Ukrainian President Can't Win Struggle with TymoshenkoBy Christian Neef
Ukrainians were aware that the president's younger son Viktor was a member of parliament for his father's party, but hardly anyone knew anything about Yanukovych's eldest son. They were all the more astonished when his name appeared on the list of the 100 richest Ukrainians last year. Then it emerged that Oleksandr Yanukovych is the president of a firm called Management Assets Company, which builds office towers and hotels in Donetsk, and that he is a player in the gasoline market and owns 100 percent of shares in the All-Ukraine Development Bank, the Tonis television channel and four luxury yachts.
It has now become known that Oleksandr Yanukovych is influencing the country's most important personnel decisions. In recent months, the top posts at the national bank, the tax authority, the Interior Ministry and the Finance Ministry were newly filled with friends of Oleksandr Yanukovych or family confidants. The intelligence service was entrusted to the previous head of the state security service, a former KGB agent. Now all key positions are under the Yanukovych family's control.
The most influential oligarchs, with the exception of Akhmetov, Yanukovych's friend from his Donetsk days, saw their status downgraded. Now they are expected to pay hush money, which is referred to as donations for "social initiatives." In this manner, Yanukovych has brought the equivalent of about 800 million into the government coffers in the midst of an ongoing financial crisis. And should anyone choose not to comply, the heads of the intelligence service and the tax authority have plenty of incriminating information against each of the oligarchs in their safes.
The installation of the new economics minister at the end of March was an example of how politics works under the Yanukovych regime. The post was awarded to Petro Poroshenko, known as the "chocolate king" of Ukraine, who served as head of the security council and foreign minister under the Orange movement.
Warning to the Chocolate King
Poroshenko, 46, who began his career selling cocoa beans, now owns the largest confectionary manufacturer in Ukraine, several auto plants and the Channel 5 television station.
Poroshenko's defection to the opposite camp surprised the supporters of the Orange movement, but not those familiar with the Kiev power clique. By doing so, he was "apparently trying to save his property," says a member of parliament for Tymoshenko's Fatherland party.
Poroshenko presented Yanukovych with a list of 12 items that he described as conditions for his entry into the government. The bold demands included the "elimination of the shadow economy" and the "defense of entrepreneurship against violent pressure."
The canny Yanukovych rubber-stamped all of the items. But then, on the day Poroshenko was to take office, he sent the tax police to the chocolate king's factories. It was a clear warning to Poroshenko that, as minister, he was to abide by the rules set down by the president's family.
The fact that Yanukovych is deceiving his voters just as he duped the oligarchs who brought him into power is something that rarely works for long in post-Soviet countries. People in circles close to the president "are already thinking about the time after Yanukovych," says political analyst Romanenko. That, he says, explains "the mind-boggling amount of security Yanukovych has: He fears an assassination."
No Chance of a Pardon
A review of the two years of Yanukovych's presidency quickly reveals why this man cannot make peace with Tymoshenko. Any form of pardon would only put her back into the game of winning political power in Ukraine.
Her supporters are in the process of forming a united front with other opposition parties for the parliamentary election this fall. If they regained a parliamentary majority, they would immediately introduce impeachment proceedings against the president.
Yanukovych fears this scenario more than upsetting Western Europeans over the European Football Championship, especially now that he realizes that he could wind up in prison if he loses power. The president is "somewhat resistant to advice" on the issue of Tymoshenko, says a German diplomat who served as ambassador to Ukraine and later worked as an adviser to Tymoshenko when she was prime minister. "He knows that there isn't much left for him to gain in Europe."
He does have a dilemma, though: The prisoner in the Kharkiv women's prison is stronger than he is. Tymoshenko may have been a poor manager as head of the government, but she is fantastic as a PR strategist working on her own behalf. She, together with her daughter Yevhenia and attorney Serhiy Vlasenko, are the ones who are controlling public opinion, not Yanukovych.
Behind the Prison Walls
"Save my mother before it's too late," Yevhenia Tymoshenko says at her press conferences. Unfortunately, no one knows what is really happening behind the prison walls, and whether Tymoshenko was actually punched during her forced transfer to a hospital. The claims were voiced solely by her attorney, a member of parliament for Tymoshenko's party.
Last Friday, when Professor Karl Max Einhäupl, the head of Berlin's Charité university hospital, made his way to see his patient once again, the former prime minister was in the 15th day of a hunger strike. Those who know Tymoshenko also know that she is capable of taking things to extremes. But appeals such as one by the Ukrainian World Congress, an international umbrella organization for Ukrainian communities around the world, to stop the campaign give her an opportunity to end the hunger strike. On Friday, she agreed to be treated in Kharkiv in the presence of a German doctor.
This means that Tymoshenko is also not going to be treated in Germany. Perhaps her path will lead to Russia instead. President Vladimir Putin has announced that he would be "pleased to accept Tymoshenko for treatment." Yanukovych couldn't deny him such a wish, because he urgently needs a discount on Russian gas deliveries, and hopes to get it during Putin's state visit at the end of May.
Eventually, however, after being treated for a herniated disk, Tymoshenko would be returned to Ukraine. "And what happens then?" asks the editor-in-chief of an independent Kiev newspaper. "Then everything starts all over again, just with a different emphasis. Hardly anyone wants to see a comeback by the former prime minister."
Tymoshenko, he says, "is like Yanukovych: She obstructs our country."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan