By searching for non-existent features of patriotism and statesman-like quality in Ukraine’s top officials, journalists are doing society a disservice
According to public opinion polls conducted by virtually all sociological services, from two thirds to three quarters of the population think that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Experts compete to coin new names for Ukraine’s current status in the international arena: “Multi-vectored isolation”, “mild disdain” or “elimination from the playing field” are some of the more flattering terms.
Indeed, it is difficult to offer different comments on the government’s unprecedented efforts to unite the electorate against it and making all leading powers, from Washington and Brussels to Moscow, share a common attitude towards Kyiv, albeit for different reasons. At the very least, the official statements of top officials in countries and organizations that are international players, all focus on the same problems, which include selective justice, corruption and the destruction of the investment climate.
In the middle of all this, articles are being published in the Ukrainian mass media which reflect the exact opposite. They draw flattering portraits of the government, interpret its failures as the result of a pessimistic attitude towards the Yanukovych team and exalt forced decisions as geopolitical or economic insights.
Pro-government or tycoon-controlled media are not the only ones that come up with such articles. They can also be found in well-known and respected media. Dzerkalo Tyzhnia(Mirror Weekly) published an article entitled "The Self-Reliant Yanukovyh" that appears to reassure the readership that the Ukrainian government and President Yanukovych personally are seeking a way out of international isolation, are at a stalemate stage in relations with Russia, and try to solve domestic problems. By saying that the main groups in power are "counting on the stars-and-stripes" the author means that they are ready to align with the American interests in the region and links recent tenders for shale gas extraction won by Shell and Chevron, as well as the prospects of Exxon Mobile's possible coming to the Ukrainian market, with a "struggle for resources" which, according to the author, is taking place in the world. The article gives an impression that US authorities have so much interest in Ukraine’s resources that they may provide Ukrainian government with "an exit from international isolation.” The author goes as far as mentioning an "Obama-Yanukovych deal" which presumably entails American support for Yanukovych in exchange for access to Ukrainian natural deposits.
Clearly, everyone wants to live in a country run by a government that knows its role and commitments, rather than a group of people with notorious backgrounds who don’t even understand the scale and the importance of the tasks they undertake. It feels so much better to think that the people at the top know all about domestic and foreign affairs and can implement complex combinations to meet national interests, as opposed to getting yet another industry under their own control.
However, wishful thinking can be naïve and dangerous, especially when the government tries hard to disprove doubts in its capability to act reasonably with the language status issue, the business environment and preparations for the election, while taking steps that make Ukraine vulnerable to external interference in its domestic affairs and putting the country’s sovereignty at risk.
The illusion of “adequacy” could be the thing that will keep the current team, with its anti-Ukrainian agenda, afloat, especially given its projected strengthening in parliament by the end of the year, through falsification and dissent in the opposition. Why then should it create the image of intellectual competence, thus legitimizing what is going on in the country?
On the other hand, Ukraine has seen enough rhetorical questions and whining about its fate. They don’t help to change things, unlike a sober analysis of the regime’s actions based on the understanding of its nature and essence.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GO AGAINST NATURE?
The Ukrainian Week has written much on how unpromising the reforms carried out by those in power are. Leading the country out of the crisis requires moves that are completely opposite to the government’s basic interests and actions.
Thus, efficient government entails the elimination of corruption and the establishment of playing rules where everyone is equal and protected by an unbiased court. There is no other scenario, as proven by Singapore, Hong Kong, Georgia and others whose experience Ukrainian leaders are studying hard. However, these reforms would leave them without the benefit of using the court for political revenge, monopolizing the markets in the hands of the “Family” or one of the richest oligarchs and viewing law enforcement authorities as a tool against competitors.
In no other country has monopolization co-exist with long-term sustainable development or selective justice with growing investment (since “investments” from Cyprus and similar places are hardly long-term or efficient). Moreover, the Ukrainian government should not have rushed to grant the UAH 6bn “bonus” allegedly promised to big Western companies - winners of the shale gas extraction tenders in Ukraine. The signing of relevant contracts can take longer than the government and some experts expect, as they entail investment that should have a long-term effect and no Western company, such as Shell, Chevron or Exxon Mobile, will hurry to start cooperation until they are sure that Ukraine’s government understands their terms, which will not be revised under the “misinterpretation of the parties’ rights and liabilities” excuse.
Moreover, these companies’ relations with the government of any country they work in, have nothing to do with their relations with the US administration. Claiming that companies are entering Ukraine under a mysterious “Obama – Yanukovych deal” means transferring post-soviet government-business-mafia decision-making schemes to international politics and economic relations. Such experiments have often put top Ukrainian officials and experts in a difficult position in the past.
“Multi-vectored isolation” seems to have become a consequence of the fact that at 10 Bankova St., the Presidential Administration, as well as the experts advising it, have formed the impression that “they will eventually get over it and accept it, just like people have here”. This approach was reflected in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statements that “relations between states matter more than the life of an individual”. It is difficult to dream up something that is further from the Western political mindset.
The expectation that others will work with Yanukovych because of Ukraine’s geopolitical significance, abundant resources and fertile soils, stems from the romantic early 1990s. George Soros once called this “geopolitical bargaining” and called on Ukrainian leaders to stop such attempts before it was too late. Yet, the myth proved to be resilient and facts are now being adapted to it. Even if they are simply adjusted in accordance with the required response, they will do Ukraine no good. The modern world is indeed ruthless, especially for those who face it without understanding its reality.
REALPOLITIK AND “PERMANENT INTERESTS”
Firstly, neither the Ukrainian government, nor experts, should overestimate the role of Ukraine in the geopolitical balance of the key centres of power. Foreign policy has never dominated US election campaigns. Candidates relying on geopolitics lost. The major battlegrounds were domestic affairs and the economy. Moreover, candidates tend to focus on “values and standards”, seeking for the tiniest crack in their opponents’ campaigns.
According to Western experts, the last thing candidates want during an election campaign is for voters to associate them with transnational energy companies or the support of foreign dictatorships. Given the tough struggle in America’s presidential campaign, it is difficult to imagine that Obama would risk supporting Yanukovych, thus promoting the interests of energy moguls.
After all, he doesn’t need to. It is Yanukovych & Co who need the cash badly, which is why they gladly welcome Shell, Chevron and (potentially) Exxon Mobile. This process requires no support from Washington. Moreover, thinking that US policy is all about serving the interests of huge corporations is too simplistic. If the latter happen to run into trouble, the US will use all possible leverage to help them out, but entering new markets and operating there is entirely up to the companies, not the US government. Their budgets exceed Ukraine’s GDP, so they don’t really need any deals between the relevant politicians.
Secondly, Ukrainian experts often project their post-soviet idea of stability onto the whole world. They assume that Western democracies will inevitably accept any regime in the country they are interested in. This approach misses a slew of important factors, however. Over the past decade, the concepts of realpolitik and permanent interests have undergone dramatic changes. They now take into account soft factors, such as a regime’s legitimacy, social moods and the security of humanity.
A regime based on repression, raider attacks and biased justice, is unstable by default, because it provokes resistance. If the latter cannot be implemented through legitimate procedures (competitive election), violence will ensue sooner or later. States that build strategies decades in advance, will not accept a country where a group of people temporarily has all the leverage in its hands. Too often has this sort of stability turned into a sudden and unexpected shift of government in virtually all parts of the world.
This is what the inflexibility of the US and the EU, as regards election standards, is associated with. Numerous officials have warned Ukrainian leaders in public and private conversations that an attempt to steal the election, thus laying a mine under the regime’s stability, will ruin the government’s relations with the democratic world. It will subsequently be futile to expect any support from abroad. And none of the boycotters are going to open any doors for Yanukovych. The government will not receive any IMF loans or systemic investment. It will have to live through all the economic and political consequences of its governance alone.
Thirdly, many Ukrainian observers tend to overestimate the role and the importance of the Ukrainian government’s declarations and moves in international politics. Talks on issues such as the supply of energy resources have been going on for years based on a serious foundation of mutual systemic interest and long-term expectations from cooperation. The signing of any protocol on gas supply does not automatically mean that it will be supplied.
Foreign businesses and governments calculate the risks, evaluating the real moves of top Ukrainian officials. Why invest in “alternative energy supply means” in Ukraine, if the latter takes no direct actions to decrease its dependence on Russia by introducing economically reasonable prices for its own energy (with relevant reimbursement to households that require it), or a comprehensive national program to save energy and support energy-saving technology? Will Ukraine really be able to guarantee demand for “additional” energy sources?
The past two years have proved that the government’s sporadic attempts to “gain energy independence from Russia” are nothing more than an imitation, the efficiency of which is only apparent to the government and experts who are prone to wishful thinking. After all, as premier and president, Yanukovych made it clear: he is leading the country towards Russia.
Governed by his soviet mentality, building a Russian model of government-society relations in Ukraine, burning all bridges for a dialogue with the majority of Ukrainians and suppressing any expression of discontent and opposition, Yanukovych cannot afford to be anything other than pro-Russian. In his relations with Vladimir Putin, all he does is demonstrate bitterness about not being treated like a homeboy, and all Yanukovych seeks, given his moves, is a gas price discount for the tycoons that are close to him. Without comprehensive changes in Ukraine’s economy, the discount will make Ukraine more, rather than less dependent on Russia as the only gas supplier, ultimately leading it to a repeat of the Belarusian scenario.
Therefore, Ukrainians, particularly so-called opinion leaders, do not have the right to construct the image of “a real president of his country” out of the material currently in power in Ukraine. It could bring tragedy to its disoriented society.
At a campaign rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump cited an unsubstantiated news report to revive a widely debunked false narrative about Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine on behalf of the Obama administration