December 15, 2013


EU Grooming Klitschko to Lead Ukraine (Nikolaus Blome, Matthias Gebauer and Ralf Neukirch, 12/15/13, Der Spiegel)

While "regime change" is too strong a term for what Germany is seeking, it's not entirely off base. Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the European People's Party (EPP), a family of European conservative parties, have chosen Klitschko as their de facto representative in Ukraine. His job is to unite and lead the opposition -- on the street, in parliament and, finally, in the 2015 presidential election. "Klitschko is our man," say senior EPP politicians, "he has a clear European agenda." And Merkel still has a score to settle with Putin.

Much of the work happens behind the scenes. Klitschko's party, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), formed in 2010, became an observer member of the EPP recently. EPP offices in Brussels and Budapest are training UDAR personnel for parliamentary work and providing support in the development of a nationwide party structure. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is closely aligned with the CDU, also plays an important role, and Klitschko has expressly asked Merkel's advisors for help from the foundation. Four UDAR members of the Ukrainian parliament paid a visit to Berlin last week, where they met with German CDU lawmakers and officials from both the labor and justice ministries. For some time, the Adenauer Foundation has been preparing Ukrainian opposition politicians to assume responsibility in the context of a "dialogue program."

But Klitschko himself remains the focal point of the effort. He has been meeting with Ronald Pofalla, Merkel's chief of staff, who has maintained ties to members of the opposition in Eastern Europe for years, especially in authoritarian-ruled Belarus. After countless discussions, Pofalla has familiarized himself with the methods Eastern European regimes employ to intimidate members of the opposition when they become too prominent or influential: defamation, daily harassment, arbitrary arrests, show trials and separation from their families. Over time, Pofalla has seen how this approach has succeeded in silencing critical voices in Eastern European countries. He has given Klitschko a number of tips, and the heavyweight boxer and political novice has asked Pofalla for advice. For instance, Klitschko wants to know how to respond to rumors about his alleged "affairs with women" that the Ukrainian government is spreading to spoil his chances as a viable political leader in the country.

Klitschko can also depend on discreet help from Pofalla and the German government when it comes to the 2015 presidential election. His candidacy is currently blocked by a law, presumably written specifically with him in mind, whereby a citizen with a residence permit in other countries is not considered a resident of Ukraine. This prevents Klitschko from proving that he lived in Ukraine for 10 years prior to the election, which is a requirement for a candidacy under the country's constitution. But he can count on Merkel to appeal to President Yanukovych to ensure that the law will not derail Klitschko's candidacy.

To that end, the professional boxer will have to be groomed as a serious politician, both in Ukraine and abroad, which is precisely what is happening.

Posted by at December 15, 2013 8:11 AM

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