Where are you going, Ukraine?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report EU-Ukraine Relations.

For experts and analysts, the new year traditionally begins with the definition of the main trends of social, political and economic development. Actions in Ukraine show that some trends will have significant implications for the Ukrainian society, argues Lidiya Smola.

Lidiya Smola heads the Department of Analytical and Sociological Research at the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy “People First”.

“The main trend for Ukraine starting in 2013 has been the fixation of the level of government influence. President Viktor Yanukovych was not able to make his dream come true and get the status of "absolute master of Ukraine."

His chances to keep the presidency in 2015 had fallen rapidly due to the inability (unwillingness) to build political coalitions and civilised oppose to his political opponents. The current unstable political balance was achieved by refusal to face economic challenges of the country.

Due to the activity of the "presidential clan" in the acquisition of state assets and property, more and more Ukrainians begun to realise that the emperor is naked!

Internal conflicts in the government are enhanced by the deficit of leadership from Yanukovych’s side. The president estranged himself from the political process. He does not respond to the pressing public issues that arose: crime and corruption, aggravation of the standards of life, the negative reputation of the country and so on.

The president did not delineate a strategy for further development. On the other hand, Yanukovych does not delegate his authority, being rather afraid of excessive strengthening of people from his entourage.

The new Cabinet is a conspicuous evidence of the political self-isolation of the head of state. Meanwhile, the situation in the country requires energy and unconventional solutions.

Yanukovych has not learned from the experience of his predecessors considering the political consequences of behaviour in the style of "I am cancelling the debts to all I owe to."

Any concentration of the authority in the hands of an "enormously loyal" could not replace the necessity of the wide political coalition formation before presidential elections in 2015.

History proves that intimidation is never more effective than voluntary willingness to cooperate. Misunderstanding of this postulate provides a very negative trend for a president.

This year also promises to be challenging for Ukrainian oligarchs, whose system successfully responded to the challenge of presidential "activity" and partially revived parliament’s controlling functions.

First "family" representatives voting failures for the Cabinet members – demonstrated a clear position: pro-governmental majority de facto does not exists, Parliament (representatives of business groups) uses the strategy of "flexing muscles" and the process of governance will mostly performed by the Cabinet.

However, the Ukrainian financial-industrial groups are vulnerable not only politically, but also in economic ways. Oligarchs can maintain the stability of their own "business empires" only dynamically, expanding or reducing the cost of their major assets.

Considering the limited output of Ukrainian economy, the oligarch’s strategy is being "too big to fall" could not save them from sudden crash.

However, this strategy ensures that their failure will cause unpredictable effects by a national scale. Considering the progressive fall of the quality of assets, this scenario will only grow with time.

The other symptom of side effects is a growing technological crisis. The matter is not so much about the depreciation of fixed assets (which also exist), but about the problems of management.

"Hyundai"-trains and utilities infrastructure are symbolising failures of state and local governments. Hundreds of clients of AeroSvit airlines stuck in airports are a demonstration of insolvency of a private owner, or rather monopolist.

In general, such a balance – a delicate equilibration between the head of state (or "family" – which controls state agencies) and major owners – could collapse at any time. However, destruction of the balance is a threat mostly to oligarchs than Yanukovich.

Since during the crisis – legal force (government) prevails over “shadow” impact. Iaroslavsky’s ("the second league” representative) loss of property has become a wake-up call for other members of the oligarchic circles of Ukraine.

A temporary solution of scarcity of resources by sharing an ownership of one of the major oligarchs would fix the presidential superiority, even if a substantial part of the assets will go to another financial and industrial group. Kolomoyskyi and Firtash traditionally appear as potential candidates for the "cannibalisation."

On the other hand, the rest of oligarchs have to understand the risks of participation in this process. Again, their actions to protect their assets, even if they ultimately are proven unsuccessful, are too serious destabilising factors to neglect them.

Possible problems of "the second league" oligarchs also strengthen implementation of a "Yushchenko Number 2" scenario on the next presidential elections starring more or less famous "uncontaminated" politicians.

Undoubtedly, this year the "Russian question" will continue to prevail. Adventurousness attempts to "sell a piece of sovereignty" and maintain immunity from permissiveness of the Kremlin – is obvious. There are also obvious all authorities’ attempts to obtain additional resources by reducing gas prices and likely sale of some strategic enterprises to Russia.

The behaviour of the Cabinet appears to be only one-two moves beforehand. It should be mentioned that Ukraine's participation in the Customs Union is associated with serious risks not only for Ukrainian statehood, but also personally for the head.

Ukraine, like Belarus and Kazakhstan, is vulnerable to Moscow economic pressure. However, the level of controllability of the internal field still provides some assurance to Lukashenko and Nazarbayev. In the case of Ukraine – powerful industrial groups and opposition parties sponsored by them – may give Putin great leverage over the Ukrainian president in case of his "misbehaviour."

The dilemma is not solved yet. It seems that fruitless negotiations with the Russians will continue, but the Ukrainian government will try to contain the situation as long as possible, hoping that global economic conditions will improve.

And we will witness the permanent "flirting" with Moscow and Brussels. Lack of economic resources will be smoothed by the "slow" deterioration of living standards and continuous pressure on economic players, who do not have political patronage. The government will unlikely satisfy the major political concessions of external or internal rivals.

Opposition will face a lot of challenges in the future as well. "We will wait until this government collapses, and then appear as winners" strategy – is a fail in the public eyes from the very beginning.

Regular demarches of Yulia Tymoshenko supported by PR campaigns from her followers from Western capitals, to most observers opinion – is an act of desperation, because she is still in prison and her ability to influence “companions in arms” – decreases.

Even with the victory of the opposition candidate in the next presidential elections, Tymoshenko will be released – but rather as “token”, not an influential person.

Other opposition leaders are doing their best trying not to lose the trust of the electorate, and maximally dissociating themselves from the heritage of “The Orange Revolution", which now Tymoshenko represents.

If Vitali Klitschko following Arseniy Yatsenyuk acts mostly in a way of the passive resistance – Oleh Tyahnybok promotes its own standpoint in which Tymoshenko is not too far from the "enemies". It is obvious that the former prime minister chose a wrong way of warfare.

She does not realise that her personal problems, including vulgar assumptions on “peeping in the shower” are not even a factor for mobilising her supporters. To really maintain or even increase her influence, besides repeating the mantra "release me and I will make you happy” – she should offer to the public at least some socially important ideas and messages.

Cogent victory of the “Svoboda" party on the elections and taking over the political initiatives from large national-liberal opposition fractions shows the emergence of very strong public demand for political violence.

Influenced by the economic crisis and demonstrative nihilism of the government – the receding liberal values of the Ukrainian middle class will be substituted with a desire to get "simple answers to complicated questions."

Another disappointing trend could be added to this situation in the country: Ukraine is no longer able to maintain the socialistic system of social security. So state financing of the life of a post-Soviet man will decrease gradually.

The process of disassembling of the "social heritage of the USSR" during the past year was slow due to the parliamentary campaign, but did not stop. In 2013 we could expect a serious acceleration of this process forced by the lack of economic resources.

This year will bring Ukraine many severe challenges: it will force society to abandon certain myths and illusions. The country, the current government, and society – still do not want to take responsibility for their political choices and will have to finally "pay scot and lot."

This year will get the Ukrainians one step closer to understanding the need to take responsibility for their lives and the future of Ukraine."

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