Vienna, April 26 – Like other post-Soviet leaders who have made political promises to Russia in exchange for immediate financial assistance, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich may have outsmarted Moscow, getting the Russians to provide gas subsidies now by agreeing to extend the Sevastopol base lease after 2017, according to a Russian commentator.
On the one hand, Aleksandr Golts writes in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Moscow is giving up some four billion dollars in earnings starting now with only the promise that Ukraine will in fact extend the lease on the Sebastopol naval base of the Black Sea Fleet beginning in 2012 to 2042, something that may never happen.
And on the other, the Moscow commentator continues, by securing this agreement Yanukovich has made Moscow his hostage: If Yanukovich for any reason – including economic problems – should leave office, his replacement from the opposition will denounce the base accord, something the Russians will be forced to try to prevent (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=10050).
According to Golts, what Yanukovich appears to have done follows the pattern of other post-Soviet leaders: “Having promised Moscow certain military-political preferences in exchange for financial support, the leaders of the post-Soviet states have simply deceived it,” pocketing the money and then going back on their promises.
That is what happened with recently overthrown Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. He took 500 million US dollars from Moscow and promised to close the US base in his country. But then Bakiyev allowed the base to remain open under a new name, Transit Center, with the same functions. Moscow of course had already paid the money.
Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been even more adept at this, sometimes raising the spectre of Western threats to extract money and concessions from the Russian authorities and then pointing to the threats from Moscow in order to extract money and concessions from NATO and the European Union.
Golts says that he calls this arrangement “the phenomenon of glass beads,” thereby referring to a situation in which “the natives give those arriving gold, silver [and other really valuable thing] in exchange for glass beads.” But the situation with regard to Russia and her neighbors is far more of “a paradox.”
That is because, the Moscow analyst continues, “in exchange for completely real billions of dollars, the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States extremely cleverly hand to the Kremlin ‘glass beads’ in the form of military-political agreements which do not mean anything in reality.”
And Golts says that he “suspects that from now on the record holder in such an exchange of ‘glass beads’ will be Viktor Yanukovich,” who “immediately after signing the new agreement on the fleet” declared that he had been forced to do so, a statement that led many “at first glance” to assume that Russia had achieved a glorious military-diplomatic victory.”
But a second glance, Golts continues, suggests that “those who accuse Yanukovich of surrendering his position are not very just.” That is because he got real money in the short term from Moscow which cut the price of gas in exchange for a promise to extend the lease to Moscow of Sevastopol beginning seven years from now.
Given that the Ukrainian opposition has made it clear that it will do everything possible to void the accord on the base, even if it is ratified now, and given that the Ukrainian constitution is ambiguous on whether any foreign base can exist on the territory of that country, Moscow may have received far less than it wanted and far less than many fear.
And because of that, Moscow faces a situation in which “everything depends on who will have the highest executive power” in Ukraine. That means in essence that “Viktor Yanukovich literally in the first days of his presidency made the Kremlin a hostage of his remaining in power.”
“Now,” Golts writes, “Moscow is vitally interested that Yanukovich and his Party of the Regions remain in power up to 2042.” Four billion dollars year may help, but even that does not provide a guarantee. And should “the social-economic situation in Ukraine deteriorate,” the Russian analyst says, Moscow may have to pay even more for what it thinks it has.