Kiev, Mar. 26 2006 (ContentClix) — Ukraine’s faltering Orange Revolution is seen by analysts as something that was hardly avoidable. Many Eastern European countries went through a number of rapid successions in leadership before they somewhat stabilized. But given the EU’s reduced appetite for new members any time soon, will this lead to greater chances for Moscow to embark on a renewed struggle for control over its neigbour?
There is hardly a precedent for the situation in Ukraine regarding former Soviet Republics or countries in Russia’s sphere of influence and their chances to break free. It is believed that the future direction of Ukrain’s foreign policy will consist of a new mixture between hankering after closer ties with the West and a rational adoption of the economic ties with Russia that looked somewhat insecure a year ago.
The country is at a cross roads and key players in its government are taking surprising different lines than they did prior to the sacking of prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s government earlier this month over corruption and issues pertaining to the country’s oil sector.
All the while, the Kremlin has been laughing. This is just what they needed to see happen in one of their former Soviet members to divert fears that the Russians are losing their power over even their closest neighbours to a few strings pulled by Washington and the West.
The recent trip by a repentant former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to Moscow who with her job also lost her immunity to the arrest warrant that Moscow police had on her is highly significant in this regard and has on a number of occasions led to speculation she is teaming up with the former presidential candidate Victor Yanukovich, now leader of the opposition Party of the Regions. This is not the case however. Tymoshenko, who went to Moscow to once and for all sort out the Russian allegations that she had bribed Russian military officials when she was in charge of Ukraine’s main gas distributor in the 1990s, is strongly set on participating in the elections separately. She said that the rumors had been sent into the world by the president soon after he had dismissed her.
“It is annoying that after my dismissal from the PM post Victor Yushchenko’s team declared that Tymoshenko would go and form a bloc with Party of Regions and SDPU (u),” she was quoted as saying on 1+1 television. Yanukovich is reportedly planning to participate in the 2006 elections in a team that also includes Victor Andreevich.
Tymoshenko is highly popular among the Ukrainians not least because she is seen to not give up on the ideals of the Orange revolution, something that isn’t really all that apparent in her former colleagues. “Neither Leonid Kravchuk nor Leonid Kuchma were willing to play the street politics game to boast their support. Tymoshenko is different. She has the boldness and the recklessness to call her supporters to attack and overthrow the regime, as she demonstrated during the Orange Revolution. To gain absolute control, she is willing to risk everything, and that indicates that the revolution may not yet be over”, says Andrei Tsygankov, professor of international relations, San Francisco State University on RussiaProfile.com.
He doubts that Yushchenko is going to be as successful. If this does not come to pass, it is likely that in stead of Yushchenko calling the shots, it’s going to be Tymoshenko who will control both the Rada and the executive branch. Tymoshenko’s improved ties with Moscow are meant to prevent Russia from single mindedly backing Yushchenko come what may. Meanwhile, Yushchenko has also lobbied vigorously in Moscow. “Putin’s scheduled trip to Kiev in October may bring some important surprises”, says Tsygankov. Significant is also the fact that both candidates are vying for US approval. Tymoshenko has been reported to have improved ties with the US Embassy in what is interpreted as an effort to show that Yushchenko has been selling out the ideals of the Orange Revolution to the Kremlin. “It is critical that Russia and the West find common ground to prevent a new highly destabilizing turn of events”, says Tsygankov.
All allows for a few months of free drama, with new alliances likely to dominate the polls in January next year. What’s going to emerge is hopefully a truer definition of a country which hardly has had a chance to evolve into a mature state and which currently has a rather feeble governmental structure.
Governing in Kiev means that all efforts by ruling parties are subject to the pains that initial state building entails. It means that every effort put in is way more cumbersome than similar efforts in a way more established environment. All the energy put into the game is not likely to have been subjected to the deliberation whether or not it is going to be a waste on the grounds that the end result might be balanced out any different, but more so on the grounds of whether it is likely to come off at all in the present circumstances. Last year’s revolution is not viewed with the scepticism that you would initially suspect however. The people of the Ukraine are still enthralled when asked to voice their opinions on the revolution in popular research studies. In that sense, the energy that stirred the events still has not been quelled.
“Ukraine remains a country that went through a political revolution. It was no mere coup; the candidate of the popular majority came to power after an intense struggle of nerves, producing a sense of a new or renewed social contract in which the people felt empowered and something like “democracy” was something like “established.” The crucial words are put in quotation marks not out of sarcasm, but because in each case it was only “something like” them; they could each benefit from elaboration of the sense and degree in which they pertain. After all clarification which will not be attempted here the fact of a deep psychological transformation remains”, says Ira Straus, U.S. coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia on NATO in an article on RussiaProfile.com .
This is apparent from many levels of its society. Ukraine’s fledgling film industry is a point in case. The last recent movie that was home made won several international film festival prizes, featured precisely the issue of Ukraine’s being only just about a country. It features just the kind of similar missed opportunities in the country’s history as you instinctively feel are a hallmark of its current day deliberations by many in power and on the streets.
Entitled “A Prayer for Hetman Mazepa,” it was Ukraine’s biggest-budget feature film since the nation declared its independence in 1991, is described as ‘stirring a national dialogue about what it means to be Ukrainian in a country that never really was a country until just 11 years ago’ by ArtUkraine.com. Its subject is the role a national hero played in its history 2 millennia ago, named Hetman Mazepa. This leader wished for his country’s independence from Russia so much that he betrayed the Russian Czar Peter the Great and began fighting alongside the Swedish in return for a promise of independence by the Swedish King in 1709. But he got defeated devastatingly later on by the Russians in what remains Ukraine’s bloodiest war ever.
The fact that since the 1991 independence from Russia, the Ukrainians didn’t hesitate for a second to put Mazepa’s face on their currency shows that the spirit he stood for was still very much alive. The movie managed to infuriate the Russians, who simply banned it. But the review on ArtUkraine.com designates it as an integral ‘part of the ongoing search for national identity in a place still rediscovering a history wiped out by generations of foreign rule’.
A country may have many problems but to solve and independence from outside control is an issue that is on all counts more tricky than many other problems. The psychological implications are what makes it so interesting for outsiders. Ukrainians crave like mad for freedom yet they take to discussing their stumblings with the perpetrators of the crime as if nothing’s the matter as soon as internal difficulties emerge that theoutside power can punish them on. You either have independence or you don’t, but it is hard to realise this when you’re only just on your way.
So how feasible is the Ukraine quest for independence in the eyes of an ever watchful Moscow? Is this a people in danger of carelessly deluding itself into believing that because at this point, there is no other option left?
It appears that the Ukrainians have come to that conclusion independently, ironically. Because what else to make of Boris Tarsyuk, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister’s comment recently that Russia’s relations with the European Union and NATO were more developed than Ukraine’s? Different sounds have been heard repeatedly in the not too distant past. Ukraine soon after its revolution was seen to be overtaking Russia in approaching the West. Tarasyuk said in an interview with the independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy that Ukraine would continue to develop relations with Russia while also trying to integrate into the EU, which could be ‘realized in ten years at the earliest’. He also made a pledge to ‘work hard to improve Ukraine-Russia ties, especially bilateral relations within the framework of the Common Economic Space (CES) program’.
This display of rather humbling understanding of what real politics boils down to is according to outsiders an accurate assessment of Ukraine’s chances to join the EU. Everybody agrees that the time frame that goes with accession to the European Union simply doesn’t fit the current goings on in the country. “Unlike the transition countries of Central Europe, and very much like Russia, Ukraine is simply too large and complex to fit into the standard EU mold. It has to plough its own furrow, both in terms of its democratic architecture and geo-politics,” said Vlad Sobell. Will the next months show that the initial aspirations to join the EU and also NATO might be in danger of being overtaken in the meantime by Moscow based initiatives? During a recent visit to Washington the country’s acting Foreign Minister made just the sort of clarifications that you couldn’t term reassuring under the circumstances, saying “There will be no changes in our foreign policy. We want good relations with our major partners, with the United States, with Europe, with Russia, and we still have a goal of joining the European Union and NATO. These policies are not being held hostage to our internal differences.”
Great, but the imagery offered itself, what? Voluntarily? True, the main issue at the moment is the country’s transition to a market economy and this is what keeps the minds busier than most things, yet Moscow has a reputation for thwarting Ukraine’s internal matters grandiosely at carefully chosen times, not least through meddling in the oil industry. The issue does not receive the attention it likely warrants ever.
The current difficulties that the Ukrainian leaders are at loggerheads over are mainly over the risks of privatization and re nationalization of its oil industry, which is dominated by Russian companies. Privatization is a big issue all the more so because many ventures have become non lucrative and there is a lot of ill will to sell out to the Russians. So to talk of the country’s achievements to maintain or broaden its market economy is not always indicative of similar ventures in other countries.
“Ukraine obviously has its specific problems and circumstances, which make its evolution to a stable democratic system and prosperous market economy especially difficult. Here I would cite the absence of a tradition of independent statehood, the ethnic/regional divisions, its sensitive geo-political position between Russia and Western Europe, and the presence of a Russia-like powerful oligarchic class”, says Vlad Sobell, a senior economist at Daiwaa in London.
It will be interesting to see what is going to happen in future Ukraine Moscow relations, especially between President Putin and Tymoshenko, who shortly after the Orange Revolution so brilliantly snubbed the Russian President when he came to visit, by attending a state dinner. It had only been days after she had risen to top level power which made her a protected citizen despite Moscow branding her a criminal.
A recent news report quoted the issue of popularity as an important factor in the Ukraine Russian relations. Apparently, President Putin, who has until 2008 to go in his current role, is way more popular than most of the Kiev based rulers. This used to be the other way around just after the revolution, apparently to the great fury of Moscow, where newspapers were running articles saying that Ukraine might even set an example for Russia. Imagine the feeling in Moscow! Currently, as the Russian government is somewhat firm and stable and has shown it is managing to hold on to its power, it might be all the more insistent with Ukraine, a territory that made a near escape.
Whatever the next elections are going to bring, it will be most likely that Ukraine will have to continue putting a brave face on it, on the one hand being gerrymandered by Russia and at the same time being held accountable by the West for showing it is as free as is necessary for inclusion. But the Ukrainians are not to be underestimated when it comes to continuing their set course without too much respite. It is also a telling sign that Ukraine managed to get Nato to agree to early expert-level consultations. They have started in Brussels recently, speeding up the pace of the Ukraine – NATO dialogue. It might be on the agenda as early as 2008. That is just the sort of time frame a country like this could do with.
— Angelique van Engelen in Amsterdam
— Angelique van Engelen is a freelance journalist writing for www.contentClix.com . She takes on reporting assignments.