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Alexander J. Motyl
The Serial Stupidity of Sentencing Tymoshenko

The obtuseness of the Yanukovych regime appears to know no bounds. After a puppet court sentenced former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in jail on October 11th, after that verdict provoked howls of protest from everybody—from Washington to Brussels to Moscow—the Yanukovych folks have just lodged new criminal charges against Tymoshenko, this time for her business activities back in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively thumbed their noses at Europe.

That leaves one option only on Ukraine’s international front—subservience to Russia and devolution into a third-world colonial hinterland doomed to underdevelopment and poverty. Integration into the Russian-led Customs Union will enable the Regionnaires to retain their wealth and power for a while, but when Vladimir Putin becomes president for life, the party will be over. He knows the Regionnaires are clowns and will treat them accordingly. They deserve Siberia. Unfortunately, Ukraine doesn’t deserve being consigned to the Stone Age.

How can Yanukovych and the Regionnaires not understand what’s good for them, if not what’s good for Ukraine? The irrationality of the Tymoshenko ruling has mystified everybody and provoked a range of hypotheses. One of the most popular is that Yanukovych has been persuaded to act against his own interests by some nefarious group. Some speculate that it’s headed by the billionaire Dmytro Firtash, but that just begs the question: even if it’s true that Firtash managed to outmaneuver the supposedly pro-Western oligarchs supporting the president, why would Yanukovych buy his arguments? After all, doesn’t he get it?

Apparently not. And that brings me to my own favorite explanation: that the Regionnaires and their president really are ignorant hicks who haven’t a clue about how the world outside the Donbas works. Consider Yanukovych’s statement, made a few days after the verdict: “If such a situation happened in any other country in the world, even in the most democratic country, no one would have said a word … We are currently being examined with a microscope. Is that pleasant for us? No, it’s not pleasant.”

Now, consider what’s so shockingly wrong with this short statement. First, political show trials wouldelicit condemnation if they took place in other countries. Second, the reason they wouldn’t elicit condemnation if they occurred in the most democratic country is, ahem, because they would never occur in the most democratic country. And third, yes, all countries that aspire to integrate with Europe are placed under a microscope. That’s what Euro-integration is all about. If Yanukovych really doesn’t get these three elementary points of modern politics, then he really doesn’t get much of anything at all and may want to consider beekeeping as a full-time profession.

Lest you think I’m the only one who thinks the Regionnaires are dolts, here’s what a highly placed East European official sympathetic to Ukraine’s European aspirations recently wrote me:

The Ukrainians in power really don’t get it. They rail about “double standards.” This is part of life as an adult: like my 7-year-old: “Not fair!” when she was not allowed to do what adults did. Yes, there are double standards, but not the kind they think. Russia can do anything it wants, murder people abroad, spy and bully, buy up Western leaders, turn into a klepto-state etc., and everyone from Merkel to Cameron to Obama will continue to suck up. But Ukraine can’t do any of that: No oil, no gas = no free pass. And of course the Russians just want visa free travel to the EU, they have no aspirations to join the club or subordinate themselves to the club’s rules.

The clowns in Kiev also forget that far milder misbehavior by Meciar’s Slovakia put that country on hold for five years regarding the EU. I fear that with the exception of Poland, the Ukrainians have no boosters left. And the rest of the EU is sighing, thank God, we no longer have to deal with them. Short-sighted, perhaps, but no one cares when the EU is in knots trying to save itself. And the relief is genuinely palpable—as a long-term booster of continued enlargement I get asked with a smug we-told-you-so smile, “Well, what do you say about them now?” (This, by the way, applies to virtually all of the candidates, partner countries, etc. The EU is circling its wagons right now and if you’re not a net-payer, AAA credit rating ˆ-zone member, you will not be included in full decision making.) Ukraine (and others in the same situation) continues to act like the coy mistress that Europe is salivating to possess; that they are doing the EU a favor by contemplating membership. Or they think that Europe is too afraid of Ukraine going “back to Russia” so they’ll be given a discount.

Europe, except for Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, is not afraid of that at all; indeed it would make life easier. Summa summarum, whatever Yanokovych is doing, it’s not working and when they wake up to what’s happening the country will discover it is screwed with 20-25 years of independence and nothing to show for it.

Anyway, enough of my rant. But the Ukrainians better wise up.

What else is there to say?

Oct 19, 2011