POLITICAL CRISIS IN UKRAINE NOT YET OVER
News.Az interviews Anton Finko, an expert at the Kiev Centre for Political and Conflict Studies.
How do you assess the results of the elections in Ukraine?
First of all, they proved the traditional split of the country between the predominantly Russian-speaking, more urbanized and industrial south-east of Ukraine, where the elite is accumulating the main capital in the country, and the predominantly agrarian and Ukrainian-speaking centre and west. The main regions that supported Yanukovych were Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Zaporizhia and Crimea. The main regions supporting Tymoshenko were Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Volyn, Rivne, Khmelnytsy, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Poltava, Kirovohrad, Sumy, Cherkasy, Zakarpattia and Kiev.
This split is not absolute. Some voters in the centre and west favoured Yanukovych which ensured his success. This is especially noticeable in, for example, Zakarpattia (51% for Tymoshenko and 41% for Yanukovych) and Kirovohrad 54% for Tymoshenko and 39% for Yanukovych).
The situation in the presidential elections of 1994 and 2004 has pretty much been repeated: voters in the West and centre, on the one hand, and voters in the south-east on the other, mostly consolidated around “their” elites. Meanwhile, the centre of the country is not uniform. There is a minority close to the south-east and some floating voters that can give preference to one side or another. In this case, the candidate from the opposition Party of the Regions, Yanukovych, gained the advantage.
Second, a serious challenge was set to the leadership of the main political powers – the Party of the Regions and Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc – and the preliminary contours of a third power have taken shape. This includes businessman Sergey Tigipko (13%) and the former speaker of the Supreme Rada, Arseniy Yatsenyuk (6.96%), who took third and fourth places respectively.
Third, the elections put an end to Yushchenko’s extremely unsuccessful presidency, as he managed to gain only 5.45% of the vote. The end to the policy of a head of state famous for extreme nationalism on language, religion and historical heritage deprives the elite of a reliable lightning rod, as hatred for him until recently united most Ukrainians.
Fourth, these were typical “bourgeois” elections, that is, a competition of political powers closely bound to business elites. Unlike the presidential elections of 1999, the left-wing candidates were unable to compete with them.
Has Ukraine elected someone who will really be able to unite the country?
Many voters who are not from his main regions will be extremely cautious about Yanukovych. The Ukrainian government is still, of course, led by his main opponent Yulia Tymoshenko. At the same time, I suppose not all Tymoshenko’s supporters are radical and they believe that Yanukovych has the right to prove his effectiveness. If Yanukovych manages to meet socioeconomic expectations, he will be able to unite the greater part of the public around him. Yet, it will be extremely difficult to do this in a grave economic crisis. The Ukrainian president does not have the levers of direct influence on socioeconomic policy, as these are controlled by the government. His success depends on whether he will be able to take coordinated steps in the chain, president – coalition government – parliamentary majority. New parliamentary elections are likely in Ukraine. The political crisis in Ukraine has not been overcome.
Ukraine’s integration with European and Euro-Atlantic structures is expected to be frozen, if not stopped altogether, during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency. Do you agree?
The newly elected president adheres to balanced, rational, moderate and cautious views on foreign policy. Yanukovych is a classical realist. It is important to try to understand and analyse the situation in which he will have to act.
The attitude of Ukrainians to NATO and the EU needs to be taken into account. Only marginal political powers in Ukraine dare to speak in favour of integration with NATO during the presidential or parliamentary elections. In the past few years the Alliance has become extremely unpopular in the eyes of the Ukrainian public. This applies to all age groups, including young people. If a referendum were held, NATO accession would be supported by no more than 13-15% of voters. The main categories of the Ukrainian public are negative about any initiatives that may cause conflicts with Russia.
The attitude to the EU is different. Some 40% of Ukrainians supported EU accession, 31% abstained while 29% voted against in November 2009. Yet, if the Ukrainian public is against integration with NATO, rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU is not encouraged in Brussels. The low-budget palliative that is the Eastern Partnership cannot be taken too seriously in the light of the involvement of Ukraine’s western neighbours in the EU. References to reforms that have not been conducted seem inappropriate to Kiev. Few in Ukraine believe that Romania or Bulgaria fully met the membership criteria when they joined the EU. The visa policy of the EU countries also causes resentment as it is often discriminatory.
As for Yanukovych’s position, he is obviously striving for balance in relations between East and West; he calls for the normalization of ties and restoration of friendly ties with Russia, which the Russian-speaking south-east of Ukraine is demanding and, at the same time, he stresses readiness to support the interests of Ukrainian enterprises in dialogue with Moscow. He realizes that it is not the time for Euro-romanticism and he talks about strategic partnership with the EU. He considers it necessary to “start a more pragmatic policy in relations with the EU, work on definite projects and build strategic relations with the EU in which Ukraine must be a reliable partner of the organization”.
How do you think Ukraine\'s relations within the CIS will develop?
I think much here will depend on whether official Kiev manages to find a compromise on energy relations with Russia. Yanukovych’s position is as follows: the fault of the “orange team” lies in the frustration of the contractual basis between Russia and Ukraine in trade and the transport of energy sources that took Ukrainian national interests into account. The 2009 agreements between Tymoshenko and Putin are not profitable for Ukraine and existing gas prices are unfair. Therefore, Yanukovych will strive to review them. As a tool in the trade and diplomatic game, the Party of the Regions mentioned the conclusion of direct talks on gas supplies from Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, Viktor Yanukovych has also taken a step towards Russia’s interests in the creation of the gas transportation consortium with the participation of Ukraine, Russia and the EU. He stated the need to conclude an agreement on a customs union under the 3+1 formula [the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union plus Ukraine].
Does Yanukovych’s presidency mean that Ukraine will turn from the Western direction of development and give preference to Russian initiatives? Is Ukraine likely to join the Collective Security Treaty and Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
Let me quote a statement by one of the most influential figures in the Party of the Regions, Boris Kolesnikov: “As for foreign policy, we had good relations with Russia from 1991 until 2005 until the ‘orange’ team came to power. Certainly, relations with Russia will be improved. But Ukraine will never be friends with the West against Russia and with Russia against the West. This is an extremely foolish position, considering our geopolitical situation. Ukraine will not enter any political unions, our team will conduct a completely independent pro-Ukrainian policy.”
What is the future of the GUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova) regional bloc?
The new leaders in Kiev will hardly take it seriously, although bilateral relations with Azerbaijan are very important.
Ukraine and Azerbaijan maintain close partnership relations. Will these relations change during Yanukovych’s presidency? If so, in what way?
I would like to recall that in 2004 when Yanukovych was prime minister, Ukrainian exports to Azerbaijan grew 45%. At that time, Ukrainian enterprises, such as Interpipe (pipe business), the Sumy-based Frunze compressor facilities, AutoKraz trucks, Kharkov turbines, the Kharkov aviation plant and Sandora juices were all on the Azerbaijani market. At that time Yanukovych suggested that Azerbaijan take part in oil refining in Ukraine. He seems willing to develop relations with Azerbaijan in future too.
Leyla Tagiyeva, News.Az