Natalie, who blogs at Bird Brain, keeps close tabs on events in Slavic countries. Back in February she posted on the Ukrainian elections, and has recently posted a follow-up article. With her permission, I am re-posting the entire essay here:
I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts section for quite a long time now. I wondered if I was ever going to get to post it, but then I saw headlines in the Russian media to the effect that Yanukovych has been in power for 100 days now, so I figured that would be an appropriate occasion to post it. I have not covered every single thing about Ukraine, but the major, important stuff is here. I have been thrilled with Yanukovych so far — I’m not “frightened“ of him as The Economist says I should be.
Ukrainian politics never ceases to fascinate me. The elections were quite interesting and politics in Ukraine have been quite interesting since Viktor Yanukovych’s inauguration.
The inauguration was on February 25 and I neglected to post about it (it was during that time when I got really busy and couldn’t blog for a bit), so I’ll say a bit now. It was actually a bit funny — I know that presidential inaugurations are not typically described that way, but something quite silly happened during Yanukovych’s. He got out of his car that had brought him to the Verkhovnaya Rada (Ukrainian parliament) building. He walked from the car up the steps and right as he got to a second set of doors, they started to close, so he ended up having to halfway open them himself as two soldiers also pushed them open. I cannot do it justice, so watch the embedded video below (or go here to watch it larger).
The rest of the inauguration was quite nice. My favorite part was how the parliamentarians on the right side of the room enthusiastically stood up at certain points during the inauguration.
The new coalition and prime minister
In Ukraine, as in many other countries, there are a plethora of political parties in parliament. A group of these parties forms — it’s called a coalition — and creates a government, headed by a prime minister. The new coalition in Ukraine is a tad less than ideal, I confess. It is comprised of Yanukovych’s party, the Party of Regions, Vladimir Lytvyn’s Lytvyn bloc (Lytvyn is the current speaker of the Verkhovnaya Rada), and the Communist party. Though I may not agree with Lytvyn on everything, he is much more amenable to me than the Communists, and I am a bit annoyed that they are included in the new government.
The new prime minister is Nikolai Azarov. He is quite the interesting character: a Russian-born, Russian-educated, Russian-speaking man who holds a doktor nauk degree in geology and mineralogy (remember, doktor nauk is the degree that is a level above a Ph.D.). He was born Nikolai Pakhlo but apparently took his wife’s last name when they married (which, if I am not correct, is as strange in Ukraine and Russia as it would be in America). He is a close associate of Yanukovych.
Yanukovych nominated three candidates for prime minister: Azarov, Aresniy Yatsyenyuk (a very young and endearing man — his website is arseniy.com.ua, how cute is that?) and Sergey Tigipko. Yatsenyuk refused the post because he wants to be in the opposition in parliament. This is probably a smart move — Yatsyenyuk is still quite young (he’s 35) and could have a future in politics. We should keep an eye on him.
The issue of the state language of Ukraine
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Right now, Ukraine is in the rather odd situation of having both a president and a prime minister who speak much better Russian than Ukrainian. The issue of whether Russian should be an official language has come up, especially since Yanukovych promised during his campaigning to make Russian a second state language. Unfortunately, there is an obstacle to this because the Ukrainian constitution apparently says that Ukrainian is the only official language of Ukraine.
Lytvyn has spoken quite ambiguously and diplomatically about the situation. According to him, the Ukrainian government should not oppress the Russian language, but it should not necessarily give it equal status with Ukrainian, either. I am interested to see the outcome of this entire linguistic struggle.
In short, Yanukovych is keeping his word on this: the new coalition has said it will pass a law banning Ukraine from entering any military alliances, and the bill just passed today. This is an excellent move.
Gas Issues With Russia
It’s amazing what can happen when a president who is actually willing to work with Russia. Russo-Ukrainian relations have improved greatly since Yanukovych came to power. Russia and Ukraine have agreed on a new, lower gas price. Those annual gas wars that were happening during the Yanukovych years have probably come to an end.
The Black Sea Fleet in Crimea
It’s so funny to write “Black Sea Fleet” because I’m so used to hearing it in Russian: Черноморский флот. There was controversy over whether the Fleet was to stay in Crimea past 2017 or not, but now Yanukovych and Medvedev have come to an agreement. The Fleet will stay in Crimea for twenty-five years past the previous lease. And in return, Russia lowered gas prices for Ukraine, as previously discussed.
Under Yushchenko, the Ukrainian government pursued the policy that Stalin engaged in genocide by creating the great famine (Golodomor) in Ukraine during the early 1930s. This was a blatant falsification of history because Stalin was engaging in class war against the richer peasants (called the kulaks). The policy was not aimed specifically at the Ukrainian people and there were others who suffered in the famine. Yanukovych has reversed his country’s government’s policy on the Golodomor, saying that it was not genocide.
The bottom line is that I like Yanukovych very much. I think he is an excellent president for Ukraine.