WORLD AFFAIRS.  In case you missed it, President Viktor Yanukovych gave a two-hour interview on Ukraine’s popular ICTV channel in February. You’ll be pleased to learn that Ukraine is in tip-top shape and that things will only get better.

And the president’s damned proud of his record.

“You know,” he said, “I’m not ashamed to look people in the eye. And before these elections”—meaning the parliamentary elections in October—“I will look people in the eye. I always did that and I will continue doing that.”

Personally, I don’t doubt Yanukovych for a minute. Heck, he’s president of Ukraine and Ukraine’s presidents always tell the truth.

I bet you want to know whether Yanukovych would be ashamed to look Ukraine’s second most prominent political prisoner, Yuri Lutsenko, in the eye. After all, the former interior minister and Orange Revolution firebrand just got a four-year sentence for the kind of alleged financial irregularities that are job requirements for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. You’d probably turn red and avert your gaze if Lutsenko stared at you, right? But that’s because you never served time in the slammer and don’t know that cons always look each other in the eye.

So take it from me, the far more important questions are these. Just how far away was Yanukovych from the people he claims to have looked in the eye? And did they have the opportunity to look back?

Maybe I’m just being persnickety, but here’s my problem. I mean, Yanukovych lives in a palatial compound surrounded by tall fences. That can’t be where he looks folks in the eye. He works in the presidential building on Bankova Street in Kyiv. Try getting inside if you’re a regular Joe. When Yanukovych ventures outside, even in a hoity-toity place like Davos, he’s always surrounded by an army of big guards who, despite his best efforts to crane his neck and glimpse the common folk, surely block his vision. And, as we all know, Yanukovych commutes, either in a helicopter or a limo with tinted windows (a reasonable security measure for all great men, of course).

I suppose the president actually gets to see some people from a few hundred yards away as he’s flying above Kyiv or speeding down its empty avenues. And I also suppose that, if he squints real hard, he may get to see some eyes. But can he actually look into them? Probably not is my guess. Not even Superman could, and he had really great vision. But that also means that, as the president is zipping around faster than a speeding bullet, chances are Ukrainians can’t see his eyes. That might even be a good thing, come to think of it. Just imagine if poor Viktor actually saw an eye or two for more than a millisecond. Gosh, if he could see Ukrainians looking back, he might want to stop looking his adoring people in the eye. And what would happen then to Ukraine’s flourishing democracy?

Proud as he is, of his record and his eyesight, the prez did fess up to having experienced one thing that didn’t go quite according to plan. When asked to comment about the world’s outraged response to the kangaroo-court trial of Ukraine’s most prominent political prisoner, Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych opined: “I didn’t expect there to be such a racket on the part of any country. I didn’t expect them to give us orders.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that the president of Ukraine, a country he insists is European and belongs in the EU, should have known that Europeans are a tad persnickety about unabashed political repression. But it’s high time you saw things from Viktor’s point of view. I mean, look. Here’s a big guy who spends all his life in glossy palaces and presidential suites, in whirring helicopters and whizzing limos, surrounded by even bigger guys with broad shoulders and calloused hands. That can be really rough. Ostrich-leather shoes need to be constantly polished, Hugo Boss suits need to be pressed, and bouffant hairdos need to be maintained. And how often do you think his eagle-eyed guards get to bathe? To top it off, he’s got to make strategically important decisions about his sons’ pecuniary wellbeing and his pals’ financial assets, while continually squinting and craning his neck in the vain hope of getting a better glimpse of people’s eyes. Lemme tell you, buddy, that ain’t easy. I bet you can walk and chew gum, but go ahead and try boiling an egg while squinting, craning your neck, and feeling frustrated. It can’t be done, and that’s a fact.

Yep, Yanukovych has a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. Small wonder that he’s planning to run again. As he said during the interview, “I have the right to think about a second term.”

Damned right you do, Victor. The only thing that puzzles me is this. With all that squinting and head craning amidst all that hullaballoo by those persnickety Europeans and arrogant Americans, is a second term really worth the pain in the neck? Why squint at people if you could be squinting through a scope during a fun boar shoot with the boys? Why look cons in the eye in jail when you could be looking cons in the eye on your country estate? 

Alexander J. Motyl's blog


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