Books on Ukraine
Update No: 325 - (28/01/08)
Russia and Ukraine diverge
Ukraine and Russia are going in opposite directions. They did so actually in the
1990s. Russia had a genuine revolution in 1991-93, scrapping the Soviet system,
if not replacing it successfully with a viable alternative. Ukraine in those
days cleaved to Soviet ways, especially under President Leonid Kuchma.
The new century saw a reversal of democratic fortunes in the two Slav giants.
Russia took to Putinism, successful regression to Soviet ways in politics,
combined with a reversion of the economy to an etatiste approach, the older
apparatchiks replacing the oligarchs in the commanding heights. Ukraine had its
Orange revolution in October 2004 and is on course for a Western development,
putting Sovietism behind it.
These expectations were thwarted in the subsequent three years as Ukraine
descended into bitter political squabbling, culminating in a pre-term
parliamentary vote last year. After weeks of jockeying, the election finally
delivered a government led by Yulia Tymoshenko, the president’s sometime ally
and sometime rival, as prime minister. Now, Mr Yushchenko says, Ukraine is again
“The Ukrainian authorities for the first time are in a situation where the
president, the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament are all openly
proposing a pro-west path and Euro-Atlantic co-ordination,” Mr Yushchenko said
in an interview with the Financial Times on January 25. “I believe that today
the government is united.”
That was Mr Yushchenko’s ambition when he first came into office and, as the
world briefly marvelled at the protesters in snowy Kiev, it seemed astonishing
but just about credible. The president is using this consensus to push on
several fronts. He has called on Western countries to support Kiev’s bid to
join Nato’s membership action plan, a step towards accession, and hopes
Ukraine will be admitted to the World Trade Organisation in February. After
that, Mr Yushchenko wants to speed discussions with the EU about entering its
associated free trade zone.
He does not disguise his ambition of eventual EU membership. In time, he
believes, “Europe will find itself asking: why isn’t Ukraine a member?”
Kiev’s trump card is its democracy, which Mr Yushchenko believes has been
bolstered rather than undermined by the recent domestic conflicts. “Over the
past 2½ years we have demonstrated to the whole world that we are able to
resolve any internal disputes, even those with polarised political views, in a
Timoshenko to Russia
But Ukraine has to get on with Russia. Premier Timoshenko was due to go to
Moscow on January 23, but took advantage of a Russian offer to delay the visit
until late February, when she will be less pre-occupied by domestic matters,
above all the formation of her new government.
It is clear what her priorities will be, energy and debt, so important in
winter. As former head of the largest Ukrainian energy company, she is well
versed in the issues. The Russians used to claim that she engaged in various
commercial malpractices in those days and threatened prosecution if she stepped
foot in Russia. This sort of talk has been quietly dropped. One doesn't charge a
visiting prime minister, invited by the state, with criminal offences.
Not so easy at home
It is at home that Timoshenko faces close scrutiny for her past record in a way
that no leading Russian politician would ever have to do. The media, once
toothless, are now free to grill Ukraine's leaders on anything from their tax
returns to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's criminal record. He served time in
jail as a young man for robbery and assault, but both convictions were later
Nothing, it seems, is off-limits. Yulia Tymoshenko, the glamorous Orange
Revolution heroine, is asked at a news conference whether her rich blond hair,
braided peasant-style, is real. It is, she insists.
President Yushchenko is asked on live television about failures to deliver on
Orange Revolution promises. Tymoshenko is grilled on allegations of corruption
in her party. Yanukovych is given to barnyard epithets that add a certain
earthiness to the campaign trail.
Multi-coloured protest tents pop up regularly in central Kiev, sometimes right
in front of the presidential administration building — something that would be
unthinkable in Moscow, where such protests tend to be broken up before anybody
notices them. Such things have to be funded and it is an intersting exercise to
see which group of businessmen (capable of funding such things), stand to
benefit from whatever is being protested/supported. Ukrainians rally against
anything from foreign policy to city construction plans. And nobody seems to
Timoshenko Gets Credit for Soviet Debt
Timoshenko is showing here financial astuteness at home by redeeming Soviet-era
debt. Payments against the debt of the Savings Bank (Sberbank) of the USSR are
continuing today in Ukraine. The first day of payments was marked by a rush on
the state Oschadbank, resulting in the death of one pensioner while standing in
line and the trampling of another. Distribution of funds for the payments and
preparations at individual bank branches have been uneven, resulting in the
dismissal of 35 bank managers and reprimands for 52 others.
International agencies are warning, however, that the payments are likely to
speed up the inflation rate in the country.
The repayment of the Soviet bank's debt is one of Yulia Timoshenko's campaign
promises from the 2007 parliamentary elections. The parliament approved a draft
budget for the year that allowed for up to 2000 hryvna, that is, about $400, in
compensation per depositor, but that sum was cut in half in the final version of
the budget signed by the president. In all, 20 billion hryvna, or about $4
billion, has been budgeted for that purpose. The actual debt of the bank is 123
billion hryvna ($24.6 billion). The debt is being paid at a coefficient of 1.05
hryvna per Soviet ruble and no more than 1000 hryvna is being paid to any one
Prelude to a future presidential bid; abolition of the draft
There is no love lost between Yushchenko and Timoshenko. She has made it
abundantly clear that she thinks that she should be the next president.
The Yulia Timoshenko Bloc has also promised to cancel the military draft, but
that reform is moving more slowly. Timoshenko is claiming the credit for this
popular move, causing annoyance to her opponent, Party of the Regions leader
Viktor Yanukovich, and to her ally, Yushchenko.
“Its already a presidential campaign in its approach,” commented head of the
Kiev Institute of Global Problems Vadim Karasev. “It's a wonder the others [Timoshenko's
political competition] didn't think of it first.”