So, Ukraine Isn’t Orange After All

KIEV, Ukraine -- The re-emergence of Viktor Yanukovych as prime minister of Ukraine must rate as one of the most implausible developments even to the many seasoned observers who have long become accustomed to ‘transition shocks’ in post-Soviet Europe.

The so-called Orange Revolution, which followed the rigged presidential election illegitimately ‘won’ by Mr. Yanukovych in late 2004 was supposed to usher in a new democratic Ukraine firmly anchored to Euro-Atlantic geopolitical and economic structures.

However, the new government is committed to encouraging the nascent Ukrainian capitalism that has emerged out of the gangsterism of the 1990s and to re-establishing a close and cooperative relationship with Russia, whatever the West may say. Tellingly, the new government has an unambiguous democratic mandate.

Compared to the temporary economic shocks of the 1990s that were anticipated and analyzed by neoliberal economists, Mr. Yanukovych’s resurrection is all the more shocking because it suggests that the future of Ukraine is not Orange after all.

Combined with the re-election of President Lukashenko in Belarus earlier this year and Mr. Putin’s willingness to assert Russia’s national interests even at the expense of offending the West, it looks as if the future of the post-Soviet world can not be understood purely in terms of a single Western modernity.

Rather than being a source of cheap labor and a client of the West, it is at least possible that Ukraine will take its place in a new emergent capitalism centered on Russia with access to cheap and plentiful hydrocarbons and the potential to rival the West. Is it any wonder then that Western governments have been so keen to destabilize and re-align Ukraine?

That Mr. Yanukovych becoming prime minister for a second time – with enhanced powers that arguably make him more powerful than President Yushchenko – has shocked so many onlookers, is because so much comment in the West leading up to and following the Orange Revolution was based on wishful thinking. Whilst the Orange Revolution unquestionably mobilized millions of people yearning for a new Ukraine, it was not, as widely claimed, solely a national and democratic reawakening.

It was also the occasion for the latest tactical scramble for power amongst the cosy elite that has misruled Ukraine since Independence. Sober analysis of the protagonists revealed that the distinction between the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’ was not so clearly drawn as was often supposed.

The mass mobilization and the political jousting would not have occurred without the sophisticated political operation, predominately ‘made in the USA’, which destabilized the finely balanced domestic political landscape.

The aim of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine has been clear and consistent ever since Independence: to as far as possible detach Ukraine from Russian influence. To this end, members of the nationalist Ukrainian Diaspora in academia, the media and elsewhere have often been willing accomplices.

Ukraine has been subject to Western meddling through the operation of supposedly independent foundations, aid programs and technical assistance projects, as well as through the more formal (but often less public) instruments of Western diplomacy.

The failure to impose neoliberal economic policies in the 1990s led the U.S. to switch its focus to so-called ‘political processes’ and ‘civil society’. This entailed the mobilization of students, academics, NGOs, journalists and politicians to provide evidence of the authoritarianism of former Ukrainian President Kuchma’s incumbent regime.

Accordingly, Mr. Yushchenko’s presidential campaign focused largely on the legitimacy of the election process itself.

Hence the staged fracas between Mr. Yushchenko and the guards protecting the Central Election Commission building in Kyiv before the presidential election. Hence, too, the agents provocateurs who organized Orange rallies in the politically hostile east of the country in order to video the anticipated response.

Both Mr. Yushchenko’s campaign and the supposedly non-partisan interventions by Western governments were justified by the reaction they provoked. Once demonstrators had flooded onto the streets of Kyiv, they were lauded as the embodiment of the ‘Ukrainian people’ conveniently ignoring that ‘other’ Ukraine, which had supported Mr. Yanukovych and which was as suspicious of the events at Maidan as the demonstrators were of the electoral process.

Equally damning is the way the Orange Revolution failed to deliver stable government, failed to maintain rapid economic growth and made little progress in cracking down on corruption. Far from strengthening the state and promoting structural economic reform the Orange Revolution destabilized the productivist ideology that had united the country.

Just as the state was showing signs of consolidation and alignment after years of division between ministries and competing regional lobbies, the Orange Revolution undermined an already weak state machine.

The renationalization of the Kryvorizhstal steel mill that had been controversially sold to IMU, a holding company jointly owned by two of the largest business empires in the country, and its subsequent resale to the London-based Mittal Group, symbolized the severing of connections between the state and the country’s national capitalists.

Government was largely paralyzed and many voters found Mr. Yushchenko’s apparent fixation with NATO accession a bewildering distraction. Such political instability merely served to discourage much-needed investment and undermine economic growth. The conditions that had enabled rapid economic growth were torn asunder by the Orange Revolution and rendered the country almost ungovernable.

The appointment of Mr. Yekhanurov as prime minister last autumn was an acknowledgment that Mr. Yushchenko and his allies couldn’t govern the country without reaching an accommodation with their political foes based in the financial and industrial heartland in the east of the country.

The finely balanced waxing and waning as the regional lobbies vied with one another for influence in Kyiv was disrupted by the Orange Revolution.

During his first spell as prime minister, Mr. Yanukovych proved particularly adept at brokering between the rival regional lobbies and is perhaps now best placed to coax and cajole them to forge a functioning national state machine united in common cause with a governable national economy.

It is paradoxical that the most fervent supporters of the Orange Revolution now have the least confidence that it will have a lasting effect on the country.

But since Mr. Yanukovych and his party have apologized for their role in the rigged election and now unambiguously defend free elections and a free media, it is at least possible that his premiership will show the Orange Revolution marked the beginning of a new Ukraine after all. Only not the new Ukraine envisioned by many Orange protagonists and their patrons in the West.

Source: Kyiv Post