Yanukovych and the European Union, BFF?

scepter022610.jpgSo today Viktor Yanukovych was sworn in as the fourth president of Ukraine, after having won a low-turn out but free and fair presidential election, just six years after having attempted electoral fraud to gain the nation’s highest office.  Although Yulia Tymoshenko has withdrawn her legal challenges to the election, she still hasn’t publicly acknowledged her recognition of the new president, and left the Rada only half-filled with representatives to hear the inauguration speech (show me an inauguration ceremony where the new president gets to hold up a scepter and wear a huge gold necklace, and I’d want to be there…).

President Yanukovych gave a short, terse, and “unemotional” speech, remarkingUkraine is in an utterly difficult situation, given the absence of a state budget, colossal foreign borrowing and people’s poverty. (…) We need to renew the system of effective governance and restore a functional government. I call on the parliament to support my efforts and to work in a synchronized regime with the president.

So with Kremlin heavies Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Naryshkin inattendance at the inauguration as guests, for his first diplomatic tripYanukovych will be heading straight to Moscow Brusselson Monday to lay the groundwork for relations and make a symbolicstatement.  So does this mean that Yanukovych and the EU will be bestfriends forever?  Extremely unlikely, but the Financial Timeslays out a few good reasons why the skeptics ought to be patient withthe new president before dismissing the Brussels-first, Moscow-secondgesture as pure theatrics.

Mr Yanukovich is more comfortable in Moscow than in Brussels. But heis not naively pro-Russian. Ukraine’s business oligarchs, his bigbackers, would hate to have the Kremlin breathing down their necks,like their Russian counterparts. But they do want favours from Moscow,notably cheap gas.

The EU must give Mr Yanukovich time to explain his plans. For example, he has pledged to join a Russia-led customs unionas well as continuing talks with Brussels on a free trade agreement.But it is unclear if these aims are compatible. He wants to bringRussia and the EU into a consortium to help run Ukraine’s vital gaspipelines. But on what terms? A genuine partnership that wouldstabilise the crisis-prone trade is one thing. A sell-out to Gazprom and/or shady businessmen quite another.