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5 July, 2012

What Are They Thinking?

As the confrontation between the Yanukovych Administration and the West intensifies, top foreign statesmen have addressed requests to and made demands of the President and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, but the Ukrainian leaders have simply ignored them

Worse still, they make promises to Western powers and then, quite in the style of local con artists, forget all about them. The civilised world is politely asking that imprisoned opposition leaders be released, political repression stopped and the basics of democracy and political competition maintained. The reply is either silence or hysterics: “Don’t teach us how to live! It would be better if you helped us financially!”

Now the situation has reached an impasse. Speaking on Yevgeniy Kiselov’s show on the Inter channel, Russian observer Aleksandr Baunov aptly called the official Kyiv policy “disastrous”, and noted that in his opinion, Ukraine was cutting itself off from Europe.

This amy well prompt one to wonder how Ukraine’s financial-economic elites, the richest Ukrainians, feel – they can be seriously hurt if things come to an open confrontation with Europe. It will lead to sanctions and barriers on Ukrainian products' way to Western markets. And this is just the first possible sign of the overall deterioration in our relations. What do the 200 richest citizens of Ukraine think about the current situation? I mean those who are worth $10 million to $10 billion or more? Do they want to be known as pariahs west of Ukraine?

Journalist Vitaliy Portnykov believes that unlike the president, the Ukrainian elite are beginning to understand that things are headed for a disaster, and the day is not far off that the country will be isolated and suffer all of the ensuing consequences. Either Yanukovych will grasp as much or the Ukrainian establishment will have to do some thinking… Incidentally, Rinat Akhmetov is rumoured to be trying to distance himself from the ruling party, particularly from any kind of involvement in the 2012 parliamentary election.

It is becoming evident that the West has exhausted all rhetoric in its efforts to influence Yanukovych and his family. This means that other measures – more brutal and easier for the “simple Donetsk fellows” to understand – are now on the agenda. First, financial and legal leverage is likely to be employed. Action may be taken against the bank accounts of Ukrainian oligarchs, primarily those who are believed to be closely linked to the president. Uncomfortable questions may be raised about the legality of specific purchases or the origin of money paid for immovable and other property across the world. Those who have the reputation of being the Party of Regions’ donors will be exposed the most. Some seem to have sensed which way the wind is blowing. The wife of one of Donetsk’s richest natives is reportedly seeking British citizenship.

Moreover, very severe restrictions may be placed on foreign travel, especially to countries where our elites are used to spending at least as much time as in Ukraine. They have grand homes, yachts and planes there, their children study there and they travel there for medical treatment. Essentially, that is where they live. But if they suddenly disappear abroad, they will not be able to keep track of their assets in Ukraine and that may lead to lamentable consequences, given the corporate raids and appetites of the Family in Ukraine.

The smell of catastrophe is in the air. Some of the rich may try to convince themselves that they will be left unscathed, but such incidents always strike like a bolt from the blue. So instead of running one by one from this Titanic, the so-called elites should come together to tell the president that his current course is not good for them. Or is it better to sit and wait for the inevitable collision with the iceberg? There is little time left to change course...

If a Lukashenko-style dictatorship is established in Ukraine, it is bound to cause a redistribution of property in favour of the Family, which is today the main pillar of power and demands to be encouraged and fed. So what will the oligarchs outside Yanukovych’s inner circle do? It will be too late to appeal to the world community. Thus, the choice is actually fairly simple: either fall into an abyss together with this regime or try to normalise the situation in Ukraine.

Some marginal figures in the Party of Regions – fixtures in various talk shows – regularly identify their party with the country and increasingly call on Ukrainians to be patriotic and join with their political force to confront the “damned West” and thus win the right to build a sovereign prison.

To them, sovereignty means the legal right to freely and brutally settle accounts with political opponents and competitors as the world silently stands by. However, these mouthpieces that speak on behalf of the ruling party are not, of course, oligarchs. They do not face the far-reaching consequences that are confronting the country's 200 richest persons. That is why these small fry can afford to act the way they do.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for important people to make up their minds and speak up. They should keep in mind that there is only one oligarch in neighbouring Belarus, and everyone knows his name. Is it possible that one person in Kyiv will decide that one owner is enough for Ukraine, too? Every despotic ruler craves the absolute power that rules out any opposition or even a competitive environment with powerful players who have their own economic basis out of his reach. In all circumstances like this, the situation in the country can only deteriorate in the near future. Nothing will straighten itself out on its own.

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