Monday, November 29, 2004

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Just one more Ukraine post for today...

As my previous posts suggest, I've been very wary of what happens if Ukraine blows up. Fred Weir and Helen Womack's piece in the Christian Science Monitor encapsulates these fears pretty well.

That said, it's cheering to see signs that maybe Ukraine won't blow up -- this week.

AFP reports that President Kuchma has come out in favor of new elections in the disputed regions (Donetsk and Luhansk):

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma said he was in favor of staging new elections in Ukraine to resolve a bitter dispute over a November 21 presidential vote won by his pro-Moscow prime minister.

"If we really want to preserve peace and agreement in Ukraine, and really want to build a legitimate democratic society that we so often talk about... then let's hold new elections," Kuchma said Monday in televised remarks.

Kuchma said he was ready to seek new solutions to the crisis even if this meant stepping outside the standard procedures for resolving the standoff.

"The situation we find ourselves in today in Ukraine demands not only strictly legal decision, but also political decisions," Kuchma said.

That last quotation is significant, because Yanukovich has stated his preference all along for strictly legal solutions.

Yanukovich has acceded to Kuchma's preferences, according to Reuters:

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich said Monday he would agree to stage a new presidential vote in two regions if mass fraud were proven to have occurred in the Nov. 21 election.
"If there is proof of cheating, that something illegal occurred there and if there is no doubt among experts, I will agree with such a decision," he said in televised comments, referring to two regions in his native eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Kyiv Post reports that the secessionist threat has freaked out some of the oligarchs:

Signs are emerging... that factions in Ukraine’s political and business elite who previously supported the candidacy of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych are switching sides and putting their chips on Yushchenko.

Citing a statement issued by President Leonid Kuchma’s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, opposition television station Channel 5 reported on Nov. 29 that the deputy and business mogul opposes separatist movements in eastern Ukraine that are being spearheaded by Yanukovych and the Donetsk-based tycoons who continue to back him.

Pinchuk is reportedly Ukraine’s second richest man. His assets have been valued at about $3 billion.

Meanwhile, insiders allege that Donetsk-based businessman Rinat Akhmetov continues to back Yanukovych and the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

On Akhmetov, check out Tom Warner's story in the Financial Times.

Encouragingly, Interfax reports that Ukraine's defense minister has rejected the idea of a state of emergency.

What's going on? There are three possibilities:

1) Yanukovich's secessionist ploy has alienated/frightened even those with a vested interest in the status quo in Ukraine. Stephen Lee Myers suggests this in his NYT piece today. To them, Yushchenko in power is (barely) preferrable to civil war.

2) Yanukovich and Kuchma are confident that a revote in Donetsk and Luhansk can be stage-managed by them to produce a favorable outcome. Regardless of vote-tampering, Ukrainian nationalists are very unpopular in that neck of the woods.

3) Kuchma is making an offer that he knows Yushchenko will refuse. See this SCSUScholars post for more on that possibility. UPDATE: This Bloomberg report by Halia Pavliva and Julian Nundy has some details that suggest this possibility:

Kuchma's offer to recount the vote would include the participation of international observers, his spokeswoman, Olena Hromnytska, said. If a recount doesn't satisfy the opposing sides, then he would offer fresh elections in the two regions.

If that isn't accepted, Hromnytska said, the president would call new nationwide elections. Under Ukrainian law, any candidate in the initial two-round balloting, including Yanukovych or Yushchenko, would be disqualified from the rerun, she said. (emphasis added)


posted by Dan on 11.29.04 at 02:31 PM


I'm a bit troubled by the possibility that the crisis may be ended by a re-vote endorsed by the oligarchs, on the grounds that they fear division of the country. Is it ever good when oligarchs get what they want? And do they really fear a break-up of Ukraine, or are they simply exploiting the situation to maintain their positions?

posted by: Andrew Steele on 11.29.04 at 02:31 PM [permalink]

posted by: pax on 11.29.04 at 02:31 PM [permalink]

From Moscow Times(via pax)

Even if Ukraine and Russia have a common past, there is a fundamental difference between the two countries, as Russian civil society is weak and easy to manipulate, while Ukrainian civil society is not, they said.
posted by: Brennan Stout on 11.29.04 at 02:31 PM [permalink]

Re your speculation #3, it appears that the Y-ch forces have calculated that Y-ko needs even larger offers to refuse:

In an apparent bid to compromise, Yanukovych said that if he becomes president, he will offer Yushchenko the post of "first person," or the prime minister's job. --

posted by: Jarrett on 11.29.04 at 02:31 PM [permalink]

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