Future Not Orange As Ukraine Settles For Yanukovych Repeat

KIEV, Ukraine -- As Ukraine’s presidential election enters its final week of campaigning, the only orange glow appears to emanate from the fading prospects of Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Incumbent Viktor Yanukovych is seen as unappealing but reliable.

Unless she makes a dramatic breakthrough in the next few days, her arch rival, Viktor Yanukovych, looks assured of victory. That would represent an astonishing comeback for a man whose Kremlin-sanctioned ballot-rigging in the 2004 election provided the catalyst for the Orange Revolution led by Ms Tymoshenko and her former ally, Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr Yushchenko’s crushing defeat in the first round ended his hopes of a second term as President. Ms Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, seems unable to rally the anti-Yanukovych vote sufficiently to make up a 10 percentage-point deficit on her rival. A majority of Ukrainians appears resigned to going back to the future with a Yanukovych presidency.

This is puzzling to anyone dazzled by the evident charisma of the candidate and the appeal of her message of pro-western reform. All the more so in comparison to Mr Yanukovych, who would make a block of wood appear animated and who struggles to formulate his ideas in public.

But “Yuliya fatigue” appears to have set in as a result of what one senior Ukrainian official described to The Times this week as “a serious disconnect between her rhetoric and her actions”. According to this viewpoint, admittedly from someone clearly sympathetic to Mr Yanukovych, voters are discounting her election promises because of disappointment at the lack of reform since 2004.

“Whatever she does, around 20 per cent of the population will vote for her — they simply love her,” he said. “But to win over more voters you have to find some new elements in your rhetoric and she has not found anything new.”

While Ms Tymoshenko is viewed as appealing but unreliable, Mr Yanukovych comes across as unappealing but reliable. With their economy reeling from the global financial crisis and after years of bitter political infighting within the Orange camp, voters seem ready to plump for a quieter life.

While his support base remains heavily in the Russian-speaking east, supporters say that Mr Yanukovych has worked hard to improve his Ukrainian and knows that he must reach out to the more nationalist west of the country if he is to be an effective president.

He will have to — the greatest risk for Ukraine is a result that divides the country evenly between support for Ms Tymoshenko in the west and for Mr Yanukovych in the east.

Those around Mr Yanukovych stress that he is a different man from the Soviet-style apparatchik of five years ago. They argue that he will govern from the centre, keep a balance between competing business clans and work hard to strengthen ties with the European Union, even as he seeks to repair Ukraine’s frayed relationship with Russia. They predict that he will underline this point by making his first foreign visit to Brussels, not Moscow.

Whichever candidate emerges victorious on February 7, however, the big winner is the Kremlin. Both Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yanukovych have pledged more pragmatic and constructive relations after the years of friction under President Yushchenko.

Russia will press eagerly for concessions on Ukraine’s gas transit network to Europe and on the future of its Black Sea Fleet, which must leave its base in Crimea in 2017.

Source: Times Online