What is Happening in the Ukraine?

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Beware of Revolutionaries – Better Yet, Beware of Everyone

The current unrest in the Ukraine is very reminiscent of the failed ‘Orange Revolution’ that pushed current pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich (then prime minister under president Leonid Kuchma) from power when the opposition candidate approved by the West, Viktor Yushchenko, won the 2004 election. Prior to the 2004 election, Yushchenko’s handlers launched a propaganda story about how their man was allegedly poisoned with dioxin. It later came to light that the story was very likely made up, but it sure helped his election victory along. 

‘Our’ man was finally in power – and soon turned out to be an even worse leader than his predecessor. The economy tanked and his political supporters split into different factions. Yushchenko’s prime minister Julia Tymoschenko, another darling of the West, apparently got involved in shady deals – at least that is what the Ukrainian court that sent her to jail in 2011 claims (it involved a gas deal with Russia – politicians robbing the country blind once they are in power is a well-worn tradition in the Ukraine and if memory serves, her protestations of innocence were not very convincing). In fact, both the Kuchma and Yushchenko governments have been referred to as ‘kleptocracies’ in US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.

Yushchenko, the former hero of the revolution, received only 5% of the vote in the 2010 election, which makes it all the more likely that his power-grab was largely orchestrated (although it is undoubtedly true that people were fed up with Kuchma and there was probably some hope that things might change for the better at the time of Yushchenko’s election). The main opponent of Yanukovich in the 2010 election was in fact Ms. Tymoschenko, and he in turn probably mainly won because many people regarded him as the lesser evil at that point.

The current ‘revolution’ started after Yanukovich refused to sign a deal with the EU (which involved more than just trade – he would have had to make various unrelated concessions) and took what appeared to be a far better deal offered by Putin ($15 billion better at a minimum). We certainly cannot blame him for not wanting to have anything to do with the socialistic Moloch in Brussels. It is by the way pretty astonishing that EU politicians feel called upon to make imperious demands of Yanukovich because he is confronted with street protests. If EU governments were to immediately resign upon facing massive street protests, neither Rajoy nor Samaras would be in power today.

yush and tymo What is Happening in the Ukraine?
Former president Viktor Yushchenko and former prime minister Julia Tymoschenko: Orange Revolution disappointment

(Photo via snb.nu / Author unknown)

Corrupt to the Core?

However, it is a very good bet that Yanukovitch is also upholding the above mentioned political tradition of robbing his country blind. We can’t prove it of course, but plenty of rumors to this effect certainly exist. If so, then he cannot afford to loosen his grip on power, otherwise he will run the risk of suffering the same fate as Tymoschenko down the road. Still, he could presumably lose the next election when Vitaly Klitschko – the ex-boxer who has become the new revolutionary leader – stands against him and wins. Provided of course that there is no election fraud – allegations of election fraud tend to surface in every election as it were.  

As an aside, as a teenager, Yanukovich was once sentenced for participating in a robbery and three years later he was again sentenced for assault (‘mistakes of youth’ according to him). He also holds academic titles that he seems to have obtained under what appear to be rather dubious circumstances; his publications are listed by the national library, but cannot be found. His military rank of major is belied by the non-existence of any military service on his part (all this is independent of the fact that he could have easily joined the cast of ‘Goodfellas’ on his looks alone).

yanu What is Happening in the Ukraine?
Viktor Yanukovich, who looks like he would make a good bouncer

(Photo credit: Reuters)

Not surprisingly,  the Ukraine is listed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, tied with Bangladesh, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Syria. On the surface, the conflict in the Ukraine is between the Russian-speaking half of the country (where Yanukovich’s main support base is) and the more pro-Western Ukrainian-speaking half.

It appears to an outside observer rather as though various criminal gangs are vying for control of the State so that they can steal without fear of retribution.

A friend pointed the following example of a wealth-grab by Ukrainian politicians out to us. Apparently two businessmen and members of parliament have shaken down BNP Paribas for $100 million, with the connivance of the Ukrainian courts. Here is an open letter written by the board of the Ukrainian subsidiary of BNP Paribas to the president:

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