Friday, December 24, 2004

Ukrainian view from Poland: slanging match between Putin and Kwasniewksi 

I've not spent much time thinking about Ukraine this week but this morning I got a translation of this article in Ukrainska Pravda, which is an intriguing interview with Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski from the Polish paper Polityka. Some selections with comments follow.
Q: Why were they looking to negotiate?

AK: They were confused. Both sides were in a risky situation for themselves. Uushchenko, backed by thousands of people on the Square, had no legal support. The only thing was that he was the opposition leader. The official results stated that he had lost the election.

Kuchma's situation was exactly the reverse. The fact that he was the acting president did not matter - Kuchma could not even get into his own office, he could not go anywhere, he was locked in some recreation facility in Kyiv's suburbs. Of course, the snowy park he was is beautiful, but I told him: "If you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, it means you have no power."
The effectiveness of the blockade against Kuchma has not been cited enough. The place in which he was isolated was about thirty minutes from the presidential headquarters, but he was effectively frozen. The virtual collapse of the economy surrounding Kuchma could not be stopped until the blockade stopped. Kwasniewski notes that since it was a spontaneouls blockade, there would have to a political solution. This political solution was complicated by the actions of the Russians and, interestingly, the Germans.
AK: I had several phone conversations: With Netherlands' Premier Balkenende, with Chancellor Schroeder, whom I constantly keep in touch with, with Czech President Klaus, with Austria's Chancellor Schussel, Chirac heard me out with interest and said important words: "Good luck, Aleksandr."

Q: What was Schroeder's reaction? The German sources are saying that after your conversation he called Putin, and Putin's response was firm - Yanukovych won the election, period.

AK: The first conversation was quite cold. I asked him, using his good connections, to explain to Russia that it is unacceptable to take such a firm and uncompromising position - it will lead to nothing good. We needed Russia to resolve this conflict.

Q: How about the US reaction?

AK: Washington has long been assisting us, it's been interested in Ukraine, probably it's been more interested in the democratic part/aspects of Ukraine since it didn't work out between Washington and Kuchma. I told Bush I needed his public support, which would give the mission more weight. Naturally, Bush, on his way to Canada, made a public statement saying that he was supporting my actions.

Q: Aren't Americans playing a double game? When Bush meets with Putin, he is using a different language, to say the least. After all, Russia is America's strategic partner.

AK: I understand the US President, but I am also trying to have good relations with Putin. Yet, I also know that for every great power Russia without Ukraine is better than Russia with Ukraine.

Q: That's the Polish thesis.

AK: No, it's the American thesis. Why would it be geostrategically interested in Russia having Ukraine within its sphere of influence? Russia is restoring its position in the world, and it's normal. Yet, why let it have control over 50mln. Ukrainians?
Why indeed? This remark appears to have infuriated Putin, and the slanging match that results should be fun to watch. It appears at last that Putin has decided to accept reality and work with whomever wins Sunday. Perhaps statements like this from President Bush has helped focus Putin's mind on the pressing issues. And Putin has fired back:
I repeat, we are not going to annex anyone. That is the first point. Second, if this is read as a wish to curtail Russia's scope for developing its relations with its neighbours, it means a desire to isolate the Russian Federation. I do not think this is the purpose of American policy, although we will have a meeting with President Bush, it is scheduled for the near future, in the New Year, and I will certainly ask him if this is really the case. If it is, then the position on Chechnya becomes more understandable. This means that there too they are following a policy to create elements rocking the Russian Federation.
Back to the Kwasniewski interview:
Q: Were Yanukovych's people refusing to admit that they had falsified the election?

AK: The first meeting with Kuchma was dramatic. Can you imagine - meeting the President of a large country, in the middle of nowhere? He was blaming the whole world, everybody, for everything that was going on. The election was not rigged, and if it was, then it was the US� well, the US was the focus of the meeting. There are falsifications in the US, their elections are not perfect either, what do you want from Ukraine?
Let that be a reminder to those who want to muck around in elections in Ohio and Washington that their examples are being watched and used for all manner of electoral fraud overseas. Though it now appears Yanukovych's people were hoisted on their own petards.
AK: Then, Gryzlov (the Russian representative of Putin) took the floor, he had before been the Interior Minister in Russia: according to him, the protests had been pre-planned, they were a provocation, the protesters are being paid. Secondly, Russia believes that the election was fair. The Central Electoral Committee announced who the winner was, period. Thirdly, in the US there were falsifications both four years ago and now. He was very involved discussing this last point. ...

Q: In other words, did Yanukovych agree with [waiting on the Supreme Court's decision to revote]? So easily?

AK: In that discussion his only support was from Gryzlov. Yet, he had earlier fallen into two traps, which was pointed out to him at the roundtable.

First was his own statement that in Western Ukraine elections were also falsified. Yushchenko submitted 700 appeals regarding violations in Eastern Ukraine, and, in response, Yanukovych submitted 7700 appeals from Western electoral districts. As a result, we had 7700 complaints, which meant that the election had been unfair.

The second trap was the following: if he believes that he had won, and that the election was fair and he gained a million votes more than his opponent, then what is he afraid of? Of the re-run? Yanukovych responded that he understood everything, but legally speaking the decision regarding the election results could not be changed.
Dino Rossi won't be so lucky in Washington, I fear.

Two other clips that are quite telling.

Q: Why did you need the second roundtable discussion?

AK: The main question was whether to have the re-run of the whole election or only of the second round. The government believed hat it should have changed Yanukovych for another candidate who could be able to take votes away from Yushchenko and who would not talk about separatism - the issue everybody was afraid of.


Q: Since everything was clear after the second roundtable discussion, why did Kuchma [subsequently] pay a visit to Putin? Was it a smoke screen?

AK: It was despair.
With Yushchenko holding somewhere between a 9 to 14 point lead in the polls currently -- a little more than what he had in the previous runoff -- Kuchma's despair may come to an end soon.

UPDATE: Le Sabot Post-Moderne makes the good point that Yanukovych could win by losing, because if the parliament stands as it is today he could end up the leader of a relatively united opposition force. Kuchma would have no supporters left in the parliament. Discoshaman notes that Koochie's people aren't standing still.