Ukraine continues to chase two hares
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


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A monument to the characters of the popular comedy Running After Two Hares, which was made in Ukraine at a film studio in Kiev 50 years ago has been unveiled in the Ukrainian capital.

The main character of the comedy is a bankrupt hairdresser who wants to marry into money, while having a love affair with a local beauty from a low-income family. To marry, he has to borrow money for the wedding. At the same time, the beauty’s parents demand that he marry her.

When I look at the Ukrainian political scene, it seems that this film’s spirit has never left Kiev. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s trial has attracted attention across the world, and passions are running high in Kiev. Heated arguments have ensued between the Orange princess’s supporters and opponents, at times developing into fistfights. But overall, it looks like a farce in which Tymoshenko as the star sets the tone and easily outplays her directors.

By initiating the case against Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian authorities pursued two objectives. First, they wanted to get rid of one of the strongest opposition leaders who planned to mobilize the protest electorate for the next parliamentary and presidential elections despite her crushing defeat in 2010. Commentators say she will not be put behind bars, but will most likely be given a suspended sentence, which will effectively remove her from the political scene for several years.

Second, the charges brought against Tymoshenko are directly related to the complicated Russia-Ukraine relations in the gas sphere, which the government has been trying to change. A court decision saying she violated the law when she signed gas contracts with Russia in January 2009 would provide the formal basis for demanding the contracts’ revision, including at international institutions.

The latter has unnerved Russia, which sided with the United States and the European Union in criticizing Ukraine. However, Washington and Brussels criticize President Viktor Yanukovych and his government for going against democratic principles. They also suspect the case is political. Meanwhile, Russia insists that the gas contracts are perfectly legitimate and there are no grounds for the charges.

Kiev’s seemingly streamlined logic has created a delicate situation. A talented populist politician, Tymoshenko has so far managed to turn all the arguments in her favor. Instead of discussing the essence of the charges, she is using a faultless tactic, abusing the court, thereby provoking it into taking repressive measures against her. If she succeeds, it will be the Ukrainian government, not her, who will have to justify itself. The arrest warrant was exactly what she wanted the presidential administration and the government to issue because now they have to explain their reasoning to the world.

The interim result of the scandal is unsatisfactory for the Ukrainian government: tainted relations with the West, tensions with Russia, and more political scores for Tymoshenko. The worst part is that the Ukrainian authorities cannot retrace their steps because this would look like an obvious defeat for Yanukovych, which is unacceptable given the current complicated socioeconomic situation.

Ukraine’s policy has always been a mixture of interests. Observers in Russia and the West tend to take a traditional view of the situation in Ukraine, dividing the forces operating there into pro-Russian and pro-Western sides.

Although Ukrainian society is torn between several external centers of gravity, the principle of simple bipolarity is inapplicable because it is a multipolar system. Twenty years after gaining independence, Ukraine remains politically patchy, but its elite groups fully agree on the issue of sovereignty and see external forces as instruments they should use in internal struggle.

Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency proved that an attempt to run head-on in one direction (the West) is fruitless and even destructive because the nation is not ready to make a choice. His successor Yanukovych knows this, which is why he has tried to revive the old balancing act in an attempt to reap dividends from both sides. In short, the ideology of chasing two hares is deeply ingrained in the Ukrainian political world outlook.

In principle, this is a rational attitude, but one that demands a high degree of political skill and external interest in Ukrainian developments. This policy can succeed only if Russia and the West fight for the Ukrainian prize.

Unfortunately for Ukraine, Russia and Europe are too busy tackling their own problems to show sufficient interest in Ukrainian developments. Moreover, their interest is currently fueled by Tymoshenko, which means that their interest is not positive for the government. Therefore, Yanukovych and his team will have to devise a trick that will help them catch the rapidly escaping hares.

| RIA Novosti