Staunton, October 23 – Most people in Ukraine and elsewhere have focused either on the flight of former president Viktor Yanukovych or on the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the violence in southeastern Ukraine, but a more important “emigration” from Ukraine may be the nearly 5,000 Yanukovych backers who have gone with him to Russia.
On the one hand, these people who include many who were senior officials in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine before the Maidan constitute a veritable government in exile awaiting a return to power. And on the other, the size of that number calls attention to just large pro-Moscow factions are within not only the Ukrainian government but elsewhere as well.
That in turn, far more than Yanukovich’s departure or the refugees from violence, constitutes a problem for all the former Soviet republics because the existence of such people represents the basis of Moscow’s assumption that it has the levers to keep these countries under its thumb – or at the very least represents a continuing temptation for Russia to try to do so.
Among these 5,000 from Ukraine are former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, former defense minister Pavel Lebedev, former justice minister Elena Lukash, former prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka, former head of the national security service Grigory Ilyashov, and former vice prime minister Sergey Tabachnik.
They, their allies in the banking and business communities and others have fled to Moscow where they have purchased expensive properties in the city or land nearby. As a result of this emigration, Ukrainian citizens now occupy “two-thirds of the market for elite Moscow housing.” In short, they took a lot of the wealth they had acquired in Ukraine to Russia.
Some of these former officials may plan to remain in the Russian capital forever, happily living among others who share their views about geopolitical arrangements in Eurasia. But at least some of them and not just Yanukovich whose plans in this regard have been discussed are likely plotting their return to power in Kyiv.