The ruling party could be facing a showdown between its pragmatic and pro-Russian wings
After Party of the Regions won the VR election in 2006, its, then very much alive Yevhen Kushnariov, a member of PR’s Political Council, shocked White&Blue supporters with a killer statement: “Ukraine should have one official language and that language is Ukrainian.” Adding injury to insult for the pro-Russian contingent, he suggested cutting the salaries of civil servants who didn’t speak Ukrainian 20% and adding 30% to the salaries of those who spoke only Ukrainian at work. All this brought a furious response from fellow PR member Vadym Kolesnichenko, a notoriously anti-Ukrainian deputy: “I think Kushnariov got it wrong… The Russian language should have official status in some oblasts—and that’s just the first stage.” Fortunately, the “first stage” is still only talk.
In 2004 election, Viktor Yanukovych’s team for the first time violated an unspoken rule in Ukrainian politics by throwing divisive issues that had previously been taboo into the campaign. These included granting the Russian language official status, allowing dual citizenship with the Russian Federation, and so on. In addition, Russian political handlers involved in the campaign organized visual propaganda that divided Ukrainians into “three sorts” and other hostile messages geared to splitting Ukrainian society.
After Yanukovych lost the election, Party of the Regions continued to actively exploit these issues as the opposition. Local councils elected in 2006 with a PR majority in Eastern and Southern Ukraine made a big deal of establishing “Russian as the regional language” and declaring themselves “NATO-free zones.”
The situation changed radically after PR gained virtually complete power in 2010. Objectively, the party should no longer have had an interest in breaking the country up. Moreover, numerous protests, resentment among the Ukrainian intelligentsia and resistance in the opposition hold them back from keeping their language and humanitarian promises. The Yanukovych Administration is obviously not rushing to implement the most radical of these, even though it has all the leverage to do so: its people run the SBU, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, and the Constitutional Court, and it can easily organize a majority for any vote in the Rada. It looks like the pragmatic wing, at least, is trying to prevent further radicalization of Central and Western Ukraine, which means agreeing to certain ideological compromises.
But not everyone in the agglomeration called the Ukrainian government shares this pragmatic and completely reasonable approach. Some characters cannot seem to back off, doing damage to the image, of not just their country, but of their own leaders..
Neither fish nor fowl
Like most Ukrainian parties, Party of the Regions has no clearly defined ideology. In the time it spent as opposition, PR collected a crazy ideological cocktail made up of all the wishes of all those who might possibly vote for them, first among them, the pro-Russian contingent. Yet PR’s moves in this direction came down to noisy words: the party rushed to pass the language bill, the obscure Declaration of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine “On Dignity, Freedom and Human Rights,” and so on. In time, though, the language bill was set aside until “after the election” and never raised again.
While one PR man, Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, declares that Halychians and Ukrainians are two different peoples, the Government and the President arrange grand celebrations of Unity Day January 22, commemorating the day when the Western and Central Ukrainian Republics joined together. VR Deputies Tsariov and Kolesnichenko crusade against commemorating OUN-UPA, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, while L’viv Deputy Ihor Hryshchuk calls on the public to donate money to complete the monument to Stepan Bandera, the most prominent leader of OUN. Donetsk Oblast Council Secretary Mykola Levchenko jeers that the Ukrainian language is only good for folklore and jokes, while the President’s Deputy Chief-of-Staff Hanna Herman urges, “Protest when you’re told you are not Ukrainians!”
On the anniversary of the Battle of Kruty, where 300 students and cadets were mowed down by 6,000 Bolshevik troops, Kolesnichenko whimsically publishes an article entitled “The Kruty tragedy is not a myth on which the country can build its future,” while President Yanukovych addresses the people of Ukraine, saying, “With their courage and sacrifice, several hundreds of cadets, college and high school students set a true example for the next generations of fighters for independence.” Zaporizhzhia Governor and PR member Borys Petrov shocks some party faithful by suggesting that the Communist Party’s Oblast Committee should place statues of Stalin only inside its offices. When Ms. Herman announces that the President will never sign Tabachnyk’s draft education reform program, the Minister calls for her resignation.
This clash of “ideologies” within PR is leading to more and more conflicts. For the voters who did not support PR, the party remains an oligarch-run political force that steals state property and is ready to cut deals with Russia by crushing Ukrainian identity. Nowadays, PR diehards are beginning to talk about “political collaborationism.” The habit of saying one thing in the West and its near opposite in the East is yet more proof to PR supporters that they are being lied to. The expected “better life today” has not arrived so far, nor is it likely to do so. These days, PR voters are voting with their feet: in 2006, 60% of voters came to the polls in Sevastopol; only 41% did in 2010. In Kramatorsk, only 37% voted in local elections, while Melitopol broke the record for votes “against everybody”—25%.
The Kremlin wing
The PR members who want to avoid clashes within Ukrainian society—its business wing—or who prefer to look for compromises on cultural issues—Herman, Lavrynovych and Landyk—are finding themselves more and more estranged from those party members who are openly ready to serve Russian interests and Kremlin bosses. The “Kremlin wing” includes Tabachnyk with his belief that “Halychians and Ukrainians are two different peoples;” Kolesnichenko with his “For a Russian-Speaking Ukraine” movement, who also arranged an exhibit called “The Volyn Massacres: Polish and Jewish Victims of the OUN-UPA”; Levchenko with his “Ukrainian is only good in folklore and jokes”; VR Deputy Oleh Tsariov, co-leader of the Anti-Fascist Forum of Ukraine, known best for his campaign to close Kryivka, a very popular UPA-themed restaurant in L’viv; and so on.
The Kremlin wing is known for its aggressive opposition to all things Ukrainian and for endlessly singing to the ideological tune played towards Ukraine across the Russian border. Nor are they looking less enthusiastic with time, despite protectionist moves on Moscow’s behalf that are havingan adverse effect on PR’s business wing. With no serious business of their own and having built their image exclusively on being dead against all things Ukrainian, these PR members are now struggling to find their place. The Administration, in turn, uses this “Kremlin wing” largely to play the tunes that pro-Russian supporters in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea want to hear, such as the threat of “the vengeance of Banderites,” a “swift” solution to the language issue, and so on.
Nevertheless, the current position of PR leaders on socially sensitive issues is slowly turning its pro-Russian wing into a team of buffoons who, in the eyes of voters, are only capable of lying and manipulating. Borys Kolesnikov, who represents PR’s business interests, once openly called Tabachnyk “a cheap clown.”
A political time bomb
Since “A better life today” never materialized for most Ukrainians, voters are beginning to treat any new promises, such as “no unemployment in Ukraine in a year,” as science fiction; in exchange for extending the Black Sea Fleet, gas has become more expensive, not cheaper; education and arts initiatives are all still on paper alone. Given this, the political prospects for the Kremlin wing are anything but clear now.
Still, PR is unlikely to split over ideology just yet. So far, Viktor Yanukovych has managed to reconcile his oligarchs among each other. The PR’s business elite is consolidated as never before. But the Kremlin wing is unlikely to find a powerful spon-
sor anytime soon. Eventually, though, the PR oligarchs could start squabbling again. At that point, some “decent” sponsor might need the Kremlin faction and any deserters will easily find shelter in Moscow.
Hypothetically, there is the third scenario: before the next VR election the PR leadership will force a split. Yuriy Lutsenko’s Narodna Samooborona once grabbed the votes of those unhappy with President Yushchenko’s and Premier Tymoshenko’s policies, only to run in a bloc with Yushchenko’s Nasha Ukraina in a subsequent election. Similarly, the Kremlin faction can draw dissatisfied voters from PR, which would allow it to continue singing about “Banderite threats” yet set up a bloc with PR later... theoretically.
Yet the reality is that PR is in a political split as a result of its shortsighted ideological work when it was in opposition. It is constantly walking a fine line between further radicalization of Cen-
tral and Western Ukraine and deeper disappointment in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. And holding the splits for too long is not good for the musculoskeletal system.
Dmytro Tabachnyk on the steadfast leader:
“A local community can build monuments to whomever it wants for its own money. The government has no right to prohibit people from following any ideology they want, although it should stop any attempts to impose ideologies on others. When we talk about historical facts, Stalin was the leader of the winning army and of the nation that won the Great Patriotic War [WWII]. This has ensured him an important, unshakeable place in history.”
Ukraine's memorandum in the case of the seizure of Ukrainian sailors and ships in the Black Sea in November 2018 has been signed and will be submitted to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on Friday, May 22