Tag Archives: tymoshenko

This is what “lock her up” means in American politics

US president George W. Bush met with Ukraine's then-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko... before she became a political prisoner. (Government of Ukraine)
US president George W. Bush met with Ukraine’s then-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko… in 2008, three years before she became a political prisoner. (Government of Ukraine)

“Lock Her Up!”Ukraine Flag IconUSflag

It might just be the slogan of the 2016 Republican National Convention.

But it has real meaning. As has been widely reported, Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort worked for the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian puppet who ultimately abdicated in 2014 and fled to Russia when even his own supporters couldn’t defend him firing on protestors in Kiev.

When the pro-Russian clique in Ukraine yelled, “LOCK HER UP” in 2010, after Manafort helped Yanukovych win election, that’s exactly what Ukraine’s new government did. Yanukovych put Yulia Tymoshenko — his 2010 presidential opponent and a former prime minister — in prison. And she spent three years imprisoned, until Yanukovych fled Ukraine and launched the country into a civil war that continues to cripple and divide the one-time Soviet republic to this very day.

Most ironic of all, Tymoshenko’s ostensible crime was for making a natural gas deal as prime minister (under duress) with Russia that Yanukovych, a sycophant of Vladimir Putin, decreed too unfavorable to Ukraine. Even the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Tymoshenko’s jailing was politically motivated.

As I argued in an email earlier tonight to Andrew Sullivan (who’s live-blogging the two conventions for New York Magazine), this is a bad sign for American democracy.

Politicians, and especially presidents, make ethical mistakes. Bill Clinton probably committed perjury about his sex life. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were both knee-deep in Iran-Contra. George W. Bush enabled torture and may have fabricated evidence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a pretext for war. Hillary Clinton absolutely disrespected the concept of freedom of information with her email server. Yes, she lied about the emails.

But when I hear an entire political convention yelling “LOCK HER UP,” as a slogan, it’s a troubling sign for American democracy and, let’s say it, the critical thinking of an electorate who would be led by a strongman like Donald Trump and, apparently, New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

I almost wish Clinton would invite Tymoshenko to the Democratic National Convention, just to show Americans how dangerous this moment is in American politics. I know that’s impossible, but Tymoshenko knows something about the abuse of law and being a political prisoner. It was tragic to see it happen in Kiev, but to think that we’re at this point in American politics is frightening.

It’s anything but conservative.

It’s anything but respect for the Constitution.

It’s anything but liberty.

Ukraine election results: Unsurprising win for pro-Western parties


Since most of the pro-Russian parts of Ukraine are still engaged in a low-grade revolt against Kiev’s pro-Western government, it’s not a surprise that the results of October 26’s snap parliamentary elections were good news for pro-Western parties.Ukraine Flag Icon

The message of the parliamentary election isn’t quite as awful as ‘Ukraine is doomed,’ but it’s hard to take away a lot of comfort that the troubled country is on the right path to political unity and economic progress.

With turnout across eastern Ukraine depressed, most acutely in Donetsk and Luhansk, it makes sense that Ukraine’s new president emerged with the largest number of projected seats in Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, after Sunday’s elections.

Verkhovna Rada

The Petro Poroshenko Bloc (Блок Петра Порошенка) formalizes the electoral alliance that Poroshenko made prior to the May 25 presidential election with heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who was elected Kiev’s mayor earlier this year.

But the new government of Ukraine will invariably look much like the old one — a coalition between Poroshenko and former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose resignation triggered the snap elections earlier this summer.  Then, as now, it’s something of a mystery why new elections were so pressing when Kiev is still struggling to regain control of the eastern regions from pro-Russian separatists.

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RELATED: Is Yatsenyuk’s resignation good or bad news for Poroshenko?

RELATED: Can Poroshenko deliver his fairy-tale promises to Ukraine?

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Yatsenyuk’s bloc, the People’s Front (Народний фронт), won more absolute votes, according to preliminary results, and another new bloc, Self Reliance (Самопоміч, ‘Samopomich‘), the vehicle of Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi emerged as the surprisingly strong third-place winner.

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Though some sort of Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk coalition seems the likeliest outcome, the two rivals are already sniping over which bloc should lead the coalition talks.  Continue reading Ukraine election results: Unsurprising win for pro-Western parties

Is Yatsenyuk’s resignation good or bad news for Poroshenko?


Another week, another crisis in Ukraine.Ukraine Flag Icon

Just days after the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered to resign after two parties left the five-month ruling coalition that formed in the wake of Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from office back in February.

Those five months have witnessed an incredible amount of activity in Ukraine: Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the rise of Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, the May election of Petro Poroshenko as the country’s new president, and the crash of Flight MH17.

Those two parties, the right-wing nationalist All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Всеукраїнське об’єднання «Свобода») and the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR, Український демократичний альянс за реформи) of newly elected Kiev mayor and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko, ostensibly left the government over the onerous conditions that Yatsenyuk was trying to enact into law pursuant to the $17 billion loan package provided by the International Monetary Fund, which contemplates that Ukraine will bring its budgets closer into balance. It’s understandable that lawmakers aren’t keen to introduce austerity measures with an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine and with the economy still in shambles — it could contract by as much as 6.5% this year, and the Ukrainian hryvnia has lost nearly 30% of its value so far in 2014.

But Svoboda and UDAR, which joined the pro-Western government alongside Yatsenyuk’s own  ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Batkivshchyna, Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина), knew the strings attached to the IMF loan from the outset.

Why now?  Continue reading Is Yatsenyuk’s resignation good or bad news for Poroshenko?

A closer look at Ukraine’s election results

Though business tycoon and pro-Western opposition figure Petro Poroshenko easily won election as Ukraine’s next president in last Sunday’s election, the final numbers suggest that he’ll take the helm of a divided country.Ukraine Flag Icon

Here’s a map of turnout nation-wide:


What’s immediately apparent is that turnout was extremely low in the eastern oblasts that have been the scene of several pro-Russian separatist movements. Notably, many parts of Donetsk oblast didn’t even participate in the election.

Though Poroshenko won 54.70% of the vote, with other candidates barely winning more than single digits, he’ll be hard pressed to argue that he has a mandate from the eastern Ukrainians who now feel so alienated from Kiev’s central government and the rest of the country.

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RELATED: In-depth: Ukraine’s elections

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It’s a far cry from the 2004 and 2010 presidential elections, which saw voting highly polarized, also on west-east lines. But compare the map of turnout in the 2014 election to the following map showing the relative support of Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych in 2004 and the relative support of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yanukovych in 2010:

ukraine2010 ukraine2004

There’s an obvious link between the support for Yanukovych in 2004 and 2010 and regions with depressed turnout in 2014.

It’s same Ukrainian divide that’s only become more pronounced over the past decade. Accordingly, the lesson of the 2014 election isn’t so much that Poroshenko has magically and suddenly united Ukraine, it’s that eastern Ukrainians have been effectively disenfranchised.

Note, also, that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March has removed another bloc of voters that, in 2004 and 2010, opposed  Ukraine’s pro-Western presidential candidates.

Since the election, Poroshenko has indicated that he’ll take a hard line against eastern separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and, if anything, fighting between Ukrainian forces and the separatists has escalated since May 25, with a particularly deadly clash over the Donetsk airport.  Continue reading A closer look at Ukraine’s election results

Exit polls show Poroshenko will easily win Ukraine’s presidency

No surprises here, but Petro Poroshenko is set to win Ukraine’s presidency in a first-round victory after exit polls gave him over 50% of the national vote in today’s election.Ukraine Flag Icon

Poroshenko (pictured above) was winning between 56% and 58% of the vote, according to two national exit polls. Far behind in second place was former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko with around 13%. Oleg Lyashko was winning around 8% to 9%.

When the official results come in, however, I’ll be interested to see the turnout in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists may have dampened and hindered turnout. I’d also like to see whether Poroshenko won over 50% in the east, especially in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts — and if any candidate, such as Lyashko, who campaigned in eastern Ukraine, managed to break way with any significant support. Those numbers won’t tell us so much, though, because the anti-Poroshenko voters are likely not to have participated at all in what they believe is an invalid election.

The result hasn’t been in any incredible doubt since March, when pro-Western political leader Vitali Klitschko dropped out of the race and backed Poroshenko — instead, Klitschko decided to run for mayor of Kiev, and exit polls show that he, too, has overwhelmingly won his election.

The biggest question now is how Russian president Vladimir Putin responds to Poroshenko’s election. There were some signs as the election approached that Putin would respect the results, amid other signals that the Kremlin believes it can work with Poroshenko.

If Poroshenko can stabilize relations with Russia, he will then have to turn to mending bridges with eastern Ukrainians, extinguishing the anarchy of separatist control in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, and reforming Ukraine’s lackluster economy. It’s a tall order.

You can follow much, much more about the election and its background at Suffragio‘s in-depth Ukraine page.

Photo credit to AFP / Sergei Supinsky.

The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter


I can’t remember a time when there have been so many crucial world elections taking place at such a frenetic pace.

The spring voting blitz began with a five-day period in early April that saw Afghanistan’s presidential election, Indonesia’s legislative elections, the beginning of India’s nine-phase, five-week parliamentary elections, Costa Rica’s presidential runoff and Québec’s provincial elections.

Since then, India’s finished its voting and elected a new government led by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Macedonia, Algeria, Iraq, Panama, South Africa, and Malawi have held elections, too, over the past seven weeks.

It all comes to a climax with five elections today — and another election that will take place over two days of voting on Monday and Tuesday.

Here’s a short look at each election — and why it matters to global policy. Continue reading The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter

Can Poroshenko deliver his fairy-tale promises to Ukraine?

Петро Порошенко

Earlier this year, the two undisputed leaders of the pro-Western camp were Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who had been jailed by the government of then-president Viktor Yanukovych, and Vitali Klitschko, a heavyweight boxing champion who emerged in the 2012 parliamentary elections as the leader of a new reform-minded political party.Ukraine Flag Icon

Moreover, other capable leaders in anti-Yanukovych movement, including other officials within Tymoshenko’s center-right ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина, Batkivshchyna), such as Oleksandr Turchynov, who ultimately became Ukraine’s acting president, and former foreign minister and economy minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who ultimately became Ukraine’s interim prime minister.

So how did a chocolate tycoon with no obvious prior presidential ambitions find his way not only to the top of the polls in Ukraine’s troubled presidential election on May 25, but gather such an overwhelming lead that he could win the race in the first round with over 50% of the vote?

Petro Poroshenko is campaigning on a platform of greater economic ties to the European Union and a pledge to create more jobs. He’s promised to enact the EU association agreement that Yanukovych  refused to sign, a decision that led to the anti-Yanukovych protests in Kiev’s Maidan square late last year. He’s also promised to bring an end to the separatist protests in eastern Ukraine, by force if necessary.

Despite this threat, the Kremlin is signaling that Poroshenko is a Ukrainian leader with which Russia can work:

With the country still roiled by separatist violence in the east, the growing air of inevitability around Mr. Poroshenko, who has deep business interests in Russia, has redrawn the Ukraine conflict. It has presented the Kremlin with the prospect of a clear negotiating partner, apparently contributing, officials and analysts say, to a softening in the stance of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

After weeks of threatening an invasion, Mr. Putin now seems to have closed off the possibility of a Crimea-style land grab in the east, and even issued guarded support for the election to go forward.

Still, Putin has argued that Ukraine should draft a new constitution that provides for greater federalism before holding new elections. In recent days, he’s urged calm in eastern Ukraine and he even tried to convince separatists to delay the referenda held earlier this month on independence in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. But there’s no guarantee that Putin, who in mid-April referred to Ukraine as ‘Novorossiya,’ or ‘New Russia,’ will recognize the election’s outcome.

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RELATED: How the eastern Ukraine referenda
relate to the May 25 election

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With no serious contenders, and no real national debate during the election campaign, Poroshenko, who has dodged between both pro-Western and pro-Russian governments for the past two decades, and who has ties to some of the country’s most notoriously corrupt oligarchs, seems to be promising everything to everyone — and polls show he’s going to succeed. He pledges to restore ties with Russia, even while enhancing Ukraine’s economic links with Europe. He will somehow reverse what’s been a near-comical bungling effort by the Ukrainian military to subdue a separatist movement that shows no signs of receding. While doing all this, he will create jobs amid an economic crisis that will require more than $15 billion to $20 billion or more in financial assistance from groups like the International Monetary Fund, which will almost certainly demand in exchange tough budget cuts, tax restructuring, the privatization of many  state-owned assets and the liberalization of Ukraine’s economy otherwise, steps that will almost certainly inhibit immediate economic growth that could bring about new jobs in the short-term.  All of this in a country that, among the former Soviet nations, has the absolute worst post-Soviet GDP growth rate.

In short, Poroshenko is arguing that he can do what none of Ukraine’s leaders have been able to do for the past two decades at a time when the country is more divided than ever.

Continue reading Can Poroshenko deliver his fairy-tale promises to Ukraine?

The Symonenko debacle undermines Ukraine’s electoral legitimacy


If you were one of the few voters left in Donetsk prepared to cast a vote in Sunday’s Ukrainian presidential election, the chances are fair that you were considering a vote for Petro Symonenko.

Ukraine Flag Icon

But Symonenko, a Donetsk native and the candidate of Ukraine’s Communist Party (Комуністична партія України) announced his withdrawal from the election on Friday, after an escalating war of words with Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov who, last week, directed an inquiry into the Communist Party’s activities with an eye toward its possible disqualification:

Turchynov said on May 18 that he had sent the request to the Justice Ministry and that he believed “a Ukrainian court will put an end to this matter.” According to the presidential website, the country’s security service has documented the party’s role in the separatist movements in the east and determined that several party members have acted “to the detriment” of Ukraine’s interests.

Ukraine’s Communist Party is an unreconstructed Soviet-style party, which draws support from the south and the east of the country, where ethnic Russians are predominant and where rebels are now giving the Ukrainian central government so much trouble.

The Communists win votes by appealing to nostalgia, especially among older voters, for the more predictable days of the Soviet Union. As you might imagine, it’s a party that has generally won a decreasing share of the vote in Ukrainian elections as fewer and fewer Ukrainians from the Soviet era are still around to vote for it, not unlike Gennady Zyuganov’s  Communist Party in Russia.

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RELATED: How eastern Ukraine referenda relate to the May 25 election

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Though Symonenko (pictured above) made it to the runoff in 1999 against former president Leonid Kuchma and won 38.8% of the vote, he won just 4.97% in the 2004 election and otherwise overshadowed by the Orange Revolution, and he won just 3.54% in the 2010 election. In the most recent 2012 parliamentary elections, the Communists won 32 seats the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, and they allied with former president Viktor Yanukovych, then the leader of the eastern-based Party of Regions (Партія регіонів).

So while it’s clear that though Symonenko may have picked up some votes in the May 25 presidential election from those areas that are currently under complete or partial control of pro-Russian separatists, there’s little chance that he would have won the election, especially with polls pointing to a first-round victory by Petro Poroshenko, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune selling chocolate, over former pro-Western prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Continue reading The Symonenko debacle undermines Ukraine’s electoral legitimacy

How the eastern Ukraine referenda relate to the May 25 election


It’s hard to know, especially from afar, how to interpret the weekend’s referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine.Ukraine Flag Icon

According to the pro-Russian organizers, 89.07% of voters in Donetsk voted for ‘self-rule,’ on the basis of 74.87% turnout. In Luhansk, fully 96% of the electorate voted for ‘the declaration of state independence’ on the basis of a reorted 75% turnout. Those numbers are all disputed by Ukraine’s central government. 

Adding to the lack of clarity, the referendum questions themselves are vaguely worded, so no one knows exactly what the region’s voters elected to do.

In Donetsk, voters were asked, “Do you support the declaration of state independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic?” In Luhansk, voters were asked, “Do you support the declaration of state independence of the Luhansk People’s Republic?” The Russian word used for ‘state independence,’ samostoyatel’nost‘, means ‘standing by oneself,’ so no one really knows what the voters were actually asked to choose — it could mean anything from greater autonomy to full independence to, possibly, Russian annexation.

Interim Ukrainian president Oleksandr Turchynov declared the votes a ‘farce,’ and Western observers, including European leaders, have dismissed the referendum as illegitimate in its conception and fraudulent in its execution. Continue reading How the eastern Ukraine referenda relate to the May 25 election

All you wanted to know about Ukraine’s Donbass region


For the second time in as many months, Ukraine’s crisis threatens to spiral out of control, with the Ukrainian military now trying (mostly in vain) to secure several cities in the Russian-speaking east from a band of pro-Russian separatists. Russia Flag IconUkraine Flag Icon

Just over a month ago, Russia annexed Crimea, the peninsula region in the south of Ukraine with an overwhelmingly large Russian ethnic population. For all the bluster between Washington and Moscow, you’d have thought that Crimea was as important to the international world order in 2014 as Cuba was in 1963 or Hungary was in 1956.

But the world largely seemed to accept Russia’s annexation of a region that was, after all, part of Russia until 1954. Yesterday in Geneva, after as the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union reached a somewhat thin agreement to reduce the current tension in eastern Ukraine, US secretary of state John Kerry tersely declared, ‘we didn’t come here to talk about Crimea.’

So what’s so different now? Will the latest framework, agreed just on Thursday, succeed? Was Crimea just a warmup act for a larger Russian annexation?

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RELATED: Why more protests won’t solve Ukraine’s political crisis — and why the Orange Revolution didn’t either
RELATED: What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster

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Not to worry. Here’s everything (and more) you probably ever wanted to know about the Donbass, the eastern-most region of Ukraine that’s now center-stage in the latest round of the fake Cold War.

What is the Donbass?


The Donbass — or the Donbas (It’s Донбас in Ukrainian, Донбасс in Russian, and if we’ve learned anything about linguocultural conflict, it that language matters a lot) gets its name from the Donets Basin, which is the coal-mining, heavy-industry heart of eastern Ukraine. As a formal matter, the Donbass includes just the northern and center of Donetsk oblast (an oblast is Ukraine’s version of a state), the south of Luhansk oblast, and a very small eastern part of Dnipropetrovsk oblast.  Continue reading All you wanted to know about Ukraine’s Donbass region

Crimea prepares to ‘vote’ in status referendum


The billboard above announces Sunday’s hastily coordinated referendum, presenting the choice for Crimea as between joining the Russian federation or a future of, apparently, Nazism run amok.Russia Flag IconUkraine Flag Iconcrimea

The March 16 vote comes barely three weeks after Russian troops essentially took control of the peninsula.

The Crimean crisis, and the wider Ukrainian crisis, have been widely discussed throughout the international media, so there aren’t too many original points I can make about Sunday’s vote.

The most obvious, perhaps, is that no one expects Crimea’s election to be either free or fair, in any normal sense of those words.  Though self-determination is one element from which nation-states today derive legitimacy, consider the context of the Crimean referendum with the context of September’s referendum on Scottish independence — the referendum date was settled more than a year in advance, the terms agreed by both UK prime minister David Cameron and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, the debate focusing on the economic and other policy implications of independence.

It’s also important to remember that Crimea, ultimately, remains a sideshow.  The more compelling story about Ukraine today is that its acting government is working, largely with success, to bring calm to the rest of the country.  US and European financial support is likely to shore up Kiev’s shaky finances, preventing Ukraine’s pending sovereign default, and a May 25 presidential election could restore some semblance of political stability after the fall of corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22 (though that won’t end the cultural and economic imbalances that have caused such a strong east-west divide in Ukraine).

A phony choice?


Crimea’s referendum will be a slapdash affair meant to rubber-stamp the newly constituted Crimean parliament’s decision to seek Russian annexation.  That’s clear from the tilted nature of the referendum’s wording.  Crimeans will choose between two options, worded in Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar:

1.  Do you support Crimea joining the Russian Federation as a federal subject?

2.  Do you support restoration of the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?

The second option, as many scholars have written, is needlessly complicated, because there’s some doubt over which version of the 1992 Crimean constitution that the referendum option references.  The original version states that Crimea is an independent state; only later was the constitution revised for Crimea’s current status, an autonomous republic within Ukraine.  So there’s some suspicion that if Crimeans support the second option, it’s a vote for Crimean ‘independence’ from Ukraine that would, in essence, still bring Crimea under Russian control. Continue reading Crimea prepares to ‘vote’ in status referendum

Ukraine (Crimea and Sevastopol) fact of the day

Ukraine's new PM Tymoshenko greets opposition leader and former PM Yanukovich before meeting in Kiev

If you re-run the results of the 2010 presidential election without Crimea and Sevastopol, you reduce the margin of the winning candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, against his opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko (pictured above with Yanukovych), by about half.Ukraine Flag Icon

The final result of the runoff election?

Yanukovych: 48.95%
Tymoshenko: 45.47%
Against all: 4.36%

Now look what happens when you simply remove the votes from Crimea and Sevastopol, where Yanukovych racked up some of his largest margins against Tymoshenko:

Yanukovych: 47.03%
Tymoshenko: 45.11%
Against all / Crimea / Sevastopol: 7.86%

It doesn’t mean that, without his support in Crimea and Sevastopol, Yanukovych would have lost the 2010 presidential race, which everyone at the time considered a relatively free and fair vote.  But it would have made a clear win much messier, perhaps giving Tymoshenko a case to rally against potential election fraud.

That’s something to keep in mind for the future of Ukrainian politics if, as expected, Crimeans vote on March 16 in favor of annexation by Russia (in what will almost certainly not be a free and fair vote).

It probably will have little effect on the scheduled May 25 presidential election, which will almost certainly be won by either Petro Poroshenko, a businessman who supported the anti-Yanukovych protests, or by Vitaliy Klychko, the heavyweight boxing champion and opposition political leader.  But as the old east-west tensions that have become the hallmark of Ukrainian politics reemerge (as they invariably will) for, say, the 2019 presidential election, it will be that much more difficult in a Crimea-less Ukraine for an eastern leader, sympathetic to Russia, to win the Ukrainian presidency in the future.

It’s also worth noting that in the 2012 parliamentary elections, Yanukovych’s eastern, pro-Russian Party of Regions (Партія регіонів) won 11 of 12 single-member districts within Crimea and Sevastopol. (The 12th went to Union, a local pro-Russian party).  In the 2012 elections, Yanukovych changed electoral law to provide that 225 of the 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, would be determined on a first-past-the-post basis in single-member districts — the idea being that the Party of Regions would win more seats by splitting the opposition, a strategy that largely succeeded for Yanukovych in 2012.  Under the previous 2004 constitution, which has now been reinstated by Ukraine’s parliament in the wake of Yanukovych’s ouster, all 450 seats are determined on the basis of proportional representation through national party vote.

Let Russia take Crimea — the focus should be on Ukraine’s economy


Why is US president Barack Obama using so much bluster to warn Russian president Vladimir Putin against what appears to be a likely military action in Crimea?Russia Flag IconcrimeaUkraine Flag Icon

If your answer to the question involves broad references to ‘appeasement,’ the 1930s, American exceptionalism or to NATO, you should probably re-examine the premises of that answer.  In the debate over Ukraine — and now, Crimea — empty talk by US commentators about the vital US interests in Ukraine could do more harm than good.  If you’re using ‘national interest’ according to the standard, IR theory definition, it draws from the realist concept that a country acts in international affairs in accordance with its self-interest.

But what is the US interest in whether Crimea is administered from Russian or Ukrainian authority?  Ukraine itself lies an ocean and a continent away from the United States.  It’s on the periphery of the European Union, and though it may one day be an EU member-state, Russian interference in Ukraine barely ranks among European security threats, though EU leaders should for obvious reasons be much more engaged on developments in Ukraine than US policymakers.  European policymakers have a strong stake in Ukraine’s future success.

To argue that the United States has a vital interest in Crimea is to argue that Russia has a vital interest in Puerto Rico.

While there’s a role for the United States to respond to Russian aggression, it’s certainly no reason to start calling for a new Cold War or to start arguing that Obama is somehow powerless to rein in Putin.  It’s not a matter of whether US warships, for example, could halt Russian advances in Crimea, it’s a matter of whether it’s worth spending US dollars and risking US lives to do so.

Crimea isn’t your everyday oblast.  It has always been a ‘special’ region straddling Russia and Ukraine with a unique history tied to both countries.  When Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, Crimea decided to proclaim itself an independent republic in 1992.  It ultimately chose to remain part of Ukraine as an ‘autonomous republic,’ with its own constitution and regional parliament, and it’s the only region of Ukraine where ethnic Russians constitute a majority of the local population, around 58% of Crimea’s total 2 million residents.  Last week’s anti-Kiev, pro-Moscow demonstrations weren’t the first time Crimeans have clashed with Ukraine’s central government, though. Continue reading Let Russia take Crimea — the focus should be on Ukraine’s economy

What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster?


There’s apparently a limit on what Ukraine’s president can get away with.Ukraine Flag Icon

He could preside over massive amounts of corruption, he could jail his chief political opponent on ridiculously politicized charges, he could swerve disastrously between a pro-Russian worldview and a pro-European worldview, and he could even brazenly change Ukraine’s election law to win more seats.

But when the government of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych became responsible for the deaths of 88 protesters last week, even members within his own Party of Regions (Партія регіонів) were defecting from Yanukovych.  Arguably, until his police force unleashed lethal fire on hundreds of civilians, Yanukovych could point to a relatively legitimate electoral mandate in the previous 2010 presidential election (and, though it was flawed, the 2012 parliamentary elections).


Since Friday, when the European Union seemed to broker a deal between Yanukovych and Ukraine’s opposition leaders, events galloped at a dramatically rapid rate (though apparently not too fast for Ukraine’s leading oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov and Dmitry Firtash), leaving Yanukovych in hiding in eastern Ukraine, under charges of mass murder.  The country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, voted in quick succession to elect speaker Oleksander Turchinov (pictured above), an opposition, pro-European politician, as interim president.

It also elected to restore the 2004 constitution, which restores more power to Ukraine’s parliament and away from its president, and set a tentative May 25 date for new presidential elections.  The parliament also cleared the path to free Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and a leader of the center-right ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина), who narrowly lost the 2010 presidential vote to Yanukovych.  Tymoshenko (pictured below) was jailed in late 2011 by Yanukovych’s government on charges related to her handling of the natural gas crisis in 2009 during her premiership.  That precedent, ironically, may be one of the reasons that Yanukovych remained so keen on holding onto power in Kiev — having established that he was willing to throw Tymoshenko in prison on politically motivated grounds, it’s Yanukovych who now faces imprisonment on the basis of far more serious charges.  Tymoshenko, who has ruled out leading Ukraine’s soon-to-be-announced interim government, will nonetheless be a leading candidate in the upcoming presidential ballot.  Though she’s been imprisoned throughout the current crisis, she’s also unsullied by having negotiated with Yanukovych, a group that includes another opposition favorite, heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko.


Russia, who had delivered $3 billion of a promised $15 billion bailout, is obviously dismayed.  Though Yanukovych was never quite the Russian puppet that some Western leaders believed him to be, it’s clear that his sympathies lied to the east more than to the west.

So what comes next for Ukraine?  Past experience demonstrates that the story won’t end with ‘happily ever after’ upon the appointment of this week’s new interim government.  As I wrote last December, the Maidan protests — even if they succeed — won’t by themselves end Ukraine’s political crisis.  Just a year after the ‘Orange Revolution’ of December 2004 and January 2005 that brought Viktor Yushchenko power, the pro-European government crumbled into infighting that lasted until Yushchenko left power, massively unpopular, in 2010.  Yanukovych took advantage of the ongoing disunity of the Ukrainian opposition in October 2012’s parliamentary elections, winning largely by dividing the supporters of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland and Klychko’s newly formed Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (Український демократичний альянс за реформи).


Almost on schedule, this morning brings news of serious counter-protests in Crimea, the peninsula that lies in the Black Sea on the southeastern coast, one of the 24 oblasts that comprise Ukraine.   Continue reading What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster?

What protesters in Ukraine and Thailand are getting wrong

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The political crises in both Ukraine and Thailand took a turn for the severe last week, as government police forces clashed with protesters with even greater violence.  But what do the protesters want in each country — and can the protests, even if successful, bring stability?  Ukraine Flag Iconthailand

Amnesty: the root cause of the Thai protests

In Thailand, a country of 66.8 million people, anti-government protesters took to the streets in November (pictured above, top) after Thai president Yingluck Shinawatra tried to introduce an amnesty bill that would absolve both her supporters and opposition leaders from the worst charges, including murder, that spring from the political violence that’s engulfed Thailand sporadically throughout the last decade.  The bill died in the Ratthasapha (National Assembly of Thailand, รัฐสภา) after all sides turned against it.  Yingluck’s party, the dominant Pheu Thai Party (PTP, ‘For Thais’ Party, พรรคเพื่อไทย), the third iteration of the party Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, founded in 2001 when he came to power, didn’t want to absolve the sins of their adversaries.  The opposition Phak Prachathipat (Democrat Party, พรรคประชาธิปัตย์) opposed the amnesty bill because they feared it would mean the return of Thaksin from seven years in self-exile.

Though Yingluck won the July 2011 parliamentary elections on a promise to de-escalate tensions in Thailand, the amnesty has brought the country back to the familiar standoff between the pro-Thaksin ‘red shirts’ and the anti-Thaksin ‘yellow shirts.’ 

EU relations: the root cause of the Ukrainian ‘Euromaidan’ protests

In Ukraine, a country of 45.5 million people, pro-European protesters also took their grievances to the streets in late November (pictured above, bottom) after president Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of an association agreement that would have engendered closer cooperation between the European Union and Ukraine.  Initially, the protests, centered on Maidan Square in the capital city of Kiev, assumed the form of the familiar political struggle between the Europe-oriented, Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russia-oriented, Russian-speaking east, which featured prominently in the 2004 ‘orange revolution’ against fraudulent elections that powered Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Yushchenko ended his presidential term massively unpopular, with his pro-Western allies fracturing into various camps, and in the February 2010 presidential race, the pendulum swung back to the pro-Russian Yanukovych, who defeated the EU-friendly former prime minister Yuila Tymoshenko (by 2010, a Yushchenko ally-turned-foe).  For much, much more background, here’s Max Fisher’s explainer today at The Washington Post.

In both cases, the protests have transcended their original rationales, and they now threaten to topple governments in both Kiev and Bangkok. What’s more, Yingluck and Yanukovych haven’t responded incredibly well to the protests. Continue reading What protesters in Ukraine and Thailand are getting wrong