The Strange Case of Yulia Tymoshenko’s 2007 Article in Foreign Affairs

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko may not have an American spouse to help her with the fine points of grammar when she deals with the American media like her domestic rival Viktor Yushchenko or the head of state of Ukraine’s great regional friend, Georgia, but her wonderfully American point of view as well as splendid syntax and vocabulary shone through in an article on ‘Containing Russia’ which was taken up uncritically by the editors of Foreign Affairs magazine for its May-June 2007 issue. To find out why, read on…



The Strange Case of Yulia Tymoshenko’s 2007 Article in Foreign Affairs


by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.






As we near the end of the year and the heating season commences, Ukraine is once again returning to the front pages of mainstream print media in Western Europe and North America following nine months or so of relative oblivion.


The reasons are two, and they are closely interrelated: first, there is the possibility the country will fail to pay for the natural gas it is receiving from its neighbor to the North, with the consequence that the gas deliveries will be shut down, affecting not only Ukraine’s domestic grid but its transit pipelines carrying 80% of Russian gas supplies to Western Europe, where it accounts for nearly 40% of total imports; second, there is the forthcoming presidential election in Ukraine scheduled on January 17, 2010 for which the country’s leading candidates, incumbent President, Viktor Yushchenko, and present Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko are preparing by intensifying their warfare within the government, with the gas policies constituting one of the major issues in their mutual recriminations and counter-moves.


Questions over Ukraine’s ability to make timely payment for October gas were discussed daily in the Russian press recently and now they made news in Western Europe as well.


On October 30. Vedomosti reported that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made public his conversations with his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko in which he expressed Russian misgivings that Ukrainian gas distributor Naftogaz would pay its October bill normally. Speaking to the leadership of the Kremlin party, United Russia, Putin reminded his audience that Russia had already made some 2.5 billion dollars in advance payments to the Ukraine to cover transit costs of Russian gas intended for its European customers this winter. His colleagues said the Ukrainians should not now be coddled if they fell behind paying for gas consumed.


On November 5th, Vedomosti’s affiliated publication,  Financial Times, picked up the story of the looming repetition of the gas cut-off of this past winter: “EU urges Kiev to avert fresh gas crisis.” It appears from this article that European Commissioner José Manuel Barroso has recently lost the enthusiasm for supporting Ukrainians in their arm-wrestling with the Russians over gas issues that he demonstrated in the spring when he superintended an EU deal with Kiev over renovation of its gas transmission and storage system negotiated without Russian participation and against Russian interests.* Indeed he now reportedly phoned Viktor Yushchenko after he received a warning from Vladimir Putin that the Ukrainian President was holding up payment for October supplies due this past weekend. At the same time we learn from the FT that Barroso believes Yushchenko is violating the terms of a $16.4 billion IMF assistance package for Ukraine by his approval of increased wage and pensions.


[*Parenthetically, we have to wonder whether Barroso’s seeming change of heart is not linked to a deeper flip-flop at the European Commission over the rights and wrongs of the gas dispute with Russia. Over the past two weeks we have seen the announcement of Finnish, Danish and lastly the hitherto most elusive Swedish approvals of the Russian-German Nord Stream project intended to free Europe from its dependency on Ukrainian transit pipelines beginning in 2012. That this happened under the Swedish Presidency is all the more remarkable.]


These reports provide us with a glimpse of how the jockeying for position and populist measures undertaken by Yushchenko and Tymoshenko in anticipation of the forthcoming presidential campaign is already putting in jeopardy gas supplies to Europe this winter.


While the Ukrainian President raises domestic salaries and possibly holds back large payments of hard currency to Russia for its gas under a contract negotiated by his opponent over his objections, the Prime Minister keeps gas prices to Ukrainian consumers artificially low, thereby jeopardizing the ability of Naftagaz to raise the cash it needs to meet Russia’s monthly invoices.


It is this kind of squabbling within the country’s leadership to the detriment of Ukraine’s international credibility which has been behind America’s recent disillusionment with the heroes of the Orange Revolution whom it supported unreservedly under George W. Bush. Indeed, at the time of Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Kiev this past July nominally to calm nerves among America’s friends in the ‘young democracies’ of the region following Obama’s rapprochement with Russia during his visit to Moscow earlier in the month, it was rumored that the greater objective was to persuade his top level interlocutors to quit the political stage and make room for new faces deemed by Washington to be less tainted by the internecine fighting and mutual charges of corruption.


Those rumors may have been exaggerated. In any case, like it or not, America remains indebted to both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko for a number of services they have rendered over the past several years in support of U.S. geopolitical priorities. Yushchenko, in particular, has consistently championed the cause of Ukraine’s joining NATO among his skeptical and divided compatriots, taking popular support of the Alliance measured in single digits to somewhere in the 30 percentile rank. During the Russian-Georgian War, Yushchenko provided material support to American ally Mikheil Saakashvili and harassed the Russians over their use in the campaign of naval vessels based in Sevastopol (Crimea, Ukraine). In December 2008 he concluded a Charter of Strategic Partnership with the United States which envisages, among other elements, U.S. participation in the modernization of the Ukrainian gas grid.


For her part, Yulia Tymoshenko has done less to please the Americans but, nonetheless, was at times a willing tool of American interests. One such instance occurred in the spring of 2007. In the wake of Vladimir Putin’s ‘fart in the church’ speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007 which directly spelled out before an assembled audience of the world’s most prominent security professionals and senior politicians just what was wrong with American unilateralism and why the Russians were unhappy with their treatment at American hands since the demise of the Soviet Union, the Bush Administration was busy correcting course on Russia. From staunch friend who stood by America at its moment of need following 9/11 and made sweeping concessions to U.S. security requirements for its planned counter-attack on the terrorists in Afghanistan, the Russian President was about to be re-cast as the authoritarian and neo-imperialist ‘Tsar Putin.’


In the late spring of 2007, the U.S. sought to give the Kremlin some clear signals of what might lie ahead if its impudent challenge to American hegemony continued. A frenzy of anti-Russian commentary in the American media preceded the July 1 arrival of Putin at the Bush family’s summer residence in Kennebunkport, Maine where the results of the warnings might be harvested.


What better vehicle to give foreign resonance to the anti-Russian campaign being launched from Washington than a feature article in the most prestigious U.S. magazine on international issues, Foreign Affairs, by then leader of the Opposition in the Verkhovna Rada, and former Premier of one of the foremost putative victims of resurgent Russian imperialism, Ukraine? Yulia Tymoshenko obliged with an 8-page essay which left no stone in the Russia-bashing repertory unturned. This is all the more stunning, given that Tymoshenko herself hails from Dnepropetrovsk in the Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine and has always appeared to be more accommodative to Russian interests than her domestic foe, Mr Yushchenko.


The publication of this article was sufficiently controversial to merit a separate entry in the Wikipedia online biography of Mme Tymoshenko, which notes the strong reaction from the Kremlin to what was perceived as an ‘anti-Russian manifesto’ and the allegations of plagiarism which arose in the broader public, namely the charge of paraphrasing passages from writings of Henry Kissinger. Indeed, in their issue four months later the Editors of Foreign Affairs published a denial by Tymoshenko’s staff that rules governing attribution of text had been violated.


In the brief space which follows, I will try to shed some light on the controversy surrounding this 2007 article by Yulia Tymoshenko because of what it says about the intellectual promiscuity of certain leaders of young democracies which are the flavor of the day and also because of what is says about those in the American foreign policy establishment who are promoting them. Let us move beyond the terms of engagement which have framed the public discussion of Tymoshenko’s article up to now and identify the real issues in a more transparent manner.


In a commentary on the article issued before its publication, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it clear they considered the piece to be an indirect response by the American authorities to Putin’s speech in Munich. [Russian MFA Information and Press Department Commentary, Embassy of the Russian Federation in South Africa, 16 April 2007] It said that in contrast to Putin’s call for ‘a serious and open dialogue,’ the Americans ‘did not have the courage to act as dignifiedly’ and were hiding ‘behind the written-to-order piece of Tymoshenko.’ This commentary pointedly spoke of an ‘article signed by Yulia Tymoshenko’ and having several authors, but it went no further in identifying the sources. It placed the article in the framework of ‘ideology and official propaganda,’ as part of an effort by some people on the other side to revive the Cold War and affirm the reality of a unipolar world.


We know that in this same period Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was negotiating with the editors of Foreign Affairs to publish his response to the issues raised by the Tymoshenko piece. The negotiations were evidently protracted and were ultimately broken off, with the Russians ultimately publishing both what they said was the truncated version of the article proposed by the editors of FA (19 July release date) and the full ‘original’ version of the text submitted by Lavrov (August 15 release date.) These documents are today available in English on the Ministry website


The reasons the Russians gave for withdrawing the Lavrov article were the heavy editing imposed by the magazine, involving cuts of 40% of the original text. There was also a dispute over the subtitle under which it would appear. For his part, Foreign Affairs editor James Hogue later insisted that no ‘censorship’ was being practiced and that his staff had applied the same process of textual review as they did with all other authors. [“Russia: ‘Foreign Affairs’ Editor Says Lavrov’s Article Withdrawal a ‘Surprise,’” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 21 July 2007] He maintained that the edited version was ‘a very clear and forceful statement of Russian positions on a number of key issues.’ He further explained that Lavrov had not presented his article as a counterpoint to the Tymoshenko article on ‘Containing Russia’ and so no further rebuttal from the Russian side would be solicited.


Comparing the original version of the Lavrov essay with the version as edited for publication by Foreign Affairs, I find that the editors focused his text on the issue of containment and jettisoned not so much duplicative material as explanatory material. This deleted text placed current Russian foreign policy in the context of the country’s negative experiences with ideology in the 20th century and its aversion to America’s transformational policies today. The deleted passages mostly show Russia in a moderate and utterly reasonable state of mind, as a country seeking accommodation with the United States but coming up against containment policies. Some of the remarks introduced as substantiation of the basic arguments would have been offensive to American neoconservatives, such as mention of the US practice of deploying civilian defense contractors in Iraq amounting to 30% of total personnel who, according to Lavrov, ‘act beyond the limits of international humanitarian law.’ Yet the tone was more plaintive than condemnatory, whereas by its greater concentration and single-mindedness, the edited text could be construed as aggressive and provocative in tone.


I mention these details because they bear on what the same editors at Foreign Affairs allowed in the Tymoshenko article to which Lavrov was responding. In this context, when considering the magazine’s proposed cuts it is worth noting that the length of Lavrov’s original text was 10% greater than Tymoshenko’s, nine versus eight printed pages, while after editing it would have been one third shorter that what was accorded to the Ukrainian.


Let us now move on to examine the Tymoshenko article itself, beginning with the question of plagiarism. Wikipedia says that Tymoshenko was paraphrasing an article by Henry Kissinger. My own textual examination indicates that no more than 5-10% of the text was ‘borrowed’ from Kissinger. And the work in question was his 1994 book Diplomacy, specifically, pp. 814 – 818, in which the former U.S. Secretary of State looks at the post-Soviet Russian Federation as ‘heir to a remorseless imperial tradition.’ In this concluding chapter of his book, Kissinger was explaining what attitude the United States should adopt to the major actors on the world stage and was arguing for engaging with Russia but not allowing it to reassert its authority over its former empire.


It has to be said that inserting passages written by Kissinger in 1994 into an article dated 2007 meant violating the author’s right to change his mind on the subject at hand, which was very much the case. In 1994 Kissinger’s had been one of the decisive voices in Washington weighing in against bringing Russia into NATO at a critical juncture when the Clinton Administration was still giving that possibility some consideration. President Yeltsin had lifted his objections to Poland’s joining NATO and the question of whether Russia itself would be given the green light hung in the air. In 2007 Kissinger had swung around to defending Russia against the vilification it was undergoing in the mainstream American media.


The snippets of text coming from Kissinger were scattered across the entire Tymoshenko article. It is hard to understand what benefit they provided to Tymoshenko given that they were incorporated without attribution and so carried no more authority than the rest of the article. At best, the Kissinger lines are marginally better written than other text.


In fact, the real problems with the article signed ‘Tymoshenko’ go way beyond the issue of any plagiarized passages. Alarm bells should have gone off in the editorial offices over the quality of the language. What we have here is perfect American English which is clearly not a brushed up translation but an original creation of one or more American authors. Unlike her domestic opponent Viktor Yushchenko or the leader of Ukraine’s regional ally Georgia, Tymoshenko does not have an American spouse, so the text may indeed be said to have been written to order by ‘outside service providers.’


Still more to the point, the perspective on Russia reflected in the text is American rather than Ukrainian. It is hard to imagine that anyone over the age of 20 living in Eastern Europe or the Former Soviet Union could possibly think in the terms set out in the article. Nor is it reasonable that a major politician in Ukraine would, without prompting, dare to throw stones at Russia for its ‘corruption and inefficiency,’ for muzzling political opposition and silencing or taking over newspapers, television and radio stations, for cronyism and for emasculating Parliament, for imprisoning Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The catalogue of ills of Russian society is a litany straight out of American neoconservative literature.


I do not lay claim to any extraordinary capabilities in textual analysis. What I am saying must have been patently obvious to the professionals working in the editorial offices of Foreign Affairs. The question is why they allowed such a falsification of authorship to proceed, or to put it less kindly, on whose say-so did they rush to publish?


There is also a clear application of double standards in the editorial approach to the Tymoshenko article versus the Lavrov rebuttal. Whereas the proposed cuts to Lavrov’s text were said to tighten it up, the Tymoshenko text wanders all over the map. In fact, its very lack of rigor is what makes it such effective propaganda: mutually contradictory and exclusive allegations are made against the Russians in different parts of the same article. We are told at one point that Germany will depend on Russia for 80% of its imported gas versus 44% today when the Nord Stream pipeline promoted by Russia is completed. At another point we are told that Gazprom has been remiss in reinvesting its vast revenues in existing and new gas fields so that it cannot both supply its domestic needs and meet its export obligations, all of which threatens Western Europe with future gas shortages. In still another part of the text we learn that new Russian gas fields are in environmentally challenging locations with excessively high extraction and transmission costs making new Russian gas non-competitive with North African or Middle Eastern gas. Some but not all of these assertions may be true.


I do not mean to suggest that Mme Tymoshenko had nothing to do with writing the article published over her name. She made her vast fortune in the 1990s profiting from the distribution of Gazprom supplies in Ukraine and her personal contribution to the creation of this article may be seen in the section entitled ‘Pipeline Politics’ where she may be considered a leading specialist. She argues the case for the European Union to force Russian acceptance of its Energy Charter, in particular the breaking of the Gazprom monopoly on transit pipelines and their being opened up to competition. She presents this as an effective way to counter Russia’s leverage over its European gas customers, the source of its new geopolitical preeminence. The unstated objective would be to turn Russia from reseller of Central Asian gas into a mere transit state enjoying transit fees. From the Ukrainian perspective, this would be a dream come true, ensuring its long-term access to cheap gas and enhancing its strategic importance as the storage and distribution nexus of gas destined for Europe from the East. From the Russian perspective, such a solution would cut sharply into exports of its own, more expensive hydrocarbons and undo state controls over the country’s main strategic assets which pay a large part of the state budget in taxes. The result would be a much poorer Russia. As if this were not enough, in another part of the essay Tymoshenko is arguing that Central Asian gas should be brought to market bypassing Russia entirely.


It would be comforting to think that the strange involvement of the editors of the privately owned and managed magazine Foreign Affairs in serving propagandistic objectives of the U.S. Government via the Tymoshenko article was exceptional if not unique. It would also be nice to be assured that the enlistment by American political activists of senior foreign statesmen from the ‘young democracies’ of Central and Eastern Europe in campaigns to influence US public opinion and policy is a rare occurrence. However, at least with regard to the last-named, a recent outburst of accusations among American conservative political writers provides evidence to suggest that the problem persists. The case at hand is the widely reported Open Letter to the Administration of President Barack Obama published in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on July 16, 2009 and signed by Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and other well-known thinkers and former statesmen who were behind the liberation of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination in the late 1980s.


This appeal to the American President to ensure greater U.S. attention be given to the security of their region has a number of explicitly Russophobe points, including the insistence that Russia’s policy towards their countries is revisionist and threatening. Russia is said to be using overt and covert economic warfare in pursuit of its aims. Russia is alleged to be abusing its ‘monopoly’ or ‘cartel’ position as energy supplier and engaging in gas blockades for political purposes. American political support is requested to further the Nabucco pipeline and other measures to diversify European energy supplies away from Russia. The additional strengthening of NATO through prepositioning of forces and materiel in the East European region is called for, as well as the implementation of the long planned anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, all of which impinges directly on Russian strategic security.


The text of this Open Letter is much more coherent than the 2007 article signed by Tymoshenko. However, in various places it also reveals a perspective coming from outside the region. For no particular reason, one of the few documents it cites in support of the argumentation happens to be the Transatlantic Trends survey of the German Marshall Fund, a nominally bipartisan U.S. non-governmental organization which in recent years has been a platform for American hawkish liberals who are almost indistinguishable from card-carrying neoconservative policy-makers and commentators.


The context for the letter was, of course, Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow a couple of weeks earlier to pursue the ‘reset’ of relations and achieve a rapprochement on several issues of strategic importance to the United States, including reduction of strategic nuclear weapons and enforcement of the nonproliferation treaty with respect to Iran. The Russians made a major concession to American needs for improved logistics to support its campaign in Afghanistan by granting overflight rights. There was talk about what counter gestures the Americans might eventually make to appease the Russians on their strategic concerns, including the abandonment of the controversial anti-missile defense system so beloved by both American neoconservatives and their friends in Eastern Europe.


Writing in the The National Interest online, a publication of The Nixon Center, Washington, D.C., on 20 August 2009, senior editor Jacob Heilbrunn pointed to the German Marshall Fund (GMF) as responsible for the creation of the Open Letter [‘Yalta Redux’].. Heilbrunn’s source for this identification was German Vice Admiral Ulrich Weisser, a former director of the German Defense Ministry who writes occasional political commentaries in the monthly Atlantic Times.


Heilbrunn had an exchange of emails with the head of the Brussels office of the GMF, Ron Asmus in which Asmus attempted to finesse the affair, saying that the GMF was one remove from the Open Letter, which was written by a study group it financed acting on its own, and the GMF made no claims of responsibility. As Heilbrunn correctly observes, the essential issue is that the genesis of the letter was intentionally concealed so that mainstream media like The New York Times would carry it without alerting readers. The American public took it to be a cri de coeur of freedom fighters, when in reality it was concocted within a Western think tank well skilled in playing to the sensibilities of an American audience


A week later, The National Interest online published ‘Ron Asmus Responds to Heilbrunn’ in which the GMF director in Brussels made a lot of noise about how the meaning of the letter had been distorted but did not deny the central point: that the letter emerged from the workings of a study group financed by his organization.


© Gilbert Doctorow, 2009-2013

G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University. His latest book,  Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is scheduled for publication in April 2013. It will be available from Amazon in paperback and downloadable e-book edition.

One thought on “The Strange Case of Yulia Tymoshenko’s 2007 Article in Foreign Affairs

  1. Très bon billet, grand merci de partager ces idées, et je “plussoie” entièrement ce point de vue. Euh, oui votre billet est vraiment bon, le tout est très instructif. NB : D’habitude je ne réagis jamais sur les blogs,et ce même si leur contenu est excellent, mais là vous méritiez sincèrement mes compliments !


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