Behind Ukraine’s Leadership Shake-up
Gilbert Doctorow, Consortium News, Apr 11 2016
Yatsenyuk’s resignation has been given more weight by Western media than it merits. After all, he and Poroshenko were on the same side of the political equation even as they arm-wrestled for much of the last two years for greater influence and power. On the other side of the equation are the Pravy Sektor and fellow radical nationalist forces of the war party. To those who may argue that notwithstanding his technocratic image as an economic reformer, Yatsenyuk himself has been a fervent nationalist, backing the extreme policies directed against Russia, I respond that Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko are just stiffs in knit suits, politicians both. On the other side are the guys carrying guns who were the force behind the Maidan uprising, and who are effectively controlling the front lines in Donbass and the border with Crimea. They represent the violence and threat of violence that remains unchanged by the departure of Yatsenyuk. And standing behind Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko are the untamable oligarchs. It is these forces behind the throne that have made it impossible for Poroshenko to put through the various legal and constitutional changes necessary to implement the Minsk-2 agreement. Therefore, Ukraine will remain at war, with no reforms of substance possible nor any real crackdown on corruption thinkable. This means the likely continued withholding of IMF money as the leaders of Western Europe, at least those not ideologically committed to Russia-bashing, distancing themselves further from Ukraine. The question becomes how long Ukraine can defy the economic laws of gravity before descending into chaos.
As for the timing of Yatsenyuk’s departure, which has been hanging in the air since Poroshenko provoked a vote of confidence to oust him in February, the answer lies in to the Apr 6 Dutch referendum, which made it essential to offer up a scapegoat and show that Ukrainians intend to get their house in order. The Dutch referendum was important, not only because the majority of those going to the polls voted no to ratification of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, but also because the rejection came in the face of EU leaders urging approval or at least hoping to tamp down the turnout below 30%. Some play down the significance of the Dutch referendum, given that 80% of the Association Agreement has already been implemented. But a thorough legal analysis by the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels made it clear that the referendum has significant consequences. The economic part of the Agreement has indeed been implemented and is not immediately affected by the Dutch referendum. It has been a one-way agreement so far, only facilitating European exports to Ukraine while the counterflow is subject to negotiations to avoid dumping of Ukrainian agricultural commodities on the European market. The political and military chapters of the Association Agreement, which require ratification by all 28 Member States of the EU, are effectively now a dead letter. And it was precisely these little-known texts calling for close coordination of defense and foreign policies between the EU and Ukraine that sent up red flags for Russia. This would have been the first step toward full NATO membership.
The European Commission and Parliament say they intend to proceed with implementation of a visa-free regime for Ukraine, which is technically within their rights, though it is hard to see how this can be done without pouring oil on the flames of discord within the EU, at a time when it is under great stress and may be coming undone. It was precisely the nightmare of Ukrainian economic refugees making their way to the streets of Amsterdam that fed Geerd Wilders’ No campaign in the referendum. The EU’s defiance of the Dutch vote now would play directly into the hands of Britain’s exit campaign. The Ukrainian leadership must have been unnerved by what its so-called friends were saying to counter the possible No vote in Holland. A few days before the referendum, EC Pres J-C Juncker told reporters that Ukraine was not a candidate for EU membership and would likely not be ready for membership in the coming 20 to 30 years. In political life, that means “never.” Similar words of contempt for Ukraine came from Dutch PM Rutte. In this sense, the Dutch referendum was surely the trigger for the removal of Yatsenyuk to show Europe and the world that Ukrainian leaders were trying to consolidate their power in order to proceed with deep reforms. But Kiev’s political leadership is not where the real power in the country lies.