Her Own Worst Enemy

Yulia Tymoshenko is out of prison, but the heroine of the Orange Revolution may not be the leader Ukraine wants.

In 2009, as her premiership was unraveling, everyone seemed to be conspiring against Yulia Tymoshenko -- even TV technicians. Just before a live broadcast, Tymoshenko was caught off-camera complaining, "It's all collapsed!" Whether she was referring to the teleprompter problems or Ukrainian politics more generally isn't clear, but that cryptic remark quickly became a national metaphor for Tymoshenko's career: Within a few short years, everything did indeed collapse. After losing the 2010 presidential election, the one-time prime minister and populist heroine ended up in prison.

Now, Tymoshenko is a free woman, but Ukraine is a completely different country than when she lost power in 2010. A leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko watched as that pro-democracy movement fizzled under the weight of its feuding leaders. Today, Ukraine has a real revolution on its hands, and Tymoshenko has won her freedom just in time to hop on the bandwagon.

But how will the irresistible force that was "Yulia" -- not unlike Hillary Clinton, her ubiquity on the national stage is such that she is often referred to by just her first name -- relate to the irresistible, grassroots force that has just brought down the old regime? Before her failed presidential bid in 2010, it was often said that Tymoshenko was the only real man in Ukrainian politics. And to do battle with President Viktor Yanukovych -- which she did -- it was necessary to fight fire with fire. But Yanukovych is gone now, and the new leadership faces a different set of tasks. Can Tymoshenko reinvent herself and eventually lead the revolutionaries on Kiev's main square, the Maidan?

Over the last week, Ukraine's protest movement has achieved a lightning revolution against a corrupt government and the networks and norms it supported, perhaps best described by the Russian word sistema. Ukraine is now attempting to make the decisive kind of break with the country's Soviet past that the Baltic states made after 1991. Even for the Baltic states, this wasn't easy, and Ukraine's protesters ought to learn from their experience: It is crucially important that the first generation of new leaders not relapse into the old rules of the country's post-Soviet political game.

This time, the new regime must begin in truth. The president, in particular, must be a truth-teller and symbolize a new start for all Ukrainians. She or he will need to reunite the country, to leave the hard work of economic reform, lustration, and justice to the government, and to explain clearly -- and convincingly -- just how bad the old regime was.

Tymoshenko, who is widely expected to seek the presidency, has some of the necessary qualities for the role. She is from Ukraine's Russophile east. She speaks Ukrainian and Russian equally well (though she has occasionally insisted on Ukrainian to annoy Russian officials), whereas Yanukovych spoke them both equally badly. And she has posed as a unifying figure before: Like a vision from the country's peasant past, she donned Ukrainian folk clothing and appeared on the Maidan in 2004 as something of a mother of the nation.

But she has also been deeply divisive, earning a murky reputation in both business and government. After accumulating massive wealth as an energy executive during Ukraine's post-Soviet, robber-baron era, Tymoshenko's first stint in politics came in 2000 as a poacher-turned-gatekeeper. As the overseer of the country's gas sector, she used her knowledge of all the schemes and scams in the industry to close some of them down, but also drew allegations of corruption. The legacy of her tumultuous political career could also prove problematic to Tymoshenko's leadership prospects. Indeed, her myriad qualities -- insider, outsider, and political bulldozer all at once -- served her less well once she ascended to elected office than they did during the Orange Revolution. Now, they could be her undoing once more.

Tymoshenko has not always inspired confidence among Ukrainian voters. Together with then-opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, she led the forces of the Orange Revolution to victory in 2004, succeeding in overturning the results of that year's fraudulent presidential election. But within a few years, the two had become bitter enemies. As prime minister in 2005 and again from 2007 to 2010, Tymoshenko quarreled incessantly with Yushchenko, to the point that they essentially paralyzed the policymaking process. By 2009, theirs had become the world's most unpopular government, with an approval rating of a mere 4 percent. Both lost the 2010 election -- to Yanukovych, the man they had ousted in 2004 -- because too many of their own, understandably disenchanted voters stayed at home. Yanukovych had few enthusiastic supporters, but he kept the votes he won in 2004 and thus won the presidency more or less by default.

Today, Ukraine's most pressing problems are economic, and economics was not exactly Tymoshenko's strong point during her time as prime minister. In 2005, she jumped from one populist measure to another, controlling meat and gas prices and causing shortages of both. And using the political capital they had accumulated during the Orange Revolution to quickly dismantle the system they had inherited, Tymoshenko and her allies constantly maneuvered for personal advantage when they should have been leading the country. (To be sure, though her record on economics is checkered, Tymoshenko's global renown would likely help raise the international financial support Ukraine desperately needs.)

By 2007, the start of Tymoshenko's second stint as prime minister, Ukraine was hit by the hurricane of a global recession and a self-induced asset bubble. The Ukrainian economy contracted by a massive 15 percent and unemployment increased to over 10 percent, and Tymoshenko's incumbency amid this mess was a key reason she lost the 2010 election to Yanukovych. But governments in the Baltic states and elsewhere have proved that re-election in an economic crisis is in fact possible, even after taking tough measures to stanch the bleeding -- so long as incumbents offer a clear way out. Tymoshenko, by contrast, was all tunnel and no light. Now, her loss to Yanukovych in elections that were widely described as free and fair looms over her political prospects like a dark shadow.

On the other hand, though not commensurate with the loss of life on the Maidan, Tymoshenko is a victim of the Yanukovych regime -- a fact that, in theory, could earn her political support. Knowing how tough Tymoshenko could be, Yanukovych began gunning for Tymoshenko and leading members of her party after he was elected in 2010. More than 20 people ended up the victims of "selective prosecution." In October 2011, Tymoshenko received a seven-year sentence for "abuse of office." She is said to have been mistreated while in prison and denied painkillers for her severe back problems.

And yet, despite her mistreatment at the hands of the regime, many Ukrainians still regard Tymoshenko as part of the old system, the sistema. Her idea of politics was to use the sistema to her advantage -- parties, oligarchs, banks, and the media were all pawns in her bigger game of power. Winning was all, the ends mostly trumping the means. She even briefly contemplated a coalition deal with Yanukovych in 2009.

During the 1990s, Tymoshenko made huge sums of money by exploiting her country's gas business. And while she didn't rob her country blind during her time in office as Yanukovych did, there are more serious questions for Tymoshenko to answer than the trumped-up charges that landed her in prison 2011, including ones surrounding allegations of bribery and selective banking bailouts during the financial crisis.

Her relationship with Russia, and with Putin in particular, is also a question mark. In January 2009, she inked a notorious gas deal with Russia that removed the equally notorious company Rosukrenergo from the transit trade, a scam in which Gazprom managers and Ukrainian oligarchs were paid hundreds of millions of dollars simply for overseeing the transit of gas. That deal also helped fill the coffers of a beleaguered Gazprom. Tymoshenko signed for a high price and a "take-or-pay" clause that committed Ukraine to paying cash penalties to Gazprom if its gas import volumes dropped. Until the last minute, Russia was happy to back Tymoshnenko for financial reasons, just as it backed Yanukovych for political reasons.

There is a lot of baggage in her relationship with Russia, to put it mildly.

If Tymoshenko wishes to return to the highest echelons of Ukraine's government, current domestic politics will pose a problem as well. At the time of this writing, the new government appears to be skewed toward Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, including likely Prime Minster Arseniy Yatseniuk. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov is also a long-time associate. But Fatherland is only one of three former opposition parties in parliament, and it is the most centrist. As a result, it is furthest from the various groups on the Maidan, such as Self-Defense, the core of the protesters' front line, and the more nationalist Right Sector.

The disconnect between those in parliament and the protesters on the Maidan emerged before the bloodshed began in earnest in February. Without fully consulting protest leaders, every "agreement" between Yanukovych's government and the parliamentary opposition failed to stick. In fact, it was because they had been insufficiently consulted about a weekend peace deal that many of the protesters marched toward parliament on Feb. 18, sparking the chain of violence that culminated in the coup. Now, the blood sacrifice on the Maidan only adds to protest leaders' authority -- and the election of a president from among their ranks would give them the legitimacy that Russia openly argues they do not have.

Even Tymoshenko must defer to the Maidan's leaders at this point. It's clear, too, that she does not enjoy full-throated support from Ukraine's revolutionaries. One leading journalist has asked her to stay out of politics, and she was stopped and aggressively questioned by Maidan supporters at Kiev's airport on Monday.

Indeed, if she runs, Tymoshenko will face an uphill battle to gain votes and best formidable opponents. The boxer Vitali Klitschko, who has announced he will seek the office, led the opposition ranks -- including Tymoshenko -- in opinion polls taken before the uprising. Andriy Parubiy, the leader of Self-Defense who has been brought into the new government, could also stand. Complicating matters is Ukraine's famously divided electoral geography, which hasn't changed overnight. If Yanukovych's Party of Regions can get its act together and select a candidate who is not too obviously pro-Russian or too tarred with the crimes of the old regime, then the votes are still there in eastern and southern Ukraine.

In short, with many candidates competing for the country's leadership, and without the benefit of a primary system to weed their number down, the stage could be set for yet another potentially disappointing finish for Tymoshenko at the polls.

Tymoshenko has had plenty of thinking time in prison. When she addressed the Maidan from a wheelchair on Saturday, everybody welcomed her release, but not everyone welcomed her rushing straight there to implicitly claim credit for Ukraine's revolution. At the same time, the media published unflattering reports that her daughter had been partying in Rome three days earlier to celebrate her birthday -- while protesters were being killed on the Maidan.

If Tymoshenko expected to be anointed upon her return, she must be sorely disappointed.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images


The New Defense Budget Plan

The Pentagon's budget imagines spending levels that are not based on reality. This isn't just a problem for now, but a problem for the next five years.

It's budget season in Washington. Every year at this time I am hopeful that the Pentagon might finally escape Wonderland and wake up. And every year at this time, I am disappointed -- but not surprised -- when it does not.

Although the Pentagon won't make the budget public until March 4, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel provided a sneak peek, which shows some progress in the effort to get real about defense resources. That is to say, the Defense Department budget for fiscal 2015 is consistent with the budget deal struck last year by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). And the Pentagon has abandoned the notion that future defense budgets should reflect last year's unreal Pentagon forecast. That's the good news.

The bad news is that Hagel's current forecast is still not real. It could work, but the budget castles he designed for between 2016 and 2019 are built on quicksand, which is a real problem for defense planners over the next five years.

Good news first. Plans involving Army cuts seem to be based in reality. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, used to argue that the Army could not perform its missions with less than 490,000 in the active-duty force. Shrinking the budgetary appetite means shrinking the Army to a smaller force, and Hagel plans to do that -- maybe to 440,000.

Headlines falsely stated that the proposal would "shrink the Army to pre-World War II levels." This is simply not true; the Army, in fact, would be larger. And we don't live in Hitler's world -- there is no major enemy ground force surging into other countries that the United States needs to confront. Moreover, this ain't the conscript Army of yesteryear -- it is a well-armed, superior force any way you look at it, larger than that of almost any nation the United States might fight (except that of China, which it wouldn't fight on the ground) and the only one that can be deployed around the globe.

The Army needs to shrink, to reflect the end of the wars and the reality that the Pentagon's own strategy rules out large, long-term stability operations, like Iraq and Afghanistan. And, unlike the 1930s, there are now more than 500,000 U.S. Army guardsmen and reservists to call up in a time of need, if it ever arises. It is a better Guard and Reserve than ever, courtesy of the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan -- quality force, for sure.

There is some reality in the hardware decisions, as well. Hagel proposes to retire the Air Force A-10 attack aircraft and the U-2 surveillance aircraft, saving some operating monies, plans to buy only 32 new littoral combat ships (instead of the original goal of 52), and wants to provide a mercy killing for the Army's latest failure in designing a new ground combat vehicle (on to the next one, I guess).

There is even some reality on the pay and benefits side, where spending has doubled per troop over the past 12 years, pay raises have exceeded the standard measure for wage increases in the economy, and health benefits have been extended to more recipients among the Guard and Reserve and the retiree community.

That last item costs taxpayers $1.4 billion a year. Takes some guts to try to end it: When I was at the Office of Management and Budget in the 1990s, we tried to end the subsidy, but it was the one proposal that was certain to ensure the presence of every four-star officer at a Defense Resources Board meeting; thus, it was rejected time and time again. Guess who likes the benefit? Retired officers.

OK, so now for the unreal part -- the Wonderland adventure. The new Hagel budget still imagines that the Budget Control Act and its spending levels are higher than what they actually are, when, in fact, the Budget Control Act caps are lower than Hagel's numbers -- $115 billion lower over the next five years. He has not gone far enough.

Even in 2015, when the Hagel budget accepts reality, he has added an asterisk. There's a little $26 billion boost he would like to get, as part of a White House proposed investment fund, that would be above the Ryan-Murray cap. This is the first step back into Wonderland -- this magical investment fund will not happen. Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, who is likely to be the next chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has made it clear that the House majority will abide by the Bipartisan Budget Act. Rep. Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, will agree. If it can't pass the House, it will not happen.

The return to Wonderland gets even worse in the out-years. The secretary's four-year budget proposes $115 billion in spending above the 2011 Budget Control Act's caps between 2016 and 2019. The White House may have encouraged him to do this, but he took the bait and ran with it. But allowing the military services to imagine there will be more money down the road than the act provides is a dangerous temptation, one the secretary should have resisted.

The Budget Act is real; Hagel's projections are not. But bad budgeting is the result of this misstep. Unlike the domestic agencies, the military actually plans out its future budgets in excruciating detail, putting in programs it thinks will actually happen. My guess is that the services were given a higher budgetary target than the Budget Control Act caps and then were asked what would disappear if the Pentagon were forced to live at the caps. Needless to say, planned that way, the things that fall off the table sound like military disasters: The Army would have to shrink to 420,000, which is too small. The Pentagon would have to eliminate all the KC-10 tanker aircraft, dry dock a lot of ships, suspend the Navy version of the F-35 fighter for two years. "The resulting force," Hagel said, "would be too small to fully execute the president's defense strategy."

That's not the only unreality in his budget plan. He proposes cutting the housing allowance subsidy that troops receive from 100 percent to 95 percent of the total cost; he wants to raise co-pays and deductibles for the military's health insurance scheme; and he wants to eliminate the taxpayer subsidy provided to military commissaries. They are not bad ideas, but they are unreal, politically. Congress will not allow it to happen, any more than they were willing to swallow the lower COLA for military retirees under 62 years old that Ryan and Murray built into their December 2013 budget agreement. Congress reversed that one in a second earlier this month; Hagel's proposals will fare no better.

His plans even contradict the very rules he laid out in his budget preview -- compensation changes need "a holistic and comprehensive approach," not a piecemeal one, he said. But his approach is entirely piecemeal, and it will fail, as it has before, leaving future budget planners with the task of finding the savings somewhere else.

Same deal with the savings he would get from closing more bases starting in 2017. The United States has only had one base closure round in the past 15 years, and it didn't save a lot of money because a lot of it involves consolidating forces into other existing bases, which cost money for construction and expanded operations.

I give the Pentagon team credit for not getting all the way down the rabbit hole, but the price of not awaking at the end of the story is that the dream is still not "real." Congress is unlikely to fix this problem; year-by-year they will just vote less money than the services expect and the planners will have to rewrite the plans.

What the secretary should have done is to instruct his budget planners to do their work assuming the 2011 Budget Control Act caps were real, write the best plans and choose the best programs at that level, and go to the president with an honest accounting of the forces' capabilities and missions at an acceptable level of risk. He didn't do that; reality will have to wait.

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