WORLD AFFAIRS.  Forgive the blunt question, but are the Regionnaires really that dumb? Evidently, yes. The latest bit of evidence for their serial stupidity is the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko. If you haven’t heard, the former Orange prime minister has been charged with “abuse of office,” something that supposedly transpired when she negotiated a gas deal with Russia a few years ago. That deal was apparently bad for Ukraine and, since it was bad, Tymoshenko must be guilty. Of something—well, of anything, actually. And abuse of office will do: it has the ring of substance, while at the same time being so broad as to be meaningless.

Forget the hypocrisy. Abuse of office is about the only thing Ukrainian elites have been doing consistently, and well, since 1991. President Viktor Yanukovych abuses his office every time he takes a breath in his questionably appropriated estate outside of Kyiv. His pals abuse their offices every time they rig tenders, rake in millions, and pass legislation that favors their buddies. And if Yulia’s gas deal was criminal, what is one to say of Viktor’s Kharkiv Accords?

And forget the impossibility of making any sense of Ukraine’s opaque gas relationship with Russia. Who makes the decisions in Kyiv? No one knows. Are the deals good for Ukraine? Mebbe yes, mebbe no. Are they bad for Ukraine? Mebbe yes, mebbe no. About the only thing anybody does know is that the deals never fail to benefit Russia’s Gazprom on the one hand and the oligarchs, industries, and Regionnaires of eastern Ukraine on the other. Is that accident, design, or divine providence? Take a wild guess.

And, obviously, forget justice. Everyone knows that there’s as little substance to the charges as there is a high collective IQ in the Ukrainian cabinet. Everyone knows that the only reason the regime is hounding Tymoshenko is to neutralize her in advance of the 2012 parliamentary and 2015 presidential elections. And everyone knows that the courts are the tools of the Yanukovych regime. I mean, for chrissakes, this is Ukraine, and not Canada, and any claim of judicial independence is about as persuasive as the claim of Regionnaire honesty.

So forget all that. The only important question is this: why are the Regionnaires so utterly incapable of understanding that they’re committing another mega-blunder, one that will redound to Tymoshenko’s favor, provide the Ukrainian opposition with a shot in the arm, mobilize society against them, raise European and American eyebrows, and produce a public relations disaster—at precisely the time that the regime has manifestly failed to deliver on anything and is desperately hoping for a miracle to save it from ignominy?

If you really want to get rid of Tymoshenko, then appoint her ambassador to, say, Brussels or Paris or London or, even, Moscow—any important place that’ll flatter her, but also keep her busy and out of the way. Or make her your minister of foreign affairs, along the lines of Barack Obama’s appointment of Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, or, if you really want to give her a migraine, your minister of culture. Or send her on a five-year fact-finding mission among all the Ukrainian diaspora communities in the world. Or give her a television talk show during prime time.

The very last thing you do with a prominent, influential, charismatic, smart, articulate, rich, and photogenic political opponent is put her on trial—for anything. Unless, of course, you really do have a smoking gun and your evidence is incontrovertible. A bad case against a tough defendant is guaranteed to transform Tymoshenko into an international cause célèbre and bring down fire and brimstone on the regime—especially in Europe, which Yanukovych says he wants to join. Worse, the trial is likely to drag on and dominate headlines for months. Ukraine’s image will be mud, as witness after witness—the prosecution alone intends to call some 30 people, including former President Viktor Yushchenko—reveals just how rotten Ukraine’s political and economic elites are. If the Regionnaires think that stink won’t rub off on them, they’ve got a big surprise coming.

My guess is that this time, as so many times in the past, this mess traces back to the shocking incompetence and arrogance of the Yanukovych camp. I can just see the meeting in the president’s office. The vodka’s flowing, the boys are slurping up the caviar, they’re comparing the size of their bank accounts in the Caymans, they’re trying to figure out how to fool all of the people all of the time, and some crackerjack has the bright idea of putting Yulia behind bars. Wotta concept, says Prime Minister Azarov. And a piece of cake, too, says Education Minister Tabachnyk. Well, now the boys are likely to choke on that cake.

Small wonder that Yanukovych insists he has nothing to do with the trial. Blame it on our super-duper independent courts, he says. Naturally, that’s what he’s got to say. At the same time, I’m guessing Viktor may have realized that he better put some daylight between himself and the proceedings—like, uh, ASAP. When the stuff hits the fan, Yanukovych wants to be sure that his pals are left holding the bag and that he has some plausible deniability.

That’s the extraordinary thing about the Regionnaires. They’re rank amateurs who are too arrogant to know just how little they know. And amateurs who don’t even know what’s good for themselves can’t possibly know what’s good for the country they claim to be running.

Alexander J Motyl


Ukrayinska Dumka


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