Orange Revolution Dies: Ukraine Part 2

(subtitled: Democracy struggles on)

I have written several times about how difficult democracy is. Well. Democracy took an uppercut to the jaw several weeks ago and ain’t gonna be getting back up in Ukraine. And I am sad because I was there when democracy took its first step in Ukraine 5 years ago. And I have friends in Ukraine.

So. Because most of us probably weren’t paying much attention Ukrainians cast their first presidential ballots since the 2004 Orange Revolution Sunday January 17, 2010. Unfortunately this was the first step in the election that would end up steering the country from its pro Western course and strengthen ties with Russia. Yup. Last week they elected President Yanukovych who wants to move Ukraine’s foreign policy closer to Russia’s, and opposes joining NATO (as do most Ukrainians).

orange revolutionThey are calling this the final farewell to the Orange Revolution. This election stamped the revolution’s outcome a failure by rejecting, even if by a close margin, one of the Orange Revolution’s founders, Yulia Tymoshenko with her fashion trademark, a golden braid. (International observers deemed this election to be an “impressive” display of democracy, though Ms. Tymoshenko claims fraud and I would reserve judgment until we see whether they ever have another “democratic” election ever again).

Oh. On a separate note I do worry this fraud thing may begin to become the greatest legacy of Democracy (see United States, Afghanistan, Ukraine, etc. elections as examples).

Anyway. The election itself was democracy at its best. The turnout to vote was massive. In the initial election voters trudged toward the polls in light snow in the capital Kiev early in the morning and at one polling station in the eastern city of Donetsk, officials encouraged voters with vodka, sausage and salo, or lard, a traditional Ukrainian hors d’oeuvre. (who says democracy cannot be fun).

In the initial vote former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian figure that was the target of the 2004 Orange-led mass protests, ended up having the support of about a third of voters. He was followed closely by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, an Orange leader from the 2004 election. The current President, Viktor Yushchenko, propelled to power by the 2004 protests, finished out of the running. Yuschenko sought to build bridges with the West and to reduce Russia’s influence in Ukraine, antagonizing Moscow. But. Despite his 2004 victory his performance since then has many voters holding him responsible for the country’s political gridlock and economic troubles. (basically he sucked when given the opportunity).Ukraine choices version 2

There were about 18 overall candidates but because none of them ended up with more than 50% there was a final run off between the top two vote getters. (Yanukovych and Tymoshenko). At that stage Ukrainians were publicly underwhelmed with their options as noted by S. Grybok “But, as Ukrainians are now saying, we must choose the least bad of the two.”

Anyway. With the election complete and a new “democracy leader” how does Russia feel? (which, as a reminder, used to love having Ukraine as part of its humble “union”).

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the results of Ukraine’s presidential election reflected the country’s desire to improve ties with Russia.

Medvedev expressed the hope that Russia-Ukraine relations would return to a partnership approach under the new president elect Viktor Yanukovych. (I have to admit that I don’t really remember any of the soviet nations as having “partnership relations” with Russia.)

Yanukovych, certainly not disappointing Russia in any way with his words, has pledged to end Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO and to elevate Russian to the status of a second official language after Ukrainian.

In addition, he has said he would postpone consideration of the future of Moscow’s lease on its naval base in Sevastopol, home to the Russian Black Sea fleet. The lease expires in 2017.

But. I would tend to believe that is simply rhetoric at this stage. (just my opinion)

So. What does this all mean.

The Ukraine presidential elections look to have brought the country in a disturbing full circle.

(another step toward the revised semi-reunited soviet union?)

Voters apparently returned to support Viktor Yanukovich, the villain in the country’s democratic “Orange Revolution” of 2004. It was after fraudulent elections just over five years ago, when Mr. Yanukovich was declared the presidential winner, that Ukrainians persistently protested the phony results and eventually saw them thrown out. Their peaceful demonstrations rattled Ukraine’s eastern neighbor, Russia. With Yanukovich now in office the link between Ukraine and Russia solidifies (and they are a lot less rattled).

Ukraine needs to move forward instead of chasing its tail. Yet since the revolution, its democratic leaders have been running in circles, fighting each other while doing little to advance needed political and economic reforms. Last year, Ukraine’s economy contracted by a breathtaking 15 percent. Ukraine, the size of France, is simply too important to fail from anyone’s point of view and in particular Russia now.

And I don’t believe now that it has a Russia friendly government it will.

Sandwiched between Russia and Western Europe, Ukraine has the potential to act as a stabilizing economic and political bridge between Moscow and the West.

But. I would guess that it will be Russia that will bring Ukraine back and the gap that needs to be bridged (between Russia and West) will be larger.

But. That’s just my opinion.

Oh. And there is more to think about (remembering the whole Soviet Union thing).

Ukraine gets added to Belarus and Kazakhstan and Abkhazia who are committed to relationships with Russia. (the Customs Union it is called without Ukraine to date)

Abkhazia states the direction others could choose as Democracy struggles.

“Abkhazia is set to have a dialogue with all countries in the region. But the main and only strategic ally of ours is Russia. Our feelings in relations with Russia have not changed after the recognition of our independence” said the leader of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh when speaking in Moscow before the students of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations). He further states, “We are anxiously watching the situation in Ukraine, are having a dialogue with Belarus in the expectation that it recognizes our statehood, and in the end, it will be easier for us to join the Union State.”

So. Do I believe there will be a new Soviet Union? Well. Certainly not the way it was before.

I do believe there is a strong possibility of what I would call a “Democunist” bloc of countries.

Huh? Democunists?

Countries that have populations that love the idea of Democracy but retain the comfort of Communism.

When democracy struggles like it just did in Ukraine something will step in to fill the void. I have said many times before. Democracy is tough.

Written by Bruce