Ukraine Revolution A Boon To A Figure Protesters Scorned

KIEV, Ukraine -— The Orange Revolution, strangely, has been kindest to the man who played the villain to the waves of protesters who rolled onto the streets of this capital two years ago.

Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovych, once cast as the bluff hack who tried to steal Ukraine's presidential election, is back in power as prime minister thanks to free and fair parliamentary elections in March made possible only by the street protests of late 2004.

As he prepares for his first official trip to Washington, a four-day visit beginning today, Yanukovych is suddenly projecting himself as the voice of democratic reform.

He also appears eager to assure his White House hosts his popular image as a pro-Russian straw man is a gross distortion.

Now, he suggests that he, too, was a catalyst in the transformation of this once stagnating country into the most politically competitive of all the post-Soviet states, a nation where debate is dynamic and where power, ultimately, resides with the people.

"There were many mistakes made by the previous authorities and many injustices," he said in an interview here last week. "The authorities lost trust. One should recognize that there is more democracy, that there is freedom of speech — and that is an achievement of these historic events, although I don't call it a revolution."

Yanukovych bears little resemblance to the figure who provoked tens of thousands of Ukrainians to demonstrate against electoral fraud in 2004, eventually sweeping his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, into the presidency.

Some question what they see as his self-serving rhetoric.

"He talks like he was part of it," said David Zhvania, a member of parliament and financier of Yushchenko's campaign, about the protests in Independence Square.

"It's a game. We showed Ukrainians why he was scary, but we also explained to Yanukovych why he was scary, and from his first day in power we saw that he was listening," Zhvania said.

For others, however, the fundamental legacy of the Orange Revolution, named for the color those advocating democratic change adopted, is that Yanukovych must now bow to the electorate and that his nation of 47 million cannot return to autocratic rule.

"He is forced to play within the rules of a new political culture," said Vadim Karasev, director of the Institute for Global Strategies in Kiev. "He understands that a dictatorial style is no longer permissible in Ukraine.

"The Orange Revolution made him a politician."

"My goal, first, is to develop a strategic relationship between Ukraine and the United States that is predictable, effective and has a good perspective," Yanukovych said of his visit, during which he will meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

His aides are still hoping for a meeting with President Bush, however brief.

By protocol, Yanukovych should meet only with the vice president, since he is not the head of state, but a presidential handshake would imply some acceptance of his new political incarnation.

Source: Washington Post