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5 September, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Kramar

A Bumbling Regime

Ukraine is paying the price for Yanukovych's suspension of European integration. The president's regime has found itself isolated internationally as a result of its anti-democratic domestic policies and the country has been left vulnerable to external pressure.

Another fruitless meeting between Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on 25 August confirmed the above. Yanukovych visited his Russian counterpart hoping to “change the format of gas relations” yet failed — once again — to do so despite all his gestures to please Moscow, such as keen interest in joint efforts to promote Russian products in foreign markets and move closer to Russia-led integration entities like the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc). Russia has so far ignored Yanukovych's earlier unilateral concessions including the surrender of Ukrainian interests in the Strait of Kerch, ratification of the CIS Free Trade Zone which mostly benefits Russia (no other CIS state except Belarus has joined for this very reason), and the Kolesnichenko-Kivalov Russification law. The Kremlin has responded to all these concessions with mounting pressure apparently aimed at pushing the presidential administration to ultimate, complete and unconditional capitulation which is supposed to begin with joining the Customs Union and giving up the Ukrainian gas pipeline following the example of Belarus. On 27 August Economy Minister Petro Poroshenko signed a Memorandum on Trade Cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Committee, a permanent regulator of the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, on behalf of Ukraine. The goal was to intensify economic relations with the body's member-states. Yet, on 29 August, Rustam Khakimov, Deputy Chair of the Main Department for Federal Customs Revenues and Rate Regulation of the Russian Customs Service, said that, starting on September 1st, a “utilization duty” would be paid for all cars made in Ukraine. This will be an extra import duty that could amount to as much as 30% of a vehicle's total cost. The move confirmed that Moscow will never see the current Ukrainian government as an equal partner. Instead, it will only exploit its weaknesses and ineptitude.

Instead of drawing reasonable conclusions and searching for ways to overcome European isolation, the president and his prime minister, Mykola Azarov, have both confirmed their rejection of the European way in public statements, and have begun to talk about Asian integration. Apparently, they still have naïve hopes that this strategy of blackmail will help them succeed in putting pressure on the EU.

During his meeting with Putin in Sochi, Yanukovych offered an initiative for Ukraine to become an observer at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) led by China and Russia, in order “to have an opportunity to participate in the SCO integration processes.” On 24 August, Ukraine's Independence Day, Yanukovych warned the EU that he did not want European integration if it was accompanied by “interference in internal affairs”. By this, he meant the EU's criticism of authoritarianism, political repression and attacks on freedom of speech in Ukraine.

On 27 August, Mykola Azarov blamed Europeans for back-pedalling ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association and FTA Agreements, responding sharply to journalists' questions about their future: “The Agreement has been initialed... Questions about when the EU is going to hold the ratification procedure is up to the EU, not to me”.

Although overcoming European isolation and reviving European integration-oriented policies are the only effective ways to strengthen Ukraine's position in its relations with Russia, the presidential administration continues to do exactly the opposite. Its latest moves to prove this include court verdicts affecting Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko (see Not Entitled to Justice for more details) which have already been harshly criticized by the European Commission, PACE, and the British government. European officials have called on the Ukrainian president to personally interfere in the situation claiming that continued imprisonment of these opposition leaders will cast a shadow over the outcome of the parliamentary election in October. Other aggravating moves include the rollback of freedom of speech with cable providers refusing to carry TVi in certain regions; the sequester of servers from Holovne, a Kharkiv-based opposition publication; and the revival of censorship for state-owned and some private media; the use of law enforcement agencies to exert pressure on opposition election teams, such as the latest raids on the leaders of Batkivshchyna in Kharkiv Oblast and UDAR in Donetsk Oblast; and manipulation of the selection of staff for district electoral commissions to create an environment for rigging the vote (see Is. 38 of The Ukrainian Week upcoming on August 13th for more details and analysis). Given all of these facts, Europeans are hardly likely to believe in the legitimacy of the upcoming election even if it is broadcast on-line with video cameras imported from Russia which, according to the Party of Regions, are virtually the only indicator of a fair election. Funny thing is, these video cameras failed to prevent a rigged election in Russia itself. 

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