Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Tymoshenko exploits upsurge in nationalism in Ukraine

There’s bitter irony in Yulia Tymoshenko’s latest claim that the new president, Viktor Yanukovych, is dismantling democracy in Ukraine.  In the aftermath of February’s election, Tymoshenko refused to accept her defeat at Yanukovych’s hands, despite unanimous agreement from international observers that the poll was free and fair.

The former prime minister’s comments are timed to coincide with Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev’s, visit to Kiev.  Both Yanukovych and Medvedev are keen to foster a constructive relationship between their two countries, repairing the turbulent relationship which existed when the nationalist, Viktor Yushchenko, was president of Ukraine.

The new Ukrainian regime has set its sights on a rapprochement with Russia, which doesn’t compromise its relationship with the EU.  Yanukovych has made it abundantly clear that he still has ambitions to steer Ukraine towards European Union membership, while avoiding needlessly antagonising its powerful neighbour.

Contrary to claims which Tymoshenko makes in this interview, Yanukovych has defended the independence of Ukraine’s national gas company, Naftogaz.   Indeed his Russian counterpart has accepted that a merger is not on the cards.

Tymoshenko, however, is eager to portray Yanukovych as a threat to Ukrainian indpendence.  She is even prepared to suggest that his policies will cause the country to split in two.  It is a message designed to play on western fears and prejudices about Ukraine and Russia.  

The truth is that in the latter years of Tymoshenko’s spell as prime minister, she was more than willing to take a pragmatic approach to dealing with Moscow.  Her relationship with Vladimir Putin was almost warm.  That suited the politics of the day, when she was engaged in a power struggle with President Yushchenko.

Now Tymoshenko has calculated she should take a harder nationalist line.  Yanukovych’s decision to negotiate an extension to the Russian Black Sea fleet’s tenancy in Crimea has raised chauvinist heckles, despite the advantageous terms of the deal and the fact that the Russian region was transferred to Ukraine by the stroke of a Soviet bureaucrat‘s pen.

With nationalism rampant, fisticuffs were exchanged in the Rada and even more bizarre protests have accompanied Medvedev’s arrival.  Tymoshenko is exploiting the impression of turbulence for her own ends.

Ukraine is not going to split under President Yanukoych.  Indeed the forces which could pull it apart can be better managed by a President who recognises the historic and cultural links between the country and Russia.

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