[lg policy] Ukraine: Yanukovych in Moscow: More Than Balancing his Brussels Visit
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Thu Mar 11 14:06:12 UTC 2010
Yanukovych in Moscow: More Than Balancing his Brussels Visit
Ukraine’s newly elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, paid a visit
(and, to a degree, homage) to Moscow on March 5. Inaugurated in office
on February 25, Yanukovych chose Brussels as his first destination for
a working visit abroad on March 1 (EDM, March 4). Having tilted
strongly toward Russia in the electoral campaign, Yanukovych
nevertheless responded positively to the European Union’s overtures in
Brussels, then reverted to type as an “eastern Ukrainian” politician
during his Moscow visit.
Yanukovych held talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin in separate sessions. The Ukrainian president
seemed to adopt a subordinate, at times supine, attitude toward both
Russian leaders during the joint briefings that concluded the talks.
Aggressive questions from Russian media, bordering on political
demands, increased the pressure on Yanukovych. The questions were few
and clearly pre-arranged by the Kremlin to extract promises of
concessions from Yanukovych on issues of Russian interest (Russian
presidential website, March 6).
Apparently, the leaders’ talks were brief and rushed during the
one-day visit. No decisions were made or even approached. Both
Medvedev and Putin stated that any decisions must await the formation
of a new parliamentary majority and government in Ukraine. Whether
this process will necessitate new parliamentary elections, remains an
open question. The issue of natural gas, which looms so large in
Ukraine-Russia relations, was left almost unmentioned publicly during
Yanukovych’s visit. The joint communiqué reads as a perfunctory
document in its brevity and vagueness (Interfax, March 6).
The visit’s atmosphere was remarkably subdued, Russian media coverage
low-key, and the official rhetoric tinged with mutual wariness. Moscow
clearly discouraged any expectation that Yanukovych’s presidency and a
possible Party of Regions-led government would qualify for Russian
economic assistance on political grounds.
Both sides spoke of a fresh start, after a five-year nadir in their
relations during Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency in Ukraine (this
unequivocal assessment discounts Yushchenko’s January 2006-January
2008 record: bringing RosUkrEnergo into Ukraine, scuttling the US-led
Sea Breeze exercises, and bringing Yanukovych back as prime minister
with presidential prospects). In Moscow, Yanukovych pledged a complete
turnaround in the relationship. But, far from being upbeat, the mood
seemed grim and even somewhat ominous on the Russian side: “We must
make up for the lost time,” urged Putin. “What we mean is not so much
improving relations, but reviving or resuscitating them, using
strong-impact measures (pri silno deystvuyushchikh stredstv),” pressed
Medvedev (Interfax, Russian presidential website, March 5, 6).
Looking intimidated or awkward from time to time, Yanukovych tried
hard to explain that his sequence of visits (Brussels before Moscow)
was merely coincidental, and that ultimately “all roads lead to
Moscow” (Interfax, March 5).
In the wake of Yanukovych’s visit, the Gazprom-owned, pro-governmental
Izvestiya commented on the visit in prosecutorial terms. It accused
the Ukrainian president of infringing Ukraine’s non-bloc status by
visiting Brussels before Moscow; leaving open the possibility of
Ukraine joining NATO; refusing to promise outright to prolong the
stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet; and turning down the option
of Ukraine joining the Russian-led Customs Union. This indictment is
so clearly exaggerated that it must be seen as a deliberate attempt to
pressure Yanukovych and his business supporters (Izvestiya, March 9).
The Brussels and Moscow visits have probably set a pattern for
Yanukovych’s presidency. He is moving almost without transition from a
pro-Russian electoral campaign to a double-vector policy toward Russia
and the West. Meanwhile, Yanukovych has no real popular mandate for
new policy initiatives, having been elected with less than one half of
the votes cast, and lacking a parliamentary majority (although he and
Donetsk business may cobble together a parliamentary majority). For
all these reasons, the president is not in a position to deliver on
any agreements with Russia at this time. Thus, Moscow must postpone
any decisions on Ukraine policy until the formation of a parliamentary
majority and government in Kyiv. Meanwhile, Yanukovych and Party of
Regions leaders are closely watching US and European policies toward
Russia and drawing their conclusions (see “Salient Issues in
Ukraine-Russia Relations and Yanukovych’s Moscow Visit,” EDM, March
Salient Issues in Ukraine-Russia Relations and Yanukovych’s Moscow Visit
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s visit to Moscow on March 5
(see “Yanukovych in Moscow: More Than Balancing the Brussels Visit,”
EDM, March 10) focused almost entirely on bilateral relations,
practically overlooking or avoiding international issues. The
following issues were discussed in public:
• Governance model: Yanukovych praised Moscow’s handling of the
financial-economic crisis as a worthy example for Ukraine to follow.
Political stability has helped Russia to cope better than Ukraine did
with the crisis, he observed. “My task is now to catch up with Russia,
bring our living standards, pensions and social assistance up to
Russian levels,” the gaffe-prone Yanukovych pledged. Sarcastically he
offered to send some Ukrainian “demagogues” (politikany,
politikanstvo) to Russia, so that the Russian people could even better
appreciate the stability they enjoy. When Yanukovych said at one point
that he must await the formation of a new coalition, Medvedev
retorted: “I do not need to form a coalition to resolve any problems”
(BBC Monitoring, March 9).
According to the Levada Center’s latest surveys of Russian public
opinion, only 8 percent believe that Ukraine is more democratic than
Russia. Conversely, between 50 percent to 65 percent believe that
Russia is more democratic than Ukraine and feel compassion for the
country because it must live with uncertainty about election results
(Vedomosti, March 9). Such findings spell the end of Western
assumptions, and Moscow’s fears, that the Orange Revolution might have
provided a democratic example to Russia.
• Language Policy: Responding to the Russian media’s leading
questions, Yanukovych assured Moscow that he would keep his
presidential campaign promise to implement the European Charter on
Regional and Minority Languages. This will result in conferring
official status to the Russian language (apparently on a par with
Ukrainian) in many of Ukraine’s regions, particularly in the Party of
Following his return from Moscow, Yanukovych made an appearance at the
shrine to Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, assuring
Ukrainians that their language would alone retain the status of the
state language on a country-wide basis, while Russian would receive
official status in certain regions (Interfax, March 9). This will,
however, not allay concerns about linguistic de-Ukrainization and
re-Russification in Ukraine’s east and south, resulting from this
measure. As a sop, Medvedev and Yanukovych have decided to hold a
joint Taras Shevchenko Year in Ukraine and Russia.
• Russia-Ukraine Interstate Commission: created and co-chaired by
Putin and Yushchenko while presidents, the commission has remained
inactive. Some of the sub-commissions have met periodically, however,
notably the one tasked to delimit the maritime border and discuss
contentious issues related to the Russian Black Sea Fleet based on
Ukraine’s territory. Both sides now intend to hold a full meeting of
the Interstate Commission during the first half of this year in Kyiv,
in connection with Medvedev’s planned visit there. Ahead of that
event, the new Ukrainian government (if and when it is installed) will
prepare an action plan for the commission’s consideration.
• Black Sea Fleet: Medvedev and Yanukovych agreed that bilateral
consultations should continue as before, based on the 1997 agreements
on the temporary stationing of the Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian
territory. Characterizing this as a very difficult and complicated
problem, Yanukovych implied that it can ultimately be settled by the
two presidents among themselves. At the news conference, he promised
to help resolve the issue “in a way that would satisfy both Ukraine
and Russia,” and even “very soon.” The first part of the answer merely
echoes Yanukovych’s campaign rhetoric, when he suggested prolonging
the basing agreement beyond the 2017 deadline. The “very soon,”
however, is a disconcerting addendum, possibly presaging a quick deal
to Ukraine’s detriment.
• NATO: Russian leaders had apparently hoped for an explicit
Yanukovych statement that Ukraine will not seek NATO membership
(Rossiyskaya Gazeta, March 9). At the press conference, a planted
question attempted to goad Yanukovych into endorsing an anti-NATO
referendum, signatures for which are currently being collected in
Ukraine. Instead, Yanukovych merely declared that “Ukraine will
develop its relations with NATO as a non-bloc state and in accordance
with its national interests” (Interfax, March 5).
• Soviet Legacy Preservation: Medvedev and Yanukovych agreed to
celebrate the Soviet “great patriotic war” together in Moscow on May
8, and to “synchronize” the celebrations on May 9 with Belarus
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on a tripartite basis. This
configuration was the only hint at a post-Soviet “Eastern Slavic
solidarity” during Yanukovych’s visit.
Yanukovych promised to revoke, before the May celebrations, the Hero
of Ukraine titles that Yushchenko had awarded to Stepan Bandera and
Roman Shukevych, the leaders of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)
during the 1940’s. One of the most tactless decisions of the
Yushchenko presidency, the award has become an irritant in
Ukrainian-Polish relations, given that the UPA had mainly targeted the
Polish civilian population and Armija Krajowa units in 1941-44 (and
Bandera was an anti-Polish fighter prior to the war). From 1944
onward, however, the UPA resisted against the Soviet authorities, an
activity that Russian authorities today continue to regard as
criminal, in Ukraine or anywhere.
• Natural Gas: Yanukovych announced on the visit’s eve that he would
urgently raise the issues of Russian gas supplies and transit
(Russia-24 TV, March 4), meaning price cuts for Russian gas supplies,
in return for sharing control of Ukraine’s transit system with Gazprom
in a consortium. The current price is said to be $305 per one thousand
cubic meters, with Yanukovych seeking a reduction to $210 (Kommersant,
March 5). Key industrialists behind Yanukovych and his Party of
Regions need discounted gas to maintain their competitive position
internationally. The party itself would promise cheap gas to the
populace, if snap parliamentary elections are held in Ukraine this
year, as seems distinctly possible. Gazprom control of Ukraine’s
transit system would be the price for cheap gas.
Ironically, Yanukovych accused the outgoing Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko of “destroying the contractual basis” of the
Russian-Ukrainian gas trade. However, it was Putin who signed the
contract with Tymoshenko in January 2009, and Moscow declares itself
satisfied with its commercial terms to this day. According to Russian
Energy Minister, Sergei Shmatko, after the talks, the gas price and
gas transport consortium have not been discussed with Yanukovych.
Moscow will discuss this issue after the formation of a new Ukrainian
government, and as part of preparations for Medvedev’s planned visit
to Kyiv in the first half of the year (RIA Novosti, March 6).
• Steel: Yanukovych solicited lower tariff barriers and higher
quantitative quotas for Russian imports of Ukrainian steel products
(Interfax, March 7). This remains a contentious issue in bilateral
relations at the state level from the mid-1990’s to date. Former
president Leonid Kuchma and his governments (including Yanukovych’s)
perennially raised this grievance with their Russian counterparts.
Leading Ukrainian steel producers expanded into European markets in
recent years, reducing their interests in ties with Russia. The
economic crisis, however, has increased again the importance of the
Russian market to the Donetsk steel industry. It seeks not only to
return there but also to bid for contracts to supply steel pipes for
Russia’s Nord Stream and South Stream pipeline projects.
• Customs Union: Russian leaders had expected Yanukovych to consent,
at least in principle, to join the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs
Union and, in a follow-up stage, the Single Economic Space planned by
those countries (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, March 9). Yanukovych demurred
twice, citing Ukraine’s membership in the World Trade Organization
(WTO) as its overriding choice. This must have irritated the Russian
leaders. When Yanukovych spoke afterward of a “complete turnaround in
Ukrainian-Russian relations,” Putin retorted curtly: “Then join the
Customs Union” (Interfax, March 5, 7).
That remark displays Moscow’s approach to the Customs Union as a
Russian-owned project, participation in it being a function of each
country’s bilateral relations with Russia. The relevant paragraph in
the joint concluding declaration, however, reads: “Respecting the
freedom of choice, mechanisms and forms of the countries’
participation in economic integration processes, Russia and Ukraine
will strive to ensure that this participation does not harm the
interests of their bilateral cooperation.” Thus, Moscow desists, at
least for now, from asking Ukraine to choose between the WTO and the
Russian-led Customs Union.
• Agriculture: A cryptic remark by Yanukovych in Moscow seemed to
allude to a Russian-Ukrainian grain cartel. This idea has tentatively
been broached earlier, but was not developed. Yanukovych said in
Moscow that Ukraine, always a great breadbasket, “must use the huge
potential of our agricultural sector” together with Russia. He
suggested that “joint actions in the grain market” be included in the
action plan, which is to be prepared for the meeting of the
Russia-Ukraine Inter-governmental Commission in the first half of this
year (Interfax, March 5).
US House Vote Adds New Twist to Turkey-Armenia Diplomacy
A key committee in the United States House of Representatives has once
again approved a draft resolution recognizing the 1915 mass killings
and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. The
dramatic development, condemned by Ankara and welcomed in Yerevan is
widely seen in Armenia as heralding a last-ditched attempt by
Washington to salvage the Turkish-Armenian normalization agreements
signed in October under American mediation.
Armenian politicians and pundits believe that Washington will now use
the prospect of the resolution’s adoption by the full House in its
efforts to persuade Ankara to drop its conditions for ratifying the
agreements. Yerevan, meanwhile, has reaffirmed its intention to annul
the landmark deal if the US pressure on Ankara yields no results in
the coming months.
The bill, narrowly endorsed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on
March 4, calls on President Barack Obama to “accurately characterize
the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as
genocide.” “The vast majority of experts, academics, authorities in
international law and others, who have looked at this issue for years,
agree that the tragic massacre of Armenians constitutes genocide,”
Howard Berman, the committee chairman, said during the committee
debate on the issue broadcast live by Armenian and Turkish television
The Congressional panel has previously passed similar resolutions in
2000, 2005, and 2007. Heavy lobbying by the White House (and uproar in
Ankara) kept them from reaching the House floor. Berman seems to have
faced no such pressure from the Obama administration. It was not until
March 3, almost one month after he scheduled the vote, that US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly telephoned the
California Democrat and asked him to drop the proposed legislation.
Clinton and other administration officials pointedly declined to
oppose it until then, adding to Turkish anger. Turkey’s Foreign
Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, complained that the Obama administration
did not lobby hard enough against a bill which is at odds with the
official Turkish version of the events in 1915 (Hurriyet Daily News,
Many in Armenia take a similar view, suggesting that Washington itself
engineered the House committee vote to gain a potent bargaining chip
in its Armenia-related dealings with Ankara. In the words of Razmik
Zohrabian, a deputy chairman in the ruling Republican Party of
Armenia, the Americans have “realized that they should talk to Turkey
with pressure and force” (www.armenialiberty.org, March 5). Stepan
Safarian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Heritage Party,
likewise construed the genocide resolution as a US attempt to “make
Turkey sober up” (Haykakan Zhamanak, March 6).
“The American side is clearly trying to … secure the ratification of
the Turkish-Armenian protocols by the Turkish parliament in return for
preventing a resolution debate reaching the full US House of
Representatives,” Haykakan Zhamanak, a leading Armenian daily,
editorialized on March 6. An unnamed senior official from the Turkish
foreign ministry cited by Hurriyet Daily News made a similar point.
Davutoglu also appeared to allude to such a possibility during his
March 5 news conference in Ankara. He said his government will not be
“pressured” into establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia and
opening the Turkish-Armenian border –something which is envisaged by
the two protocols.
Turkish leaders, notably Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have for
months made clear that Turkey’s parliament will not ratify the accords
without a resolution of the Karabakh conflict acceptable to
Azerbaijan. “Turkey’s insisting on conditionality, which was not part
of the protocols, has led us to where we are today,” Hugh Pope, the
Turkey analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group,
told the Christian Science Monitor, commenting on the House committee
Yerevan’s swift and highly positive reaction to the genocide
resolution was a measure of its growing frustration with Ankara’s
Karabakh linkage. “This is additional proof of the devotion of the
American people to universal human values and is an important step
toward the prevention of the crimes against humanity,” Armenian
Foreign Minister, Edward Nalbandian, said in a written statement.
Armenian officials were previously more cautious in their public
pronouncements on the bill formally introduced by pro-Armenian US
lawmakers in early 2009.
During an informal conversation with Davutoglu in Kiev on February 25,
Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, voiced his most explicit threat
yet to walk away from the deal, if Ankara fails to honor it “within
the shortest possible time” (Statement by the Armenian presidential
press service, February 25). On the same day, the Armenian parliament
passed legal amendments that make it easier for the Sargsyan
government to terminate international treaties before their
ratification (Aravot, February 26).
Speaking to Armenian state television on March 5, Nalbandian stood by
his view that the international community would blame Turkey for the
possible collapse of the normalization process. The authorities in
Yerevan have clearly been buoyed by continued US calls for the rapid
and unconditional ratification of the protocols. The genocide bill and
the increased expectation of stronger US pressure on Ankara seem to
have only boosted their confidence.
Some Armenian officials implied, until recently, that the Turkish side
has until late March to validate the protocols or face their
unilateral repeal by Armenia. But the latest indications are that
Yerevan is ready to wait at least until the April 24 annual
remembrance of more than one million Ottoman Armenians killed in what
many historians consider the first genocide of the twentieth century.
Ankara hopes that Obama will again refrain from using the word
“genocide” in a statement that he is due to issue on the occasion.
Obama expressed his “firmly held conviction that the Armenian genocide
is … a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of
historical evidence,” when he ran for president and sought the backing
of the influential Armenian-American community. “As President, I will
recognize the Armenian genocide,” he said in a January 2008 statement.
Obama broke his campaign pledge after taking office, citing the need
not to hamper the ongoing Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.
Hillary Clinton, who likewise pledged to recognize the genocide during
the US presidential race, made the same argument when she indicated on
March 5 that the Obama administration will try to prevent a full House
vote on the controversial resolution (www.armenialiberty.org).
Justifying this stance will be much more difficult if the stalled
normalization process ends in failure. This alone should make the
administration keenly interested in its successful promotion.
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