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11 May, 2011  ▪  Rostyslav Pavlenko

A Trap For the Government

A poll conducted in April by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology showed no changes in the trend that has been observed since last summer: Ukrainians are growing less and less supportive of the authorities

If the parliamentary election took place next week, 13.9% of all voters surveyed, and 27.5% of those ready to come to polling stations, would support Party of the Regions. The current official allies of the party in power would not overcome the newly established 5% threshold: the Communist Party’s rating is 3.2% of all voters and 6.2% of those coming to polling stations and Mr. Tihipko’s Strong Ukraine would get 2.8% and 5.5% respectively.

The opposition, on the other hand, is growing more popular. Of course, the authorities may hope to use “special technologies” tested in 2010 campaign for the upcoming election. Yet, this will only bring them a Pyrrhic victory which could trigger protests, rallies, demands to recount votes and other threats to stability. 

The current government still has some time before the campaign. Officials prefer to assume that “people are waiting to see the outcome of the reforms” and once they see it, the party in power will win its electorate back. Or it will have to learn to explain the outcome of its actions to the public more clearly, and the voters will grow more tolerant of official statements which run counter to reality. Or, the government will become more open to cooperation with the public, as some of its representatives promise.

However, this would take a huge amount of effort from the authorities, especially self-control and a change in their habits and attitudes towards people they think can be bribed, intimidated or fooled through manipulation. If the government succeeds in that, it will make a great step ahead!

Still, these firmly entrenched habits are not so easy to shed. High-fliers will probably start off by treating people as a lower class – as they always do – thus putting their own future and the future of the country at a huge risk. 

In fact, this is the moment of truth not only for Ukraine and its authorities. The neighbouring Russia is undergoing some big domestic processes not counting the struggle between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitriy Medvedev. After all, it does not matter much if this struggle is real or just window dressing, or the two politicians are giving vent to their mutual anger with the intent of reaching understanding and compromise later.

The more important thing is that Russia plans to finish the process of gathering former soviet republics back together before Europe gets access to alternative energy resources and thus significantly restricts geopolitical opportunities for the Russian authorities and windfall profits for the state-owned monopolists they control. All its resources allow the Kremlin to be proactive, showing Europeans its strength and pressing them for the necessary decisions.

Economic integration of the CIS is an important element in this process. Russia expects to fix it under the framework of the Customs Union. So far, Ukrainian authorities have been avoiding irreversible decisions, while President Yanukovych even called Putin’s bragging about the customs union “political declarations.” 

Medvedev also happily stated that the personal and economic crisis between the two countries is over. Yet, Ukraine and Russia are not exactly best friends – Russia only expanded its exports to Ukraine.

The failed visit of Putin and a warmer attitude of Kyiv to Medvedev do not mean that the pressure on Ukraine will stop. Over the past few days, Kyiv has witnessed some unfriendly moves: “Orthodox communities” called on Yanukovych to strengthen the Russian World, not lead Ukraine into an “alien and hostile” EU. The Communist Party initiated an “all-Ukrainian referendum on the status of the Russian language, joining the Customs Union and retirement age.” 

They give a clear hint to the authorities: if the party in power does not go back to the pro-Russian roots of its campaign, they will do their best to inform its explosive electorate of the treason. 

Given the plummeting rates of the current authorities, they may yield to the temptation of taking an easier way by reaching out to the traditional electorate with pro-Russian slogans and using the initiatives of the Communists and Orthodox communities. However, this weakness will turn out costly: Russia will demand further concessions, while any gained support of pro-Russian voters will be downplayed by the loss of those who are not willing to give up Ukraine’s independence.

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