US Open To Ukraine's 'New' Yanukovych

WASHINGTON, DC -- In the heady days after the "orange revolution," Ukraine fitted the US government's script perfectly, as the White House charted a generational drive for global democratic change.

Viktor Yanukovych, pictured July 2006, leader of pro-Moscow majority in Ukraine's parliament as he talks to journalists in Kiev. Ukraine's parliament confirmed pro-Russian politician Yanukovych as prime minister 04 August 2006.

But now, former communist Viktor Yanukovych is back, only two years after he was blocked by people power from becoming president, and criticised by the United States for alleged ballot rigging and corruption.

His stunning political comeback, as prime minister, raises a question for the administration of US President George W. Bush: Were US hopes for a democratic, Western-leaning Ukraine premature?

Pro-Russian Yanukovych, 56, was confirmed by parliament on Friday after he was chosen by his former bitter rival, Viktor Yushchenko, the Western-leaning president who beat him to the top job.

The decision ended months of deadlock following elections in March and disappointment over indecision on the part of Yushchenko, facing a key political test after beating Yanukovych in a repeated re-run election in 2004.

Even before the 2004 election in Ukraine, the United States had funnelled funds to pro-democracy, non-governmental groups and sent election monitors to observe the polls.

The subsequent mass demonstrations after allegations of rampant corruption and vote buying sparked admiration in Washington.

Bush supporters later used events in Kiev, a democratic awakening in Lebanon, signs of change across the Arab world and elections in Iraq as evidence that a new wave of US-inspired freedom was on the march.

Later, Bush himself cited political activists in Ukraine, along with women in Afghanistan and Palestinian voters, as part of "landmark events in the history of liberty" in his 2005 State of the Union address.

Two years on, things are not so rosy. Lebanon is shuddering under Israeli assaults on Hezbollah. Iraq is in turmoil, and Palestinian elections brought the radical Islamic movement Hamas to power.

Is Ukraine, under Yanukovych and his nasty associations with the authoritarianism and corruption of ex-president Leonid Kuchma, the next democratic domino to fall? Not necessarily, say officials and experts.

The United States is arguing the democratic process has changed Yanukovych, rather than the other way round. And his election campaign, which used US consultants and campaign-trail razzmatazz, seemed to bear that out.

"We were strong supporters of the Orange Revolution in as much as it represented a cry for free and fair elections and for democracy to take root," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"What we're seeing right now is the evolution of a democratic process in Ukraine. Mr Yanukovych has come to the prime ministership in the old-fashioned, democratic way. He worked hard for votes, he campaigned, he politicked."

"We are going to work with the government of Mr. Yanukovych just as we would with any other democratically elected government," McCormack said.

Analysts said Washington was sincere in its offer -- though Yanukovych's pro-Russian stance may stall hopes of Ukraine swiftly joining the European Union and NATO.

"I believe they are prepared to work with Yanukovych, he today has something that he didn't have before," said Steven Pifer, senior analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"He now has democratic legitimacy because he heads the party that won 32 percent of the vote in March."

But Washington's envoys in Kiev would be keeping a close eye on how things go, he Pifer added.

"They don't want to see any democratic backsliding," he said.

Yanukovych's comeback does pose some problems for the West -- notably ambitious plans to draw Kiev into the Euro-Atlantic orbit with Yushchenko's plan to reach agreement by 2008 on joining NATO.

A deal on NATO entry would have been a tasty addition to Bush's political legacy just before leaving office -- but now seems out of reach.

"In general it is not good news for NATO, it is not good news for Ukraine's desire to (get into NATO)," said Stephen Larrabee, an analyst with the Rand Corporation.

Yushchenko on Thursday signed a pact with pro-Russian parliamentary parties stating that the country can only join the NATO military alliance if the move is approved in a referendum.

That was after setting membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a key goal for Ukraine when he came to power last year.

Larrabee said the Bush administration's support for Ukrainian membership of bodies like the European Union, NATO and the World Trade Organisation was not totally self-serving.

But there was also a sense that Washington was "to try to do all those before Bush left office so he could claim credit for it," he said.

For now, Washington appears content to sit and wait, waiting for the dust to settle in Ukrainian politics, before plotting its next move.

Source: AFP


Lenin in Hell said…
Why do news reports and commentary get away with saying "former communist Viktor Yanukovych," like in paragraph 2 of this article, without ever mentioning the fact that Viktor Yushchenko is a "former communist"? Yushchenko was an arguably far more prestigious Communist Party member than Yanukovych. Yushchenko worked in Gosbank USSR, the Soviet state banking system. Yanukovych was a regional administration official in eastern Ukraine. What gives?
Anonymous said…
It's just one of those things one has to get used to, like seeing PoR as "pro-Russia," as opposed to "not anti-Russia." Or "former KGB agent Putin," but not "former C student, son of CIA Director and failed businessman George W. Bush."
Anonymous said…
Besides which is the fact that I have found no evidence that Yanukovich ever was a Party member. It would have been a very strange case if he had been, as criminal convictions usually ruled people out from the "honour" f Party membership.