Lately we have been hearing more and more cries for “rebooting” Ukraine.  Yurii Lutsenko, the former Minister of Internal Affairs, calls for introducing a second and third republic, while Roman Bezsmertny, the author of unaccomplished administrative reform, has undergone a complete reincarnation; "Depa" and "Gepa"* insist on moving the capital of the country to Kharkiv, while Andriy Klyuev, a prominent businessman and politician, sympathizes with unfortunate Poland about what it will do with Galicia when it breaks off from Ukraine. Add to that list many other ideas, mostly from journalists and experts, stating that Ukraine needs not just a new government, but a new concept of the state structure, and it becomes clear that the situation has come to a head. Ukrainians are mature enough citizens to be capable not only of rejoicing at the fact that they have their own state, but also to give more and more thought to what exactly this state should be like. 

Let me focus, however, on the current situation Maidan, which we believe unambiguously confirmed that Ukrainians want to live in a law-abiding state. There is nothing new about this issue, actually, and it is not a specifically Ukrainian problem. People have always been eager to live in keeping with the law, ever since the concept of the state was established. The essence of the problem lies in the different interpretations of legislation by different entities, in the laws applied, in the institutions enforcing and protecting the law, in public perception of the law, and its relevance to their concepts of legality and justice. The current situation with respect to the law evidently does not meet the expectations of a significant portion of our compatriots, and only time will tell whether this majority is decisive, or is still a minority, large as it might be.

Ukrainians unhappy with the rule of law in this country started to show their discontent by packing up. Ukrainians have been leaving their homeland for over 20 years in search of a country where fundamental human rights are guaranteed and protected.  It is easy to predict that in the case of Maidan’s defeat, the number of the people looking for a better future will only increase. Besides, keep in mind that it is the “cream of the cream” that is leaving, i.e. the people representing significant human capital, which they will probably invest on better terms, with due insurance against possible risks. The countries to which Ukrainians usually emigrate have created the conditions for human capital to flourish – both in legal and institutional terms. In Ukraine, on the other hand, there remain a significant number of people who are rather happy with the institutional structure and legal field preserved in the country, starting with the guarantor of the constitution – the president.

This concept that caused the current controversy is mentioned only marginally by political analysts and experts, remains beyond the attention of the public at large, and is still unclear to both our foreign opponents and advocates. As the mass media does not offer a well-grounded discussion of the current moment in this respect, let me offer some of the deliberations.

So he is the Victor

Those who are negotiating with Viktor Yanukovych today talk and write a lot about him. However, the results of negotiations, mostly negative, lead us to the conclusion that these people, overall, have an inaccurate idea of their counterpart. Although the truth, as is often the case, is quite obvious, the distortion of a “close-up,” or their own stereotypes and preconceptions, preclude them from clearly seeing it.

First, they fail to see that Viktor Fedorovych is the Victor. Recently a reporter of a renowned American newspaper remarked, that every American kid, even born in the inner city, is aware that he or she can become president tomorrow, referring to the example of President Obama. 

Now what about Yanukovych? Is he worse than Obama, Merkel or Olanda? Indeed in his own eyes and those of his minions, he is even better. In fact, he climbed up from the very bottom to the highest office in the country. He is a winner, and, therefore, he is the best.

This perception defines his political behavior, his attitude towards his comrades in arms, his environment, his party members and to the common people – whom he has called “the rabble” more than once. So, the first and defining feature of his “ego” is arrogance. He is the master of his life, and probably, the richest man in Ukraine. He made it! That is why, only the important status of the EU officers makes it possible for him to stoop to communicate with politicians that he considers losers, and under different circumstances he would have never agreed to meet them. The way he made promises and deceived them shows his complete lack of respect towards these people. His life strategy, molded under the tough conditions of rackets in a small mining town, proved the most efficient in the post-soviet chaos, with a lack of self-organization of the public and the prevalence of legal nihilism. It ensured his long-term, successful balancing and small, tactical victories in his communications with Russia and Western countries. For hundreds of thousands and millions of his champions, he is the leader, the embodiment of their dream, and their hero. His opponents are just the losers and unfortunate buggers deserving to be duped and used. 

The Ukrainian oligarchs, President Yanukovych among them, deal with the West predominantly through businesspeople as well as the lawyers and managers working for them. Due to a variety of various reasons, they are not exactly the paragons of morality and decency. Short of adequate experience in communication, modern Ukrainian leaders simply treat their Western opponents either as their peers or as simpletons and losers.    

I strongly believe that it was a lack of understanding of the Ukrainian president’s behavior that led not only the Ukrainian Euro-integration process, but also the European integration of the entire post-totalitarian space and of Ukraine, in particular, to an impasse. It is worth noting that Yanukovych did not really cheat us and Europe, but, rather, bargained with Putin, whom he had always feared, and, probably, respected.

Finally, Yanukovych wrested out of Putin guarantees for immunity, and, in a most banal way, the funds needed to secure his, and his state officials’ (budgetniki), survival in Ukraine through the end of the year. The only thing Yanukovych overlooked in his calculations was “Maidan” as a phenomenon, as the expression of civil society’s wish for change, to establish the rule of law and combat corruption above all.

Yaroslav Pilinsky, Kennan Institute Kyiv Office Director

* “Depa” and “Gepa” are popular nicknames for Mikhail Dobkin, Governor of Kharkiv oblast, and Gennadii Kernes, mayor of Kharkiv.