Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Leaked Cables Show U.S. Was Wrong On Ukraine's Yanukovych

Diplomatic cables leaked from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine show the embassy believed prior to the 2010 presidential election that Viktor Yanukovych (left) had changed and that he was a better option than Yulia Tymoshenko.
Diplomatic cables leaked from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine show the embassy believed prior to the 2010 presidential election that Viktor Yanukovych (left) had changed and that he was a better option than Yulia Tymoshenko.
By Taras Kuzio
The U.S. Embassy cables from Ukraine leaked recently by the website WikiLeaks prompt two observations.

The first is that the embassy believed Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych had changed from what he was during the 2004 election, when he sought to come to power through election fraud. The second is that U.S. officials believed Yulia Tymoshenko was not a better option than Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election. One cable quotes former President Leonid Kuchma as saying the 2010 election was one of "choosing between bad and very bad" -- with Tymoshenko allegedly being the latter.

Both of these positions were fundamentally wrong -- especially as seen from the hindsight of Yanukovych's first year in power.

The WikiLeaks cables critical of Tymoshenko were a reflection of her own mistakes and of lobbying by U.S. political consultants working for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions since 2005. One of the main criticisms was that Tymoshenko is a "populist," a claim that ignores widespread populism among all Ukrainian politicians. Indeed, Yanukovych was the most populist in the 2010 elections and the prize for the most populist billboard goes to former President Viktor Yushchenko, who promised to place a 20 percent tax on yachts, limousines, and villas.

The U.S. Embassy bought into the accusation that Tymoshenko was beholden to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Tymoshenko was allegedly the biggest threat to Ukraine's sovereignty and willing to be Russia's pawn, according to a cable quoting oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Evidence to back this conclusion was her supposed concessions on Georgia during Russia's 2008 invasion and Moscow-friendly positions on the Holodomor and the Black Sea Fleet.

In reality, Yanukovych has caved in to Russia on all three issues. During the Georgian crisis, the Party of Regions and the Communist Party (KPU) supported Russia's dismemberment of Georgia. Likewise, the Party of Regions and the KPU did not support the 2006 law on the Holodomor, and Yanukovych has adopted Russia's position that it was a Soviet (not Ukrainian) famine. As president, he has extended the Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol until 2042-47. A January 2010 U.S. cable reports Yanukovych telling the U.S. ambassador that he was ready to extend the base in exchange for economic preferences from Russia.

Yanukovych, The Pro-Russian Candidate

All this led to the mistaken impression that Russia supported both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych in the 2010 election, as they were both "pro-Russian" and Moscow would be satisfied with either winning the election. Yushchenko made this argument during the campaign, calling for his supporters not to vote for either candidate in the second round of balloting. That decision probably cost Tymoshenko the election, since she ended up losing by just 3 percentage points.

Yanukovych (with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin) "has adopted domestic, national-identity, and foreign policies that are in Russia's national interests."
Other cables claimed it made no difference whether Yanukovych or Tymoshenko were elected as both are authoritarian and would allegedly seek to build a "Putinist vertical power." Such analysis contradicted the reality that Tymoshenko did not have the political machine, ability to blackmail deputies, or control of television stations necessary for such a project. In addition, since 2008 Tymoshenko has consistently argued for the need to move toward a full parliamentary system. The authoritarianism of the Party of Regions is well documented among Ukrainian sociologists and has been plain to see during the transformation of parliament into a rubber-stamp institution and the return to a presidential constitution.

U.S. cables also buy into the argument of a "pragmatic" wing in the Party of Regions that supposedly desires to unify Ukraine and is pro-European, even possibly willing to compromise on NATO. Such views were intensely lobbied by U.S. political consultants working for the Party of Regions.

But the pragmatic wing of the Party of Regions was not evident in 2005-08 when the party voted with the KPU against legislation to join the WTO. Ukraine's 2008 WTO membership paves the way for the signing of a Deep Free Trade Agreement with the EU, a process the pragmatic wing of the Party of Regions allegedly supports.

These cables also ignored the anti-NATO stances of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, arguing that this was election rhetoric to mobilize eastern Ukrainian voters that would be ignored after the voting. Again this was wrong, as President Yanukovych is the first of four post-Soviet Ukrainian presidents to not support NATO membership. The party has also adopted contradictory positions on Ukraine's participation in NATO's Program for Peace exercises, opposing them when in opposition (leading to the cancellation of the Sea Breeze exercises in 2006 and 2009) and supporting them when in power.

U.S. cables from Ukraine also claimed that Yanukovych, if he won the 2010 election, would not be a Russian pawn and would defend Ukraine's interests, even if only in the economic sphere. Although Yanukovych defends his economic interests from Russia, he has adopted domestic, national-identity, and foreign policies that are in Russia's national interests. Russia successfully lobbied for the four candidates who became the chairman of the Security Service (SBU) and ministers of education, foreign affairs, and defense. Russian citizens illegally control the president's bodyguards and the media-analytical section of the presidential administration.

The Real Yanukovych

U.S. cables from 2005-06 were more critical of the Party of Regions, but in 2008-10 two factors changed. First, public-relations efforts by U.S. consultants persuaded many in the West, including the U.S. Embassy, that Yanukovych had changed. This ignored his unwillingness to concede the election fraud of 2004 and his continued contention that he won that election. A December 2005 cable quotes Yanukovych as complaining that a "putsch" and "Kuchma's machinations" had denied him the presidency. One cable analyzed the Party of Regions' "heavily pro-Russian campaign rhetoric" in 2006, attributing this to its co-option of Communist voters.

A second factor that changed the tone in the U.S. cables by 2008 was Western fatigue with the feuding Orange political leaders, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. The pair had squandered the five years of opportunity given to them by the Orange Revolution.

All four elections held on Yanukovych's watch -- two as governor in Donetsk in 1999 and 2002 and two as prime minister and president in 2004 and 2010 -- have been criticized as unfree. U.S. cables from 2005-06 showed that senior members of the Kuchma government who were involved in abuse of office and election fraud were embedded in the Party of Regions, which is described as a "cover for Donetsk criminal circles and oligarchs."

These cables continued to be skeptical about the new face of the Party of Regions and express concern it would abuse state administrative resources, tamper with election laws, and seek to close media outlets they do not control. This is precisely what Yanukovych has done in his first year in office.

Taras Kuzio is an Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation visiting fellow at the Center for Trans-Atlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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Comment Sorting
by: anon
March 31, 2011 15:54
Why does Kuzio's article suppose that what the likes of Kuchma and Firtash said to the Americans was accepted by them. The cables and this article are quoting what these people said to the US diplomats and what was passed on to Washington. There's nothing in the cables to indicate what the diplomats' own opinions were. The US knows perfectly well what Firtash's interests are so why should should we for a minute think that what he said was also what the Americans thought as is suggested by this very odd article.

by: atka from: US
March 31, 2011 18:06
This is a very strange and definitely biased article. First, there is really nothing new. Everyone knew that US did not have much preference between Ynukovych nad Tymoshenko, without any WikiLeak.
Than comes a bold styatement: the time has shown that US were wrong. Excuse me? The situation in Ukraine is very fluid. One thing for sure- there were NO serious deteriation in freedom of speach or media. There have been signs that "fight with corruption" is used as a tool of political revenge. But the recent developments clearly indicate that the policy was judged to be too demaging for administration and essentially stopped.
It is clear that Yanukovych is much more receptive to opinion of the West, than Tymoshenko would ever be. What is crucial, is that he does appaer commited to rather bold reforms, most systematic and comprehensive than Ukraine ever saw. There are, of course, questions about details of this or that reform, but the overall direction is definitely the right one.
On the other hand, Mrs. Tymosheno demonstrated complete inability of systemic thinking, and total disregard to other opinions. Not to mention unprecendental lack legality in her actions. If there is anyone in Ukraine at the moment who is doing something to implement the ideals of Orange Revolution, it's Yanukovych team.
Good news for Mr. Kuzyo: After all of those rather painful reform, Yanukovych and his party will be politically dead.
In Response

by: Slava
April 01, 2011 16:21
The piece in question shouldn't be taken too seriously, while being considered a form of laughter therapy.

In Response

by: UKR FAN from: Canada
April 05, 2011 19:13
It appears "atka:from U.S." is making a joke of a very serious situation. Your Obama friends would appreciate your humour.

by: Mamuka
March 31, 2011 18:12
So the US was wrong. Will they admit it? Would it damage the "reset?"

More important, will Ukraine admit that they were wrong-- before its too late?

At this point maybe even Yanukovych will admit he was wrong.

by: Newyorker from: US
April 01, 2011 19:07
Boy, Mr. Atka. Where do you get your information? Ah yes, ITAR-Tass.

No serious deterioration in freedom of speech and media? I guess that's why Madian has been fenced out and two TV channels critical of Yanukonvict have lost their license? Imagine if there is real deterrioration.

Mr. Atka, you sound like the operatives the Russian FSB pays to write comments like this to media sources criticizing Yanukonvict's regime.

BTW, I'm not a fan of Kuzio. I think he is a Yulka blowhard. The irony is that I agree with Kuchma, a choice between bad and very bad.
In Response

by: Atka from: US
April 01, 2011 20:37
I am, by no means, a fan of Mr. Yanukovych. However, I consider myself a patriot of Ukraine. What I see is that in one year the current government made much more for success of Ukraine as a nation , than was done in any time before.
The critical test will be the Free trade agreement wirth EU. If Yanukovych will go ahead despite the tremendous pressure from Russia- it will be a game changer.

I certainly agrtee that the gut insticts of the current administration is to suppress media freedom and opposition. My point is, the resistance to that, both in Ukraine and outsidem, is strong enough, and Yanukovych team does not dare.
Which kinda meanss that civil society in Ukraine is mature enough. Unfortunately, it is not mature enough for professional discussion of the needed reform. Nothing goes further than a handful of slogans and stereotypes.

In Response

by: Slava
April 01, 2011 21:06
Kuchy, Kuchy coup.
In Response

by: Jorjo from: Florida
April 02, 2011 08:37
Same here, as cynical as it may sound, God has spoken through Kuchma:) - choosing the lesser evil. Yanukovich certainly fits the bill when compared to Yul'ka. This is even without comparing the two in terms of corruption, only in a place like Ukraine Yul'ka could have possibly manage to stay out of jail.

by: David Edick Jr from: San Diego, CA
April 01, 2011 20:07
This is an odd, even weak article. I expected much more from this experienced author. Politics in Ukraine is a tough profession - the 'school-of-hard-knocks' applies. Tymoshenko, an experienced player in the Ukr gas business, is no sweetie either. Meanwhile, no one should suggest that Russia gets all it wants from Yanukovich's Ukraine. Moscow had expected it would do far better. There are plenty of people in Washington DC who thought Yanukovich would be a Medvedev/Putin lapdog. They were wrong. There is substantial competition in the Ukr-Ru relationship.
In Response

by: Slava
April 02, 2011 10:44
There should be no surprise, given that the above article is on par with what its author has previously said.

by: laika from: Kyiv
April 02, 2011 12:08
A weak and biased article indeed, all the more surprising that it comes from such an experienced author. Even supposing that the premise of the article, and the facts it contains are all correct, such a "Captain Hindsight" approach sounds embittered and irritating. As to the substance, it is true that the Yanukovych administration has been dismissive of attacks on free press, which has led to the spectacular plunge in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (by 42 places, to 131st, behind Iraq and Zimbabwe). That being said, they have done a lot to reform the country, which was heavily affected by the crisis. Given the circumstances, I believe the Yanukovych administration is doing pretty well - let's call it a B (+ or - depending on your preferences).
The problem of articles about Ukraine is that most writers tend to be unnecessarily radical. If you express any support for Tymoshenko or, even worse, Yushchenko - you are immediately a fascist. If you agree with any of Yanukovych's policies - you are a pro-Russian, Soviet stooge. Interestingly, this runs completely contrary to the bulk of the Ukrainian nation, most of whom are fairly moderate, pragmatic and simply want their country to be normal, civilized, and escape the post-Soviet chaos that engulfed it in the 1990s.
In Response

by: Newyorker from: US
April 02, 2011 16:27
Are you people blind? Or is it true that slavics from Eurasia kow tow to their masters and want them to think for the masses?

They have done a lot of reforms?

How about a specialized doctor working as a manager of McDonalds in order to have money to feed her children?

How about people responsible for orphanages stealing the money intended to feed the children and then starving them to death because, heh, he needs the money more than they do? You know BMWs are very expensive.

It is because this same attitude you show that the thieves are robbing your country blind, and sometimes killing a few of you just for fun.

Keep thinking these are reforms. Let me know when you wake up and realize you are a human being, not a piece of scum.
In Response

by: Slava
April 02, 2011 17:11
Outside Ukraine, views similar to Kuzios get a disproportionate placement at many leading venues.

by: Ben
April 02, 2011 15:50
I think the source of information about Uanukovytch and Tymoshenko was the same as in your "Svoboda" which published innumerable articles about terrible leaders of the orange revolution. Uanukovitch was a hero in shining armour in comparison! The journalists are greatly appreciated by Russian nationalists!

by: Bill from: Florida
April 06, 2011 15:51
this is really just another "from afar" commentary that sees everything in UA as a refelction of its being caught between the EU and Russia so therefore everyone is inanely evaluated as pro Russian (or not) or wanted EU inclusion; kind of pulp journalism but with the severe pro Timosheko bias.

by: Ben
April 07, 2011 15:33
"Blagodariu za sluzbu!"( Thanks for your service!) Bill.

by: Roman from: New Jersey
April 25, 2011 15:58
So what else is new. United States has never had a policy towards Ukraine and it never will. Putin was very influential in getting the criminal element back into power in Ukraine. While Tymoshenko is no angel herself, she was not as malleable as Yanukovych and thus Putin can now strongarm and push his valet to do what he wants. If people think that Ukraine will come to their senses, then dream on. Not as long as the "temna masa" keep fighting amongst themselves, the wealthiest Parliament in the world keep stealing money from the state coffers and not as long the Western World just sits back and tolerates this nonsense in Ukraine.all in the so called namesake of democracy. Ger real - as long as there is Russia, Ukraine will continue being it's servant and valet.