Saturday, November 27, 2004

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Open Ukraine thread

The latest developments in the country:

1) The Associated Press reports that the Ukrainian parliament has declared the last election invalid. This has no binding authority without Kuchma's signature, but it can't hurt Yushchenko's position;

2) After multiparty talks yesterday, one of the options on the table is holding a re-vote, according to David Holley of the Los Angeles Times.

3) The Kyiv Post reports that the country's oligarchs are keeping a low profile.

4) Interfax reports that the eastern regions of the country (which are Yanukovich's base) are threatening to hold referendums on autonomy should Yushchenko come to power. Meanwhile, the BBC's Lisa Kushch reports on the mood in Donetsk (my old stomping grounds). They're not happy with what's going on in Kiev.

5) The BBC's Sebastian Usher reports that the state-run media outlets, "have joined the opposition, saying they have had enough of 'telling the government's lies.'" (link via Glenn Reynolds)

6) The New York Times has the following blind quote:

A senior Western diplomat in Kiev, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities, said it appeared questionable whether Mr. Kuchma could seize control of the situation with a crackdown on the mass demonstrations, even if he wanted to.

Demonstrators blocked access to much of Kiev for a sixth day on Saturday and have essentially paralyzed the government. Some law enforcement officers have crossed the lines and sided with Mr. Yushchenko's supporters.

"The ship of state is leaking power like a sieve," the diplomat said.

Speculate on what you think will happen here. What keeps gnawing at me is that whatever the outcome, one region of the country is going to be supremely pissed off.

Whether this leads to an attempt at secession -- and how the Russians would react to this -- are the questions on my mind.

UPDATE: Much obliged to Andrew for the link (and for his startling link to before/after shots of Yushchenko and the mysterious illness that plagued him this summer). For more Ukraine posts, click here and here. And let me add one admission of fallibility -- I'm genuinely surprised that Yushchenko and his supporters have made as much headway as they have to date.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On the one hand, this Interfax report suggests at least some degree of comity among the parties contending for power in Ukraine.

On the other hand, Roman Olearchyk's analysis in the Kyiv Post suggests that elites in the eastern parts of the country would take steps beyond autonomy to protect their interests:

The business tycoons in eastern Ukraine that supported Yanukovych appear to be taking extreme measures to protect their interests, which include lucrative assets in Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv and Luhansk. Government officials and legislators in these oblasts have in the past two days demanded the formation of an autonomous eastern-southern Ukrainian republic and are threatening to split their oblasts away from Ukraine altogether.

Kharkiv governor Yevhen Kushnyarov on Nov. 26 declared that his oblast would rule itself and control the military on its territory before it takes orders from what it calls extreme right-wing factions allied with Yushchenko. Parliamentarians in the eastern oblasts Donetsk and Lugansk and in the southern part of the Crimean peninsula called for the creation of an eastern autonomous Ukrainian republic... They began blacking out Ukrainian television channels that are reporting objectively about the current situation in Ukraine, leaving only propaganda outlets on the air. Officials from these regions also pledged to stop sending budget revenues from their industrial regions to the capital.

Granting autonomy to these regions would provide guarantees to the business elite in these regions, such as Donetsk tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, who fear that Yushchenko’s inner circle would attempt to gain control over their multi-billion dollar business empires should they come to power.

Olearchyk goes on to dismiss these moves because they lack popular support. If these protests in Dniepropetrovk are any indication, Olearchyk may be right -- it's a bad, bad sign for Yanukovych if he doesn't have a lot of support in Kuchma's old stomping grounds (however, Steven Lee Myers reports in the New York Times that, "in eastern Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of supporters of Prime Minister Yanukovich took to the streets"). However, I fear he underestimates the trouble the elites in these regions can create -- particularly if they want to generate a pretext for Russian intervention.

Finally, pro-Yushchenko blogs worth checking out for the situation on the ground include Tulipgirl, Le Sabot Post-Moderne, and Orange Ukraine. I'm not aware of any pro-Yanukovich blogs in English, but Jonathan Steele's essay in the Guardian gives you a sense of what they would say if they existed. Oh, and check out SCSUScholars -- one of them has in-country experience.

posted by Dan on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM


The Guardian is alleging that the US embassy was assisting the Yushchenko campaign.

US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev

posted by: Kevin de Bruxelles on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

Interfax reports that the eastern regions of the country (which are Yanukovich's base) are threatening to hold referendums on autonomy should Yushchenko come to power.

I suspect this will happen. There's already a precedent for regional autonomy in Ukraine (the Crimea), and federalism is a much less disruptive way of resolving regional differences than secession.

posted by: Jonathan Edelstein on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

Federalism as an ideal might work that way, but one only needs to look at what Russia has done in the Caucasus to see that an autonomy bid, with under the table support from Moscow, is going to be dreadfully destabilizing to Eastern Europe. The one thing that Putin doesn't need is more options for dividing up his opponents and remaining the only player to unite regional leaders.

posted by: Adam on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

I found an interesting link that quotes an e-mail from an apparently well-informed Russian that describes the Russian reaction to the Ukrainian elections. Here is a link. I thought that the readers of this weblog would find the e-mail interesting and I therefore wanted to share it with you.

posted by: Average Joe on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

I wonder what Ukraine can really learn from the Czech-Slovak experience. The important thing about the "velvet divorce" is that it was a Slovak initiative, a happy convergence of Slovak nationalistic interest and Czech economic interest, arguably also serving the cultural interests of both parties.

It seems to me that if the Russophone east of Ukraine were to initiate the "divorce", you could well pull it off peacefully. If the result is to allow the east to drift back toward Russia and the west toward the EU, well, that could work well for all concerned. Supporting a divorce could even be a trust-building exercise for Russia and the West. Above all, it would serve the empire-building impulses of both Russia and the EU, by giving each a clearly defined sphere of influence.

Replace "secession" with "federalism" if you like. That can tide you over for a few years, as "Serbia and Montenegro" will attest.

Peace, Jarrett

posted by: Jarrett on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

The role former Soviet republics and satellites are playing in the Ukrainian drama is remarkable. Particularly Poland. Poland's intervention could be problematic given Polish/Ukranian history. So far, Poland seems to be playing it correctly. Walesa was given a hero's welcome in Kiev. The Polish press has been all over the story - and being clear as to whom they support. Gazeta Wyborcza has changed its masthead from red to orange to show solidarity with the Ukranian reformers. Poland's goal in all this is clear - they want the Ukraine to join the west. At some point, Russia will have to decide if it wants to fully become part of the west. If the Ukraine goes west, can Russia continue to try to follow its own path?

posted by: Martin on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

Has anyone seen this British Helsinki Human Rights Group report about the second round of elections? If this NGO is right, Yushchenko's party is hardly the flagbearer of freedom the Western media makes it out to be. And the second round was hardly a clean affair on either side. I don't know enough about the politics to be able to comment on this. Nor do I know anything about the credibility of the BHHRG. Can anyone help clarify?

posted by: Tony Lee on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

Do you really think Russia will allow Ukraine's future to unfold without interference? I found an interesting article on the situation:

Any comments?

posted by: Steve Jackson on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

How lucrative can those eastern Ukraine assets be?

posted by: P O'Neill on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

This is not really a contest between liberal democratic forces and authoritarians aligned with Putin and his goons. This has more in common with Yeltsin v. the putschists in 1991: One incompetent thief with a marginal tendency toward political liberalization vs other, more brutal, still more incompetent thieves with no tendency toward political liberalization.

Of course we should support Yushchenko, just as we supported Yeltsin, but let's not harbor false hopes that Ukraine is on a path toward liberal democracy and economic transparency and prosperity. It is *extraordinarily* difficult to root out institutionalized corruption in large, heavily industrialized ex-Soviet nations. It may take Ukraine more than a generation to undo the damage wrought by ex-communist kleptocracy.

Ukraine's entire politics is poisoned. The country is one of, if not the, most corrupt, brutal and backward states in the northern hemisphere. And Yushchenko and his political partner Yulia Tymoshenko are up to their eyeballs in the kleptocracy that has reigned in that miserable country for 15 years.

Here's a portrait of Yulia based on in-depth reporting by Matt Brzezinski, Zbiggy's son-- as described in a surprisingly straight report from the Guardian:

Tymoshenko was born in 1960 in Dnipropetrovsk, one of the arsenals of Soviet totalitarianism, a Russian-speaking eastern city in a sea of Ukrainian-speaking villages. She trained as an economist. The city has a political heritage, and was the power base both of Leonid Brezhnev and of Ukraine's president for the past 10 years, Kuchma. Kuchma first arrived in Kiev pulling a long train of friends from Dnipropetrovsk behind him. Tymoshenko benefited from this connection through her acquaintance with Pavlo Lazarenko, who became Ukraine's prime minister in 1996.

Lazarenko claimed to have a plan that would solve Ukraine's perpetual energy crisis - the fact that factories were not able to pay for Russian gas. He set up a network of regional gas monopolies which supplied gas to companies in exchange for whatever those companies had to offer: cash, goods, or shares. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this system was a company set up and run by Tymoshenko, United Energy System.

NOTE: this is a tried and true Russian-Ukrainian method for ex-communist insider thieves to gain control of state assets worth billions and then milk them to the max, with money flowing back to politicians in charge of "regulating" the utility and millions flowing into Swiss accounts, London and Cote d'Azur real estate, etc.

These were heady times for the hungry young tycoon. According to Matthew Brzezinski's 2001 book Casino Moscow, which devotes a chapter to Tymoshenko entitled The Eleven Billion Dollar Woman, she was guarded by an entire platoon of ex-Soviet special forces bodyguards. She once sent a plane to collect Brzezinski from Moscow, fly him to Dnipropetrovsk to meet her for lunch, and drop him off back at Moscow in the evening. When Brzezinski said he didn't want to tie up the company plane, Tymoshenko said: "Don't worry. I have four of them."

According to Brzezinski, as a result of Lazarenko's patronage, "Tymoshenko gained control over nearly 20% of Ukraine's gross national product, an enviable position that probably no other private company in the world could boast."

Think about that, folks. 20% of a nation's GDP in the control of a thirty-something woman aligned with ex-communist kleptocrats. Does this really sound like a brave hero of liberal democracy to you?

posted by: lex on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

Don't pop the champagne over the fall of the old regime and the establishment of a Tymoshenko-Yushchenko government. To put it in perspective it's as if Kleptocratic Klown Kofi Annan was driven out of his post and replaced by Bob Torricelli or Berlusconi: a start, OK, but I'd be very skeptical if real, fundamental change ensued. Maybe worth a Sierra Nevada. Definitely not worth the bubbly.

Of course it's thrilling to watch the now familiar spectacle of People Power unfold: hundreds of thousands massing in the streets, defying stalinist miner thugs bused in from the provinces by the regime. Young people ingeniously using new media and technology to organize and communicate resistance to the graying, hamhanded old sovki. Photogenic young leaders like Yulia Tymoshenko leading the crowds.

But there will be no liberal democracy in Ukraine so long as it is led by a thieving, thuggish young woman who used her connections with the sovki in the old regime to strong-arm her way to a fortune in the billions. Yulia Tymoshenko is not Ukraine's hope; she represents everything wrong with post-soviet Ukraine (and Russia).

We make far too much out of elections. The old elites are still in charge in Ukraine. If the Eleven Billion Dollar Woman gains power, we will not see much progress for another generation.

Instead we'll see more of the false-hopes-collapsing syndrome that we saw after the kleptocrat Collor in Brazil (stole ca. $4B) was undone, after the kleptocrat Salinas in Mexico (who stole hundreds of millions and was implicated in drug trafficking and a drug-related assassination carried out by a group with his brother at the center) was undone, and after the kleptocrat Yeltsin in Russia was undone. Yeltsin transferred 40% of Russia's GDP to seven thieving clans who, in control of the privatized Russian media, ensured his re-election in 1996.

posted by: lex on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

Give me the drunken stalinist miners who actually produce something over the paper trading young, telegenic whores any day!

posted by: stari_momak on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

Tee hee!

But try again: there was never any "paper" traded in Tymoshenko's theft. It was done in best stalinist manner, through brute force.

posted by: lex on 11.27.04 at 11:34 AM [permalink]

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