What will Viktor Yanukovych do after he falls from power?
That’s a question that should concern Ukraine’s current president, especially as Ukrainians are preparing to go to the polls on October 28th. After all, just about everyone in Ukraine hates him: from the regular folk to the intellectuals to the elites to his supposed supporters. It didn’t have to be that way. Even a half-hearted commitment to reform and good government would have won him accolades. Since it’s too late to save his ruined presidency, there’s nothing left to do but wait for it to end.
And sooner or later end it will. It could happen in 2015, if the oligarchs who back him decide he’s a loser and send him to the showers. It could happen in 2020, after his second term is up and Ukraine has been devastated so thoroughly that no one in the country—not even well-fed Regionnaires—will want him around. It could happen between now and 2020, if some Regionnaire cabal decides that his incompetence has gotten to the point of undermining their privileged status or if the people realize that the prospect of endless Regionnaire rapine is no way to live one’s life and chase poor Viktor out of the presidential palace. Or it could happen anytime Yanukovych’s health begins to crumble under the pressure of too many late nights.
After all, although Yanukovych the man may not believe it now, he’s just human and humans have been known to suffer from creeping mortality. And although Yanukovych the president certainly can’t envision the end of his presidency—what aspiring tin-pot dictator doesn’t dream of misruling forever?—that presidency will end. Presidencies always do, even good ones, and Viktor, like his role models Vladimir Putin of Russia and Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, will someday just be a bad memory
Were Viktor a bit more inclined to pick up an occasional book, he’d do well to read up on Poland. He might notice that independent Ukraine, which is supposed to resemble post-Communist Poland, actually resembles Communist Poland. Ukraine’s independence in 1991 was pretty much a repeat of Poland’s abandonment of Stalinism in 1956. Ukraine’s first two presidents, Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma, are strikingly similar to Poland’s Communist leaders, Stanislaw Gomulka and Edward Gierek. The Orange Revolution of 2004 was virtually identical to Solidarity’s revolution of 1980–1981.
Which means that the man who crushed Solidarity, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, is none other than Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych himself.
Jaruzelski was incapable of doing anything but cracking down on the democratic opposition. Poland stagnated, regime legitimacy declined, and the ruling Communist Party decayed. Similarly, Yanukovych is incapable of doing anything but cracking down on the democratic opposition. Ukraine is stagnating, regime legitimacy is declining, and the ruling Party of Regions is decaying.
When 1989 came along, the Jaruzelski regime was exposed as a house of cards, and the collective efforts of the opposition and population brought it down in a matter of days. Ukraine’s 1989 will also come and, when it does, the Regionnaires will head for the hills and Yanukovych will become a pariah.
Where will the Regionnaires go? Their wealth is in Western Europe and the United States, but it’s unlikely that any Western democracy will open its doors to thousands of crooks. Russia and Belarus might welcome some of them, but will they want a mass influx of embittered and impoverished Regionnaire schemers? Probably not. That leaves such offshore havens as the Cayman Islands. Keep that in mind when you’re planning your vacation a few years from now.
And how about ex-president Yanukovych?
If Putin’s still in charge, Russia won’t be an option, since Vlad famously detests Vik. Minsk might work, but who wants to live in what Lukashenko proudly called Europe’s last dictatorship? Either way, Yanukovych would have to say good-bye to all the goodies his family has squirreled away in the West. And besides, the West is likely to put him and his sons on some black list anyway, so forget the Riviera or Palm Beach.
Which leaves three options: the first is some pariah state, such as North Korea (too cold), Zimbabwe (too hot), or Somalia (too dangerous). The second is to try to make it to the South Pacific on his Spanish-style Galleon (too leaky). The third is to stay in Ukraine and face the music. He’ll have to do it on his own, of course, as all his erstwhile yes-men will publicly denounce him and claim that they had secretly supported democracy all along.
At a minimum, some future democratic Ukrainian court will strip him and his sons of all their assets. Will the former president then get a job as a security guard at some Donetsk coal mine? At a maximum, the court will put him in jail, and, if the judges have a sense of humor, they’ll also do so on the same grounds as Yanukovych’s imprisonment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Viktor Fedorovych may then take some consolation from the poetry of it all. His political career will have ended in the same place it began.