Thursday, February 11, 2010

Victory For Viktor As Ukraine's Future Is No Longer Orange

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is trying to carry on as normal, despite her apparent defeat in Sunday's presidential election. It appears she may try to challenge the official result, which gave victory to Viktor Yanukovych. But with international observers saying the election was fair, her hopes of getting the outcome changed seem remote.

Don't be surprised if these names ring a vague bell with you. Five years ago it was these two politicians, along with the outgoing President, Viktor Yuschenko, who were at the centre of events surrounding the so-called Orange Revolution. Then, the pro-Russia Mr Yanukovych won a blatantly rigged vote. After widespread public protests, a new vote was held, won comfortably by the pro-Western Mr Yuschenko, with Mrs Tymoshenko at his side. Russia fumed as another of the former Soviet states moved away from Moscow's influence towards Europe and the West.

But although the future seemed bright, the Orange Revolution turned sour. Unsurprisingly, Mr Yuschenko's years in power have been marked by worsening relations with Russia, including high-profile battles over energy supplies. Yet there's also been growing frustration in Western countries, and among Mr Yuschenko's own supporters, at his failure to actually get things done in office. He didn't follow through on his promises to tackle corruption, nor did he adequately deal with the bitterness and domestic political deadlock that was the legacy of the Orange Revolution. Perhaps most devastatingly, he failed to find a way of setting Ukraine on a path to EU membership. He leaves office humiliated, having finished a distant fifth in the first round of presidential voting last month.

So, now the Kremlin has finally got its man, we can expect Ukraine to edge back towards what diplomats call Russia's "sphere of influence." This is an old-fashioned phrase which basically means Ukraine will be friendly towards Moscow. Those arguments about energy pipelines and suchlike should be replaced by extra trade with Russia and other regional allies, such as Belarus. But Mr Yanukovych can't afford to simply do whatever Russia wants. There are plenty of businesses in Ukraine which depend on trade with the EU and the West, and he'll have to defend their interests too if he's serious about dragging Ukraine out of its current deep economic crisis. If people still can't find jobs or put food on the table, the novelty of a new government will soon wear off. It's time for Mr Yanukovych to get to work.

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