Between Russia and the West: Ukraine's Insurmountable Task (Rzeczpospolita, Poland)
"Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is
between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he needs to retain the loyalty
of the Maidan protesters. On the other, he must maintain
the unity of the country. It is an acrobatic mission. ... The West will in no
way risk a military conflict with Russia. No one should count on that."
Stefan Meister of the European Council on Foreign Relations
Into the frying pan: Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has the odds stacked against him. With a weak military, deeply in debt, and a country of argumentative factions, he is essentially left to confront the Russian army alone.
was supposed to be a suicide mission. After three weeks of Prime Minister ArseniyYatsenyuk's government, it's even worse. For the head
of state, the most difficult decision was to cede Crimea to Russia with
practically no resistance.
"Yatsenyuk learned from the experience of Georgia, where
gave in to Russian provocations in 2008, which caused the West to see him as largely
responsible for the loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” explains Olaf Osica, director of the OśrodekStudiówWschodnich [Center
for Eastern Studies].
Yatsenyuk's strategy also has risks. Residents of the
eastern and southern regions of Ukraine consider the new government in Kiev to
be weak, which is an incentive to rebellion.
“Yatsenyuk is in control of the situation in Odessa, Lugansk and Dnepropetrovsk, but the situation in Donetsk
remains very unstable,” admits Osica.
prime minister is also unable to effectively control the border between Ukraine
and Russia. The Kremlin is taking advantage of this by sending “tourists” who foment
protests among the Russian-speaking population.
critical of Yatsenyuk’s strategy are radical
organizations created during the protests at Maidan Square
[in Kiev's Independence Square].
“SpilnaSprava(Common Cause) has issued a call
for a general mobilization in defense of the country. Pravyi
Sector (Right Sector), whose leader DmytroYarosh is deputy secretary of the National Security Council,
has a similar view of the situation. This may bring not only open conflict with
Russia, but could lead to a dissolution of the current government,” Kiev-Mohyla Academy expert Andreas Umland
[Editor's Note: Andreas Umland denies ever having made this statement to Rzeczpospolita. He writes in: "This entire sentence is plainly untrue. The journalist seems to have mixed up his interview with me with somebody else's. It is very discomforting to have such a strange statement published under my name."]
Yatsenyuk bases his legitimacy on the support of the
Maidan protesters, since he wasn't chosen in a free
election. At Kiev’s central square, where protesters are still encamped, the
mood is turning increasingly radical. Many people are irritated by the fact that
the prime minister, despite the humiliating grab of Crimea, is making yet more
conciliatory gestures toward the Russian-speaking minority and Moscow itself.
Ukraine will not
become a NATO member
(Yatsenyuk) is between a rock and a hard place. On
the one hand, he needs to retain the loyalty of Maidan.
On the other, he must maintain the unity of the country. It is an acrobatic
mission," Stefan Meister of Berlin's European Council on Foreign Relations
admits to Rzeczpospolita.
Mar. 18, the prime minister announced far-reaching state decentralization, which
is a move demanded by Moscow. He promised that Ukraine would not join NATO, and
spoke against a prohibition of the Region's Party [of toppled Prime Minister Yanukovitch], which many people at Maidan
were demanding. Yatsenyuk also announced that all people
carrying firearms must be compelled to relinquish them.
prime minister's strategy is made even riskier because he and his key collaborators
are associated with the Batkivshchyna, the party founded by YuliaTymoshenko, which is so often tied to
disappointed hopes for change after the Orange Revolution.
were never enthusiastic about Yatsenyuk. At the most,
they think his technocratic team is essential to Ukraine in these difficult
times. Their support, however, may quickly evaporate,” writes Britain’s Guardian.
maintain control of the east and south of the country, Yatsenyuk
agreed to an even more difficult compromise: he made oligarchs like IhorKolomyskyi of Dnepropetrovsk and Sergei Taruta
of Donetsk heads of provincial authorities. This, however, puts in doubt the achievement
of the Maidan protesters’ primary purpose: ending
corruption. This mission was entrusted to famed investigative journalist TetyanaChornovol, who in December was nearly beaten to
death by thugs sent by former President Viktor Yanukovych.
This fearless woman has so far been completely loyal to Yatsenyuk.
relations with the West are not at all easy for the new prime minister. The Wall Street Journal revealed a few
days ago that the Ukrainian chief executive had asked the United States for limited
military assistance, and was refused.
West will in no way risk a military conflict with Russia. No one should count
on that,” says Stefan Meister.
means, however, that Yatsenyuk will have to face any
further aggression from Russia alone. He decided to mobilize 40,000 volunteers,
half of which will form the new National Guard, with the rest strengthening the
of the Center for Army and Disarmament Studies in Kiev, warns that the
Ukrainian army has been neglected by the authorities for years, has obsolete
equipment, is not always led by loyal officers, and has no chance whatsoever of
mounting an effective resistance against the Russians.
leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform or UDAR
["udar" also means "a blow"]
refused to participate in Yatsenyuk’s government. In this
way he hopes to boost his chances in the presidential election, which is set
for May 25. The presidential campaign, however, is another problem.
not at all certain that an election will be held, since Russia will do everything
possible to prevent it,” opines Osica.
has YuliaTymoshenko, whose
relationship with Yatsenyuk has not always been good,
revealed her political plans. It isn't unthinkable that she, too, might play at
postponing the election, since that would increase her chances of victory.
Crimean militiamen nicknamed the 'Sevastopol Bay Musketeers' by
locals, seized two Ukrainian warships for mother Russian, in
now, Yatsenyuk has pushed back the risk of his
country’s bankruptcy. On Friday, the International Monetary Fund will have
ended its mission to Kiev.
Fund is putting three conditions on its $15 billion loan: a gradual rise in
energy prices to levels consistent with reality; a devaluation of the hryvnia
and a reorganization of the banking sector. Yatsenyuk
agreed to everything. I'm an optimist,” said Erik Bergloef,
chief economist of the European
Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
these conditions will, however, mean much higher utility fees for millions of
Ukrainians, as well as higher prices for imported goods. In other words, a
temporary lowering of living standards. Another reef against which ArseniyYatsenyuk's team may crash.