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The Evita of Ukraine

evita010710.jpgIs Yulia Tymoshenko really this crazy?  If you are interviewing Dmitry Vydrin, who’s got quite the axe to grind, the answer is yes.  Apart from those who think she is the hottest head of state, Tymoshenko has been getting some very bad press in the West lately, some of it deserved, but some of it not.  For example in Ioffe’s piece there’s the bit about “authoritarian proclivities.”  True, she banned once banned political rallies while citing swine flu, but Ukraine has never really experienced a governing coalition strong enough for anybody to do very much Putin-izing of the country.  The real question is not if, but when, Ukraine was lost to Russia.

“She was told she is the reincarnation of Eva Perón,” says Dmitry Vydrin, who was Tymoshenko’s close adviser for nearly a decade. “And she believes it. She admits it in closed circles. She copies her consciously and subconsciously.” There’s the elaborate, kaleidoscopic wardrobe; the bleached up-do; the theatrical mannerisms; the way the public rustles whenever she appears. “It’s that way of flirting with the public, of addressing them as ‘my loved ones,'” Vydrin says. And there are the men whom the two women used to get out of poverty, but then brightly eclipsed. For Evita, it was her husband, Argentine President Juan Perón; for Tymoshenko, it was a string of well-connected men, starting with her father-in-law and ending with Ukraine’s current president and hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko. (…)

Tymoshenko’s authoritarian proclivities are well-known–andfeared–among the country’s elite, and they’ve earned her comparisonsto another political leader: Vladimir Putin. Many observers say it’schilling to consider what her leadership could mean for the greenshoots of Ukrainian democracy. “I am really very scared,” Vydrin toldme. (Once her image-maker and close friend, Vydrin was forced out ofTymoshenko’s political party in 2006. He is now Yushchenko’s deputysecurity minister, but his wife is still friends with Tymoshenko.) “Youcan’t stop her in any normal political way. You can’t beat her on TV,you can’t out-argue her on the town square. If she had more biologicaltime on earth, she’d become president of the Ukraine, president of theEU, president of the U.S. The only thing that can stop her isTymoshenko herself.”