Published 8-03-2014, 16:45
William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant based in New Britain, CT. He works extensively with media organizations in Russia and other post-communist countries, and has advised government leaders on strategies for building press freedom and a healthy media sector. He is a Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow.
Amidst widespread news reports that Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych was impeached, the U.S. "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty" has revealed that he was not. In a story titled "Was Yanukovych's Ouster Constitutional?" the U.S. international broadcaster documented that the efforts to impeach him fell short of the constitutionally required vote.
The RFE/RL story reports that "A majority of 328 lawmakers of the 450-seat parliament voted on February 22 to remove Yanukovych from power." It goes on to observe that the constitution calls for "a review of the case by Ukraine's Constitutional Court and a three-fourths majority vote by the Verkhovna Rada -- i.e., 338 lawmakers." That vote margin didn't materialize, and the required court review never took place.
That didn't stop world media outlets from reporting on Yanukovych's impeachment, though. Al Jazeera reported unequivocally, "Ukraine President Yanukovych impeached." The Toronto Star wrote, "Ukraine’s future hangs in the balance as Yanukovych is impeached..." Even the Kyiv Post claimed, "Parliament votes 328-0 to impeach Yanukovych..."
Fox News wrapped it all up with this: "Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine's capital, Kiev, Saturday after being impeached by the country's parliament, defiantly insisted that he remains the legitimate leader of Ukraine."
But there was no impeachment. The constitutional threshold for impeachment clearly was not met. Didn't any of these news organizations check their facts? Aren't they concerned about misleading their audiences?
To attempt clearing up all this misinformation, I called the Ukrainian mission to the United Nations for an answer. I talked to spokesperson Yegor Pyvovarov. He affirmed that Yanukovych was not impeached. Couldn't the news organizations have sought confirmation from Pyvovarov or his colleagues, too? What's wrong with these so-called news outlets?
But if Yanukovych was not impeached, what happened to him?
I asked Pyvovarov that question, too. He explained that the constitutional procedure for impeachment is quite onerous. Instead, he said, Yanukovych was removed because he "left his constitutional duties." That notion was backed up by Olexandr Motsyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. In a letter to the U.S. Congress, he said, "Yanukovych fled the capital and de facto removed himself from his constitutional authority."
Does that mean Yanukovych quit? The Fox News report has Yanukovych claiming he's still president. Many other outlets carried the same message. Were those reports as inaccurate as the ones about the alleged impeachment?
It turns out it doesn't really matter whether or not Yanukovych abandoned his post. I found that the only way he can relinquish his office on his own would be if he "personally announces the statement of resignation at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine," according to the constitution. The Verkhovna Rada is the country's parliament. Yanukovych never appeared before that body to resign. Yet the credentialed ambassador of Ukraine tried to tell the American Congress that Yanukovych left office through his own doing. What a lot of bunkum! I wonder how many naive Congress members were sucked in by his misrepresentations?
The unconstitutional presidential switcheroo is not the only unconstitutional action of the new Ukrainian regime. Not only did it throw out Yanukovych, it also threw out the constitution. According to Ambassador Motsyk's letter to Congress, the Verkhovna Rada "restored" the 2004 constitution.
From what I can see, the extant constitution had no provision for "restoration" to a previous version. Indeed, the amendments that brought about the 2004 version of the constitution were subsequently declared unconstitutional by Ukraine's Constitutional Court. So the new regime has unconstitutionally reverted to a version of the constitution that has already been declared unconstitutional. This all seems quite chaotic.
There is a procedure for amendment of the constitution, however. If the regime believed it necessary to change the constitution, couldn't it have followed the prescribed procedure? Actually, it couldn't have. You see, the constitution says, "The Constitution of Ukraine shall not be amended in conditions of martial law or a state of emergency." There's little to refute that the country has been in a state of emergency. That means no constitutional amendments for now.
This leaves little for the new regime to hang its hat on, constitutionally, that is. Does that make the leaders criminals who should be punished? Or is there a point to the regime change idea?
I've talked with a number of Ukrainians who believe that it was indeed time for Yanukovych to go. There are stories of pre-election promises that were grossly not lived up to. And rhetoric abounds about monumental corruption and personal enrichment by Yanukovych and his family and associates. And the country suffers under terrible economic conditions.
So there very well may be a mandate for change. And constitutional remedies may have been inadequate. It's said that Yanukovych's hold on the Verkhovna Rada stood in the way. Other countries facing a similar dilemma have indeed chosen a revolutionary path. I'm talking about a real revolution, not a trumped up constitutional transition that relies on falsehoods and trickery.
The American revolution formally started off with a declaration of independence. It begins with the words, "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..." Instead of the clumsy trickery of the new regime, perhaps the leaders simply could have come clean and produced their own declaration of a revolution.
A lot of observers already consider what happened in Ukraine to be a revolution. Isn't it about time that the regime owned up to it, and sought recognition of their revolutionary leadership by other countries and international organizations?
However, there may be a problem in gaining recognition. That's because there are some recognized unsavory characters and organizations within the revolutionary movement. Dr. Nicolai Petro, a University of Rhode Island professor now on research assignment in Ukraine, says that the new regime relies upon a coalition that includes the Svoboda party. Petro explains, "On December 13, 2012, the EU Parliament passed a resolution that called the Svoboda party xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic, and called for all of the parties in the Ukrainian parliament not to associate with Svoboda. Petro goes on, "This Svoboda party has been rewarded instead of being marginalized. It was given four ministerial portfolios and several governorships as well as the prosecutor general's office."
BBC produced a documentary titled "Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine" Its narrator explains the bulk of Ukrainian demonstrators have been ordinary citizens, "people who simply refused to back down." However, "the most organized and perhaps the most effective are a small number of far right groups," the narrator asserts. Scenes are shown with participants marching through Maidan Square displaying Hitler-era Nazi symbols.
One faction carrying baseball bats and guns is identified as "The Right Sector," perhaps the largest of the groups. The BBC reporter asked one member about his group's political beliefs. He answered, "National Socialist themes are popular amongst some of us. The idea of one nation. Not everyone in our organization shares this idea, but some people do believe in it." The interview subject admitted that personally he liked the idea. He explained that it means "a clean nation ... not like under Hitler ... but in our own way, a little bit like that."
Another well-informed expert observer told me, "It was clear at the start that from mid December, Maidan was hijacked by well organized 'lads in masks.' It was also clear that in order for the opposition to seize power blood had to be spilled."
On March 4, the Guardian published an expose titled, "Who exactly is governing Ukraine?" One of the new leaders, the report claims, destroyed documents in 2004 that allegedly suggested that Orange Revolution leader Julia Tymoshenko had links with organized crime. Another is widely believed to be behind "much of the protester-led violence -- including throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at the police." And still another is described a "an anti-abortion activist [who] once publicly suggested that women should 'lead the kind of lifestyle to avoid the risk of rape, including refraining from drinking alcohol and being in controversial company.'"
Also conspicuous among the leadership is the person who was in charge of the widely-reported protest camp at Maidan Square. An Estonian report still awaiting investigation alleges that the snipers that killed and injured so many had been hired not by the Yanukovych allies, but by the protest movement itself. Perhaps the shooting, characterized as a Yanukovych initiative, had been intended as a provocation for deposing Yanukovych.
Before the release of the Estonian report, the regime had been content with the widespread presumption that Yanukovych supporters were behind the sniper shootings. Afterward, however, regime officials floated the notion that Russia is to blame. The timing of the regime's reattribution seems to belie a new-found need to shed blame.
Not all of the leaders reported in the Guardian story have questionable pasts. But the existence of radicals in their midst may offer obstacles to international acceptance.
Throughout all the tumult and chaos in Ukraine, there has been a persistent and prominent collateral storyline. It centers on a strong implication that Russia is to blame. Western media from the start have characterized Ukraine's dilemma as a struggle to break free of Russian domination and to seek freedom and prosperity through association with Western Europe.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, the stories suggest, is a tyrant seeking to over-run not only Ukraine, but also surrounding countries. Senator John McCain alleges that Putin is "bent on restoration of the Soviet empire." The Washington Post ran the headline, "Hillary Clinton says Putin’s actions are like ‘what Hitler did back in the 30s.'"
The McCains and Clintons, and the media who parrot their fanciful and misleading allegations, seem to avoid mentioning the infiltration of the demonstrations by neo-Nazis who have now become participants in the new government. Instead, they just focus on their fanciful stories of Putin's alleged hunger for conquest.
A more reality-based perspective was enunciated by journalist Mary Dejevsky. In the Independent (London) she wrote, "Amid the many dangers inherent in the crisis that has erupted over Ukraine, one of the greatest, and least recognized, is that of misreading Russia. Already a Western consensus has gained hold, according to which Vladimir Putin has spent his 14 years in power just waiting for the chance to rebuild the Soviet empire, and here he is now, gleefully seizing it with both bloodied hands."
From my own personal experience, I agree and can attest that much of what has been reported about Putin in the West lacks a factual basis. The International Federation of Journalists commissioned me in 2007 to investigate the news coverage of Alexander Litvinenko's death in London. He was the reputed former KGB spy that news reports claimed was murdered by polonium poisoning on orders of Putin. My extensive research found that this entire story of incrimination was concocted and publicized by a wealthy political enemy of Putin's. It was a vicious hoax. The media reports had no factual basis. I've observed that many other media accusations of Putin misdeeds fit that same pattern exactly.
It is befuddling how the Kremlin could have been so ineffective at counteracting the incessant attacks waged via the media. It pays dearly for Western PR assistance. A recent CNBC story details how the American PR firm Ketchum has received $40 million from 2006 to 2012 for Kremlin-related work. It seems that Putin was fleeced in that deal. Clearly there has been a massive failure to protect the international reputation of Russia and its leaders. That leaves the country vulnerable to all the McCain-Clintonesque smear campaigns that inevitably pop up.
Ukraine's new leaders should take note and learn from Putin's PR mistakes. The image and reputation of the new Ukraine and its leaders require careful management, lest opportunists gain advantage from any missteps. Candor is a cornerstone of any relationship management effort. By misrepresenting their revolutionary accession to leadership as a constitutional transition, the new regime is already starting out on the wrong foot.
Greater candor is needed. The new Ukraine and its leaders need real legitimacy, not the pretense of legitimacy. Achieving real legitimacy will also require that the new government will be populated by patriots and competent leaders, not thugs with antisocial agendas.
Many Ukrainians have shown great courage in ousting the former government, which they believed was propelling their country along a negative trajectory. Now it remains to be seen if they will have the courage to clean their own house and function with transparency and an absence of deception.