Ukraine’s Presidential Election – Oranges Turned Lemons
|Introduced by Vladimir Frolov
|Contributors: Vladimir Belaeff, Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger, James George Jatras, Edward Lozansky
On January 17 Ukrainian voters delivered a stunning verdict to the five years of the Orange Revolution of 2004 and Victor Yushchenko’s failed presidency by giving a commanding lead in the first round of the presidential election to Viktor Yanukovich, leader of the Party of Regions, and Yushchenko’s opponent in 2004. What does the Ukrainian presidential election tell us about the legacy of the Orange Revolution? How will it affect the economic situation and Ukraine’s financial position? Will Russia have to bail out Ukraine? And if so, what would it get in return? Who will be a more pro-Russian leader of Ukraine – Yanukovich or Tymoshenko?
The ultimate irony was that in 2010 Yushchenko, who garnered a dismal five percent of the vote, acted as a tactical ally of Yanukovich against Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, once Yushchenko’s partner in the Orange coalition. Yushchenko’s candidacy essentially denied Tymoshenko a clear victory in Western Ukraine, helping Yanukovich solidify his lead.
The results of the election clearly demonstrate the objective failure of Yushchenko’s anti-Russian course as a means of strengthening Ukrainian sovereignty.
Yushchenko wasted time and effort in pursuit of illusory goals, like membership in NATO and the EU that did little to improve the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.
Meanwhile, corruption and economic mismanagement have put Ukraine on the brink of bankruptcy, with the IMF suspending the disbursement of its $16 billion loan last November to prop up Kiev’s finances, devastated by the perpetual political infighting between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
In 2010, Ukraine faces a $10 billion deficit in servicing its external debt of over $33 billion, with projected deficits growing to $20 billion in 2012 to 1013. It is likely that Ukraine will have to be bailed out by its neighbor Russia, just as Dubai had to be rescued by the neighboring Emirates a couple of months ago.
It is no wonder then that all leading candidates in Ukraine’s presidential elections, including Tymoshenko, ran on a platform of resetting good relations with Russia and eschewing membership in NATO.
The biggest surprise factor in the election has been an impressive third place finish by Sergei Tigipko, a 49-year-old self-made multi-millionaire banker from Dnepropetrovsk, who once served as Yanukovich’s presidential campaign director in 2004.
Tigipko ran on a platform of economic pragmatism and effective management, with a strong push for improved relations with Russia. He managed to attract a significant number of disaffected voters in large industrial centers, scoring a first-place finish in his native Dnepropetrovsk and pushing Yanukovich to third place in Kiev. The stunning success of his candidacy (from zero to 13 percent of the vote in eight months) illustrates the degree of disillusionment many Ukrainians feel toward their current political leaders and the broken promise of the Orange Revolution of 2004.
So far, Yanukovich is poised to win in the run-off with a likely political coalition with Tigipko, while Tymoshenko will have to fight for her life by trying to hang on to a fragile government coalition in the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament. Yushchenko is out of the picture at least till the next parliamentary election (which could be held as early as next May), a disgraced and widely despised figure who sought to create an impenetrable barrier between Ukraine and Russia.
Moscow has wisely refrained from endorsing any of the candidates in the election, focusing its efforts on marginalizing Yushchenko. Russia will be much better off in its relations with Ukraine irrespective of who wins the second round – Yanukovich or Tymoshenko. Both are leaders Moscow can do business with, and both would do their best to avoid irritating their most important neighbor.
What does the Ukrainian presidential election tell us about the legacy of the Orange Revolution? What does it tell us about the state of democracy in Ukraine? How will the results of the election affect the country’s relations with Russia, the EU and the United States? How will it affect the economic situation and Ukraine’s financial position? Will Russia have to bail out Ukraine? And if so, what would it get in return? Who will be a more pro-Russian leader of Ukraine – Yanukovich or Tymoshenko? What could be Tigipko’s political future?
James George Jatras, Deputy Director, American Institute in Ukraine, Kiev:
It seems that under most conceivable scenarios, February 7 will see opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich take the victory that eluded him five years ago. To emerge the winner, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has to work hard to drive up Yanukovich's “negatives” (about 55 percent of Ukrainians view him unfavorably) to her higher levels (69 percent). She also has to turn out those who voted for other candidates in the first round, who then have to break very heavily in her favor (both surveys and anecdotal evidence indicate many voters for other first-round candidates will break more evenly than she needs, will stay home, or will select the "against both" option).
By any standard, that is a tall order, especially when the edge will belong to whoever is perceived as the agent of "change" when voter discontent with Ukraine's miserable economy is at stratospheric levels. So add to Yanukovich's advantage the fact that he's not the prime minister and his rival is, sharing blame with outgoing president Viktor Yushchenko. The only realistic prospect that Tymoshenko can legitimately close the gap would be for third-place finisher Sergey Tigipko (a likely prospect for the premiership under either presidential contender) to openly and energetically try to throw his votes to her. If, as is the case now, he declines to do that, her task moves from very difficult to well-nigh impossible.
Of course, that assumes a free and fair vote. Even people who prefer Tymoshenko to Yanukovich suspect that rather than "go gently into that good night," Tymoshenko is preparing to use whatever means she has at her disposal to produce a vote count within a few points of Yanukovich, and then cry fraud and take to the streets in an intended replay of 2004. The recent storming by parties unknown of a facility printing ballot forms is widely seen as an indicator that people working for Tymoshenko plan to stuff enough ballot boxes to set the stage for a political crisis.
The harm this would inflict on Ukraine at this important juncture in the country's democratic development, when it needs to show the world that it is a stable democracy with a "normal" political process, should be obvious. When elections occur in "normal" countries, they are won or lost at the ballot box—and that’s the end of the story. There is a clear winner and loser based on the actual votes cast. An election in a "normal" democracy does not mean claiming that exit polls take precedence over counting the ballots. It does not mean victory goes to the candidate who can mobilize the greatest number of people on the streets, who, in any case, will only be a tiny fraction of those who voted.
And it certainly does not mean calling foreign goons into a country to try to intimidate its citizens. Among the disturbing aspects is the Georgian so-called “election observers” - who apparently are internal affairs officials or police - being dispatched only to certain parts of the country (i.e., Yanukovich country) with obvious intent to skew the election for one of the candidates. It is hard to believe that even Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would actually send hundreds of young men of military age, with no experience as observers, to another sovereign country, in an effort to influence the outcome of its presidential election. Is he not content to have undermined his own country's unity and stability? Must he now do the same thing to his putative ally Ukraine? With friends like that, Ukraine doesn't need enemies.
In the end, it all boils down to whether Ukrainians have had their fill of a political circus that has long since lost its entertainment value and can only help perpetuate the economic nightmare. Ever the optimist, I'm guessing that Ukrainians have had quite enough of this.
Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC:
By any standard, Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency cannot be judged to be a success. Under the circumstances, it is highly debatable whether he could have done better without the full cooperation of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and greater Western economic support (which, given the global recession, was unlikely to occur). It is a rare president who can be reelected having failed to meet the electorate’s expectations.
The dynamics of presidential elections which require a second round, if none of the candidates win an outright majority in the first round, are difficult to predict. The charismatic and opportunistic Tymoshenko may be so repugnant to Yushchenko’s loyal supporters that their personal animus to her could override their fear of the consequences for Ukraine of a victory by Victor Yanukovich.
But the offensiveness of one of the candidates to supporters of those who lost in the first round will not always determine the final result. Even if a candidate who has lost in the first round then endorses one or other of the final two, he is in no position to guarantee the support of the individuals who voted for him. It seems to me that how Tigipko’s voters will act in the next round is a mystery that will only be known when the votes are counted.
So what might one characterize as the legacy of the so-called Orange Revolution in 2010? Barring some new developments, I see principally two.
Firstly, the Russian leadership is learning that the inhabitants of the “near abroad” cannot ignore relations with Russia when deciding who to vote for; and as a result, those advocates of “soft power” in Moscow who see the wisdom of avoiding blatant intervention in their neighbors’ elections might be listened to in the Kremlin and the Russian White House with greater respect.
Secondly, Ukrainian civil society has increased the likelihood that the country will be capable of holding fair and free elections from the standpoint of the voting (and vote-counting) process.
Finally, in Ukraine, as in many countries, there is still no way to eliminate the decisive role that corruption and money will play in the political process. This will only occur if and when political parties increase in importance, and the media – and especially investigative journalists - improve their analysis to help voters make informed decisions.
Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow and World Russia Forum in Washington:
On the one hand the stunning defeat of Viktor Yushchenko, and by extension of the whole Orange carnival, is a welcome event for Russia and for Ukraine as well. However, one shouldn’t get too ecstatic because there is also a substantial potential danger ahead. The outgoing president leaves to his successor an economy in shambles, a devalued currency, a huge budget deficit and a national debt of over $33 billion. In addition, Yushchenko did all he could to divide the country’s population along ethnic lines by suppressing the Russian language, building memorials and presenting national awards to Nazi collaborators and mass executioners.
In any event, whoever wins the elections on February 7 will deliver to Moscow both good and some bad news. The good news is that the new president will be more Russia-friendly, will stop talking about NATO membership, will consider extension of the lease of the Russian Black Sea Naval base at Sevastopol and will probably make a few other friendly gestures. The bad news is that none of the above is born out of deep and unselfish love for mother Russia; on the contrary, they come with an impressive price tag.
Is Moscow ready to pick up the tab? What if it does not? Is anyone around to bail out Ukraine except Russia? If one thinks of Washington, then forget it. Even in the height of Orange hysteria there was not too much cash flow to Kiev, except, of course, generous grants to Freedom House and many other U.S. organizations that received funds to support Yushchenko. Speaking of which, shouldn’t Uncle Sam request the refund of this money now?
Presently, the United States is bogged down in its economic and health care reforms, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Iranian nuclear agenda. This means that Washington’s attention is now occupied not only far away from Ukraine, but also away from the whole former Soviet space. With no U.S. lead, Europe might cough up something, but this would not be enough, and China will not try to play on this territory against Russia’s interests, at least for now.
It looks like we are back to the same familiar game of who pays how much for what. In the old days of the Soviet Union, Moscow would pay whatever it took to expand the happy socialist camp, not only in Eastern Europe but in Africa, Latin America or anywhere else. The welfare of the Soviet people was the last priority for the Kremlin as long as communist ideas were taking over the masses. Today’s capitalist Russia counts its money, however, and whatever skeptics say about the strength or weakness of civil society here, Moscow cannot afford to pay for geopolitics and leave its own people in the cold.
Therefore one should expect a huge bargaining game between Kiev and Moscow, and who will end up as the biggest winner remains to be seen. For now, though, one thing is for sure: only five percent of Ukrainians voted for the so-called hero of the Orange Revolution, and that speaks for itself. It also proves that any attempt to divide the Russian and Ukrainian people despite their strong historical, family and cultural ties is doomed to failure.
Vladimir Belaeff, President, Global Society Institute, Inc., United States:
Since its emergence as a puppet state of Imperial Germany in 1918, Ukraine has been a problematic entity. The issue commences with toponymy – the study of place names. For example, the polities of the 17th and 18th centuries that existed in present-day Ukraine were not even called thus – they were referred by all their neighbors (Turkey, Poland, and the Austrian Empire) as the “Duchy of Russia” or “Russia Minor” (commonly misnamed “Little Russia”).
Therefore, national identity (whether there is a genuine, identifiable Ukrainian nation) remains a long-standing central question and is at the core of much of present-day Ukraine’s malaise. Ukrainian separatism is frequently defined through a negative assertion: what Ukraine is not – i.e. it is emphatically not Russia (there is also a latent denial of Polonism, i.e., Ukraine is not Polish.) Self-definitions through negative assertions are inherently weak and limited – they are subordinated to a superior concept and depend on it for meaning.
This weakness of national identity is implicit in the frequently announced goals of Ukrainian leaders to engage vigorously in Ukrainian nation-building – this is an implicit recognition that a Ukrainian nation, which meets the separatists’ ideals, may not yet exist, or may even be unattainable.
Only very superficial observers, not well versed in the history of the region, could have expected any substantial permanence from the so-called Orange Revolution. That particular episode was essentially political theater (or political circus) not more legitimate than the presidential elections that it overturned. It took a lot of energy from interested parties to help the Orange regime in the Ukraine survive for the duration of the Yushchenko presidency. In fact, one can argue that the Orange regime ended when serious dissent broke out between the Ukrainian president, the Ukrainian prime minister and the Rada.
Geography and 1,000 years of shared history and religion (Moscow was once a provincial town of Kievan Rus’) dictate synergy and mutual benefits from collaboration between Ukraine and Russia. The very recent economic discrepancies were created artificially, in a major part due to the mechanisms of self-identification through negative assertion. If Ukraine self-identifies as being “not Russia,” then it is more difficult for such a Ukraine to collaborate with Russia at the same time. Collaboration begins to seem like an encroachment on national self-identification.
Will Russia want (or need) to bail-out Ukraine economically? Much depends on whether Ukraine is perceived as a kind of political and economic “black hole” into which external resources are poured, never to be seen again. Massive assistance implies substantial diminution of sovereignty – is Ukraine prepared to diminish its macroeconomic separateness (worthless as that may be) in exchange for a bailout by Russia? Will other neighboring countries, like Poland, who have coveted Ukraine’s territory for centuries, agree with such a solution to the region’s economic woes?
Just as Ukrainian separatism is defined through a negative assertion (“not-Russia”) American involvement in Ukrainian politics seems to have been motivated by an anti-Russian posture (rather than a pro-Ukraine position). As U.S.-Russian relations improve, U.S. support of Ukrainian anti-Russian posturing should continue to diminish.
The EU is generally more aware of history and of geopolitical subterfuges. The EU has remained cool on the subject of Ukrainian separatism and seems skeptical of Ukraine’s ability to fulfill international obligations. Therefore, the EU should also be agreeable to a regional support framework for Ukraine.
The elections of a new president for Ukraine indeed mark the formal end of the Orange regime (which ended informally considerably earlier). A new political order of battle should emerge. It might not be more stable or more productive than the ancient regime of the Orange revolution, but it will be a change, nevertheless.
Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:
It is striking that while Frolov parrots the Kremlin line that Ukraine is bankrupt, can't pay its bills, etc., Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warns against the Ukrainianization of Russian politics.
Obviously, despite the misadventures of the Orange Revolution, the Ukrainian people are able to conduct an election marked by its fairness and freedom according to all reputable observers.
This not inconsiderable achievement is a direct result of the Orange Revolution (which, like others, devoured its own children).
Secondly, I seriously doubt either that Russia has the resources to take over Ukraine or that the West will simply let it fall. Just as the EU stepped in to modernize its gas system, it could step in to help Ukraine straighten out its economy, which also implies reforming its politics and energy sector.
Thirdly, while I do not presume to know what will happen to Sergei Tigipko, I do suspect that none of the presidential candidates is more pro-Russian than the other. Both are quite unscrupulous politicians whose personal and factional interests more than any others govern their politics.
Ukraine will not enter NATO or the EU anytime soon, but I doubt that Moscow can control Ukraine. If anything, its leverage over Ukraine may actually decline over the next few years, as its economy is hardly healthy.
Moreover, Ukraine would strongly resist any such takeover, and Russia cannot simply impose its will on Ukraine, even though it can certainly severely damage it and corrupt it.
It is impossible to predict before the final election how Ukraine's relations with the EU and the United States will develop, but both entities want Kiev to reform itself so that its vulnerabilities are reduced and closer ties are facilitated, both goals that are clearly in Ukraine's interest.
At the end of the day, Moscow has little or nothing to offer Ukraine except the honor of having served Vladimir Putin's reelection campaign, and any bailout would be accompanied by an unacceptable price.
The most likely outcome over four years is not a more pro-Russian Ukraine, but a Ukraine struggling as before to define its own trajectory.