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Viktor Yanukovych: Between Rhetoric and Realities

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable XI:
“Compelling Bilateral Ties/Germany-Ukraine & Russia-Ukraine”

Viktor Yanukovych: Between Rhetoric and Realities

Taras Kuzio

Remarks by Dr. Taras Kuzio, Visiting Fellow, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, delivered at Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XI: Compelling Bilateral Ties/Germany-Ukraine & Russia-Ukraine, held in Washington DC on October 21, 2010.

The Viktor Yanukovych administration claims that it is:

  1. Committed to EU membership;
  2. Committed to democratic norms, free elections and free media;

But, what is the reality?

  1. Yanukovych, like Kuchma in 2004, has total power: presidential constitution;
  2. Unlike Kuchma in 2004, Yanukovych controls the parliament.

His image is one of two:

  1. Re-Born Democrat Image: he can show that he has learnt the lessons of 2004 and moved on.
  2. Bandit Image: essentially remains the same as in 2004.

Yanukovych”s international image is tilting towards the second view point that he has not changed. The big test of his democratic credentials will be 31 October local elections.

There is growing international criticism of creeping authoritarianism:

  1. British Minister of State for Europe: democratization;
  2. European Peoples Party; democratization
  3. Venice Commission on legal reforms: constitutional issues
  4. European Union; elections
  5. US Mission to OSCE at OSCE Human Dimension conference; elections
  6. Congress of local and regional authorities; elections
  7. National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute; elections
  8. Reporters Without Frontiers; elections
  9. Deputy Head of Central Election Commission and Committee of Voters; elections

In Yanukovych”s first year in office:

  • Growing credibility gap between words and deeds: return to Kuchma era virtual politics.
  • These deeds are leading to a growing viewpoint in West of:
    1. Neo-Sovietisation
    2. KGB-ization of the SBU
    3. Democratic rollback and authoritarianism
    4. Lead to Kuchma soft authoritarianism or Putin hard authoritarianism?

The worsening of his image is a consequence of how politics is undertaken. “Ukraine should play by the rules – not with the rules”, EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana told President Kuchma in 2002.

Yanukovych continues to play with the rules:

  1. Insufficient votes or worried about losing a referendum to change the constitution, then pressure the Constitutional Court.
  2. Insufficient votes to establish a parliamentary coalition, then change parliaments regulations and pressure the Constitutional Court.
  3. Can”t win elections in Kyiv, then liquidate rayon councils and change the law to have the mayor appointed as the governor.
  4. Insufficient votes to change the constitution to make Russian a state language, then adopt a law giving regional autonomy on language issues.
  5. Don”t like the Supreme Court because of December 2004, then use legal reforms to make it irrelevant.

Playing with the rules was especially prevalent in the October 1 decision to return to the 1996 constitution. “What took place is illegal, unconstitutional, illegitimate and unnecessary for Yanukovych” and “Ukraine is moving to Russia”, said Mikhail Pogrebynsky, Director, Ukrainian Centre for Political and Conflict Studies.

It is worth remembering that:

  1. Eastern European and Baltic states adopted parliamentary constitutions which assisted their building of democracies and Western integration.
  2. CIS states adopted presidential constitutions which led to authoritarianism.

Another area of concern is “re-KGB-ization” of the SBU:

The SBU is moving towards KGB-FSB model to a greater degree than under Kuchma. This year the SBU has investigated and created a climate of fear with:

  1. Human rights NGO”s
  2. Feminist NGO
  3. Historians and academics
  4. Journalists
  5. Political opposition
  6. Foreign foundations

The October 31 local elections will not meet international standards and 58% of Ukrainians believe there will be election fraud:

  • Authorities control majorities in all election commissions;
  • Cloning of Fatherland Party lists of candidates;
  • Refusing to register opposition candidates;
  • Denial of media access;
  • Campaign against corruption” targets Tymoshenko;
  • Virtual-loyal nationalists: Svoboda;
  • Complaints of administrative resources by opposition and authorities coalition partners.

There is time to re-adjust policies as Yanukovych is only in his first year in office. Ukraine is not yet Russia. But, can the drive to Putinism” be halted? There are four policy changes that need to be taken to reduce tension and instability:

  1. Remove divisive cabinet members;
  2. Promote national consolidation through the formation of a grand coalition;
  3. Oligarchs are no longer passive in politics;
  4. Shift from single to multi-vector foreign policy: good relations with Russia with integration into Europe.