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23 December, 2013

Dangerous Liaisons

So what are the December 17 deals with Russia? A victory or a defeat?

They surely look like a bitter defeat at first sight. Viktor Yanukovych bypassed the EuroMaidan protesters blocking the runway for his airplane, flew to Moscow and brought back a suitcase with billions of dollars and a gas discount certificate. We will find out sooner or later what other debt liabilities, promises and dependences he brought back in that suitcase along with the money. What matters now is that our hopes for European integration were buried for long. Is this the end? Yes and no. But who said it would be easy?

On Tuesday night, right after we heard the breaking news from Moscow, opposition leaders announced the list of EuroMaidan’s victories accomplished so far. Virtually all people arrested after December 1 clashes were released; several top officials were under investigation for the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, and the main thing: Ukraine did not enter the Customs Union! Obviously, politicians had to say something to encourage a dozen thousand people who came to the Independence Square after work; to tell them that they were there for a reason and not all was lost yet, but we should still be cautious and carry on with our struggle. It may have encouraged some, but not many.

Yanukovych acted like a winner who outwitted Europe and Russia, and got USD 15bn for Eurobonds and cheap gas, by contrast to the opposition that had nothing to offer but promises. Why then Vladimir Putin looked so triumphant during negotiations and the signing of the deals? My fellow journalists from Russia who watch their president much more often than we do said that they had not seen Putin so happy in quite a while. He did not look like someone outwitted by Yanukovych at all.

READ ALSO: Putin's Expensive Victory

So, what is it exactly that the Russian president celebrates? Resumption of serial production of An-124 airplanes? Construction of a bridge through the Kerch Strait in the Crimea? Access for Ukrainian sweets and cheese to Russian grocery stores? Or joint celebration of Taras Shevchenko’s 200th anniversary mentioned by Yanukovych? This doesn’t seem funny at all. Could it be about the fact that a loyal man stays in power in a strategic neighbour-country?

Indeed, Ukraine did not enter the Customs Union officially. However, the Europause is similar to menopause in the Kremlin’s eyes. It is irreversible. The main thing about all this is that Ukraine remains in the Russian orbit for an unknown period in future. “Russia and Ukraine agreed to coordinate foreign political steps more closely, primarily over strategic stability and security in Europe and counteraction to new global challenges,” Vladimir Putin said after negotiations with Viktor Yanukovych. In the morning that day, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke more harshly. He seemed to refer to European partners: Ukraine has to negotiate with the EU in a three-partite format… This seems like nothing but the new Kolomak Articles whereby Ukrainian hetmans were banned to establish foreign relations independently 326 years ago. Translated into comprehensible language, this means the loss of independence and sovereignty, nothing less.

The quarterly revision of the gas price ratio means that Putin will have Yanukovych on a very short leash. The price will soar as soon as Ukraine’s president takes one wrong step. It is now virtually impossible to do anything to further decrease Ukraine’s dependence on Gazprom. The price of USD 268.5 per 1,000 cu m makes the LNG terminal in Odesa or any other diversification projects irrelevant. The only promising option left in this situation is continued long-term shale gas exploration by international companies. This is possible since the Family has personal interests in it.

The purchase of Ukrainian Eurobonds worth USD 15bn by Russia is a leash, too. Moscow will do it in tranches provided that Yanukovych sits quiet and obeys the Kremlin. Otherwise, a comparison to financial assistance from Western to Eastern Germany Putin mentioned many years ago will arise again: “they are paying for the unification of the nation, and what are we paying for?”

If Yanukovych manages to get through 2015 as president and tries to turn to Europe again, he will be given the bill immediately. By then, it will amount to USD 45-50bn of Ukraine’s gross debt to Russia.

Now, Ukraine’s obsolete industry faces no “negative implications” from European integration. Its modernization is postponed indefinitely. And we have yet to see how wide Russia will open its markets to Ukraine’s uncompetitive goods. Over nine months of 2013, trade between the two countries shrank 15%, stifled by sanctions against dairy products and sweets, as well as pipes, vegetables, train cars and paper. In 2012, it went down 10% or USD 4.5bn without any efforts on the part of the Kremlin. Nobody can guarantee that the import replacement policy in Russia and the ousting of competitors from the Russian market will stop in 2014.

READ ALSO: The Tycoon Effect

What is left for the EuroMaidan in this case? Well-informed sources claim that there will be no significant reshuffles in the top cabinets anytime soon. Even Mykola Azarov will remain in office despite everyone’s reluctance to see him there. The situational majority in parliament the opposition was promising to get soon will likely vanish. The pyramid of the regime has survived and hardly shaken. However, this does not mean that Ukrainians should stop shaking it altogether.

Maidan is not a mere demonstration. It is a long-term action. Clearly, the EuroMaidan – or Maidan Sich dubbed so after the Cossack Zaporizhzhia Sich - will not last too long. However, according to the Democratic Initiatives Foundation survey, 72.4% of its permanent participants intend to stay there “as long as it takes”. Maidan will remain the factor of Ukrainian politics in the memory of Ukraine and international community, if not in the minds of those in power. Another crackdown on it will only fuel protest sentiments.

The authorities are most likely to launch individual crackdowns now (read more on p. 10 and 14). They will take revenge now. Revenge is inherent to their rules and concepts, so activists will face persecutions, interrogations, intimidations and mudslinging. But the experience of effective joint action will not vanish. People have savoured freedom, courage, responsibility and trust for each other. Communities of proactive citizens have to respond with local Maidans to every violation of human rights or abuse of power. No functionary or representative of the regime should now feel impudent.  

READ ALSO: Oleh Pokalchuk: The entire Ukrainian people is now turning into a political nation

What matters now is not how much longer political and civil activists will remain on the Kyiv Maidan. What matters is how long the individual Maidan of dignity, disobedience and trust for other citizens will live in every Ukrainian ignited by the big Maidan.


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