For Russians the current political imbroglio in Kiev was similar
to struggle for power that took place in Moscow in September and
On the outside, the two episodes look almost identical. In both
cases, the heads of state lost patience with endless opposition
from the parliament and opted to call for new elections. Parliament
refused to recognize the decision, the public was at odds with the
political elite over its interpretation of the Constitution, and
the specter of two separate governments trying to rule
simultaneously hung over the country with all the usual negative
consequences. The similarity between the two events is even more
striking in that both arose a little more than two years after a
revolutionary restructuring of national authority — in August 1991
in Russia and in December 2004 in Ukraine.
But a focus on these impressive similarities is misleading. The
current situation in Kiev differs fundamentally from the earlier
events in Moscow.
The first difference is that Russia had just experienced a
critical socio-economic crisis, so the struggle for power in Moscow
played out amid a mix of potentially explosive political forces.
Despite numerous problems, today’s Ukraine is a developing
The second is that there were almost no systemic avenues in
place in the Russian system in 1993 by which different political
groupings could pursue their interests. Fragments of the Soviet
system were thrown together with elements of the new ideology, and
out of this jumble emerged the aspirations of new social strata.
The question of parceling out state property had yet to be decided,
and it was impossible for any stable coalition of political
interests to form. And no mechanisms to govern interaction between
them — whether in the form of public political parties, private
back-room dealings or lobbying — existed yet anyway.
Today’s Ukraine has powerful and well-developed business
groupings that exert influence through publicly supported political
parties. The interaction between these groups provides the
foundation for the entire political system.
The third major difference is that the fundamental questions of
national authority and the future organization of the country were
decided on the streets of Moscow in 1993. Each of the opposition
groups expected to come out victorious, but it was the president’s
party that ultimately prevailed.
The diverse structure of Ukrainian society and elites makes it
highly unlikely that any one group can even hope for an outright
victory over the others. The cultural, historical and economic
differences between the regions and different social groups are not
going to vanish under any circumstances, and this is a reality with
which any responsible Ukrainian politician must come to terms.
Events of recent years demonstrate a clear pattern: As soon as any
political group — and the economic and other interests behind it
— tries to pull too much of the political blanket to its side of
the bed, the remainder of the system immediately reacts to restore
the original balance.
Just as in physics, every action in Ukrainian politics generates
an equal and opposite reaction. The radical swing of the pendulum
during the Orange Revolution upset the balance, but the pendulum
quickly swung in the other direction, with the results of elections
for the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, counterbalancing the
earlier presidential election results. A compromise between the
squabbling factions last summer established a new balance, but this
has eroded over the last several months. When the parliamentary
coalition decided to reconfigure itself to increase its influence,
its opponents lined up against it.
The Ukrainian political map is like a microcosm of the very
multipolar world that Moscow would like to see on a global scale.
Systems of this type are unstable by nature, subject as they are to
the ebb and flow of alliances and coalitions that try to battle the
natural pull back toward equilibrium. It is impossible for one
group to dominate such a system completely, just as it is
impossible for one group of nations to dominate the larger
international community fully. A two-party system in Ukraine is
theoretically possible, but it would not be able to accommodate the
country’s great cultural and political diversity. The only option
left, therefore, is the current system of never-ending maneuvering
by various political forces as slow forward progress continues.
This does not mean that there won’t be occasional dramatic
reversals, but these will inevitably be followed by corrections to
the general course.
Ukrainian society also differs from Russia’s in its greater
ability to maintain a semblance of order. Despite the fact that
almost all governmental bodies were paralyzed from March to June
last year — the Verkhovna Rada could not convene, there was no
confirmed government or Constitutional Court, and the country
seemed to be on the verge of chaos — Ukrainians serenely labored
on and the economy actually grew more than it had when Yulia
Tymoshenko was prime minister.
The current collision of political forces in Kiev is but the
latest in a series of showdowns to determine the direction the
country will take. In the winter of 2004 and 2005 the political
elite had the presence of mind to avoid taking drastic steps,
opting instead for civilized competition between rival factions —
however ludicrous or unattractive the process might sometimes have
appeared. If common sense and the spirit of compromise prevail in
this situation as well, it will demonstrate that Ukraine’s
expressed wish to be considered a European nation is well
The country is going through a difficult maturing process toward
becoming a properly functioning democracy. It is very important
that actors to the west and east try not to interfere in the
process. The West’s «democratizers» and Russia’s «great power»
proponents have already played out their own campaigns in Ukraine
and no longer have any rightful claim to be representing the
interests of the Ukrainian people. The country has demonstrated its
ability to find the most pragmatic solution to its problems
intuitively, or at least to minimize the damage resulting from the
actions of domestic and foreign politicians.