Friday, January 28, 2005

I wanted to write about it when it first appeared, but then I forgot: a Jan. 23 column on Ukraine in the Financial Times - Investors Must Stay Cautious About Ukraine, by Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. It's for subscribers only now, but I do have it saved, so here're a few excerpts:

But too much optimism is misplaced for Mr Yushchenko or for investors in Ukraine. There's still substantial political risk in the country. Investors should watch closely and remain cautious.

Ukraine's fault lines have not suddenly disappeared. Mr Yushchenko's opponent, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, still won 44.2 per cent of the popular vote.

Millions of Ukrainians, particularly in the southern and eastern regions of the country, are ethnically Russian, speak Russian as a first language, worship in the Russian Orthodox Church, and support ever closer ties between Kiev and Moscow. Mr Yanukovych is still their man.

They see that Ukrainian nationalists from the west and north of the country have pushed the Ukrainian-speaking, Catholic, and pro-European Mr Yushchenko to power and wonder if their political concerns will now be ignored.

The Financial Times ran a correction on Jan. 26, but I've noticed it only today (that's why I'm writing now) - so it's for subscribers only now as well, and here's a fragment:

Contrary to a report in FT on Monday, president Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church...

Strange that it took them three days to notice the mistake. Strange, also, that a seemingly reputable "political scientist" hasn't bothered to do his homework.

Just for the record, one day after Bremmer's column appeared, Yushchenko said this at a Jan. 24 meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksiy II in Moscow (via Kommersant, in Russian):

I'm a believer and I'll never tell my supporters which church they should attend.

He also told Aleksiy II that, since 2000, the president visits churches of all denominations on Christmas Eve:

Thus we demonstrate our religious tolerance. This is going to be the basis for my policies.

If this isn't enough, Yushchenko is also an economist, which, perhaps, is more relevant than his faith, both for Ukrainians and for the potential foreign investors.

As for the language issue, I wrote about it a few months ago. Here's Yushchenko's quote again, from a interview conducted last year:

Unfortunately, the current government hasn't been able to form a clear policy on Ukrainian, Russian or other languages. Our current prime minister [Yanukovych] writes with mistakes in both Russian and Ukrainian. But on the eve of every election, Ukrainian politicians begin to exploit the language issue. Leonid Kuchma used this slogan when he was running for president in 1994: "I'll make Russian the second official state language." So what? Who remembers this promise now?

As for my view on this, I always emphasize that in a democratic state there should be created the conditions for development of various cultural traditions, and this includes the use of different languages. Citizens of any European country are fluent in three or four languages, and we are still being overly dramatic trying to decide in which language we should communicate - in Russian or in Ukrainian? As a result, we speak Russian with mistakes and need a dictionary to speak Ukrainian.

Back to Bremmer's column:

He's already made one smart move: he opted to keep Volodymyr Lytvyn as parliamentary speaker. Mr Lytvyn's agrarian party will be closely aligned with Mr Yushchenko and will provide the new president political inroads with some of those Ukrainians suspicious of his plans.

It's not really up to Yushchenko to decide whether to keep the speaker or not: it's the prerogative of the parliament.

But Ukraine's parliamentary system remains highly fragmented. If Mr Yushchenko takes actions that splinter parliamentary cohesion by nominating hardliner Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister, for example he risks creating instant opposition to his reform programme from parliamentary groups who fear their interests may be brushed aside.

Mr Yushchenko must also be sure he can rein in those on his team who, in the name of fighting corruption, are eager to launch a frontal assault on the oligarchs who profited from the rigged privatisation deals of the Kuchma era. Some in Mr Yushchenko's camp would undoubtedly like to go after Mr Yanukovych and Leonid Kuchma on charges of electoral fraud.

Fighting corruption is unquestionably a worthwhile and necessary goal. But to pick a fight before he's ready to win would be a mistake for Ukraine's new president.

Basically, to make Ukraine safe for foreign investments, Yushchenko is expected to sit still and watch the old guys doing business like nothing's really happened. The only problem with such an approach is that it may not be too safe for Yushchenko himself, considering the readiness of Ukrainians to gather at Maidan when they feel they're being cheated.

Finally, Mr Yushchenko must manage Ukraine's all-important relationship with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin unapologetically campaigned for Mr Yanukovych and has protested what he calls the “western interference” in Ukraine's domestic politics that helped rescue Mr Yushchenko's candidacy from widespread vote-rigging.

Sergei Ivanov, Russian minister of defence, speaking in New York earlier this month, warned his audience of the dangers of exporting revolutions of any colour to the region.

Mr Yushchenko may heighten Russian-Ukrainian tensions if he visits Washington before he calls on Mr Putin, or if he refuses to engage the Russian president in talks on the “single economic space” that Russia hopes to create with Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Candidate Yushchenko expressed the fears of millions of Ukrainians that the plan to more closely integrate the economies of the four former Soviet neighbours will separate Ukraine further from the world economy, that it constitutes a thinly veiled attempt by Moscow to restore some of its Soviet-era influence in the region, and that the project could upset Ukraine's plans to join the World Trade Organisation.

But if Mr Yushchenko refuses to even discuss the plan, Russian resentment may burden the new Ukrainian president with a dangerous and determined enemy that enjoys real influence inside his country.

Why couldn't Bremmer wait just one day to make sure that Yushchenko was indeed planning to ignore Putin? On the day the column appeared - the day of the inauguration - it was already known that Yushchenko's first official visit would be to Moscow, so there's no way Bremmer is going to be able to pretend later that it was his expert warning that prevented Yushchenko from making a mess out of the Ukrainian-Russian relationship.


It's exhausting enough even without incompetent judgments of someone like Bremmer: there are so many guesses to make in such a short time, and the new ones appear all the time - Who's gonna be nominated for prime minister? Poroshenko? Tymoshenko? Zinchenko? Yavlinskiy? And when will this "who" be nominated? Monday? Tuesday? Sunday? And is Tymoshenko going to survive the vote in the parliament? And is Poroshenko and his party going to vote for Tymoshenko? Et cetera.

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