Only last November, the most dramatic picture of the EU’s failure to bring its message to the Ukrainian leadership was a YouTube video showing Angela Merkel telling President Yanukovich in Vilnius, ‘We expected more’. A mild, civilized and diplomatic rebuke. After the failure to sign the long negotiated Association Agreement in Vilnius and a few more days of rescue attempts, Commissioner Füle was criticized for ‘losing his cool’ and being undiplomatic when he commented on twitter that the ‘words and deeds of Ukraine’s leadership were further and further apart’. Today, the internet and news agencies are alive with shocking images of violence from the centre of Kiev. In the last weeks the Ukrainian parliament passed, with lightning speed, legislation ‘stipulating jail terms for offenses such as driving in columns of more than 5 cars, people wearing hard hats and demonstrating in uniforms and ‘not complying with the demands of legal authorities’. In an even more bizarre Orwellian twist, those near the central square in Kiev were reported to have received an sms message ‘Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance’.
How could things go so wrong so rapidly: for Ukraine but also in terms of the ability of EU policy makers to influence events there? A small, rational part of the answer is that political regimes where the distance between informal rules and formal legislation is substantial are difficult to understand by studying only the formal legislative rules and the configuration of formal veto players. A gut feeling response suggests that the President and the opposition feel they have nothing to lose and therefore will not look for a compromise. Last but not least, the violence – which is, even in these curcumstances – not the wish of the majority of people protesting in the streets of Kiev these days – may be a sign that no one has any trust in President Yanukovich’s words any more. So Mr. Füle was right after all. One cannot help but wish that the realities of Ukraine’s political system of neopatrimonialism, a form of governance characterized by nearly complete state capture and power monopolies, (as defined by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi in a recent article in the Journal of Democracy) had been understood and acknowledged earlier.