With just over 2% of votes still to be counted, Ukraine’s pantomime villain, Viktor Yanukovych, is coasting for victory in the country’s presidential election. Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister and one of the leaders of the pro-Western ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004 has yet to accept her loss, but with the EU praising the “impressive display of democratic elections” it will be hard for her to do anything but concede. So is this game, set and match for Vladimir Putin, who has done everything in his power to snuff out the ‘Orange Revolution’?
“Revolutions devour their own children”, the saying goes, and this has certainly been true of the 2004 events that swept Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko to power. But while democracy is now well-entrenched in Ukraine, Yushchenko proved an ineffective leader – out of touch and constantly battling with Tymoshenko. Together they proved incapable of governing, balancing Ukraine’s split West/East identity or reforming the country’s gangsterland economy.
Yanukovych may prove no better in managing a country that resembles Boris Yelstin’s Russia. Many of his backers are said to be implicated in corruption, while he has given no indication how he intends to rebuild a country, which has little FDI, lacks the natural resources that prop up Russia, and only subsists by eating away Soviet-era industrial assets.
But in some ways his election may even be good for the West, at least in the short-term. First, it means Ukraine will stop knocking so hard on NATO’s door – thus sparing the alliance the trouble of an internal fight over whether to open the door to Ukraine. When Ukraine starts knocking again, it will be because it genuinely is ready to join Western clubs (either because President Yanukovych has decided to pursue membership and has undertaken the necessary reform; or because he has lost an election and Ukrainians have rejected a non-NATO future).
Second, it may make Putin’s Russia a little more relaxed about Russia’s role in its “Near Abroad”. President Yanukovych will also be keen not to be seen as a Russian ogre in the West and may open the door for a lot more serious, if subterranean, cooperation with NATO and the EU – as long as the question of membership is kept at bay.
Sure, I would have liked to see the Orange Revolution’ succeed and Ukraine cast off Russia’s yoke. But those hopes were not dashed last night; they were dashed years ago. What remains today is to make the best of Yanukovych’s election – and that may not, in the end, be so hard as people assume.