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Post card from Ukraine

April 24, 2009

This is one in a series of post cards from Reuters reporters across Europe, Middle East and Africa

Ukraine’s famous instability, verbose politicians and haphazard legislation present the investor – and the journalist – many red herrings. While talk of impeachment of President Viktor Yushchenko ring alarm bells, constitutionally it is nonsense. As CDSs go off the rails, Ukraine’s sovereign debt repayments are small and manageable. As Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko calls for the central bank governor’s blood, he is still at the helm. And while Yushchenko and Tymoshenko fight like Itchy and Scratchy, the country – to the amazement of some – has yet to collapse. 

Investors inside Ukraine have long known this and with good lawyers have managed to get on with business as the economy driven by steel and grain exports boomed at 7 percent annually since 2000. They follow political events constantly but are less quick to judge, because often their significance appears later or in fact does not exist. Those outside Ukraine overestimate the consistency of its politics. None of the three major parties – Tymoshenko’s, Yushchenko’s or opposition leader Yanukovich’s can be branded liberal, conservative, socialist, pro or anti Russian. Populism and pragmatism – usually at the last minute — are the key policies.

Now a deep economic recession is upon the former Soviet republic and presidential and parliamentary elections will decide the fate of the country. So what to expect? Not revolutions certainly, but as the country gears up to the polls, expect patience to wear thin amongst the population. Expect a dirty campaign allowing for new faces to appear that will get nowhere in the elections but be included in top jobs because of their fresh credentials. Expect continual constitutional change that may settle the question of who has real power — the president or prime minister.  Expect Tymoshenko to put up a fierce fight and Yushchenko to wither away. And expect Russia’s heavy gaze on this all.  

Police officers rest in a central park in Kiev April 23, 2009. REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin (UKRAINE SOCIETY IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

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