Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The row

Over the weekend, there was a report on the TV of a row between Yuschenko and Tymoshenko. When it got to me, secondhand, the report was that Yuschenko had told Tymoshenko to resign and join the opposition. I later found out that he had told her that she could resign and join the opposition if she wanted to.

By the first part of this week, it became apparent that they were downplaying any disagreements they might have had behind closed doors. They both appeared together and emphasized that they had a good working relationship and saw eye-to-eye on how to deal with the problems facing the country.

And a businessman who had been in on the meeting where Yuschenko made the statement reported that he considered it to be a kind of an ironic statement not meant to be taken seriously. So it was much ado about nothing--at least that is how it is playing out now in public.

The one thing that can be said for sure is that Yuschenko did criticize the government’s handling of the gas crisis. He said it was not “professional,” a phrase he used in the debates to criticize the Yanukovych government for its “administrative measures.” The measures undertaken by the government were not market oriented according to him, a criticism that has been leveled by a number of people including me. This may conflict with some statements made earlier by him where he took credit for the measures taken by Tymoshenko but I think that was more of an attempt to create some sort of harmony in the government. Yuschenko does that sort of thing from time to time. It often heartens his enemies and demoralizes his friends.

In any event, he has given the government one week to solve the gas problem.

I can say that we passed several stations on the way back into Kiev from out of town on Sunday and found them all to have gas. The price was up to 3.20 h. just as it was before the administrative measures kicked in but they all had it.

On whether the Russians are behind it, Tymoshenko is reported to have said that the SBU, the secret service, will be naming the names of those behind this conspiracy. This may happen and the Russians may in fact be behind some sort of conspiracy to deny Ukrainians gasoline. The problem though is that the measures taken by the government also can cause the same problems simply by operation of the market.

Look, there are some Russians who are not happy with the way things turned out here. That is a fact. But it is hard to know how widespread that unhappiness is. There are others who are not unhappy about it though. These Russians want to see a liberal Russia, that is, a free and democratic Russia. They saw the Orange Revolution with a sense of hope for their own country even while acknowledging that it would be a much harder thing to happen there. And a number of these Russians came here to be a part of the revolution.

The people in the Kremlin weren’t happy about it, of course, and with the power that has been amassed there, they make a majority in any man’s town. (Is that Twain in Huckleberry Finn?) They have become paranoid about the potential in Russian for such a thing according to some reports. Do they still want to influence events here? Yes, of course they do. But I am not so sure that businesses are listening with as much attention as they once did. And the Russian oil companies would have had to listen to them to do their bidding.

In the past, Putin has been able to move the Russian stock market (or is it stock markets?) by giving a speech on business. He speaks, the markets move. The last time he spoke, in his state of the nation speech of a month or so ago, the markets didn’t budge. And that speech was full of things that would have been very good news to the ears of businessmen. But the market didn’t budge.

And there is another thing. We were in the village this past weekend. On Saturday, I took my father-in-law to the market about 5 miles away to buy some provisions. We got there about an hour after it opened and bought the dry goods we needed first. Then we went to the building where they sold the meat.

On the inside, there was a large, long counter on which the sellers placed their meat. They had cutting boards behind the counter where it could be cut but the meat, what there was of it, was sitting on the front counter.

I was struck by how little there was of it. And there were only 3 sellers there selling anything. They took up about a fourth of the counter space that could be used.

My father-in-law asked for pork. There wasn’t any. Pork is the preferred meat for Ukrainians and there wasn’t any there. I guess it is possible they all sold out before we got there, but I don’t think it likely. There is always plenty of pork for sale there. But on that day there wasn’t.

The reason is that pig farmers are not selling either. They have been subject to administrative measures and many of them have refused to sell at all. That, I think, is the reason we found none. We were in the village where a lot of pigs are raised but no pork was available for us to buy. We settled in the end for the little bit of beef that was there. (That didn’t break my heart.)

These administrative measures create shortages. The point is that people are as free not to sell as they are to sell and they will not sell if their price isn’t met.


Anonymous said...

I am a veterinarian with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and sign many export certificates going to the Ukraine for poultry exports through Odessa or Poland. Last summer I spent two weeks in Kiev and will soon marry a women from Vinnitsa and through your musings I have learned much about the Ukraine. Thanks for your insightful comments.

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