CAN UKRAINE REMAIN INDEPENDENT?
By Michael Hammerschlag
KYIV WEEKLY - May 21
Kiev: Forget the consortium of gas pipeline ownership- the P L A N, unveiled by Putin April 30th to gasps of shock and awe, is for a merger of Gazprom and Naftogaz, or rather the swallowing of Naftogaz- with a $140 billion market cap, only 6% the worth of monster Gazprom. Even for the Kremlin-craven Yanukovich crowd this may be a bridge too far- Putin is determined to push the honeymoon period (between him and Yanu) to the max, and totally subjugate Ukraine’s energy establishment. The jewel in the crown of Ukraine’s energy system is its gas transportation and storage system, which allows it immense leverage over Russia and a 20% independent capability. Putin also wants to “merge” the nuclear power agencies, aceing out US Westinghouse, which proposed open competition: “We are offering to … unite our generation, nuclear engineering and nuclear fuel cycles,” he said April 26. If this Gazprom takeover is approved, even in a minimal form, Ukraine will be, now and forevermore, completely under Moscow’s thumb. Yanukovich appeared to pooh-pooh it May 14 in a BBC interview: “50-50 would be interesting for us... but full Russian control, no, that's empty words."
Coupled with a full scale legal assault on Tymoshenko- investigating her for alleged ancient and recent corruption (100 billion hrv “misuse”), hiring a controversial US law firm to investigate all finances of the previous government, even as their murky new POR budget allows almost unlimited opportunities for graft and theft (having cancelled tender procedures in Euro-2012 building), the BlueMen have left no doubt of their intentions. Medvedev arrives to ink 5 secret agreements May 17, when Tymoshenko has been coincidentally directed to appear at the prosecutor’s office. Protest, like in Papa Putin’s Russia, is to probably be prohibited. Already, militia are rousting people for documents on city buses, something not seen in 2 years, opposition protests are being harried, and criticism of the new Leaders is becoming muted. The West has been lulled by Yanukovich’s surprisingly deft international performances, and probably won’t wake in time, whereas Moscow is in overdrive, trying to affect it's plan in a swift fait accompli. They also are planning for the long term, with Russophile education minister Tabachnik producing a common guidebook for history teachers of Russia and Ukraine, one of the agreements signed. Agreements were also signed in nuclear power plant production, the use of the Glavnos GPS satellites, cooperation in aviation production, and demarking borders (another source of opposition rage over the Kerch Strait).
Would the turncoat liberals Deputies who defected to Yanukovich approve this latest possible giveaway? Over half couldn’t stomach the Gas Break-Black Sea Fleet deal. The breakneck pace of concessions and fraternal deals are presenting Ukraine with a stark choice- does it want to remain an independent country or fall back under Russia’s skirts. Independence has been messy, divisive, paralyzing- and with Yushchenko’s malignant obsession with destroying Tymoshenko- discredited among voters who couldn’t understand that the lack of agreement was sometimes a strength of democracy. In Russia there is no disagreement- Putin could wake up, give himself $50 billion and launch the nuclear missiles and the Duma would approve it by nightfall.
Dependence is comforting, safe, relieving, but it has a tremendous exploitation cost- yet there are many worrying signs that Ukrainians want that more. This is the only place I’ve seen where people will wait in 40M winding 2 person wide lines for a bus that hasn’t come. In a US owned Kiev computer software company, programmers were surprisingly equanimous – says Denys, “We will work together with deeper consultations and greater cooperation… a good thing.” One poll has voters preferring a POR Parliament 38% to 23% over the Orange blocks, but these things can be suspect in the full-court press of the POR’s total control agenda.
mother nature attacking Yanukovich
Ironically, Ukraine’s greatest hopes for maintaining its statehood may lie with the oligarchs ensconced in the government and the center of the POR. They have little motivation to become subservient to a man who brutalized his own billionaires, unless they publicly groveled. Ukraine becoming a vassal of Russia would greatly restrict their freedom to manipulate events and their own fortunes- and the haunting picture of once uber-oligarch Khodorkovsky rotting in prison forever must give them pause. The question is, just whom does Victor #2 work for- the Donbass Dons or the Man from Moscow. "He is simply a puppet, ready to do whatever is required to humiliate and bleed Ukraine of its life's blood," derided the braided ex-PM conciliatorily. "They are selling everything: our territory, our independence, our identity," bemoaned Yulia to protesters outside the Rada May 11th.
I first came here in Jan 1992, just after independence, when Ukrainians were brimming with a deep quiet pride- they couldn’t stop smiling. “We have out country back,” said one Kievian to me. Majordomos Putin-Medvedev don’t believe Ukraine is a real country, but a troublesome breakaway province- having erased the humiliation of the color revolutions, they are determined to extend Russia’s web of military and financial influence throughout Ukrainian life until independence is a dim memory. I watched Russia retrench in 2007 as legitimate Presidential candidates (a former PM) and his supporters were surrounded and manhandled by thousands of Empire Strikes Back riot cops, and dissent was disappeared. Will Ukrainians return to the neat and tidy neo-colonial fold, where all decisions are made for you? Or, as Benjamin Franklin somewhat said, You have a country… “if you can keep it.” The next 2 months will tell.
Michael Hammerschlag (Hammernews) has spent 1½ years in Kiev, and 2½ in Russia. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Honolulu Advertiser, Capital Times, Media Channel, Scoop, Business Ukraine, Kyiv Weekly; and Moscow News, Tribune, Guardian, and Times.