Since taking power this past February, the government of Viktor Yanukovych has slowly but surely been fulfilling most of its critics’ negative expectations: the courts have turned against the opponents of the ruling party with preposterous cases, constitutional rules have been trampled in parliament, and, most noticeably, freedom of the press and safety for journalists has has significantly deteriorated following several incidents, prompting international attention.
Observers in the press are likely to make the assumption that Yanukovych is simply driving Ukraine toward convergence with the Russia model, to the great pleasure of his benefactors in the Kremlin. I’m not so convinced, and there are many voices who see greater grounds for divergent interests between Kiev and Moscow under any Ukrainian administration. We should consider the possibility that Yanukovych is building a Leviathan state because it serves his interests – not that these were the instructions from Moscow. As pointed out in this editorial from the Financial Times yesterday, the competing parties represent competing business interests – with the gas king Dmitry Firtash always floating around somewhere in the background.
There are differences with Russia; Ukrainian parties tend to be vehicles for business interests. Mr Yanukovich’s rule is more akin to state capture by a group of tycoons than Mr Putin’s imposition of state power. As 2004 showed, Ukrainians may be more ready than Russians to defend their rights.
Yet how to respond poses a dilemma for thewest. Sharp rebukes risk pushing Mr Yanukovich deeper into the arms ofRussia. The EU, by leaving Kiev’s previous government dangling overmembership, lost some authority in Ukraine – and that government’sbickering left many Ukrainians disillusioned. But there are signs MrYanukovich’s business backers prefer closer ties with Europe than withRussia. The EU should emphasise that such integration requires acceptingEuropean values. The Orange Revolution’s legacy was mixed. But itsdemocratic gains should on no account be allowed to be reversed.