Ukraine chief seeks friends in EU capital
29.10.2010 @ 17:53 CETEUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Ukraine's new administration is pulling out the stops to win a better name for itself in the EU capital ahead of Sunday's (31 October) local elections and the EU-Ukraine summit in November.
Meanwhile, PR giant Burston Marsteller is working for Rinat Akhmetov, an energy-and-steel-sector billionaire who is also an MP for the president's Party of the Regions.
Another PR major, Apco, is working for billionaire MP Olexandr Feldman.
Mr Feldman was on Mr Yanukovych's side before the president was ousted from power in the 2004 Orange Revolution. He then switched over to Mr Yanukovych's nemesis, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. With Mr Yanukovych back in power, Mr Feldman now says he is "independent." But the Apco-Feldman tandem is circulating and endorsing pro-Yanukovych op-eds to Brussels reporters, penned by Yanukovych MPs, such Leonid Kozhara.
Glocal Communications is also reaching out to media to attend debates with Mr Feldman. And Yanukovych-sympathetic analysts from Brussels-based think-tanks have encouraged members of the press to meet with the MP at intimate dinners, describing him as "objective" and "a philanthropist."
In perhaps its biggest coup, the Party of the Regions on 14 October signed a two-year co-operation deal with the centre-left Socialists & Democrats group in the EU parliament. Following the move, S&D vice president and Romanian centre-left MEP Adrian Severin lobbied to quash a vote on a Yanukovych-critical resolution in the EU assembly on 21 October. The resolution fell.
On the other side, Ms Tymoshenko is working with the small, Hampshire, UK-based lobbying firm Ridge Consulting.
Ridge Consulting facilitates meetings for the press with high-level Tymoshenko supporters, such as former deputy prime minster Hryhoriy Nemyria, in the EU capital and it sends out email alerts of alleged Yanukovych abuses of power.
Ms Tymoshenko's lobbying activity is concentrated in the centre-right European People's Party, however. Her faction, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, joined the group in 2007 and Ms Tymoshenko attracts fierce loyalty from some senior EPP euro-deputies. The EPP adopted an anti-Yanukovych resolution on the very day of his visit to Brussels in September, thoroughly annoying Kiev.
The EPP's sister organisations, such as the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the conservative German think-tank, are also helping Yanukovych critics, such as Taras Kuzio of the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, to reach out to Brussels-based media.
The competing narratives paint a phantasmagoria of heroes, villains and monsters doing battle in the former Soviet country of 46 million people.
The pro-Yanukovych narrative says that Orange Revolution leaders Viktor Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko are solely to blame for the political chaos of the past five years; that Ms Tymoshenko is a messianic figure in a cult-like party; that Mr Yanukovych is a pragmatist who can deliver stability and pro-EU reforms; and that the notion that he is anti-democratic is a lie believed by people who do not know what is really going on in Ukraine.
The pro-Tymoshenko narrative says he is a Kremlin stooge who will destroy Ukrainian independence; that the recent constitutional reforms handing him more power were carried out illegally; that his people in the Ukrainian secret services are strangling free speech and civil society; and that his friends in the gas business are crooks.
"The presence of [Mr Yanukovych's] Prime Minister Mycola Azarov is a message of the vision of Ukraine on its own European future," Mr Severin said in a statement upon signing the S&D pact with Mr Azarov one week ago.
One of the EPP's German members, Elmar Brok, said on Friday: "I am deeply concerned with the continuing deterioration of the domestic situation in Ukraine ... anti-democratic actions continue and have already become systematic."
For their part, EU officials are trying to remain agnostic.
Brussels' top decision-makers on the Ukraine dossier - EU Council Prsident Herman Van Rompuy, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele - have said that Sunday's elections will be a test of Mr Yanukovych's democratic credentials and have ratcheted up warnings that he must respect free media and NGOs.
The Yanukovych camp may be cheered to learn that Russian gas transit is more important than the romance of revolution and counter-revolution to some of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in the EU capital, however.
"I don't think people [in the EU] will care who is in power in Ukraine if they can't heat their houses this winter," a senior EU official told this website, referring to the 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas crisis.
This story was amended at 8pm Brussels time on 29 October 2010. The original text contained a reference to the NGO, the People First Foundation. This reference was removed following a clarification