Victorious Ukraine

25 november 2004

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club. Research Professor, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

Resume: The preliminary outcome of the battle shows that Ukraine is a complicated and subtle political system that does not deserve a simplified approach.

Regardless of the final results, the Ukrainian presidential election has shown that Kiev has reached the crossroads where the country faces an alternative of either following the Belarusian or Russian model of development, or heading in its own direction, towards rapprochement with the West.

Whoever wins the Ukrainian presidency the main outcome of the election is already clear. The campaign has brought about the creation of a new state on the European map that deserves the most serious approach and has the right conditions to become one of the leading powers on the continent.

Hitherto, the main protagonists of European politics treated Kiev with neglect. Many in Moscow could barely reconcile themselves with the fact that Ukraine was an independent state with its own interests and development prospects.

In the West no one, despite all the rhetoric supporting a European choice for Kiev, has ever seriously considered the scenario of Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community, with integration being seen as too complicated and time-consuming. In any case no one knew where to start and whether it was really worth it.

Even the description of this year’s presidential election campaign as a battle of Russian and Western interests — and this description prevailed in both the Russian and foreign media — essentially implied a lack of trust in Ukraine’s own political identity.

What has the poll shown? Firstly, it has revealed that regardless of the problems Ukraine is facing, Ukrainian democracy is far more developed than in other CIS member states. Nowhere over the past few years have we witnessed such a full-blooded election fought between equally strong and influential candidates — each with a clear-cut political program, his own views on foreign policy and wide public support — for a country’s top political post.

Secondly, Ukrainian society has shown a high degree of civil activity, making a choice determined by their true political preferences and not by campaign tricks. Thirdly, it has revealed their ability to resist influence from the outside, whether from Russia or the United States. The efforts applied by both the West and the East have barely affected the balance of forces in Ukraine.

Finally, the apocalyptic forecasts of Ukraine’s disintegration following the election have seen no corroboration: with such a high electoral turnout to choose the head of the state it is highly unlikely that those citizens want to destroy the state.

This pleasant picture doesn’t guarantee the last but most important element — if the rival forces manage to avert mass riots and violence, it will prove that their country is also ruled by responsible politicians who are able to work out a compromise in the interests of their country.

Both potential victors will be restricted in their actions. No matter which of the two wins, the first thing on his agenda will be to take measures to win over the opposing camp. In other words, Yanukovich will have to go to Lviv, Yushchenko — to Donetsk. Both will have to improve relations with key international partners: Yanukovich — with Brussels and Washington, Yushchenko — with Moscow.

Finally, whoever wins will have to tackle burning social and economic problems in conditions of public turmoil and a lack of parliamentary control. This requires exceptional political skill and ability to reach a compromise.

Of course, a Yanukovich victory will hardly delight Ukraine’s western partners who had threatened a considerable deterioration in their relationship if international observers ruled the elections were not democratic enough.

But at the same time all the European experts agree that no one is willing to see Ukraine transformed into another Belarus, driven into isolation. Such a scenario would be dangerous and meaningless.

In actual fact, by seeking to convince the incumbent Leonid Kuchma of the importance of democratic elections, Europeans have been pushing too hard, and in doing so have deeply angered a considerable part of Ukraine’s establishment.

But the prospects of sanctions being imposed, say, on steel exports, will force the victorious clan to be more compliant with the other players.

On the whole, Ukraine will continue moving towards the European Union and NATO, though that movement will not be deliberately sped up.

The preliminary outcome of the battle shows that Ukraine is a complicated and subtle political system that does not deserve a simplified approach.

I will venture to assume that Kiev, again regardless of who wins the race, has already passed the crossroads where the country faced an alternative of either following the Belarusian or Russian model of development, or heading its own way towards rapprochement with the West.

Last updated 25 november 2004, 13:27

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