Streetwise Professor

February 17, 2014

Poor Ukraine: So Close to Putin, So Far From God

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:47 pm

The situation in Ukraine has reached something of a denouement. The opposition leadership and the regime have reached an agreement whereby the government will amnesty arrested protestors, and the protestors will end the occupation of government buildings and permit traffic to move on Hrushevskyy Street, although they will not dismantle the barricades altogether.

This deal has been met with some dismay (and in cases, anger and bitterness) on Maidan, and with good reason.  The protestors have given up their main leverage, and although they have threatened to re-occupy the buildings and Hrushevskyy Street if Yanukovych’s regime backslides, this is likely an empty threat.  The regime was surprised once, but is unlikely to be surprised twice, and will be ready to respond aggressively to any attempt to take the buildings again.

Conversely, the government can easily re-arrest those that it has amnestied-and many more to boot.  There is thus a pronounced asymmetry between the concessions made by the government, and those made by the opposition.

In brief, although Yanukovych has not triumphed, the threat to him has abated considerably and the correlation of forces has shifted palpably in his direction.

Perhaps reflecting this, Putin has relented and will proceed with the purchase of the next tranche of $2 billion in Ukrainian Eurobonds.

Truth be told, the real threat to the Yanukovych regime is economic.  The Ukrainian currency, the Hryvnia, is the best readily available indicator.  It has plunged from 8.2 to the dollar at the beginning of Maidan, to 8.8/8.9 to the dollar at present.  Although it rallied to 8.4 a week ago, when the outlines of a deal were in prospect, and when Ukraine imposed capital controls, it weakened almost immediately thereafter.  The current depressed level augers poorly for Ukraine’s future prospects.

And here is the tragedy.  An economic collapse, which would be accompanied by a further collapse in the currency, would be the most likely cause of Yanukovych’s political demise.  But then the opposition would inherit a horrible situation which would require it to take measures that would inevitably lead to it becoming hated and despised.  It is also not an environment conducive to the completion of the constructive economic and political reforms the country so desperately needs.  Think of Russia ’91-’92, or ’98-’99.   The reformers ended up totally discredited and hated, paving the way for the emergence of Putinism.

The end result is unlikely to be a Ukraine that resembles Poland, on a path to converging with the EU. A more likely outcome is a perpetual Sovokistan, and one that is a satrapy of Russia to boot.

An incipient collapse would put Putin in a hard place.  He would be forced to double down and increase economic assistance-likely throwing bad money after worse-or to stand aside and watch the whole thing collapse.

Cynic that he is, perhaps he would stand aside, on the calculation that he could take advantage of the collapse, and swoop in and pick up the pieces of a shattered country.  And a prostrate Ukraine would hardly be attractive to the EU.

It pains me, but I just can’t see a clear path forward for the unlucky country.  Belarus-light on the upside.  Perpetual basket case as the middle  scenario.  Economic collapse and revolutionary chaos as the worst case

The Sovok legacy is too powerful: the country’s institutions are weak and fundamentally corrupt.  Europe is feckless and disinterested, long on soaring rhetoric, short on  Euros and will.  Obama doesn’t give a rat’s rump about foreign policy generally, except for his Iranian legacy project: if he won’t bestir himself over the daily slaughter of hundreds in Syria, he’s not going to lift a finger to keep Ukraine from sullenly settling into a Russian orbit.  In contrast, Putin is far more motivated, driven by his dream of undoing the results of the Cold War.  He views Ukrainian independence from Russia as a historical monstrosity.  He would no doubt prefer to eliminate Ukrainian sovereignty de jure, but would no doubt settle to eliminate it de facto–for now.

Ukraine is too close to Putin-and subjugation of Ukraine is a goal too close to Putin’s heart.  Ukraine is far from the EU, farther still from the US, and farther still from the help of God.

I wish this weren’t so.  I pray I am wrong.  But as much as I admire the idealists on Maidan, and pull for their victory, I can’t see it happening.  The mutilating historical legacy of the USSR is too powerful,  a malign Russia is too close, and succor is very, very far away.

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  1. I tend to agree that it is over. We have seen this movie too many times…

    Comment by MJ — February 18, 2014 @ 3:11 am

  2. At least the US ambassador in Ukraine is not stingy with good advice: “Politics should be made in Parliament and not in the streets” ( ). I almost wonder if the ambassador to Syria was equally insightful.

    Comment by Ivan — February 18, 2014 @ 7:12 am

  3. It’s being reported that the situation has gotten worse in Kiev and there are already several fatalities.

    Comment by MJ — February 18, 2014 @ 8:31 am

  4. For people living further to the West it needs to be reminded that the Ukrainians (as well as all the nations at the same geopolitical tectonic boundary) seen even worse times, so hardships that may seem overwhelming for a westerner are not the same for those of us who (I dare say) know them better (the Ukrainians survived the tsars, Stalin, the Holodomor, the Nazis and the WW2). And as long as a nation survives there is a future and this is what matters. Besides, who said the fight for independence would be easy. But, on the other hand, it is surely not a one-shot game either being definitely “over” once and for all at some certain date (that is, of course, unless the nation itself disappears).

    Comment by Dixi — February 18, 2014 @ 8:44 am

  5. @Dixi You probably are right. But I think this impulse has exhausted itself. And if you ask me who to blame, my unequivocal answer would be Europe first of all. But then, there is nothing new about it. Europe is at fault of almost anything that has transpired in this region for the last 500 or so years. In fact, I think counting on Europe is an utmost idiocy.

    Comment by MJ — February 18, 2014 @ 9:56 am

  6. The Yanukonvikt regime has been stalling for time – and has been deliberately goading the protesters from peaceful protests into violence.

    When the protesters left some of the building, this was actually done under the auspices of a Swiss emissary – and it was done in a very organized, peaceful way.

    February 18, the parliament was supposed to consider and vote on going back to the 2004 Constitution, which had a more balanced approach than the current situation, in which all power is centralized in Yanukonvikt, who is a total lunkhead.

    Instead, Rybak, the parliament speaker, did not put that matter on the agenda.

    Protesters marched on the parliament building, and were met with deadly force.

    The Kyiv subway was shut down. Streets approaching Kyiv were blocked off. There are about 10 fatalities currently. Snipers were posted on the rooftops.

    Journalists are being beaten – again. Some Internet sites are down.

    In other words, the sovok mafia regime had this all planned out in advance.

    This could all have been avoided if the US and the EU, and Germany, had simply imposed targeted sanctions against Yanukonvikt and his billionaire dentist son (they keep some of their money in Germany), and oligarchs who pretend that they want democracy, but are playing a shell game.

    How many times can Yanukonvikt and his regime fool the EU?

    Yanukonvikt and his oligarchs and his Bolshevik Regionnaires don’t give a whit about democracy, and neither does Yanukonvikt or his son. They want to keep their brutal thug regime pig trough.

    Another coal mine blew up in Donbas the other night. They don’t care about that.

    They do, however, understand money and power – and the last thing they want is targeted sanctions.

    One of the TV journalists posted this comment on a blog at the Ukrainian Pravda newspaper site – fuck the EU and fuck the US.

    The opposition and the protesters were begging for some serious help from the EU and the US, including targeted sanctions, and even outlined where the sovok mafia hides its money.

    Instead, they are getting bullets in the head.

    Comment by elmer — February 18, 2014 @ 11:58 am


    18.02.2014 16:30 _ Віталій Гайдукевич:

    Віталій Гайдукевич

    Fuck the EU… USA too. The end.

    Comment by elmer — February 18, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

  8. There have been pictures posted of 9 mm shells – indicating deadly force used by the regime against the protesters.

    from Ukraine (the reference to “titushky” is a reference to thugs hired by the regime so that the regime can claim that it has “no connection” – the term actually comes from a guy whose last name is “Titushko” who was one of those caught earlier this year; they typically are “sportsmen” types with powerful athletic builds, and the people started calling the regime-hired thugs “titushky”):


    Members of the Party of Regions have abandoned the parliament and are literally running away. Earlier in the day, leaders of the opposition, Tiahnybok, Yatseniuk and a few other MPs lead the march toward Maryinskyj Park. Members of the so-called, Chorna Samoboborna, (Black Self-defense company) because they wear all black removed members of the internal troops from a truck and took over the truck moving it out of the way, only to be met by hundreds of more internal troops. Members of the Maidan Self-defense lined up in the park and set up a row of barricades, a la the US war for independence. On one side are the internal troops, behind them were members of Berkut and another special force unit called Alfa. They started firing tear gas grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets into the crowd. Little old ladies started collecting broken pieces bricks and filling them up in bags carrying them to the Maidan Self defense forces. A few people were injured and the Ukrainian Officers Union bldg became a make-shift medical point.

    Meanwhile, on Shovkovychna and Institutska, more radical groups started lobbying rocks into the VVshnyky lined up behind a series of trucks. About an hour ago they managed to burn the truck and the conflict there is intense. The trucks continue to burn and the clear sunny skies of Kiev have turned dark again.

    Up from that conflict point, people stormed the Party of Regions headquarters and started a fire. The building was burning for while and eventually the managed to bring in a fire truck. Members of the internal troops stormed the protestors and are now lined up blocking the street. Party of Regions members of parliament were walking through the crowd to their building and people were chanting “Suitcase, and a train to Russia”.

    The titushky at Maryinskyj park were used to attack the journalists who were standing on one of the abandoned trucks. Several were hurt by large rocks. People in Kyiv have left their jobs and are amassing on the streets everywhere.

    Klitchko demanded that Yanukovych immediately call new elections to calm the protests.

    Comment by elmer — February 18, 2014 @ 12:11 pm


    1. Thousands of protesters marched to the parliament building to support a vote to reduce the president’s powers.

    2. Yanukovych is still seen as inching closer to Russia

    3. The core problems driving the protests are all still there.

    Comment by elmer — February 18, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

  10. The assault by the Berkut (“Golden Eagle”) “special forces” has begun

    streaming here

    Comment by elmer — February 18, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

  11. I wouldn’t be so pessimistic in the long term. Ukraine is not Russia, where opposition is largely limited to middle cless people in Moscow with no more than 10% support. The country is divided in half, with half (actually, a small majority, about 55%) being pro-West. These events have radicalized and outraged the pro-Western half. Remember Dostoyevsky’s law of blood – the ones whose blood has been spilled feel things much more strongly than do those who spill the blood. At the same time, long-term, the western half of the country has much better demographics. A map of Ukraine by regions and change in number of voters since independence:

    The first map is change in %, the second is change in raw numbers of voters, in thousands.

    These factors do not speak to a stability for a Lukashenko-style scenario, even in Yanukovich manages to crush the opposition today.

    Comment by AP — February 18, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

  12. @AP-in some respects, I agree with you. But I think the Sovok rot is very deep.

    Here’s the irony. A division of the country, with the west remaining independent and parts of the east either being independent as a separate entity, or being absorbed into Russia, would make some sense. Not perfect, surely, and a cruel fate for many of those in the east. But the perfect is the enemy of the good. The irony is that Russia favors such an outcome and the opposition is adamantly opposed. I haven’t worked my way through that yet.

    @elmer. Sadly, I know. I added a new post in response to these horrific events. I have been glued to all day.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 18, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

  13. at St. Michael’s – 4 dead people, all from Maidan

    St. Michael’s, in the ancient tradition, was a safe haven for protesters

    the post tweet is by an opposition member of the Ukrainian parliament

    Comment by elmer — February 18, 2014 @ 7:12 pm

  14. testing

    Comment by vladislav — February 25, 2014 @ 3:30 am

  15. I wrote:

    >> the crazy Communist dictator Hrushef “gifted” Crimea to his beloved Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in mid-1950s, just as his predecessor Comrade Stalin committed even more such crimes…

    Andrew attacked in his usual manner:

    > BTW, moron, it was Khrushchev who gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. Stalin died in 1953. As usual your grasp of history is lacking.

    Here is yet another example, Andrew, why I find it impossible to have discussions with you. I have better chances to be understood by a 3-year-old child with an age-adjusted IQ of 90.

    Comment by vladislav — February 25, 2014 @ 3:31 am

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