Western propaganda war falsely frames Ukraine as authoritarian

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July 15, 2012, 5:41 p.m. | Op-ed — by Adam Swain

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych meet in the Livadia Palace, just outside Yalta, in the Crimean peninsula, Ukraine, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The sign in the background reads "The 5th session of the Ukrainian- Russian state commission." (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)
© AP

Adam Swain

The spotlight that was cast on Ukraine as a co-host of the Euro 2012 football championship was particularly uncomfortable.

In recent months there have been unexplained bombs exploding and injuring 30 passers-by in Dnipropetrovsk, allegations in the British media of far-right extremism and racism among football supporters, alleged physical abuse when the imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was transferred from prison to a hospital in Kharkiv, a diplomatic boycott and cancellation of a prestigious central and eastern European leaders’ summit in Yalta and reports that President Viktor Yanukovych has been identified as a dictator by the German chancellor.

All this has culminated in a widespread diplomatic boycott by the European Union and its member states’ governments of the Euro 2012 matches being staged in Ukraine because of Tymoshenko’s imprisonment and the supposed existence of political persecution and the absence of the rule of law.

In all the vitriolic media coverage – the Gorshenin Institute report that 82 percent of international mass media reports about Ukraine between October 2011 and March 2012 were negative in character –  tendentious journalists have challenged Ukraine’s democratic, European and modern credentials.

Yanukovych, hailing from the eastern Russian-speaking industrialized core of the country, has been absurdly likened to a Soviet politician.

The domestic political landscape is dominated by an executive and legislative authority controlled by the Party of Regions that is trying to consolidate the political system and which regards the co-hosting of Euro 2012 as a symbol of their efforts to radically modernize the country, including closer integration with the EU. 

The government, which is facing a decline in popularity having followed – for a while – an IMF-scripted austerity programme, has been trying to improve its opinion poll ratings ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 28.

The government has embarked on a pre-election spending splurge worth around 1.5 percent of GDP, to be paid for by increased taxation and privatization revenues, intended to stimulate a slowing economy – real GDP growth fell to 1.8% in the first quarter of 2012 – negatively affected by the Eurozone crisis and the slow-down in China.

In another populist move, designed to appeal to its core electorate in the Russian-speaking east and south of the country, the government has introduced legislation to recognize the Russian language – along with a host of other languages – as an official state language at the regional level. 

Parliamentary scrutiny of the language legislation was accompanied by a bloody brawl on May 25 among parliamentarians which was also broadcast around the world. Small-scale demonstrations outside the parliament against the bill merely provide evidence for the largely passive mood of the electorate.
Party of Regions is reined against the self-destructive contrarian politics of a self-appointed “democratic” opposition, led by Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party, which believes its leader has been unfairly persecuted and imprisoned.

Nevertheless the increasingly united opposition (Batkivshchyna and Arsenyi Yatsenyuk’s Front Zmin party will run together in the upcoming elections) are reconciled with a recently amended election law which is likely to allow all parties to manipulate the composition of the next parliament by temping parliamentary deputies to switch parties after the election. 

The opposition, which hopes to participate in a new coalition government after the election, foretells darkly of possible electoral fraud and a possible Orange Revolution 2.0. Here the Western vitriol and domestic electoral politics coincide as Western countries may well declare the elections as not free and fair if the opposition’s leaders’ imprisonment prevents their participation in the election.

So what is going on?

Well, it is clear what is not going on. 

Yanukovych, for all his undoubted faults, is not a Soviet-style dictator but a pro-market politician elected in probably the most competitive presidential election ever staged in the former Soviet Union.
He has even repeatedly stated that his strategic aim is to integrate his country with the EU and to co-operate with NATO. Ukraine may suffer from endemic corruption but it is not an authoritarian let alone totalitarian state but enjoys a plural, even divisive, political culture, a very broad spectrum of party politics, a relatively weak state and a largely free press where human rights are upheld. For these reasons, any attempt at Putinization in the country is likely to fail.

Rather elements in the West whose proxies and instruments of power in Ukraine were removed from political office in 2010 cannot directly influence the president and the ruling Party of Regions which they regard as strategic political opponents. 

The West abhors the ruling party’s suspicion of Western geopolitical power despite its desire to sign an association agreement with the currently hamstrung EU. But the Party of Regions’ suspicion is understandable, after all in 2004 the west attempted to prevent Yanukovych from assuming the presidency triggering election fraud and the Orange Revolution and when he subsequently became prime minister under then-President Viktor Yushchenko, the West plotted in 2007 to unseat him and replace him with their proxy Tymoshenko.

TheWest fears that the Party of Regions’ cultural affinities with Russia mean it will be less willing to withstand Russia’s geopolitical goals in the country and the wider Black Sea region. The west also rejects the ruling party’s economic nationalism whereby they privilege the interests of domestic capital over Western companies (and Russian ones for that matter). 

The West also rejects Ukraine’s desire to be a strategic energy transit state between Russia and the EU. However, unable so far to ferment signs of a popular uprising against the authorities within the country, elements in the West have made the Western media its mouthpiece and resorted to an propaganda war to discredit and destabilize the country and intimidate and harass its leaders.

The crux of the propaganda war is the trial, conviction and imprisonment of Tymoshenko.

 In a giant game of Chinese whispers, Tymoshenko’s understandable defense that the case was “politically motivated” was reformulated first to “some” and then to “most observers regard the trial as politically motivated” and transformed once again into an uncontested fact that the trial was prime facie evidence of selective justice.

Dismissing Ukrainian justice, rarely do journalists ever consider the details of and the background to the case. The court which sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison and disqualified her from future elections found that she had issued a government directive without having the legal authority of the Cabinet of Ministers to the country’s gas company ordering it to sign a contract with Russia’s Gazprom.
She threatened to replace the company’s director, without possessing the legal authority, if he failed to sign the contract. These events centered on a puzzling dispute between Ukraine and Russia in January 2009 which halted the flow of Russian gas to Ukraine and the EU.

Despite undertaking preparations Tymoshenko failed to sign a fixed price contract with Russia by the year-end triggering the “gas war” only to sign a much more unfavorable variable 10-year contract nearly three weeks later when the world was distracted by President Barack Obama’s inauguration. 

At the time it appeared Tymoshenko had been a pawn in a grand geopolitical gambit cooked up in Washington. The gas war undermined Russia’s status as a reliable energy supplier and focused the EU on energy security and in particular on the need to integrate its member states’ gas supply networks and coordinate their supply contracts with Gazprom.

Domestically Tymoshenko blamed Yushchenko for initiating the dispute and assumed the credit for ending it and in the process eradicated a company from the gas sector partly owned by a significant source of political funding for her other rival Yanukovych. Meanwhile the new punitive gas contract was a ticking time bomb intended to cultivate on-going anti-Russian sentiment and to sour relations between Russia and Ukraine.

All this helps to explain the authorities’ scrutiny of Tymoshenko’s activities and the West’s exaggerated sensitivity to her conviction and the rubbishing of Ukraine’s judicial system. 

The Ukrainian authorities have responded to the West’s ire by initiating yet further criminal cases against Tymoshenko and by introducing a new Criminal Procedure Code to enhance the rights of the defense in criminal trials, which was recently described by the Council of Europe as “providing a sound foundation for a criminal justice system that is fair, just and effective.” 

Yet the West disingenuously calls on Yanukovych to uphold the rule of law by interfering in his country’s judiciary in order to ensure Tymoshenko’s release. The question remains as to the extent to which the West – and for that matter Ukraine - should sacrifice the modernization of the country over a populist maverick politician widely regarded as flawed even by her own supporters.

Adam Swain teaches geography at the University of Nottingham.

The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively debate. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. If you think that a posted comment violates these standards, please flag it and alert us. We will take steps to block violators.
freedom..... July 15, 2012, 6:11 p.m.    

And how much did yanu pay you for this white wash of his fair, honest and democratic gov't he is 'in charge' of??

The first half of the story is correct........the second is paid for propoganda.

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freedom..... July 15, 2012, 6:16 p.m.    

She was charged under a 1961 Soviet this 'rule of law'?

I ask again,,,,,how much did he pay you??

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Byron Hill July 15, 2012, 11:59 p.m.    

did the Party of Regions honestly believe that by having Dr. Adam Swain fabricate and submit this farce, it would change the truth? Mr. Swain is a Party lapdog lacking any credibility to report on factual matters.

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me you July 15, 2012, 6:13 p.m.    

you are an idiot with little grasp of Ukraine- probably paid by the idiot yanuconvict and his thieving regione

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paul nicholson July 15, 2012, 6:24 p.m.    

This article does not seem to be truthful.

It seems to me that Ukrainian people have the perseption that Yanukovych has installed an authoritarian regime that controls state institutions? The western media have just reported that they don't trust their leaders.

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Julia Yando July 15, 2012, 7:06 p.m.    

If you had followed Mrs. Tymoshenkos case before thr trail at the prosecutors office of Pshonka ( a Yankowitchs relative) and know the case should have never reached court. If you followed the inhuman court proceedings from Mrs. Tymosenko, held from morning to night daily, know that her witnesses were rejected, that witnesses against her and Lutsenko were summoned before the trail and forced to sign created "evidence" against them, that because this farce case and conviction to 7 years of Mrs. Tymoshenko will be most likely thrownover by the European court in Straßburg on the 28. of August and that because of this a old fabricated case aganst her from the Kuchma regime, which was already dismissed by the supreme court of the Ukraine years ago, was reactived illegally by Pshonka to keep her in prison, again with false materials, then you wouldn't speak so blue eyed about the current Ukrainian government. After slightly falsifying the last elections with the help of Yushenko, changing election proceedures the last weekend before the election to allow uncontrolled balloting in the Donetz area as well as in Crimea, Yanokowitch became president. Since then his team from RosKroEnergo and support from other oligarchs like Achmetov started right after the election with the acquisition of major ukrainian companies in the fields of energy and metal. RoskroEnergo (smashed by Mrs. Tymoshenko)as a intermideate company for Gas deals with Russia was over night after the elections reactivated highering the already high prices for Gas in the Ukraine. Domestic gas is being sold for profit abroad. Naturally Yanokowich and his team have been losing votes now. Even on Crimeea people are saying, yes we voted for them, we didn't know that their such crooks. None of Yankowichs paty of the regions preelection promises have been kept. Now before the new parlamentary election they are remembering a promise about the russian language. Through an unfair cheated vote in parlament a new law has been introduced giving te russian language practically equal status. It hasn't been signed yet by Yanukowitch. It's beeing used to get the russian vote of eastern Ukraine again. What is sure, the coming elections of parlament in October wont be fair. The only way to influence the Ukrainian government is to hit them where it hurts, their pockets. Sanctions on a list of people around Yanokowich have been discussed. Unfortunately onls discussed.

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rcd1 July 15, 2012, 7:16 p.m.    

This article appears to me to be a complete pile of rubbish. It seems to be making up excuses for Yanucovich and either minimizing his authoritarian government or fabricating things that do not exist. The record of Yanucovich and his Partly of Regions is what it is and stands on its own negative results. The reality is that you get credit for what you do. To blame the West and try to create this false accusation that Ukraine is being unfairly criticized is pure bull... The facts remain the same and you cannot change them with lies or deceptive very sly and slick jounalism. The West (and all of the Democratic Nations of the World) know and see democracy well and they know a fake when they see one well. I have travelled the world and lived in Europe and in Asia and seen many democracies so I also know a fake when I see one. This article written is a huge fake and a product of propaganda much in the lineage of the old Soviet era. I am American born, raised and educated (Chicago} and I fully support the liberties, freedoms, and opportunities that a democracy provides to people. I do not care about trivial things or divisive junk that tears people apart. I care more about unity, freedom, fairness, rights, and the fair reasonable opportunity for everyone to achieve a good living and contribute in good ways to it's society and even the world. I fully support a fair, open and transparent Democracy that works for all Ukrainians in Ukraine. Right now that is not the case. I applaud an salute all Ukrainians that want, support, and work for this purpose as it will surely create a better Ukraine and a better standard of living for Ukrainians. The only thing I would agree with in this article is that under Yanucovich and his Party of Regions Ukraine is not fully a Putin Pro Russia type Authoritarian government. There is still the foundation of basic freedoms in Ukraine. It continues to get tougher and tougher but the basic formula and mindset in the people and in certain circles of government is still there. How much longer really remains the question? And will Ukraine improve to E.U. standards or return to it's substandard old Russian/Soviet dominated roots? Right now corruption still reigns and Ukraine sits on the fence looking at both sides and playing both sides ( a very dangerous game) and under the rule of Yanucovich appears more likely to drag Ukraine back into the pit with the Russian Bear (and surely to be eaten alive). So any criticism of the West is well deserved and cannot be distorted, concealed, or misrepresented as false. It is what it is and sadly and even worse... the Ukrainian people are suffering and struggling with everyday needs and life while these crooks and liars play these games.

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carl July 15, 2012, 7:35 p.m.    

What democratic nations? There are none,it takes money for politics and money is given with strings. Chicago is a corrupt one party city.

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Roman Dawydiak July 16, 2012, 4:13 a.m.    

A very well elucidated commentary rcd1. However, there is a point of clarity that should be considered. It has become more than apparent why the Yanukovych Administration has carefully avoided full entrapment within the interests of the Russian Federation. This has less to do with national identity and more to do with financial power. While the fence sitting strategy of trying to play east versus west or vice versa has not been successful the overwhelming concern of most oligarchs in Ukraine has been self aggrandizement. This could not be accomplished nor could it be maintained by allowing the Russian Government to have control over the Ukrainian economy or its foreign relations. This in turn has soured relations with Moscow and with Vladimir Putin in particular. On the other hand, attempts to cut a deal with the EU in particular have been stalled indefinitely unless significant changes are made on the index of freedom scale. This has placed Yanukovych in a perilous situation, akin to being in a minefield. One wrong step...

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carl July 15, 2012, 7:27 p.m.    

Swain hits the bullseye. Any one who believes the west is looking out for best interest of Ukraine is just as stupid as those who look at Russia for help. Ukraine must look after itself and reject the siren call of outside powers. A colony is a colony regardless if the overlord sits in moscow,washington or brussels.

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bernardh July 15, 2012, 7:40 p.m.    

Well, the best you can say is that Adam Swain is obviously a rather naive left-wing British academic.

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kpxoxol July 15, 2012, 9:14 p.m.    

When the truth comes out, the orange losers whine. It figures, heh, heh, heh :D

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elmer-елмер July 15, 2012, 11:44 p.m.    

Stick to geography, Mr. Swain.

Your article is inaccurate, and amounts to pure repetition of Party of Regions propaganda, as well as Yushchenko's nonsense.


The crux of the matter is the selective persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko and 11 other officials who happened to be the targets of revenge by Firtash and the Party of Regions.

"Rubbishing of Zookraine's legal system?"

Zookraine does not have a legal system.

Which is what these stalinist show trials have brought to light:

- no juries
- a 1961 stalinist statutory code
- deprivation of defendant's rights to defend himself or herself
- trumped up charges
- pre-determined verdicts
- "judges" who are not competent, not independent, and not impartial
- prosecutors who are a political arm of the sovok mafia "government"

You chose your words very carefully in order to peddle your dishonesty.

Shame on you.

Stick to geography.

Your article is rubbish.

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Lubomyr Luciuk July 15, 2012, 11:58 p.m.    


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Lubomyr Luciuk July 15, 2012, 11:58 p.m.    


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Taras Kuzio July 16, 2012, 6:23 a.m.    

Adam Swain's trotskyist anti-Americanism is so out of date is it embarrassing:

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Taras Kuzio July 16, 2012, 6:24 a.m.

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Spectator July 16, 2012, 2:23 p.m.    

Come on, your criticism of the orange had nothing to do with open mindedness but was a result of intercine warfare within the orange and was directly solely at one side that is Yushchenko.

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Dirk July 16, 2012, 7:26 a.m.    

To even hint that Yanukovych is NOT a Putin puppet, is simply pure Bolshevik propaganda.

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kpxoxol July 16, 2012, 8:59 a.m.    

The orange morons and the west-located diaspora crapsters are "house negros" as defined by Malcolm X .

This is why brainless "useful idiots" like Taras Kuzio jump to defend his US masters BEFORE they even try to take a position about what the author of this most astute article about Ukraine tells about Ukraine.

Once slave always a slave dear Taras. Go eat more salty salo to prepare your tongue for proper arselicking of your US masters behinds. LOL :D

"There was two kind of slaves. There was the house negro and the field negro. The house negro, they lived in the house, with master. They
dressed pretty good. They ate good, cause they ate his food, what he left.
They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near their
master, and they loved their master, more than their master loved
himself. They would give their life to save their masters house quicker
than their master would. The house negro, if the master said "we got a
good house here" the house negro say "yeah, we got a good house here".
Whenever the master would said we, he'd say we. That's how you can
tell a house negro. If the master's house caught on fire, the house negro
would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the
master got sick, the house negro would say "What's the matter, boss, we
sick?" We sick! He identified himself with his master, more than the
master identified with himself.

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Roman Dawydiak July 16, 2012, 10:32 a.m.    

So where do you make your abode? Is it in Yanukovych's attic or Symonenko's basement or is it a time share arrangement?

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Spectator July 16, 2012, 1:46 p.m.    

Two comments about this rather unbalanced article:

1. "Yanukovych, for all his undoubted faults, is not a Soviet-style dictator but a pro-market politician elected in probably the most competitive presidential election ever staged in the former Soviet Union"

pro-market? Swain is ignoring all the reports of the massive wealth and control of companies and government institusions his son and people connected to the family have acquired. Also the privatisations which went to one pariticular oligrach who happens to be a POR MP and is said to control at least 70 others.There have also been complaints about abuse from tax officials against small and medium size businesses. As for the most competitve election that was organised and run by his predecessor no credit, as the sentence tends to imply to Yanuk. We'll see how fair and competitive the next ones will be.

2. "the West plotted in 2007 to unseat him and replace him with their proxy Tymoshenko" That's plain ridiculous. Yush, in the face of Yanuk's drive to acquire a veto-busting 300 plus majority in the Rada, said that this should not happen without elections and maneouvered (more or less legally) for new elections. It turned out that people indeed did not want the phoney 300 plus marjoity and Tym enough popular votes to be able to become PM. There's no way "the west" controlled this process. (In addition Yanuk then did same thing in Jan 2010 when MPs elected on other tickets, now known as caracesses switched sides. Switching parites on this scale would never be tolerated in Britain for instance. It's a travesty of parliamentary elections).

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harley July 16, 2012, 5:18 p.m.    

Shame on you, Adam Swain.

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Ron Ninnis-Hrycenko July 16, 2012, 9:05 p.m.    

Of course the imprisonment of a leader of any country is political and unjustified almost regardless of recent government actions. I ask ... in which states in the last 20 years has the former leader been imprisoned for any reason? Look at the list you come up with and correlate it to the character of these states. They are not free and democratic but militaristic or otherwise authoritarian. The imprisonment of the leader of the opposition party can never be justified! (Possible exception: mass murder of a portion of the populace which certainly does not apply here.)

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Spectator July 17, 2012, 8:26 a.m.    

Actually a few former leaders have recently been put on trial in democratic countries - Chirac, Olmert, the former Icelandic PM, and Berlesconi is facing trial and Sarkozy is being investigated by police. None of the trials can be seen as poltiical. The fact that so far all have escaped prison seems to many people unjust and only due to the fact they are former leaders, and still have protection they wouldn't otherwise have had.

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IvanovPetrovSidorov July 17, 2012, 1:16 p.m.    

Good article. Great to hear different views. It's like a breath of fresh air after the absurdity of all the hysterical, oft repeated polemics, preconceived opinions and pitiful tirades of the pseudo-patriots. Understanding politics requires cold judgement and unbiased, principled analysis without prejudice and emotion. Despite all criticism, Yanukovich is a successful politician on the basis of what he has accomplished so far, inspite of the strong political headwinds. True, no-one is perfect, and he isn't even close to that, BUT he is a master strategist. His is a difficult task. He has recognised the reality that the Ukraine has to maintain a healthy balance in its relations with the West on one side and Russia on the other. Choosing camps is worse for the Ukraine than steering a neutral course. It is the most difficult option, but he has been pursuing it well. The alternatives are too bad in comparison. We only have to look at the infighting, corruption, mismanagement, backstabbing, constant international/domestic confrontation, divisiveness and economic tantrums of the Yushchenko years. Madness!

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Neil Pattie July 19, 2012, 1:09 p.m.    

This has to be one of the most ill-informed op-eds I have read in many a long year. Yesterday I attended my daughter's graduation at Nottingham University. My son received his masters degree there last year. Mr Swain's out of touch views do a disservice to this University. Despite this, I will defend his right to say what he says. It is in the interests of free speech - something which the regime does not entirely respect.

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Ukrtoday Ukraine Aug. 25, 2012, 9:04 p.m.    

Ukraine, unlike other former soviet union states, adopted a presidential system of governance. Presidential systems are by design inherently authoritarian and undemocratic.

Ukraine will never be a free independent democratic state as long as it remains beholden to Presidemtial rule.

By contrast a full Parliamnetary model is more democratic. It facilitates self governance and independence. There is more checks and a balances under a Parliamnetary model. the Head of Governmnet is held accountable on a daily basis by the people's democratically elected parliamentary representatives. under a Presidemtial system the president is only held to account at the end of their term of office. there is no effective check or balance.

Poser corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely

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