Forecasts of international political events
Tag Archives: Yanukovych
I’ve been delaying making a forecast because there’s so much information, and so few reliable guidelines for interpreting it. Putin has been deliberately sending mixed signals: on one hand, he says he won’t invade east Ukraine, on the other, he emphasizes his legal grounds for invasion and he’s massing troops on the border. He seems to be trying to signal his intentions without having to pay the price of signaling his intentions. For example, if he announces that he’s going to invade Ukraine, the ruble will fall, Russian stocks will drop, and he’ll get endless phone calls from Western political leaders. If he states that he’s not going to invade Ukraine, he doesn’t have to deal with all that until the invasion actually happens, but Western governments will be aware of the troop movements and his statements about the illegitimacy of the current Ukrainian government, Yanukovych’s request for an invasion, and his claims of concern about the safety of Ukrainians who are ethnically Russian.
Putin wants Ukraine returned to the Russian sphere of influence. He’s willing to use military force to accomplish it, but he would rather negotiate. Since Yanukovych was forced out of power, he’s been very clear that he wants Yanukovych restored, but the US and EU have essentially ignored his statements and made offers that don’t restore Yanukovych or bring Ukraine back under Russian sway some other way. If he announces that he’s willing to use military force to get what he wants, he would have to deal with economic and political turmoil while the negotiations proceeded. I believe his current course of action is an effort to get the negotiations without the turmoil. I don’t believe he will get the response he wants, which means that he will invade.
In 2007, Putin made a speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy that could have been titled “Why I Fear and Distrust the West”. Nothing that has happened since has made him more trusting. In Ukraine, a Western-sponsored agreement that would have eased Yanukovych out of power was discarded within hours. Yanukovych fled and was stripped of the presidency in a way that clearly violated the Ukrainian consitution. From Russia’s point of view, it was a Western-backed coup. Subsequent discussions between Russia and the West haven’t done anything to restore Russian trust. Restoring Yanukovych would restore Russian influence in Ukraine without requiring Russia to rely on assurances from the West, and unlike other ways of doing this, Yanukovych has some claim to legitimacy.
On the Western side, there’s been no effort to address Russia’s concerns. None of the proposals that John Kerry has made that have been reported in the news media have done have made any concession to Putin’s objections to the current government in Ukraine. There have been no proposals for an alternative government that excluded Yanukovych but addressed Putin’s concerns. The current government wants to join NATO and prefers the European Union to Putin’s Eurasian Union. This is unacceptable to Russia.
For political reasons, I don’t believe Western negotiators can make proposals that address Putin’s concerns. While Yanukovych has some supporters in Ukraine, the opposition to him is sufficiently widespread and intense that I don’t think he could return to the presidency unless preceded by Russian tanks. The current government depends on Yanukovych’s opponents for support and can’t negotiate his return. The US and EU have very little choice but to support the current government in Ukraine. Domestic politics here in the US make it impossible for Obama to accept Yanukovych’s return and extremely difficult to make proposals that would be seen by Congress as rewarding Russian aggression. The EU and NATO represent a mix of countries with different domestic political situations, but in aggregate their hands are also somewhat tied in terms of the proposals they can make or support.
Being naive in military matters, I thought at one point that Putin’s biggest concern was the naval bases in Crimea and that he would be satisfied with control of Crimea. But military analysts say that the naval bases aren’t all that important. So Putin is seemingly willing to use military force in Ukraine for political reasons, without being driven by concerns about military strategy.
Currently, Moscow is claiming that Kiev is unable to maintain civil order in Ukraine and talking about it’s “duty” to protect Russian citizens in neighboring countries. The West is not doing anything to meet Russia’s concerns about the government in Kiev. Putin doesn’t trust the West, blames it for the current crisis, and wants Ukraine back in its sphere of influence. And Russia is willing to use its military forces. So I think the odds are better than 50/50 that there will be Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in the next couple of weeks.
After writing the first draft of this, I checked for recent news of Ukraine, and discovered that The Daily Beast is reporting that Russia has special ops forces in Ukraine.
4. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russias-prize-in-crimea-resonates-in-history-but-has-little-strategic-benefit-for-navy/2014 /03/13/39bcc6a2-a9df-11e3-b61e-8051b8b52d06_story.html?tid=hpModule_949fa2b e-8691-11e2-9d71-f0feafdd1394
Players, in order of influence.
1. Vladimir Putin
2. Kiev (the government in Kiev)
3. Ukraine’s population
4. Crimea’s population
6. Simferopol (the government of autonomous Crimea)
7. Victor Yanukovych
The critical relationship is the one between Putin, Kiev, and Ukraine’s population. Putin is angry because he feels that relationship has been disrupted by interference from the West. Crimea’s future will be decided by negotiations between Putin and Kiev, but Kiev’s ability to negotiate is constrained by the amount of support it has among the population, specifically by the support it has in eastern and southern Ukraine. At the moment it doesn’t matter whether or not opposition to Kiev in eastern Ukraine is due to Russian propaganda or not. What matters is that the opposition exists and weakens Kiev. Without a good post-Yanukovych opinion survey of the country, it’s impossible to know how strong the opposition is. What is known is that there have been sizable protests against the Kievian government, so significant opposition does exist. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a foreign invasion to unite the population of a country behind its government.
Everyone else is playing a supporting role. The US and EU have together offered loans that may exceed the $15 billion that Putin originally offered Yanukovych. That gets them in the game, but it’s not clear how united they are. Former Soviet Bloc countries feel threatened by Russia’s moves,  but western Europe needs Russian gas, oil, and metals and Russian trade. British PM David Cameron reportedly will not support trade sanctions against Russia or ban Russian involvement in British financial markets; London’s City needs Russian money. In order to provide a united front, the US and the EU may have to go with a least-common-denominator response that doesn’t hurt anyone’s economic interests, which would be a weak response.
The previous Simferopol government was voted out and a new government voted in as mystery soldiers guarded the Crimean parliament building. The soldier’s identities are a secret; everyone except Russia has figured out that they are Russian. Observers described the parliamentary session as irregular and possibly influenced by the presence of the soldiers. In fairness, this somewhat mirrors the parliamentary proceedings at Kiev that occurred while the right-wing Maidan self-defense forces guarded the parliament building, along with the constitutional irregularity of the vote that removed Yanukovych. The difference is that Kiev could back out of its new relationship with the US/EU and return to the old status quo with Russia, while Putin would make it very difficult for Simferopol to back out of its new relationship with Russia.
There’s a story from the time of the Orange Revolution about a meeting between Kuchma, Yanukovych, a group of pro-Yanukovych supporters from Donetsk, and government security officials. Over the course of the meeting it became obvious to everyone that Yanukovych was not going to be inaugurated as president, but Yanukovych was the last to accept this. Afterwards he publicly accused Kuchma of betrayal. Now Yanukovych is in the same position. He’s the only person in the room, metaphorically speaking, who hasn’t grasped that he’s never going to be president again. Even Putin, his protector, feels no sympathy for him and doesn’t see a political future for him. Yanukovych’s role at this point is legitimizing the occupation of Crimea and a possible invasion of eastern Ukraine while being largely ignored by his Russian hosts, and once again complaining about being betrayed. To the Victor belong the spiels.
Greater Russian influence/greater Western influence
4. Crimea’s population
6. Ukraine’s population
Putin wants Ukraine to be part of his Customs Union, and he doesn’t want NATO anywhere near his Crimean military bases. Yanukovych’s only hope for recovering the presidency, however delusional that hope is, is for Putin to force Ukraine to take him back. The Simferopol government was created to ensure Russian influence. A poll in February showed 41% of Crimeans favoring a union between Ukraine and Russia. That was based on a small sample, but probably a larger percentage would favor the less extreme position of closer Russian ties, or the presence of a “protective” Russian force with Crimea’s status left undefined. Ukraine’s population is divided between patriotic Ukrainians who want closer Russian ties, and patriotic Ukrainians who want closer Western ties. Kiev has indicated that it wants to pursue EU membership. The US/EU wants everyone to have closer ties to the US/EU.
Importance of the outcome to the players
1. Crimea’s population
5. Ukraine’s population
I think its obvious that the question of Crimea’s ties to Russia and the West matters more to Crimeans than to anyone else. As the person who created the crisis, Putin has as much at stake as any other single individual. In fact, you could make the argument that he should be in the top spot. (But I think the outcome’s effect on many Crimeans outweighs its effect on a single Putin.) You can view Simferopol as a government created in response to voter demand for closer Russian ties, or as a government created to provide political cover for Russia’s takeover of the Crimea, but either way Simferopol has a lot at stake in close ties to Russia. Kiev’s ability to negotiate with Putin and their success or failure in maintaining Ukraine’s borders will have a big effect on how they are viewed by the Ukrainian population. The Ukrainian population in turn will be affected the direction Kiev goes in order to resolve the crisis. Everyone in the first to fifth slot would be willing to fight over the crisis if they had to. The US/EU would not be willing. I think Yanukovych would be happy to see a war that restored him to power, but I don’t think he cares as much about who exerts influence in Ukraine as he does about the lost cause of Yanukovychian ascendancy.
3. Crimea’s population
5. Ukraine’s population
It doesn’t seem to be Putin’s style to use phrases like “red line”, but he’s been strongly signaling his unhappiness with US/EU actions in Ukraine, and the signals have gotten stronger in the days since the invasion of Crimea. From Putin’s point of view, this is the last in a long series of interference in other governments, broken promises, and violations of international law by the West. George H. W. Bush promised Russian that we wouldn’t expand NATO into the former Soviet area, and Clinton ignored that promise and NATO expanded to Russia’s borders. Prior to 2003, Russia had an ally in Georgia. The Rose Revolution put paid to that, mostly due to the collapse of support for Shevardnadze, but partly due to organizing by NGOs that received some of their funding from the west. The Orange Revolution the next year in the Ukraine deprived Putin’s favored candidate of the presidency, again with some support from the West. Prior to 2011, Russia had an ally in Libya. It abstained from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution establishing a no-fly zone in Libya because it was promised that NATO wouldn’t go beyond its mandate. There was mission creep and NATO ended up doing more than enforcing a no-fly zone. The end result is that Russia no longer has an ally in Libya. Since Putin became president in Russia, the West has redrawn Serbia’s borders to create the independent country of Kosovo. Serbia had been a Russian ally, although it is now headed toward membership in the EU.
In this case, Russia has the military resources to prevent growing US/NATO influence in the Crimea where Russia has crucial military bases. It also supplies desperately needed gas and trade for the rest of Ukraine. He’s going to do whatever is necessary to prevent further threat to Russia’s interests, and he doesn’t trust us. Of all the players, he’s the least flexible. He doesn’t need an independent Crimea or a more autonomous one, but he does need one that is free of US/NATO influence.
The Simferopol government was created to create political cover for Russia’s military occupation of Crimea. More long term, it was created to maintain Russia’s political influence in Crimea and prevent an increase of Western influence. Crimea’s population includes many people who are resolved to strengthen ties with Russia, although this resolve probably isn’t as strong overall as the Simferopol government’s resolve. Kiev is determined to reestablish control over Crimea, but it has a lot of other problems to deal with and limited resources. Ukraine’s population mostly resents the Russian invasion, but they’re willing to allow a substantial amount of Russian influence. The US and EU are limited to providing financial support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. As I mentioned above, its going to be hard for the US and EU to unite behind sanctions. Financial support will be more sustainable and have more effect, but that means that US/EU has to accept whatever Kiev can negotiate. Yanukovych will take whatever he can get.
Overall, it’s clear that the Crimean crisis is going to be resolved when Putin thinks it’s resolved. He has the most influence of any player, the outcome is more important to him than almost anyone else, the players on his side of the policy divide are mostly located in Crimea while the players on the other side of the divide are mostly elsewhere, he’s more determined than anyone else to get what he wants, and the most determined players are on his side.
In contrast, the only player less likely to have an effect on the outcome of the crisis than the US/EU is Yanukovych. While they’re at the middle of the pack in terms of influence, Ukraine/Crimea isn’t as important to the US/EU as is it is to most of the other players, and their resolve is weak. Russia has military bases in Crimea and operational control. Anything that the US/NATO could counter with is far away, and they’re not willing to use military force anyway.
Since Putin’s goal is more Russian influence in Ukraine and less Western influence, the sudden outpouring of assistance for Ukraine from the US/EU is probably viewed as more Western interference that destabilizes the country. Stability for Putin would be the old status quo with a Russian-oriented government and no Western interference. The more US/EU influence grows in Ukraine, the greater the chances of Putin splitting Crimea off from Ukraine and setting up a client state. This was the strategy he pursued in Abkhazia and South Ossetia when Georgia turned away from Russia and towards the EU and NATO, and he had less at stake in those two areas than he does in Crimea. Giving up influence in Ukraine and tightening control in Crimea is probably not his ideal solution, but it sets up a strong barrier to further Western encroachment, much more clearly marked and defended than the older more porous barrier at the border between the EU and Ukraine. Even with the Ukrainians and Tartars, Crimea as a separate political unit is going to be less susceptible to Western influence than Ukraine intact with the old provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
But splitting Crimea off from Ukraine doesn’t mean the end of Russian influence in Ukraine. Even with the resentment the move would create, Ukraine still needs Russian gas and Russian trade. Being at odds with Russia means that Ukraine will pay substantially more for gas, and a large part of eastern Ukraine’s economy depends on Russian trade. The oligarchs aren’t going to be happy at the loss of revenue, and eastern voters aren’t going to be happy about the loss of jobs. The economic harm that Western sanctions would do to Russia are minor compared to the economic harm that Russian sanctions would do to Ukraine. Sanctions themselves probably aren’t necessary. Just raising the price of gas and creating bureaucratic barriers to trade would cause a lot of pain. And language and cultural ties between Russia and Ukraine make it easy for Russia to create news reports that influence many Ukrainians’ thinking. Just as western Ukraine will always be open to Western influence, eastern Ukraine will always be open to Russian influence.
Looking at Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia ensured that it had strong bonds with the populations and effective control of the areas. People in both areas were offered Russian citizenship and many of them welcomed it. This gave Russia a clear indication of the support it would receive from people in the two areas. Russia subsidized the government of South Ossetia, controlled the security forces, and staffed the local governments with Russians or natives who had worked for the Russian government in similar positions. Abkhazia exercises more autonomy, but Russia supplies a quarter of its budget, is funding a massive infrastructure buildup, and pays the pensions.
In Transnistria, the economy is not self-sufficient and Russia subsidizes the government through a bizarre arrangement that saddles Moldova with Transnistria’s unpaid natural gas debts. Russia also helps pay pensions and subsidizes other government services. It is probably subsidizing Transnistria’s army and KGB. Many of Transnistria’s people are Russian citizens and Russia fast-tracks citizenship applications. Russia has never officially recognized Transnistria, but Russian troops keep Moldova from reasserting control.
Russia is issuing passports to members of the disbanded Berkut, the anti-riot police accused of shooting Maidan protesters. It has made it easier for Crimeans to get Russian citizenship. Russia has neutralized the Ukrainian military in Crimea, pinning it to its bases. Simferopol has announced that it is setting up its own law enforcement and security agencies. It earlier reported that it was setting up its own defense ministry. Russia has announced that the Crimean government is running a $1 billion deficit, and indicated that it would be preparing a financial aid package to cover the deficit. And Russia is launching a new $3 billion bridge project to be built between Russia and Crimea.
At this point, its obvious that Crimean-created defense and security forces will be sponsored by Russia and effectively under its control. Creating new Russian citizens in Crimea strengthens Russia’s claim that it is protecting Russian citizens, and the rate at which people take up citizenship when it is offered gives Russia a gauge of how much support it has in Crimea. Putin has begun the process of making Crimea financially dependent on Russia, both for its operating budget and for infrastructure improvement. The new bridge not only will facilitate the movement of troops between Russian and Crimea, but it will also strengthen Crimea’s trade ties with Russia. So the pieces of an Abkhazian or Transnistrian style client state are already falling into place.
Putin could declare Crimea to be an independent state, as he’s done with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or he could refuse to recognize its independence while ensuring that Ukraine can’t reclaim it, as he’s done with Transnistria and Moldova. Putin may have recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia not because their independence gave him any political advantage, but in retaliation for the West recognizing the independence of Kosovo. In this case recognizing the independence of Crimea is probably more trouble than it’s worth. Formally recognizing Crimea would bring additional Western condemnation, and Crimea will be more dependent on Russia if its status is undefined.
At this point Ukraine can’t go back to a government headed by Yanukovych. Putin acknowledged this when he admitted that Yanukovych has no political future. But he sees the protests that lead up to Yanukovych’s removal as part of a Western effort to destabilize and divide the country. In his own words, “I have told them a thousand times ‘Why are you splitting the country?'” Putin has apparently decided that the 21 February pact that would have left Yanukovych in the presidency while reducing his powers is Russia’s minimum acceptable agreement; any less and he’s better off seizing control of Crimea. This is so important to Russia that Foreign Minister Lavrov announced at one point that he and US Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed that the pact should be enforced, forcing Kerry to deny that he had agreed to that.
My forecast is that the US/EU will continue to offer financial help and other support for Kiev. Putin will see this as a reckless pursuit of influence in Ukraine and will refuse to negotiate a deal that doesn’t meet his minimal demands. He will solidify his control of Crimea, making it economically and militarily dependent of Russia. He will not declare Crimea independent of Ukraine, making Crimea even more dependent on Russia and allowing Putin to claim that he isn’t altering Ukraine’s borders.
If Yanukovych wanted to have any chance of staying on as president, he would have had to follow Friday’s agreement by shoring up his support in parliament and ensuring that he had the government security forces behind him. He would have had to maintain communication with the opposition leaders to ensure that they remained committed to the agreement and to show that he was following through on his commitments. There’s no guarantee that he would have succeeded in these things, but they were necessary for him to have a chance at continuing.
Instead he left Kiev and went to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city and a center of support for his presidency. In his absence, there have been enough defections from his party in parliament that the opposition is effectively in control. Parliament has freed Tymoshenko from prison, allowing her to replace Yatseniuk, a capable but less charismatic politician, as the direct leader of her party, the largest party in the opposition. With Yanukovych absent and without a prime minister, the effective head of government is the speaker of the parliament. Parliament has just replaced the pro-Yanukovych speaker with an ally of Tymoshenko.
Yanukovych can’t maintain power without the support of the security forces. The anti-riot police are exhausted after their unsuccessful attempts to seize Independence Square from the Maidan protesters. Their failure and Yanukovych’s absence has probably left them demoralized. Their top commander has gone before parliament and announced that they will not oppose the “people”, meaning the protesters. The Interior Minister, who controls the anti-riot police, has been replaced with an opposition figure. The police in general have disappeared from Kiev. Parliament is being guarded by Maidan self-defense groups, who are also guarding the presidential offices and residence to prevent looting. In other words, civil order is now being guaranteed by the protesters rather than the police, and the protesters seem to be well disciplined and effective. (A BBC producer tweeted that a protester guarding the president’s residence warned him not to step on the grass. The Maidan self-defense forces are on the job!)
If Yanukovych is to recover power at this point, it would have to be through a military counter-coup. But the head of the paratroopers and the head of military intelligence have both joined the head of the anti-riot police in pledging not to oppose the “people”, and the willingness of the military to act against the protesters was always in doubt anyway.
Yanukovych needed the the opposition leaders who signed the agreement with him to remain committed to the agreement and to sell it to the protesters. But Yanukovych’s inaction has lead Yatseniuk to call for his resignation and Klitschko to call for elections by May 25. As the opposition gains power, the agreement that gave Yanukovych whatever chance he had of hanging on to power a little longer has been discarded.
Opposition to the Maidan protesters is strongest in the east and south of Ukraine, where the protesters are viewed as “fascists”, among other things. But in Kharkiv, where pro-Yanukovych politicians are gathering to support the president, news reports have anti-government protesters gathering in the thousands, with pro-government protesters numbering in the hundreds. The police, who recently were beating anti-government protesters, are now protecting them from the pro-government protesters. Even the Crimea, essentially a Russian enclave within Ukraine, is divided between pro-Maidan Tartars and separatist pro-Russian groups.
As I was writing this, BBC reported that “Ukraine’s parliament has voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych and set elections for 25 May.” The Ukrainian constitution requires a presidential impeachment process that starts with parliament creating an ad hoc commission to investigate charges. The commissions recommendations have to be accepted by two thirds of the parliament and reviewed by the Constitutional Court. Then and only then can the president be removed by a three-fourths majority in the parliament. Since this procedure hasn’t been followed, Yanudovych’s removal is unconstitutional.
ICTV has broadcast a message from Yanukovych calling events in Kiev “vandalism, banditry and a coup.” There have been no reports of vandalism or banditry, but a democratically elected president is being removed without following constitutionally mandated procedures. That probably counts as a coup. During the three months of the crisis, I don’t recall any opinion surveys that showed a majority in favor of removing Yanukovych. A large part of the population will view his removal with horror. In spite of their rhetoric, the Maidan protesters are not “the people”. The Ukrainian people are badly divided and the new government will have its work cut out for it establishing its legitimacy and persuading the population that it represents all of Ukraine and not just an anti-Yanukovych faction that has seized control of the capital.
Will either the EU or the US impose more sanctions on members of Ukraine’s government before 10 May?
The forces opposed to each other in Ukraine are about evenly matched, and neither side can win. The Maidan protesters seem to be unwilling to give up their demand that Yanukovych step down, and Yanukovych is willing to talk about new elections, but seems unwilling to commit himself to them. There doesn’t seem to be much possibility of an agreement that would end the crisis.
Over the course of roughly three months, Yanukovych has displayed a pattern of alternating half-hearted attempts to negotiate with half-hearted attempts to suppress the protests with force. The negotiation attempts have failed, and the unsuccessful suppression attempts have gained the protesters new supporters, made them more intransigent, and prolonged the crisis.
The actual leaders of the protesters are more operational organizers than strategic planners. They’ve organized self-protection groups, food supplies, medical care, and the other things necessary for the protests to continue day to day. But their strategy is to continue the protests until Yanukovych steps down. The politicians who are capable of forming alliances with other parts of Ukrainian society and understanding what compromises have to be made to reach their goals are not in control. The Maidan acts and the leaders of the political opposition have to make the best of it, effectively undercutting any strategic behavior on their part.
Unless Yanukovych suddenly develops the ability to make painful commitments and carry them out, or the Maidan protesters suddenly acquire a leadership capable of strategic thinking and making compromises, the crisis is going to continue for a while. There will be new episodes of violence and the EU and/or the US will impose more sanctions.
While I was writing this, the New York Times reported that Yanukovych and the political opposition leaders have reached an agreement that includes a return to the 2004 constitution and early elections in December. A council representing the Maidan protesters voted 34-2 in favor of the agreement. Yanukovych may follow through with the agreement if he believes that he can rebuild his support by December and win an election. Reversion to the 2004 constitution reverses the changes made during Yanukovych’s presidency that gave him more power. Having acquired the extra power during the course of one presidency, he may believe that he can re-acquire the power during a second presidency.
On the other hand, the members of the Maidan council that voted for the agreement, along with the opposition leaders, are going to have to persuade the protesters to accept the agreement. That’s going to be difficult. Furthermore, Russia has refused to sign off on the agreement and appears to be opposed to it. Ukraine desperately needs a multi-billion dollar loan and Yanukovych is unwilling to meet the IMF’s terms, which leaves Russia as the only possible lender. That gives Putin a lot of leverage if he wants to undermine the agreement.
Until both sides have fully committed themselves to the agreement, I’m expecting the crisis to continue and forecasting more sanctions. But I’m happy to say that I’m making that forecast with less confidence.
I see three ways Yanukovych could vacate the presidency before 10 May:
1) He could lose a snap election
2) The oligarchs (big business owners) could pressure him into resigning.
3) He could lose his support base in the south and east.
Yanukovych still retains enough power that there isn’t going to be an election before 10 May unless he agrees to it. If he did agree to a snap presidential election, he would probably lose. According to a recent survey, he would get roughly 30% of the vote in the first round of voting. That’s more than any of the candidates of the splintered opposition, but not enough to win. In the second round of voting, he would be facing only one opponent. The survey shows him losing by a large margin, regardless of who his opponent was. Against any of the major opposition figures, he would get 36%-46% of the vote, while the survey shows possible opponents getting 54%-64%. The survey was conducted between 24 Jan and 1 Feb, and the results released around 7 Feb. Up until roughly 4 Feb, the president and members of his party were talking about holding early presidential elections, but on 3 Feb they started rejecting the idea, and after around 7 Feb I can’t find any news reports of the president or his party considering early elections. Within the last week, the EU has publicly called for early presidential elections, but Yanukovych hasn’t responded.
After Yanukovych defeated Yulia Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential elections, his government brought criminal charges against her that are widely viewed as politically motivated. Having established the principle that you imprison your opponent after defeating them in an election, and having resisted strong international pressure to release her, he’s not eager to lose an election himself, particularly when the biggest opposition party is still the party founded and lead by Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko herself is known to hold a grudge and to use the power of office to settle scores.
A further reason for avoiding an election that would likely be won by the opposition is the fact that people who are likely to defeat him are in favor of joining the EU. In order to join, Ukraine would have to make its courts independent of the government. Croatia reformed its courts when it joined the EU, and one of the results of this is that the prime minister largely responsible for bringing Croatia into the EU was later convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison. In Ukraine, Yanukovych is thought to be afraid of being arrested if he vacates the presidency.
The odds of the oligarchs pressuring Yanukovych into resigning are low. Yanukovych is still powerful and individuals who oppose him risk retaliation, even among the oligarchs. His family is corrupt and has made enemies by forcing the sale of businesses at below market prices, but the victims have been less wealthy than the oligarchs who command political power. The victims are millionaires, not billionaires. In isolated cases, individual oligarchs have used the blocs of parliamentary delegates they control to oppose the government, but this happens when their business interests are threatened. In almost all cases, they use political power to support their businesses rather than to further ideological goals, and this usually means supporting the government.
Yanukovych is a Russian speaker who didn’t learn to speak Ukrainian until he was in his 50s. His political opponents occasionally made fun of the grammatical errors he made when he first started speaking Ukrainian. This makes him a sympathetic figure for many of his fellow Russian speakers. The protesters who want to remove him from power are politically diverse. What they all have in common is a desire for better, less corrupt government. This desire is shared by voters in the Russian speaking areas, but some of the more prominent groups among the protesters are right wing nationalists who use a lot of anti-Russian language. In terms of attracting voters, this is analogous to running for mayor in Boston by attacking the Irish. The anti-Russian component of the protest is repelling the voters who are Yanukovych’s support base and who might otherwise be inclined to support reform.
And finally, there’s the problem of fatigue. The people who are spending their days at the barricades are not earning a living. The small and medium-sized businesses that are providing the protesters with food and supplies are providing them for free. As the protests continue month after month, they become an increasing drain on the protesters’ resources. The longer Yanukovych can stave off political change, the more likely he is to survive. At the moment, he seems to be avoiding committing himself to any irrevocable choices and playing for time.
Some Russian analysts believe that many of the protesters are seasonal workers who will have to leave the protests in spring and summer in order to return to their jobs and earn a living. I don’t know how true that is, but if Yanukovych believes that it is true, it would certainly encourage him to delay making any changes as long as possible.
Yanukovych will not resign or call snap elections that he is likely to lose because either will put him in a much worse position, both politically and personally. Most oligarchs prefer a Yanukovych presidency that generally supports their business interests to the risk and uncertainty of an opposition, most of whose leading figures are less oligarch-friendly. A large number of Ukrainians who claim Russian heritage are not going to support an opposition that prominently includes people they view as anti-Russian bigots. And eventually, the outrage over Yanukovych’s U-turn on the EU and his attempts to suppress the protests, as well as the excitement of the barricades, will wear off and the protesters will want to return to a more normal life. Yanukovych appears to have settled on a strategy of out-waiting his opponents.
Will Ukraine officially declare a state of emergency before 10 May 2014?
A State of Emergency is declared by the president, and then must be confirmed by a majority of parliament within two days. It would essentially authorize the president of Ukraine to use more force in putting down the protests. He would be able to ban rallies, make it harder for the protesters to organize by cutting telephone and Internet access, enforce a curfew, and call in the military.
For the immediate future, the signs are that Yanukovych won’t declare a State of Emergency. The ruling Party of the Regions has discussed declaring a State of Emergency, but has apparently decided not to. A party member reports that in comments Yanukovych made to the party, he ruled out the use of force and committed himself to calling early elections, both for president and for parliament, if he cannot reach an agreement with the protesters. Another member who has previously been a speaker of parliament, said that he didn’t think there were enough votes to confirm a declaration.
The director of a Kiev-based think tank says that “Yanukovich is no [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, in the sense that he is terribly afraid of any bloodshed and he would rather call for changes in the constitution and early elections than order a full-scale combat operation…” Another expert says that “My forecast is that there will be no forcible clearance. There will be a silent war of terror, which, in fact, has already lasted a month…”, which is to say that he thinks force will be used, but it will be more subtle than a State of Emergency.
But the situation is fluid and this could change very quickly. The think tank director believes that there is still a possibility of declaring a State of Emergency, and he believes the president could find the votes to confirm it.
A study of the use of violence in elections states that “Leaders are more likely to crack down when they think an election might unseat them (or their party) from power and they face few constraints on their authority and so have reason to believe they can get away with violence.” and “When judiciaries become more independent of the executive office, or when other checks on government power develop, election violence becomes less likely even when a leader or party’s position in power is seriously threatened.” The Ukrainian protests are not an election, but they are a contest for power. As the study suggests, both sides are using as much violence as they think they can get away with. Being able to predict whether the government might declare a State of Emergency over a period longer than a week or two requires understanding the checks on the president’s ability to use force.
Ukrainian courts have been more independent in the past than they are now. For 2013, Freedom House gave Ukraine a score of 4 out of 7 for political rights, and a score of 3 for civil rights. It’s overall status was “Partly Free”. This is not the most oppressive society in the world, but the courts can’t be counted on as a check on government power. The criminal justice system has been rather forgiving to thugs who attacked journalists, and it sometimes requires special effort to prosecute criminals with ties to the ruling party.
Freedom House rated the Ukrainian Internet as “Free”, which means that individuals could freely communicate and publish their own reporting and analysis. The press was rated as “Partly Free”. In spite of that, the press can’t be counted out. The riot police have apparently targeted reporters. The Institute of Mass Information reports that more than 40 journalists have been beaten, many of them while wearing visible identification, so the police knew that they were beating reporters. This suggests that the government sees their reporting as a threat. A lot of the Ukrainian media is owned by oligarchs who could once be counted on to ensure that the media supported the government. But since the protests started, some oligarch-owned TV channels have been giving air time to the opposition, and at least one oligarch-owned newspaper has been reprinting online articles that criticized the government.
Another constraint on the government’s ability to use violence is the willingness of the police and the military to follow orders. The government has been able to rely on the riot police, but there are reports of the regular police giving support to the protesters in the western parts of the country. The police in Kiev and other cities where protests are occurring are drawn from the same population as the protesters, and tend to have the same sympathies. Similarly, many military recruits come from the central and western parts of Ukraine where the main protests are occurring. Many of them are likely to refuse to follow orders if they are ordered to attack the protesters. There’s a good chance that declaring a State of Emergency would raise the level of violence without giving the government any more control over the country.
Ukraine is partly controlled by informal “clans” of businessmen and politicians, lead by the so-called oligarchs. The oligarchs have either gotten themselves elected to parliament, or have funded the campaigns of blocs of delegates whose votes the oligarchs control. Rinat Akhmetov controls a bloc of 50 delegates out of 450, slightly more than 10% of the parliament. He also owns his own TV channel. Dmitry Firtash controls another bloc, and owns Ukraine’s biggest TV network. In both cases, the TV reporting supports the owners business and political interests.
An article published in the Caucasus Analytical Digest sums up Yanukovych’s government this way:
Ukraine is now ruled by the so-called “Donetsk clan,” a group of individuals who made their careers in the Donbas, the industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. Like the clans of other industrially developed regions, the post-Soviet practice of securing and developing businesses through informal, and sometimes illicit, deals produced tightly-knit networks of politicians, entrepreneurs, and criminals in Donetsk. The Donetsk style of governance is based on authoritarianism and rent-seeking, described by van Zon, a researcher of Ukrainian politics, as “the merging of political and economic power with total suppression of dissent and unbrindled corruption.
The Constitutional Court issued a ruling in 2010 that transferred some power from the parliament to the president. That shift increased the power of the ruling Donetsk clan and correspondingly decreased the power of other oligarchs.
This sets up conflicts between Yanukovych’s Donetsk clan and the oligarchs of other areas as Yanukovych’s group attempts to gain control of local politics and business. In the city of Dnipropetrovsk, a conflict over the appointment of the provincial governor in 2010 led local oligarchs to support the anti-government protesters when the protests started in 2013. A newspaper owned by one local oligarch has been publishing articles critical of the government, while the TV channel owned by another has been supporting the protesters. An attempt by the Donetsk clan to force the sale of a factory at a third of its estimated value led two other businessmen to display a live feed of the Kiev protests on a large outdoor screen at an upscale shopping mall. The two businessmen have fled the country, but say they have no regrets. One of them said, “”We want to live in Europe, not in an outpost of the Russian empire,” exactly the sentiments of the protesters.
Regardless of whether the oligarchs are pro-Russian, pro-European, allied or opposed to the Donetsk clan, almost all feel threatened by concentration of political power in the presidency and the resulting loss of power by oligarch-controlled voting blocs and local clans. Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian oligarch, whose daughter is Vladimir Putin’s godchild, condemned government violence when the protests started. Akhmetov, a member of the Donetsk clan and a close ally of Yanukovych for decades, issued a condemnation of government violence on his company website in January and called for negotiations. He’s been negotiating with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the opposition leader the US is pushing as a possible Prime Minister. He controls the electricity supply to the parts of Kiev controlled by the protesters, but hasn’t cut the power. His normally pro-government TV channel has given air time to opposition leaders. More than 70 parliamentary members of the government’s majority have stated that they are opposed to a violent crackdown and will vote against a State of Emergency.
Western banks are worried about the conflict and have started refusing to extend credit to some Ukrainian oligarchs. Problems with his Swiss bankers may have led Akhmetov to have his parliamentary bloc vote for the resignation of the Azarov cabinet and against the laws directed at suppressing protests. Some of the oligarchs’ families live in western and central European capitals, and their businesses depend on European capital markets. These things are threatened by possible targeted financial and visa sanctions. And regardless of how they earned their fortunes, whether through legal or corrupt means, the oligarchs can best defend themselves against the government through the rule of law and protection of property rights, along with returning power to the parliament and the oligarch-financed delegates.
Since the protests started the EU and the US have started paying more attention to Ukraine. The EU and the IMF are offering aid, but the aid is conditional on political and economic reforms. Yanukovych wants to stay in power, wants a large loan to help tide Ukraine over its immediate financial problems, wants foreign investment, and wants access to European markets for the oligarch’s businesses. The political changes the EU and US want will weaken presidential power and will not make his hold on the presidency any more secure. The loans on offer are much smaller than Yanukavych wants and won’t help him stave off the sorts of economic problems that would cost him a second term as president. If Yanukovych accepts EU and US aid, he will have to give up any idea of declaring a State of Emergency.
Ukraine’s relationship with Russia since independence, and Yanukovych’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, has been very poor. The opinion of many knowledgeable Ukrainians is that Putin despises Yanukovych, and Yanukovych fears Putin. Putin’s goal is to force Ukraine into the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, blocking it from joining the EU. But Putin is offering a $15 billion loan, and isn’t trying to interfere with the way Yanukovych’s government rules Ukraine, so Russian aid doesn’t rule out a State of Emergency.
The protests in Kiev began as pro-Eu demonstrations, but have become anti-Yanukovych protests. The protesters’ goal is to remove Yanukovych from power. His two attempts to suppress the protests, once at the beginning and again in January, only made them stronger. Under a State of Emergency, the protests would be sure to grow and spread, and Yanukovych can’t be sure that the police or military would follow orders to suppress the protests. Most of the oligarchs continue to support him publicly, but are concerned about the spread of disorder and don’t seem to support declaring a State of Emergency. And the concentration of power in his own hands, along with the exploitation of state power by his Donetsk clan has cost him the support of individual oligarchs and made the remainder reluctant to see Yanukovych get more power. Whether or not he accepts EU and US aid, a State of Emergency would probably result in sanctions. So a State of Emergency seems unlikely.
But it can’t be ruled out. Yanukovych might still declare one as a last gasp effort to retain power, if the protesters seem to be on the verge of winning and he has nothing to lose. I’m forecasting a 25% chance of Yanukovych declaring a State of Emergency before 10 May.