Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Donetsk Team

I really ought to just add The Eurasian Daily Monitor to my side bar and be done with it.

The Donetsk interest group is clearly the hegemonic factor in Ukraine’s newly installed coalition government under Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. It seems quite possible that Washington and Brussels can “do business” politically and perhaps to some extent even strategically with this group. Certainly, the government’s installation marks an advance from chaos to relative stability and predictability, as well as a shift from pro-Western but ineffectual Orange power to a “two-vector” (East-West balance) stable and somewhat more competent power.

In testing the Donetsk group’s capacity for strategic partnership with the West, four assumptions now being proposed could prove irrelevant at best and counterproductive at worst. These assumptions hold that the new government marks a departure from regionally divisive politics; that the “Party of Regions has been democratized”; that the coalition is based on a common economic policy; and that it has adopted a unified foreign policy.

However, the governing coalition’s composition in parliament and government shows that the political forces that speak for the western and central regions (Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the national-democratic wing of the Our Ukraine bloc) opposed the formation of this government. By the same token, the Donetsk team’s economic and political power in the government is wholly disproportionate to its actual influence in the country and may be misused to expand that influence and cement that team’s power. Rather than departing from regionally divisive politics, the new Donetsk hegemony can exacerbate such politics by triggering reactions from regionally based forces that feel unrepresented or short-changed.

The “democratization” of the Party of Regions may seem to be an almost obligatory case to make, but it is difficult to sustain. The present leaders’ Kuchma-era record is a non- and anti-democratic one, which helped trigger the democratic Orange Revolution. The party is strongest in electoral terms in those areas where the Soviet/Russian mentality of paternalism, collectivism, and subservience to authority is strongest; and its oligarchic leaders control the populous industrial centers in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in company-town fashion, though on a far larger scale than the classical model. Furthermore, the party’s oligarchs have brought the unreconstructed Communist Party into the government.

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