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Back in the USSR

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Nov. 9, 2011, 9:57 p.m. | Op-ed — by Michael Hammerschlag

Ukrainian communists hold a placard of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin during the rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on Nov. 7. People marched in the Ukrainian capital to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 that brought the Bolsheviks to power.
© AFP

Despite success in ramming through preparations for Euro 2012, the European football championships to be co-hosted by Ukraine with Poland, President Viktor Yanukovych has shown astounding incompetence in allowing the Yulia Tymoshenko persecution to proceed to a guilty verdict. Now it has metastasized to other ancient charges. It seems the powers that be want to bury her, like imprisoned former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Russia.

It all begs the question of whether the whole purpose was to paint Ukraine in a box with one exit: to Russia.

Western powers should have come down on the leadership much harder when Tymoshenko's charges started. They should have launched travel bans, account freezes, etc. Maybe this madness could have been nipped in the bud.

In a standard Soviet nonsense prosecution, she was charged with doing her job, something that couldn't be a crime anywhere in the civilized world. To recap, the world price of gas is set by a six month delay of oil prices, which were at record highs in July 2008: Yulia had nothing to do with it, and Ukraine had a gun to its head after the Jan 2009 shutoff.

It is deeply ironic that she was charged with treason -- betraying one's country -- particularly to a foreign power.

Some examples of treason were: say, the Oedipal George W. Bush neoconservative plot to invade Iraq, which benefited no one but war profiteer Vice President Dick Cheney, killed 300,000 to 400,000, including 5,000 Americans, crippled and maimed 30,000; injured 200,000; or the insane impeachment of President Bill Clinton, just as Al Qaida was coalescing into a fearsome terrorist threat.... or here, the incredible throwing of the RusUkrEnergo lawsuit by the present government in the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal.

Getting rid of the RosUkrEnergo gas intermediary was probably the best thing Tymoshenko did, no matter what the motive.

First the government fired the American law firm defending the state against the company, which rakes a billion or so dollars a year off the top of the Russian gas supply, returning 50 percent to Gazprom and 50 percent to Dmytro Firtash & Co.

Then they just threw the case, failing to defend it, so the Swedish court robotically ordered a 12 billion cubic square meters, $3.2 billion judgment against Naftogaz, which it doesn't have. What it does have is the pipelines that still handle 80 percent of Russian transit gas to the West, which Russia desperately wants to buy.


If this happens, chances are good that Ukraine will effectively lose its sovereignty, like poor Belarus, now utterly dependent on Russia, which could conceivably want to station troops on the pipelines to prevent “terrorism”. The Party of Regions also canceled incipient deals with Westinghouse for nuclear fuel and reactors and settled on Russia as the sole supplier (nuclear provides 50 percent of Ukraine's electricity), leaving them with an energy stranglehold over Ukraine.

That's a pretty good definition of treason.

Having a prime minister whose primary allegiance is to a foreign power is another deeply suspect situation.

Much has been written how angry Russia is with the prosecution of Tymoshenko cause it lays the groundwork for reneging on the admittedly atrocious gas deal. But after a recent Yanukovych-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meeting in Donetsk, the little bear was evidently mollified by the President's probable explanation: “If you want us back in your orbit, Tymoshenko has to be crushed.”

After a teaser of changing the law to legalize the charges against her (rather than just instructing the young show-trial judge to find her innocent), they came down with a sledgehammer.

The blizzard of new charges actually may have some basis in fact (though participation in the 1996 murder plot against Yevhen Shcherban seems designed to smear her with the West, and no evidence is trustworthy 15 years later) -- few big biznismeni here haven't diverted millions, but tellingly the ridiculous initial charges were designed to prove that we can vaporize any critic without valid cause.

If you imprison the only powerful opposition leader, you erase any pretense of democracy- entirely unnecessary since the POR has achieved a total monopoly on power anyway- with iron control of the Rada, Courts, Election Commission, Security Ministries, Police, and TV networks.

But if the plan was to throw Ukraine's lot in with Russia, Tymoshenko and her party were serious roadblocks. Ukraine is fading fast as an issue that anyone in the EU cares about.

The window is slamming shut.

Ex-President Viktor Yushchenko's virulent hatred of Yulia and multiple betrayals directly led to Yanukovych's election, so exhausting the public with the feud that truly widespread protests against Ukraine's totalitarian backsliding are dubious.

The EU probably won't ratify the free trade and association agreements. The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development probably won't dispense more money unless Ukraine jacks up subsidized gas prices (doubtful with coming 2012 parliamentary elections; the IMF mission just left again without any commitment).

Pressure on the hryvnia will prove irresistible very soon, with up to $55 billion of loan repayments due in the next year.

So after 20 years of fluctuating independence, it seems all roads again lead to Moscow, and Papa Putin is sitting pretty. He will save Ukraine.

Michael Hammerschlag is a freelance writer living in Kyiv.
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