An article by the publisher of PoliticsNY.net featured in the March 27 issue of Artvoice.
My Ukrainian friend Oleg Sheremet predicted Russia would retake Crimea by 2012. He was only off by about a year, but he will never know. It’s for the best: Watching Russia’s recent invasion might have stopped his heart.
Oleg made his prediction in 2007, when we worked together on a Ukrainian parliament campaign. I was a general consultant and he was our campaign manager. In former Soviet Union races, nobody wants to see American faces. So global experts hide behind local managers who execute Western-standard campaign plans.
Oleg was a master of his craft and a world-class operative in his own right. He was brilliant and cunning and could tell a story over a vodka bottle like nobody else. As our candidate rose unexpectedly in the polls, Oleg got the credit. He also got the blame.
I spoke no Ukrainian and Oleg wasn’t an English speaker. We talked politics, business, music, and film through his translator. He would tap his barrel chest when he talked about his country. For him, and for most Ukrainians, every political move affects them, so it becomes quite personal.
Our dark horse candidate won on Election Day. All the Kiev wags were shocked and Oleg, most of all: An assassin put six rounds from a Kalashnikov into his chest. His children witnessed their father’s murder.
What I learned then the world knows now: Ukrainian politics ain’t beanbag.
* * *
It’s always been harder for me to enter Ukraine than to leave. The worst was in 1997, when I traveled from Moscow to Kiev with Kremlin officials to talk politics with leaders of Ukraine’s parliament. It was maddening.
I was detained for an hour, out of contact with my Russian travel companions. Mostly, I just sat and waited for the fat Ukrainian border policeman to return with my passport. When he did, and grunted to dismiss me, I let fly a string of English expletives under my breath as I left the interrogation room.
“What’s wrong, Urrigone?” The Russian deputy prime minister I worked for had taken to calling me their word for hurricane. There were dozens of DPM’s scattered throughout the halls of the Kremlin. Mine was a comedian.