If you want to see what Ukraine will look like in the event of Viktor Yanukovych’s election just look at Transcarpathia which is the only region of Ukraine similar to Donetsk where two people (Viktor Baloga and Renat Akhmetov) are local ‘Godfathers’ and there is a close nexus of business-politics-security forces-authorities. In Donetsk and Trans-Carpathia there are cities independent of the two ‘Godfathers’: Uzhorod (controlled by Serhiy Ratushniak) and Mariupol (controlled by Volodymyr Boyko).
In 2007 Baloga mobilized local administrative resources to ensure Our Ukraine-Samoborona’s first place in Trans-Carpathia, the only oblast that it won. In 2009 these resources were used in Ternopil to secure second place for United Centre (Yedyny Tsentr) and third place for Regions, both results which were due to election fraud. In 2010 Baloga is using the same administrative resources for a Viktor Yanukovych election victory. The head of Trans-Carpoathia’s Yedyny Tsentr party is Ivan Baloga, first deputy governor.
Trans-Carpathia, controlled by Baloga, who was the longest serving head of Viktor Yushchenko’s presidential secretariat. In 2007, only half a year after taking up the position, Baloga became a Party of Regions fifth columnist with direct and close ties to Borys Kolesnikov. After Yushchenko disbanded parliament in April 2007 Kolesnikov and Baloga negotiated a compromise where Regions would support pre-term elections that September in return for Yushchenko backing a grand coalition following them.
As typically, Yushchenko did not keep his word and no grand coalition was created. Nevertheless, Regions faction leader Raisa Bohatyriova was appointed National Security and Defence Council (NRBO) secretary – 4 days after Yulia Tymoshenko returned as Prime Minister. From then onwards Baloga and Yushchenko sought to undermine the Tymoshenko government (in which Yushchenko had been given half of the Cabinet positions from Our Ukraine-Peoples Self Defence) on a daily basis throughout 2008. This is well documented in Anders Aslund’s new book ‘How Ukraine Became a Market Economy and Democracy’ (Washington DC: Petersen Institute of International Economics, 2009).
In 2008, Baloga – as chief of staff – effectively destroyed Yushchenko’s chances of being re-elected for a second term. Throughout that year Yushchenko’s popularity steadily declined and it never recovered in 2009 ahead of the 2010 presidential elections. This can be clearly seen in the Razumkov Centre table of Yushchenko’s popularity between 2000-2009 which can be seen here: http://www.uceps.org/ukr/poll.php?poll_id=89
In 2008 Baloga also established the Yedyny Tsentr party which became the most pro-Regions wing of the Our Ukraine-Peoples Self Defence faction. Yedyny Tsentr split national democrats and served to fragment them even more, with Yushchenko divided in his loyalties until mid 2009 between Our Ukraine and Yedeny Tsentr. Regions undoubtedly provided the bulk of the funding for Yedeny Tsentr.
Baloga also began to build his Trans-Carpathian power base to be ready for him after he had finished undermining Yushchenko’s presidency by increasing his control over the oblast’s security forces, prosecutor’s office, local business and politics. The oblast council were bought so that today 72 out of 90 deputies are loyal to him (including the Regions faction, 2 Hungarian factions, former Our Ukraine which became Yedyny Tsentr and BYuT defectors). 18 opposition deputies belong to the BYuT faction and Ratushniak’s Narodna Party faction.
Baloga also began manipulating the Rusyn question and in March 2007 ordered the oblast council to vote to recognize Rusyns as a separate narod. Such a step should have led Yushchenko to dismiss him but that did not happen. Since then the oblast council has voted for a Rusyn anthem and flag. In the oblast council Regions, Yedyny Tsentr, the Hungarian minority and the left support this separatism with the only patriots BYuT and the Narodna Party faction.
It was probably no coincidence that extremist pro-Russian Rusyn activism began to also grow at the same time with funding from Russian intelligence services. The World Congress of Rusyns, then led by University of Toronto Chair of Ukrainian Studies Professor Robert Magocsi, condemned the pro-Russian separatists.
Magocsi, who attended a December 2009 symposium of Western academics in Kyiv where Yulia Tymoshenko spoke, has a pro-European orientation and is strongly opposed to separatism. Magocsi was an invaluable inside source for my long analysis of Baloga published in the Kyiv Post, RIO, the biggest newspaper in Trans-Carpathia, and Obozrevatel.
In the first round of this years election Baloga’s people artificially pushed down the turnout by using tactics from the 2004 elections when pressure was applied against people paid by the state or local authorities. In 2004 pressure was applied on those who received state salaries to come out and vote for Yanukovych whereas today pressure was applied to not come out and vote. This type of fraud is more difficult to find than fraud that forces people to vote “for the right candidate”.
A reduced turnout of orange voters would help Yanukovych be elected, as seen in Trans-Carpathia where Yanukovych came first in round 1 (the only region of Western Ukraine where this happened). The result is highly suspicious. In the first round the region had the lowest turnout in Ukraine of 56%, a lot lower than in previous elections.
Yushchenko’s call to not vote for either candidate in the second round assists Baloga’s strategy and indirectly Yanukovych’s election.
Baloga is feared, not respected in the region, and many of those paid from the budget sphere were warned not to come out and vote. During this severe economic crisis many remain afraid of losing their jobs. Heads of departments and educational facilities stood at some voting booths and warned people they recognized not to go inside and vote. The rector of the Uzhorod National University, Mykola Wegesz, was pressured to sign a statement in support of Yanukovych, all reminiscent of election fraud in 2004.
If Yanukovych is elected he can leave his people in place to run the oblast (his brother is first deputy governor) while, it is rumoured, he receives the position of Minister of Emergency Situations in a pro-Yanukovych government.
Baloga’s control of Transcarpathia gives us a picture of what Ukraine will resemble in the event of a Yanukovych presidency. Local “Baloga’s” will be found throughout Ukraine to convert each oblast into the same kind of total control exercised by one ‘Godfather” through a nexus of business-politics-authorities and the security forces.
Ukrainians halted this movement five years ago but the threat has re-surfaced today from Yanukovych’s revenge. The only way to combat such fraud is for Trans-Carpathians and other Western Ukrainians to come out and vote in the second round. If they stay at home Yanukovych will be elected. The rest of Ukraine will then begin to look like Donetsk and Trans-Carpathia.
Taras Kuzio is a senior fellow in the chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto and editor of the bi-monthly Ukraine Analyst.