Ukraine: Political Stability in Question after the Presidential Elections Răspunde

Roman Kupchinsky

Ileana Racheru has interviewed the regretted Ukrainian political analyst Roman Kupchinsky. Roman Kupchinsky was the editor of the Ukrainian language publishing house and research company  Prolog Research Corp. Between 1990 and 2002 he was Director of the Ukrainian service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and senior analyst for the same institution between 2002 and 2008.  Mr. Kupchinsky died of cancer this year on January 19, aged 66. This interview may be the last he ever gave.

The interview has also been published in Romanian in 22 Magazine and in English on Politică Externă blog.

How do you describe the Ukrainian electorate and the electoral programs of the main candidates? What groups of interest are behind each important candidate?

The Ukrainian electorate can be roughly divided into geographical locations as it has been since the first Ukrainian election. The vast majority of the voting public is located in the Southern and Eastern regions of the country, a highly Russian speaking part of the country which has resisted the central government’s attempts at Ukrainianization, thus allowing the pro-Russian Party of the Regions to use the language issue as part of it electoral program.

The Western regions of the country are strongly Ukrainian based with a highly developed sense of national awareness and therefore firm supporters of the Viktor Yushchenko camp and to some extent supportive of the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc. The problem is that it has a relatively small population and is economically depressed.

It would be an exaggeration to claim that the three (or two) of the major candidates have any type of electoral program except populist slogans which are designed to appeal across the board in all regions of the country.

The special interest groups can be divided into clans which are interested in securing their own economic well-being by keeping the price of gas cheap and are seeking to make deals with the top two candidates (Tymoshenko and Yanukovych) and barter their electoral power in return for cheap gas.

It seems that after the last EU-Ukraine summit, Brusells will have a limited interest in the relations with Kiev? How important are the EU’s critics over Ukraine’s lack of progress in the election campaign?

The EU-Ukraine summit was a failure for two major reasons. Ukraine failed to meet its obligations in increasing the price for domestic gas in September 2009 which was done by Yulia Tymoshenko and the increase in minimal salaries and increased pensions (a Yushchenko initiative). This effectively prevented any IMF loans to Ukraine and prompted the EU to strongly condemn the Ukrainian leadership for breaking their promises not only in terms of implementing reforms, but for threatening to use the IMF in order to pay for gas bills to Russia.

The IMF was aware that throughout 2009 Ukraine paid its gas debt to Russia with new emissions but that by January this would have to end. In an attempt to blackmail the EU into forcing the IMF into loaning the money, Ukrainian spokesmen in the West threatened a new gas blockade of Europe in January 2010.

For these reasons the EU will play a low key role in the upcoming election and cannot be expected to take a pro-Ukrainian position or support any type of a closer relationship between the EU and Ukraine in the near future.

In the past election campaigns, Russia was an important actor in Ukrainian politics. What is Russia’ s role in January 2010 elections?

As opposed to the role which Russia played in the 2004 election in Ukraine, Russia is now playing a lower profile role and seems to have given its top priority to quietly supporting the Tymoshenko campaign by promising a revision in the gas supply contract at the same time by attacking president Yushchenko and avoiding all reference to Viktor Yanukovych. This tactic is appealing to the pro-Tymoshenko industrialists who need cheap gas in order to maintain a profitable bottom line. With the elimination of the RosUkrEnergo gas trader which was closely linked to the Yanukovych Party of Regions, the Kremlin has cut off a major source of funding for Yanukovych.

Can we say that the collapse of the Yushchenko-Tymoschenko and Yanukovych-Tymoschenko power sharing deals after the orange revolution is a sign of the fact that no matter the presidential elections result in Ukraine the political instability will remain after January 2010?

Very few Ukrainian political observers believe that the new election will produce political stability in the country. Make-shift coalitions will come and go on a regular basis and much will depend upon Ukraine’s ability to come out of the current economic crisis more or less intact. Most however do not expect a sound monetary policy and believe that the Ukrainian Central Bank will not have much freedom of movement and will remain beholden to the new President.

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