The Dutch referendum was surely the trigger for the removal of Arseny Yatsenyuk, to show a contemptuous Europe and the world that the Ukrainians are moving to consolidate power and to proceed with deep reforms. Unfortunately, the consolidation was not where the real power in the country lies.
Pointers on the timing and significance of Ukraine Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s resignation
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
The resignation speech yesterday of Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk has been given importance by Western media way beyond its merits. After all, he and President Poroshenko were both on the same side of the political equation even as they were engaged in arm wrestling for much of the last two years for greater influence and power. On the other side of the equation has been the Pravy Sektor and fellow radical nationalist forces of the war party.
To those who may bicker over details and object that notwithstanding his technocrat image as economic reformer Yatsenyuk himself has been a fervent nationalist backing the extreme policies directed against Russia, I respond with another conceptualization that strips things back to essentials: Yats and Roshen are two stiffs in knit suits, politicians both. On the other side are the guys carrying guns who were the force behind the Maidan and who are effectively controlling the front lines in Donbass and the border with Crimea. They represent the violence and threat of violence that remains unchanged by the departure of Yatsenyuk. And standing behind both are the Kolomoyskyis and other untamable oligarchs.
It is these forces behind the throne which have made it impossible for Poroshenko to put through the various legal and constitutional changes necessary to implement the political side of the Minsk-2 accords. Therefore, after Yatsenyuk’s departure Ukraine will remain at war, with no reforms of substance possible, nor any real crackdown on corruption thinkable. This means continued withholding of desperately needed IMF funding and continued distancing themselves from Ukraine by those leaders of Western Europe who are not ideologically committed to Russia-bashing.
The question is how long Ukraine can defy the laws of gravity before descending into chaos.
As for the timing of Yatsenyuk’s departure, which has been hanging in the air ever since Poroshenko provoked a vote of confidence to oust him in February, the answer lies in to the 6 April Dutch referendum, which made it essential to offer up a scapegoat and show that Ukrainians intend to get their house in order.
The Dutch referendum was important both for the consequences of the majority voting ‘no’ to ratification of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine and for the words of ‘support’ for Ukraine from European leaders who hoped to either vote down the naysayers or encourage absenteeism that would void the referendum for failing to meet quorum requirements.
Though much ink has been spilled by pundits since 6 April playing down the significance of the Dutch referendum given that 80% of the Association Agreement has already been implemented on a provisional basis, which can continue for years, a thorough legal analysis presented by the Centre for European Policy Studies, a leading Brussels think tank on 8 April made it clear that the referendum nonetheless does have significant consequences. See https://www.ceps.eu/publications/dutch-referendum-eu-ukraine-association-agreement-legal-options-navigating-tricky-and
The economic part of Agreement was within the competence of the European Commission and the Parliament. It has indeed been implemented and is not immediately affected by the Dutch referendum. However, in practice it has been a one-way agreement so far, only facilitating European exports to Ukraine while the counter flow, which fell by one-third in 2015, is subject to negotiations to avoid what would in effect be dumping prices of Ukrainian agricultural commodities on the European market with very destructive results if left unchecked.
Meanwhile, the political and military chapters of the Association Agreement, which require ratification by all 28 Member States of the EU, are effectively now dead letter. And it was precisely these little known texts calling for close coordination of defense and foreign policies between the EU and Ukraine that sent up red flags for Russia watchers. This would have been an ante-chamber to full NATO membership.
Moreover, while spokesmen for the European Commission and Parliament say that they intend to proceed with implementation of a visa-free regime for Ukraine, which is technically within their rights, it is hard to see how this can be done without pouring oil on the flames of discord within the Union. It was precisely the nightmare of Ukrainian economic refugees making their way to the streets of Amsterdam that fed the xenophobic movement of Geerd Wilders and his ‘No’ campaign in the referendum. Defiance of the Dutch vote now would play directly into the hands of the Brexit movement in the UK by proving the undemocratic, out-of-control nature of the EU Institutions.
At the same time, the Ukrainian leadership must have been even more unnerved by what its ‘friends’ were saying to counter the possible ‘No’ vote in Holland. Just days before the referendum, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters that Ukraine was not a candidate for EU membership and would likely not be ready for membership in the coming 20 – 30 years. In political life, that means ‘never.’ Similar words of contempt for Ukraine came from the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
In this sense, the Dutch referendum was surely the trigger for the removal of Yatsenyuk, to show Europe and the world, that the Ukrainians were trying to consolidate their power in order to proceed with deep reforms. Unfortunately, as I have indicated, the consolidation was not where the real power in the country lies.
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© Gilbert Doctorow, 2016
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Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to firstname.lastname@example.org