Saturday, December 14, 2013

Some random things

Levko has his usual exceptional insights on this but here are some random things picked up over the past couple of days:

--Azarov said the government didn’t use force on the square Dec. 11th. I guess he would say it was just a street cleaning. 

Notwithstanding his claims some fingers are now pointed at Popov. He’s the character who was moved into Chornevetsky’s place as mayor when he fell out of favor. The word is that Popov ordered the square cleaned (cleared? Maybe a typo? Not in Russian.) And now protestors are picketing his home.
Berkut was bused in to protect it and him.

--One man who was gassed on the square that night now swears by the stuff. He said he was stuffed up and nothing would relieve it until he got a nose full of tear gas. Best stuff for clearing out the sinuses he has ever seen.

This is bravado but it’s the kind that holds barricades.

--Pro government people are being bused in from the east and other areas. Rumor has it that some of them are government workers pressed into service. They will rally for Yanukovych. I saw what had to be a number of them when I was out. Big, burly, cocky guys in street clothes walking around in groups up near the Vauxhall.

Some think the government wants the two sides to clash. It would be street clothes clad people against street clothes clad people instead of a clash with the brutes from Berkut or those dressed in the Darth Vader helmets with shields and truncheons. They think that will be the pretext the government needs (read: optics the government needs) to clear the square. They think this weekend.

--The riot people stationed in ranks up near the president’s administration building and other places are not allowed a break to go to the bathroom. This makes for the obvious problem which many are solving by simply going in place. (And at attention I would guess.)

This creates obvious problems with wet and soiled clothes in the cold. Poor guys. And some girls. 

I think it goes to either the paranoia of those involved that they can’t let them take a break for even a couple of minutes or to the fact that they can’t get as many of these people out to do this sort of thing as they need to. That may be why they are shipping in people from outside.

Maybe it’s both.

--Some people we know who have gone down to the square recently say that the character of it has changed. A few days ago there were women and children and men of course, but the ambience was more like taking an afternoon stroll. Now it’s mostly men and they are hunkered down into what looks like something from a war zone.

--Some veterans are upset with Klitchko because they saw him speaking to someone from Berkut. They think he might be selling them all out. He probably isn’t but it highlights the fact that there is no one of any real stature down there for the opposition. That is not a good thing and it will be even more keenly felt if there is actually change in government.

--A court has ordered the Trade Union Building cleared. (It’s right next to the square.) Some thought they might try to do it last night but it didn’t happen. They thought it would be used as a pretext to clear the square.

It would be a better one than saving the Christmas tree.

The Trade Union Building’s first floor is where food is stored and prepared for those n the square. The second floor is where they have medical supplies. (Some reports say they have enough to stock a hospital.) Klitchko and his people have an office in it. 

Some observations:

--The AA agreement. Ironically, the AA agreement with the EU wouldn’t have helped Ukraine in the short term and might even have hurt. This would be true even without the threats issued by Putin et al. It is not clear how much trade there would be with the EU and the point I make with people is that you’ve got to be able to compete with European goods anyway to trade with them. Many Ukrainian goods cannot. That leaves mostly commodities and those are controlled by the usual suspects.

Russia on the other hand offers some real benefits right now. Cheaper gas and closer trade relations with a country that already buys Ukrainian products. And there wouldn’t be sanctions.

Let’s face it, the EU and the US aren’t going to pour any money into Ukraine because notwithstanding the statements of solidarity, Ukraine just isn’t that high a priority. And there probably isn’t the will under the present economic circumstances anyway. Or the money.

Besides, that sort of money has a tendency to disappear when it comes this way. Even if Yanukovych is gone they all won’t be--they control significant assets in the country.

The hope is that the AA would mean a move toward more transparency in dealings. The benefit for the regime and friends of the regime is that dealing with Russia means being able to set up all these shady kinds of transactions and companies to skim off the top. It benefits Yanukovych et al quite handsomely. They’d be vassals of Russia and that was one reason why Yanukovych played to the west even when it was against his personal interests--he could play Russian off the EU and the US and get better deals in the end. 

So signing the AA agreement would probably not have helped the country short term but it would have helped Yanukovych. Moving toward Russia would have helped the country short, short term, but Yanukovych is finding it hasn’t helped him.

--Leadership. I hate to be a wet blanket but what does the opposition do if they win? The country is in serious trouble and if there’s any money out there in the IMF for instance to help bail the country out, which is a big if, it would come with pretty strict demands to overhaul the budget in ways that will affect social payments here. They will have to deal with this anyway even without any bailout money from abroad and that’s going to pit them against the very people who have taken to the barricades. They could win the war only to find people taking to the streets again when the budget cuts come.

This will be tough for someone with credibility but there is no one in the opposition who has very much of it. Tymoshenko has it in spades and if there is a change of government she’d be released. But her instincts are populist and that won’t sit well with the business community, the business community that has had enough of the present regime. (In a number of ways this is a small business revolt.)

Vilify them and restrict them if you want to but they employ people and good jobs are needed here--lots of them.  A good business climate would also encourage international investments many of which have simply pulled out because of the risks. (Both governmental and otherwise.)

--Corruption. People here want to live a more normal life like many Europeans do. The real reason for the protests is the problem of corruption. Yanukovych is corrupt. His son was not on the list of the top fifty richest people in Ukraine in 2010. Three years later, he’s number two or three. (When Yanukovych was asked about it he said his son’s been working hard. He must be exhausted.)

But the corruption problem is not simply a  problem of those on top. It is a problem throughout Ukrainian society. Some here say that that is true because people saw the bad examples of the now oligarchs who stole the country’s assets after perestroika and they wanted their piece of it. But it was a problem during the soviet days and even before that. 

It is just the way things get done here. And everybody does it. So a person might take to the barricades to protest corruption on the part of government and the elite and be at the same time on the cell phone finding someone who can get little Vanya into the right school, the right kind of position in the military (not too hard or dangerous mind) or job. And an exchange of value will be a part of that.

The police here are corrupt. (They stop cars for violations and then expect their palms to be crossed.) Education here is corrupt. (You can pay for a degree. Short of that, you can pay a teacher for grades.) And medicine is corrupt. (It’s free but it’s freer and the service is better if you pay.) These are the areas that affect the lives of Ukrainians more intimately and they know what they need to do to get the job done. And many seem happy to do it.

We in the west think that if you just jigger the institutions right, get them fine-tuned a certain way, that the problem of corruption will just melt away. And they flew in a lot of high paid consultants to do just that. For example, they revised the commercial code here into something more approximating Europe’s and they held no end of seminars about rule of law and legal institutions to support that and better judging. But after they collected their pay and flew off to some other conquest, nothing changed. Things are the same as they were before because the reference point here is not institutions or laws but relationships. 

That makes it a much tougher proposition.

--Tear gas. Some are saying that a line has been crossed with the use of tear gas. They say it has never been used on Ukrainians before. Maybe it has been but not in the memories of most of the people if it has. So Yanukovych has been responsible for doing something that has never been done before to his own people.

This is one of the reasons people are mad. And agreements signed by whoever aren’t going to make that go away.

--Palace Guard. The Berkut is now the palace guard. But not all of them. They relied on out of town Berkut to do the dirty work on the 30th. Some other units have refused.

Palace guards never work out very good.

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