By John Helmer, Moscow
The latest independent polling of Ukrainian voters reveals that opposition strategy and political loyalties have been split by US government intervention. As a result, Ukrainian support for Vitali Klitschko, head of the UDAR opposition party, is weakening. UDAR, the acronym, stands for the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform; in Russian the word means “punch”. In English reporting, Klitschko’s organization is called BLOW.
According to new voter polls, instead of the weakening Klitschko (image centre), the opposition candidate the US wants to keep in prison, Yulia Tymoshenko (2nd from left), has been gaining voter support. But the embattled President, Victor Yanukovich (right), is recovering votes at the expense of both of them.
The extent of the US involvement was revealed last week in a telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland, the head of Europe at the State Department in Washington, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the US Ambassador in Kiev. Their call, and the State Department’s reaction to its disclosure, can be listened to here . Among the fresh moves Nuland said she had arranged was a flight into Ukraine by US Vice President Joe Biden (left). Biden, said Nuland, would publicly endorse the US choice of opposition candidate to lead the campaign for Yanukovich’s ouster, and for pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections.
Ukrainian sources report from Kiev and Odessa that if Biden were to shake hands now with any of the opposition candidates, that would be a “kiss of death”. In Washington, the Biden visit appears to have been called off. Following a heavy snowfall in Washington on Thursday, the White House was unable to say whether the Vice President’s visit to Ukraine has been cancelled. State Department sources said they “aren’t aware of an upcoming VPOPTUS trip.”
In the meantime, Nuland said she had arranged for the appointment of a special United Nations official, a Dutchman named Robert Serry (right), to fly into Kiev with a pre-arranged message for Yanukovich. That happened on January 29. In the past, Serry has served as The Netherlands’ ambassador in Kiev. He has also been a NATO operations executive.
The latest poll publication by the independent Kiev pollster, SOCIS – the Center for Social and Marketing Research – along with the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, appeared on February 7 . Their survey of Ukrainian voter intentions was carried out across the country between January 24 and February 1. The previous survey published by SOCIS was undertaken a week earlier, and the results can be read here .
Asked whether they want to vote if a new presidential election is called, 80.6% said yes in the latest poll. That compares with 75.8% the week before. Fifteen percent now say they are against a new election, compared to 18.6% earlier. The shift is larger than the margin for statistical error in the polling. The undecideds are dwindling – now 4.4%, before 5.5%.
If the election were to be called immediately, the new SOCIS poll reveals Klitschko is the choice of 16.1%. He is slipping – his support was 19.1% the week before. Those who said they are undecided, or negative towards all candidates, amounted to 31.5% in January. By the start of this month they had shrunk to 28.3%. The drift wasn’t in Tymoshenko’s direction, however. When Ukrainians were asked if they would vote for her, the latest poll counts 13.9% in her favour. She attracted 14.6% the week before.
The voter shift at the start of the month was in Yanukovich’s favour, though not by much. He was the preferred candidate for 20.4% in January; 20.8% at the start of February.
The election plotting by Nuland and Pyatt first leaked into the internet media on February 4, between seven and ten days after the live call itself. The tape of their conversation, along with Russian and Ukrainian translation, followed with widespread newspaper reporting of what the US officials had said. Sources in the Ukraine say the impact on voter sentiment is to reinforce what has already been detected in the SOCIS polls. A growing majority of Ukrainians, both in the pro-Russian east and the anti-Russian west, believe the opposition leaders are being manipulated and out for their own gain. A majority, 63.3%, told SOCIS they want to see direct negotiations between the opposition and Yanukovich; 20.1% support continuing peaceful protests; 11.1% say they support escalation to force.
In their telephone call, Nuland and Pyatt discussed how to avoid negotiations with Yanukovich. Said Pyatt: “we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.” Only after “things start to fall into place”, Pyatt claimed, would there be reason for “some kind of outreach to Yanukovich.” Pyatt was saying that on the Friday or Saturday, January 24-25.
Since then the polls show that voter sentiment in favour of Europe and Russia is hardening. In January 42.9% said they would vote for Europe in a referendum; 31.6% in favour of the alliance with Russia; and 25.4% were undecided. At the start of this month, the undecided bloc had declined by 6 points to 19.4%, while the pro-Russia bloc gained 4.5 points to 36.1%. The pro-Europe bloc also gained, but by less, to 44.5%. A national referendum on which direction to take has been proposed by the Ukrainian Communist Party. But that vote is opposed by Yanukovich, the US, and the non-communist opposition.
By ignoring Tymoshenko in her Kharkov incarceration and encouraging Klitschko out of the new government Yanukovich is now trying to form, the Obama Administration is now pushing against the direction of Ukrainian sentiment. The lesson for Yanukovich, says a Ukrainian analyst from Odessa, is “to sit tight, stay cool, wait.”