Observations of an Expat: Politics in Ukraine

February 22, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

By

Tom Arms

The West is becoming fed up with Ukraine. Yes, they want to stop Russia. But Ukraine is not the only hotspot on the map and America and Europe are far from being a bottomless money pit.

If Ukraine wants Western help then it has to show willingness to help itself and recent events have indicated the opposite.

A campaigning anti-corruption economics minister walked out. Parliamentarians shout obscenities across the floor of the Rada. The Prime Minister was physically assaulted on the floor of the House and narrowly survived a vote of confidence this week.

All of this has occurred since Vice President Joe Biden flew to Kiev in December to read the riot act. He was honoured by being asked to address Parliament and was then met with a stony silence when he told Ukrainian legislators that they needed to do something about the ubiquitous corruption and oligarchical power structure which leaves 85% of the country’s GDP in the hands of just 50 magnates.

Move the clock forward  to the 3rd of February. Has Biden made an impact? Not a jot. The Economics Minister Alvarus Abramovicius walks out and takes his team with him. The Lithuanian former investment banker was brought in just over two years ago to clean out Kiev’s corrupt Augean stables. It was thought that as an outsider he could move untainted by local connections. But he found it an impossible task and left because, as he said, he had no desire to “to serve a cover-up of corruption.”

Abramovicius was not afraid to name names in his resignation letter. And the big name he mentioned was the right-hand man of President Poroshenko, one Ihor Kononenko, whom he accused of filling government posts with corrupt cronies.

Immediately following Abromavicius’ resignation the ambassadors of ten countries—including those from the US, Britain, France and Germany—took the unprecedented step of publishing a joint letter to the government expressing disappointment at the campaigning minister’s resignation and called on the government to end its squabbles.

Again, the West was ignored. At one party meeting a bottle was hurled across the room and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was assaulted. This past week he faced two big votes, both within minutes of each other. The first censured his government’s work as “unsatisfactory.”  This was immediately followed by a vote of confidence which he narrowly won. The message: We think you are doing a lousy job but you can carry on doing it.

According to one opinion poll, Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s approval rating is just one percent.

The reason is because his government is indeed doing a lousy job. Setting aside the corruption issue, the economy shrunk by seven percent in 2014. Then in 2015 it shrunk by 12 percent.  The national currency the haryvnia has in the past year lost 70 percent of its value against the dollar. Ukrainian bonds have plummeted to below junk status and the IMF, has since September held up a $1.7 billion loan because of blocked reforms and refusal to introduce government spending cuts.

But back to the reason for the West’s interest– Russia and its presence in Eastern Ukraine. It depends on whom you speak with and the day of the week you speak to them as to whether or not the fighting is increasing or decreasing. Last month Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and European Affairs, met with Vladislav Surkov, a close confidant of President Putin. No progress was made on Eastern Ukraine. However, sources in the State Department afterwards said that the crashing Russian economy, and the distraction of Putin’s intervention in Syria, means that Moscow is in no position to launch a fresh offensive in Ukraine. So, at the moment it looks as if the Eastern Ukraine is in a holding pattern.

But if the government in Kiev collapses then just substitute the word Russia for nature and refer to Aristotle’s law about nature abhorring a vacuum.

 

 

 

 

Tom Arms broadcasts on world affairs for a number of US radio stations including WTKF at http://www.wtkf107.com/. His Weekly Viewpoints discussion programme can be heard at 1830 EST on Wednesdays and his LookAhead at the next week’s main events on Fridays at 1800.

 

 

 

 

Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

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