The Difficulty Of Being Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- Ukraine holds presidential elections next month, and the outcome is likely to spell the epitaph of the Orange Revolution. The euphoria of 2003-04, when a grand display of “people power” reversed a rigged election, has long faded.


The country of 46 million has been one of the hardest hit by the global financial meltdown, suffering a sharp currency devaluation and a projected 14 percent GDP drop this year.

President Viktor Yushchenko, once the Orange hero, is now polling in low single digits. Much like Lech Walesa in Poland a generation ago, the out-of-touch Yushchenko has unceremoniously morphed from national icon of change into political footnote.

The January ballot is likely to lead to a run-off between Prime Minsiter Yulia Tymoshenko, a feisty populist, and Viktor Yanukovich, a drab but steady former premier and Yushchenko rival, whose Party of Regions boasts the strongest organization.

Both are pragmatic leaders. But whichever wins will face enormous challenges, foremost restarting the anti-crisis program with the IMF, which suspended its $16 billion lending facility last month due to the bitter political impasse between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.

The winner will also need to remember that to lead Ukraine is to balance East and West. This imperative reflects the pressures of both external geopolitics and internal demographics.

Russia and the United States tend to view Ukraine as a key battleground in a cosmic proxy war between East and West. Both have a bad habit of trying to pick winners in Ukrainian politics. These interventions, na├»ve in their own ways, tend to backfire, often at Ukraine’s expense.

Russian meddling fueled the Orange backlash against the mediocre Leonid Kuchma and his cronies and ended in a series of crippling winter gas cut-offs and sabre-rattling over Crimea.

Meantime, the U.S. expected far more from Yushchenko than he could deliver, deepening his isolation at home. The curse of U.S. foreign-policy idealism, whether neoconservative or liberal, is to make the best the enemy of the good.

By putting more emphasis on the symbolism of a failed NATO membership bid than the unglamorous work of energy reform, the U.S. did no favor for Ukraine’s security. It should be clear that an independent Ukraine must not consume Russian-sourced energy as though it were still part of the U.S.S.R.

By contrast, Russia’s designs on Ukraine are hardly idealistic. At the NATO summit last year, Vladimir Putin reportedly remarked to former president George W. Bush, “You understand, George, that Ukraine isn’t even a country. What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe, and part of it, a significant part, was given by us.”

Political bullies can be clever at implanting a grain of truth in their predatory barbs. Like other European nations, Ukraine’s ethnicity is mixed and its borders were not God-given. These things emerged through collisions of tribes, ethnic intermingling and considerable bloodshed over centuries.

Western Ukraine — Galicia and Bukovina — were Habsburg lands and never part of the czarist empire. The Crimean peninsula was transferred from the Russian Republic to Soviet Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, when both were part of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine faces deep identity issues. Ethnic Russians are roughly 20 percent of the population, and many more Ukrainians speak Russian. The languages are close, like High German and Bavarian or Danish and Swedish.

Europe prides itself on what Freud called “the narcissism of small differences.” However, Ukrainian nationalists would be wise not to overplay their hand, as Yushchenko often has done on sensitive language and historical issues.

In the 21st century, Ukraine needs to pursue its own path as a pluralist democracy and emerging market, balancing Western integration with a respect for its older cultural roots and affinities. Despite the present economic crisis and wide dissatisfaction with the political elite, Ukraine has a bright future. It has fertile land, solid industry and well-endowed human capital.

It also has a libertarian Cossack streak that explains how Ukraine came into being — precisely because of the proud self-reliance of its diverse people. The streets of Kiev, Lvov, Kharkov, Dniepropetrovsk and Simferopol (forgive the Russian transliterations) today have a distinct whiff of freedom, and they should keep it.

What should the West do to help? The U.S. needs to continue balancing its important “reset” policy with Russia by reassuring its neighbors, foremost Ukraine, of its active commitment.

It is the fate of the post-Soviet countries to be part of what Moscow calls the “near abroad.” While these states will always be near, it must be the policy of the U.S. and European Union to make sure they remain “abroad,” and free and prosperous.

Earlier this year, a senior Ukrainian official, anxious about the reset, asked me whether the Obama adminsitration would “trade us for something like cooperation on Iran.” I told her that the U.S. was rooting for Ukraine even when Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma, less than stellar figures, were its elected leaders. This will not change.

Yet Ukrainians remember lost dreams of statehood during the two great European wars in the 20th century. And they remember the “Chicken Kiev” speech of President George H.W. Bush to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet on Aug. 1, 1991, just months before the unraveling of the U.S.S.R., when he said, “Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism.” Bush had uncannily bad timing, but his underlying point about the need for political maturity remains important.

Ukrainians and their Western partners alike should stick to a balanced path of reform and long-term sustainability, not quick fixes and grand gestures. The end of the Orange era will not be the end of Ukraine's independence — nor of its Euro-Atlantic identity.

Source: The New York Times

Comments

Leighton said…
Excellent article - thank you.
wesley rodgers said…
THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER WHERE I
AM FROM IS QUITE CORRECT!!

EVER SINCE YUSCHENKO WON THE ORANAGE REVOLUTION, HE WAS ALAMOSR ASSASINATED!!
NOW WE WILL HAVE THE LEMON REVOLUTION NUNLESS SOMEONE GRABS A HOLD OF DESTINY!!

..RIGHT THERE THAT SHOULD HAVE SENT A MESSAGE TO THE UKRAINE PEOPLE AND THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY
THAT THE OLD GUARD DID NOT WANT CHANGE BECAUSE IT WOULD UPSET THEIR OLD--SELFISH WAYS--IN MAANY CASES LIKE HERE IN THE UNITED STATES.
..PUTINS PEOPLE INFILTRATED INTO THE UKRAINE PARLIAMENT AND IF ANYONE DOES NOT BELIEVE THAT PERHAPS THEY SHOULD TAKE A TRIP TO DISNEYWORK AND SET UPO AN ORANGE REVOLUTION THEME PARK.

..FACT IS THE MANDATE OF THE PEOPLE STILL HAS NOT BDEN MET AND PRESIDENT OBAMA SPENDS MORE TIME IN TURKEY THAN IN THE UKRAINE!!

..I GUESS JUST WANTS TO SHOW THE WORLD HOW GOOD A CHRISTIAN HE IS AND WHO KNOWS HE MAY EVEN FIND HIS
BIRTH CERTIFICATE THERE.
THE U.S. HELPED THE UKRAINE IN THE BENINNING BUT AS TIME WENT BY THE GREAT UKRAINE AND GEORGIA WAS OVERALLOKED AND RUSSIAN CHESS STARTDED TO KICK IN!

..AFTER GEORGIA WAS ATTACKED THE GUTLESS EUROPEAN UNION JUST SLAPPED THE RUSSIANS ON THE WRITS AND SAID...NOW THAT IS NOT NICE--AND YOU SHSOULD NOT DO THAT AGAIN...KIND OF LIKE TELLING A PYROMANIAC NOT TO PLAY WITH MATCHES ANYMORE..!
..IF YANNAKOVICH GETS ELECTED THE UKRAINE WILL GO BACKWARD AND NOT FORWARD!!
..THERE IS A NEED FOR A DEFENSE SYSTEM IN EASTERN EUOPE OF SOME KIND WHETHER PEOPLE WANT TO ACCEPT THAT OR NOT..JUST TALK TO THE NEIGHBORS IN GEORGIA..AND GORBACHAV AND YELTSIN ARE GONE..,PUTIN IS PRESIDSENT AND HE IS LIKE A WOLF AT THE BARGAINING TABLE AND HS NO FEAR OF ANYONE...ACROSS THE BARGAINING TABLE AS A JOURNALIST OR DIPLOMAT THAT RUSSIAN MINDSET IS VERY DIFFICULT TO BEAT UNLES YOU LET THEM KNOW YOU MEAN BUSINESS!
OH YDES-HE IS PRIME MINISTER IN A
WAY..NOT PRESIDENT FOR A WHILE!!

..THE U.S. PRESIENT DOES NOT HAVE THAT CAPABILIOTY AND THE UKRAINE DESERVES ITS OWN DESTINY--ALL OTHER COUNTRFIES SHOULD WORK WITHN THE UKRAINE.!
REMMEBER THE COUNTRY OR LEADER WHO HOLDS THE KEY TO THE UKRAINE HOLDS THE BALANCE OF POWER BETWEEN EAST AND WEST AND UNFORTRUNATELY RUSSIA KNOWS THAT BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE.
..AS AN AMERICAN JOURNALIST WHO SPENT OVER A YEAR IN THE UKRAINE I HOPE TO RETURN FOR THE UPCOMINBG ELECTION AND ALSO BE BASED PERMANENTLY AGAIN!
..I AM FROM OUTSIDE OF PHILADELPHIA AND MANY UKRAINE AND RUSSIAN IMMIGRANTS LIVE THERE AND SOME HAVE MOVED BACK TO THE UKRAINE~!!
..IF I CAN BE OF ASSISTANCE PLEASE FEEL FREE TLO CCONTACT ME AT PATRIOTSTV.COM AND E MAIL WEST-PATRIOT@MSN.COM.
..I AM A BROADCAST JOURNALIST BUT
WRITE FOR THE PHILADELPHIA BULLETIN AND WILL BE WRITING SEVERAL STORIS ABOUT THE UPCOMING ELECTION.
PLESE GOD--LET FREEDOM RING FOR THE BEAUTFIFUL PEOPLE OF THE UKRAINE...
THANK YOU AND TO EVERYONE MERRY CHRISTMS AND LETS HOPE FOR AGREAT NEW YEAR..SINCERELY WES RODGERS-PATRIOT~!!
PATRIOTS TV AND PATRIOTSTV.COM!
..I HAVE MANY FRIENDS IN KYIV aND AT THE KYIVP POST!!..DOBRY DEN!!