Fighting for Ukraine: What’s Next?
No. 2 2005 April/June

Ukraine changed forever following its 2004 presidential
election, as did relations between Moscow and Kiev. The bitter
feelings that this situation produces are not related to Russia’s
defeat in this battle, but to the helplessness of its political
warriors. The mercenary fighters have dispersed, leaving the
wounded Supreme Commander behind on the battlefield. The engineers
of Russia’s political technologies are offering endless assurances
that they were not responsible for losing Ukraine. Several
politicians are rushing to Kiev in order to become associated with
the “great victory on Maidan,” while the most ardent proponents of
democracy are demanding that the Russian government provide
material backing to the new Ukrainian authorities.
Does all of this equate to capitulation?


To understand what really happened, let us rewind a few years
back and stop in the fall of 1999, the most heated period of
Russia’s parliamentary election race. At that time, high stakes
were involved in the battle for majority seats in the State Duma,
not to mention the race for the presidency. A life and death
struggle was underway in Russia. Obviously, the internal affairs of
Russia’s neighbor seemed trivial at that time.

Meanwhile, on November 14 of the same year, the Ukrainians held
the second round of their presidential election; President Leonid
Kuchma received approximately 60 percent of the votes to emerge
victorious against Petro Simonenko, the Communist Party leader. In
other words, one month before the Russian elections, Kuchma had
already secured for himself a second term of office.

Those elections in Ukraine were practically a full remake of the
1996 elections in Russia. Businessman Boris Berezovsky had
propelled Russia’s political technologies to the celestial heights
of Ukrainian politics. All the fine details of the plot had been
replicated. In the 1999 election race, Yevgeny Marchuk, Ukraine’s
equivalent of the late Russian General Alexander Lebed, had
destroyed the coalition of non-Communist oppositionists. In the
second round, Kuchma ran against Simonenko, Ukraine’s equivalent of
Russia’s Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. Eventually, the forces
of progress triumphed over the ghosts from the past.
I do not want to sound too much like a Cassandra, but here is what
I wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on the eve of the second round of
the Ukrainian election 1999: “The main outcome of this election is
the discrediting of democratic procedures taken per se, and its
impact will be long lasting. Independent Ukraine has not yet seen
such a scale of intimidation, threats and misuse of power. Whatever
the finale of the second round may be, it holds no promise of
ending the current crisis. On the contrary, it is fraught with
increasing destabilization.”

This did not seem to worry President Kuchma in the least,
however. After all, he did achieve the impossible. In 1994, he won
the presidential race against a rival from western Ukraine much the
same way his predecessor, Leonid Kravchuk, did in 1991. Kuchma came
to power as a representative of the country’s Russian-speaking yet
multi-ethnic eastern regions. Much like Kravchuk, he did not
fulfill a single pre-election promise, but unlike his predecessor,
he was re-elected.

All was quiet on the foreign policy front as well. On May 31,
1997, the Ukrainian and Russian presidents signed a bilateral
Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership. This did not
stop Kuchma, however, from signing a Charter on a Distinctive
Partnership between Ukraine and NATO on July 9 of the same year.
Those Russians who expressed their doubts over the sincerity of
Kiev’s intentions were silenced by the ratification – on the eve of
the 1999 election – of the Russia-Ukraine agreement in both houses
of the Russian parliament.

Kuchma did not realize one thing, though: as soon as this
document went into effect, at least one of the parties involved –
the West, with the U.S. at the head – would not have a pretext any
longer for closing its eyes to the corrupt practices of his
administration. For Western strategy planners, Ukraine was more
significant as a means for curbing Russia’s ambitions. Kuchma was
tolerated for the simple reason that he – the winner of the Lenin
Prize for missile construction – was the only man with whom
Yeltsin’s Russia was ready to sign a document that would finally
fix Ukraine’s independence despite its litigious state borders; the
document also failed to outline any guarantees of friendship,
parameters of cooperation, or terms of partnership. Once Kuchma
finished his chores, he would be free to go. His task was to give
way to a new, more advanced individual who would be more
transparent for the West. This new politician was supposed to lead
Ukraine into the next stage of divorce from Russia.

Soon, events began to look like a political blockbuster. First,
there was the disappearance of the provocative journalist Georgy
Gongadze, whose decapitated body was discovered in a beech forest
outside Kiev. Next, a noble major of the security service, Mykola
Melnichenko, recorded the president’s allegedly incriminating
conversations and turned the tapes over to the ‘saintly’
oppositionist Alexander Moroz, who publicly accused the president
of involvement in the murder of Gongadze. The major was then
granted political asylum in the U.S. Pavlo Lazarenko, a former
Ukrainian premier and also Moroz’s sponsor and employer of another
prominent oppositionist, Yulia Timoshenko, was imprisoned in the
U.S. at this time and disclosing the developments in Ukraine to
U.S. investigators.

A campaign entitled “Ukraine Minus Kuchma” had begun.
Condoleezza Rice called Kuchma “a Slavic Mobutu” [Mobutu Sese Seko,
president of Zaire from 1965 to 1997, became synonymous with
corruption – Ed.] and, following in the footsteps of George Soros,
revealed the name of a new Ukrainian Redeemer – Victor Yushchenko,
still a prime minister and one of Kuchma’s disciples. Note that all
of this occurred within less than a year after Kuchma had handed
presidential powers to himself upon re-election.


May the Lord save us from believing that all of these events
were the product of some witty Jewish or Masonic or Polish-American
plot. Throughout Ukraine’s independence, its authorities had been
gathering brushwood for the fire with their own hands. The
Americans simply grasped at the situation in order to implement
replacement of yet another thieving Roh Tae Woo by a standard Kim
Yong Sam – a regular martyr in the name of truth [the
administration of the South Korean President Ro Tae Woo was engaged
in financial machinations and President Kim Yong Sam came to power
in 1992 – Ed.]. Both candidates sought friendship with the world’s
only superpower (What else did they have to do?), but the
superpower found the democrat more instrumental than the dictator
who was mired in corruption. No personal affections – as another
presidential term comes to an end, the situation will be replayed,
although with different names in the cast.

It may be supposed that Russia could benefit from the experience
of another nation like Ukraine, since both countries make up an
inseparable part of each other’s past and present. The
Russian-Ukrainian bond goes back centuries, and Ukraine was the
last decisive factor in the disintegration of the unified Soviet
state in 1991. Ukraine’s independence put Russia to a harsh test,
as it had to abandon the most promising territory that was becoming
oriented toward Europe. This caused contemporary Russia to draw
back its borders to its present size. If independent Ukraine lacks
a special union with Russia, its independence will unavoidably be
placed on an anti-Russian foundation. Ukraine may then turn into a
second Poland – an alien cultural and historical project that
Russia will have to learn to deal with, or else Ukraine set about
Russia itself.

There was nothing wrong about Putin taking up the glove that had
been thrown to him. Nor was it wrong that Russia – which had been
made a prey under Yeltsin and had ceded one position after another
– decided to engage in the struggle. Staying away from the fight
for Ukraine at a time when everyone else was flexing their muscles
would have been foolish for Russia. But how should it have

First of all, Russia owed nothing to Kravchuk or Kuchma. On the
contrary, by fully supporting the democratization process in
Ukraine, Moscow could have brought into the limelight the broad
ranks of pro-Russian forces which Kiev had fervently black-painted
for years and forced them into a semi-legal status. However, Moscow
was unfamiliar with such an approach and thus chose a different
genre of actions. (The Russian authorities are trying hard now to
justify themselves by saying they “did not work with opposition
forces anywhere in the CIS.” This argument does not stand up to
criticism. History taught us such lessons: the slogan “Our Dignity
Is in Fidelity,” Czar Nicholas I, the Holy Union, and the Crimean
War as the final verdict.) The Kremlin assured itself that Kuchma
was a guarantor of Russian-Ukrainian relations and rushed to rescue
him at a time when he was being intimidated by boycotts, an
investigation, possible imprisonment and general misery.

The Russian authorities made a correct decision to engage in
struggle at a time when staying aloof was impossible; however, they
staked their bets on the wrong horse – partly owing to the elite
Putin had inherited. Over the previous years, it had made nice
profits on questionable transactions with Ukrainian counteragents –
in co-embezzling of natural gas and exports/imports of electoral
technologies. On this point, I must quote another one of my own
prophesies: “No doubt, any scenario poses certain risks for Russia,
but they grow manifold if stakes are made on Kuchma, whose power is
waning, as an option without an alternative. Sooner or later the
West will force Kuchma to surrender to the mercy of Victor
Yushchenko – that is, to the part of the opposition that is looking
strictly westward. Russia’s present policy toward Ukraine is again
making Putin’s strong Russia a hostage to Kuchma’s weak Ukraine”
[Novaya Gazeta, November 11, 2002].

Thus, both of the main actors, the U.S. and Russia, made open
stakes that ruled out any compromise. The Americans have poorer
knowledge of Ukraine than the Russians do and it appears they wrote
Kuchma off too early. But Washington had a durability resource from
the very start – the Americans knew perfectly well what they had to
do to reach their goals. Against this background, Russia’s
inflexible policy still lacks an understanding of what can provide
reliable guarantees of a “special relationship” with Ukraine.

That kind of relationship cannot be maintained through one-sided
political or economic concessions. Nor can it be maintained through
self-imposed moratoriums which are primarily concerned with
defending Russia’s own interests in exchange for Ukraine’s
gratitude. No agreement at the top, including support of the
incumbent president or a friendly candidate for the post, will
provide any definite guarantees. Nor will the successful advance of
Russian finances on the Ukrainian market provide a guarantee of a
special bilateral relationship; unlike Western businesses, the
Russian business community has not yet learned how to secure
national interests. Actually, there are only three guarantees of,
and/or conditions for, genuine Russian-Ukrainian friendship,
cooperation, and partnership: the democratization of Ukraine
through decentralization and its transformation into a federation;
acceptance of the Russian language as Ukraine’s second state
language (to prevent a further assimilation of the Russian-speaking
population); and the preservation of the Moscow Patriarchate’s
influence amongst the numerous followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox
Church, that is, maintaining the unity of the two countries in the
religious sphere.

By securing a pro-Russian politician in the person of the
incumbent president (Kuchma), Russia was not obliged to adopt his
vision of things. Moscow should have used the extra time for
securing guarantees in the post-Kuchma period. But Russia’s efforts
were not evenly distributed in different directions. The Kremlin
failed to work properly with Ukrainian political parties, public
associations, political experts, journalists, regional elites and
the population. Generally speaking, the executive is unable to
address such complicated tasks without the support of parliament,
political and expert communities and society in general. Russia’s
lack of credible institutions within civil society, together with
the lack of state support for their activities, resulted in
Russia’s defeat against Western institutions, foundations, centers
and grants in the battle to win over public opinion in Kiev.
Political technologists tried to make up for the glaring inadequacy
of Russia’s instruments of influence by using Putin’s popular
ratings, as well as his active participation. The final result
produced the unsettling image of an isolated warrior stranded on
the battlefield. Apart from Putin’s efforts, individual officials
from both countries maintained their contacts – or rather the
pretences of contacts. But Russia’s numerous hands meddling in
Ukrainian politics only served to spoil the soup. Instead of
bureaucratic mobilization, discipline and accountability, the
Russian authorities demonstrated chaos and departmental deviations
from the general course. The damage was finally done, it seems, by
the activities of the Russian embassy in Kiev where Victor
Chernomyrdin is ambassador. He seemed to care for anything –
especially the interests of his friends and clients, including
Kuchma – except for ensuring Russia’s guarantees.
Ukrainian voters were regarded as target objects of more or less
intricate political technologies that had replaced a clear strategy
and understanding of the goals. Besides, the technologists were
busy with self-promotion, which created an overblown impression of
their importance and eventually did ill service to their clients.
The bureaucrats were busy entertaining themselves at informal
meetings, engaging in elaborate festivities, such as “The Year of
Russia in Ukraine” and “The Year of Ukraine in Russia,” and
indoctrinating ethnic Ukrainians living in this country.
Eventually, they developed a feeling that genuine progress was
being made in the Ukrainian direction.

The truth is, however, that all of the participants failed to
perform properly.


Although it is true that the U.S. and Europe competed against
Russia for Ukraine, this does not mean that the main Ukrainian
candidates simply performed as puppets. The eastern and western
regions of Ukraine had their say in the story, as well.

Long before the end of the political drama, I commented that the
people who were claiming that the 2004 election would predestine
the future of Ukrainian democracy were either mistaken or simply
lying. It predestined – inconclusively, as it appears – the future
of Ukraine as an integral state, be it democratic or authoritarian.
In the first round, Victor Yushchenko received popular support from
a total of 16 western and central regions, in addition to the
capital of Kiev. Victor Yanukovich emerged victorious in 9 regions
of eastern and southern Ukraine, as well as in Sevastopol. The
result was the same in the abortive runoff round and the repeat
runoff, despite the betrayal of people responsible for the
administrative resource and Kuchma’s flight from the Yanukovich

Ukrainians voted for a friend versus a foe, not for a rightist
candidate versus a leftist candidate. Yanukovich was considered to
be a foe in the western regions, while Yushchenko had that
reputation in the east. This split disrupted the candidates’
electoral strategies. Contrary to Yushchenko’s expectations, he did
not succeed in uniting all of Kuchma’s adversaries in the eastern
regions, while Yanukovich – despite being the Prime Minister –
failed to represent the all-nation power for the voters in the
western regions.

Once again, Ukraine split into two camps and painted itself
different colors. Neither the U.S., nor Russia, nor the two
candidates, nor the mythically omnipotent Russian political
technologists, ever planned for such an event. As it turned out, no
one proved able to draw conclusions from the genuine Ukrainian
election of 1991 and 1994 (as I said above, the 1999 election was a
total sham).

To understand why Ukraine’s political geography has not changed
a bit over more than a decade of independence (the east and west,
excluding rebellious Kiev, remain as staunch as ever), let us go
back to the year 1991 when independence suddenly descended upon the
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. At that moment, Ukraine became
truly independent for the first time in its history, unless you
count as “full-fledged statehood” the endless hetmans, military
chiefs or directories during the years of the Russian Civil War
[1918 to 1922 – Ed.]. (Strictly speaking, then, the Volga region,
Siberia and the Far-Eastern Republic would have had equal reasons
to claim state sovereignty.) No one but a handful of Ukrainian
dissidents had ever dreamt of an independent Ukraine before, to say
nothing of fighting for it with arms. Simply, the Ukrainian
nomenklatura that stood at the helm at that time used the situation
to fence itself off from the unpredictable restructuring and
central government in Moscow.

The politicians of that time did not have any plan or program
for building an independent state; they simply could not grasp the
full idea of what was happening. Therefore, they borrowed an
ideological base from their recent enemies, the secessionists of
western Ukraine, who were historically alien to the concept of
Russian-Ukrainian unity. Many people believed that the essential
part of the new Ukrainian state was building a nation that would be
independent of Russia.

This unwritten plan was clear to everyone in the West and was
implemented with great persistence. Ukraine was supposed to
reorient all of its relations from the East to the West, except for
the inescapable economic ties. It was to renounce its plans of
integration with Russia and replace them by integration with the
West, including the most fantastic projects – with Poland or
Turkey.  Ukraine was to compete with Russia for military and
political influence in the post-Soviet space and bid for accession
to NATO and the European Union, even though the latter
organizations might not desire Ukrainian participation. An
inalienable part of the plan called for the swift assimilation of
Russians and other Russian-speaking residents. Due to this policy,
between the 1989 and 2002 censuses, a quarter of the Russian
population dissolved into a “unified Ukrainian nation.” To this
end, the authorities slashed the number of Russian schools and the
airtime of Russian radio and television programs. Moreover, the
attempts of the eastern regions and the Crimea to claim original
cultural or language identity were crushed.

Kravchuk and Kuchma, both candidates of the east-Ukrainian
regions, were victorious against candidates from the west at the
presidential elections. At the same time, both men squandered their
chances, although at different periods of time and in different


Ukrainian self-determination victimized the eastern regions.
‘Ukrainizers’ felt apprehension toward those territories, as well
as the Crimea and some southern regions adjoining the Black Sea.
They denied their population the right to read and think in their
native tongue, forcing their children to read books, for example,
by Ukrainian-born, Russian-language writer, Nikolai Gogol, in
Ukrainian translations. People in the east and south who were
accustomed to living in a single political and cultural space with
Russia for centuries, now saw that the newly built state was put on
a completely hostile foundation. On the face of it, they had to pay
for the adventures ordered by others. Suffice it to say that two
eastern regions, Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk, account for more than
a quarter of Ukraine’s budget revenues. The east was to become
restive sooner or later: naturally, it would desire to command the
adventures it was supposed to pay for.

The east rebelled during the recent election campaign. While
filling out the blank of a presidential candidate’s application in
Ukrainian, Prime Minister Yanukovich made two mistakes in his job
title, producing chuckles in the mass media supporting Victor
Yushchenko. They chuckled in vain – the Russian-speaking east,
where people write in Ukrainska Mova [the Ukrainian language] with
mistakes, realized Yanukovich was their man.

During the first phase of the campaign, Yanukovich, who had a
dubious blessing from Kuchma and engaged in ritual chat about the
need for stability and the European choice, looked a mere figurant
in Yushchenko’s triumphant march. Yet Yanukovich derived benefits
from attacks by his opponents. Furthermore, when he dropped
mentions of Europe and NATO, stressed his links with Russia,
advocated an official status for the Russian language and dual
Russian-Ukrainian citizenship, the election race went down a
completely different road. Yanukovich acquired a political image of
his own and won the votes in the eastern regions, the Crimea and
southern territories, securing a solid place in the second round of

The eastern regions are more heavily populated than the western
ones, and Yanukovich’s victory in the second round was natural and
predictable, whatever his opponents would say of it. The fact that
victory was eventually stolen from him is explicable, too.

First of all, Kuchma played a significant role in it. He had
chosen Yanukovich, a man with a questionable history, in the hopes
it would complicate the situation and help him eventually regain
the reins of power (the fact that Yanukovich finally rejected the
role of a stuntman is a different story). How Kuchma could have
hoped to unite his country after all that had befallen Ukraine
during his presidency, and in the face of a battle for his country
between a former superpower and the surviving superpower, is a
great question. His lethargy, duplicity, vain reveries and
under-the-table dealings dealt an irreparable blow to Yanukovich
and made Kuchma himself a loser.
Secondly, the population of the eastern regions – their economic
and political elite and Victor Yanukovich himself as a candidate –
did not have the experience and stamina of western Ukraine.
Yanukovich retained the bulk of his electorate even after the
national parliament, Supreme Court, and a cohort of international
mediators had driven it home to the population that their
candidate’s victory could not be recognized and that the voters
would have to return to the polls again. However, the results of
the repeat runoff vote showed a 3-percent increase in the already
improbable voters’ turnout in western Ukraine, while in the eastern
regions it fell by an average of 5 percent. (In Donetsk, a city
trying on the role of a leader of the eastern and southern regions,
the number fell a whole 13 percent, while in the Crimea, which is
used to making a stand against Kiev, it fell by 3 percent.) This
percentage is not very high, yet it was enough to make Yushchenko
the winner – at least according to the terms of the Electoral
Commission counting.


To sum up, Yushchenko and the West won, while Russia and
Yanukovich were disgraced and suffered considerable losses. What is
next? Should we deliver public apologies and send Ambassador Victor
Chernomyrdin to Kiev, the “mother of all Russian cities,” with
gifts such as sable furs and loans? I am not at all sure. The most
important result of the 2004 presidential election is Ukraine’s
split, and it shows that the country will unavoidably turn into a

The guarantee that Ukraine will maintain a special relationship
with Russia lies in its federalization rather than in the
ascendancy of one or another candidate. At the very least,
federalization would prevent Ukraine’s consolidation around
anti-Russian forces or its rise to a position where it would offer
competition to Russia and obstruct the reemergence of its
influence. Such a role is already being planned for Ukraine by
those who applaud Yushchenko from across the borders. The new
president happily signs Carpathian declarations with Georgia’s
President Mikhail Saakashvili, declaring “the third stage of
liberation in Eastern Europe.”

What the Ukrainian government needs is a timeout, a transitional
period. Yulia Timoshenko has never made a secret of her wish to
cast out the political reform that had paved the way to a package
agreement on the eve of the decisive battle. If she succeeds – and
there is plenty of time before the reform takes effect September 1,
2005 – the Orange will not have to worry much about a revenge of
the Blue-and-White in the March 2006 parliamentary election. More
important for the Orange is to secure their freedom of action to
mop up the political space in the eastern and southern districts.
That is, “implant civil society in the east” in the terms of
Yushchenko’s political technologists. This is no wonder,
considering that Yushchenko is president of only one-half of his

This is exactly why Moscow was Yushchenko’s first official state
visit as president. Of course, he had to be received here. But let
us not believe all he said. Instead, let us consider what he kept
silent about. Now Russia has a unique opportunity to make an
official pause – for the first time since Ukraine received its
independence – and allow its new president to demonstrate his
interest in it. Had Yanukovich emerged victorious, Moscow would
have had to redouble its assistance in solving Ukraine’s economic
problems, while at the same time putting up with the inevitable
presidential overtures toward the West. For the first time ever,
Russia can afford a pragmatic approach.

We need that pause to formulate an agenda for the new
Russian-Ukrainian dialog. The agenda, however, must not affect the
efforts of political forces inside and outside parliament, nor of
Russian society’s abilities to maintain brotherly ties with
Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions and the Crimea. A
consolidation of the south and east of Ukraine, together with the
promotion of the ideas of autonomy and federation, will help
disrupt any attempts to unite both parts of the country around an
anti-Russian program. As for the southern and eastern regions, they
will have the right to veto in determining their future.

A broad support of those efforts constitutes the new horizons of
Russian policy in Ukraine. Its implementation should involve the
entire Russian state and society.