Analysis by Oleksandr Mikhelson
Glavred website, Kiev, Ukraine, in Russian 21 Apr 04
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, in English, Apr 24, 2004
KIEV -Analyst Oleksandr Mikhelson has looked at the possible reasons for and
implications of Ukraine's 20 April ratification of the treaty on the Single
Economic Space (SES) with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. He argued the
treaty would benefit Russia, but would do nothing good for Ukraine.
Russia would command some 80 per cent of the votes in the supranational body
expected to be set up to coordinate the new union, he said. Now that Ukraine
has acceded to the treaty, it should forget about its EU bid and its
multi-track foreign policy, according to Mikhelson.
Putin and Kuchma, January 24, 2004, Kyiv
(Click on image to enlarge it)
The following is the text of the article, posted on the Ukrainian web site
Glavred on 21 April under the title "Quo vadis, SES?"; the original
subheadings have been retained:
The immortal phrase of the no less immortal bankrupt [film character]
Golokhvastov - "It is, of course, very, very... But why?" - could come to be
the key question inside the Supreme Council [parliament], which has approved
Ukraine's latest strategic choice - this time in favour of the SES [Single
TANGO FOR FOUR
So where do we go now? In fact, there is very little specific information.
Yes, the main features of the Single Economic Space of Russia, Ukraine,
Belarus and Kazakhstan are well known. But they are interpreted in very
The first step is a free trade zone [FTZ]. Ukraine insisted that there
should be no exclusions and no restrictions. Russia officially declared,
through the previous prime minister [Mikhail Kasyanov] and the present
Russian ambassador to Ukraine [Viktor Chernomyrdin]: don't even think about
domestic prices for sources of energy [between the SES countries]. President
Kuchma heeded the wailing of the poor Russians and started to talk about
"temporary restrictions" on "certain groups of goods", although, as the
experience of Russian-Ukrainian "trade wars" shows, there is nothing more
permanent than the temporary and nothing more all-embracing than certain
groups of goods. But none of that is of any interest. The State Duma [the
Russian parliament] has not - for how many years now? - thought of ratifying
the long-drafted FTZ treaty. In other words, the Russians do not need the
FTZ now either.
The reason is that Russia's demonstrable objective is to take further steps
within the SES. What are wanted specifically are a customs union and,
ultimately, a currency union, as well as joint efforts regarding external
trading partners and with a view to integration with Europe and entry to the
WTO [World Trade Organization]. We shall come back to the particular
importance of the latter points.
All this is to be coordinated by some single supranational body, in which
the votes will be distributed in accordance with the members' economic
potential. Just like the EU, say SES supporters. Ultimately, though, Russia
will, according to various estimates command some 80 per cent of the votes.
There is nothing like that in the EU, but that's a trifle. Then the EU can
be joined through a referendum, accompanied, if necessary, by the relevant
amendments to the constitution. But that is even more of a nonsense. The
people should be kept out of serious matters, although it is legitimate to
say that it was SES supporters in the person of the Communists who once
proposed (admittedly, more for PR purposes) that such a referendum should be
held, and it was the opponents of the SES who objected to it.
In the short run, decisions should be taken by the presidents of the four
countries, by a sort of consensus. But the creation of the supranational
body in the future remains the principal argument of those opposed to the
SES. Its supporters respond with... silence [ellipsis as published]. Even
during yesterday's discussion of the SES, one of the majority MPs contrived
to make just one statement, apparently, on the subject. The gist of it was
that the supranational body will be created in the future; it does not yet
exist... [ellipsis as published]. That is the serious opinion of a serious
While the SES documents were being drafted, Ukraine tabled quite a few
assorted criticisms that the Russians (quite rightly) regarded as attempts
to "emasculate" the real substance of the agreement. These crafty plans
proved futile: the Supreme Council [parliament] approved the SES by 266
votes with just one proviso, originated by the president: Ukraine will
participate in the creation and the functioning of the SES "within a
framework that does not run counter to the Ukrainian constitution". We shall
return to this remarkable thought too later on.
In the meantime, let us answer the first "why?" - in the context of Russia.
Statements to the effect that Moscow wants to "restore the USSR" and
"enslave Ukraine" are as empty as words about "restoring the ties, the
sundering of which led to ruin". But there are some perfectly concrete
things. In particular, there are the European Union and the WTO, already
mentioned. We can now forget once and for all about joining the first.
Please do not disturb the gentlemen in the parliamentary majority and the
Cabinet of Ministers, who failed to find a single argument in favour of the
opposite view in six months.
The same applies to the WTO. Russia, with a larger and export-orientated
economy, is objectively experiencing greater difficulties with joining the
WTO than Ukraine. But if Ukraine entered the WTO first, that would mean,
inter alia, that Ukraine might be able to dictate its terms to a Russia that
was joining after it. Yesterday Russia secured the protection of its
The arguments of the other side are known: as an instrument of
globalization, the WTO is supposed to create a situation in which the more
developed countries can dictate their terms to the less developed,
particularly through the penetration of their markets by transnational
corporations. That is objectively true. Unfortunately, developing this
thesis so that it means "it's good to be on the side of the strong" [saying
in Ukrainian] and that therefore, in alliance with Russia, we shall be able
to negotiate for ourselves more acceptable terms for entering the WTO is
flawed by an elementary slippage in ideas, since, for that to be the case,
it is necessary, first of all, to have totally common interests. Why should
Russia take account of Ukraine's interests?
If we embark on a thoroughgoing analysis, "Orthodox civilization" is, of
course, to some extent, alien to the "cold pragmatism" of the Protestant
ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Owing to completely impractical notions
about "helping its Slav brothers", Tsarist Russia once became involved in a
war in the Balkans, which ended, incidentally, in the heavy blow of the
Crimean War. But then Vladimir Putin is a pragmatist, as those who insist on
the closest ties with Russia never tire of repeating.
As a pragmatist, he must think firstly, secondly and thirdly about his own
country. All in all, the Kremlin will start to worry about the interests of
Ukraine only when Ukrainians are also electing the Russian leadership, i.e.
when Ukraine forms an integral part of the Russian Federation, as in the
time of the empire or at least in the time of the USSR. But Russia itself
has no need of that in the coming decades: they do not yet know what to do
with the 9m Belarusians... [ellipsis as published].
Finally, no one really yet knows how the single coordinating body and the
customs and currency union will turn out. What is known, though, is that
some 400 interdepartmental agreements for specific industries and even
companies are being drafted within the SES framework. You may be sure that
the Russians will endeavour to draw up these agreements in the most
pragmatic spirit and with minimal publicity.
Incidentally, MPs from [Viktor Yushchenko's opposition bloc] Our Ukraine
have mentioned one curious fact: it is intended that 2m dollars should be
allocated to the preparation of these agreements, a sum that is to be
provided by the SES members in equal shares. Of course, 500,000 dollars is
not a lot of money, but what about the actual principle? We pay in equal
shares, but take decisions in accordance with "economic potential". We can
divide equally, or we can like brothers... [ellipsis as published]. That is
in answer to the second "why?" concerning Ukraine's national interests.
A "GIFT" FOR SUCCESSOR
However, the SES decision was taken by perfectly specific people, behind
whom stand no less specific forces and interests. What was it that prompted
the president and the leaders of the executive and the legislature?
As the coordinator of the [parliamentary] majority, Stepan Havrysh, rightly
observed after the vote, we have reached the end of the multi-track policy
(admittedly, Mr Havrysh immediately contradicted his own words by declaring
the necessity, and even the inevitability, of stepping up the dialogue with
the EU). It is no secret that the multi-track policy was the brainchild of
Leonid Kuchma, who was unable, for various objective and subjective reasons,
to find the resources within the country for withstanding Russian pressure
from the outset of his presidency in 1994. By 1999, as the authoritarian
tendencies in his rule became stronger, Kuchma was less able to rely on the
USA as the "counterweight" to Russia's influence.
That, analysts think, was the main reason for the proclamation of the
"European choice". In other words, we have again decided to move not
"towards" but "away" [from Europe], since, at the end of the 1990s, Europe
had not yet rejected the EU's fundamental concept, which presupposed that
any European nation was entitled to join the European Union once it had
attained a certain level of economic and political development.
Over a long period, exploiting the "multi-track" idea came to be Kiev
officials' only means of resisting Moscow. Russia brought about the collapse
of regional initiatives like GUUAM [the loose alliance of Georgia, Ukraine,
Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova] or the Baltic-Black Sea Cooperation, in
which Ukraine might have played a key role. After the "tape scandal" and not
without the participation of certain intra-Ukrainian forces, the
authoritarian character of Ukraine's leaders came increasingly to act like a
"bogeyman" for the West, erecting a wall not only between Ukraine and the
USA, but also between Ukraine and the European Union (especially since, in
its competitive struggle with America, the EU was experiencing an
"enlargement crisis"). The multi-track idea has been rather played out and,
now that the SES has come into being, it has every chance of taking its
eternal rest, remaining in history as an example of a powerful manifestation
of Ukrainian disarray that fell victim to pressure from the world's order.
It is well known that Leonid Kuchma has levelled a whole series of
criticisms at the SES, periodically withdrawing them. He has also encouraged
members of the government to drop their objections (or did nothing to
prevent them from doing so) - members who, incidentally, still keep silent
about what happened to the criticisms of the draft SES agreement that were
made in September by the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the
Economics Ministry. Evidently, [Foreign Minister] Kostyantyn Hryshchenko and
[Justice Minister] Oleksandr Lavrynovych are still maintaining their
minute's silence for [dismissed Economics Minister] Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy,
who was well aware, though, of what he was taking on... [ellipsis as
As a result, if the incumbent president does not contest the elections - as
is most likely - his successor, whoever that may be, will no longer be able
to make use of the "multi-track policy". As has already been pointed out, no
other instruments for protecting Ukraine's interests were created during
Kuchma's time in office (we shall shelve the academic question of how
realistic it was to create them anyway). That being so, Russia may well
become the "guarantor" of Kuchma's post-presidential life, since the next
president will, by and large, be controlled by Russia even more than the
present one. The SES [Russian: YeEP] reinterpreted as "This is the Age of
Putin" [Russian: "Eto Epokha Putina"] is the version for a Ukrainian leader
who has no one he can trust inside the country.
In this connection, the position in which [Prime Minister] Viktor Yanukovych
finds himself is of particular interest. He is now in an interesting
position anyway, but, if he makes a serious bid to win the forthcoming
elections, he may be in an even more interesting position. It is extremely
naive to think that Russia will make use of the possibilities opening up
before it if [Viktor] Yushchenko becomes president, but will make some
allowances for President Yanukovych. It is a question not of personalities,
but of the long-term interests of a major power. From that point of view, a
unanimous vote for the SES by the Regions [of Ukraine faction] does not
chime in with the strategic interests of Mr Yanukovych. Yet how independent
they once seemed: they could even have saved political reform, but declined
to do so.
If he had really been strong and independent, Yanukovych himself could have made a couple of criticisms about the economic aspects of the SES, even
those that had already been agreed on. In the eyes of his electorate, avid
not so much for recognition of Russian as a state language as for a "strong
hand", that would have gone down well. But no. Now it is a matter of
guesswork: either Yanukovych really will have to "throw himself under a
tank" - he is now on a lead. Or maybe the prime minister's recent visit to
Moscow, where he apparently had the honour of beholding the Almighty, has
made some impact... [ellipsis as published]. In any case, the myth of the
tough and independent leader is starting to crack noticeably. Are we
answerable for those who domesticate us?
NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST
But what happened yesterday at the Supreme Council appeared the most
inexplicable thing. The discussion was, of course, quite stormy. Our Ukraine
and the Communists once again denounced each other's anti-Ukrainian nature.
Incidentally, no one is surprised, for some reason, that such accusations
are most commonly swapped by the country's two most popular political
forces, whose ideology (even allowing for the "Yushchenko phenomenon") is
shared by half of all Ukrainians. That, after all, is a further indication
of the fact that the Ukrainians themselves do not know in what country they
want to live. It is also another argument that benefits the SES builders
inside and outside Ukraine, who are sincerely amazed, almost like [the
Russian writer Mikhail] Bulgakov, at what sort of country Ukraine is...
[ellipsis as published].
At the same time, the heat of the debates has turned out to be less than
what many expected - especially in contrast with the recent discussion of
political reform, in which Viktor Yushchenko himself shook the imagination
by the fiery nature of his speech. This time, there were also fiery and
witty speeches from the opposition, but there were none that made it clear
that these people had no way back. Nor was there any blocking of the
rostrum. This latter point can be explained by saying that, this time,
unlike the vote on political reform, the ability of the majority MPs and the
Communists to muster the necessary number of votes was not in doubt, and
they had no need to resort to any falsifications.
On the other hand, the opposition did not try to use the controversial
elections in Mukacheve as an excuse for blocking the rostrum, as had been
feared, the day before yesterday, by Oleksandr Zadorozhniy, the president's
permanent representative in the Supreme Council, for example. The faction
leaders simply sat down and reached an agreement: the opposition would
behave calmly, and, after the SES vote, Interior Ministry and Security
Service leaders would report to parliament on the events in Mukacheve.
Admittedly, the leaders turned out to be only deputy heads and so,
naturally, said nothing in plain terms (although, through their
contradictory statements, they provided the necessary material for the
All this enabled Stepan Havrysh to speak, after the vote, about "those who
imitated resistance". It is hard to say how much irritation there was here
over the actions and, most importantly, over the words of the opposition (in
the lobbies, the opposition frequently switched to personalities,
particularly where Mr Havrysh was concerned). But there is an element of
truth here, unless the opposition's victory over political reform, which
was, nevertheless, delivered primarily by good organizational work in its
own ranks and those of the "enemy", was an unrepeatable accident.
"But why, then?" The simplest answer is because even the most "pro-Western"
opposition cannot afford to seriously annoy the Kremlin. Then the SES and
everything else are, essentially, just the legitimization of the status quo
in bilateral relations. But there is a further reason. Very, very many - and
certainly not just in the opposition - hope that, in the future, it will be
possible to "bail out" of the agreements foisted on Kuchma by Putin. After
all, the most sensational decision of this convocation of parliament was
adopted fairly quietly.
In the end, out of pride, the MPs did not even want to postpone the vote,
although such a draft resolution was also to hand. How could we? The poor
State Duma had tired of waiting for the Ukrainian parliamentarians to finish
their endless talking. (The Duma MPs ratified the SES immediately after the
Supreme Council MPs. They waited so that everything would happen on one and
the same day, as the presidents had agreed... [ellipsis as published]).
As was said at the beginning of the article, the ratified SES treaty has a
single proviso - about the need to observe the Ukrainian constitution. But
who will establish whether a particular aspect of the creation or the
activities of the SES is in accordance with our basic law? Only the
Constitutional Court has that right, and many people have doubts about its
impartiality. It is not surprising that the "recipes" of the overt and
covert opponents of the SES boil down to the need for a change at the top.
But will it actually happen? Will the new authorities display the required
political will? When all is said and done, will it not simply be too late to
revise individual provisions, treaties or agreements, of which there may be
a large number within the SES framework?
The whole difference between the Ukrainian and Russian mentalities lies,
evidently, in the attitude towards the famous "maybe" [Russian: "avos"]. For
Russians, it means doing something without thinking. For us, it means
thinking and then doing nothing.
The SES treaty is now a historical fact, retaining absolutely all the
potential threats and shortcomings for Ukraine, including some for the
specific economic and political interests of the people who directly or
indirectly supported it.
So far, they have only one reply to this - "maybe it will happen"
[i.e. "maybe it won't happen"].
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