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Analysis: Moscow Ponders How Ukraine Was 'Lost'

  • Julie Corwin

Despite Putin's support, Yanukovych still lost As Ukraine's former Prime Minister and defeated presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych clears out his government office in Kyiv, pundits, journalists and political analysts back in Moscow continue to ask what went wrong. With so much financial backing from Russian businesses and political support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, why did Yanukovych lose?

Many Russian and Ukrainian analysts have hesitated to place primary responsibility on the Kremlin or Putin for misjudging the Ukrainian situation. Instead they have been blaming the "aggressive tactics" of a gaggle of Russian campaign consultants who began arriving at Kyiv's Borispol Airport sometime in July, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 28 December.

In an interview with "Lviv ekspres" on 22 December, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's chief speechwriter, Vasyl Baziv, said that Foundation for Effective Policies head Gleb Pavlovskii, former ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman, and Russian businessman Maksim Kurochkin "made themselves at home" in the Ukrainian presidential administration during the lead-up to the first round of presidential voting on 31 October. He said that he even saw one Russian spin doctor, whom he declined to name, sitting beside Yanukovych during an official meeting. "This is not a matter of campaign tricks but an erosion of our sovereignty," Baziv complained.

Naturally, the spin doctors themselves have a variety of explanations for what happened in Ukraine. First of all, they assert that Yanukovych did not in fact lose. At a news conference in Moscow on 28 December, Pavlovskii asserted that Yanukovych won the second round on 21 November but that through a series of "manipulations of the results...the political process became one based entirely on force," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.
Russian authorities "treat their own people cynically and invent such arguments of the type that the West influenced [events], or the campaign consultants worked poorly -- anything but the truth that the people were tired of Kuchma's regime."


At the same time, in what might be considered an apparent contradiction, they proffer at least three different explanations for why Yanukovych did not win or why they should not be blamed for Yanukovych's failure to perform better. First and foremost, they claim that they were outgunned next to U.S. and Polish resources, according to Sergei Markov of the Institute for Political Research. Second, they had too little time to refashion Yanukovych's image. Third, Yanukovych, a former prison convict, was too difficult a candidate to make palatable to the broad public.

Marat Gelman told "Lvivska hazeta" on 16 November that Yanukovych's "criminal record [was] a formidable issue, a brick wall that no brilliant scheme [could] break down." In an interview with utro.ru on 30 December, Markov said: "If you ask me, I would say that the candidate should have been someone else. It was unwise to put forward as a candidate for president someone with two previous criminal convictions. I can assure you that this was not Moscow's decision."

According to politcom.ru on 10 December, Pavlovskii complained that he and his colleagues were invited too late and that they should have started 12 to 18 months before the election in order to remake Yanukovych's image. In an interview with gazeta.ru on 27 December, Markov voiced a similar sentiment. "I believe that Russian spin doctors had extremely limited opportunities: They spent only three months working with Yanukovych," he said.

Bigger Western Guns

But the biggest problem, according to Markov, was not the candidate or any lack of time but that Russia and its spin doctors were outnumbered and outgunned by the West. In the gazeta.ru interview, Markov claimed that "Americans and Poles spent several years working with Yushchenko." Asked to explain what he meant by Poles and Americans, Markov said that there was "American and European collaboration with elite structures and the public across a broad front." Markov also said that while Russia spent only millions of dollars on the campaign, the United States and European Union spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Ukraine. Therefore, according to Markov, Yanukovych's defeat was not a defeat for Russian spin doctors but for "Russia's ruling class, which proved incapable of achieving such a major strategic task."

Pavlovskii put forth a more obscure defense of his and other spin doctors' roles in Ukraine. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 December, he faulted himself and others merely for being unable to "draw the attention of our partners in Ukraine that an 'overthrow' project was in preparation." He continued, "The point is that the opposition circles were not preparing for elections. They were preparing for the seizure of power, in the guise of elections." He then claimed that neither he nor his colleagues "had the power to advise our Ukrainian partners on preventive counterrevolution and not only on elections, this misfortune would not have happened." In a later interview with gazeta.ru on 28 December, when asked whether he was willing to share responsibility for the defeat of Yanukovych, Pavlovskii responded, "Yes, but as a politician, not as a spin doctor. Unfortunately, I did not work in the latter role in Ukraine." What he was doing, he said, was "liaising with the group of politicians that put Yanukovych forward. Unfortunately, this was not enough. You need to have the powers to make decisions." So, in Pavlovskii's view, he did not have the power to inform his Ukrainian colleagues of what was going on, even though by his own admission he was acting as a liaison with Yanukovych's supporters.

Of course, if Yanukovych were about to assume Ukraine's presidency, it is not difficult to imagine Pavlovskii and others taking credit for his victory. In an interview with "The Washington Post" on 2 January, former political adviser Dick Morris explained how he managed to contribute a key element of President-elect Viktor Yushchenko's strategy without ever managing to actually visit Ukraine. Morris told the paper that an acquaintance from a previous overseas campaign put him in touch with Yushchenko's campaign manager. Because of unspecified "security concerns," he met with Yushchenko campaign officials in an undisclosed East European capital. According to Morris, his main contribution to the campaign was to urge exit polling on election day and the immediate publication of those results. In this way, according to Morris, Yushchenko's campaign would draw supporters to the streets to celebrate -- thus presenting Ukrainian authorities with an angry mob if they tried to tamper with the vote.

So far, though, it's the CIA's acumen rather than Morris's that is being hailed in Moscow. In an interview with Radio Rossii on 7 December, Aleksandr Konovalov, president of Moscow's Institute for Strategic Assessments, suggested that Russia believes "the myths created by our spin doctors" and "now we probably will believe their explanations, the main one being [that Ukraine was lost because of] a CIA conspiracy." He asked ironically, "How can poor Gleb Pavlovskii handle the whole Central Intelligence Agency on his own?"

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 9 December, former leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Boris Nemtsov suggested that the stories of excessive Western influence in Ukraine might be more than just a yarn by Russian spin doctors to avoid taking responsibility for losing a key election. According to Nemtsov, it might be a device that the Russian authorities are using to avoid telling the truth about what really happened in Ukraine. He said Russian authorities "treat their own people cynically and invent such arguments of the type that the West influenced [events], or the campaign consultants worked poorly -- anything but the truth that the people were tired of Kuchma's regime, that people were living in despair and lawlessness and their last drop of patience went when the election was falsified."

For full coverage of Ukraine's presidential election, see RFE/RL's Ukraine web page.
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