|Author: Tomas Urbanec
UKRAINE IS ALREADY A DIFFERENT COUNTRY AFTER THE 'ORANGE REVOLUTION'.
At the end of December 2005, Iryna Solonenko, PhD candidate and research associate at the department of European Intergration of the National Academy of Public Administration in Kiev, was interviewed by the Russkii vopros journal on the current developments in Ukraine.
What are the major changes one year after the 'orange revolution'? In which areas does President Yushchenko fulfil his election promises and in which areas is he still lacking behind expectations?
There can be no doubt that following the 'orange revolution', Ukraine is already a different country. Firstly, the atmosphere of freedom as reflected in the freedom of expression (freedom of political views and the freedom of speech) is an undisputed achievement. Another reflection of this achievement is the growing activism of civil society organizations. Secondly, new authorities are more serious about carrying out reforms which are beneficial to Ukraine rather than only to individual oligarch groups as before. This is especially evident in the realm of political values, such as the rule of law and human rights. Although numerous violations still take place (as reported by different NGOs), the overall situation is better and the new authorities are more trusted by the West.
However, a change of elite at the highest level does not necessary lead to a change of system. Changing the system is, in fact, a very slow process. Although 18,000 civil servants were replaced in Ukraine following the revolution, this did not bring about any changes. In many areas, Ukraine is still lacking progress. The creation of 5 million jobs, as promised by Yushchenko, never happened as corruption in Ukraine is still widespread.
The punishment of those guilty of the falsification of elections, one of the most important promises of the revolution, has not been fulfilled as most of those guilt people are still active politicians. Overall, there is a lack of political will to accommodate the various interests within the orange team for the sake of the country (as a result Yulia Tymoshenko’s government was dismissed), a lack of clear reform strategy and a low capacity on all levels to carry out reforms and implement decisions.
An important step concerning promises made by presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was the re-privatization of the “Kryvorizhstal”steel-making enterprise, which was sold on October 24 to the foreign investor Mittal Steel Co for $4.84 billion. In 2004, this enterprise was sold for only $800 million to Ukrainian businessmen, including the son-in-law of the former president Leonid Kuchma. However, the money gained has been almost entirely directed towards covering the budget deficit of 2005/2006 rather than being used to support development.
Public opinion is very negative about the performance of the authorities. Yushchenko enjoyed incredible popularity immediately following the election and it diminished substantially over the course of the year. According to different opinion polls, support for both Yushchenko personally and the president as an institution fell from almost 50% in February 2005 to around 18% in October 2005. Support for the parliament diminished from 28% to 7% respectively and support for the government from 36% to 8%. The same is true for Yulia Tymoshenko as another representative of the 'orange team'. Popular support for her has diminished from 41% to 17% over the course of the year.
As a result, according to public opinion polls, the Regions of Ukraine party (led by Viktor Yanukovych who lost last year's presidential election) is the frontrunner in the forthcoming parliamentary election, with the support of approximately 17% of the electorate. The Yulia Tymoshenko Block and the Our Ukraine party of Viktor Yushchenko each enjoy slightly more than 12 % of the popular support.
Therefore, the overall results of public opinion polls indicate that there is a growing mistrust in authorities, which is to a large extent the result of the over-expectations of the population immediately after the Orange revolution and the lack of performance by the authorities.
How do you view the relationship between President Yuschenko and ex-Prime Minister Tymoshenko and what is your prognosis for the future? What was the major reason for the collapse of their coalition? Do you think that they will cooperate until the parliamentary elections?
Given the fact that amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine will come into effect in January 2006, and that authority will shift from the hands of the president to the parliament and respectively the government, it is essential that political forces that enter parliament are able to form a sustainable majority and an effective government. It would be natural if Yushchenko’s People's Union party, “Our Ukraine”, and the Yulia Tymoshenko Block join efforts in the new parliament in order to ensure that the achievements of the 'orange revolution' are sustained and that reforms take place. However, it is presently difficult to predict whether the country will be run by individual ambitions or strategic thinking for the benefit of the country.
The chances of Tymoshenko and Yushchenko joining efforts and runing for election together is very low. However, it is much more important that they cooperate following the election and build a coalition in the new parliament.
The collapse of the orange team, as seen in the dismissal of the Tymoshenko government, was the result of multiple factors. The major reason was the deeply rooted conflict between the two sides. Yushchenko’s supporters claim that many steps undertaken by Tymoshenko as prime-minister were populist and aimed at developing her own positive image rather than carrying out reforms. At the same time, Yulia Tymoshenko’s supporters repeatedly blamed Yushchenko for not being able to control his close corrupt surroundings. Although both sides claiming that they understand the importance of finding a solution to the split, the conflict makes it rather impossible for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to join efforts before the elections.
How do you view the relationship between Ukraine and Russia? On what level are relations with Yuschenko? Can we still expect unofficial Russian involvement in the parliamentary elections (as witnessed in the presidential elections)?
The Ukraine-Russia relationship changed after the presidential election. It is now more pragmatic and transparent and unofficial networking, which played an important role under the previous authorities, does not take place any longer. In fact, the leverage of unofficial networking and Russia's impact on decision making, which Russia has tilll now used effectively, is no longer wffective. As a result, Russia is looking to identify other forms of pressure, for example the recent gas crisis.
Nevertheless, Russia will definitely try to influence the outcome of the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine. However, in contrast to the 2004 presidential elections when Russia openly supported one candidate, this time Russia’s most likely strategy will be to have unofficial negotiations/consultations with different political forces that are presently in opposition.
Overall, the Ukraine-Russia relationship is not an easy one. Russia seems to be unable to grasp the idea that Ukraine is moving out of its orbit and is successfully developing a relationship with the European Union and NATO. In the long –term, Ukraine’s and ultimately Russia’s rapprochement with the West should be in the interest of Russia, yet at the moment Russia perceives this as a zero-sum game.
For Ukrainian foreign policy, Russia still occupies an important place. This is only natural given the level of economic interdependence, people-to-people links and cultural and mental links. Indeed, the first official visit abroad made by Viktor Yushchenko as the president was to Russia. Although Ukrainian foreign policy is based on Ukraine’s national interests, Ukraine is visibly willing to play the role of a democratic leader in post-Soviet space and to integrate with NATO and the EU.
What is your view of the energy issue (gas and oil) between Russia and Ukraine and how does it influence their mutual relationship and their foreign policy?
The first thing to remember is that, in terms of energy cooperation, there’s interdependence between Ukraine and Russia. While Ukraine is dependant on Russia’s gas and oil, Russia is also dependant on Ukraine’s transition potential. 80% of Russia’s gas exported to the EU goes via Ukrainian territory.
The willingness of Russia to increase gas prices from 2006 is an example of economic pressure on the part of Russia, to large extent aimed at undermining support to Ukrainian authorities among the Ukrainian population. On the one hand, Russia has the right to increase prices, which are presently too low (50 USD per 1000 cubic metres). However, on the other hand, the prices offered now - 230 USD per 1000 cubic meters, almost equal to that of the EU - are unreasonable from the perspective of prices in Eastern Europe and would be extremely harmful to the Ukrainian economy, in particular industry, which is concentrated in Eastern Ukraine. While Ukraine claims that, from a legal perspective, Russia cannot revise the previous deal, Russia takes a different position. Both sides (and the legal entities that represent them – Russian “Gazprom” and Ukrainian “Ukrnafta” have the right to appeal to the international arbitration body for the conflict to be resolved. However, the outcome depends on diplomatic skills and informational campaigns carried out by both countries.
Since the election of the new president following the 'orange revolution', Ukraine has tried to position itself as a regional leader in terms of the promotion of democracy in post-Soviet space. Never before has Ukraine had this component in its foreign policy. The first attempt of this kind came in April during the GUAM Chisinau Summit. The call to “establish the zone of stability, security and prosperity, which is closely related to the European Union and is being developed according to European rules and standards” was one of the leitmotivs of the Summit. Soon afterwards, the Borzhomi declaration and the Summit of the Community of Democratic Choice of the Baltic, Black Sea, and Caspian regions followed. The aim of such a community is to putt an end to human rights violations and unresolved conflicts across the region.
Furthermore, Ukraine aligned itself with many statements of the EU regarding the state of democracy and human rights in many countries, including Belarus and other former Soviet Union countries. Therefore, Ukraine has been attempting to play the role of a country that is promoting democratic values in former soviet space.
Regarding Moldova, the issue of the export of democracy is not the same. The Moldovan authorities were legitimately elected and are pro-European and Ukraine has been involved in the issue of Transdnistria.
Could you comment on current foreign policy tendencies of Ukraine towards EU, NATO and what do you think about Ukrainian involvement in CIS?
Since the 'orange revolution', Ukraine’s relationship with the EU and NATO has improved to a large degree. The Ukrainian leadership has been cordially welcomed in different EU member-states and Yushchenko was given an opportunity to speak at the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Parliament of Germany. During the EU-Ukraine summit, which took place on December 1 in Kiev and which was attended by high-level EU officials, Ukraine was finally granted market economy status and visa facilitation negotiations between the EU and Ukraine were initiated. In addition, the EU expressed satisfaction with the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan. Overall, Ukraine has stopped focusing on a membership perspective, which had previously led to a deadlock in relations with the EU, and has rather concentrated on the domestic component of European integration, i.e. the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan. This can be seen as a positive change in attitude.
Similarly, Ukraine’s relationship with NATO has progressed. In April, NATO launced an “intensified dialogue” with Ukraine on the country's aspirations to membership and the relevant reforms. While this does not necessarily lead to NATO membership, it is an important step in that direction. Ukraine expects to be able to join NATO before 2009.
As to CIS, it in fact a non-functioning organization, which serves only as a forum for political elites.