Thursday, December 16, 2004

A change in oligarchs only?

Here's a rather typical argument made against Yuschenko. Tymoshenko's Past. It's a letter to the editor of the Moscow Times. (The MT had published a rather flattering article on Yulia Tymoshenko.)

From your article one would think that all a person has to do is put on a traditional Ukrainian braid and she is suddenly a national hero. This article not only stretched the limits of reality but also the patience of readers, such as me, who are already weary of the unabashed support of The Moscow Times for the so-called opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.

However, presenting the kleptocrat Yulia Tymoshenko as a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches fairy-tale hero and modern-day Ukrainian Joan of Arc is pushing sensibility to the breaking point. This woman was gorging on caviar bought with her stolen wealth when the people in the crowds now standing before her and cheering her demagogic speeches could barely feed their families. While you hint in your article that she kind of dabbled in the energy business, you might have been a bit more specific, for example, by mentioning just how she got involved in the business and the extent of her involvement.

According to recent media reports, one of Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko's first moves in office was to wrest half a dozen lucrative energy concessions from several big private groups and give Tymoshenko a nationwide monopoly on the import and distribution of Russian natural gas. Thus Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine was born, and Tymoshenko gained control over nearly 20 percent of Ukraine's gross national product, an enviable position that probably no other private company in the
world could boast.

Not bad for a small family business. No wonder she's such a patriot.

For 13 years, Ukraine has been such an economic basket case that the people in Belarus have felt proud of their own economic achievements. While literally every economic sphere in Ukraine was suffering, Tymoshenko managed to acquire four personal jets and steal up to $3 billion, possibly more. Don't you think it a bit coincidental that Tymoshenko got herself into the parliament, or Verkhovnaya Rada, where she obtained immunity from prosecution while her associates who didn't "go into politics" are now all behind bars? Sure she got put in the slammer for a month, but then she wiggled free, thanks to intervention by the then-prime minister, Yushchenko.

Let's be honest, it wasn't spunky Tymoshenko's fiery speeches that kept the crowds in Kiev. It was the financing she personally has put into the movement along with that of the West, particularly the United States, and the yearlong effort of logistics preparation that made it possible for the crowds to wave their orange banners and have a little holiday in Kiev.

Painting the Gas Princess as some kind of revolutionary folk hero is beyond naive.

Don't you think she has personal financial interest in the outcome of Ukraine's current power struggle? After all, if Yushchenko allowed her to help herself to large chunks of Ukraine's national wealth when he was head of the Central Bank and prime minister, just imagine what she could get away with if he were president. Not to mention the payoff she would get from her Western sponsors.

The Moscow Times' support of this merry duo of oligarch thieves is not only a blatant disregard for the trust its readers place in the press to uphold objective reporting, but it is shocking that such a publication would back two common 1990s kleptocrats, thus advocating the transfer of power in Ukraine to people who helped strip its economy in the first place. This certainly is begging to let the mice guard the cheese.

Instead of prince and princess, these two conjure up images of Bonnie and Clyde.

Of course you were sure to make mention in the article that all charges against Tymoshenko were "political," but there seems to be a strange pattern developing here; when people steal billions of dollars and then get arrested for it, the crimes all
become political. Surprising, but when the same politics helped them get wealthy, no one seemed to complain.

Whether it's Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Russia or Tymoshenko and Yushchenko in Ukraine, no one is ever guilty of illegally gaining their vast fortunes.

So now The Moscow Times and all the other cheerleaders in the Western press had better ask themselves the hard, honest question: Are these really the kind of people you would want running Ukraine, or your own countries, for that matter?

Some of this is a problem on its face. If Yuschenko had the power to get her out of jail, how come he didn't have the power to prevent her from going in in the first place? To do both things, he would have had to go through the prosecutors, so why would he not have been able to keep her her out in the first place but have been able to get her out after she went in? (She says that a judge actually helped her and he has suffered for that ever since.)

She says that the government canceled the gas contracts with the Russians. This can be verified. This writer doesn't indicate that she is still in control of Unified Energy Systems something she says she isn't. (The company is bankrupt according to her.) If the contracts were in fact canceled and the company is bankrupt, why? No one in government to come to her aid? What about Yuschenko?

The writer suggests that Tymoshenko became a member of Parliament to escape the justice that she is rightfully owed. The problem with this is the same problem with using flight as evidence of guilt. She might just as well have become a member of Parliament to escape the unjust persecution she was being subject to under the guise of the law.

One of the things that has suffered here for a long time is the rule of law. Someone has said that this area of the world has the rule of law--except when it matters. That is the case in the Ukraine. (The same can be said for other areas of the world too, but that is a different story.) In the Ukraine as it is in Russia--note Yukos--enforcement of the law has often been a cover for what was really going on, turf wars among clans, extortion attempts by those in power, moves to consolidate political power in some way by getting rid of the opposition, etc. The law is often only a camouflage for what is really going on.

So she could just as well have become a member of Parliament to escape persecution by the power elites as she could have to escape any alleged crime.

Payoff from Western sponsors? I wonder what form that would take? Cash? Isn't she a billionaire? From the US and the EU? Wouldn't she have come in for a bigger payoff had she changed sides and worked with Yanukovych and the Russians? Maybe her gas contracts back? What could she get from the US and the EU that could benefit her more?

And he trumpets what is getting to be a wearying assertion that US logistics and money made the thing go. I bet he would also say that the people were paid to stay out in the cold. I stayed out there for a number of hours and never once saw the guy who was supposed to be doing the paying. I didn't see him because he was only around in the minds of the people who supported Yanukvoych.

He mentions Lazarenko. Lazarenko is in prison for money laundering and that prison is a US prison. He was tried and convicted in a US district court for laundering money--a crime against the US--and not for anything else. (I talked to one of the investigating agents from the US on the case. Very interesting.) Why wasn't Tymoshenko tried for money laundering also if she was one of his associates? She was never charged with it. The writer would say that that was because of her powerful friends and/or maybe because of plans by the US to have her be a leader in the revolution this year. That would be some real good planning. But not being charged with a crime is also consistent with not being guilty of the crime. I was not charged with money laundering in the Lazarenko case either. Neither were a few billion other people for the same reasons. We weren't involved.

Who are the others in prison? He doesn't say.

But the thing that strikes me most about this letter is the tone. Why all the bile? There might be an argument to be made about her business practices in the past, though I don't know enough about it to comment on. (She says that anyone doing business at that time could be prosecuted for doing business back then. That is true because of the lack of rule of law and no respect for any considerations of ex post facto.) But why is there so much acid here when the alternative, a Yanukovych-Donetsk clan, would have maintained oligarchs and their fellow travelers in charge. It's not as if Yuschenko or Tymoshenko, assuming that they were the worst he said they are, would be taking over from a government that was all sweetness, truth and light. It would simply be a matter of switching oligarchs not of a coup directed at a functional democratic government.

In other words, what was the alternative over which so much bitterness is coming out. There is none.

So why all the bile?

Let's assume that there is a switch of oligarchs only, that the people took to the streets and all they ended up with was a different set of rulers that themselves want to get their hands back in the trough. (I don't believe this is the case, but I am assuming.) Does that mean that all there is is the status quo? Does this mean that all the people got for their efforts were a different set of the same kind of people? No.

Yuschenko has the power he has for one simple reason: the people. If it weren't for the people, he would not be in the position he is in. These people got out of their houses, some of them left their jobs, braved rumors--well founded as it turned out--of imminent attacks by thugs or of a crackdown by the military, and gathered on the square and around public buildings to get things changed. This represents a fundamental change in this country. No politician has ever ridden to power here on the backs of a popular movement. And that is a good thing. To be a bad thing, Yuschenko would have to turn his back on the people and rule like Kuchma ruled. Is that likely? I don't think so now. The people can take to the streets just as assuredly for Yuschenko abuses as they have done for Kuchma/Yanukovych abuses. And it doesn't even have to be the threat that they will do it. It's the fact that they might do it that would be a source of problems for a government that would seek to rule like Kuchma/Yanukovych did.

And the Verkhovna Rada is stronger than it was. That might present opportunities for more manipulation because the Yuschenko's party is more in control. But it is not so clear that they are beholden to Yuschenko so much as that they have finally realized the people are out there and they can make them or break them.

The Supreme Court is also stronger than it was. It actually showed signs of life and stood up when it counted and changed everything. It did it in the best constitutional traditions too. If they hoard their newfound power and use it wisely, they can have an effect on the government--on any government-- that they could not have had before. And that effect is to the benefit of democracy here.

And to see what either side might do it is a good thing to review what they actually have done.

But that is for another post.


Anonymous said...

Scott, is "the Ukraine" just south of "the Russia"?

Scott W. Clark said...

It is kinda south south east. It borders on the Black Sea.

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott...

Re: Tymoshenko - why all the bile?

She is smart, tiny, pretty and rich (not nearly to the degree media-hack-jobs relate) – and utterly dedicated to the eradication of criminal oligarchic influence within the government of Ukraine.

Worse for the criminals - the people know the full story about her, have seen what she has been through, know what she wants for Ukraine, know the degree of persecution, multiple attempts on her life, and that of her husband – and they love her.

She is the embodiment of the worst nightmares of rich Ukrainian criminals, having more guts and determination than ten men twice her size - and wielding ten times her political clout.

She is the darling of the political right in Eukraine – and a rising international star on the political right in the US. She has been named in one popular Republican website as the Babe of the Week. (Very good article there about her too...)

The hit-job penned by the responder to the Moscow Times had just read the hit-job penned by the leftist Guardian – and quoted 'facts' (not) from the Guardian. But, if you want to know the real story of 'Julia' – it’s out there on the net on hundreds of pages that go back through her entire history in business and political effort.

That she might actually, and successfully expose criminals, and put them behind bars – or on the gallows – drives the fury of, and fuels the hatred of Soviet-lovers and shady leftists worldwide.

Horrors! She may be named the new Prime Minister, and eventually may even become President. If either happens, watch the rats depart for Russia faster than I can hit the channel-button while passing CNN...

I can do nothing but wish her great success... along with millions of decent people in Ukraine, and around the world.

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