Yanukovych and Obama meeting: looming isolation, lessons not learned



On March 27 Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had a brief meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea. Although the meeting was not official and only lasted no less than five minutes, the President’s Administration attributed it enormous importance. The nature of the talks between the two presidents confirmed the international isolation of Yanukovych and his unwillingness to learn from his mistakes.

The nature of the coverage of the meeting between Yanukovych and Obama by representatives of Ukraine’s Presidential Administration was strangely reminiscent of a similar incident last September, when Yanukovych managed to meet Obama in the corridors of the building of the UN Assembly in New York, which the Ukrainian side captured on film and immediately placed on the official website of the Ukrainian president. While it was obvious that the Ukrainian side wanted to show that this meeting of heads of state was highly significant, its informal nature, brevity and the absence of details about the content of their conversation pointed to its seemingly official nature.

The Ukrainian side chose to use a similar tactic on March 27 by momentarily placing photos of Yanukovych and Obama on the official website of the Ukrainian president. Despite this, it immediately was learned that this meeting, just as the previous one, took place in the corridors, meaning it was not official and lasted a mere 5 minutes. Clearly, the two sides could not discuss any serious issues in such a short time. Meanwhile, the intentions of the Ukrainian side were obvious – it wanted to deny the threat of isolation that Ukraine faced due to the fact that Yanukovych has not held official meetings with heads of states in Europe and South America over the last months.

The organization of at the very least unofficial meetings between Yanukovych and influential players on the international political scene during the summit in Seoul was clearly the main objective of Ukraine’s foreign ministry.

Mind you, certain success was achieved: the Ukrainian president managed to have an informal talk not only with Obama, but also with President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso.

Yanukovych admitted that neither of the meetings produced tangible results. Conversely, these short corridor chats proved the unwillingness of European and American high-standing officials to lend an ear to the Ukrainian president. Furthermore, it is totally possible that even Yanukovych’s brief visit with Obama may have not happened at all had Ukraine earlier not made a concession to the U.S. by backing down from the use of enriched uranium.

How the Ukrainian side is once again trying to save face and extricate itself from this complicated situation appears quite strange. The actions of Yanukovych prove that he has already reconciled himself with the cool and indifferent attitude towards him of world leaders and instead of trying to change it he is focusing his attention on forming a positive attitude regarding his international status on the Ukrainian arena. Due to the serious divergence between desire and reality, such a strategy is already splitting at the seams.

Double standards

Uprooting the main causes of the isolation of the Ukrainian president would be a much more effective strategy. However, the chances of this are rather slim. Moreover, over the past months the Ukrainian leadership has demonstrated like never before its intention of ignoring the challenges and recommendations voiced by the European community. Both the politically motivated sentencing of Yuriy Lutsenko, the active continuation of the criminal case against Yulia Tymoshenko, the persecution of member of the opposition party Batkivshchyna Arsen Avakov and the blatant unwillingness of the Ukrainian parliament to heed the recommendations offered by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January are clear testimony to this. Just as is the case with the image of Yanukovych on the international arena, instead of attempts to rectify his gross violations of the fundamental principles of democracy, he is masking them. The recently activated PR campaign of the Ukrainian leadership in Western Europe with the aim of “whitewashing” the main figures in the criminal proceedings against the Ukrainian opposition, in particular Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin, is clear testimony to this.   

Seeing as Ukrainian politicians quite often do not match their word with their actions, it will be very difficult for them to change the opinions of Europeans. It is quite possible that Ukraine’s government officials are consciously aware of this fact. Given this, it appears that holding onto power for an indefinite period of time is more important than renewing normal relations with the European Union and other western countries. The greatest threat is that Ukrainian citizens that are deprived of that chance to make their choice on the domestic and international arenas will become hostage to scale of priorities.


So, the brief talks between Viktor Yanukovych and Barack Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea demonstrated the unwillingness of the leaders of western countries to pay serious attention to the president of Ukraine and the fact that the Ukrainian side is trying to conceal this fact using fairly dog-eat-dog methods in disseminating information.

Looking back at a similar story in September 2011 it becomes crystal clear that President Yanukovych does not wish to learn from his lessons and try to change people’s attitudes towards him. Instead, he is trying to mask his attitude through propaganda campaigns in Ukraine and beyond its borders. Whatever the case, hoping that such campaigns will mollify Yanukovych’s international isolation is nothing but an exercise in futility. 

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