Yulia Tymoshenko has dropped in the polls for Ukraine’s March 2019 elections.
Her recent lobbying of Washington was mostly uneventful, with the White House and US intelligence community both rebuffing her overtures to meet during her recent visit to the US.
Tymoshenko did herself no favours by reportedly suggesting to a state department official that peace settlement negotiations between Russia and Ukraine should also include America’s strategic rival China.
EU officials also feel uneasy about her.
Washington’s and Brussels unease with Tymoshenko is a product of the lack of clarity in her domestic and foreign policies.
Over the last five years since the ‘Euromaidan’ revolution, Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party has been unenthusiastic about reforms and has strongly opposed key changes that have been linked to IMF and US-EU conditionality.
Her crude attack on acting minister of health, the American Ulana Suprun, who has rooted out corruption in the healthcare sector, as somebody “sent by foreigners” who want to “experiment on Ukrainians” raised many eyebrows.
Tymoshenko seems to want to have her cake and eat it by taking Western financial assistance without implementing the attached conditionality.
Tymoshenko’s foreign policy contradictions certainly open her up to questions if this translates into supporting a return to Ukraine’s much-discredited foreign policy pursued by presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych.
While criticising IMF conditionality Tymoshenko, and the Fatherland party she leads, support EU membership.
But, financial assistance by the US and EU is only offered after an IMF agreement is in place; therefore, Tymoshenko’s criticism of one organisation and praise of the other are contradictory.
The International Monetary Fund agreed to a $3.9bn [€3.46bn] assistance package at the end of 2018.
During Petro Poroshenko’s presidency, the US has likewise provided Ukraine with large amounts of economic and financial support and over $1bn in security assistance.
America’s Ukraine Freedom Support Act provided Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missile systems and anti-armour weapons, and Washington also granted approval for the sale of US sniper rifles, scopes, and ammunition to Kiev.
Commercial cooperation between the US and Ukraine includes the sale of GE locomotives to Ukrainian Railways and, with large areas of eastern Ukraine under Russian occupation, Ukraine purchasing US coal.
Tymoshenko’s contradictory politics certainly raises questions about the direction she would lead Ukraine if she is elected president in March 2019.
Her anti-Western xenophobia and promotion of political and economic isolationism is evident when she says, “Ukraine should rely solely on its own strength, and not on external advice.”
Tymoshenko’s isolationism is at odds with her political party’s goal of joining NATO and the EU.
During the process of joining these international organisations a prospective member is required to undertake detailed reforms and allowing Brussels a very intrusive intervention into an applicant country’s domestic affairs.
Some Western Ukraine-watchers, such as London investment banker Timothy Ash, believe that Tymoshenko will become pragmatic if she is elected president.
After a visit to Kiev, Ash wrote: “Tymoshenko is likely to have to quickly moderate more populist political demands – rowing back from plans for gas price cuts, and to make meaningful management changes at the National Bank of Ukraine.”
In other words, Tymoshenko, like all populists, goes off-message to maintain her appeal with her voters for the elections.
But, can we be sure?
Brussels and Washington have clearly developed a rapport with Ukraine’s president Poroshenko, who is viewed as a reliable ally of the United States, and who appreciates the military, economic, and political support that the EU and United States have provided to Ukraine.
With Tymoshenko, Washington would face uncertainty and the prospect of a Ukrainian president who would seek to develop warmer relations with two of America’s strategic competitors, Russia and China.
This prospect does not bode well for Brussels and Washington which has invested so much energy, diplomatic effort and financial support into Ukraine’s geopolitical orientation to the West.
Tymoshenko’s weak support for reforms over the last four years and her unclear and contradictory domestic and foreign policies are the reason why Brussels and Washington continue to remain cool to her being elected Ukraine’s president.
It is imperative that Ukrainian leaders need to provide clarity and consistent policies to the EU and US during a strategically important election campaign that will decide whether Ukraine’s geo-political path towards Europe will become irreversible.