TCS Daily

To the Viktor Goes...

By Christian Jokinen - December 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Pro-Western democrat Viktor Yushchenko has won the renewed presidential election in Ukraine, held on December 26. Preliminary results point at a clear victory, securing 52 percent of the votes against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich's 44. Also the turnout was high -- over 77 percent. There were some reported irregularities, but nothing serious. This is all good news.

The bad news is that so far Yanukovich has stubbornly refused to recognize his defeat. At this point, he has become completely dependent on the support of the real power-holders in Kyiv, the outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, and the Moscow Kremlin.

A lot of foot-dragging can be expected in the coming weeks. The most likely current strategy for Kuchma and Putin will be to try to water down the most immediate consequences of a peaceful revolution and to bargain some concessions.

For Putin, the main battle may be lost for now, but there is still a lot of face-saving to be won, mainly by coercing the forthcoming Ukrainian government through the West. A strange result already seems to be a total Western silence about Russia's recent activities in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria.

For Kuchma -- who will turn into political history for being much more stupid in his exit strategy than his Georgian and Azerbaijani colleagues, Eduard Shevardnadze and Heydar Aliyev -- this will be about his personal future. If Ukraine were a normal Western country, Yushchenko's victory would be followed by a lawsuit against Kuchma for crimes such as murder, murder attempt, and treason. Kuchma will probably do anything to escape them. Also, it is probable that Yushchenko, in order to secure a sufficient amount of powerful turncoats to back the new Ukrainian regime, will be willing to pay the price of letting Kuchma go, if that will save the country from much worse. Kuchma would do wisely by joining Aslan Abashidze, the late Adjarian leader, in Moscow.

But if Yushchenko, and the Ukrainian youth, get what they wanted, what will follow next? Ruling a post-Soviet country will not be dancing on roses - just ask Yushchenko's precursor, Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili. The NATO and EU will be prompted to change their cautious support to somewhat more skeptical browsing of the high hopes of the Ukrainians and Georgians. It took more than ten years for the EU to finally enlarge with the ten new member states, and the current debate on Turkey (which is politically much more prepared for membership than Ukraine) shows some of the hardships lying ahead. Russia, meanwhile, has time to gain strength and renew imperial influence where it has temporarily lost it. This happened in Ukraine, too, in the early 2000s.

But even harder than handling the foreign political pressure -- under continuous Russian attempts to meddle for Moscow's advantage -- may be the pressure of domestic affairs. Making reform successful in governance and the economy as quickly as the people hope is a hard task. Yushchenko must not overlook the need to co-operate with those who have similar situation and similar problems -- most of all, with Georgia and Moldova. A good idea would be to renew the early 2000s initiative of the then Romanian President Emil Constantinescu about a Polish, Romanian and Turkish co-operation with the GUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova), with adequate Western (US, NATO and EU) backing. This would be a good starter for the newly elected Ukrainian and Romanian presidents.

The author is an analyst at the Research Unit for Conflicts and Terrorism within the University of Turku, Department of Contemporary History. Contact:


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