Alexander Mercouris Talks Ukraine on RT

Do the opposition leaders retain control over the Maidan? Would it be wise for Yanukovych to finally crack down? What are Western leaders trying to accomplish by meeting the opposition leaders in Munich?

  • akarlin

    Couple of comments I want to add that will hopefully help kick off a discussion:

    1. The Army

    There’s a point that’s rarely mentioned but that I think might be quite important.

    a) Western Ukraine has a fertility rate of ~1.9-2.0, whereas the rest of Ukraine’s is only about 1.3-1.4. *nods to AP* Though these values have changed, the differential has been constant for the past 20 years.

    b) I would imagine that draft-dodging is less prevalent in the West because it is poorer, more socially cohesive, and more patriotic.

    This would imply that the share of West Ukrainians in the Army is well above their share of Ukraine’s population, which in turn gives credence to the idea, popular among the opposition, that the rank and file will be unwilling to obey Yanukovych.

    Of course the generals are another matter and as Alexander points out they seem to have drifted towards moderately supporting Yanukovych, in contrast to their statements of neutrality a few days ago. I suppose the likeliest scenario in the event that the Army is used is that some units obey, while others – especially those manned by West Ukrainians – will not.

    2. Opinion Polls

    Some (non)news that will please, well, probably nobody. Neither the opposition, not Yanukovcy/anti-Maidan people who were hoping the violence and his perceived restraint could have raised his profile.

    AFAK, this is the first political poll that’s come out of Ukraine this year. Support for Yanukovych in the first round is 28.9% (canceling out the apathetic and undecideds).

    How does this compare to the last poll results, carried out in December 26 – that is, before the upsurge in violence? Exactly the same. Then, it was also 28.9%.

    Simply remarkable. Here you have probably the second or third most tumultuous month in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, and Yanukovych’s ratings don’t budge an inch. I posit that its a combination of (1) this being mostly an ethnic/cultural based thing that preempts any truly big swings, and (2) Yanukovych’s incompetence, and the thuggery and possibly murders carried out by the titushki, are being canceled out by images of far right banners and policemen on fire from Molotov cocktails.

    That said, there have been some interesting shifts in the power balance among the opposition. Klitschko has now almost leveled with Yanukovych, while Poroshenko has taken Yatsenyuk’s second place. Tyagnibok meanwhile is fast sliding into irrelevance.

    At the party level, the Party of Regions has marginally improved its position, but this improvement is within the margin of error.

    • AP

      Yanukovich has recently changed the head of the army, presumably to find someone more compliant. I think that if the army is used (hopefully, doubtful), it will have to be Crimean or Donbas units sent to Kiev. It is unthinkable that western Ukrainian or central Ukrainian troops would be fighting for Yanukovich. I strongly suspect Anatoly is right in that western Ukrainians are over-represented in the army. Still, it’s a big country and there are plenty of eastern and southern Ukrainian soldiers for Yanukovich to use. The question is if western and central Ukrainian troops troops, stationed away from the action, would stand by or if they would mutiny/fight the ones shooting in Kiev.

      If the polls are the same as last month, this indicates Yanukovich easily losing elections in the second round. An excuse to turn Ukraine into a parliamentary republic, since the parliament is controlled by his party (despite losing the popular vote, of course) and next scheduled elections are years away?

    • AP

      I’ve just read the first poll. It shows a very comfortable lead for “Orange” candidates, collectively, and somewhat of a consolidation around Klitschko. Yanukovich + Symonenko (the two Blue leaders) have a total of 35.3% support among likely voters, compared to 57.7% support for the combined Orange candidates. Note that Tiahnybok is by far the least popular of the Orange candidates – so some of the talk about the Orange part of Ukraine being Banderists or fascists is a real exaggeration.

      In terms of party ratings, if parliamentary elections on a purely proportional system were held, it would be a strong victory for the Orange parties. The Party of Regions plus Communists would have less than 40% of the parliament. And Svoboda has gone down from 10% to 6.7%.

      Such results are consistent with support for the EU vs. the Customs Union – EU wins, 57.6% to 42.4%.

      Little wonder why Yanukovich doesn’t want early elections and the Opposition does.

  • akarlin

    Just found a second January poll, via Mark Sleboda’s Facebook profile. While the one above addressed Yanukovych’s electoral ratings, this one addresses attitudes to Euromaidan.

    http://rb.com.ua/rus/projects/omnibus/8907/

    Here few things have changed either. 44% support Euromaidan, 51% against (this was 45% vs 50% in December). 32% support the takeover of regional centers, 60% against.

    • AP

      This part seems relevant:

      Максимальный уровень поддержки Евромайдана отмечается в областных центрах на Западе Украины (86%), тогда как 81% жителей областных центров Восточной Украины не поддерживают Евромайдан.

      It doesn’t list attitudes in the center. However, since the country is split somewhat in half, the center is probably around the upper fifties. So, in general, it is supported in areas where it occurs but opposed in areas where it does not occur.

      It looks like the opposition leaders are closer to the Ukrainian people than are the radical protesters, who have seized a bunch of buildings. For general electoral purposes, it may be wise of them to distance themselves from the radicals. It seems that they have done so, because recent polls show them with a comfortable lead over the ruling party.

      The discrepancy in the polls between opposition to building seizures and (to a lesser extent) opposition to Euromaidan on the one hand, and support for the opposition parties on the other, is interesting. Any ideas? One can speculate that this may represent blaming Yanukovich for the unrest.

      • akarlin

        It doesn’t list attitudes in the center. However, since the country is split somewhat in half, the center is probably around the upper fifties. So, in general, it is supported in areas where it occurs but opposed in areas where it does not occur.

        I agree.

        Any ideas? One can speculate that this may represent blaming Yanukovich for the unrest.

        Surely this has something to do with many in the East seeing Yanukovych as a crude and venal man, even though they might otherwise be agnostic or antagonistic towards the Euromaidan?

        Another thing to bear in mind is that AFAIK, Ukraine is now in recession – GDP was going down by 1% y/y last time I checked. Now in Russia, there is a very strong correlation between Presidential approval ratings and the state of the economy – a pattern that has held firm since the late 1980’s when data first began to be gathered on approval ratings/economic confidence. (This is also very true in the US).

        If East Ukrainians behave anything like Russians and Americans in this respect, which I think they do, then here we’d have another reason why nobody is enthusiastic about Yanukovych in the east.

        If anything, I suspect economic performance >> venality/corruption/incompetence/etc, so far as electoral prospects/approval are concerned. So long as the government gets the economy up and makes the peasants happy, they’ll start to support him again no matter how much his Family steals in the meantime.

  • As I am going out this evening I will deal briefly with the question of the military. More discussion of opinion polls tomorrow.

    The first thing to say is that the Defence Minister today provided further clarification of the military’s position. He said that the army would not become UNLESS there is a state of emergency or martial law. That is tantamount to saying that the army WILL become involved if there is a state of emergency or martial law.

    Turning to the question of the army itself, it is important to understand that the nature of an army is that it obeys orders. If the army’s officers are given orders that they consider legitimate they will act on them and history shows that in such situations soldiers do what their officers tell them except in very exceptional circumstances. Thus the army in Greece carried out a coup in 1967 (I observed it) which was hugely unpopular with most of the population including the army’s rank and file who as in the Ukraine today are conscripts. However there were no mutinies because the officers accepted the legitimacy of the orders they were given because they believed they had the approval of the Head of State (the King). In 1981 the Polish army similarly enforced martial law even though it too was a conscript army and even though the government in Poland, which ordered it act was far less popular than the Solidarity union that martial law was aimed against or than Yanukovitch’s government in the Ukraine is now and even though it too was essentially a conscript army. Lastly in 1991 the coup against Gorbachev failed not because the soldiers rebelled against their officers but because members of the military high command questioned the legitimacy of the orders they were given.

    There is no sign of the sort of disaffection in the Ukrainian army that would suggest that it would not carry out the orders it was given. In fact all the evidence that the military is fully under discipline and

    Having said this, I should say that we are discussing a scenario that is very unlikely to happen and for which I see no need. In my opinion the police and the Interior Ministry troops are more than adequate to deal with this situation – as incidentally they proved to be in Poland in 1981. If the army has to be deployed at all it would be purely in the form of heavy armour to break the barricades around Maidan Square. Tanks are very effective in dealing with barricades. All it would take would be 5-10 tanks supported by 2-3,000 Interior Ministry troops and riot police supported by water cannon and the barricades around Maidan Square would be quickly brushed aside and the square would be stormed within a few hours. That by the way is how tanks were used in Poland in 1981 during martial law when a small number of tanks (firing blank rounds for effect) were used to break barricades in Gdansk. Having said that I am not saying tanks will be used in this way in Kiev. My guess is that the army will not be called on at all because there is no need to do so as the police and Interior Ministry troops are already fully adequate for the job.

    Incidentally we should avoid comparisons with Beijing in 1989. The reason the army had to be deployed in that case was because China did not at that time have a properly trained riot police and Interior Ministry force such as the Ukraine has (it does now).

    • AP

      Interesting and informative as always.

      I am not that familiar with the situation in Greece. However, there are differences between Poland in 1981 and Ukraine today. In 1981 Poland was politically monolithic and part of the Warsaw Pact; army mutiny would have meant certain intervention and Polish defeat. In contrast, Ukraine has a strong political opposition. Various Ukrainian regional (oblast) governments have officially recognized the opposition government; some have even declared that the ruling party is banned on their territory. The military is thus not simply some cog in a well-oiled well-integrated machine.

      With respect to the military itself, I suspect the loyalty to the government may not be very deep. The recent declaration was made by a newly appointed chief; the previous one had declared that the army would not be involved. The head of the Union of Officers has already expressed his support for the Euromaidan (and indeed his car was just torched):

      http://rus.newsru.ua/ukraine/31jan2014/lupakov.html

      Anecdotally, I have heard that many of the higher officers are loathed by the troops, who have to help build their dachas or whatever.

      My impression is that Yanukovich appointees may make declarations and issue orders but the military’s behavior is not so predictable.

      • Dear AP,

        Thank you again for a good reply.

        The comparison with Poland in 1981 is instructive. There are points here where we agree and where we differ.

        Firstly, where we differ. The Polish government was faced with a far greater and more sustained challenge from the Polish opposition in 1981 than the one Yanukovitch faces now. In 1981 the Polish opposition was united in a single organisation – the Solidarity union – which claimed 10 million members, was strong across the whole country and which had repeatedly shown that it could do the one the Ukrainian opposition has consistently failed to do, which is bring out the country’s working population in a general strike. Indeed the opposition to the Polish government was so widespread, so well organised and so strong that the overwhelming majority of international observers (including by the way myself) assumed it would be unable to defeat it without Soviet intervention. In the event to everyone’s collective astonishment the government was able to smash the opposition and break Solidarity within just a few days.

        On a separate issue however we agree. The Polish military in 1981 was a highly disciplined and formidably efficient force whose officers were deeply attached to the person of General Jaruzelski who before he became Prime Minister had for many years been the country’s Defence Minister. I am in no position to make direct comparisons between the Polish army of 1981 and the Ukrainian army of today but I would be astonished if today’s Ukrainian army came anywhere close to the efficiency and discipline of the Polish army in 1981. I say this not least because I have heard anecdotally (but credibly) that the Polish army of today is also only a shadow of the force it was in 1981.

        Having said this I come back again to my original point: save in exceptional circumstances armies obey orders. To take another example in December 1993 the Russian army obeyed Yeltsin’s order to capture the parliament despite the well recorded misgivings of the high command, the opposition of most of the army’s officers, the unhappiness of much of the rank and file and the general widespread sense of demoralisation and weakening of discipline the army experienced following the dissolution of the USSR. It is difficult and perhaps invidious to make comparisons but my guess is that the total number of protesters in Kiev is not actually much greater (if it is greater at all) than the number of protesters in Moscow in December 1993. When the army acted it was all over within a day and the same would surely be true in Kiev if the army acted in the same way there. Obviously if the army was faced by a sustained counter insurgency operation in the country’s western regions it might be a different matter but experience shows that officers and soldiers tend to carry out their orders even in such difficult situations and my opinion anyway is that if the centre of opposition in Kiev were snuffed out the regions would quickly fall into line as happened in China following the suppression on the Tiananmen protests in 1989.

        Having said this, I do not believe it is going to happen for the reasons that I said. Even if Yanukovitch decides to go down the route of a state of emergency or of martial law – something he has shown no sign of intending to do – I see no need for him to call the army if only because the police and the Interior Ministry troops who are trained to deal with these situations and whose loyalty has never faltered are in my opinion fully capable of handling the situation.

        • AP

          My best friend is a Pole, from an established Soviet-era political family, and family friend of Kwasniewski (and my wife, whom I met at the same time at university, is Russian, daughter from a similar family in the USSR – and I am accused of being a Banderist by some!). The Soviet-era Polish establishment was actually patriotic and personally sympathized strongly with Solidarity. However, they felt that if Solidarity were to win, a Soviet invasion would follow and that the result of this invasion would be far more bloody, with potentially 10,000s if not 100,000s dead and ultimately result in a far more repressive government for Poles. According to this POV, Jaruzelski was later judged unfairly. He had to do what was necessary for Poland’s greater good. One could follow his orders and still be a “good Pole.”

          I think your analogy with Yeltsin is much better. However even here there a few key differences. Ukraine’s opposition has taken control of several oblast centers where it enjoys mass support. It also enjoys mass support in Kiev. In contrast, I’m not sure if Moscow gave mass support to the communist and nationalist rebels opposed to Yeltsin. Another difference is a possible “national” one. Yanukovich, himself not an ethnic Ukrainian and not from Kiev, can be portrayed as a foreigner in a way that Yeltsin could not be. Would a Ukrainian soldier from Kiev or Lviv fire on Ukrainian protesters in Kiev in support of a Russian-Belarussian president from Donetsk? Would Ukrainian soldiers from Kiev or Lviv stand idly by on a base outside of Kiev while Kievan protesters are being assaulted by the military?

          I am not predicted, in the unlikely event the army is called in, that the troops would mutiny. I am, however, saying that there is a high risk of mutiny; a high enough risk that would make calling the army in a bad idea.

  • Turning now to the opinion poll, there are several things to say:

    1. The opinion poll was taken over a period following the passing of the anti protest laws on 16th January 2014 and during the burst of violence on Hrushchevsky Street that began on 19th January 2014 and whilst the storming of the provincial municipal and gubernational buildings was underway. Yanukovitch’s utter failure to handle these protests effectively ought to have seen a collapse in his authority and popularity. That it has not done so and that he remains the Ukraine’s single most popular politician is quite remarkable and shows how solid his support base is.

    2. It may be helpful here to compare Yanukovitch’s ratings with those he was achieving in the period before he became President from 2004 to September 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_presidential_election,_2010#Progressive_opinion_polls_table

    It becomes clear that Yanukovitch at 28.9% is actually polling at the top end of his historic range, which tends (except at elections!) to be between 20% and 30%. Note that before September 2008 Tymoshenko was actually able occasionally to overtake Yanukovitch, something which no opposition politician – not even Klitschko – has since 2010 so far managed to do. Note also that for most of the period 2004 to September 2008 and right up to the 2010 election itself the combined “Orange” vote appeared to be greater than the “Blue” vote leading to predictions that Tymoshenko would eventually win in the second round.

    In the event Yanukovitch of course won. He did not get 50% of the vote and his margin of victory over Tymoshenko at 3.5% was small but it was nonetheless clear. If the election does take place in 2015 Yanukovitch goes into it as the incumbent President with his core support solid and higher than it was for most of the period prior to his election victory in 2010. This does not mean he is going to win but there is no evidence here of a collapse or meltdown such as Yushchenko suffered before 2010 or an eclipse such as Tymoshenko has suffered since.

    3. One of the reasons Yanukovitch won is of course that he consistently polls in actual elections above his poll ratings. This may be because of a bias in sampling though I doubt it. I think a far more likely explanation is that as a machine politician and a creature of the oligarchs Yanukovitch commands little affection even amongst those who habitually vote for him. The result is that between elections many people refuse to say they will vote for him but when actual elections come round they end up doing so not because they like him but because they prefer him to the politicians who oppose him. This view is supported by anecdotal accounts from western journalists who report little affection for Yanukovitch in the south and east but strong hostility in that region to the EuroMaidan movement. This of course is what the opinion polls also show with opposition to EuroMaidan polling consistently higher than support for Yanukovitch.

    4. The other reason why Yanukovitch won is of course that the opposition in 2010 was not united. Here again I must ask AP to guard against the assumption he continuously makes that all the first round votes for all the opposition candidates will combine together in the second round making Yanukovitch’s defeat a mathematical certainty. Politics very rarely works that way. It might happen, it did in the Christmas Day election in 2004, but it didn’t happen in 2010 and it is far from certain that it will happen again in the future.

    I have already discussed elsewhere on Kremlin Stooge why it might not be a foregone conclusion that every vote cast for Tyagnibok would go to Klitschko given that Klitschko is far more moderate on such questions as relations with Russia than some of Tyagnibok’s supporters might find acceptable. More pertinently, since there is some question about whether Klitschko would be eligible to stand in an election at all, it is far from a given that all of Klitschko’s support would transfer to Yatsenyuk or Poroshenko.

    The most important thing about the latest opinion poll apart from showing the steadiness of Yanukovitch’s support is that it also shows support for Klitschko growing whilst Yatsenyuk has fallen into third place behind Poroshenko. That suggests that AP is right and that it is Klitschko – the most politically moderate of the opposition leaders and the only one who seems to have made a real effort to restrain the violence – who most accurately reflects public opinion.

    If so then it does not necessarily follow that all the people who are currently prepared to vote for Klitschko supporters would necessarily vote for Yatsenyuk if they came to think of Yatsenyuk as a radical. Some might abstain but I can without too much trouble imagine some of them in that case voting for Yanukovitch instead of Yatsenyuk. This latest poll anyway confirms something that was already in evidence in 2010, which is that the more people see of Yatsenyuk the less they like him.

    I would add that if Yanukovitch’s opponent in the election turns out to be not Klitschko or Yatsenyuk but the ghastly Poroshenko (the so called “chocolate King” and Tymoshenko’s sworn enemy) then I seriously expect Yanukovitch to win. However I do not expect that to happen.

    5. Does all this mean that Yanukovitch is certain to win the Presidential election if and when it comes about? Of course not and nor does he deserve to. However the opposition’s recent focus on reviving the 2004 constitution (originally conceived by none other than Kuchma to confound Yushchenko) suggests either that the opposition is by no means as confident of winning the Presidential election as AP thinks (for which as I hope I have shown here there is good reason) or because they do not trust each other with a strong executive Presidency of they do. I suspect it is a bit of both.

    • AP

      “It becomes clear that Yanukovitch at 28.9% is actually polling at the top end of his historic range, which tends (except at elections!) to be between 20% and 30%. Note that before September 2008 Tymoshenko was actually able occasionally to overtake Yanukovitch, something which no opposition politician – not even Klitschko – has since 2010 so far managed to do.

      Two points:

      1. The 28.9% for Yanukovich is only if you exclude the people who state they weren’t sure whom to vote for, or declared that they wouldn’t vote. It is likely voters, not all voters. Among everyone polled, Yanukovich’s support is only 19.8%. This 19.8%, not the 28.9%, is what can be compared to the polls you linked to where he polled between 20% and 30%. So Yanukovich is actually polling a lot lower now than he had been polling prior to the last election.

      2. The reason the Orange frontrunner hasn’t overtaken Yanukovich is simply because there are more Orange candidates and thus the Orange part of the pie is divided into smaller slices. For example, from your wikipedia link, June 2009 Research and Branding group gave the following results: Yanukovich 26.8%, Tymoshenko 16.8%, Yatseniuk 12.3%, Lytvyn (Yanukovich ally) 3.9%, Yushchenko 2.1%, and Communists 3.5%. So – Blue had 34.2% and Orange had 31.2%. In November 2009 the poll results were Yanukovich 32.4%, Tymoshenko 16.3%, Tyhypko (Yanukovich ally) 4.4%, Yatseniuk 6.1%, Lytvyn 4.5%, Yushchenko 3.5% and the Communists 3.8%. So here we have Blue 45.1% and Orange only 25.9%. If you want to subtract Lytvyn and Tyhypko from the mix it’s still 35.2% Blue vs. 25.9% Orange.

      Compare this to Research and Branding from this month: Yanukovich 19.8%, Klitschko 19.1%, Poroshenko 10.5%, Yatseniuk 6.3%, Symonenko (Communist) 4.5%, Tiahnybok 3.6%, Medvedchuk (pro-Yanukovich) .6%. So we have 39.5% Orange vs. only 24.9% Yanukovich. So, Yanukovich is doing worse now than Tymoshenko had been doing in late 2009.

      “One of the reasons Yanukovitch won is of course that he consistently polls in actual elections above his poll ratings.

      This is true of everybody. Polls weren’t giving Tymoshenko (or all Orange combined) 45%.

      I remember at that time, I was the only one whom Karlin asked, who correctly predicted that Yanukovich would win but would win by less than 5%.

      “The other reason why Yanukovitch won is of course that the opposition in 2010 was not united. Here again I must ask AP to guard against the assumption he continuously makes that all the first round votes for all the opposition candidates will combine together in the second round making Yanukovitch’s defeat a mathematical certainty.

      Other polls ask about potential second rounds. One on one, Klitschko beats Yanukovich by about 10%. Yatseniuk and Tymoshenko would also each beat Yanukovich, but by a smaller margin. Tiahnybok would lose to Yanukovich.

      “However the opposition’s recent focus on reviving the 2004 constitution (originally conceived by none other than Kuchma to confound Yushchenko) suggests either that the opposition is by no means as confident of winning the Presidential election as AP thinks (for which as I hope I have shown here there is good reason) or because they do not trust each other with a strong executive Presidency of they do.

      I suspect that they expect some power in parliament, thereby limiting Yanukovich’s ability to cheat. But your second reason is an excellent point and probably true also.