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Alexander J. Motyl
Yanukovych Turns West?

What is one to make of President Viktor Yanukovych's recent entry into the ranks of the English-language commentariat? First he shocks the world with the announcement on August 16th that his book, Opportunity Ukraine, will be published by Vienna's Mandelbaum Verlag on the twentieth anniversary of Ukraine's independence, August 24th. Then, while we're all still reeling, he goes ahead and publishes a piece called "Ukraine's Future Is With the European Union" in the August 25th Wall Street Journal. What's next? An appearance on Leno?

According to Yanukovych, "I started writing [the book] when I was still in the opposition, and finished it just now, while on holiday. I will tell you right away: I wanted this book to be read first and foremost outside of Ukraine. At the height of the pre-election political battles I thought: What does the world know about Ukraine, my country, my homeland? Are they really going to judge us, Ukraine and Ukrainians, by these squabbles, scandals and political wars? Are we really living in such a country? Is it really the only thing that Ukrainians are capable of? Many even hardly realize that our country is probably one of the best places for investment in the modern world. As the president, I wanted to deliver this truth about it to as many Europeans, Americans and Canadians as possible. To all those business and energetic people who are looking for new markets to invest their business ideas, initiatives and enterprises. And naturally, their finances."

Yanukovych is right: the world knows next to nothing about Ukraine. He's half-right about Ukrainians: they're certainly capable of much more than "squabbles, scandals and political wars." It's their political elites who can't see beyond the next shake-down. And he's wrong about Ukraine as one of the "best places for investment." It would be-were it not for his corrupt pals and their commitment to the untrammeled pursuit of their own life, their own liberty, and their own happiness.

I'll report on the book when I read it, but if all it does is argue in the above vein, it'll be a major-league snooze. Rather more interesting and important is Yanukovych's piece in the WSJ. The title says it all, of course, but here's the kicker: "In the next 10 years of independence, it is my hope to see Ukraine reunited with its European family. We cannot achieve this goal alone, and we are calling on our European friends to support our efforts. Our future depends on forging close ties with the EU and eventually becoming a full-fledged member."

Come again? Is this the same man who blithely gave away Sevastopol and, possibly, the Crimea to Russia in the April 2010 Kharkiv accords? The guy who's kowtowed to Vladimir Putin at every conceivable opportunity? The fellow who's abandoned the "multi-vector" policy of balancing Russia with the West that every Ukrainian president has pursued? The leader who doesn't seem to understand that you can't persecute Yulia Tymoshenko and claim to be a European democrat at that same time? Yikes! Can it be that Yanukovych has finally seen the light?

Could be. Domestically, his regime is in shambles-detested by most Ukrainians and incapable of doing anything right. Internationally, Yanukovych is squeezed between a rock and a hard place. The Europeans and the Americans don't trust him, and the Russians appear to be hell-bent on doing everything to insult their erstwhile pal and vassal-in-waiting. With these options-which is to say, with no options-it's no surprise that Yanukovych is hoping to salvage what can still be salvaged. His regime's domestic standing may be beyond repair. But its international standing might be fixed by following the advice Yanukovych should have taken upon being elected: Go West!

Unfortunately for the prez, most Ukrainians will see his overtures as a cynical ploy. They're right, of course, but Yanukovych's overtures to the West are also a golden opportunity, for Ukraine's democrats and the West, to force him to put his money where his mouth is and anchor Ukraine where it belongs-in Europe.

Small wonder, then, that Yanukovych has taken to writing in English. Small wonder as well that his book will also appear in German. As everyone knows, the road to Brussels begins and ends in Berlin.

Sep 02, 2011