Thursday, April 29, 2010
On April 27, 236 Ukrainian MPs (UKR) voted in favor of the ratification of an agreement allowing Russia to extend the lease on its Black Sea naval base until 2042. In exchange, Ukraine would get discounts on Russia's natural gas "worth $40 billion over 10 years."
The ratification of the gas-for-fleet deal took place in a chaotic setting. Among other things, security guards were forced to employ two umbrellas to shelter parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn from the eggs hurled at him by opposition members. Here is footage from Channel 5's April 27 newscast (UKR):
Below is some of the Anglophone blog commentary on the deal and its disorderly ratification in Ukraine.
Ukrainiana posts available footage from inside the parliament building, as well as a couple videos of the protest that took place outside, and writes:
[...] The unconstitutional treaty that gives Ukraine’s oligarchs gas discounts and extends the presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet until 2042 gathered 236 votes.
That included absentee MPs Kivalov and Holovaty, members of the ruling Party of Regions.
Outside, thousands of people rallied against the treaty and wrestled with police.
Amid the struggle and mayhem inside, opposition leaders failed to communicate with the protesters outside. In the absence of live coverage, the protesters relied on cell phones and portable radios.
Thus, the protesters on the ground found themselves a little out of touch with the ones on the Rada [the Ukrainian parliament] floor. [...]
Kyiv Scoop writes this:
Eggs, smoke bombs, sirens and fisticuffs were not enough to stop Ukraine’s parliament from making a mockery of the democratic process on April 27. Without any debate or discussion, the legislature ratified an agreement that will allow Russian military maintain a presence in Ukraine until 2042 and adopted the state budget for 2010. [...]
[...] In post-Soviet Ukraine, MPs do not have to be physically present in parliament to vote: it’s enough for their “voting cards” to be in the right hands under the dome on Hrushevsky Street. For example, where was Regions MP Serhiy Holovaty when he voted to ratify the Black Sea Fleet agreement? In Strasbourg, France. Ukrainian democracy allows for elected officials to perform their duties virtually.
Ask a Ukrainian who represents their community in parliament and they won’t know, because the current Rada was elected according to a proportional, closed list system. There is no direct representation. All a voter saw on the ballot when he/she voted in 2007 were the first ten names of every party of electoral bloc. Ukrainians not only do not know who represents them, they don’t even know who they voted for. As a result, a bunch of no names responsible to nobody except their party boss, who bought their way onto their party list are in parliament. This is the worst Rada ever, making some of the worst decisions – ever.
Leopolis writes this:
[...] In the years of national democracy (or democratic chaos), fisticuffs in the Rada was a common occurrence. After Yanukovych promised to take Ukraine along a pragmatic course, today's bar fight is more of the same. [...] This time, eggs and tomatoes were launched and smoke bombs went off. AP picked it up. Ukraine is, once again, a laughing stock in the Western press. [...]
In all seriousness, there is a trend emerging -- the orangeists, now in opposition, appear to be employing the same tactics used by the blues during 2004-2009. [...]
While many will see this fight as some new development (the orange opposition behaving badly), it is hardly new. If anything, this egg-battle in the Verkhovna Rada is a wonderful example of the approval of "pragmatic" politics.
Marina Starozhitskaya wrote this at OpenDemocracy.net:
[...] The fleet was not on the agenda, and in fact it was not supposed to be on the agenda for another five yeas. There was absolutely no need to extend the term of stationing of the Russian Black Sea fleet at all – this is simply the best chance for the first “test of compliancy” of the new Ukrainian president. [...]
Streetwise Professor reviews some of the expert opinion on the issue and concludes:
[...] Remember the old Soviet joke: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”? Well, I’d characterize this deal as “We pretend to give them a price break, and they pretend to extend our lease.” All this deal does is create more promises to be broken. And broken they will be.
Siberian Light comes up with a different conclusion:
[...] Well, actually, I think that today’s been a pretty good day for Ukraine. By extending the lease until 2042 in exchange for a 30% reduction in gas bills, Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych has negotiated a cracking deal.
In real terms, 30% translates to around $4 billion per year – and over $120 billion over the lifetime of the deal. And all for a naval base that (a) Ukraine probably doesn’t really mind Russia having and (b) if Russia left, Ukraine would have to pay to decommission. [...]