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27 March, 2013 16:54   ▪  

Serhiy Kudelia: Yanukovych clearly favours his political survival over any gains from enhanced access to the European market

“The failure of Western governments to achieve their goals in Tymoshenko’s case corroborates a hypothesis about the limits of the EU’s democratic conditionality in relations with authoritarian states,” Serhiy Kudelia, assistant professor of political science at Baylor University, writes in his article for Problems of Post-Communism magazine.

“It shows that even when the EU issues clear demands and credibly commits itself to withholding substantial long-term benefits, the leadership of a target country may ignore them because of major domestic costs of compliance. As Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier observe, adopting democratic rules “would have required these government to give up the very instruments on which their political power rested,” he comments.

“If Yanukovych agreed to decriminalize Tymoshenko’s alleged offense and allowed her to participate in the 2012 parliamentary election, he would have showed his vulnerability to external pressure, revitalized the political opposition, and acquired a dangerous rival down the road.The case also demonstrates that external leverage may be limited not only due to structural characteristics of the target country or insufficient benefits offered but also because of the characteristics of an issue at stake. When the authorities view the issue as critical to their political survival—hence strongly salient—they are likely to reject any prospects of future rewards for the sake of immediate gains related to this issue. This reaction, in turn, underlines the importance of the temporal dimension of bargaining. Yanukovych’s need to prevent Tymoshenko from acquiring immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament led to her speedy conviction despite the flimsy legal base of the charges and the negative implications for Ukraine’s relations with the EU. As a result, no long-term benefits offered in exchange for her release are now likely to make him accept the costs of her return to politics,” claims Kudelia.

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Like Kuchma in the early 2000s, Yanukovych clearly prioritizes his political survival over any gains from enhanced access to the European market, as he made repeatedly clear by rejecting any compromise offers on Tymoshenko’s case. As a result, an EU policy based on positive cooperation and diplomatic maneuvering is unlikely to work in the short term. Instead, a shift in Yanukovych’s behavior requires him to reassess the domestic costs of his current strategy to cling to power. The West may strengthen its hand only by finding a way to raise these costs for Yanukovych and the members of his inner circle,” expert highlights. 

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