Tymoshenko Smells Fear; Yanukovych Smells Victory

(Photo: RFE/RL)

By Tammy Lynch

As debates go, the Ukraine Presidential debate on February 1 was lacking fireworks or drama. Of course, it’s hard to have fireworks and drama when only one candidate shows up.

As noted in last week’s blog, presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych previously declared his intention to skip the debate – and he was a man of his word. Instead, his opponent, PM Yulia Tymoshenko, attacked, joked and generally campaigned for the full 100 minutes of national airtime.

See a video of the full “debate” here from Tymoshenko’s official website. (You’ll need to scroll down the page just a bit).

Tymoshenko, who is known for her biting remarks, didn’t disappoint. During breaks from what amounted to her basic campaign stump speech, she branded Yanukovych a “coward” and a “marionette,” and when looking at his empty podium, said, “I believe an empty spot is what he is.” But mostly, she dripped contempt. “And although he is absent from here, I can feel his smell,” she said. “This is the smell of fear.”

Yanukovych, for his part, called her election campaign promises “dirt and evil” and was interviewed on a competing television network. Protecting his roughly 10 point lead by avoiding major debate gaffes seemed to be his mode of operation. Earlier, his representative had suggested that Yanukovich wouldn’t compete “in a contest of beautiful lies.”

The former Prime Minister provided a different – if somewhat confusing – reason for skipping the debate one month earlier, comparing Tymoshenko to a simple entertainer. He “wasn’t trained as an artist,” he said, so he would not participate “as a matter of principle.” Moreover, “it’s not my profession.” The video of his answer, with English translation in the information box, is here:

The rancor between the two candidates isn’t confined to debate-centered rhetoric. In recent days, tensions appear to have risen as both sides accuse the other of planning to use violence to steal the election.

On Sunday, Tymoshenko suggested that Yanukovych had filled Kyiv’s downtown hotels with “fighters who are ready to take power using any means.” She continued, “As in 2004, we are going to put [Yanukovych] in his place in a severe manner and he will never get power in Ukraine, whatever the circumstances.”

In turn, Yanukovych claimed that Tymoshenko was bringing hostile Poles, Georgians and Lithuanians to Ukraine to “destabilize” the election. “It is clear they are militants,” he said, and demanded “the current authorities” take action, “otherwise, there will be a call to arms to show them what the Ukrainian people are.”

Ukrainians have expressed alarm at these statements, although most understand them as only rhetoric. It is no secret that both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych do not shy away from confrontation, but neither has acted on similar statements they’ve made in the past. Still, given their current inability to communicate verbally, the tensions and heated rhetoric are a concern.

Should the West be concerned? Let us know in the comment section.

For regularly updated Ukraine election news, see the Facebook groups Ukraine Presidential Elections 2010 and Ukrainian Presidential Elections.

Tammy Lynch is a Senior Research Fellow at Boston University’s Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy. Connect on twitter @TammyLynch.