Basic Notes on Ukraine Developments

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Domestic differences in Ukraine and foreign meddling

Hassan Beheshtipour

To have a better understanding of what has been going on in Ukraine during the past three months, one should pay due attention to root causes of the differences and ongoing clashes in that country at three national, regional and international levels.

A: Analysis of Ukraine crisis at national level

1. The ouster of the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych by the country’s parliament can neither be called a color revolution – as the ousted president has already claimed –, nor can it be called a full-blown coup d’état. This is true as in any revolution all political, social and economic relations of a country change and old structures are replaced by new ones. At their current stage, the changes in Ukraine have been merely restricted to overthrow of the executive officials the like of which had already happened in 2004. As a result of these developments, the Western-minded political camp led by the country’s former president, Viktor Yushchenko, and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, have taken the place of Russophile forces. Such a development cannot be termed a coup because the parliament, which consists of people’s representatives, has ousted the former president, Yanukovych, with a majority vote on ground of his political inefficiency. This measure has been taken within the limits of the Ukrainian laws and nobody can claim that a full-blown or even partial coup has taken place in the country.

2. The main reasons behind Ukraine’s problems include economic crisis, financial corruption among state authorities, and rivalries among influential oligarchic figures in the country. Part of the existing differences between Russophile and Western-minded parties in Ukraine is over their relative shares of power as well as the economic privileges obtained by financially corrupt oligarchs who have amassed amazing wealth following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

3. The current crisis in Ukraine is mostly rooted in domestic problems of the country. This means that the crisis has not been brought about by the United States, the European Union or Russia, but every one of them is currently using the crisis to its own advantage.

4. Ms. Tymoshenko, also known as the gas queen, had no wealth in 1991. Now, 20 years later, she is considered a billionaire and is currently leading one of the biggest oligarchic circles in Ukraine. Few analysts have ever had any doubt about financial corruption of Tymoshenko and other members of her party. Accusations about Tymoshenko having been bribed by Russia were not fairy tale. Such accusations were not raised by the Russian sources because Tymoshenko had already given very big concessions to the Russians. It was the rival political factions within the Ukrainian government who revealed information about her financial abuses.

5. The existing differences between the eastern part of Ukraine, most of whose people are Russophiles, and the western part of the country, where most people support the West and the establishment of close relations between their country and the European Union and the US, will not be solved with a change in government. A new model of cooperation is needed to overcome such differences and, more importantly, the influence of powerful people over the country’s political structure should be gradually reduced in favor of the Ukrainian people.

B: Analysis of Ukraine crisis at regional level

1. There is no doubt that rivalries between Russia and the European Union to gain more control and influence over Ukraine’s resources are among major reasons that have helped to spread the crisis in East Europe and the west of Russia. During the past 400 years, Ukraine has served as a cushion reducing the influence of the West in Russia. The country played this role both when Napoleon Bonaparte attacked Russia, and during the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazi German army. It has continued to play the same role in modern times when Ukraine has been considered as the main link connecting the European Union to Russia. Therefore, Russia and the European Union are trying to take advantage of the existing differences in Ukraine in line with their own benefits and to boost their role in the country. This was evident in recent crisis when the European Union leaders signed a deal with the Ukrainian president to end the crisis, and just at the same time, they were rallying behind his opposition at the parliament to pave the way for the overthrow of his government.

2. In fact, and most probably, the decision for the ouster of Yanukovych had been made about a week ago during a meeting between his opposition and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

3. Russia is in dire need of Ukraine just in the same way that Ukraine’s need to have relations with Russia is critical. This is not an issue of dependence of one country on the other, but it is the issue of mutual economic needs. The economic systems of Russia and Ukraine are so intertwined that even under the future Western-minded government of the country, those relations will continue to exist though on a more limited scale compared to the past. This is true as economic relations between the two countries continued under the former Western-minded Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, who ruled the country from 2004 to 2010. Even Ms. Tymoshenko, who is currently leading the opposition and supports closer ties with the European Union, was sent to prison on charges that she had accepted bribe from Russia – not the United States or the European countries – in order to give the go-ahead to a gas deal with Russia in 2007, when she was serving as the country’s prime minister.

4. The European Union, on the other hand, needs Ukraine as well because most pipelines carrying the Russian gas to Europe go through Ukraine. Even the pipelines carrying Russia’s exported gas to European countries also pass through Ukraine. Therefore, in order to put its ailing economy in order, Ukraine needs to bolster cooperation with the European Union.

C: Analysis of Ukraine crisis at international level

Ukraine crisis has turned into a new arena for intense rivalries between the United States and Russia at a global level. By doing its best to keep Ukraine crisis in check, Russia has been trying hard to prevent the United States and the European Union from gaining more power in the country as they did in 2004. Therefore, Moscow spared no effort to keep Yanukovych in power. However, the rampant financial corruption among various ranks of the government and myriad problems resulting from mismanagement and inefficiency of the Ukrainian statesmen were too profound to be remedied by 10-billion-dollar aid package that had been promised by Russia. As a result and due to coordinated efforts made by the United States and the European Union, Yanukovych’s opposition gradually gained ground against him and finally, the supporters of closer ties with the West, once again, managed to take the upper hand in their faceoff with Russophiles. It should be, however, noted that Russia has maintained, and will continue to maintain, effective presence in Ukraine. Even now that all the evidence shows that another pro-West government is going to take office in the country, Russia will not be totally banished from the country’s political scene.

Russia is very sensitive about development of NATO along its eastern borders and to prevent this, Moscow is even ready to go to war. This was proven in 2008 when Russia went to war with Georgia using the situation in South Ossetia as pretext. Russia, however, is not as sensitive about further expansion of Ukraine’s ties with the European Union as it is concerned about eastward expansion of NATO. This is true because Russia, for its turn, is willing to further develop long-term cooperation with Europe in order to use it as a barrier to control the influence of the United States in the region.

There are analysts who want us to believe that Ukraine can be used as a bargaining chip in political bickering between Russia and the United States. They had already said that about Georgia. By saying this, they mean that the United States will finally let go of Georgia and Ukraine in favor of Russia in return for Moscow leaving Syria to the United States. This analysis is not based on solid grounds. Of course, it is very attractive, but it is more based on mere ideas than the existing facts and realities in Ukraine and Syria. The current situation of rivalry between Moscow and Washington in Ukraine is totally different from that of Syria. In Ukraine, the opposition seeks to change the political leaders in the executive branch of the government, while in Syria the goal is to change the entire political structure. In Ukraine, the conflict is between different groups of ordinary people while in Syria, terrorists that have been dispatched from other countries are currently in conflict with the struggles that ordinary people of Syria made against the country’s President Bashar Al-Assad.

*A researcher, documentary producer, and expert on nuclear issues, Hassan Beheshtipour received his BA in Trade Economics from Tehran University. His research topics span from US and Russian foreign policy to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.

Key Words: Ukraine, Domestic Differences, Foreign Meddling, National Level, Regional Level, International Level, US, EU, Viktor Yanukovych, Yulia Tymoshenko, Beheshtipour

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*Photo Credit: IRNA, Press TV

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