With her heated anti-Russian rhetoric leaked to the media, former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko has effectively burned any bridges to potentially becoming a compromise leader in Ukrainian politics, historian Mark Almond told RT.
RT: Yulia Tymoshenko seemed to have acknowledged that the conversation did indeed take place and even though she says it was edited, it is still quite a blatant threat against Russia. What do you make of that?
Mark Almond: In a way, the most alarming thing is that it’s a private conversation. We might have thought that a person who is considering running for president in the elections set for the end of May in Ukraine might have had to express nationalist and anti-Russian sentiments on a public forum, to perhaps to try and gather the support from those groups who booed her when she was released from prison and came to Maidan in Kiev. The fact that she says this in private conversations, even if edited, the tone is obviously extremely heated and one would have thought rather irresponsible in the way it approaches international politics.
It does a huge amount to undermine the view of her as possibly a compromise candidate, precisely as a kind of wheeler dealer in the gas industry, somebody who had negotiated with Moscow, as somebody who can perhaps act as the figure who can be both plausible to the Ukrainians but also someone who can dampen the tensions, which obviously exist at the moment.
Quite to the contrary, we see that somebody whose way of talking about their political opponents rather resembles some of the things that were said about her on her way up to becoming an oligarch. She was supposed to be quite ruthless with rivals and business, taking advantage of the business opportunities in expense of some of the people who got in her way. And so, we have to say we had this sort of anti-oligarchy, anti-corruption revolution in Kiev but we now kind of have a female Arturo Ui figure coming to the fall in terms of politics.
RT: The voice of allegedly the PM during the conversation says she will employ all her connections to make the world rise up against Russia. Is that an empty threat?
MA: It is an exaggerated threat. Of course Mrs. Tymoshenko has enormous financial resources at her disposal scattered safely in the West. There are no sanctions on her, no asset freezes on her. Universities in London like the LSE have been in receipt of her large shares, endless advertising agencies, lobby groups. But at the same time, none of these have any influence over the Western policy unless they were really saying what the Western governments want them to. We have seen what has happened to the oligarchs and the rich people who have thought foul of the state. Suddenly their entree to Western media, suddenly their ability to be listened to disappears. So I think we'll have to see whether she is expressing an opinion that the West wants expressed, in which case it will enter the echo-chamber in the media in the West. But I think if it is not, then I think she may have shot herself in the foot.
RT: Some experts have seen Tymoshenko as a remaining person that Russia could talk to in Ukraine. With this tape, is all hope for negotiations with Russia all lost? Who is going to take over?
MA: Well if it is the case that she has admitted the authenticity of the general trend of the conversation, which was a private conversation with another powerful political figure, that really means that in many ways she has burned her bridges.
There are people that the West may think could be pushed forward who will be both acceptable to them and to Moscow. Poroshenko, the so-called 'Chocolate Oligarch' is one of the people who played a big part in the revolution and is seen to be a fluent Russian speaker. Even after all, the boxer Klitschko speaks Russian much better than Ukrainian, his German is better than his Ukrainian. So there are people that perhaps could act as compromise figures.
Part of the problem that I think we have to admit is that the nationalist atmosphere that stirred up in the run-up of the violent overthrow of Yanukovich has become even more pronounced because it provoked then the succession of Crimea and its seeking entry into Russia. That atmosphere has yet to dissipate and it may not dissipate by the end of May.
So we may be seeing a competition to be the president of Ukraine amongst the people who feel that whatever they sincerely believe, that they have to be more and more rhetorically anti-Russian. That is a very dangerous path to go down, because it is not obvious that there is any solution to Ukraine's problems that does not at least involve a better relationship with Russia, even if it does not involve accepting, for instance, the entry into the Customs Union, which was obviously what was hoped for in December by Yanukovich and by Putin.
RT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a presser that there has to be constitutional reforms in Ukraine before May in order for its government to be legitimized. Talk to us more about that. How can they go into elections in May with all of this going on?
MA: It is a huge problem, isn't it, because we have a parliament which has a significant part of deputies counter-tended for fear of the radical right and paramilitary groups, we have therefore a situation where laws are being made without legal basis. Yanukovich was removed from office without the necessary votes, 328 out of 337 required, even if the procedure has been correct.
So without making changes that actually satisfy significant groups of people who don't like what has happened and are deeply alarmed by what has happened, it seems to me that we're likely to have a kind of rubber stamp election, of the sort we've seen in other post-Soviet coups. So in a sense, what we are seeing is a coup rather than democratic change. All the rhetoric about democracy, we have yet to see an election that can be called democratic in what is the rest of Ukraine after the secession of Crimea.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.