Monday, January 11, 2010

Yanukovych and Wedge Issues

Last Thursday's Komsomolskaya Pravda in Ukraine published an interesting interview with Viktor Yanukovych. The entire text is here (in Russian). Google Translate produces a serviceable translation for non-Russian speakers. While none of Yanukovych's comments were particularly surprising, he repeats critical talking points: the Orange Revolution produced corruption, the current leadership is not capable of governing, Russian-speakers' rights are restricted, and Ukraine should not pursue NATO membership. The latter two points speak directly to issues he has used in the past to mobilize voters. Below are some comments I found to be interesting or notable.
  • On election fraud in 2004: "Ведь за прошедшие пять лет после Майдана факт фальсификации выборов так и не был доказан в судах. И это лишь подтверждает, что во втором туре выборов в 2004 году все прошло законно." Yanukovych indicates that the "fact of election falsification has not been proven in court... [and] that in the second round of the election in 2004 everything proceeded lawfully." Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the Yanukovych campaign has been making the case that fraud may be in the works for the 2010 election - in the western parts of the country favoring his main rival Yuliya Tymoshenko. I have read an analysis, produced by the American political consulting group Davis Manafort, alleging that many polling stations in western Ukraine produced anomalous results detrimental to the Party of Regions and implying that fraud would be employed in the west in 2010. While I do not dispute the potential for fraud in many regions of Ukraine, the evidence supports contentions of fraud in 2004 (even though that evidence may not have been tested in court).

  • On democracy and the Orange Revolution: "Сегодня «оранжевые» вожди Тимошенко, Ющенко говорят о том, что мы в Украине получили демократию, свободу слова… Хорошо, что мы так продвинулись вперед в вопросах свободы, но что касается демократии… Тут я бы возразил. Потому что демократия - это прежде всего выполнение законов и Конституции." Further in the interview, he asks rhetorically, "What has the Orange Revolution given us? Only freedom of speech? What price has the Ukrainian people paid for this?" Yanukovych's separation of "questions of freedom" from the definition of democracy - and identifying democracy with fulfilling legal requirements - harkens back to Soviet era characterizations of democracy.

  • On NATO: "Однозначно Украина была и будет внеблоковым государством, таким, каким она является сегодня. Мы не будем стремиться вступать ни в НАТО, ни в ОДКБ. Мы сохраним нейтральный статус." Yanukovych has been consistent in his opposition to NATO membership, noting that Ukraine should remain neutral. Neutrality is not really the objective. Instead, the target is a return to the Leonid Kuchma era "multi-vector" foreign policy which was rather successful in balancing Ukrainian independence, warmer relations with Europe, and civil relations with Russia.

  • On the status of Russian language: "Первый шаг, который я сделаю, - это принятие закона о языках в парламенте, который предусматривает имплементацию Европейской Хартии региональных языков или языков меньшинств. Это позволит нам снять то напряжение, которое есть в русскоговорящих регионах. Они получат право разговаривать на своем родном языке и применять его в делопроизводстве, в сфере образования, в медицине, в судах. Это главный вопрос, который нужно сейчас решить и который очень серьезно волнует людей." Yanukovych's pledge to pass language legislation will be a real test, especially if he wins the presidency and manages to obtain a parliamentary majority in subsequent elections. In recent elections, his Party of Regions has turned to its bread-and-butter issues to mobilize voters as voting approaches. The most effective issues to engage core supporters have been NATO membership and the status of Russian-language speakers. Enacting and implementing legislation to elevate the status of Russian would remove this seemingly effective mobilization tool.

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