It looks like they have decided that any rapprochement has to be a real one. After the Moscow meeting of Ukrainian and Russian presidents that saw a number of agreements signed dealing, among other things, with gas pricing, a loan, and aircraft industry cooperation, Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin talked to the press virtually at the same time on December 19, so as to publicize and secure the agreements reached. President of Ukraine’s approach to the task was to give an interview, while his Russian counterpart gave a press conference. As a further common feature, first questions asked of the two both concerned the recent agreements. It looked highly symbolic.
Predictably, the main message of the Russian president was “we are helping our Ukrainian brothers, and the Independence Square protests as well as the EU have nothing to do with it.” Yanukovych’s message was “we had to solve the pressing economic issues and negotiations with the EU are still on.” How “Russian embraces” will turn out for Ukraine? Forecasts are not very optimistic. The country has gained breathing space, allowing it to delay real modernization of the economy once again. Rather than risk diversification, Ukraine will increase its cooperation with Russia and become more dependent on it.
The Day asked Doctor of Political Sciences, head of the political strategies department at the National Institute for Strategic Studies Maksym ROZUMNY about his take on Yanukovych’s interview.
“Kliuiev’s future role has to do mostly with the November 30 incident. It all depends on how he personally explained this story to the president, for it really was a situation that undermined the authorities’ international position at a crucial moment. From the president’s interview, I get it that he believes Kliuiev’s protestations that the latter was not involved in this provocation and was not a member of any conspiracy.”
“The interview has shown that the president expects the political situation in Ukraine to stabilize. He feels like a winner in foreign relations. Yanukovych expects to reshuffle the ruling group and calm the situation, but he clearly does not want to do it under pressure from protesters.”
What that reshuffle may look like?
“Some of it is obvious. Azarov is 66. Keeping him in power contradicts the Law ‘On State Service.’ One can find ways to bypass it, but what for? On the other hand, it is clear that with a new prime minister, the president’s inner circle will be thrown off balance, as it has its own interests and expectations with regards to the resources obtained by Ukraine following the agreements signed in Moscow recently. I think they will choose a careful and comprehensive approach. Any reshuffle will involve several fields at once, so that some group gets regional governorships, another obtains ministerial portfolios, and another yet will have to make do with economic gains only. These dealings will occupy the authorities for the immediate future. As for higher stakes now in play for the ‘young team’ led by First Deputy Prime Minister Arbuzov, the situation is twofold. On the one hand, it seems there were big mistakes made, because the team was responsible for the European direction, and now it is held liable for all omissions and errors committed in preparing the agreement. On the other hand, it is very likely that the whole association story was a smokescreen, behind which a deal with Putin was being prepared. Thus, I do not think there will be some serious sanctions against them.”
The National Security and Defense Council Secretary Andrii Kliuiev was another person in charge of the EU agreement. Among other things, he held talks with European officials. On the other hand, he has issued a statement holding that he is a victim of the campaign to discredit him by framing him as the person responsible for the beating of students at Euromaidan on November 30. How do you see Kliuiev’s career prospects, taking into account the possible reshuffle in the ruling group?
“Kliuiev’s future role has to do mostly with the November 30 incident. It all depends on how he personally explained this story to the president, for it really was a situation that undermined the authorities’ international position at a crucial moment. From the president’s interview, I get it that he believes Kliuiev’s protestations that the latter was not involved in this provocation and was not a member of any conspiracy. Of course, if we recall Kliuiev’s another perpetual role as chief campaign manager for the president, it may be that his status, his credibility with the boss has been somewhat shaken, so he will not be trusted as absolutely as before. He may be forced to partner in the upcoming presidential election with, say, Liovochkin.”
Strengthening of which group do you expect?
“The Firtash and Liovochkin group can hardly win anything in this situation because they have likely lost some of their gas profit sources, but for that they should be compensated with some other economic gains. As for the Kliuiev group, it also is in no position to request any addition to its slice of the pie. Meanwhile, I believe the ‘Family’ will find some Christmas gifts in the agreements signed by the Ukrainian and Russian presidents. Still, I believe the authorities will do everything to ensure that no group gains an advantage over others before 2015. They may go as far as changing public faces of these groups. Zakharchenko, Kliuiev, Arbuzov all have to undergo image correction. While they are at it, some other figures may move to the fore.”
Taking into account the possible reshuffle, the state of the protest and the opposition, can we say that the president is gradually taking control of the political crisis?
“I think so. Moreover, the president never looked confused or out of control during the crisis in the first place. In fact, at a time when the protest was much stronger and more dynamic than today, the president allowed himself to fly to China, even though it is known that during any internal situation escalation heads of state tend to avoid visits abroad.
“Even during this interview, Yanukovych behaved like a confident politician. I think that the president is also sure that he still has the loyalty of all the major bureaucratic and business groups. He sees it as the greatest guarantee that his position will remain stable.
“Regarding the protest situation, I would say, firstly, that there is ongoing political dialogue with the opposition, and secondly, that there are no people there who are a threat to the political status of the current president.”
Do you see the recent Moscow agreement as a victory, as the authorities say, or a surrender, as the opposition claims?
“Objectively, one is immediately reminded of the situation in Belarus, where they also took a loan and then lost their gas transmission system. The events of 2010 followed, destroying democratization hopes. There is an obvious risk of some anti-modernization scenario for Ukraine in the current situation. Experts are saying it clearly.
“Tactically, when looking at it as a struggle between two leaders, two players, it seems to me that Yanukovych won this party against Putin, for the decrease in gas price and the loan were probably absent from the Kremlin’s initial offer. Rather, these concessions were the result of pressure exerted by the Ukrainian side when it was reducing the consumption of Russian gas, turning to other sources of gas, and of course, moving to sign the Association Agreement. The Ukrainian side played its cards well and made Russian partners agree on acceptable terms for Yanukovych.”
“RUSSIA IS DOING EVERYTHING TO BRING UKRAINE BACK IN THE SPHERE OF RUSSIAN INFLUENCE”
Hryhorii PEREPELYTSIA, Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor of Shevchenko Kyiv National University:
“Yanukovych’s press conferences do not reflect objective reality and processes. They reflect his public stances, but not the real situation in Ukraine. The president acts so because he has chosen a path that does not solve the problems but only aggravates them. Therefore, should he speak openly about these problems, it will set the society against his policies, because truth is, unfortunately, very bitter. This country’s leaders lack adequate means to address its political, economic, social, and geopolitical problems. In fact, Ukraine’s everyday decisions are already controlled by Putin. How can our president talk about it?
“As for Putin’s press conference, he never was sincere in his treatment of Ukraine, on the contrary, his approach to this country was always extremely cynical. Russia is exerting fierce information pressure to discredit the European integration of Ukraine.
“Russia declared trade and information war on Ukraine because it intended to sign some agreement on free trade with the EU. The agreement was in no way about accession to the EU. Putin’s statement is totally cynical and declarative [it says that the choice of integration direction is up to Ukraine itself. – Ed.]. Russia is doing everything to bring Ukraine back in the sphere of Russian influence and annex it.
“This statement is also part of a public relations campaign. It pictures Putin as a peacemaker and progressive figure. It is also a message to the West, saying ‘we do not hold Ukraine hostage, it is free to choose.’ Meanwhile, they are twisting arms of Ukraine’s leadership and exerting fierce pressure. For their 15 billion dollars, Russians will receive 50 billion, if not our entire sovereignty, as the repayment. The loan has tightly bound Ukraine to Russia. Thus, having swallowed this financial bait, our leadership will be unable to even think about going back to European integration. Any hint of Ukraine returning to the Association Agreement will see Putin accusing it of violating this 15 billion dollars-worth agreement. Therefore, these 15 billion dollars will subject Yanukovych and the oligarchs to everyday control from Moscow. This quarterly gas rebate is a way to reward the oligarchs, too, as they stand to get some profit from it. Thus, Putin has accurately taken into account private interests of the oligarchs, who depended on Russia but looked to Europe, and private interests of President Yanukovych, too. He has loaned 15 billion dollars to satisfy these private interests, thus enabling him to manipulate Ukraine’s policies. At the same time, he says ‘choose for yourselves’ when we have no choice left.”