Billionaire oligarch Victor Pinchuk presented Ukrainians with a New Year’s gift by revealing his inner thoughts about the Donbas and Crimea, Russia, European Union and NATO. The main conclusion one can make from his commentary in the Wall Street Journal is that oligarchs cannot be trusted with Ukraine’s national interests. President Petro Poroshenko’s cosy relationship with Ukraine’s rapacious oligarchs will undermine Ukraine’s reforms and fight against corruption and derail its integration into Europe.
Pinchuk’s latest commentary comes exactly a decade after he wrote a similar commentary for The New York Times Then he stressed Ukraine’s cultural, linguistic, economic and energy ties to Russia and proposed a Leonid Kuchma-style foreign policy of “building bridges” between Europe and Russia and Ukraine’s “integration into Europe with Russia.”
In 2006, Pinchuk rejected NATO membership because a majority of Ukrainians were opposed to it. This argument was repeatedly made by President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia. Today, a majority of Ukrainians support NATO membership and, according to this logic, therefore the goal should be pursued by Ukraine. But, logic was never a strong point and they all continue to argue against Ukraine pursuing NATO membership.
A decade ago, Pinchuk talked of the goals of building a “more robust democracy,” strengthening the rule of law and creating a market economy that is “free from political interference.” The trouble with these goals is that Pinchuk, similar to other oligarchs, did the exact opposite.
In the 2010 elections, Pinchuk’s ordered Arseniy Yatsenyuk to replace his Ukrainian political consultants led by Rostyslav Pawlenko, who is today a senior member of Petro Poroshenko’s presidential administration, in favor of Russian political technologists. They transformed Yatsenyuk’s election campaign into the worst in Ukraine’s history either to prevent Yatsenyuk entering the second round or because of Pinchuk’s naïve Russophilism.
Pinchuk supported Yanukovych in the second round of the 2010 elections and had good relations with his cabal throughout his presidency. Pinchuk’s cooperation with Yanukovych contradicts his alleged support for democracy, the rule of law and reducing ties between politicians and big business.
In Pinchuk’s current commentary he moves one step further by calling for Ukraine to drop the goal of EU membership which raises three questions.
Firstly, EU membership has always been supported by a majority of Ukrainians and if public opinion polls is Pinchuk’s main criteria why is he backing away from it in the case of the EU?
Secondly, Pinchuk wrote in 2006 that it is in the interests of the EU to have a “thriving, democratic neighbor,” a truism which lay behind the EU’s launch of the Eastern Partnership in 2009. But, it is not true of Vladimir Putin’s Russia which has viewed the EU as a hostile organisation since 2010 in the same way it had earlier of NATO. In the last few years, Putin has been openly seeking to destroy the EU through Russia’s alignment with Europe’s anti-EU extreme right, as seen in the recent signing of the cooperation agreement between the United Russia party and Austria’s neo-fascist Freedom Party.
Thirdly, if Pinchuk no longer supports EU membership he should close the annual Yalta European Strategy conference which he launched in 2004 to lobby for this goal. Why, after all, should he waste money on a redundant goal of EU membership?
Pinchuk’s current commentary rejects the realist approach to Ukraine while at the same time proposing “we must also adapt to the new reality.” In other words, Ukrainians should come to realize that their country lies within Russia’s sphere of influence. This proposal would be opposed by a majority of Ukrainians because of the deep-seated changes in national identity since Russia’s aggression.
Towards the realist prescription, Pinchuk proposes a number of domestic and foreign policies.
On the domestic front, he calls for the holding of elections in the separatist enclaves before Russia has fulfilled the Minsk accords. In other words, before there has been de-militarisation, withdrawal of Russian forces and the return to Ukrainian control of its border with Russia. Pinchuk’s proposal would be opposed by the US, EU, OSCE and, according to opinion polls, by the majority of Ukrainians. Pinchuk proposes taking the step as exiled Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov in accepting that the Crimea is lost (temporarily can become permanently). All of the above proposals would be a threat to Ukraine’s political stability because of opposition from nationalists, veterans and soldiers serving on the front line.
In the realm of foreign policy, Pinchuk has dropped EU membership after his earlier opposition to NATO membership. This is irrespective of the fact that there is a majority support for both goals. Pinchuk also follows President Yanukovych and the Party of Regions in proposing non-bloc status for Ukraine although he describes this as ‘neutrality.’
Pinchuk’s proposals should be read in the context of three factors. The first is that the most important goal for oligarchs is money and not Ukraine’s national interests. The second is that Pinchuk has repeatedly contradicted himself in his domestic and foreign policies. Multi-vectorism is not a viable way to achieve end goals. The sooner Ukraine pursues a long overdue policy of de-oligarchisation the better.
The final point is that history has taught Ukraine and the West that Putin and Russian leaders cannot be trusted or believed in any shape or form. Putin’s military aggression has destroyed naivete within Ukraine about the “brotherly Russian people” but it continues to find adherents among exiles in London’s exclusive regions of Kensington and Knightsbridge.