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    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    A tale of two prime ministers

    It's fitting that Yulia Tymoshenko should finally become prime minister of Ukraine one day after Vladimir Putin declared he would be Russia's prime minister under a President Dmitry Medvedev.

    Both have been prime minister before, Tymoshenko for a short and tumultuous period in 2005 before she was fired by President Viktor Yushchenko, Putin for a controversial six months in 1999 before Boris Yeltsin stepped aside to hand him the presidency. They have open distaste for each other stemming from the long and ongoing Russia-versus-the West struggle for Ukraine's soul, in which Tymoshenko has played (at least in the Western media) Princess Leia to Putin's Darth Vader.

    The way the two old foes were named to the PM's chair this time around says much about the comparative state of democracy in their respective countries today.

    For all Ukraine's instability, Tymoshenko's dramatic return to power - establishing herself as a third power centre beyond both President Yushchenko and his rival Viktor Yanukovich - shows how vibrant and pluralistic Ukraine's political scene now is. Yes, all of the main parties are tinged with corruption and are too close to big business, but Tymoshenko's election victory two months ago stands as proof that no politician can rule Ukraine without the consent of the people.

    More good news: even though her party emerged as the de facto winner of the Sept. 30 elections, Tymoshenko only became prime minister after a long process of bartering and coalition-making. No one force can dominate Ukraine on its own anymore, as Leonid Kuchma and his allies did until the 2004 Orange Revolution.

    None of the above can be said about Russia. Vladimir Putin stands alone in Russia as the sole centre of power. If he says the unheralded Dmirty Medvedev shall be president, then Mr. Medvedev it will be. If Putin says he wants to be PM, only a fool would bet against him achieving that aim.

    As I have frequently pointed out in the past, Putin does all this largely with the consent of the Russian people. But that doesn't make it any more democratic. The institutions needed to make and keep Russia great - a free media, serious opposition and a real parliament - have been systematically eliminated during his eight years in power. For all its oil-fuelled economic growth and new swagger on the international stage, the country is inherently weaker as a result.

    Today may look like a triumph for Putin and Putinism. But one day, when he's gone, Russians will come to rue the system they watched him build.

    In the meantime, at least future summits between the Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers will have a touch of drama to them.

    5 comments:

    Michael Averko said...

    For all Ukraine's instability, Tymoshenko's dramatic return to power - establishing herself as a third power centre beyond both President Yushchenko and his rival "Viktor Yanukovich - shows how vibrant and pluralistic Ukraine's political scene now is. Yes, all of the main parties are tinged with corruption and are too close to big business, but Tymoshenko's election victory two months ago stands as proof that no politician can rule Ukraine without the consent of the people."

    ****

    WOW and YOUCH!

    Medvedev doesn't seem to have the arguably corrupt background of the "Gas Princess," whose circumspect past (and perhaps present) was discussed in a book by Zbigniew Brzezinski's nephew.

    In the last two Ukrainian parliamentary elections, how has she done when compared to Yanukovych?

    Despite the question marks on the Ukrainian political situation, Tymoshenko gets the thumbs up over Medvedev.

    BTW, shortly upon becoming Ukrainian PM, following the so called "Orange Revolution", Tymoshenko rather ironically lauded Putin for curtailing oligarch influence in Russia. Such an influence is quite evident in Ukraine. Kirill Pankratov of eXile has written some spot on commentary about this.

    For the past few years, three people have dominated the Ukrainian political scene, with no one else coming close to matching them. I don't know that Ukrainians are more satisfied with their government as Russians are with theirs.

    medvedev said...

    Medvedev doesn't have the baggage of past Russian leaders and this could be his strongest card along with Putin's endorsement.
    Dmitri Medvedev Presidential Candidate

    La Russophobe said...

    "Putin does all this largely with the consent of the Russian people. But that doesn't make it any more democratic."

    I'm not sure what you mean by this, it could be read to be letting the people of Russia off the hook for their decisions. It seems to me you routinely avoid calling them to account for doing things that undermine the future of their children, as do many others. In Soviet times we assumed the people of Russia were being victimized by their government; now we know different (and we should have known better, because the Russians stood idly by during time time of Stalin, or actually informed on their neighbors), but we are not doing enough to change our approach to them. How can we expect them to change if we don't demand that they do?

    markmac said...

    Mr. Medvedev? Mr. President? Is that you? If you win, can I have a multi-entry visa? Please?

    Michael Averko said...

    This post has been noted in the 12/24 edition of Siberian Light at http://www.siberianlight.net

    While I'm here, let me note that Putin is more popular in Ukraine when compared to Yushchenko's popularity in Russia. In Moldova, Putin is more popular that Voronin, Yushchenko and Bush.

    WESOLYCH SWIAT