A slew of Ukrainian journalists, spin doctors and simply experts-turned-propagandists are working to clean up the international image of the Ukrainian government. But as life would have it, there is always somebody willing to spoil it all. First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin recently did precisely that at the annual YES (Yalta European Strategy) conference.
The government’s image-makers could not help but try again to use this international event sponsored by Viktor Pinchuk. “Many stereotypes have emerged about Ukraine, and this conference gives us an opportunity … to break them to an extent,” Mykola Azarov said in a speech written for him.
In attendance were former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (conspicuously, she did not greet Viktor Yanukovych), ex-IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle and other notable figures from the West.
“I am a prosecutor and not a defence attorney for [former Prime Minister Yulia] Tymoshenko … so it would be incorrect to demand defensive speeches from me,” Kuzmin pressed with authority. However, the Europeans demanded mere common sense rather than a defence. Why is the Prosecutor General’s Office internationally accusing Tymoshenko of contracting a murder before a court verdict? “[Because] there are sufficient reasons to do so,” Kuzmin snapped. The finale of his address was an exemplary piece of paradoxical logic: Tymoshenko’s attorney is the person to blame for her imprisonment, because he “constructed the defence in a way that left his client without a chance.”
Then Kuzmin struck the first notes of an old song about top officials being convicted in the West as well. Despite his two university educations, Kuzmin made the worst of gaffes when he referred to Strauss-Kahn, who had been close to serving time over sexual harassment and was in attendance in Yalta, as a case in point. As he said this, it became crystal clear that there was nothing that could improve the image of this Ukrainian government. It would have been better if a cake had been surreptitiously placed on a chair before some foreign guest sat down on it. The level of “smarts” would have been about the same and would have probably caused less damage to the government’s image. “This speech is the best counter-propaganda of the Ukrainian regime. He [Kuzmin. – UW] looked like a gangster, he behaved like a gangster and he talked like a gangster," a conference participant was quoted as saying by the foreign press. Of course, Ukraine’s television did not report this comment.