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Is 2013 the End for Ukraine's Regionnaires?

Last year ended with a series of portentous developments for the Yanukovych regime. And, more and more, it looks like the regime’s ready to break down or crack up. Consider the signs.

  • The almighty Regionnaires couldn’t even cheat their way to a majority in the new Parliament and, instead, had to settle for what effectively amounts to a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition. Worse, they will now have to deal with a raucous collection of right-wing deputies, the “Svobodites,” who will harass and jeer them at every step of the way.
  • The much-vaunted professionalism of the Regionnaires received two fatal blows, when, first, the government was snookered into signing a billion-dollar deal with an imposter claiming to represent a Spanish energy firm and, second, all the expensive Hyundai trains procured by former Infrastructure Minister Boris Kolesnikov just before the Euro 2012 soccer championships last summer broke down in the harsh Ukrainian winter.
  • In moves that could impress only Leonid Brezhnev in the final years of his inglorious reign as Communist Party leader, the newly appointed speaker of the Parliament became Viktor Yanukovych’s crony from Donetsk, the aging, dull, and thoroughly uninspiring Volodymyr Rybak, while the prime minister’s job went to the equally dull and uninspiring incumbent, Mykola Azarov.
  • The notoriously Ukrainophobic Dmitri Tabachnik remained minister of education, science, youth, and sport, thereby demonstrating the president’s mindboggling inability to understand that replacing him with anyone would have won him easy brownie points with the electorate.
  • That two of the brightest, if morally compromised, members of the old Cabinet, Serhii Tyhypko and Valery Khoroshkovsky, have left—the former for Parliament, the latter for his business empire—demonstrates, first, that Yanukovych’s primary criterion in choosing ministers was not talent or brains, but loyalty and, second, that the pro-regime elites are jumping ship.
  • Since the new Cabinet consists mostly of Yanukovych loyalists who are beholden to his “Family,” the clan run by the president and his two sons, the newly appointed ministers will focus their energies on fulfilling the sultan’s wishes, thereby aggravating the regime’s hypercentralization, indecisiveness, incompetence, ineffectiveness, and instability.
  • Because Yanukovych yes-men also control all the most important financial and economic ministries, the Ukrainian economy will continue to decay, while the Family’s plundering of the economy will accelerate, perhaps in anticipation of the rapidly approaching end and, hence, the limited amount of time left for untrammeled theft.
  • All the other seats on the Cabinet went to Donetsk hyper-billionaire Rinat Akhmetov’s flunkies, a sign that Yanukovych has formalized his alliance with Ukraine’s richest man, accepted that his power base has been reduced to a sliver of the country, the Donbas, and effectively acknowledged that he has no legitimacy among the people or even—no less important—the other oligarchs and elites.
  • The last-minute cancelation of the Ukrainian president’s planned trip to Moscow, the European Union’s continued dissatisfaction with his regime, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s harsh criticism of Ukraine’s democratic backsliding, and China’s deafening indifference demonstrate that Yanukovych has managed to achieve the near-impossible in international relations: complete isolation.

I could go on, and on, but this brief list should suffice to show that the regime may very well be on its last legs. As shockingly incapable as it was of getting anything right between 2010 and 2013, its incompetence, thievery, and resistance to common sense will probably only grow in the months ahead. As more and more power is concentrated in the Family and its pater familias, the regime will eventually be reduced to an inglorious royal court whose only concerns are self-enrichment and self-preservation. Since Yanukovych loyalists also control the power ministries, the temptation to crack down in order to avert a crack-up will be overwhelming. Cracking down won’t work, however, because the vast majority of the population no longer fears the dullards running the country into the ground.

The new year therefore begins on a hopeful note for Ukraine and its democratic aspirations. The writing is on the wall for the regime. If they’d only read more and steal less, they might even see it.

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