Dominic Fean: “The West Is Not Sure Cases Against The Opposition Are Free of Politics”

16 June 2011, 11:50

The newly published report analyzes the consequences of the Kharkiv Treaties Ukraine and Russia signed in April 2010. The author of the report, IFRI political analyst and expert in CIS countries Dominic Fean, answered questions for The Ukrainian Week.


U.W.: Mr. Fean, your report says that the Kharkiv Treaties were signed to meet the interests of President Yanukovych’s inner circle. In your opinion, if Yanukovych is replaced by a pro-Western leader, will Ukraine be able to distance itself from Russia economically? How much future distance does the current condition of Ukraine’s economy allow?

My conclusion is this: the political rapprochement between Ukraine and Russia is caused primarily by economic reasons. Don’t forget that the interests of Ukraine’s economy are now tightly linked to those of large oligarchs who are close to the government. They benefit the most from a lower price for gas. Is the state interested in how the money thus saved will be used? Will large businessmen try to upgrade their equipment, increase efficiency and cut energy consumption at their enterprises? Or will they just increase their profits?

Regarding policy changes under the new government, I believe that the 2010 treaty will create a difficult legacy. The gas discounts are formulated as an advance payment for renting the naval base in Sevastopol. Thus, if Ukraine, hypothetically, wants to renegotiate the treaty about the fleet in the future, it will have to reimburse the money advanced. One can only imagine how difficult these negotiations and calculations will be.

U.W.: What is your opinion on the 2009 gas agreement? The Ukrainian government is accusing ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of knowingly acting against Ukraine’s interests.

This is a very complicated question. In order to answer it, we need to think back to that time and remind ourselves of how deep the economic crisis was and how complicated Ukrainian-Russian relations were. In my opinion, what Tymoshenko managed to find was not the worst solution in a less than favorable situation. If it had not been for the destructive consequences of the crisis, this agreement could have propelled her to victory in the 2010 election.

At the same time, several elements should be taken into consideration here. Tymoshenko obtained certain, albeit insignificant, gas price discounts in the 2009 agreement. Russia also agreed that Ukraine would not purchase the entire contracted annual volume. In general, 2009 was not too bad a year. Problems resurfaced in 2010 when it was time to sign a new contract, while oil prices to which gas prices were linked, soared. Evidently, the current gas contract is not very convenient for Kyiv. But it was hard to predict this hike in oil prices back in 2009. Tymoshenko’s government could of course be accused of short-sightedness but hardly of conscious wrongdoing.

U.W.: How much did Ukraine benefit from the exchange of the naval base rent extension until 2042 for a promise of cheaper gas?

First, the Kharkiv Treaties were signed not as a promise to lower the gas price but as a prerequisite for new gas price negotiations and nothing more than that. Second, I am sure that the issue of the Black Sea Fleet was also discussed with Tymoshenko in Moscow.

U.W.: Experts disagree on the issue of the Sevastopol naval base. Some say that it has largely sentimental value to the Russians, while others emphasize the strategic location of the port in the Black Sea and the fact that Russia will sooner or later moor one of the Mistrals it is buying from France right in Crimea. Who is right, in your opinion?

Both campsare. I believe Russia indeed has sentiments regarding Sevastopol and Ukraine in general. This feeling is real and has political implications. Sevastopol is symbolic for the history of Russia’s fleet and for some of the Russian elite. And this is not going to change any time soon. On the strategic level, Russia is trying to increase the standing of its fleet in the international arena. The Black Sea Fleet is a key element to Russia’s policy here. It could later have an impact on the situation not only in the Black Sea region but also, indirectly, in the Mediterranean. Regarding the Mistral ships, they are initially intended for use in the cold seas up north and areas with potentially exploitable gas deposits. Another real application seems to be using these helicopters in the Pacific. With regard to the Black Sea, it would be strategically ill-advised to keep a Mistral ship there. This hypothetical assignment to Sevastopol is more likely to be used as a political tool.

U.W.: That is to say, to bully Ukraine and Georgia with it from time to time?

The Black Sea Fleet today is a shadow of its past grandeur in terms of military power. In my opinion, the future of the Mistrals is in the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific. When Russia has four such ships, rather than two, then it will make sense to keep one in the Black Sea.


U.W.: You studied Ukraine’s attempt to obtain NATO membership. What do you think was the greatest obstacle: Ukraine being unprepared or a lack of political will on the part of the member states?

Your question pertains to two areas at the same time. The first one is the current condition of the Ukrainian army. Despite the possibility of membership, reforms were not carried out under the previous president. Time was lost due to disagreements between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko. Despite all the talk about how advisable it is for Ukraine to join NATO, Ukrainian elites have not provided the country’s armed forces with the means necessary to enable them to meet NATO standards.

At the same time, you are right in saying that enthusiasm was lacking among the member states. To some European countries this reservation had a clear political dimension and is explained by Russia. They were, you may say, fortunate that Ukraine was not ready for the candidate status, just like Georgia, by the way. But what I would like to emphasize the most here is the lack of provision which Ukraine failed to supply. This is characteristic of both Yanukovych’s and Yushchenko’s presidencies.

U.W.: You stress that Ukraine's funding for its armed forces is just one-fourth of what it spends on law enforcement agencies: the police, special services and the border service. You conclude that the country’s domestic security is a much greater concern for the government than its external security.

True, but this is an old trend, which started under President Leonid Kuchma and has only intensified since then, both under Yushchenko and Yanukovych. We see that the internal law enforcement agencies are clearly given priority. The political situation is more proof of this. However, the ruling elites are using the internal agencies more actively under Yanukovych than they did under his predecessors.

U.W.: What is your opinion on the judicial system in Ukraine today? The opposition laments selective methods, while the government claims it is merely fighting corruption.

Many cases have indeed been opened against former officials. This is a great question mark for me. Evidently there are situations that call for clarification. Is the current government really opening criminal cases in an unbiased fashion? The West is not totally sure that these investigations are free of a political component. There are suspicions that these cases are very selective.

U.W.: You say that the Russian elites counted on Yanukovych to pursue a policy that would be more favorable to Russia, while from a purely economic viewpoint he is not so much pro-Russian as pro-Ukrainian, if only just a little.

You should not be too concerned about Russia’s expectations of Ukraine. After the 2005-2010 period Russia clearly understood that any Ukrainian politician will defend his or her own interests above all. However, if you look closely at the events in the past two years, all the negotiations about Naftohaz, Ukraine’s gas transportation system and the Customs Union, this is indeed the case. I may note that Moscow expected greater complaisance from Yanukovych.

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