Rescuing a Revolution

Brussels – There is no more depressing sight in politics than a leader who, desperate to cling to power, ruins his country in the process. By his recent actions, President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine now looks like he has joined the long list of rulers who have sacrificed their country’s future simply to prolong their misrule.

Yushchenko’s recent moves in both politics and economics suggest that his instinct for self-preservation knows no limits. Once a proud supporter of the free market and the man who banished hyper-inflation in Ukraine in the 1990’s, Yushchenko has in recent weeks vetoed – sometimes on flimsy grounds, and sometimes for no stated reason at all – a series of vital privatizations. He blocked the sale of regional energy companies, for example, because he claims that their privatization will threaten Ukraine’s “national security,” though it is corrupt and incompetent state management of these companies that is threatening Ukraine’s security by making it vulnerable to energy cut-offs.

Yushchenko seems motivated only by a desire to damage his prime minister, Yuliya Tymoshenko, who he perceives as the biggest threat to his re-election in 2010. To undermine the Tymoshenko cabinet even more, Ukraine’s central bank, under the leadership of a presidential crony, is pursuing a policy that is importing high inflation. When confronted about this, Volodymyr Stelmakh, the bank’s governor, is said to have told Tymoshenko that his policies would destroy her government before they broke the back of the economy.

In politics, too, Yushchenko is playing with fire, having lost the support of most of “Our Ukraine,” the party he created. Since his victory in 2004, Yushchenko’s popularity ratings have plummeted to around 8%. As a result, the party has been reduced to junior-partner status in Tymoshenko’s coalition government.