Staying Afloat: Yanukovych’s Catch 22

(Media Credit/Party of Regions)

By Orest Zakydalsky, Toronto-based Researcher and Analyst

The Yanukovych Administration has spent the last year single-mindedly consolidating its power and marginalizing its opponents. In a sense, it has been largely successful: a new government and parliamentary majority was formed unconstitutionally; the Constitutional Court reversed the 2004 changes and returned Kuchma-era powers to Yanukovych; local elections, condemned as not meeting international standards, were held under rules that were advantageous to the Party of Regions (which since the elections has been able to strengthen their control over the oblasts, raions and cities of Ukraine); journalists, political opponents, rival businessmen and educational institutions have been put under increasing pressure by the authorities.

The president’s team has been steadfastly trying to re-establish the vaunted vertical of power that was the hallmark of the Soviet regime. In place of the Communist Party, we now have the Party of Regions. As in Soviet times, the local nomenklatura in Ukraine is expected to loyally carry out the directives of the central authority. Those who don’t can expect to lose either their posts in the bureaucracy (and the ability to pilfer as they see fit), or, if they work in the private sector, their businesses. If in the Soviet past there was no private capital and thus no need to control it, in Ukraine today capital can effectively be brought to heel by either the Tax Administration or the Security Service of Ukraine.

But we’ve seen this catch-22 before. In order to ensure the loyalty of the local nomenklatura on which the regime depends, they need to ensure privileged access for that nomenklatura to resources, opportunities and advantages. In order to do so, they must run the country counter to the interests of the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens. It’s basically the same inherent contradiction that proved fatal to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. According to Ukrainian political expert Mykola Riabchuk:

On the one hand, they really have to carry out painful reforms – not only because the IMF loans are conditioned by tough requirements but also because the country will go bankrupt if nothing is done. Yet, on the other hand, all the genuine reforms run counter to the deepest interests of the ruling class, of which the president and his government are just a part. No real reforms are possible in a systemically corrupt country without a radical cleaning up of the entire environment, rebuilding of institutions, and firm introduction of the rule of law. Not a single step has been taken yet in that direction in Ukraine.

Soviet themes of “strength,” “power,” and “stability” are a staple of the regime’s rhetoric. The Administration, bereft of any real political program or policy plan, promises all things to all people and delivers little to anyone except those “elites” on whose loyalty their rule depends. “Stability,” as defined by Party of Regions apparatchiks, has returned to Ukraine. Whether it’s sustainable is an entirely different question.

The choice facing the Yanukovych Administration and the Party of Regions is an unpleasant and unenviable one. They must either reform, or sink inevitably into political irrelevance. It’s not over yet, but it sure looks like history is repeating itself – and this time, as a farce.

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