Someone said before the 2004 presidential election that instead of welcoming a Eurovision song competition Ukraine would have to say goodbye to Europe. That didn't happen then, thanks to the Orange Revolution, but after two years of “a new country” being built by our current government, the folklore is not less poignant: “Before Euro-2012 we are still in Europe but after that we will be in Aseurope.” (Aseurope, or Aziopa in Ukrainian, is a disparaging term referring to Russia’s efforts to forge a Eurasian union. – Transl.) The idea is that Europe is still willing to negotiate with Ukraine represented by its government until Euro 2012 takes place. European voters will not forgive their leaders a derailed football championship right before it is scheduled to start, so the EU will not make any drastic moves regarding Ukraine until July. However, after that date the Ukrainian government and the entire country may face unpleasant, but largely predictable, surprises.
Viktor Yanukovych is already experiencing what it means to be an outcast president. For example, it is becoming virtually unfeasible for him to arrange to meet with influential foreign politicians at international events and discuss possible options for cooperation. Davos was simply the most recent example of how the West has been treating this Ukrainian government all this while. This treatment has both emotional (refusal to talk, canceled meetings, etc.) and substantial aspects. The Ukrainian government is now finding it almost impossible to secure aid or support (for example, in negotiations with Russia) from Western leaders. Moreover, doing so will be absolutely out of the question in just a few months and this will have further impact on the investment climate: no government-sponsored road shows with stories about paradise in Ukraine will eclipse what foreign investors know from their contacts in our country about business conditions, attitude to private property, corporate raids and so on. If our country turns into a rogue state, they will be put off even more.
Yanukovych & Co. seem to have been wrong in their calculations as they drove themselves into this trap. On the one hand, they probably thought that Western politicians, whom they viewed as cynical and craving power at any cost, would understand cynicism in the actions of their Ukrainian counterparts. On the other hand, that Europeans stick to formal procedures and cannot afford acting outside the law (for example, they have a limited arsenal of sanctions) may be perceived by our leaders as a sign of “weakness.” After all, the Ukrainian establishment has traditionally been convinced that Ukraine represents such a high value to the European Union in “counterbalancing Russia,” that it would be forgiven a clampdown on democracy and authoritarianism.
To be fair, it should be said that the Western world indeed sent signals since early 2010 that could, in general, be interpreted in Ukraine as proof of the above stereotypes. Europe practically looked the other way when a “parliamentary majority” was forged using renegade MPs and the Constitutional Court both blessed this process and, more importantly, handed Ukrainian society the previous version of the Constitution which invested more executive power in the president. The Kharkiv Treaties were equally overlooked by the EU. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The sense of impunity might very well strengthen the Soviet stereotypes about the “helpless” and “naïve” West that are still held by some. Therefore, it was normal to give promises that were not going to be fulfilled, as was the case with Yulia Tymoshenko. It was also deemed possible to imitate rapprochement and fake a desire to integrate, as well as to sign papers on the Association Agreement in order to make Russia more “compliant.”
However, (post-)Soviet rulers fail to perceive that reputation and credibility mean a lot to Western politicians. Second, when the West states its position in official documents (such as resolutions of the European Parliament, PACE, statements by the U.S. Department of State and so on), the only feasible way for Ukraine to change it is to take real steps in the suggested direction. In other words, shutting down file-sharing sites cannot substitute for an end to political repression as demanded by the West.
The Ukrainian government has miscalculated relations with Russia. A lot has been said about the fact that the games that were played under Boris Yeltsin – give us cheap gas or else we will be friends with Europe and opposed to you – have no effect on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Only a clear and firm position can help obtain any concessions and secure respect from the pragmatic and cynical leadership of the current Russian Federation.
In fact, genuine rather than bogus European integration could be evidence of this kind of firmness. But the key word here is genuine. Now Europe has sensed the falsehood of Ukraine's integration efforts, so running back and forth between the EU and Russia and trying to blackmail each side with possible “rapprochement” with the other will no longer work. Both sides will hold Ukraine responsible for its prior commitments.
HONOUR AND DISGRACE
The political life of a calm, stable country where people have opportunities for self-realization and where their rights are guaranteed is almost always dull. Life in Ukraine can hardly be called that. Moreover, a government crisis and a clear inability of the current “vertical of power” to meet economic, social, humanitarian and security challenges once again suggest that the time to choose has come and we need to change the status quo. When we go about evaluating the government, we need not only placid terms like “efficient/inefficient” but also higher moral concepts, such as honor. Incidentally, honor is regarded as a harmful trait and is eradicated in any possible way in social systems that are based on the omnipotence of the leader – be it a khan, “the father of nations” or a president – and oppression of the subjects. In contrast, countries in which the concept of honor is respected by both citizens and, yes, politicians, are successful.
Ukraine's near future may depend on the extent to which Ukrainian politicians recognize the concept of honor. The European Union makes normal relations conditional on Ukraine holding a civilized parliamentary election. Statements voiced at all levels point to this fact.
The government has a simple choice: make an effort and change its ways or follow its instincts. The first option means doing it the honorable way: hold the election at least by the standards of 2006-2007, recognize the results and live with them. This will give the government a trump card in its interaction with the world. No-one really expects this to happen, but the ability to offer a pleasant surprise could erase many sins. The other option is to launch a campaign aimed at a “victory at any cost,” announce “comfortable” results and tighten the screws until free thinking becomes squashed or the screws are blown off together with those who have tightened them.
In both cases, the government is virtually guaranteed to lose. But the difference between these two scenarios is fundamental. In the first case, the loss is tactical – fewer-than-expected seats in parliament – and the government will still preserve control over the executive branch, an ability to manoeuvre and will maintain the status quo and its relations with the outer world. Not bound by the prospects of elections, Ukrainian leaders may even hope to obtain IMF loans if they agree to raise utility tariffs. This will at least postpone the imminent social catastrophe. Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko has, in essence, hinted at this possibility.
In the second case, the government will itself shut the door of the trap. All the dangers outlined above will have the best chance of happening – a boycott from the West, halted cooperation projects and cut-off financial aid. People will be enraged by electoral fraud. It will not even matter whether a revolution breaks out immediately after the election – ruling a country where your popular support is within the margin of error is a risky business. Now is the best time for Putin’s Kremlin to make pro-integration pitches Kyiv will not be able to turn down. But Ukraine will later have to pay for them with its sovereignty, which means no need for Yanukovych & Co. at the helm of the country.
The opposition also faces a choice between honour and disgrace. Opposition forces signed an agreement on joint actions on January 22. However, we have so far heard more arguments about who is the “true” opposition than we have seen joint actions. If the situation does not change within the next several weeks, it will make things easier for the government in its plans to entrench the current government in the country, which threatens, however, to make Ukraine involved in someone else’s game played for someone else’s interests.
THE ENCHANTED WEST
February 7, 2010
Viktor Yanukovych wins the presidential election
On the whole, Western leaders viewed the fact that power changed hands in Ukraine in a positive light, believing that it would put an end to political strife that everyone was sick of
February 25, 2010
The European Parliament (headed by Jerzy Buzek) issued a special resolution on the situation in Ukraine which welcomed “the fact that the report of the International Election Observation Mission on the presidential elections in Ukraine states that significant progress has been made compared to previous elections, with this election having met most OSCE and EU standards on free and fair elections.”
October 1, 2010
The Constitutional Court of Ukraine overturned the political reform of 2004 and restored the Constitution of 1996 which gave the president much more power.
European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle said that Ukraine had to continue wide-ranging constitutional reform and that would have to result in an effective system of checks and balances in the government in line with European standards. He promised that the EU would revisit the Constitutional Court ruling.
October 6, 2010
A PACE resolution on Ukraine welcomed the creation of a new ruling coalition that could foster political stability, which was an important condition for consolidating democracy in Ukraine, and stressed that the only way to secure long-term stability was to amend the Constitution so that it clearly separated the branches of governmental and introduced a proper system of checks and balances between them. Consolidation of power by a newly created administration, if achieved through democratic procedures, was understandable and in many cases even desirable, but it was not supposed to lead to the monopolization of power.
August 30, 2010
An extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada amended the law on elections to local government bodies which opened the door for falsification
October 13, 2010
Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, head of a delegation from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe which observed local elections in Ukraine, said that Ukrainian law on local elections was a far cry from international standards: “The elections will be a test to your new government, so I would say that these are national rather than local elections.”
October 31, 2010
Ukraineheld local elections at which the party of regions succeeded in greatly strengthening its positions in local self-government through the majority component of the mixed system, the use of administrative resource and provocations against its main opponents.
November 3, 2010
The U.S. Department of State called the local elections in Ukraine “a step back” compared to the presidential elections in February which brought victory to Yanukovych
October 22, 2010
Kyiv obtain the desired visa-free travel action plan at the Ukraine-EU summit. but it was coupled with clear warnings from the leadership of European Union. President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy said during a meeting with Yanukovych that the Ukraine-EU relations directly depended on reforms and the condition of democracy in Ukraine. European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso noted that rapprochement would depend on common values such as democracy and human rights.
November 25, 2010
The European Parliament passed a severe resolution on Ukraine which condemned curbing the freedom of press, democratic freedoms, violations of and imperfections in the election law and the SBU’s interference in politics. It noted that after the Constitutional Court ruling to repeal the political reform, the creation of a democratic, effective and reliable system of checks and balances ought to remain a priority, while the process of achieving this goal had to be open, comprehensive and accessible to all political parties and subjects in the country.
December 26, 2010
The Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine arrested Yuriy Lutsenko
December 30, 2010
The U.S. government issued a statement expressing its concern over selective persecutions of Ukrainian opposition politicians by law enforcement agencies in Ukraine
The European Commission and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton published a report with an analysis of the first year of Yanukovych's presidency. It said inter alia that the business and investment climate was suffering from corruption and a lack of an independent justice system. The report also pointed to disrespect for fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.
October 10, 2011
Representatives of the parliamentary majority submitted a bill with amendments to the law on parliamentary elections under which they would be held based on a mixed (proportional-majoritarian) electoral system
October 11, 2011
Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said: “The verdict comes after a trial which did not respect the international standards as regards [to a] fair, transparent and independent legal process. … The way the Ukrainian authorities will generally respect universal values and rule of law, and specifically how they will handle these cases (appeal and decriminalisation. – Ed.), risks having profound implications for the EU-Ukraine bilateral relationship, including for the conclusion of the Association Agreement, our political dialogue and our co-operation more broadly.”
October 31, 2011
Secretary of the Venice Commission Thomas Markert said that the PACE and the Venice Commission would advise Ukraine not to introduce a mixed system for parliamentary elections but use instead a regional one with open electoral lists and called on the government to amend electoral laws in consensus with the opposition
October 18, 2011
Chairman of the EU Delegation to Ukraine José Manuel Pinto Teixeira said that after Yanukovych was elected president, he said he wanted to continue the course on European integration. “It is a clearly defined menu, and you either like it or not. There is no free choice here – these principles we respect and these we ignore,” he said.
October 27, 2011
A PACE resolution on Ukraine emphasised that domestic reform, respect for the law and fair, unbiased and independent legal process were necessary conditions for developing relations between the EU and Ukraine. Judicial measures were applied selectively, and the verdict against ex-Prime Minister Tymoshenko was a violation of human rights and abuse of the justice system for the purpose of politically oppressing the leading opposition politician. Tymoshenko had to be given an opportunity to realize her right to participate the ongoing political process and in the future elections in Ukraine. If the issue regarding her remained resolved, it would jeopardize the Association Agreement and its ratification and would push the country further away from its European prospect.
October 27, 2011
President of the European People's Party Wilfried Martens said: “The EPP supports the deepening of EU-Ukraine relations as long as the country is stable and democratic and respects the principles of the social market economy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities and guarantees fundamental rights. … [Otherwise] no agreement between the EU and Ukraine can be signed and that President Yanukovych bears full responsibility for this blockade.”
PACE co-rapporteur Majlis Reps said: “It’s most likely that at the January session no extreme measures of influence will be applied with respect to Ukraine. The language and tone of the resolution will change. As far as negative scenarios are concerned, fears are mainly linked with the parliamentary elections approaching. If the electoral legislation is used in a certain manner, then your country will really have serious problems”.
November 28, 2011
The EU-USA summit passed a joint statement calling on the Ukrainian government “to make good on commitments to uphold democratic values and the rule of law, notably to ensure a fair, transparent and impartial process in trials related to members of the former Government including any appeal in the case of Ms Tymoshenko. The right of appeal should not be compromised by imposing limitations on the defendants’ ability to stand in future elections in Ukraine, including the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.”
December 6, 2011
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the USA considered Tymoshenko a political prisoner
December 19, 2011
Despite completing all preparations the Free Trade and Association Agreements between Ukraine and the EU were neither signed nor initialled
December 30, 2011
Yulia Tymoshenko was transferred to the Kachanivska corrective prison camp
January 26, 2012
The PACE passed a tough resolution on Ukraine which called on Yanukovych to consider all legislative means available to him to have Tymoshenko and other former members of the government released and given an opportunity to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Included in the final text was an amendment that envisaged sanctions against Ukraine if its government failed to comply.
Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper said in his annual report to the American Congress that Ukraine had been moving toward authoritarianism under President Yanukovych
January 27, 2012
In Davos, Yanukovych promised to improve the articles of the Criminal Code under which Tymoshenko had been convicted. MEP Marek Siwiec commented: “We heard from him that there is stabilization in Ukraine, but I would say this is stagnation. Ukraine is not making any progress.”
October 14, 2010
The Party of Regions signed a memorandum on cooperation with the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament
Hannes Swoboda, member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and its president since January 17, 2012, said that the way the Tymoshenko trial went was a big mistake for Yanukovych, because he made convicting his political rival his personal affair of primary importance. The group of socialists and democrats was not interested in having any special relations with those who violate democratic principles, he added. Swoboda also said he expected agreement on cooperation between Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the Party of Regions to be retracted within a matter of days.
January 31, 2012
Martin Schulz, leader of socialists and democrats and the new President of the European Parliament, said that the principles of a rule-of-law state were key to long-term EU-Ukraine relations and that the Ukrainian government knew as much. When the Association Agreement was put on hold, it showed that the Ukrainian government had to make progress in a certain direction. He said he hoped that this would happen, but it was too early to say that a possibility of sanctions could lead to real steps being taken.