Ukraine’s President “Lost En Route” to Moscow?

November 18, 2013

In another chapter of Ukraine’s economic and ideological struggle between Europe and Russia, the east and the west, Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych “got lost” on his way to have meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There remains a debate, however, as to whether Yanukovych was secretly negotiating with Putin, or whether he was being snubbed by the Kremlin. One possibility is that the negotiations were kept secret because they would both anger the Ukrainian populace, which is now in favor of moving to the European Union, and because they were likely to fail anyway.

Meanwhile, this crisis also puts Ukraine’s former president, Yulia Timoshenko, back in the spotlight. Timoshenko was tried and convicted for exceeding her powers for a deal she inked in 2009 that forced Ukraine gas company Naftohaz to accept an import contract with Russia’s gas giant Gazprom. the European Union considers the decision to jail Timoshenko a political one, and has requested that she be released. – Ed.

The press service of the president of Ukraine posted an announcement on its official web site:

“Today, Viktor Yanukovych has made a working visit to the Russian Federation during which he will have a meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. The two presidents will discuss issues of trade and economic relations between Ukraine and Russia on the eve of the Eastern Partnership summit which will take place at the end of November in Vilnius.”

Sources which are customarily called “informed” only provided a time sheet on the Sochi rendezvous – it was said to last five hours straight. Aleksandr Yefremov, head of the parliamentary faction ‘Party of Regions,’ found it difficult to answer directly: “I don’t know. And I won’t even make it up.” Yefremov, by the way, is an influential persona. He talks to the president (as he himself admitted) virtually every day. In the hands of the Rada [Ukrainian parliament] (read: the pro-government majority) now is the golden key to the jail cell of Yulia Timoshenko. A turn to “open” – and the European Union signs an agreement of Association with Ukraine. A turn to “close” and it does not. The legislators turn the key in accordance with the plans and fears of Viktor Yanukovych.

The plans change all the time.

But even Yefremov was not enlightened as to the essence of the secret dialogues with Putin…

All of a sudden, a voice was heard from the gag bag. TV channel Russia-24 reported as a joke that the visit had not taken place! Yanukovych had not flown to Moscow and in fact had gotten lost on the way, which had incredibly delighted the citizens of Ukraine! The tone of the material was outrageously annoying. The agencies of state agitation and propaganda have commented on the head of a neighboring sovereign state like this only on the eve of extreme events, like for example, in Georgia in August 2008.

On the third day, [presidential spokesman] Dmitry Peskov opened up the “bag.”

“On Saturday, a brief working visit was made by Ukrainian President Yanukovych to Moscow, where his talks with Putin took place. Trade and economic relations between Russia and Ukraine were fully discussed,” he said.

However, the two countries did not achieve mutual understanding. Immediately after the summit, the customs agencies of the Russian Federation began taking measures to toughen up regulations for access of goods imported from Ukraine to the territory of the Customs Union all along the Ukrainian-Russian border.

The outwardly disconnected subjects enable us to surmise that during his visit, Yanukovych risked hinting to the president of Russia something entirely unpleasant, from the area of shadow economy partnership. Specifically, to a gas contract of 2009, to which prime ministers Putin and Timoshenko gave the green light. Even more specific – to details in the riders to this agreement. Perhaps, he was bluffing. But it is possible he even brought proof.

Actually, it is Viktor Yushchenko who loves discussing the evil role of his colleague Timoshenko, who made a deal with the Kremlin and Gazprom.

After Yanukovych’s “secret” visit to Gazprom, there were complaints: “Naftogaz Ukraine has really stopped purchasing fuel!” Naftogaz did not confirm or deny the information. Then Ukrainian Vice Premier Yury Boyko gave a reason to the press: “In fulfilling the president’s assignment, we reduced by a factor of about four the purchase under that contract as a government.” Back in the spring, in an interview with Zerkalo nedeli-Ukraina, Boyko said that Gazprom was notified about this prospect several times but without a reply.

Also in the spring, Ukraine’s Energy and Coal Industry Minister Eduard Stavitsky warned that deliveries would be diversified. The gas which Ukraine now receives in reverse from the German oil and gas company RWE and also from Hungary and Poland is far cheaper than Russian gas, $380 per thousand cubic meters. During the frosts, evidently, he had to raise the level of fuel pumped into the reservoir. Or else get it from Gazprom in the volumes that were really necessary.

“It’s nothing terrible. Ukraine is beginning to think in categories of expediency, and not political loyalty,” said energy expert Valentin Zemlyansky regarding the growth in awareness of the national power elite.

But what have experts got to do with it! Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, an advocate of close ties with the Customs Union, has been convinced for some time that disputes by economic subjects can be resolved only by arbitration in Stockholm.

“If Russia believes that we have violated something, then let them appeal to the court. And there we will prove that this contract is nonsense for international law,” he said.

When domestic production is on the brink of halting, when there is no money in the treasury, much less IMF loans, they want to punish the poperednitsa, the Ukrainian word for predecessor [used to refer to Timoshenko]. But while Ukrainian phonetics elude Azarov… that doesn’t prevent him from wishing to pay Gazprom with Timoshenko’s money. As the prosecutor general claims, her secret bank accounts have been discovered in the USA and Switzerland. British lawyers are already studying the possibilities of returning the “laundered” funds.

An indigent Yulia will pose no competition in the presidential elections of 2015. One less thing to worry about. Viktor Yanukovych can even display some humanism and pardon Timoshenko for the sake of Ukraine’s European prospects. But he may – in the face of a second fear, Putin – not pardon her. He can withstand a long pause in relations with the EU. And see who will lose from this.