Fight for future once in every three years
2004 Ukrainian Orange Revolution stands out as one of the most fascinating moments in modern European history. The country, long ruled by Russian imperial governors, communist bosses and post-Soviet corrupt bureaucrats, burst into peaceful rebellion and brought to the power democratic, pro-western government. It happened after the country’s post-Soviet ruler Leonid Kuchma once more rigged presidential elections, this time in favor of his pro-Russian Prime-Minister Viktor Yanukovich. Few believe that this peaceful public uprising was against the single rigging. It was much wider phenomenon: the people rose against the corrupt, semi-authoritarian ten year long rule of Kuchma, against corrupt culture, against nepotism, against hopelessness, against 300 year long Russian occupation, influence and interference, bluntly supporting its crony Yanuckovich. Most importantly, this was Ukrainian people’s strongest proclamation of self-determination and national-distinctiveness, choosing Western style Liberal-Democracy over Russian-Byzantine world.
By then, many believed that Ukraine finally set on its way towards the West. Not entirely so, as we once again see in these days.
Orange coalition had split in nine months after the revolution, when President Viktor Yushenko fired his Prime-Minister Yulia Timoshenko, nicknamed as “Orange Princess” by people for her huge role in galvanizing Orange Revolution. Yushenko accused her of obstructing the president’s power. Infighting within the orange government and sluggish economy, disappointed many, holding unrealistic hopes of quick political and economic revival. President Yushenko’s popularity fell dramatically. Some started to see him as a weak politician, unable to deliver much needed political-economic reforms in the country. Many blamed him for making peace with corrupt business-political clans and failing to curtail their influence over the state apparatus.
Real setback came in March 2006 parliamentary elections. President Yushenko’s party Our Ukraine received 17% of votes, former Prime-Minister Yulia Timoshenko’s block BYUT 23% and pro-Moscow Yanukovich’s Party of Regions’ 27%. Socialists got 7% and other small parties have split the rest of the votes. The orange team again failed to unite. In order to break four month long political deadlock President Yushenko agreed that Yanukovich could become Prime-Minister. Viktor Yanukovich, the disgraced loser of 2005 presidential elections, turned out the real winner.
From the beginning very few doubted that their partnership would be anything but productive. In fact, these recent events represent just natural culmination of eight month long backlash between the President and the Prime-Minister.
President Yushenko wants to lead his country to NATO alliance and European Union, while pro-Moscow Yanukovich from the start of his second premiership stalled the country’s accession to NATO, announcing in Brussels that Ukrainian society is not ready for NATO membership. Yanukovich methodically strengthened his position within the government, filling cabinet positions with his loyal pro-Moscow bureaucrats and undermining the President’s parliamentary faction and the President’s administration.
Apparently, the Prime-Minister made the government un-governable for the President. After failed negotiations, on April 2 the President dissolved the Parliament (Verhovna Rada) and set new elections for May 27. The President accused Yanukovich of trying to usurp the power by illegally luring pro-Western parliamentarians into his camp. “Deliberate efforts are being made in the parliament to worsen the political crisis, posing a threat to our country and people,” declared President in his address to the nation. “My actions are dictated by the strict necessity to save the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is not only my right, it is my obligation,” he said.
The parliament immediately rebuffed the President’s decree, refusing to dissolve. Soon after, Yanukovich and his allies transported thousands of their supporters from eastern and southern provinces to the capital. They camped down on the Independence Square of Kyiv, protesting and marching against the President under the accompaniments of Russian military music. Yanukovich and his pro-Russian coalition asked Ukraine’s Constitutional Court to override President’s decree and refused to allocate funds for snap elections scheduled for May 27.
President’s administration, on its part, started preparations for the May elections and so far restrained from calling its supporters to the streets to avoid possibility of confrontation.
On April 5 Ukraine’s Constitutional Court opened the case about the President’s decree dissolving Ukraine’s Parliament. The hearing is scheduled for April 17.
It is hard to predict precise development of events in the country. But it is very easy and clear to see that there is something big at stake and current events go much beyond the power struggle between two men.
Besides his failures, President Yushenko symbolizes the dreams of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution generation, the dreams of just, democratic, free and independent Ukraine, integrated with the Western World and with its most important institutions of NATO and European Union.
In contrast, Mr.Yanukovich is seen as “Moscow’s man”, both by his pro-Russian electorate and by pro-Western and nationalist Ukrainians. He is a man, they say, who is trying to take power in Kyiv and shift Ukraine back under Russia’s political-economic wing. Both camps truly believe that Yanukovich will do exactly this. Pro-Russians hope so, pro-Western democrats and nationalists fear so. He himself has never hidden his strong pro-Russian sentiments. That is where he thinks he belongs.
Mr Yanukovich is one of the most ardent supporters to join Ukraine to Russian dominated Eurasian Economic Community, bringing under Russian economic supremacy former Soviet Union’s four biggest economies: Russia’s, Kazakhstan’s, Belarus’ and Ukraine’s. President Yushenko justly sees it as a real threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty. Prime-Minister Yanukovich declares it as a useful tool for further Russian-Ukrainian economic integration.
Yanukovich, the shady man with criminal history (charged twice, first for armed robbery and the second time for rape) and stolen millions creates fear in many that he will fully bring back the era of Kuchma (or much worse) of nepotism, corruption, criminal business and semi-authoritarianism.
Putin’s Kremlin never ceased supporting Yanukovich, during 2004 elections openly and afterwards more quietly, but with the same intensity as in the past. In Moscow Yanukovich is seen as a valuable, key figure on Eastern European geopolitical chessboard to win Ukraine back. Russian state media doesn’t hide that Yanukovich is Russia’s creature and will remain so as long as Kremlin fights with the West to bring Ukraine back to Russian fold.
However, pro-Moscow Yanukovich would be one isolated figure, doomed for inevitable failure if not Russian speaking eastern provinces of Ukraine and Crimea in the south. All together they make up about 40% of the country’s entire territory and population (or about 230,000 sq km with approximately 20 million people on it). They represent the political and electoral base of Mr. Yanukovich and of all other pro-Russian political parties, which Kremlin abundantly sponsors and enthusiastically organizes. Large majority of this population are ethnic Ukrainians, who under long Russian rule simply got assimilated and adopted Russian as their native language. Pretty large portion of them (especially in the South) are ethnic Russians who were settled in Ukraine under Tsarist and later under Stalin’s colonization policies. Crimean Russians simply ended up in Ukraine in 1954, when Russian Soviet Socialist Federal Republic ceded Crimean Peninsula to the Soviet Ukraine.
Very sadly, consecutive governments and cultural-intellectual circles of the post-Soviet Ukraine have not had much success, politically, culturally and linguistically to integrate them with the rest of the Ukrainian society. Some of these neglected and isolated provinces still look back to Russia as “Big Brother” and feel deep nostalgia for the Soviet Union.
Russia heavily and happily relies on these provinces and their population to exercise its influence in the country. Besides strongly backing and sponsoring pro-Russian political parties, it always diligently worked with these Russian speaking and Eastern Orthodox Christian eastern Ukrainians, frequently reminding them of their “historic spiritual, ethnic and linguistic ties with mother Russia”. Simultaneously, some clandestine and well financed groups and organizations very skillfully accelerate anti-Western campaign based on unreasonable fears of “imminent, brutal Western economic exploitation and military occupation” in case if Ukraine joins NATO.
Many fear that Kremlin can provoke eastern and southern provinces to breakaway from Ukraine. Actually, Russia had already threatened Kyiv indirectly on several occasions that it will do exactly this if Ukraine dares to join NATO. But for now Russia prefers to have Ukraine as it is. Succession of eastern and southern regions, of course, will greatly weaken Ukraine vis-a vis Russia, but at this point by keeping Russian speaking provinces within Ukraine Kremlin influences political and electoral life of Capital Kiev and hence, that of the whole Ukraine. That’s what exactly Russia needs: to control entire Ukraine, up to NATO and EU eastern borders, to control it politically and economically along with its energy corridor to Europe. Succession of eastern Ukraine will give to Russia just half of the country, another half still drifting towards the West.
Strategically located on the crossroads between NATO and European Union on one side and increasingly anti-Western and assertive Russia on the other side, it absolutely does matter for these both worlds as to where Ukraine stands.
Putin’s Russia never failed to realize the huge importance of Ukraine. And that is why the country stands very high on Kremlin’s geopolitical agenda.
Russia thinks that the West, especially the United States, encroaches on Moscow’s exclusive sphere of influence and doesn’t take into account Russia’s special national interests in the post-Soviet space. As many times stated by president Putin and various Kremlin officials Russia perceives itself as being in conflict with the West to protect its interests and influence not only in the former Soviet Union, but on entire Eurasian continent. In this conflict Ukraine is of key importance for Russia, especially, on the background of NATO’s eastward expansion.
Moscow doesn’t need neutral Ukraine, being a boneless buffer state between Russia and NATO. Kremlin needs its strong political, military and economic presence in Ukraine, all way up to the NATO’s Polish, Slovak, Hungarian and Romanian borders in order to stop NATO expansion. Putin’s Russia is terrified by the whole idea that in case of Ukraine’s NATO membership the alliance’s eastern border can come 300 miles close from Moscow.
Most importantly, Kremlin needs the ultimate control on Ukraine’s gas and oil pipelines that transport 80% of Russian energy exports to Europe. Russian-Ukrainian gas row in winter of 2005 over rising gas prices, clearly made Moscow see how independent minded government in Kyiv can create problems in Russia’s energy dealings with Europe.
Ukraine’s role for Russia is ever increasing, especially after Europe and the United States actively started to discuss the possibilities of new energy projects, transporting Central Asian energy resources over Caspian Sea and Caucasus to the West, entirely bypassing Russia. One of the major, possible gas routes will pass through Caucasus from Caspian Sea, go under Black Sea, will cross Ukraine and eventually reach north-eastern and northern Europe.
If this project is realized Russia loses its exclusive role of transporting Central Asian energy supplies to the western markets. Therefore, by controlling Ukrainian energy corridor it will control not only the new gas pipeline (exclusively designed to bypass hostile Russia) but also the old ones that will remain as Russia’ main energy road to the West, after Central Asian oil and gas is redirected from Russian prairies.
And finally, there is historical-ideological or “spiritual” factor (as many Russian “intellectuals” call it) as to why Ukraine should be in closer union with Russia (or just be part of Russia as most of them say). As we know from the history, Kyivan Rus was the first eastern Slavic state, formed in the 10th century on the territory of modern Ukraine. Russian historians unquestionably think that it was the first Russian kingdom on which later the kingdom of Moscow was formed. So they say, since Kyiv is the birth place of Russian statehood it logically and definitely should be the part of new 21st century Russia.
Sixteen years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union but majority in Russia still do not agree with the idea of Ukraine’s independence. There, Ukrainian independence is still considered as “historical nonsense”, almost insult to Russian national pride and very often subject to popular jokes widely spread in people. As one Russian writer noted, it is practically impossible to explain in Russia that Ukraine is not Russia.
It’s no secret that in Russian intellectual circles, in Kremlin’s official cabinets or on the streets, beautiful and sweet Ukrainian language is considered as degraded dialect of Russian language, something to be made fun of, to be looked at, mainly used by “illiterate peasants” and unworthy to be called a separate language at all.
Fight or die
The potential and importance of Ukraine is hard to underestimate. Being Europe’s second largest country (area of 603, 700 sq km), with its rich natural resources and the population of 47 million people, Ukraine carries the real capacity of becoming European political and economic heavyweight, able to stand next to Germany, Great Britain and France.
However, mismanaged by corrupt post-Soviet clans and after the Orange Revolution deeply shaken and cracked by cultural-linguistic and political divisions, further exacerbated and masterminded by Putin’s neo-imperialist Russia, Ukraine can’t realize its full potential. It reminds a giant, chained to the ground.
As to what happens to Ukraine will very much determine what will happen in much of the post-Soviet space in the future. If rule of law, democracy and economic reforms succeed in Ukraine, taking the country into NATO and EU, it will bring the hope of democratic change in the whole former Soviet Union and will shake the authoritarian, isolated, pro-Moscow regimes from Belarus to Central Asia. Ukraine’s success can be a catalyst for the revival of democratization process even within authoritarian Russia itself. And the West should note all these and as back in 2004, during the Orange Revolution, now too support the forces of change, freedom and democracy in the country.
The current political crisis in Ukraine, as mentioned above, is not about the power struggle between two men. It’s a continuation of the fight as to which direction Ukraine should go: towards the West, democracy, freedom, transparency and open society or back to post-Soviet corruption, nepotism, isolation, slow assimilation and humiliating domination by former masters.
Besides all their disappointments Ukrainian society must unite and with the forces of Orange Revolution together defend the country’s freedom and democracy as they did three years ago. Ukrainian people went through unspeakable evil under Russian Tsars, Bolshevik rulers and Communist and post-Communist bosses. It’s entirely up to this generation now to avoid going back to the brutal past.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS