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Russian politologist draws Yanukovych’s political portrait

Stanislav Belkovski, political scientist

This is the first time in modern Ukraine that we have encountered such a radical protest with elements of violence. Maidan 2004 didn’t have the crashed cars, let alone the human victims. The protesters had been often accused by the authorities of creating traffic jams, so in order to avoid jams during the rallies oppositionists carried vehicles in their own hands.

As Leonid Kuchma, the former President of Ukraine, correctly formulated, Ukraine is not Russia, meaning that there will be no further patience for  despotism by the people. The most recently elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, is used to people’s patience, but it can hardly be strung along any further. With his criminal past and his criminal mindset, Mr. Yanukovych thinks that Stalin’s methods will prolong his term in power. Stalin’s way of governing is spreading around the countries of the former USSR – take for example neighboring Lukashenka regime of Belarus which has been enduring for 18 years and counting. As Stanislav Belkovski, a political scientist, puts it, Mr. Yanukovych overestimated the patience of the Ukrainians. Centuries of common history make the people of both Ukraine and Russia look alike, and this holds true in ethnic, genetic and cultural senses. But our post-soviet nations are newly-developed formations, and the Ukrainian people is neither the part of the Russian people any longer nor is it the scariest one. Mr. Yanukovych failed to take it into account while establishing his power system in 2010 after the Presidential elections he won. Back then, a newly-elected President started testing the patience of the Ukrainians: at first, he signed the military treaty prolonging the Russian Navy’s presence in the Black Sea. At that time he faced no evident resistance and gladly continued usurping the power.

The next move was Mr. Yanukovych’s imprisonment of his major political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko. Everyone understood that the pro-western Timoshenko, a charismatic nationalist party leader and former prime minister, had no place in Mr. Yanukovych’s map of the world. At that moment Ukrainians did not persist in their support of Yulia. Mr. Yanukovych spent the last three years creating a swamp in the Ukrainian political arena, with 146 shades of grey and the only swan in it, himself, Mr. Belkovski says. One does not have to be an analyst to compare the two leaders and find that, apart from both carrying a heavy Ukrainian accent while speaking foreign languages, the leaders are polar opposites. While Tymoshenko is known for brilliant crisis management and skills of making and implementing decisions, her counterpart is known as a director of a stagnant plant, a soviet-style Politburo guy.

We know that Viktor Yanukovych is an artificially-made politician, a recruit to officialdom. He had never had any ambition of running for the presidency. A fairly successful governor of Donetsk Oblast and satisfied with local affairs, he was considered by the former administration head Viktor Medvedchuk an easy-to-manage candidate due to Mr. Yanukovych’s previous record of conviction. It hardly occurred to Mr. Medvedchuk that when a populist candidate with criminal reputation appears ex machina he might become completely unmanageable.

Interestingly, today Mr. Medvedchuk is also Putin’s major political advisor on Ukraine, but back in 2004 his extravagant acts like publishing articles in media in response to the opponents gained him a reputation for fiasco, confirmed by the failure in political reformation of 2004. For instance, one of Medvedchuk’s epic fails was the ridiculing of Maidan as a valid political force: “It’s freezing cold, Maidan will be over in several days!” The other downfall was a defeat of his party during the 2007-2008 Parliamentary elections with less than 1 per cent of votes; but his most fabulous plan was the Mr. Yanukovych-Yushchenko ten-year strategic pact, with the former as a Ceremonial President and the latter as a full-flesh Prime Minister. Of course the pact was unsuccessful. However, Mr. Medvedchuk is a major advisor on Ukraine to Mr. Putin and his figure is well-aligned with the Russian President’s cold-war habits.

Mr. Medvedchuk introduced Mr. Yanukovych to big-time politics probably feeling like a puppeteer, but Mr. Yanukovych outlived his teacher, 2006 and 2007 brought victories for his Party of Regions and concreted his independent stand. The government of 2010 was a compromise and included influential Ukrainians and Orange Party members like Petro Poroshenko and Viktor Baloha, whose support was needed by Yanukovych at the time. The 2012 Parliamentary victory freed his hands: no more composite governments, the President was strong enough and started pumping power into the veins of his family, giving key positions to close relatives and trustees.

Mr. Yanukovych the President did not hesitate to enjoy the Room at the Top at its full after all his life’s twists and turns. Imprisoned twice, he must have suffered. He must have had his fears. They say fear is what he has been really driven by during his whole political career. Let’s take the 2004 inauguration moment as an example, when Mr. Yanukovych did not show up for his inauguration after facing the first-revolution rally. Had he appeared and bravely moved forwards, things could have developed differently, many reckon. However, bravery is not his type; Mr. Yanukovych prefers to stand the siege rather than advancing his troops. It worked alright until this winter, but today’s situation is critical. Not only has Mr. Yanukovych wrecked the long-awaited talks with the EU and performed the U-turn towards Russia’s cold embraces. He further contributed to the deepening of crisis by promptly passing repressive laws, which shocked the Ukrainian middle class and thus provoking even more people to the street.

Mr. Yanukovych has been testing the patience of Ukrainians for some time; he finally received his test score. It is certain today that we are observing the last days of President Yanukovych in power. It is believed that both he and the opposition leaders are accountable for the violent scenario; they provoked the bloodshed by inaction and inadequate responses to the direct will of the people expressed via Maidan.

Undecided opposition leaders were not able to restrain mass protesters from turning violent and thus did not stop the Hrushevskiy Street bloodshed from happening. It is common knowledge that the latest years of Ukrainian people’s indifference towards the political show obliterated the distinctions between Mr. Yanukovych and the other players. Three Ukrainian journalists, Sergey Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayem and Sergey Vysotski, who inspired the whole Maidan movement, evoke more trust than the parliamentary opposition trio of Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tyahnibok. However, the situation is developing. If just half-a-year ago Ukrainians recognized no difference between the leading politicians and thus were skeptical about participating in political events, today the same people are poised for battle in the center of Kyiv. On the other hand, the public of Maidan today is not led per se; this is just an assembly of those persisting with the idea of Ukraine as a part of Europe. Anything or anyone standing on the way to Europe today will fall.

Stanislav Belkovski believes that the current crisis in Ukraine is caused by Viktor Yanukovych alone, by his shameless behavior of humiliating his own people. In a criminal fashion of beating the money out of Ukrainians, he generated personal wealth but undermined the economy, which constantly needs international donations. The scientist is convinced: it is Mr. Yanukovych who initiated the U-turn of EU talks, not the hand of Moscow.

The other belief of Mr. Belkovski is that Russia donated a USD 15bn pillow to the racketeering Mr. Yanukovych for no reason because he vividly lost the support of Ukrainians. Moscow is about to lose the investment; what is more, the Kremlin does not look well now. The donation worsened Mr. Yanukovych’s above-average negative image in Western and Central Ukraine; more than that, it ruined his image in the South and East of Ukraine, the regions of his traditional support. Mr. Yanukovych’s rating in Donetsk crashed down from 80 per cent in 2009 to below 30 per cent presently due to the common understanding of the electorate that the funds promised by Moscow are not purposed for the region economy but for the personal wealth of The Family. This is how Mr. Yanukovych reached the point of no return, every day drowning deeper, with new faults like Hrushevskiy Street victims lowering his karma. Many believe that the ideal solution of the crisis in Ukraine will be Mr. Yanukovych’s magical escape.

Many today project Ukraine to become a parliamentary republic in the very near future, with Klitschko as a nominal President. Vitaliy Klitschko is definitely neither a manager nor he is a philosopher, but the figure is accepted in both the Eastern and Western parts of the country. Vitaliy’s striking boxing career is likeable; for many he is the symbol of potential success in the West. Being goal-driven in sports, he is viewed to be the same in politics leading the country to the closer ties with the EU.

S. Belkovski is convinced of a fatal end for Mr. Yanukovych, despite the latest successes The Family’s enterprises were making. The newly-built luxurious Mezhyhirya palace cannot possibly provide shelter to Mr. Yanukovych in a state where barricades and the heavy smell of burning tires are a part of the daily still-life.

The political scientist also marked a major mistake of Russian politics towards Ukraine and other post-soviet states. He noted that the only winning policy could become to support those countries moving towards Europe, but Moscow offers Russian provincialism to them instead. According to the scientist, this is a cardinal and fatal error of Russian politics.

Translated from Russian by anonymous translator


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