Can Ukraine remain independent?

19.05.2010 | by Michael Hammerschlag

Forget the consortium of gas pipeline ownership- the PLAN, unveiled by Putin April 30th to gasps of shock and awe, is for a merger of Gazprom and Naftogaz, or rather the swallowing of Naftogaz- with a $140 billion market cap, only 6% the worth of monster Gazprom. Even for the Kremlin-craven Yanukovich crowd this may be a bridge too far- Putin is determined to push the honeymoon period (between him and Yanu) to the max, and totally subjugate Ukraine’s energy establishment. The jewel in the crown of Ukraine’s energy system is its gas transportation and storage system, which allows it immense leverage over Russia. Putin also wants to merge the nuclear power agencies, aceing out US Westinghouse, which proposed open competition: “We are offering to … unite our generation, nuclear engineering and nuclear fuel cycles,” he said April 26. But if this Gazprom takeover is approved, Ukraine will be completely under Moscow’s thumb. Yanukovych appeared to pooh-pooh it May 14 in a BBC interview: “50-50 would be interesting for us... but full Russian control, no, that´s empty words."

Coupled with a full scale legal assault on Tymoshenko- investigating her for alleged bribery and recent misuse of funds, hiring a controversial US law firm to investigate all finances of the previous government even as their murky new POR budget allows almost unlimited opportunities for graft and theft (because of canceling bidding for Euro-2012 construction), the BlueMen have left no doubt of their intentions. Medvedev arrives to ink 5 agreements May 17, when Tymoshenko was coincidentally directed to appear at the prosecutor’s office (just postponed). Protest, like in Papa Putin’s Russia, is to probably be prohibited. Already, the militia are rousting people for documents on city buses, opposition protests are being harried, and criticism of the new Leaders is becoming muted. The West has been lulled by Yanukovych’s surprisingly deft international performances.

Would the liberals Deputies who defected to Yanukovich approve this latest giveaway? Over half couldn’t stomach the Gas Break-Black Sea Fleet deal. The breakneck pace of concessions and fraternal deals are presenting Ukraine with a stark choice- does it want to remain an independent country or fall back under Russia’s skirts. Independence has been messy, divisive, paralyzing- and with Yushchenko’s malignant obsession with destroying Tymoshenko- discredited among voters who couldn’t understand that the lack of agreement was sometimes a strength of democracy. In Russia there is no disagreement… about anything.

Dependence is comforting, safe, relieving, easy but it has a tremendous exploitation cost- yet there are many worrying signs that Ukrainians want that more. This is the only place I’ve seen where people will wait in 40m winding lines for a bus that hasn’t come. In a U.S.-owned Kyiv computer software company, programmers were surprisingly equanimous – said Yuriy, “We will work together with deeper consultations and greater cooperation… a good thing.” One poll has voters preferring a PoR Parliament 38% to 23% over the Orange blocks.

Ironically, Ukraine’s greatest hopes for maintaining its statehood may lie with the oligarchs ensconced in the government and at the center of the PoR. They have little motivation to become subservient to a man who brutalized his own billionaires. Ukraine becoming a vassal of Russia would greatly restrict their freedom to manipulate events and their own fortunes- and the haunting picture of once uber-oligarch Khodorkovskiy rotting in prison forever must give them pause. The question is, just whom does Victor #2 work for- the Donbas Dons or the Man from Moscow. "He is simply a puppet, ready to do whatever is required to humiliate and bleed Ukraine of its life´s blood," derided the braided ex-PM scathingly.

I first came here in January 1992, just after independence, when Ukrainians were brimming with a deep quiet pride- they couldn’t stop smiling. “We have out country back,” said one Kyivan to me. Majordomos Putin-Medvedev don’t believe Ukraine is a real country, but a troublesome breakaway province- having erased the humiliation of the color revolutions, they are determined to extend Russia’s web of influence throughout Ukrainian life until independence is a dim memory. Will Ukrainians return to the neat and tidy neo-colonial fold, where all decisions are made for you? Or, as Benjamin Franklin somewhat said, you have a country… “if you can keep it.”




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