Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ukraine faces a choice

Opinon peice published on

Extact of Opinion piece published 17-Feb-2006
RIA - The published poll data is significantly different then other polls published. No source indicated

--- Extract of article below ---

MOSCOW. (Yevgeny Kozhokin for RIA Novosti.) - Today Ukraine is facing several serious challenges at once. The first, in the domestic politics, has been brought about by the country's political reform, which has transformed the form of government from a presidential and parliamentary republic into a parliamentary one since January 1, 2006.

The question arises whether Ukraine's diverse political forces will be able to find a stable compromise and form an efficient and professional government after the March parliamentary elections. Other challenges, both in domestic and foreign policy, reflect the split in society and the elite, when one part of Ukraine strives for a fast Euro-Atlantic integration, while the other chooses the opposite, eastern direction.

The constitutional reform eliminated the country's previous institutional system, which is typical for most post-Soviet countries. The main advantage of the transformation is that the new model provides better guarantees against temptations of creating an authoritarian regime. However, it can plunge the country into a series of political crises, with poor or absent governance. Stable and well-governed parliamentary systems always have established party structures.

Britain is an example of one of the most efficient parliamentary democracies with stable, long established parties. Ukraine, on the other hand, will need a long time to develop a relatively stable party system. Today Ukrainian parties come and go to be replaced by new ones. The party chaos is a very serious challenge for Kiev.

Polls show that about 27% of the electorate is willing to vote for the opposition Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, 20.2% for Yulia Timoshenko's bloc and 11.4% for the pro-presidential People's Union "Our Ukraine." Other parties that stand a fairly good chance of making it to parliament are the Socialist Party of Ukraine, which enjoys the support of 5.7% of voters, Natalia Vitrenko's bloc "People's Opposition" (4.8%) and the Communist Party (3.7%). It is possible that a number of other less popular parties will also gain seats, as their present rating is around 2%, and the cutoff is very low at only 3%.

So the new parliament may have a highly complex composition. If the election were held next Sunday, the Party of Regions would get 145-155 seats, Timoshenko's bloc 123-133, Our Ukraine 60-70, the Socialist Partyof Ukraine 25-35, People's Opposition 20-30, and Communists 15-20, with the total number of seats being 450.

There is no doubt that when the poll takes place on March 26, none of the parties will get a sufficient number of seats to form its own majority government. Consequently, the winners will have to form a coalition, uniting with their former opponents who they do not trust and expect to act unpredictably.

Will the finalists of this tough race be able to find a long-term compromise? Without an answer to this question it is impossible to forecast what approach the official Kiev will adopt toward the other challenges, notably Ukraine's intention to join NATO and the European Union.

The present "orange" leadership has repeatedly stated its position, voiced by acting Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, who said that Ukraine would definitely work toward joining the organizations.

NATO membership is certainly in the interests of Ukraine's bureaucracy, including military bureaucracy, and some generals and commissioned officers are already contemplating what positions they will be able to take in the Alliance, how their children will go to the NATO college in Rome and how much they will earn in Brussels. They are tempted by the prospects that can open up before them after accession to the military bloc. Their motivation is very strong, because Ukrainian military can see how their counterparts in Slovakia, Poland and Hungary have benefited.

It should be noted, though, that not everyone in the military and security establishment supports the accession. The Ukrainian Security Service and other departments understand that joining NATO will mean cleansing their ranks.

However, there is another side to the accession issues that touches upon the interests of many more people. It is the issue of the future of Ukraine's defense industry, which has important links with Russia and Belarus. Ukrainian enterprises receive a significant amount of components from Russia. The weapons they produce comply with former Soviet standards because they were designed before the Union's breakup.

So the Ukrainian defense industry is unlikely to survive the country's NATO membership. The West is not at all interested in preserving a strong rival. So the issue will be less political than purely economic.

Despite its huge profits, the weapons market is very limited and rivals are ousted by tough methods. As soon as Ukraine loses at least part of its sovereignty in military and industrial policies, it will come under extreme pressure, including purchases of its defense companies to shut them down. This will reduce the number of jobs. Russian companies will have to give up cooperation with their current Ukrainian partners out of security considerations. The accession issue, therefore, is not only military and political but also social and economic.

Ukraine's accession to the EU is not on the agenda, which European officials have repeatedly said. This is a matter of distant future. Today Ukraine is preparing for a long wait, becoming Turkey's rival. However, Ankara is at an advantage because it has already launched official accession talks. One can object that although Turkey is moving toward Europe, the final result is still uncertain. This is true, but the very process impedes Ukraine because the European Union will obviously not be able to admit two large countries whose economies, social structures, legislation and security forces are so different from those of its key member states. Besides, their aggregate population is 120 million people (70 million in Turkey and 47 million in Ukraine). Their simultaneous admission would threaten to drastically reduce the EU's living standards and even plunge it into a deep recession with unpredictable consequences.

Today Ukraine is following the path chosen by Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the early 1990s. At that time, politicians in these countries actively debated whether it would be best to stay out of NATO and the EU.

For Poland, it was a unique chance to become a country with great influence in Europe. Just imagine that today, with all the present difficulties and challenges, there would be a large democracy in Europe that would not be part of any bloc and would be carrying out its independent policies. Every one would be struggling to establish good relations with such a country. This would give it constant practical benefits because competition for its loyalty would be accompanied by huge economic concessions.

This scenario for Ukraine's neutral and independent development would promote stability in Eastern and Central Europe, but it is not endorsed by the people in power who are afraid of being responsible for their country's fate.

Yevgeny Kozhokin is director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.