Ukraine: Will Dictatorship Defeat Democracy?

When one follows the struggles of European leaders with Putin in the dispute about Ukraine, it begs the question whether cynical dictators will always beat democratic leaders? Putin needs Ukraine in the Eurasian Economic Community created in order to fix “the biggest misfortune of the 20th century”, namely the dissolution of the Soviet Union, whereas the EU endeavours to spread European values towards Ukraine by concluding the Association Agreement with it.

Viktor Yanukovych plays a key role in this clash; he has his own goals: to ensure himself the next tenure and money for his family, that is richer than the richest oligarchs. After his victory in presidential elections in 2010, he strengthened his position by changing the make-up of the Constitutional Tribunal in such a way, that it invalidated the constitution ensuring parliamentary regime, and, in this way, the presidential regime from the times before the Orange Revolution was restored. Europe did not react. Then, he had two irons in the fire. He led to the agreement upon the contents of the Association Agreement with the EU and its signing. In 2012 parliamentary elections, he consented to numerous violations during the election campaign, but he allowed for the votes to be summed up quite fairly (the results were questioned only in a dozen or so majority districts) which, taking into consideration the splitting of the opposition votes between several candidates, contributed to the victory of the Party of Regions. The EU accepted the results under the condition that the elections be repeated in 5 districts and corrections introduced in electoral regulations. He offered Putin to grant Ukraine the status of an associate member at the Customs Union – the 3+1 option. The accession to the Customs Union would exclude the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, the essential part of which is the agreement on free trade.

But recently, Yanukovych has come to the conclusion that he will achieve more with Putin. The EU requires too much of him and gives too little. First of all, he did not manage to convince European leaders that Yulia Tymoshenko is a monster and a thief with bad conscience. The EU still demands her release. Even the most favourable option for Yanukovych, namely that it is only a break to undergo treatment abroad, is a difficult situation for him. Allowing Yulia to remain free – even without restoring her civic rights – which would enable her to run for president, means a nightmare for Yanukovych. Her temperament, charisma, and insults and accusations hurled at him deprived him of the victory in presidential election in 2004 and parliamentary election in 2007. It was Tymoshenko who – by a hair’s breadth – beat him in 2010, when the country under her rule was at the bottom of the crisis and only neutral positions of the third and fourth candidates, i.e.  Serhiy Tihipko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, saved Yanukovych from defeat. Secondly, the Association with the EU may make it difficult to do family business. A pally business will not be able to win tenders for huge infrastructural projects, and seizing entrepreneurships for practically nothing will also be hindered. Thirdly, the Association with the EU may hinder rigging the presidential election in 2015. Yanukovych will benefit more from the agreement with Putin. He held a 5-hour conversation with Putin in private on the 9th of November after which no announcement was made. Certain speculations about the agreement between the two presidents are going around Kiev. Putin will not put up with a pro-Russian candidate who could deprive Yanukovych of 5% of votes in the first round. Gas will be sold for 260$ for 1,000 cubic metres, and not for 450$ as it is now, but not until the accession to the Customs Union with Russia. If an intermediary business connected with Yanukovych’s family adds for itself 20$ then, assuming the import is 20 billion cubic meters annually, it will give 400 million dollars, which means that a 5-year presidency will contribute to the flow of 2 billion dollars to private accounts, just for rewriting papers. For the moment, Russia will give a 15-billion-dollar credit to enable Yanukovych to survive till the presidential election. The economic crisis in Ukraine is so deep that they start to lack money for current payments in the public sector. Many years of populist policy and crisis contributed to it. Russia is willing to give a loan, because in the end it will be able to demand effectively Ukrainian gas pipelines from insolvent Ukraine as a form of settlement. And it will practically put an end to the embargo on the import of goods from Ukraine. This embargo is inconsistent with the obligations of the WTO, but Ukraine has not made any complaint yet, although government experts prepared it already in the summer. Of course, Putin will be engaged neither in domestic tenders, nor in Tymoshenko’s case, nor in improving electoral results. For the time being, the EU offers only 600 million euros for technical help in the introduction of reforms (and reportedly one billion more), but on condition that Ukraine signs the agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The Fund is ready to give a 15-billion-dollar credit, but on condition that energy tariffs, which are now much too low and make energy saving unprofitable, are gradually raised together with suitable social protections. If Ukraine used as much energy per GDP unit as is used on average in the EU, then gas import from Russia would not be needed anymore. But populism is so prevalent among Ukrainian politicians that none of them will say that the raising of tariffs will be all in all profitable, because consumers will pay more, but tax payers who pay an additional charge to the real prices will pay less and, in total, everyone will pay less because the stimuli to save money will decrease the consumption.

The EU can do nothing about Putin’s diktat. It was able to allocate 200 billion euros to save Greece, which went bankrupt through its own fault, but Greece accepted strict conditions of the repair. The EU would need Ukraine’s motion to the WTO to be able to impose economic sanctions on Russia, but even if such a motion was drawn up and the WTO authorised to impose sanctions, the EU, which is itself dependent on Russian gas, would think twice whether it wanted to freeze over in the cause of Kiev. Ukrainian opposition, especially diaspora, is pressing for personal sanctions for Yanukovych and his most “deserving” co-workers and their families: bans of entry, freezing the bank accounts, the requisition of properties in the West etc., but for such actions, strong grounds are needed; the refusal to sign the Association Agreement is not enough.

Ukrainian opposition has Plan B. It wants to win the presidential election. In the second round, it will support an opposition candidate who will get there. The first round will be a primary election for opposition candidates. It is not an optimal strategy. It would be better to put forward one candidate at once. Then, he would have an advantage over Yanukovych already in the first round, and people would believe that there is a chance to put the autocrat aside. Besides, there would be no fight between opposition candidates during the campaign before the first round. Reportedly, Yulia Tymoshenko does not support this option, as it would mean that Klitschko becomes the opposition candidate and the president, and Yatsenyuk becomes the prime minister. Tymoshenko prefers Yatsenyuk to win, because then there will be a free PM post, which is not suitable for Klitschko. To prevent electoral fraud and the control over the majority of the media (most of the channels are already controlled by Yanukovych), the opposition wants to organise mass demonstrations, which may turn into a revolution if the authority crosses the line. Passive society will allow the authority everything: complete control over the media and the Internet, a blockage of cash flow to the opposition and, in the end, electoral fraud.

For now, the opposition does not want to talk about the possibility of granting amnesty to Yanukovych if he resigns peacefully.

What can the EU do?

  1. Leave the possibility to conclude the Association Agreement open.
  2. Offer bigger financial help and cooperation in drawing up a detailed and realistic plan to switch to higher tariffs and more efficient energy economy.
  3. React to every restriction of democratic liberties, as it arises.
  4. Exert political pressure on Putin, on the one hand offering the perspective of common economic area between the EU and Russia, and on the other hand threatening with the boycott of social contacts which are prestigious to Putin, refusing to come to Sochi etc.
  5. Support civic organisations and open visa-free traffic.

It is not only the opposition and students that demand that the agreement with the EU be concluded. The day before the Summit in Vilnius, Yanukovych referred to his conversations with industrialists, who were said to have asked him to adjourn the signing of the Association Agreement because of Russian sanctions. Meanwhile, on the first day of the summit of the partnership, the head of the powerful union of industrialists, former Prime Minister Kinakh, considered to be a pro-government person, declared that businessmen are ready to accept the challenge to integrate with the EU. According to the latest opinion polls, more than 50% of Ukrainians were in favour of the Association with the EU, and only about 20% were in favour of the Customs Union. We cannot agree to a situation when in the 21st century an autocrat – possessed by the nostalgia for the Soviet empire – leads the EU by the nose and deprives Ukrainian people of the longed for perspective of living in freedom and democracy.

Translation: Anita Stradomska.