Is Yanukovych Really Free to Fight ?

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Ukraine celebrated 15 years of sovereignty Thursday – an incessant struggle between supporters of rapprochement with Russia and those wanting greater distance from Russia.

The Yushchenko-Yanukovych and East-West dilemmas don’t seem like dilemmas any more. Ukraine is united again, and everyone’s attention is riveted on what is happening in Ukraine itself.

The Orange Revolution was proof of Ukraine’s desire for sovereignty and the latest configuration of state power confirms it. On the other hand, there is a difference between desire and ability. The last 15 years proved beyond the shadow of doubt that Ukraine’s economic dependance on Russia is much greater than political.

There is more to it than the simple fact that Ukraine cannot boast of having much oil and gas on its own territory. There is also the Soviet structure of national industry to consider. Ukrainian industry is extremely energy-inefficient, while all its markets are in Russia.

The “cheap energy in return for cheap commodities” arrangement was all right in a single state but when applied to two sovereign states at political odds with each other every now and then, it inevitably crumbles.

Russia is putting Ukraine under pressure from two directions at once nowadays. It closes its markets to Ukrainian goods and commodities (pipe export duties, problems with dairy products) and ups gas prices.

All this effectively undermines Russia-oriented Ukrainian industry whose principal centers are located in the eastern part of the country. Prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko did her best to try to alleviate the situation.

Tymoshenko thought that cheap energy was available elsewhere and that this diversification of gas imports would lessen dependence on Russia. She counted on Turkmenistan a a potential supplier of gas but Moscow’s influence with the Turkmenbashi proved strong enough to disrupt the plans of the Ukrainian prime minister.

Gazprom had bought all gas Turkmenistan had for sale for years to come. Ukraine began getting its gas courtesy of Russia via Rosukrenergo. The task of fighting dependance on Russia is in the lap of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych now.

Believing that his Regions Party is a pro-Russian political force is a mistake. Major Ukrainian businesses have their interests - and lobbyists - in the party in question. Like Ukraine in general, these businesses need the risks they are running differentiated.

Sure, the new government will certainly undertake to regain the lost benefits like an easy export regime and affordable energy prices but “political independence” is not going to be a lot at the auction.

If Russia refuses to have the old arrangement without the political aspect restored (and Russia will refuse), it will make the Ukrainian national economy all the more determined to start looking for new partners and markets in Europe.

All of it will be immeasurably more complicated than the simple Soviet-type arrangement of the past. Ukraine will buy expensive energy from Russia, charge a lot for its transit to Europe, and offer to the West and in the West what it used to sell to and in Russia.

All existing transit accords will have to be revised along with the documents concerning Ukraine’s future membership of the World Trade Organization. What really counts, however, is that the Ukrainian economy will have to be whipped up into shape and made competitive.

All these are nearly impossible tasks. Russia’s reluctance to be cooperative in the talks with Ukraine will only broaden the rift between the two countries. Ukraine is celebrating sovereignty.

Sovereignty from whom? Ukraine bartered independence from Russia for dependence on Gazprom.

This is what Yanukovych the freedom fighter should be thinking about.

Source: The St. Petersburg Times