President Yanukovych and Separatism

By Taras Kuzio

At his ‘100 Day’ press conference, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said that he would not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as this violates international law. “I never recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. This would have been a violation of international norms and laws, the violation of conventions,” he said.

“There are international norms and laws, and according to them, any violation of the integrity of this or another state is prohibited. We cannot support the process of the violation of territorial integrity in the world and recognize these entities,” he said.

Yanukovych went further, adamantly stating, “I never accepted, you will not find in any of my interviews, and I never recognized the legality of actions that violated the integrity of the borders of a particular state. Did I clearly state this for you?” Perhaps President Yanukovych has a bad memory and does not remember that on September 2, 2008 he voted for draft resolution number 3083 ‘On the Recognition of the Independence of the Republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,’ and therefore “violated international law.” The resolution failed to be adopted, as it was backed by only 167 deputies, 140 from the Party of Regions and all 27 Communist deputies.

National Security and Defense Council (NRBO) secretary Raisa Bohatyriova was expelled from the Party of Regions after she criticized Yanukovych for his support on Georgian separatism. Her answer came to a question I asked her at a Washington meeting whether she supported President Yushchenko’s defense of Georgian territorial integrity or Georgian separatism (see EDM, September 2, 2008).

On September 17, 2008 the Crimean parliament, dominated by the Party of Regions, successfully voted by 79 to 8 in favor of resolution number 11-5/08-ВР supporting the independence of both regions. Since the 2006 Crimean elections, the For Yanukovych bloc has dominated every coalition in the Crimean parliament, together with the Russian nationalist-separatist Sojuz and the national-bolshevik bloc of Natalia Vitrenko ‘Peoples Opposition’. ‘All 34 deputies from the Party of Regions voted for the Crimean resolution.

What is then President Yanukovych’s position on separatism, and can it be believed by Ukrainians, Western governments and international organizations? His 2008 position that the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be recognized is clearly in contradiction of his 2010 position that to take this step is a “violation of international law.”

The president’s contradictory positions are clouded even further over Transdniestr. On May 17, Medvedev and Yanukovych issued a joint statement over Transdniester, urging that the territory be granted ‘special status.’ In a break from international practice and the policies of three previous Ukrainian presidents, the statement refers to Transdniester and Moldova as separate entities, which represents a form of creeping recognition of the separatist region.

How then do we explain Yanukovych and the Party of Regions continuing shifts in foreign policies, whether over NATO membership or separatism? The only explanation is that the Yanukovych administration does not seek to undertake an independent Ukrainian foreign policy. President Yanukovych is therefore a departure from President Kuchma who, although not anti-Russian, was nevertheless not pro-Russian and (with NRBO Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin) pursued a pro-Western multi-vector foreign policy. Kuchma used to say that his foreign policy was neither pro-Russian nor pro-Western – but ‘pro-Ukrainian.’

What then is Yanukovych’s foreign policy? It is clear from his first 100 days in office that it represents the first occasion when a president has pursued a single-vector pro-Russian foreign policy where, like Belarusian President Lukashenka, he acts in the role of a ‘younger brother’. The only way to describe this is ‘Lukashenka-Light,’ as the only difference between Ukraine and Belarus’s pro-Russian single-vector foreign policies is that Yanukovych claims to seek EU membership. But, domestic semi-authoritarian policies that are being undertaken in Ukraine mean that EU membership will be impossible to achieve.