Guest post by Egor Paanukoski
Since its independence in 1991 Ukraine has never been so much at cross roads as it is now in 2013. A 22- year long period of appeasing both East and West, of trying to preserve maximum sovereignty and personal comfort by attempting to sit at two chairs simultaneously and, sometimes successfully, as during the times of ex-President Leonid Kuchma ( 1994-2005) , this stretch of political maneuvering, which nearly equals one generation (25 years), is seemingly coming to end.
The incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych would love to continue this tradition of balancing without having to choose between Russia-led Customs Union and Association Agreement with the EU. But being squeezed between two economic blocks to which markets Ukraine has a restricted access and being short of cash and borrowing options, forces Kyiv to make a choice. Keeping status quo turns out to be too expensive.
Little, if anything, prevents Viktor Yanukovych from trading geopolitical and economic allegiance to the EU (West) or Moscow; the only thing that concerns him, and hence the delay with the final decision, is his uncertainty about how much time he eventually wins with either of the counterparty before this counterparty plays him around and finds a replacement. His unpopularity on a home turf only feeds his fears.
Resulted hesitation and mistrust are one of the key reasons as to why Ukraine has been sleeping on reforms, failing, for example, to implement “Stefan Füle List”, kept ex PM Yulia Tymoshenko behind bars or preferred observer status at Moscow-led Customs Union.
Since election to the office in 2010, Viktor Yanukovych has been building the system according to his own liking: he stripped presidential and executive powers from any checks and balances and resolutely channeled all the spoils from economic activities to the Family and a handful of loyal oligarchs. Weak opposition and general public being preoccupied with daily survival only cement the current system.
However, in Yanukovych view, signing AA with the EU or joining Russia-led Customs Union could trigger developments which will be well beyond the control of his Administration. Yanukovych sees membership in either of the blocks as a political and economic leverage which can be used on him and against him and his Family.
To hedge himself from risks and tame his own fears, Yanukovych believes he has to get something in return for his allegiance, that something is a political guarantee which in his interpretation translates into being given a free hand at home. Moscow, it seems, has little reservations about not giving it. Brussels, on the other hand, does not seem to be wanting to catch Ukraine at any cost, instead, having little hopes about Kyiv´s intentions to carry out reforms, Brussels focuses on releasing ex PM Yulia Tymoshenko from prison . It is a honarable task and eventually the EU might get what it wants i.e. Yulia and only Yulia.
Egor Paanukoski obtained Master Degree in Political Science from University of Helsinki, he has worked as correspondent for several international media newswires including Montel Powernews and Thomson Reuters. Since 2010 Egor lives in Kyiv and St.Peterburg and works as BD consultant for foreign companies in the CIS region. Egor closely follows political developments in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.