By Taras Kuzio
The arrest and imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko in 2010-2012 baffled Europeans and Americans because it seemed irrational for Yanukovych to undermine the Association Agreement with the EU that opened up the world’s largest market to Ukrainian business. This could be countered by the fact that Ukraine’s elites, like elites throughout Eurasia, prioritise their own self enrichment over state interests. The EU may have blocked the Association Agreement but why should this matter when Ukrainian elites can still own property, have offices and send their children to universities in Britain, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and of course Cyprus. The EU has blocked Ukraine from integrating into the EU while still permitting its elites the ability to live, work and shop as other Europeans.
The step also made it more difficult for Yanukovych to balance relations and negotiate with Russia at a time when Ukraine is isolated in the West (Serhiy Kudelia, “Why Yanukovych Did It: Explaining the Rationality of His Choice,” https://www.gwu.edu/~ieresgwu/assets/docs/ponars/KudeliaOct18.pdfand EDM, November 4, 2011, https://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=38631). This factor assumes wrongly that Yanukovych was always a promoter of a multi-vector foreign policy similar to that pursued by President Leonid Kuchma.
Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer writes that Kuchma’s multi-vector foreign policy centred on Europe, the US and Russia but of “the three, he increasingly placed emphasis on Europe” (https://www.brookings.edu/articles/2012/03_ukraine_pifer.aspx). Russia – not Europe – has always been the main emphasis in Yanukovych’s multi-vector foreign policy, but Western policymakers did not want to see this and believed his rhetoric about European integration.
A third factor why the arrests of opposition leaders were deemed to be irrational was because it gave Yanukovych no exit from power; if he left office, Tymoshenko could be released and she would take her revenge. A freed Tymoshenko would not only be a threat to Yanukovych but to many others in “The Family” (see EDM, December 2, 2011) and security forces (Security Service, prosecutors, judges, etc.) who have been involved in political repression.
This factor always rested on the assumption Yanukovych was considering leaving office. But, what if his strategic plan was to copy other Eurasian authoritarian leaders and think: Yanukovych – forever!
Unwritten rules under President Kuchma meant he would not imprison opposition leaders because he “understood that in this country one could not take power forever.” But, as Ukrainian Catholic University historian Yaroslav Hrytsak has pointed out, “The current authorities act as if they have come to power for 100 years” (https://expres.ua/main/2012/02/18/60595).
There are growing signals that the presidential administration is already contemplating ensuring a second term for Yanukovych in 2015 and, more dangerously, an indefinite prolongation of his presidency beyond his two term limit in 2020.
President Viktor Yanukovych no longer has to travel to downtown Kyiv and can work from his palatial Mezhyhirya home. His 30 car motorcades were a nightmare for Kyivites and reduced his always low popularity even further in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city. In March a rental agreement was signed between Mezhyhirya and the State Administrative Directorate (Derzhupravlinnia spravamy [DUS]) for Yanukovych’s new office in his palatial home. DUS is a relic of the Soviet era that manages all property owned by the presidential administration and National Security and Defence Council (NRBO) and provides services such as housing, clinics and transport for senior elites.
The contract runs until 2020, which means Yanukovych assumes he will be re-elected in 2015 for a second term. The contract provides for an extension beyond 2020, which also suggests Yanukovych may be considering staying in power beyond the constitutionally proscribed two-term limit (see analysis and photos at https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2012/02/27/6959508/).
Yanukovych has always denied owning the Mezhyhirya palace but this is no longer possible to do. DUS signed the contract with its virtual owner Tantalit that, as Leshchenko has investigated, is Yanukovych’s “own company.” He found that Mezhyhirya is owned by three parties: Yanukovych admits to owning a land plot of 2 hectares and Tantalit owns 27 hectares. The Vidrodzhennia Ukrainy (Renaissance of Ukraine) Charity leases another 8 hectares. The rent paid for Yanukovych’s new office is paid by the state budget to Yanukovych’s own company, Tantalit (see https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2011/11/21/6773868/). Yanukovych also is renting his jet and a helicopter from a company owned by his family members (https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2011/07/20/6405659/).
If Yanukovych is considering staying in power at the very least until 2020 – and possibly beyond – his imprisonment of his two strongest opponents, Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, are rational steps. Both opposition leaders are protyvnyky (mortal enemies) with who one cannot do a deal and therefore they represent a major threat. Deals can be done with oponentiv (opponents) whom one can buy off with deals and state positions, as in the case of Sergei Tigipko (whose Strong Ukraine party is to merge with the Party of Regions on March 17; see Taras Kuzio, “Tigipko to be Yanukvych’s Successor as Party of Regions Leader,” Jamestown Foundation Blog, August 5, 2010. https://jamestownfoundation.blogspot.com/2010/08/tigipko-to-be-yanukovychs-successor-as.html), Arseniy Yatseniuk and of course Viktor Yushchenko. Protyvnyky are similar to police officer Frank Serpico in the 1973 movie Serpico who refuses to follow other police officers and take bribes only to have them turn against him.
So, it would seem: Yanukovych – forever!