If Genuine, Yanokovych’s Intent to Suspend EU Integration Shows He Wants to Survive Beyond 2015

Purpose: To analyze news reports that  (1) Ukrainian President  Yanukovych’s government issued a November 21 decree, which suspends preparations to sign a key association and free-trade agreement with the European Union, which Kiev has been expected to sign at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 28-29, in order  fully analyze the impact of the planned agreement on industrial production and trade with Russia and to set up a three-party trade commission between Ukraine, the European Union, and Russia; (2) Ukrainian parliament’s pro-Yanukovych majority has refused to pass a bill to allow jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to go abroad for medical treatment, which EU has set as precondition for signing the agreement with Ukraine.
Bottom-line: Unless it is a ploy to wrest last-minute concessions from EU, the November 21 decree indicates that Yanukovych has made a deal with Putin to at least suspend EU integration drive in exchange for economic benefits and political support that would help him get reelected in 2015. Given that the alternative to winning the 2015 reelection could be loss of his and his allies’ business empires and possible jail time, Yanukovych has made a rational choice. As for Putin, Yanukovych’s backtracking on the EU deal will not necessarily  lead to Ukraine’s integration into a political and economic union with Russia, but at least it would keep alive hope for such a union, without which Russia cannot hope to become a master of Eurasia once again.
See more detailed analysis below:
Unless the November 21 decree is not a ploy to wrest more last-minute concessions from EU ahead of the summit, then it indicates that, as I wrote in a memo yesterday, that Yanukovych did strike a deal with Putin during his secretive visit to Moscow on Nov 9-10 to abandon Ukraine’s plans to sign the deal with EU. (I am not sure what exactly Putin offered to Yanukovych, but if I were him I would promise just about anything, including unification of Ukraine and Russia into Kiev Rus on Ukraine’s terms with relocation of capital to Kiev  [or making Kiev capital of Customs Union/Eurasian Commonwealth] and election of Yanukovych as head of the new state).
If Yanukovych did make a deal with Putin during his visit to Moscow to at least suspend Ukraine’s drive to integrate with EU, then by doing so he has made a rational choice to survive rather than go down in history books as early as 2015 when he is supposed to stand for re-election.
No matter how much Western analysts entice Yanukovych with prospects of becoming the “Man Who Has Brought Ukraine Into Europe,” the reality that Yanukovych would have to face in 2015 could be very different and harsh for him if he signs the deal with EU later this month.
In such a scenario Yanukovych’s chances of winning re-election in 2015 would be rather slim.  First of all, in such a scenario Russia would have restricted access to its market to punish Ukraine and the latter’s economy would incur serious losses as a result (especially, given that EU has showed no indication of preparedness to fully compensate for such losses). That would have made Yanukovych even less popular with his own core voters (many of whom are pro-Russian and/or work in sectors which depend on trade with Russia – true, a recent poll shows 46% of Party of Regions supporters support deal with EU, but many of them are yet to experience hardship that would be caused by restriction of trade with Russia) while winning him few votes among the pro-Western voters. Yes, polls show the number of Ukrainians who favor integration with EU is growing, but can Yanukovych count on votes of these pro-EU Ukrainians in 2015? I don’t think so. Ukraine’s pro-Western voters traditionally dislike Yanukovych and their dislike of him, which has only intensified after jailing of Tymoshenko, cannot be reversed by a deal with EU.
Given these adverse trends, it would be quite probable that Yanukovych would lose a free election in 2015 (and EU would settle for nothing less than free and fair electionsonce Ukraine concedes to terms of the association agreement) to one of his rivals (such as very popular ex-boxer Klitschko), especially if this rival wins support from Tymoshenko (who in such a scenario would be out of jail and could campaign against Yanukovych from abroad).
In contrast, Yanukovych  would have a reasonable hope to win re-election  if he did make a deal with Putin to suspend integration with EU.
First of all, in such a scenario, he could count on loans and gas discounts from Russia (which is in Top 5 countries with largest foreign-exchange reserves) to prop up economy until the 2015 elections. Also the election will not be subjected to greater scrutiny by EU, since Ukraine will have fewer obligations in relations with EU if it doesn’t sign the deal. More importantly,he could count on political support from Putin if the outcome of the elections is contested too strongly, as he and as his mentor Kuchma did back in 2004 when Putin twice congratulated Yanukovych on ‘sure victory’ (only to see the results of the second round cancelled after massive and lasting popular protests and that round held again and won by Yushchenko).
Whether Ukrainians would have appetite to stage a long and massive protest at Kiev’s Maidan  as they did back in 2004 is an open question, but it is clear that Yanukovych learned the lessons of those days.
Given that the alternative to winning the 2015 reelection could be loss of his and his allies’ business empire and possible jail time, Yanukovych has made a rational choice if he did collude with Putin to suspend Ukraine’s integration drive in exchange for re-election.

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