The Magazine

Another Yalta Conference

From Churchill, FDR, and Stalin to Blair, Clinton, and Pinchuk.

Oct 7, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 05 • By DANIEL HALPER
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No conference organizer wants to say how much these bigwigs are pulling in for their 48 hours on the Black Sea. Some even play dumb and suggest that folks like the Clintons—Bill and Hillary are both here—have just shown up because they’re such good friends with Pinchuk. But that isn’t true.

The top billing for the confab is a moderated discussion between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. It’s the most interesting event with the most prestigious speakers. So it’s moderated by Pinchuk himself.

“I think you all feel how historical this moment is,” he says with glee, in his thick Ukrainian accent. Cameras flash and the crowd claps. “Today I’m making something new in my life. For the first time in my life I will try to have a discussion with the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the prime minister, Tony Blair.”

He notes it’s the first time a British prime minister and American president have been in the White Hall since 1945—when it was Churchill and FDR, respectively. He thinks about it and realizes that would then make him the updated Joseph Stalin, or something like that. He laughs along with his gathering.

That evening Pinchuk will introduce us “to one of the most premium politician of our race.” He is, of course, speaking of Hillary Clinton.

“A role model for hundreds of million of women in all the world. And have a great honor to give floor to Hillary Rodham Clinton. I want to give a Wow! Wow! Wow!”

The crowd obliges, and gives it up for Hillary, who under the radar has shown up here 5,000 miles from New York City, where she’s due in just a couple days for the annual Clinton Global Initiative gala.

“As we meet this year here in Yalta, Ukraine is at another crossroads, a time for big decisions and bold actions,” Hillary says, really getting to the heart of the matter. “A time that will determine whether Ukraine keeps moving forward toward a future enriched by European integration, or passively fails to do so, or, by other forces working on behalf of their own definition of change, is changed in a different direction toward a different future. This is the decision of the citizens and leaders of this country.”

It’s the kind of speech she could have given in almost any country in the world, with a slight variation or two. At least Pinchuk got his photo-op with her. And at least Macy Gray, the surprise pop singer who comes on after the former secretary of state, is entertaining. She’s got some pipes, and makes it through a brief set without incident.

In reality, the most interesting panels aren’t the high-paid speakers but the guys who actually care about Ukraine—the locals.

Like Viktor Yanukovych, the thuggish Ukrainian president who berates his brave opponents who dare ask him to release the political prisoners he’s keeping behind bars. One who just recently got released asks when the president will also release the former prime minister that he imprisoned, Yulia Tymoshenko. “I’m glad to see you here,” Yanukovych sneers as he evades the question.

And there’s Petro Poroshenko, owner of the chocolate company Roshen, which has been banned in Russia. Poroshenko uses his panel to rip into the lone official from the Kremlin for hurting his business. The whole debate illustrates the larger issue at play: whether Ukraine will move toward the European Union or Russia. It can’t do both, and it’s increasingly clear that the current attempt to straddle can’t last. (Hillary’s right! The former Soviet province really is at a crossroads!)

At the gala dinner where Hillary Clinton spoke, Pinchuk furiously waves his hand to call over the reporter who had sat next to me on the charter flight in. She eagerly skips across the room and huddles with our billionaire host. He’s called her over to personally introduce her to his guest of honor.

Pinchuk wants her to know, in case she didn’t already, that he’s a powerful man. So he interrupts Bill Clinton, who’s deep in a private conversation with Elena Pinchuk, Victor’s blonde-haired, beautiful wife.

After a quick handshake and a minute or two of chitchat, it’s over. But it’s a moment she’ll remember forever. She skips back to her seat with the widest grin across her face and a whole new respect for Victor Pinchuk.

Daniel Halper is online editor of The Weekly Standard.

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