Analizing the Ukrainian Presidential election

(Analysis and Opinion) Naysayers aside, this was perhaps one of the most important and free elections in Ukraine in a long time. That is saying a lot against the backdrop of the pro-Russian separatists who kept polling stations closed in many parts of Eastern Ukraine.

We understand that there are those who believe the outcome to have been predetermined; the most oft-repeated mantra is that the US State Department arranged the result of this past weekend’s voting. This blog has never been a big fan of the US State Department, or of any US department for that matter, but we do have sufficient intelligence to see past the anti-Ukrainian fog generated in certain corners.

Generally those are the same propaganda driven folk who say that Russia has not meddled in Ukrainian affairs–an idea good for late night comedy but not very realistic.

election prez 2014 Poroshenko b2

The Moscow Times reports that the election for a new Ukrainian president generated a record turnout outside of Ukraine in places where Ukrainians were allowed to vote. Traditionally it has been possible for Ukrainian citizens to cast votes in places like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, just as in past Russian elections it was possible for Russian citizens to cast votes in designated Ukrainian cities, but turnout was very low this time. Ukrainian electoral commission staffers at the Moscow Embassy told reporters that the estimated number of Ukrainians voting in Moscow was under 700 persons pending a final count.

Meanwhile turnout was high in places like Toronto and Washington where lines of registered Ukrainian voters waited patiently for their turn to cast ballots.

(Voters in Ukraine. Photo: Ilya Varlamov)
(Voters in Ukraine. Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

In areas of Ukraine where pro-Russian armed bandits were prevented from disrupting the vote, lines were long but voters seemed eager to send a dual message to their own Parliament that they wanted a capable person to lead the country, but there was the unmistakable message sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin that they wanted him to get out and stay out of Ukraine.

(photo: Ilya Varlamov)
(photo: Ilya Varlamov)

Election winners:

The Ukrainian people now at least have the opportunity for a fresh start, an open door to put the days of Maidan violence behind and to set Ukraine on a path of their own choosing.

Chocolate king Petro Poroshenko appears to have won the election in the first round and that is a good thing for Ukraine as well. The ballot had 21 candidates, and many thought a runoff would be needed for any candidate push over the 50% limit needed to win outright.

election pres results

Election losers:

Vladimir Putin wasn’t on the ballot but he might as well have been. The clear sentiment in this election was anti-Russian, and very much anti-Putin, and we can only hope that over time these two countries with a shared history and culture can come to reconciliation. The Mendeleyev Journal remains committed to the idea that Ukraine and Russia should have close relations and we deplore the idea of NATO in Ukraine, for example.

The other loser was Yulia Timoshenko, the former Orange Revolution figure who at one time held great sway over many Ukrainian voters. We are glad that she has been released from prison as it was clearly a political decision to hold her behind bars. However, Yulia’s days as Ukraine’s shining light appear to be over, and voters have tired of politicians out to enrich themselves while pretending to serve the common Ukrainian struggling for a better life.

(photo: Ilya Varlamov)
(photo: Ilya Varlamov)

Side notes:

We were raked over the coals recently in the Conservative News Service for insisting the obvious: Ukraine is a country with a one-word name and there is no need to attach a “the” in front of the name. We’re going to continue to fight this battle because it is a matter of decency and respect. In 1993 the Ukrainian Parliament asked the world via the United Nations that the world respect the name of their country. They did not wish to be considered just a region of a greater Russian Empire, as “the Ukraine” implies. Instead they are a separate country, translated as borderland in Russian but more likely as homeland in Ukrainian, and not matter how it is translated, this is a country with a name, one name: Ukraine.

Diplomatically the world has honoured that 1993 request. Journalists as a whole however have been outright discourteous, and perhaps out of ignorance, but that is no excuse and we’re going to come after them for that ignorance. If they can understand the principle rule in journalism that a local populace has the right to determine how their name is pronounced, then why the slothfulness and ignorance in regards to Ukraine? Every reporter worth his/her salt knows the difference between Lima in Peru and Lima in Ohio, for example, so why is such ignorance and disrespect allowed to continue regarding Ukraine?

What Ukrainians hope for:

It seems that Ukrainians yearn for some semblance of Western style institutions of law and order, of fairness and non-tolerance of corruption. That is a difficult task when corruption has deep roots in your own country; a value shared by the bigger neighbor next door. Both Ukraine and Russia possess thin veneers of judicial fairness over massive layers of judicial incompetence and political corruption. It is difficult to clean up your own yard when you live in such a neighborhood.

The Mendeleyev Journal hopes that Ukrainians aren’t confusing the EU with prosperity and independence. That would be a very big mistake. The EU doesn’t need nor want another impoverished Bulgaria draining their resources so we can rest easy that EU membership won’t be on the table. However we don’t put it past the EU politicians to continue dangling that carrot to use Ukraine as a way to beat up on Russia. That would be cruel as Ukrainians deserve better.

Oh, but the reality:

The international bankers are going to win at least in the short and medium term. Were the world an intelligent place we’d line them all up for an old-style execution and be done with the bastards. That isn’t going to happen however and so Ukrainians will need to get used to austerity measures while the IMF and their minions rape and pillage for awhile.

We also believe that other than reliable trading partners, the USA needs to stay out of Ukraine’s decision making processes. There is no need for another Cold War and both the USA and Russia must be held accountable. The USA must understand that Ukraine is to Russia as Canada is to the USA and if Canada and her bigger neighbor can get along without outside influence, then Ukraine must be allowed to make the same kind of independent decisions.

We hope that over time Ukraine will find her footing and grow into a prosperous nation that honours her citizens with equal opportunity and adopts fair courts, free elections, and rids herself of corrupt politicians.

No one says it will be easy and for the newly elected Petro Poroshenko and the citizens of Ukraine, the hard work is just beginning. We wish you well.

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International Economic Forum: Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation

“Think of the benefits of working in Russia, don’t give in to pressure and blackmail, and we will help you.” Those were among the opening thoughts of Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at the 18th meeting of the International Economic Forum which opened Thursday in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s northern capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's opening speech to the International Economic Forum.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opening speech to the International Economic Forum.

With events in Ukraine and active lobbying by the West, this year’s theme is Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation and speakers lost no time in blaming the West with Mr. Putin leading the charge. Ladies and gentlemen, this is an economic forum but there is no avoiding a few words on politics. Politics influences economic processes, and in this respect I note that inability to find compromises, unwillingness to take into account partners’ lawful interests, and blunt use of pressure only add to chaos and instability and create new risks for the international community’s continued development.

What’s wrong with Mr. Putin’s logic is that he’s right.

There are those who feel that Russia has nowhere to turn but Russia is a Eurasian country, and as Mr. Putin says,  “it is natural to be highly interested in the Asia-Pacific region. It is both a huge market and an important source of growth for Russia’s Far East and Eastern Siberia.”

opening speech to the International Economic Forum.
President Putin speaking to the International Economic Forum.

However right now Russia is feeling pinched and while some 6,500 world business leaders made the trip, RT reported that attendance is sharply down and about 55% of those in attendance are from Russia. In the USA the Obama administration lobbied hard and many American companies who usually make the trip decided to stay home this year. Many German CEOs stayed home as well.

Not everyone present was a cheerleader for Mr. Putin however, including well known Russian executives. Bernard Sucher of the Russian investment bank, Anto, said that “Russia has decided to pursue a third way, which I consider an illusion. It is a fortress mentality that believes in a largely self-sufficient Russia that believes in its own path….” Sucher told the NY Times that the believed this path to be dangerous.

Round table discussions have not always been agreeable.
Round table discussions have not always been unanimous.

Ben van Beurden, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Dutch Shell told delegates to measure results by decades and not by what happens just in a year. Royal Dutch Shell is a major producer of natural gas.

Vladimir Putin also met with heads of major Russian and foreign companies and business associations at the CEO Global Summit, which is part of the St Petersburg Forum.

Over 1,700 journalists arrived for the forum and President Putin arranged for a speech by Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. The addition of the Chinese official gave many of the delegates the impression that Russia is sending a clear signal that Russian-Sino integration is moving forward quickly.

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Events in Ukraine forces Russia to turn East but can Russia and China agree on a price for gas?

The biggest question yesterday was whether negotiators for Russia and China could reach a deal on the price of gas. We expected the price issue to be settled before Mr. Putin returned to Moscow but at the end of the day they had not yet come to terms. These two countries have inched closer over the past years but not without lingering memories of broken agreements by both sides in the past.

It wasn’t that long ago when then-President Medvedev visited China by train, but as part of a visit to several Asian countries Mr. Putin’s delegation arrived by air in Shanghai where Mr. Putin told Chinese journalists that “Russia firmly places China at the top of its foreign trade partners.”

President Putin's arrival in Shanghai.
President Putin’s arrival in Shanghai.

Russia and China have forged a close partnership over the past decade but this was Mr. Putin’s first visit to China since President Xi Jinping took office.

The visit came as China hosted a summit of Asian states representing almost 40 countries including the leaders of Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Cambodia. President Putin met with several Asian leaders including President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai during the summit.

Russian and Chinese delegations were introduced during opening ceremonies.
Russian and Chinese delegations were introduced during opening ceremonies.

During the meetings Mr. Putin said, “It would be no exaggeration if I said that the co-operation between our two countries is at its highest level in history.”

Ceremonies for President Putin's arrival in China.
Ceremonies for President Putin’s arrival in China.

Chinese President China Xi Jinping was expected to announce a gas deal between the two countries whereby Russia’s state-owned Gazprom would supply China’s National Petroleum Corporation with natural gas. The delegations worked on a plan that could last over the next 30 years.

Chinese-Russian trade meetings were restricted to delegation members only.
Chinese-Russian trade meetings were restricted to delegation members and staff only.

Although the two-day visit was filled with meetings for President Putin, a delegation of Russia’s best energy experts accompanied the President for the trip to Shanghai.

The China trip also gave Mr. Putin the opportunity to sit down separately with with former President of China Jiang Zemin and with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

At the outset of their meeting Secretary-General Ki-moon expressed his condolences on the train collision which injured at least 45 passengers and killed 6 persons at last report. The accident happened near Naro-Fominsk, southwest of Moscow when a freight train crashed into a passenger train. Mr. Putin has been in communication with Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry regarding the accident.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the Asian security summit where at the conclusion Chinese President Xi is expected to make announcements on Asian security.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Putin inspect Chinese Naval forces.
Presidents Xi Jinping and Putin inspect Chinese Naval forces.

The two countries are conducting joint Naval maneuvers and Russian forces began arriving in Shanghai on May 18 for the exercises scheduled from May 20-26 in the East China Sea.

In a statement the Russian Defense Ministry said that a total of 12 vessels are participating. The Russian Navy is represented by the Varyag missile cruiser, the Admiral Panteleyev large anti-submarine ship, the Bystry destroyer, the Admiral Nevelsky large amphibious ship, the Ilim mid-size sea tanker and Kalar sea tug. China is represented by three destroyers, two patrol ships and a comprehensive supply ship for the exercises. The Defense Ministry indicated that Su-30MK2 aircraft and Ka-27 helicopters will also be participate in drills to locate and identify targets, perform air defense operations and naval target practice.

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Sunday photo of the day: Konevets, Russia

Photographer Natalya Davydova captured this beauty in Коневец (Konevets). Many village churches remain closed but thankfully more and more are being repaired from decades of Soviet neglect and restored.

Konevets Natalya Davydova a

Konevets is a small community on an island on the southwestern shore of Lake Ladoga in the Leningrad Oblast (St. Petersburg region). It is nice when churches such as this one are given new life to serve their communities.

 

What will happen next in Ukraine

New Russia (Ново россия ) is the term being used by Russians in Ukraine who want to return to the glory Soviet days. For the those bent on restoring an empire this is just the same old song, verse two.

Donetsk referrendum d

To understand the likely outcome and how this will realign the map in Eastern Europe, one simply needs to look at the map after the war with Georgia.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia have forever been separated from Georgia and neutralized. Georgia was punished for its anti-Russian positions with a map adjustment and had either region been as important as Crimea, Russia would have annexed them. They didn’t because they didn’t need to. South Ossetia and Abkhazia will remain mired in poverty and corruption for generations but as long as they remain obedient and dependent upon Russia, without a lot of the expense that goes with annexing a territory, they’ll manage to exist for a long time. You just wouldn’t want to live there in the meantime.

Georgia map-775605
Georgia was also a test of USA and NATO reaction. Mr. Putin learned what he needed to know.

The next real prize, and Mr. Putin will indeed take it into the Russian fold, is Odessa. From the government’s perspective, Donetsk is largely a bunch of ill-educated coal miners, a duplicate of Shakhty and similar areas, and fortunately for the locals their natural resources will allow them a larger economic pie than Abkhazia. Unless Mr. Putin decides that a land bridge is necessary, he’s only too happy to remove them from Kyiv’s grip while assigning them to near the same fate as the two former Georgian provinces. If he wants a land bridge he’ll need to dislodge Zaporozhye and Dnepropetrovsk from Kyiv. That will now prove to be easy, not necessarily because the population wills it to be, but because the pro-Russian thug movement protecting Russian passport holders has proved to be very effective and amazingly cost efficient.

Odessa and Nikolayev represent quite another matter. First there is a strong desire to deny Kyiv its last hope of a piece of the Black Sea. Then there is the history of Odessa and although it was taken by conquest, most Russians feel like it has belonged to Russia forever even though it hasn’t. Odessa was an important Soviet port and had special status as does Sevastopol and Nikolayev has been an important shipbuilding centre.

odessa map b

Mr. Putin will talk a good game but in truth while he may be able to resist Donetsk, he won’t be able to resist the urge to grab Odessa (and Nikolayev). From his perspective it is too vital a port to allow falling into Western hands. Mr. Putin will likely make Odessa into a federal city (a city-state) joining Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Sevastopol as the showcase opportunities for another federal city on the Black Sea will be just too tempting to pass.

The third wave will be to punish Moldova. The message resonating loudly from Moscow is that if you’re a former Soviet member then you’d better remember who is in charge of the region. Armenia got the message and has reluctantly joined the Customs Union and Uzbekistan is sitting up and taking notice. They’ll join probably sooner than later.

Moldova is working on the three year implementation plan for the EU but the EU neither wants or needs another badly impoverished Bulgaria and won’t lift a finger when Mr. Putin decides that Moldova needs to be taught a lesson. Still a member of the CIS, it shouldn’t be that difficult for Moscow to convince Moldova’s populace to turn Eastward but it not as large a priority as the southern regions of Ukraine at this moment.

moldova map_transnistria

Transnistria will be the new Donetsk at some point in the near future. Bordered by Ukraine and Romania, Moldova would represent another Kaliningrad, a land enclave separated from the rest of Russia. It is unlikely that the Russians are interested in annexing Transnistria into the RF proper but with a 5 to 6% ethnic Russian minority it is enough for Moscow to be “concerned about protecting citizens there,” especially as Moldova would be an addition to the Customs Union and a buffer to NATO in Romania.

Gagauzia, a small-medium sized town of 185,000 population in southern region of Moldova voted in a referendum in favour of the Russian-led Customs Union. Again, many of the town’s population boycotted the referendum but the Orthodox minority showed up in droves.

A top aide to Mr. Putin, Dmitry Rogozin, was in Moldova’s breakaway province of Transnistria over the Victory Day weekend. In his speech he criticized Moldova’s government for looking to the European Union and was detained at the border while attempting to carry petitions calling for Russian intervention back to Moscow. Mr. Rogozin had harsh words for Romanian authorities saying if they denied him passage to Transnistria again his next visit would be flying over Romanian airspace in a Russia bomber.

There is a second message resonating from Moscow and that is for independent minded republics within the Federation. Despite overwhelming referendums Moscow has gone to war twice decisively against Chechnya. The freedom of choice option exists only for those outside the RF, not for those within. You can bet that the message is heard loud and clear in places like Dagestan, Chechnya and previously growing independence movements in places like Tatarstan.

In conclusion, the administration in Washington has misplayed this at every step. Totally inept is the only generous way to describe it. The sanctions strategy has largely focused on certain Russian Oligarchs with the idea that harming them will cause them to turn on Mr. Putin. That has played right into Mr. Putin’s book however.

The shadowy Oligarchs who put Mr. Putin in power, and kept him there, have been increasingly sidestepped by Mr. Putin himself since the last election. In August 2011 every betting man who understood Russia was beginning to understand that the Oligarch interest was in continuing on the modernization path. Oligarchs are capitalist overachievers at heart and out for their own interests. At the same time their man in power was showing more concern for reviving the Empire than in just making money.

It was a surprise to most of those Oligarchs, as it was to Dmitry Medvedev who was summoned on mid-August afternoon to join Vladimir Putin who was on a Volga river fishing trip in southern Russia, that Mr. Putin had decided to return to the presidency. Mr. Putin had the option as part of the deal but there were increasing moves behind the scenes to extend the Medvedev presidency for another term.

Mr. Putin has slowly been moving to marginalize the Oligarchs who’ve had a hold on Kremlin politics and he’s been very successful at the widening of that chasm. It was very telling in a meeting of the Security Council a month or so back when Mr. Putin detailed a list of the Western sanctions and then quipped, “We’ll have to distance ourselves from those guys (Oligarchs).”

That brought a round of laughter, and for a reason–the sanctions help Mr. Putin rather than hurt him.

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Donetsk Referendum

The Donetsk Referendum is now history and visible turn out seemed higher than the vote in Crimea with supporters claiming nearly 69% of local voters participating. That number was immediately spun higher as the professional spin masters took over. Even independent Russian polls indicate that most Ukrainians, somewhere in the 75-80% range, want the borders to remain unchanged.

Donetsk referrendum b

The voting process was lenient and that prompted charges from the other side about multiple voting, caravan voting, etc. When you allow anyone to vote without documents and there is no way to check as to whether a person has voted at another polling station, the holders of referendums left themselves open to such charges but frankly a clean election was not a concern here.

Donetsk referrendum

Multiple eyewitness reports say that boxes of pre-checked ballots were imported; frankly that  that is a fairly common practice in this part of the world and one reason why few elections are truly honest. Whether it was clean or even legal really doesn’t matter as the feat is accomplished and any attempt to reverse the decision will have to gain permission of a larger neighbor.

Donetsk referrendum ballot
Call it “New Russia” [b]Ново Россия[/b] because that is what the Referendum holders have dubbed the region:

Donetsk referrendum d

One might do well to also remember that while Russians living in this region are well-represented, they’re not a majority so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to suspect that the election was rigged. May locals came but many also stayed away for safety reasons.

Ukrainian Presidential elections are scheduled for 25 May but it is doubtful that Ukrainian citizens in this region will be allowed to participate.