Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tymoshenko's Realism vs. Yushchenko's Politics of Hope

The crisis in Ukrainian politics--and the possible collapse of the second Orange Coalition--is based, in part, on the assessments that President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko have made in the wake of the Caucasus war.

Yushchenko continues to espouse "the politics of hope"--to try to appeal to values as a basis for Ukraine's move westward. When he receives vice president Cheney tomorrow, I am sure the rhetoric of freedom will saturate the air. But what beyond words is on offer?

Tymoshenko is much more of a realist, it seems. She has her finger on the expansion fatigue in the Euro-Atlantic community and drew what seems to be the correct conclusions about the West's willingness to forcefully respond to Russia's resurgence in the Eurasian space. She and her party decided that symbolic gestures meant to irritate Moscow weren't going to be of much value to Kyiv--hence her much lower key response to events in Georgia. At the same time, she does seem more interested in how the winds of a reviving Russian economy might blow in the sails of Ukraine--and how events in Georgia might be a silver lining for Ukrainian interests.

I'm sure that Tymoshenko has heard the same message I've heard German officials deliver in private--that Berlin (and by extension most of the other Western European countries) are more amenable to Ukrainian integration if 1) Ukraine settles its affairs with Russia and 2) Ukraine's economy grows rapidly. (The line I heard was this: "When Ukraine's economy is like Switzerland's, we'll have no objection to membership.") I also think that in her calculations the more that a "sober and sensible" Ukraine can be contrasted with an "impulsive" Georgia under the Saakashvili administration, the better off Kyiv will be.

I'm not downplaying the importance also of the ongoing power struggle between Yushchenko's presidential administration that is loath to surrender the powers and privileges it inherited from Leonid Kuchma and the desire of Tymoshenko's secretariat to boost its own status by enhancing the powers of the prime minister. At stake here is who exactly should control the valuable state companies in Ukraine--for gas and oil, mining, and other natural resources. But the Georgia crisis has brought matters to a boil in Ukraine.

Interesting how Tymoshenko herself phrased it. "The president and his office has used every means to ruin the coalition." The war of the staffs is a key component of this.
i agree with your comment except that you make it sound like both politicians are acting for their country's sake. However while Yushchenko has shown that he does have some convictions for which he is prepared to go against public opinion and his electoral interests Tymoshenko has never shown such stability. She'll campaign on a absolutely pro-western platform, which is why western newspapers keep describing her as "virilantly anti-Russian" and thenbe a realist if her country or is it her personal political plans demand it. A senior Russian advisor was quoted as saying that Russia shouldn't try to make any deals with her because there is no way she can be counted on to stick to the deal. The Russian is not the only one who wouldn't like to tell where she stands. Her "realism" probably stems from the fact that she couldn't care less about Ukrainian democracy or western values or other such stuff so long as she is in charge.
Tymoshenko is too cynical to expect any NATO cavalry riding over the hills if Yushchenko gets into a spat with Russia. She made her case in that FA piece why the West should defend Ukraine; she got nothing in BUcharest, so she knows what to expect.
I think this has to do more with Tymoshenko's opportunism (eyeing future presidency) than with her realism. Her way of thinking is, perhaps, that Russia is now in such a position that any Russia-friendly (or neutral) gesture from Ukraine (however symbolical) can bring tangible benefits (or even concessions). As to her FA piece, it was quite generic in terms telling the western audience what they want to hear. She knows better than most how gas prices for Ukraine were set, yet she talks about the "energy weapon". At about the same time that the FA article came out I remember reading some Kremlin-friendly political analyst (could be Pavlovsky) saying - she is bashing Russia now, but she'll be first to "love" Russia at an opportune time.
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