted substantial opposition to it within the parliamentary party. The Communists unsurprisingly are even more adamantly opposed. On 17 September, however, the Ukrainian Central Election Commission refused permission to the Communists and the Ukraine Choice movement, which is led by pro-Putin oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, permission to hold a meeting concerning a referendum on whether Ukraine should sign the Agreement. Yanukovych has thus eliminated protests and exploited support from Ukraine’s oligarchs for closer cooperation with the EU. In so doing, he has taken away from the opposition its key policy, which will leave the three parties more vulnerable in the next elections unless they turn to an alternative platform.

Such a move will leave Yanukovych in a good position to contest the presidential election of 2015, though the move westward will leave space for a pro-Russia candidate to fill. In that case, the president may form a temporary alliance with the opposition—a situation similar to that in 1999 when Leonid Kuchma ran against the Communist leader Petro Symonenko, and received most of his votes in regions that traditionally opposed him. One problem for the president currently is that he is losing support in the main party strongholds of the east and south because of economic difficulties and a failure to fulfill election promises. In turn his predicament may benefit the Communists or even UDAR, a party that has some support in these regions. Thus the goal for the Regions is to ensure that the signing of the Agreement pays quick dividends before the presidential elections.

Opinion polls suggest that support in Ukraine for closer ties with the EU has finally surpassed that for the Russian-led Customs Union. Minister of Economy Petro Poroshenko has declared that the gap is over 50% compared to 30%. Other polls suggest the gap is smaller: joint Ukrainian-Russian public opinion polls have 36% supporting the EU and 38% the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. The regional divide is itself deeply worrisome, though it is evident in each of the state of the Eastern Partnership.

Relations with Russia

Ukraine’s relations with Russia are difficult and strained. As far as relations with Ukraine are concerned, there are three people who deal with Ukraine. The first is Vladimir Putin himself, who has made Ukraine his key target in relations with what used to be termed the “Near Abroad.” In this respect, particularly revealing was the Russian president’s visit to Ukraine on 27-28 July, in conjunction with the 1025th anniversary of Kyivan Rus’, when Russian Patriarch Kirill I accompanied him in attending celebrations at the Pecherska Lavra. Also in Kyiv, President Putin attended a round-table conference entitled “Orthodox-Slavic Values: the Foundation of Civilized Choice of Ukraine,” organized by the Ukrainian Choice Movement of Medvedchuk, who was formerly head of the presidential administration of Leonid Kuchma. A powerful oligarch (though only the 57th richest!), Medvedchuk supports Ukraine joining the Common Economic Space customs union and is an active opponent of the Association Agreement with the EU.

The second figure is economist Sergey Glazyev, the advisor of the Russian president for Customs Union issues and relations with Ukraine, who has been particularly outspoken and aggressive, declaring that if the AA is signed, Russia will exclude Ukraine from the Free Trade area of the CIS. He also stated that the Eurasian Commission would impose a single customs tariff on Ukrainian goods, particularly as good from the EU, and no longer subject to import duties, would likely flood the Ukrainian market. In this way, Glazyev continued, Ukraine will be pushed toward default; hence signing the agreement will be tantamount to “euthanasia.” He was believed to be responsible for the ban on Ukrainian products that started with the Rozhen chocolate company in the summer of 2013, and which extended incidentally to Moldovan wines last month. Though outspoken, Glazyev is regarded by some analysts as a peripheral statesman.

The third figure is a familiar one to Russia watchers, namely Vladislav Surkov, a 49-year old English-speaking businessman and ideologue with enormous influence over the Russian government and Putin in particular. His impact has been compared with that of Mikhail Suslov, the so-called “grey cardinal” for many years in the Soviet leadership from Stalin to Brezhnev. On 20 September, Surkov received the appointment of presidential aide. In a recent paper, analyst Roman Rukomeda speculated that his installation was specifically for future relations with Ukraine. The position returns him to his former prominence following his earlier spell as Deputy Chief of Staff to Putin in 2004. Surkov is the architect of the prevailing economic system in Russia that has been termed “sovereign democracy” and he is close to extremist factions such as Nashi. Many regard him as the Kremlin’s chief ideologue.

These current prominence of these strongly nationalist leaders suggests that Russia will put considerable pressure on Ukraine both before the Vilnius Summit—though the Russian side expects the agreement to be signed—and especially afterward. Most important will be the 2015 presidential election campaign, though Russia’s past attempts to influence Ukrainian elections have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

Economic Situation in Ukraine

Ukraine’s economic situation is very difficult. One can begin with the catastrophic decline in population since independence from 52.5 to the present 44.5 million, a drop of over 15% in 22 years. Its GDP fell by 1.3% in the second quarter of 2013, though over the entire year a modest growth of 0.5% is anticipated. The Russian scenario that Ukraine will face a serious crisis after signing the Association Agreement is not exaggerated. In the short term, Ukraine faces continued depletion of its hard currency reserves, which fell by 30% over the past year, and now has barely enough to cover 2.3 months of imports. The inflow of European goods expected after the agreement may reduce current export of Ukrainian products to Russia.

The issue is whether the largely unreformed Ukrainian economy can compete. That is not to say that there have been no attempts at reform. One year ago, Poroshenko announced that 1,200 factories would be removed from the list of strategic assets that could not be privatized. The list was assumed to include coalmines, oil and has pipelines, and grain silos among other assets. On 11 September 2013, the Ukrainian State Property Fund announced that 45 coalmines belonging to various state-owned enterprises would be privatized in an effort to raise coal production through modernization of mines using private capital.

This sector is perhaps the best example of Ukraine’s current economic dilemmas: the state mining sector ran up losses of over $1 billion in the first seven months of 2013: 70% of the mines are state-owned and 80% of them reply on subsidies to stay afloat. Thus the question needs to be asked: why would private businesses risk investing in an industry with falling productivity and for which demand is weak? The law of 2012 also stipulates that any privatization must come with guarantees of the social security of the coalminers through creation of trade unions and other safeguards. Despite the passage of the law, there has been little movement on privatization in Ukraine; rather, companies have been auctioned off to the main financial backers of the Regions Party—oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov and Dmytro Firtash. These business leaders, intent on building personal empires—Akhmetov’s net worth is estimated at 15.4 billion—have continued to exploit Ukraine’s assets following a similar pattern to that in Russia in the 1990s.

The recent lowering of Ukraine’s credit rating by Moody’s to Caa1 and the current need for foreign loans may put pressure on currency. All these factors, added to the very real threat of Russian economic responses to Ukraine signing the AA, suggest that over next five years Ukraine will undergo deep economic recession—we have already seen the lowering of GDP forecasts already for next year. Some of the demands of the Europeans will have immediate and distressing effects—two analysts pointed out earlier this week that the requirements needed for large combustible plants would cost about half of Ukraine’s current annual budget to implement. But with reforms, over the long term the country can recover and will do better outside the Russian orbit, which is based largely on non-renewable resources and demands for closer integration.

Moreover, the EU is prepared to make some compromises. It may permit the benefits of free trade to begin at once rather than waiting for ratification of the AA by all 28 member-states. In other words, the EU link may be the best way to introduce a form of shock therapy in Ukraine that can reduce past dependence on Russian goods and, even more important, bring in economic reforms that have been almost fatally delayed in the entire period of independence. Finally, trade with the EU will eventually be more useful and profitable for Ukraine, than trade with the oil and gas dependent Russia.

The EU Perspective

Concerning the EU’s attitude to signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine, one can start with recent quote from president of Gorshenin Institute in Kyiv, Vadym Omelchenko, that the AA might become the main geopolitical accomplishment for current leaders of European structures. The statement illustrates the fate of several EU initiatives and their general failure to have an impact in two of the countries of the Eastern Partnership where the issue of human rights violations has precluded close cooperation, namely Belarus and Azerbaijan. Conversely, the EU has opted to ignore some of the glaring issues in domestic Ukraine and may circumvent some problems by choosing, as suggested earlier, to ratify the AA separately at a later date—it has already been accepted by the Ukrainian Cabinet—as well as allowing Ukraine to make some token gestures without following up with meaningful reforms.

We will deal with the EU side in more depth tomorrow. Here let us focus for a moment on the most critical issue between the two sides, namely the continuing incarceration of opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, jailed for seven years in 2011 for negotiating a deal with then Russian PM Putin on gas prices for Ukraine that, according to the court, brought harm to Ukraine. The sentence also banned her from any role in politics for a 10-year period. The EU has hardly presented a united front on the issue—though at the recent economic summit in Yalta Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, stated clearly that: “The request from the European Union on Tymoshenko’s case is still on the table and, without a solution, I do not see a possibility for the signature.” The issue has divided Western analysts, whereas Tymoshenko’s her erstwhile Orange partner, former president Yushchenko has called for the Agreement to be signed whether or not Tymoshenko is released first.

As Taras Kuzio has pointed out in a recent commentary, it is impractical for the Ukrainian president to release Tymoshenko either fully or for medical treatment in Germany—Canada has made a similar offer. Given a direct choice between her release and pardon—and there are further impending charges about her involvement in the 1996 murder of businessman Yevhen Shcherban—and a potential failure of the Vilnius summit, Yanukovych would opt for the latter, whatever its implications for Ukraine’s integration with the Russian-led Customs Union. Yanukovych is not a politician in the Western sense of the word. He does not care particularly about his place in history, or taking a dramatic westward step. Rather like the Regions Party leaders with whom he keeps company and rules Ukraine, the Ukrainian president puts survival and his personal future ahead of that of the national interest.

In short, after many meetings at different levels, it is still not apparent to the EU leaders that their Ukrainian counterparts are more concerned about power than a European future. British analyst Andrew Wilson has stated that Yanukovych is ignorant of how the EU works, believing that the crucial matter is a balance of power and that the EU’s concern for Tymoshenko is ritualistic. The agreement with the EU is simply a business solution that will keep Russian oligarchs out of their domain. In turn, the Ukrainian opposition perceives its task as supporting what it terms the “criminal government” in its path toward Europe before defeating it in the elections. Implicitly, the EU is for the moment at least enhancing the reelection chances of the Regions leader simply by dealing with him.

At the same time, the potential of Ukraine and its $330 billion economy for the Europeans seems obvious. Yet they fear the creation of two hostile trading blocs, using high tariffs, quotas and other restrictive measures that will impede the free flow of goods. And many European leaders are wary of such an impasse, including newly reelected German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On the other hand, the Europeans have shown great patience in keeping the agreement afloat in the face of the Ukrainian government’s painfully slow progress on the suggested reforms—most of which were rushed through parliament hurriedly in September as the summit approached, though they remain more on paper than reality.


In the long term, can Ukraine become a potential member of EU? Questions arise over the expedience of further EU expansion given the recent crises in member states.  There are fears also over the likely impact of adding a country of over 40 million to the mix, one with deep internal problems and divisions. The irony is that an anti-Orange and in many respects anti-Ukrainian government is leading the way toward western integration and for reasons that may have little to do with any form of commitment to democracy and economic reforms. In the future it will be necessary to ensure several things for success:

  1. Fundamental economic reforms, including privatization (without restrictive conditions attached) and revamping of obsolete industries that require subsidies to survive.
  2. Oligarch investment in the Ukrainian economy rather than in private bank accounts abroad, which may require a fundamental assault on corruption
  3. Ensuring that the presidential elections of 2015 are free and fair—it will require careful monitoring of election commissions, likely lowering the minimum percentage required to get seats in parliament (the new quota of 5% would likely mean that even the Communists or Svoboda may not get seats in the elections, and many smaller parties would be excluded), the first past the post system would likely favor the Regions Party. There is a need also to maintain a national vote for president rather than a parliamentary one and to reassess the ways in which election commissions are put together.
  4. Monitoring of human rights in Ukraine must be made a priority for the EU, especially given the increased chances for a continuation of Yanukovych in office.
  5. As noted, the signing of the AA and subsequent deeper integration that may ultimately end with EU membership will undermine the purpose and tactics of the Ukrainian opposition, which taken together won the majority of votes in the last election. On the other hand a united opposition with a single leader running in the next presidential election might profit from the declining economic fortunes of Ukraine in 2014 and early 2015.

Finally, if one can separate the Association Agreement from economic and human rights issues, it will mark a fundamental turning point for the Ukrainian state, and a path oriented away from the Soviet legacy toward a European future. In itself this will be a significant achievement, one that has been attained in a stumbling and often uncertain manner, and in spite and in part because of Russian truculence and threats. When the Orange Revolution occurred in late 2004, many observers felt that this might be the logical direction for Ukraine to take. For a variety of reasons the Orange presidency of Viktor Yushchenko failed in spectacular fashion. The corruption endemic during the time of Leonid Kuchma’s leadership not only remained in place; it became deeper and more endemic under Yushchenko. It is markedly worse under Yanukovych. And yet the paradox is that it is this government and president who may take Ukraine into Europe. It is a mixed blessing that has resulted from compromises on the side of Brussels, and intransigence on the part of Kyiv. But it may happen, and in the long term, despite all the caveats cited, it may be for the best.

The Real Barricades

August 30, 2013

Halya Coynash

With the critical Vilnius Summit approaching in November and Russia making its position on EU-Ukraine Association  – together with readiness to use unacceptable weapons – all too clear, there is mounting pressure to view the issue in very simplistic terms.  Most crudely: are you for Ukraine’s European integration or against?

There is probably broad, although not unanimous, consensus regarding the absolute requirement to release Yanukovych’s main rival Yulia Tymoshenko from politically motivated imprisonment.

Among those (the author included) who view European integration as vital for Ukraine’s future, consensus stops beyond this point. The following is not about whether the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement should be, or will be, signed, but response to a familiar syndrome.  During Yushchenko’s first year or more in office any criticism was deemed as disloyal, as helping his opponents, and playing into Russia’s hands. Even with a leader who proved naked, but not necessarily dangerous, the policy was disastrous. The last three years have seen a very significant monopolization of power; degradation of the judicial system; threats to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and serious blows to Ukrainians’ electoral rights.

The EU set a number of apparently stringent conditions to be met before the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement could be signed. How firm they will remain on these is a matter of debate.  So, unfortunately, is the question who will benefit if these demands are waived.

Even if the Agreement is signed, it still has to be ratified by all member states, and that will take time, even if all are in unison.  It would, however, be a major coup for President Yanukovych with presidential elections approaching.

Fighting your Opposition

 Whatever now happens with Yulia Tymoshenko, no one is in any doubt that her imprisonment was at least in part aimed at eliminating a powerful political opponent. The same applies to the now-released Yuriy Lutsenko.

At present, the candidate who probably received most votes in the October elections is effectively exiled in Italy.  Viktor Romanyuk will be arrested and detained if he returns to Ukraine. A criminal investigation concerns an alleged attempt to steal state property on a large scale and is linked to the Indar insulin factory of which Romanyuk was Deputy Director.  But the case dates back to 2008 and Romanyuk was not a suspect when he ran for parliamentary office in October 2012 as the opposition Batkivshchyna candidate for single mandate election district No. 94.  He was in the lead until his main opponent, Party of Regions candidate, and wife of the former Kyiv Regional Governor, Tetyana Zasukha, applied to the court to have the election results in some precincts cancelled. Thirty thousand votes could not be cancelled without scandal, and this was one of the seats in which the Central Election Commission decided that a re-election was needed. Ten months later the by-elections have still to be held.  If and when they happen, Romanyuk will need to “campaign” from Italy and only reappear if elected when he will gain political immunity. This scenario was seen exactly a year earlier when Arsen Avakov, former Kharkiv Governor, ran for Mayor against Gennady Kernes in 2010. In short, politics is a dangerous game in today’s Ukraine.

The courts have also played a highly questionable role of late in removing MPs’ mandates.  Four MPs accepted by the Central Election Commission as having been properly elected have been stripped of their mandate.  The most notorious case was that of Yulia Tymoshenko’s defender, Serhiy Vlasenko.

Bypassing Electoral Hurdles

 The refusal to call local elections in Kyiv is as brazen, as it is transparent.  Two attempts in the Verkhovna Rada to schedule Mayoral and council elections have been blocked by the ruling Party of the Regions.  All analysts agree that the results would not be favourable to the President and his protégé, Oleksandr Popov. The problem is that Kyiv has been without a Mayor for over a year, and the Council’s term in office expired over 5 months ago.

Ever resourceful, Party of Regions MPs turned to the Constitutional Court for “guidance.”  The latter yet again obliged with a judgment on 30 May 2013, overturning a previous decision and stating that the next regular elections should take place in October 2015. This date was chosen, reportedly, to ensure greater “stability” and continuity by having all regular local elections at the same time.

Constitutional experts immediately pointed out that the Court was talking about regular elections.  This did not preclude extraordinary elections.  It certainly didn’t, but this was for the Constitutional Court to spell out, and it remained silent.  So too did the Kyiv Administrative Court on 9 August when it ruled only that it was legitimate for the current Kyiv City Council to continue to hold sessions and function as normal.

In the meantime the President and Cabinet of Ministers have increased the number of employees of the Kyiv City State Administration, and the latter’s powers. The head of this Administration is appointed by the President, unlike the Mayor and Council who are elected.  Or at least would be elected if those in power were not more intent on having a President-friendly Administration in the capital during the Presidential elections in early 2015.

Concern over this disregard for the electoral rights of Kyiv’s population was expressed by, among others, a spokesperson for the EU Delegation to Ukraine.  It was stressed that elections must be held at reasonable intervals.

So What Happens if They are Not?

 In a statement following his meeting with Andriy Klyuyev, EU Commissioner Štefan Füle said that they “appreciated the initiative of the Ministry of Justice to organize a series of roundtables on improving the electoral legislation. At the same time, the EU expects to see unequivocal and concrete elements of progress in the coming weeks.” He mentioned “improvement of the electoral legislation, the establishment of dates for by-elections in the outstanding five single mandate constituencies, [and] clear rules for balanced media access to electoral competitors.”

There have been plenty of such roundtables. There was even a President-initiated committee with representatives from major international organizations on election legislation, consultation with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, etc.   Both major organizations withdrew from the committee after understanding that their input could remain only verbal, the Venice Commission’s criticism was ignored, and the elections held as the party in power wished.  Moves under way at present involving major changes in media ownership seem clearly aimed at anything but balanced media coverage.

Ukraine’s standing in the world has been damaged badly over recent years.  European integration is Ukraine’s chance to climb out of a post-Soviet dead-end.  That, however, means real commitment to electoral and other democratic values, not more cosmetic touches that will have rubbed off before any agreement can be ratified.


August 12, 2013

David Marples and Myroslava Uniat

Late July and early August provided examples of the application of “Putinism” in Ukraine: a foreign policy based on a combination of rudeness and pressure. The Russian president made a visit to Kyiv, which was calculated to bring to heel Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych and dissuade Ukraine from signing the Association Agreement with the European Union at the November summit in Vilnius.

Vladimir Putin’s diplomacy is sometimes skillful and calculated. But with regard to Ukraine, it appears crude and blinkered. It failed manifestly in 2004 when he tried to influence the Ukrainian presidential elections, on the eve of the Orange Revolution. In the 2010 elections he was more careful. But today he appears to have reverted to his former policy of overt pressure and persuasion, now accompanied by a contemptuous attitude to his Ukrainian counterpart Yanukovych.

Putin visited Kyiv on July 27 and 28, and behaved like a headmaster dealing with errant pupils.. Ostensibly, he came to take part in the celebrations of the 1025th anniversary of Kyivan Rus’, along with Russian Patriarch Kirill I, a man who frequently delves into secular affairs—in 2010, for example, he effusively congratulated Belarusian leader Aliaksandr Lukashenka for his electoral victory, despite its electoral improprieties. Putin and Kiril emphasized Slavic unity and the common past of the East Slavic nations. The celebrations culminated with a visit to the Kyevo Pechers’ka Lavra monastery and a procession carrying the cross of St. Andrew, the Apostle of Jesus Christ believed to have introduced Christianity to Eastern Europe (

Also in Kyiv, the Russian president attended a round-table conference entitled “Orthodox-Slavic Values: the Foundation of Civilized Choice of Ukraine” ( organized by the Ukrainian Choice Movement, led by Viktor Medvedchuk, the former head of the presidential administration for Leonid Kuchma. A powerful oligarch, Medvedchuk supports Ukraine joining the Common Economic Space customs union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakkhstan. He is an active opponent of the Association Agreement with the EU.

While Putin’s presence at the conference was not entirely unexpected, it contrasted with his peremptory chat with Ukrainian president Yanukovych. The bilateral meeting between the two presidents lasted for only fifteen minutes and contained only platitudes on the part of Putin about a common motherland and past cooperation ( Former Regions Party deputy Taras Chornovil feels that Putin’s presence at the meeting organized by Medvedchuk indicates his aversion to dealing with the Ukrainian president, who is “a nobody” to him. In Chornovil’s opinion, such behavior was more likely to push Ukraine toward the EU than herald a return to the Russian camp (

The celebrations were marked by dissension. Members of the Svoboda Party protested the visit of the two Russian leaders, as did Femen, whose leader Anna Hutsol received a savage beating from a man in a Kyiv cafe on this same day, the latest of several attacks on members of the protest group over the course of the week. Yanukovych’s speech appeared defensive and he seemed irritated that the guests would use a spiritual occasion for political purposes: “We will not allow the use of churches and religious organizations by some political powers to serve their own narrow interests” ( rus/25058270.html).

The following day, the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church organized its own commemoration with a procession and prayer service on St. Volodymyr’s Hill and the Ukrainian Patriarch Filaret encapsulated the event as follows: “Yesterday at this location the Patriarch of the Moscow Orthodox Church prayed for the leaders and representatives of the government, and today the Kyiv Patriarchate gathers to pray for the Ukrainian people” ( The implication was clear: the event attended by Putin and Kirill had little to do with Ukraine and Ukrainians.

Russia’s response was prompt. On July 29, Russia placed a ban on imports of Ukrainian chocolate, affecting four “Roshen” factories owned by the pro-European oligarch and former foreign minister Petro Poroshenko ( On August 8, the ban was expanded to all Roshen confectionary, along with cheese, reportedly because of the antibiotics contained in Ukrainian products. As pointed out in one report, however, Russian factories owned by the same cheese producers were operating as normal (

The Russian measures seem blatantly political in nature. They are reminiscent of the 2009 ban on Belarusian dairy products at a time when Belarus resisted deeper integration with Russia ( This is not to say, however, that Russia has no leeway. Despite the failure of “Putinism” and its overt pressure on this occasion, other problems may lie ahead for the Ukrainian leaders. Support for the Russian-led Customs Union is evident in some quarters, in addition to the above-mentioned Medvedchuk and his Ukraine’s Choice movement. The Communist Party of Ukraine can be expected to provide solid backing, but more important, pro-Russian factions within the Regions Party are also emerging—they comprise a majority of around 57% (

One such supporter, Regions’ deputy and Dnipropetrovsk businessman Oleh Tsar’ov, declared in an interview with the American Forbes magazine that in his view the six points of the EU Association Agreement are in conflict with the Constitution of Ukraine and that theoretically a group of Regions’ deputies could appeal to the Constitutional Court concerning its legality. In addition the Customs Union would provide important benefits, including loans to offset Ukraine’s substantial budget deficit (now at $2.7 billion) and offset the costs of expensive energy imports. Tsar’ov also noted that Russia previously had expressed willingness to create a reserve fund of $15 billion for Ukraine if it rejected the EU package and created a consortium with Russia. Further, if the Ukrainians went ahead and signed the agreement in Vilnius, Russia would impose a total ban on Ukrainian products prior to the 2015 presidential elections (

Tsar’ov’s comments demonstrate that opinion in Ukraine is divided on its future direction. Its leaders can reject outright the bullying of Putin and Kirill—it is difficult to refer to their visit in any other terms. They can also use the Association Agreement as a means to increase their fading popularity. On the other hand, the economic situation poses serious concerns. Tsar’ov correctly noted Ukraine’s lack of GDP growth, and its dire need for loans. In his view also, there is no guarantee that under the agreement’s terms, the EU would open up its markets to Ukrainian products (

Putin’s visit to Ukraine has demonstrated the official Russian view: Ukraine faces a choice between two options and that it can no longer choose a middle route between them. Putin perceives Ukraine as a neighbor of common heritage, and with the same spiritual and historical roots. But more important he needs Ukraine as a geo-strategic partner firmly in the Russian orbit. Thus far his policies have had little impact. But he has some powerful economic weapons at his disposal and, equally significant, support from some influential oligarchs in the Ukrainian parliament.

Yanukovych in turn faces several dilemmas. He cannot afford to alienate Russia completely. He is under pressure from prominent Europeans to free former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, most recently from the Chairman of the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok, who has called the latter’s sentence an example of selective justice ( And he must fend off critiques from within his own party members who favor closer integration with Russia.

To date his strategy has been to support the Association Agreement while keeping doors open to Russia and strengthening internal control over Ukraine. It has worked in part, but the economic downturn and the deteriorating relationship with Russia, as well as the personal coolness toward him of Putin, suggest that its days are numbered.

On Ukrainian Studies There and Here (Concerning the conference in New York and Taras Kuzio’s article)

June 5, 2013

Andriy Portnov

The conference “Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism: Entangled Histories,” organized by Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, took place on April 22-23. About a month later, it acquired a certain media publicity in an emotional article written by political scientist Taras Kuzio (“This is not how Ukrainian History should be Debated (at Columbia or Elsewhere)” (The Ukrainian Weekly, № 20, May 19, 2013) (

For those who were not present at the conference itself, Kuzio’s text might create the impression of the voice of a fair-minded and valiant expert who bravely set off for the camp of the intolerant, aggresive—and not to mention incompetent–Ukrainophobes. Having made an exception for the first (“useful”) session on 19th century history, for Dominique Arel (as a “balanced” researcher, who “should take a lead” in the improvement of dialogue in Ukrainian studies), and for the presentations of an unnamed “small number of others,” Kuzio then denies the rest of the conference any scholarly value whatsoever.

It is interesting, however, that the only “incompetent” people with whom Kuzio polemicizes openly, calling them by name, are Anton Shekhovtsov, who presented on the political party “Svoboda,” and Per Anders Rudling, who presented on Mykola Lebed. Although I had my own reservations about Shekhovtov’s presentation (which, by the way, I expressed at the conference), Kuzio’s depiction of it is a caricature drawn in the heat of debate. Rudling’s talk was the subject of a lively and fairly critical discussion at the conference, but it appears equally as caricatured in The Ukrainian Weekly (just as caricatured are, by the way, the typological comparisons of Lebed with Nelson Mandela or General De Gaulle).

But why does Kuzio, a stickler for standards, not name any other names? He writes definitively: “Many discussants were not specialists and their remarks were often weak and insufficiently analytical.” To whom is he referring? Precisely which comments does he have in mind? In my view the comments of Johan Dietsch and Oxana Shevel were highlights of their respective sessions. Similarly, the individuals who had “pre-planned goals of portraying Western Ukrainians as Nazi collaborators and anti-Semites” remain unidentified by Kuzio. In the case of such accusations one should, I believe, note the name of the author and include an appropriate quotation. Otherwise the comment appears as a mere insinuation.

Kuzio’s passage about the “unacceptable intolerance” towards the comments made by Volodymyr Viatrovych has a similar undertone. I feel obliged to discuss this matter not only because of Kuzio’s emphasis, but also because Viatrovych himself spoke publicly about this in the Facebook group of our website I’ll allow myself to repeat briefly here what I already wrote on Facebook. Viatrovych’s comments, which he gave through a translator, concerned John-Paul Himka’s paper on the Lonskyi Prison museum (specifically, the negation of the Holocaust in its current exposition). Himka’s presentation, as well as Viatrovych’s comments, were not the only events in this session, however. Nina Tumarkin, Dominique Arel, and myself also gave presentations. There were many questions directed to all four presenters. In order to give more time for discussion I actually gave the floor to my colleagues in one of the rounds of questions so that everyone could have the chance to express their thoughts.

Dr. Viatrovych, too, was allowed to speak. His primary objection was that the museum exhibition was not yet finished, and in the future the theme of the Holocaust would be properly represented. All conference participants  understood his position. However, when, against the request of the session Chair to stick to the strict time regulations (which held true for all questions and comments),  Dr. Viatrovych continued his comments and the Chair had to interrupt him. I would suggest that Dr. Viatrovych’s intervention, whose primary thesis was clearly heard, lasted precisely as long as necessary in order to be interrupted. In other words, the issue was not “intolerance” or “lack of openness to dialogue,” but rather conscious provocation of scandal and self-promotion.

Kuzio also accuses the conference of lacking any comparative aspect, suggesting that the Russian theme remained in the background of the Ukrainian, that the factor of Russian nationalism in Ukraine was ignored. In fact, the weakness of the comparative aspect was apparent although, to be fair, it’s worth mentioning Marlene Laruelle’s very interesting presentation about plots connected with questions of migration in Russian and Ukrainian discussions of identity. Despite what Kuzio wrote, Andreas Umland actually spoke about the Russian threat as a factor in the growth of right-radical parties in Ukraine. Finally, I attempted to enlarge the idea of entangled analysis to a triangle, in order to show, in particular, how the Russian factor influenced Polish-Ukrainian debates about the 1943 massacres in Volhynia.

I spoke about the validity of the Russian factor because at the conference it was indeed very weakly represented. Its lack was particuarly apparent in the session on World War II, and it seems to me that this was a clear defect in the conference’s structure. As for Russian nationalism and neo-Soviet xenophobia in post-Soviet Ukraine, I think that Kuzio’s presentation quite accurately brought attention to the importance of this idea. I myself spoke about the inadequacy of the description of today’s Ukraine as a “nationalizing state” and the consequent problems with the analytic application of such words as “anti-fascists.”

In general, the problem of writing “entangled” or “transnational” history is relevant not only to this one conference in particular, but also to history and the social sciences writ large. To declare a devotion to such a type of history is significantly easier than to adhere to it consistently in texts (not least because in English there is no widely-accepted way to differentiate such ideas as russkii, rossiiskii, or ruskii [Russian in an ethnic sense, Russian in a political sense, or a member of the larger tribe of Rus']). This problem is fully applicable to Ukrainian studies, which, I believe, has unrealized potential to be on the cutting-edge of “entаngled” studies.

At the end of his text Kuzio makes a similarly unconditional diagnosis of Ukrainian studies. He identifies one of the causes of stagnation in the state of Ukrainian studies in Ukraine: “The acute level of provincialism in Ukrainian academia where most scholars from Ukraine do not know English, do not publish in the West or read Western publications.”  Instead of attempting to understand the situation, to express empathy to the working conditions of Ukrainain colleages (the absence of access to western journal databases, the low salaries, the lack of anything analogous to sabbaticals, etc), we see in his text only arrogant superiority. As someone who has often (and very sharply) written about the instutional and methodological problems of post-Soviet scholarship, I consider this expression of condescension simply offensive, and disparaging statements about colleagues working in much more difficult conditions are unacceptable from a responsible scholar. I am less familiar with the situation in the diaspora, but it seems to me that Kuzio’s proposed division into “Revolutionary Revisionists” and “Democratic Centrists” is also much too simplified. Finally, I’d like to ask a naive question: Where in this classification are ethnic nationalists? Or perhaps they don’t exist at all?

This text has already been published in Ukrainian on web page ( This is the fourth article in the Open Forum series.

To Ukraine, with Love [or] Russia’s Comedy Show

May 4, 2013

Mykola Riabchuk

Last week, Russian president Vladimir Putin set another record, answering citizens’ questions in a televised Q & A session for five hours. The show was staged well, so that no uncomfortable or unexpected questions could offend the tsar’s ears.

Many participants actually strove not so much to ask their president anything but rather to express their gratitude for his wise and benevolent politics. A Paralympics swimmer thanked him on behalf of all Paralympics athletes for taking care of their needs, a local teacher praised the president for his tireless care of the nation’s morale, and a vice president of the association of Arctic researchers expressed his gratitude for support and, in part, for drafting a decree by which the President made May 21 the Day of Arctic Researchers.

Putin’s answers ranged from traditional castigation of petty bureaucrats (one of them was labeled a “pig” for his unresponsiveness) to no less traditional crude jokes (a poor Arctic researcher who asked him to speed up the formalities hindering the official introduction of their professional holiday, was advised to “start celebrating it right now and we’ll sign the decree when we are ready).” In his usual way, Mr. Putin dismissed “Russia’s negative image abroad” as a “stereotype imposed on the world public” by unspecified enemies, and lambasted the arrogant West for its desire to impose very dubious values and standards upon Russia. Rather than discussing issues like human rights, civic freedoms, and rule of law in the session, the emphasis was primarily and exclusively on the issue of sexual minorities, presented by the president in his favorite caricatured way: “You know, they have their own standards… If a Dutch court allowed the activity of an organization popularizing pedophilia, why should we adopt such standards? If they want to reproduce themselves through immigration, let them do so. We are not meddling with their affairs” (

Ukraine was mentioned only twice in the session, and in both cases Putin’s responses seemed very friendly. First, the Paralympics swimmer complained about the lack of training facilities: “These swimming pools exist in Europe and even the Ukrainians have them and are we in any way worse than them?”

“In some ways, Ukraine is better than us,” Mr Putin admitted generously. “I love Ukrainian culture, the Ukrainian people, they’re a part of our collective soul. What’s so surprising that they’ve overtaken us in some areas?”

One may guess in which other areas the smart Ukrainians have overtaken the “older Brothers,” and how the privilege of being a part of Russia’s collective soul corresponds with the idea of “Russkiy Mir” and with Putin’s earlier statement that Ukraine “is not even a nation.”

Answering the second question, about Ukraine’s prospective membership in the Customs Union, the Russian president assured the audience that Ukraine itself and its people should reach a position on the issue, and that Russia would respect any decision. He reminded the audience only that the Ukrainian and Russian economies are linked through extensive cooperation, and its rejection would lead to irreparable losses for both countries. “Whereas Russia might be able to recover these losses somehow, for Ukraine it would be extremely difficult. I fear that this could lead to de-industrialization of some industries… According to our estimates, [Ukraine would lose] 9-10 billion dollars a year” [].

Remarkably, neither the source nor details of these encouraging estimates have ever been disclosed. In the meantime, two other countries that have already joined the Russia-led Customs Union, do not appear very enthusiastic about their newly-acquired experience in the organization. The estimates of Ukraine’s gains and losses should it sign the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCTFA) with the EU are much more modest. The first years, specialists argue, would bring rather mixed results even though eventually the net balance of benefits versus losses would grow noticeably and sustainably. But still, it largely depends on Ukraine’s ability to use all the venues and instruments that DCFTA provides to reform its economy, legal system, and society in general. In a way, DCFTA is much more about the fishing rod than the fish, and this makes it profoundly different from the Customs Union incentives generously offered by Mr Putin (

Not all Ukrainians understand the economic subtleties of both unions, and not everyone is ready to take a fishing rod instead of the real (or virtual but real-looking) fish. Two years ago 44 per cent of Ukrainian respondents preferred Ukraine’s accession in the EU, 30 per cent preferred the Customs Union, and the rest opted for non-secession or had no clear opinion ( Today the first group that prefers the EU has shrunk to 41%, while the  group, supporting the Customs Union has grown to 36% (

The Russian “fish”, however, has a price – as one can easily figure out by taking a look, for example, at the “float for gas” deal (the so called Kharkiv Accords) gullibly signed in 2010, shortly after his election, by Viktor Yanukovych. Even if the mythical figure of $10 billion per year is going to materialize, it would most likely end up in the pockets of the “Family” members and friendly oligarchs rather than in any viable program of national modernization. And this is the point. Any Russia-led union means preservation of today’s inefficient, corrupt, and incurably backward economy for years to come. And, to be sure, it entails also a continuing disrespect for human rights, civic liberties, and rule of law (

So far, the enormous natural resources have not helped Russian kleptocrats to modernize the country (, and there is no reason to believe that the union of Ukrainian kleptocrats with their Russian, Belarusian, and Kazakh brethren would benefit anyone other than themselves. The myth of Russia as a rising economic power on a par with China, India, and Brazil (so called BRIC) was shattered by the global crisis that proved the inefficiency of corrupt institutions and a resource-based economy. As the experts of the European Council of Foreign Relations aptly noticed in the policy paper “Dealing with a post-BRIC Russia,” “few still have any illusions about Russia’s resurgence and many now fear stagnation and “Brezhnevization.” In other words, regardless of Putin’s assertive rhetoric, Russia is now a “post-BRIC state” (

This decline, they argue, forces Moscow to “pursue a more cautious foreign policy. In particular, diminished economic expectations and the increased presence of other actors in the region have seen Moscow craft a new strategy for the post- Soviet space. Though it has not given up its hegemonic ambitions, expressed in Putin’s proposal for a Eurasian Union, Russia now aims for a lower-cost sphere of influence. It is deploying limited resources selectively to create a kind of “lily-pad empire” – a network of military bases, pipelines and strategic chunks of national economies that clearly clashes with the EU’s own neighborhood policy.”

This might well explain Putin’s worry about leaving Ukraine outside the Customs Union and facing deindustrialization and annual losses of $10 billion. As to his peculiar “love” for Ukraine, one may recollect an old Soviet joke: “Gogi, do you like tomatoes?” – “To eat them – yes, but otherwise – no.”

A perfect example of this kind of “love” was demonstrated recently by popular Russian TV presenter Ivan Urgant on the show Smak (The Taste), which runs on the state-owned Channel One and in which he interviews celebrities while cooking with them. Recently, he provoked uproar in Ukraine by a humorous comment made during the preparation of a soup: “I chopped these greens like a red commissar did the residents of a Ukrainian village.” His interlocutor, the celebrated screenwriter Aleksandr Adabashyan, wiped the knife clean and responded with similar wit: “I am just shaking off the villagers’ remains”

Thank God, they did not refer to gas chambers.

Forced to apologize, Urgant confessed, probably quite sincerely, that he “could not imagine that the unfortunate joke in a humorous program… could spark such an acute reaction in Ukraine, a country I love very much.”

It’s a pity he did not feature Mr. Putin in his anecdote.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 140 other followers