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LOOKING AHEAD
07.11.2008

Konstantin Cheremnykh

THE RUIN THAT EXUDES VENOM

In the post-Soviet division of labor, Ukraine specializes in smuggling arms and smear

A SAFE-ASSAULT THAT FAILED

Ukrainian websites are agitated: during the election debates in the United States, John McCain and Barack Obama mentioned their country twelve times! The achievement is spectacular but a bit doubtful, as the two foreign countries mentioned seven times more frequently were Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, Ukraine became a popular subject in the American debate exceptionally due to Georgia's assault on the breakaway South Ossetia and the staff of the Russian peacekeepers, and to Russia's following military response. Days after the clash was over, Ukrainian deputy Valery Konovalyuk claimed that most of the weapons for the planned assault were purchased by Georgia from Ukraine's state arms trading company Ukrspecexport, and that the received money never reached the national budget.

Considering that in information war, the best method of defense is an attack, the official Kiev spread a rumor about Russia's bloodthirsty plans to conquer Ukraine, or at least the Crimean Peninsula, donated to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic by General Secretary Nikita Khrushchov in 1954. The rumor was based on a real open letter, addressed by Waswi Abdurayimov, a Crimean Tatar activist, to the leadership of Russia. Inspired by the example of South Ossetia, officially recognized by Russia as an independent state, the author wrote that for the population of Crimea, it would make more sense to get rid of dependence from the corrupt and anti-social establishment of Ukraine.

According to another folk saying, every action finds a counteraction. In a few days, Ukrainian websites spawned unofficial materials stolen from the President's Secretariat considering a "special operation" for the purpose of provoking Russia's Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol, Crimea, to attack Ukraine's cruiser Getman Sagaidachny. The brave sailors, supposed to pay their lives for the provocation, were referred in the letter as "300 Spartans".

The operation failed, but rumors about a prepared Russian crackdown upon Ukraine are still delivered to the Western audience, being timed to the negotiations on an IMF loan, or to the recognition of Ukraine as the sole victim of dictator Joseph Stalin who conspired with the Sun in organizing the famine of 1933 – definitely, for the extermination of patriots of then non-existent nation of Ukraine.

One of my mental patients used to say, looking loftily above the collocutor's eyes: "I am the Sun. The Sun is listening to you". In the imagination of the Kiev establishment, Ukraine is at least a huge planet, other European countries, as well as corporation and institutions, being supposed to rotate around it and offer their service.

Ostensibly, the dialogue between Ukraine and the rest of the world develops exactly in this way: during the last week of October, Ukraine was promised a $16.5 billion loan from the IMF, a EUR 80 million loan from Germany, and the official recognition of the intended 1933 famine ("Holodomor") by the European Parliament. Do these signs of attention really reflect great respect to the country that in autumn 2004 was celebrated as the beacon of democracy in the former USSR?

 

THE PRESIDENT'S DECREE SPLITS THE PRESIDENT'S PARTY

In 1995, a young Ukrainian political technologist asked his boss to introduce him directly to the Kiev movers and shakers. "You have to be careful: they are exceptionally cynical", was the answer. "I am the most cynical person in this company!" the young man argued. "It's maybe true, but when you start dealing with them, they will display their cynicism five minutes before you", explained the more experienced spin doctor.

This dialogue from Novye Grani website hasn't got outdated for the past thirteen years. It still describes the style of Ukrainian policies; it still explains the miserable state of the Ukrainian population; it still substantiates the logic of the West which prefers to pay thieves and swindlers than to face risks of social instability in a country with huge storages of once Soviet weaponry (that explode from time to time), seven outdated nuclear plants, and a two-digit million number of potential refugees.

The score of cynicism of both the "pre-revolutionary" and "post-revolutionary" establishment is pretty calculable: though Ukraine was the third largest acceptor of US financial assistance for at least a decade, the gold currency reserves of the country don't exceed $34 billion, while the aggregate corporate debt reaches $20 billion. Only one of the Ukrainian corruptionists, Prime Minister Pyotr Lazarenko, has been jailed for this time, but today the global community has to deal with his direct protegee, Yulia Timoshenko. After all, she played on the side opposite to President Leonid Kuchma, the 2004 scapegoat of corruption, and thus earned the reputation of a folk heroine Ц "the gas princess", as she is named with reference to her role in negotiations with Gazprom in Lazarenko's government.

Under these circumstances at the face of the global financial crisis, any country, exposed to the liquidity crisis, would think, first of all, of political stability. However, five minutes before the crisis President Victor Yushchenko, one more idol of the "orange revolution" and Mrs. Timoshenko's bitter rival, ruled to convene extraordinary parliamentary elections.

This masterpiece of irrationality amazed even the closest friends of Ukraine in the West. Marek Siwec, vice president of the European Parliament, indicated that extraordinary (preterm) elections is a normal democratic procedure, but if it happens too often (the earlier election of the Supreme Rada were held in 2006 and 2007), that means that "something is wrong with democracy". Poland's ex-President Alexander Kwasniewski characterized Yushchenko's move as a "great mistake".

Ostensibly, Yushchenko's decree, signed on October 8, was motivated with the collapse of the ruling parliamentary coalition that made the government illegitimate. However, the lack of coalition's members ensued from the "flight" of Yushchenko's own political allies from the Our Ukraine-Popular Self-Defense" (NUNS) block. Moreover, instead of urging them to return, the President advised the other party members to destroy the alliance between NUNS and Yulia Timoshenko's BYUT party (the name derived from "Block of Yulia Timoshenko", loftily echoing the English word "BEAUTY"). Five of the ten member parties of the block refused to obey, in fact ruining the presidential party. Losing the few remaining true allies, he has to deal with unreliable corporate players who need him not more but as a cover for their ambitions.

Explaining himself to Western patrons, Mr. Yushchenko always has a ready-made logical explanation for any irrationality of his moves. This time, he can refer to the fact of Mrs. Timoshenko's treason. It is true that in mid-September, BYUT got involved in negotiations with the "pro-Russian" Party of Regions Ц the very party whose chairman Victor Yanukovich was promoted for Presidency in 2004 by Mr. Kuchma, but the "orange revolutionaries" prevented this "corruptionist" attempt.

During the conflict around South Ossetia, Mr. Yanukovich's party denounced the official Kiev's involvement in assistance to Georgia. The Ukrainian Communist Party shared this view. However, UCP supported Yulia Timoshenko, and Our Regions did not Ц until September. The explanation was that the Communists regarded the Party of Regions as the party of oligarchs. It is quite true that the list of the Party of Regions includes representatives of all major Ukrainian corporations, most of them based in the industrial east. It is equally true that these corporations are enough interested in privileges in exports (particularly over Russian rivals) to seek support for themselves in the West.

The rapprochement between Our Regions and BYUT lasted for three weeks, until Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko visited Moscow. Immediately after that, the "bridges" were burnt, and the "socially concerned" Victor Yanukovich became the heartiest advocate of extraordinary elections Ц naturally, contrary to the acting Prime Minister.

What predetermined this U-turn? The only plausible explanation was delivered to Focus magazine by MP Taras Chornovil who banged the door of Our Regions Party after the alliance with BYUT appeared a failure. The MP explained that Victor Yushchenko's decision to introduce new extraordinary elections, as well as Mr. Yanukovich's resolute support for this option, is a result on intrigues of a single personality named Dmitry Firtash. This person was most known as the owner of a 40% in Rosukrenergo, an intermediate company in Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Turkmenian gas swaps. In Moscow, Mrs. Timoshenko signed a declaration of intentions with Gazprom that did not involve the middleman. Did it involve another intermediate company? Neither Mrs. Timoshenko, nor her image-maker Alexei Sitnikov is eager to elaborate on the issue.

In another three-week span, Mr. Yushchenko postponed implementation of his own decree, thus allowing the Parliament to function for an uncertain time (Mr. Siwec should comment about relationship of this trick to democracy). This happened on the background of a massive campaign in Western media, focused on a shadowy relationship of Britain's Business Secretary Peter Mandelson and Lord Nathaniel Rothschild IV with two top businessmen from Russia and Ukraine Ц namely, Oleg Deripaska and Dmitry Firtash. These persons, as well as an Italian dealer recently exposed of swindle, were seen at the same place Ц namely, in Montenegro Ц accompanied by US Republican candidate John McCain.

 

A CLUSTER STINKBOMB

In his article for RPMonitor, Ukrainian expert Andrey Okara compared today's Ukraine with the "Ruin", as Ukraine was named during thirty years after the death of its military leader Bogdan Khmelnitsky in 1657. The more ancient (X century) legend about Prince Oleg of Novgorod, father-in-law of Princess Olga of Kiev, says that ruins may be venomous: the unlucky Prince, promised to "die from his horse", was stung by a snake hiding in the horse's skull.

Ostensibly, the version about John McCain's connection with a Russian business figure was invented to sting the Republican candidate as painfully as possible. However, most of the "dirt", originally splashed out in The Nation magazine on October 5, was concentrated on Mr. Deripaska, owner of the largest Russian metallurgic and construction corporation, Basic Element, which owns alumina plants across the former USSR and Eastern Europe. According to the authors, Mr. Deripaska was personally interested in Montenegro's separation from Serbia, in order to grab one more alumina plant in Podgorica.

One can imagine the reaction of Russia's Serb-sympathizing Orthodox audience that includes not only ordinary Russians but also MPs and ministers, not speaking of hierarchs from whom Mr. Deripaska used to get blessing. The supposed attack on McCain turned a pretty disastrous psychological assault on both Kremlin and the head of the corporation who had been doing is best to express his loyalty. The sophisticated libel, timed to the crisis that inspires appetites for Nikolayev Alumina Plant in Ukraine, is a rare example of a modern cluster stinkbomb targeting not just Russian-Ukrainian but also Russian-Serbian and Russian-British relations.

The origin of the venom surfaces from excessive details, added by the authors. In their sensational story, they sympathetically refer to Oleg Deripaska's rivals in aluminum business, at the same time pointing at the fact that a member of McCain's image-making team, Paul Manafort, has been servicing none else but Victor Yanukovich for several years.

For the Ukrainian audience, this discovery is not sensational at all. Reports about Mr. Yanukovich's deals with Manafort's company surfaced in Ukrainian media two years ago. It is similarly known that Dmitry Firtash was introduced to President Victor Yushchenko shortly after the "orange revolution". As his office was explained, that was "necessary for Ukraine's national interests". Moreover, Victor Yushchenko's mother-in-law was brought to the subsequent inauguration ceremony from the United States on board the plane owned by Dmitry Firtash. Already in 2005, Yulia Timoshenko spoke about close connections between Mr. Firtash and gun trader Semyon Mogilevich, the infamous launderer through Bank of New York. Surprisingly, the infamous trader had been free from persecution in Europe for years before, to be eventually arrested by the Russian police in 2007. Thus, both he and Mr. Firtash were regarded as "useful personalities" by some top influentials, while Russian official business, including Gazprom and Basic Element, could not help dealing with them at international markets.

One could also inquire why The Nation doesn't focus on the background of other players of the scene, and why Mr. Lazarenko's protégé is the positive heroine of his story. Is this bias explained with blind belief of the authors to the present US Ambassador in Kiev, Mr. William B. Taylor, or to Joe Lockhart, former secretary of Bill Clinton and present chair of one of the three US companies who assist Moscow-based Alexei Sitnikov is improvement of Yulia Timoshenko's image?

The personality of one the two authors of The Nation's article could also raise eyebrows. Mark Ames, chief editor of the Moscow-issued English-language eXile magazine, used to style himself as "an American dissident" or even "a rogue American", leading a pretty exotic life of a hellbender in the Moscow artistic underground, excessively using Russian obscene language and even surfacing at a public rally against bombing of Belgrade. The list of Mr. Ames' books, published by The Nation, omits his memoirs entitled "To Russia with Love". One more piquant detail about Mr. Ames is his bosom friendship with Eduard Limonov, an eccentric re-émigré from the United States to Russia, the owner of the oppositionist (and banned) National Bolshevik Party. This detail would not be so curious if it were not Mr. Limonov to have published a panegyric of shadowy businessman Anatoly Bykov, who patronized the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant before its takeover by Oleg Deripaska's company.

 

PITIFUL COUNTRY

At lessons of literature in a Soviet school, pupils used to be asked: "Now please tell what the moral of the story is". Morality, however, is a nonentity for the players involved in the last Ukrainian scandal Ц more precisely, Ukrainian-Russian-British-American-Israeli-Cyprus-Hungarian-Montenegrin-Monaco-Italian, if we trace all the branches of the two clans colliding with one another on the background of Ukraine's misery. Thus, this misery as such is going to enter the scene as soon as the clan players totally discredit themselves Ц and this self-discredit is the only net result of the murky brawl described above only in brief.

Most ridiculously, a number Ц though now a very thin number Ц of Russian liberals continue to insist that Russia should "take lessons of democracy" from Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ibero-American nations, looking in the Kiev mirror, recognize the features of their own past, shivering with horror, and add more arguments in favor of their present choice of state-regulated economy and dirigist management.

When Otto von Bismarck was asked of a better place to implement Marxist ideas, his answer was: "Select a country you don't feel pity for". Still, Russia of that time was not as unlucky as socialism was then on the rise, while the worst case of a political experiment is to impose an ideology that is on the wane Ц in the case of unlucky Ukraine in 2004, free market democracy. In fact, the Ukrainian state, facing not only Russian but also Romanian and Hungarian territorial grudges and secessionist movements both in its east and the west, exists to the extent other states are concerned of on safeguarding themselves from implications of its total collapse, being compelled to feed the despicable neighbor Ц in a way forest birds are compelled to feed a knowingly ungrateful cuckoo.


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