Thursday, November 25, 2004

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Ukraine's fine line between legal and extralegal

Ron Popeski reports for Reuters that Ukraine's Supreme Court has rebuffed the Central Election Commission's certification of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich as the presidential winner over Viktor Yushchenko. As previously noted, this is not an outrageous surprise, as Kuchma's influence over the Supreme Court was not strong.

More intriguingly, Roman OLearchyk reports in the Kyiv Post that at least one television station has replaced it's Kuchma-crony news director and recast its broadcast in a more "objective" manner.

Stefan Wagstyl and Tom Warner report in the Financial Times on the increasingly uncomfortable position Ukraine's two top oligarchs (Viktor Pinchuk and Rinat Akhmetov) find themselves. If they stick with Yanukovich, they risk a general strike that would have some effect on their businesses. If they permit Yushchenko to come to power, they'll be on the uncomfortable end of a corruption probe.

When a government facing a popular uprising, there is a moment when all of Burke's "pleasing illusions" about power fade away, and the rulers face a choice between using raw coercion or backing down. At this juncture, there is one of three possibilities:

1) The leadership backs down;
2) The leadership cracks down;
3) The leadership tries to crack down but the coercive apparatus splits.

That moment is rapidly approaching in Kiev.

UPDATE: Check out this blogger, based in Kiev, for a straightforward explanation of the interrelationships between Kuchma, Yanukovich, and the Ukrainian Oligarchs.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Anatoly Medetsky has an amusing and revealing account of Ukraine's "blue/orange" split among Kiev protesters in the Moscow Times. The description of the Yanukovich supporters -- who come from the region of Ukraine I lived in -- ring true.

Meanwhile C.J. Chivers reports in the New York Times of hints that the security forces are split on the crisis:

Mr. Yushchenko's followers also received a lift in morale when a general in the S.B.U., Ukraine's successor to the K.G.B., appeared on the stage with Mr. Yushchenko in the evening. While not in itself indicating the disposition of the S.B.U., the appearance of the uniformed officer, who identified himself as General Skipalksy of the Kiev region, was the first public display of support for the opposition from within the security services, whose role could be crucial if the peaceful political crisis turns violent.


posted by Dan on 11.25.04 at 03:34 PM


Dan - Yes, on the three points, but there's also the complicating factor that Putin is probably the key figure for successful repression at this point. Not that he can guarantee its success, but his lack of very active support would probably guarantee its failutre. Which means that I suspect the key diplomacy is going on behind the scenes with Putin. What I'd like to know from you is: what can "we" (USA and/or EU) give Putin to save face and accept a really shameful defeat for him.

posted by: Terry on 11.25.04 at 03:34 PM [permalink]

Chrenkoff has an interesting post on some potential paranoia going on in Moscow:

If that's indeed the level and tenor of thinking on the Russian side, I'm not sure there's anything we can offer, or should.

posted by: fingerowner on 11.25.04 at 03:34 PM [permalink]

There is actually a fourth possibility--the leadership avoids violence, bides its time and tries to outwait the demonstrators as winter's deep freeze sets in. That is essentially what Kuchma did back during the Gongadze scandal. True, the opposition is more organized this time, and interntional attention and pressure is greater, but Ukrainians hate confrontation and it could just be a matter of who outwaits whom.

posted by: quartz on 11.25.04 at 03:34 PM [permalink]

That's a sound observation, Quartz. Delay by the Yanukovych forces means time for the weather to wear on demonstrators in Kiev and for efforts to buy off factions supporting Yushchenko. However, the Yushchenko forces seem to have some momentum behind them, and I'm not sure the Yanukovych group can win in the end if they do not have the security forces squarely behind them.

Personally I think it a very good thing for an issue to have arisen on which the American and European governments are pulling in the same direction.

posted by: Zathras on 11.25.04 at 03:34 PM [permalink]

I don't know anything about the Ukraine, outside a 3 day visit to Odessa -- a Russian city -- back in 1996 .

I do know that other peoples elections are none of our business, so it disturbs me to see the OSCE, the EU and the US trying to influence this situation. I have no doubt that the food being brought to the Yushchenko side is being subsidized by US taxpayers. There is a terrific Guardian (UK) piece about this technique of staging rallies to overturn governments that has been developed over the last few years by Western interests.

A simple thought experiment is in order: The exit polls showed John Kerry ahead. Exit polls have been astoundingly accurate over the years in the US. We know about a whole series of irregularities with ballots and voting machines in Ohio, Florida and other places. And we know Republicans tried to surpress democratic turnout. Given all this, if Kerry had decided to bring his followers into the streets, and claim victory, he would have been about as justified as Yushchenko. And lets not talk about last election (2000).

How would we feel if the Russian embassy and intelligence services had offered Kerry support for such demonstrations. (Ironically, given the current security state we have developed, I bet that mass demostrations in Washington would be much more harshly dealt with than the current goings on in Kiev)

posted by: stari_momak on 11.25.04 at 03:34 PM [permalink]


Ukranian elections were rigged, US elections were not.

...Other peoples elections are none of our business - only if they are fair. That is why international observers are so important. You should compare their accounts for US and for Ukraine.

This terific piece in Guardian you mention - I hope you don't mean J. Steele from Putin-funded Russian Club?

Putting all this bla-bla aside, Ukraine seems to be really split. And opposition folk are not exactly the angels. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that Russia is playing so dirty it is pushing away the moderates (as I know from my friends in Kiev).

posted by: Eugene , Kiev-Montreal on 11.25.04 at 03:34 PM [permalink]

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