Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Ukraine - A Slow Rot or Speedy End?

Over in the Ukraine, they're a-demonstrating still over the bizarre results of the presidential election. (99% results for the president, 100%+ turnouts..) With the presidency surrounded by a huge crowd clad in orange, what happens next? Some voices in the last few days have suggested that the crowds lack momentum, and that the regime will wait it out. But I think this is unlikely. The longer the fight goes on, the more the government will be discredited. That the regime was going to try some form of waiting game is clear from the decision of its parliamentarians not to turn up at a special session yesterday. Because the constitution requires 50% of the house plus 1 deputy to function, this manoeuvre prevented any binding decision or official statement.

But it also meant that the parliament was abandoned to the opposition, which they promptly took advantage of by staging a swearing-in ceremony for Yushchenko. It was good telly, at least until state TV pulled the plug. And the government seems not to have an answer either - they have yet to take any action to cement their claim, like appointing a cabinet. The problem with a waiting game is that the same factors you hope will work on the opposition can work on you - divisions, crisis-weariness, and dissatisfaction can set in. The Grauniad reports, for example, that reporters on the two main TV stations have gone on strike to protest censorship. The key point will be if and when this begins to affect the police/military, of course.

How could it end? One option would be the Georgian solution, with a tipping point being reached when the government's authority is eroded further and the opposition's support grows. Another would be the Jaruzelski option - start cracking heads and taking names, and officially freeze the election results. An alternative would be the Hungarian version - call in the Russians to crack heads, take names etc. But it seems unlikely that Russia would try anything quite so blatant unless open civil war was to break out. (Clearly, solution 3 might be triggered by a halfbaked solution 2.) In the event of a peaceful pre-revolution, I suspect that the Russians would probably give in gracefully. Watch for signs of Igor Ivanov turning up in Kiev - last year in the Caucasus he was the Kremlin's messenger to tell Shevardnadze and Abashidze to give up. When the Ig's in town the gig is up and the chips are down, clearly. If it looks like going Georgian, the Russians will probably flip on Yanushkovich and attempt to restore relations with the revolutionaries, having conducted their old pals to a well-heeled exile in Russia. That is, "conducted" as in "dragged kicking and screaming to a waiting Ilyushin 62", if necessary...

Speaking of Ilyushins, in the event of a Ukrainian revolution we may find the Viktor Bout thing blows wide open. He has been known to do a lot of business there - for example, the infamous deal to arm the Taliban was arranged with weapons from the Ukraine via the gangster Vadim Rabinovich. If this stone gets turned over, there may well be some interesting creepy crawlies underneath.

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