Snapshot of fast changing situation in the Ukraine, Russia’s interest and a background of political corruption

Abandoned by his own guards and reviled across the Ukrainian capital but still determined to recover his shredded authority, President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled Kiev on Saturday to denounce what he called a violent coup, as his official residence, his vast, colonnaded office complex and other once impregnable centers of power fell without a fight to throngs of joyous citizens stunned by their triumph.

The pro-European argument is actually a shorthand for various political discontents, including a growing anger at the domination of the country’s economy by the president’s crony oligarchs, a lack of rule of law and a constitution that concentrated power in the president.

Different sectors of society have invested competing hopes in the protests that broke out in November, triggered by President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to pull out of a deal with the EU and IMF that would have led to closer integration with Europe. Yanukovych chose instead a $15bn credit line and gas subsidies from Moscow. The first protesters were largely young middle-class students and liberals. The breaking up of that protest drew in an older, more nationalistic group, some of whom had served in the old Soviet army.

The veterans from the Afghanistan war have been able to organize the younger fighters. They were successful in raiding weapon depots.

Ukraine is a nation of 46 million. 20% are of Russian descent.

Ukraine’s Future

Ukraine is far from out of the woods. Talk of secession by the Crimea and the country’s east is still doing the rounds and one scenario being discussed is the annexation of Crimea by Russia. This would be a repeat performance of the occupation by Russian forces of Abkhazia in 2008 and could lead to an alarming confrontation between Moscow and whatever future government emerges in Kiev. Yesterday Russian “delegates” were in Kharkiv as Crimean political figures called for “protection”. It is possible the threat of a fracturing Ukraine is being deliberately stage-managed. Much will hinge on whether Russia stays on the sidelines.

One of Vladimir Putin’s key regional policies is the creation of a Eurasian Union which is due to be inaugurated in 2015. Critics say this is an effort to pull back together various bits of the old Soviet Union in a new regional bloc and Putin is keen for Ukraine to be a cornerstone of his new grouping. From the Kremlin’s point of view, the EU deal and last week’s EU mediation – much like Nato’s flirting with Georgia, which contributed to the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008 – represents a serious incursion into Moscow’s backyard. While Moscow appeared to back compromise to end the violence, perhaps because it has no desire for a civil war on its borders, a key question is how far Moscow would allow Ukraine to drift away from its sphere of influence.

Yanukovich has played Putin against Europe and the United States quite masterfully. So there is no love lost between them and no trust there,” says Eugene Rumer who, until earlier this month, served as U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the CIA. He’s now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

“The quality of the discussion here in Washington has really been appalling,” he adds. “A lot more has been said about Russia and Russia’s role … but it ignores the fact that Ukraine has had an independent life for the last 25 years and this crisis is really a domestic political crisis in Ukraine. Not that the Russians haven’t helped, but it is a Ukrainian domestic political crisis.

Yanukovich, however, “has never been Russia’s man,” says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “I think it’s a myth. He’s been a very difficult partner for Russia, a very unreliable partner, someone who let the Russians down on many occasions. Someone absolutely not to be trusted.”

Yanukovich’s only goal is to stay in power and to protect his wealth and the wealth of his family, says Trenin. “With Yanukovich vacillating between Russia and Europe and always having his own private interests in mind, it’s mind-boggling. So the Russians have long given up on Yanukovich.”

Putin is not rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of an epic battle with the West over Ukraine. In fact, says Carnegie’s Andrew Weiss, who worked on policy toward the region in the Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations, “I think if you’re sitting in the Kremlin the prospect of a Yugoslav scenario in Ukraine is quite scary.”

Weiss calls it a “four-way political fiasco” involving the Ukrainians, the Europeans, the Russians and the United States, where “people didn’t want to get engaged in the early stages of the conflict and events were quickly hijacked by politicians and self-interested actors on the ground.”

Ukraine’s economy is crappy. They have $15 billion of debt due in 2 years. Putin was willing to help with that. Europe and USA were not willing to step up for a bailout.

Corruption and Thuggishness

Mr. Yanukovych’s nemesis, former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, was released from a penitentiary hospital, Parliament found the president unable to fulfill his duties and exercised its constitutional powers to set an election for May 25 to select his replacement. But with both Mr. Yanukovych and his Russian patrons speaking of a “coup” carried out by “bandits” and “hooligans,” it was far from clear that the day’s lightning-quick events would be the last act in a struggle that has not just convulsed Ukraine but expanded into an East-West confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War.

Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych is a Ukrainian politician who was President of Ukraine from 2010 to 2014. He took office in February 2010 after beating Yulia Tymoshenko in a second round of voting. Four years later, on 22 February 2014, he was impeached by a vote of 328 out of 340 in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.

There have been accusations that the former Prime Ministrer Yulia Tymoshenko was tortured in prison. Tymoshenko is suffering from a herniated spinal disc since 2012. Few regard her imprisonment in 2011 as anything but a politically-motivated persecution by current Yanukovych, who seems to be afraid of her. By a narrow margin of 3.5%, she lost an election to him in 2010.

Yet others claim the abuse of office conviction is just the tip of the iceberg and they allege that she lined her pockets while betraying the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Yanukovych’s first attempt to become president in 2004 failed when the Ukrainian Supreme Court nullified and ordered a re-run of the initial second-round ballot electing Yanukovych, which was fraught with allegations of fraud and voter intimidation amid widespread citizen protests and occupation of Kiev’s Independence Square in what became known as the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych lost the court-ordered second 2004 presidential run-off election to Viktor Yushchenko. However, Yanukovych continued to lead his party, the Party of Regions.

In the years after Ukrainian independence, election fraud was widespread, mainly through the use of “administrative resources”] On the other hand, according to Taras Kuzio election fraud in Ukraine can only reach five percent of the total vote. Outright vote rigging diminished after the 2004 presidential election. After this election, the Supreme Court of Ukraine ruled that due to the scale of the electoral fraud, it became impossible to establish the election results and ordered a revote. Although politicians still claim(ed) election fraud and administrative tricks to get more votes for a particular party have not vanished. The Ukrainian electorate remains highly skeptical about the honesty of the election process.

United States diplomats have claimed the privatization of several Ukrainian state enterprises were rigged in favor of political friends. On a regional level, corruption has been discovered in connection with land allocation.

SOURCES – NY Times, Guardian UK, CNN, Wikipedia, BBC News, Washington Post

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