It was sometime this week, as I was reading yet another news item about President Viktor Yanukovych’s continuing unwillingness to make up his mind about the pending Association Agreement with the European Union, that it struck me. I’m awfully tired—and I mean honest-to-goodness, god-awfully tired—of the guy. It’s not that I wish he’d go away (although I do: very much), but that I wish he’d finally make a decision.
No, it’s not even that anymore. I’ve been waiting over two years for him to make up his mind about Ukraine’s integration into Europe. And now, just two weeks before the Vilnius summit that will decide Ukraine’s future, I can no longer listen, watch, or read about the guy. You see, I suffer from Yanukovych Fatigue.
It’s not Ukraine Fatigue: the country and its people remain as interesting as they’ve always been, and I wish them well. Nor is it Regionnaire Fatigue: my feelings toward Yanukovych’s party are better summed up by the term Regionnaire Catarrh. When I see those distinguished gentlemen, I feel the need to clear my throat.
No, it’s good, ol’ fashioned fatigue. Here’s a man who claims to be a Big Decision-Maker, yet he can’t make a decision, even one so obviously in his and his country’s interests. Associating with the EU is a no-brainer. Associating with the Russia-led Customs Union is an equal and opposite no-brainer. But whatever one’s view of either institution, and whatever one’s view of the costs and benefits for Ukraine of associating with the European Union or Russia, a real decision-maker, a real leader, someone with a backbone and a strong will, would have made up his or her own mind long ago. Ya wanna go west? Fine. Go west. Ya wanna go east? Fine. Go east. But don’t abuse people’s patience.
After all, Yanukovych has taken everyone for a long and expensive ride. The Europeans, who have better things to do than to waste their time on tiresome Ukrainian quasi-leaders, must be sick of him. The Russians, who respect strength and will, must wish he’d retire to the Donbas. Ukraine’s oligarchs, who need clarity and stability to run their businesses, must be wondering what made them crazy enough to support his run for the presidency. Yanukovych’s erstwhile south and east Ukrainian supporters know he’s betrayed them by flirting with the EU; Yanukovych’s west and central Ukrainian opponents know he’s betrayed them by dancing around the Association Agreement. Few Ukrainians could have escaped disappointment by now.
In a way, it no longer matters—for Yanukovych, that is—whether Ukraine and Europe sign an Association Agreement or not. His reputation is shot, along with his credibility, and his continual hemming and hawing have disqualified Ukraine’s anti-presidential president from membership in any possible political elite.
Ironically, this is all the more reason for him to go west. A faux-president will always be able to find someone to listen to his stories in Monte Carlo’s famed casinos. Perhaps some faded aristocrat, asthmatic princeling, or pretender to a non-existent throne. In Europe, after all, they have a long tradition of tolerating unserious policymakers who still dream of what might have been. Not so in Russia. There, losers have a tendency to wind up in real or imagined Siberias.
But none of that matters to Yanukovych, whose immaturity, indecisiveness, and lack of professionalism have sabotaged the Association Agreement and driven Ukraine into the wilderness of the developing world. He is isolated from reality, isolated from rationality, and now, thanks to his treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko, he is even isolated from his own country and the world. The irony is inescapable. The man who began his political career in jail as a teenage hoodlum is ending it in a golden cage of his own making.
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