Party of Ukraine PM tries to dispel "top 5 myths about Tymoshenko"

By bne IntelliNews January 27, 2010

bne -

As Ukraine gears up for the presidential run-off on February 7, BYuT Inform, the official publication of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her eponymous party, Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT), has issued a remarkable statement to dispel some "myths" about their leader that it says are cropping up in the election coverage by the media.

While BYuT Inform claims most of these allegations originate from the spin-machine of election rival Viktor Yanukovych, it says they nevertheless warrant closer scrutiny.

The following are the group's "top 5 Tymoshenko myths" and parts of the accompanying rebuttal statement:

She is a Populist

"Populist" is the most abused word in Ukrainian politics. One Western journalist based in Kyiv told Inform that "populist" is inevitably added to any mention of Ms Tymoshenko when his articles are vetted by the Moscow bureau before being sent to the Western editorial office. In a similar vein, we see "alleged" or "so-called" prefacing "Orange Revolution" in some prestigious Western newspapers. This is an insult to the one in five Ukrainians that took part in the peaceful protests.

In terms of populism, a quick examination of the election billboards from the first round confirm that the most populist claims emanated from Mr Yanukovych. He made a record number of social and economic promises: pledges that can only be realised if he is president and has a majority coalition and government. Second place in the populist stakes went to President Viktor Yushchenko, whose billboards made bizarre promises. The most populist being, "I will introduce a 20% tax on limo's, villas and yachts." In contrast, Ms Tymoshenko's billboards made no outlandish offers.

In fairness, journalists should apply the term "populist" to all Ukrainian politicians or to none of them. Singling out Ms Tymoshenko is neither warranted nor fair.

No difference between them: both pro-Russian

This common refrain suggests a total lack of understanding of Ukrainian politics. It is as fanciful as saying there is no difference between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin because they both support stable relations between east and west . The reality is that Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yanukovych hold different world views.

Mr Yanukovych is more pro-Russian than even former President Leonid Kuchma. He supports the diplomatic recognition of the independence of the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This puts him in the company of the governments of Nicaragua and Hamas. He will pursue a multi-vector foreign policy. His candidate programme reads, "I believe that ensuring the non-aligned status of Ukraine is the main task of our national foreign policy." He is opposed to membership in, and high levels of cooperation with NATO. In contrast, Ms Tymoshenko supports the EU position in support of Georgian territorial integrity. She favours a public information campaign on NATO membership and continuation of high levels of cooperation under the Partnership for Peace, in place since 1994.

As for EU integration, Mr Yanukovych is lukewarm on the subject and at best passive. In contrast, Ms Tymoshenko is passionately pro-European and a frequent visitor to Brussels. It was her government that finalised WTO membership and will secure this year a deep and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and is pushing hard for visa free travel. It is her government that has begun the arduous task of aligning Ukrainian institutions with those of Europe.

Ms Tymoshenko's party is active in Europe. In contrast, Mr Yanukovych's Party of Regions has no links with European parties. Instead, it favours a five-year-old cooperation agreement with the Unified Russia party.

Tymoshenko is autocratic

One of the most peculiar allegations is that Ms Tymoshenko is more of an autocrat than Mr Yanukovych. This claim ignores both her history and her policies.

Ms Tymoshenko has always campaigned to strengthen and enshrine in law the rights of the opposition. This includes giving the opposition the chair of many parliamentary committees, so that they can act as a check and balance to those in power. She has always supported freedom of speech and a free press. Her candidate programme specifically mentions "for journalists to be independent of the government and the politicised money of the oligarchy." It also pledges, "High-quality public television and radio will be created, and all citizens will have access to the Internet." Furthermore, she champions a referendum so that the people can choose what sort of governmental system they want. Are these the actions of an autocrat?

The Batkivshchyna party Ms Tymoshenko leads is by far the most active Ukrainian party in Europe and an enthusiastic member of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) - the continent's largest democratic party. Would the EPP endorse her candidacy so openly in the second round of the 2010 elections if they suspected her of being an autocrat? Of course not.

She mismanaged the economy

As expected, Mr Yanukovych has blamed the financial and economic crisis on Ms Tymoshenko; after all she was the premier during the financial and economic crisis. The reality is that Ukraine has a commodities-based economy, dominated by steel and chemicals. When the demand for steel dried up - much of it driven by China - Ukraine's economy suffered.

She has a shady past like Yanukovych

Yulia Tymoshenko remains the most investigated politician in the history of Ukraine. Unlike her rival presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, her past is open and well documented.

Many Western media articles about Ms Tymoshenko refer to her chairmanship of United Energy Systems in the mid 1990s and call her the "Gas Princess." But they never add that she divorced her business affairs from politics in 1998 when elected to parliament in the opposition Hromada party. This division of business and politics is a concept that is alien to Mr Yanukovych and the oligarchs who dominate his Party of Regions.

As Deputy Prime Minister in the 1999-2001 Yushchenko government, Ms Tymoshenko battled corruption in the energy sector which had earned oligarchs over $4 billion in annual rents. It was a policy that led to her imprisonment on trumped up charges in February 2001.

Following her release from prison (when the court rejected the charges as groundless), Ms Tymoshenko, from 2001-2003, was one of two key leaders in the Ukraine Without Kuchma and Arise Ukraine, anti- Kuchma opposition movements. Her stand against corruption is well documented. In 2005 she instigated the transparent reprivatisation of the Kryvorizhstal Steel Mill which was sold at a transparent televised auction for $4.8 billion, 6 times its original price. Perhaps Ms Tymoshenko's biggest anti-corruption success was to establish direct contractual relationships between Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrainy and Russia's Gazprom for the supply of natural gas. This involved removing the shady intermediary RosUkrEnergo.

Critics will say that Ms Tymoshenko has businessmen in her bloc. While BYuT does contain some businessmen, they do not run and control the party as they do in the Party of Regions. In that party the oligarchs call all the shots.

And are we really to expect Mr Yanukovych had no skeletons in his closet after his six-year governorship of Donetsk from 1997 to 2002? Journalists should not forget Mr Yanukovych's inner circle. Was not his former Minister for Fuel and Energy, Yuriy Boyko, one of the "godfathers" of RosUkrEnergo? Perhaps this explains Mr Yanukovych's intention to reopen the gas agreement with Russia? Could it be that he seeks to reintroduce corrupt intermediaries? Then there is his former Minister for Finance Mykola Azarov, a man shamelessly linked to large scale VAT fraud. One could go on endlessly about the alleged corruption of Mr Yanukovych's party elite. So are we really to believe he has reformed? If he has, why are the same faces still around him?

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