Monday, February 27, 2006

Ukrainian Fairy Tales in the Washington Post

Jackson Diehl's column in today's Post is yet another attempt to try and prepare for the likely repudiation of the Orange Revolution at the polls in Ukraine in March. As in Russia in 1993, so in Ukraine in 2006: the reformers and revolutionaries who claimed to be on the winning side of history are being handed their walking papers.

As with the popularity of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the political recuperation of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych after his defeat for the presidency points to popular dissatisfaction with promises left unfulfilled. The Orange coalition did not tackle corruption, did not lead Ukraine to a closer relationship with Europe and presided over a major economic slowdown. Yanukovych's ertswhile position--stick with the devils you know--seems to have borne fruit.

A defeat for the Orange team in March would be a major setback to those who believe that CNN-televised rallies rather than patient and massive investment make the difference in spreading and consolidating democratic systems.

It is thus interesting that Diehl again tries to paint the March elections as a "choice" between the West and Russia for Ukraine, never once addressing the fact that there is no choice. If I am at a restaurant and the waiter offers me coffee or tea, but then says, the restaurant has no coffee and won't order any new supplies for coffee for the next ten years, then I don't have a choice between coffee or tea; I have a choice between tea and nothing. This is the "choice" that faces Ukraine today. Yushchenko was given the same agreement that his authoritarian predecessor Kuchma was offered. Ukrainians in March are not "choosing" because there is no choice on offer.

Diehl also chooses not to follow the journalistic threads of the story about the shadowy company handling Ukraine's gas supply--that in addition to organized crime figures one of the beneficiaries is the presidency of Ukraine, since that would also spoil the story.

If Ukraine matters to U.S. national security, we've done precious little about it. I made this point in November 2004 and reiterated it in September 2005. Back then I wrote (in National Review):

I wrote in the November 26, 2004 issue of the International Herald Tribune that if the Orange Revolution were to succeed, a Yushchenko government “would have to demonstrate that his westward-oriented policies would generate results. And here the United States and the European Union would have to lay down clear benchmarks for facilitating Ukraine's closer integration with the Euro-Atlantic world — and be prepared to commit real resources. Even if European leaders hold out the prospect of EU membership decades in the future, there is no reason that tangible benefits cannot be offered now — such as a free-trade agreement, or a guest worker regime that allows Ukrainians to live and work legally in Europe or in the United States.”

And it seemed that leading members of the Congress agreed — and even couched facilitating Ukraine’s closer integration with the West as a vital national security interest of the United States. At a hearing of the House International Relations Committee on December 7, 2004, Congressman Henry Hyde declared: “An independent Ukraine allied to the West, then, is the key to security in the East. … Because if Ukraine's independence is to be made secure, it must be fully integrated into and protected by the West and its institutions. I don't know what the European Union may do toward this end, but I believe that Ukraine's independence can only be guaranteed by it becoming a full member of NATO, and it can become a member of NATO only if it has become a true democracy. Full membership may not be possible in the immediate future, but many of its benefits can be harvested by making our commitment clear now.” For his part, Congressman Tom Lantos expressed his distress that the United States and Europe had done so little to block Russian neo-imperialism.

Back in June I wrote: “Seeds of democracy may have been planted throughout Eurasia; whether they take root and flower depends on whether they are nourished. We need a new strategy — the old one is no longer viable.”

So where does Ukraine go from here? Can Yushchenko put the Orange Coalition back together? After all, the forces which backed ex-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych last year are organizing for next year’s parliamentary elections. I can see the slogan now: “We were corrupt but we gave you 13 percent growth.” (So far, under the current regime, growth has slowed to 4 percent). And just as Iranians gave their votes to a hard-line candidate who promised to root out corruption and improve ordinary Iranians’ quality of life, might Ukrainian voters next year decide that the “democrats” can’t deliver and that that the “old regime” was the better option? Russian voters who overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Boris Yeltsin in 1991 embraced his political enemies two years later.

It is also too early to tell what the impact will be of the decision of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus at the recent Kazan summit to proceed with the formation of the “Common Economic Space” by March 2006 without waiting for Ukraine to decide whether it wants to take part. Significantly, it seems that Russia has rejected Kiev’s proposals for bilateral arrangements; thus, by the time of the parliamentary elections, Yushchenko may have the worst of all possible worlds; blamed by the eastern half of the country for self-excluding Ukraine from a free-trade arrangement with two of its major economic partners without being able to demonstrate any conclusive progress toward eventual EU and NATO membership.

Americans lost interest in Ukraine once the squares emptied and the cameras moved on. But if the success of the Orange Revolution is indeed as vital to U.S. national security as so many here in Washington have claimed, then we’d better be prepared to act.


Let's stop playing games.


I am certainly not an expert on this region, so in response to your post, I think I only have further questions. It appears from your articles (and this post), that the failure of the Yushchenko government (and by extension, of the Orange Revolution appears to how the thought progresses) can be directly attributed to the lack of support and initiative that the West (i.e. the EU and US) have shown towards Ukraine to make them a more integrated part of the Western economies. If that is the case, it would seem that the failure would either be on Yushchenko for failing to fully pursue these ties or on the West for failing to grant them (or at least openly embrace them) and not necessarily on the concept that people took to the streets to protest a little over a year ago.

To that end, and here is the second question, how have social freedoms expanded under the Yushchenko regime? Or were the protests more against corruption that social or media freedoms?
There has been no great expansion in social freedoms under Yushchenko because Ukraine already had an effective zone of personal freedoms and because the media was always oligarch-controlled and that didn't change. So perception of no major change in personal freedoms plus major decline in economy plus no crackdown on corruption has hurt the orange team.
It is beginning to dawn in Kiev that Ukraine is a dependency of Russia. Who is the largest customer for Ukrainian exports? Russia. Whose pipelines deliver Ukrainain natural gas? Russia's. And Ukrainians working in Russia send remittances home.

So while the orgy of Moskal-hatred displayed during the Orange Revolution may have felt real good, the facts of day-to-day living in Ukraine have brought their message relentlessly home:

"While western assistance consists of words and the opportunity to send Ukrainian soldiers to get killed and wounded in Iraq, Russian assistance consisted of about $3 billion/year from subsidized natural gas, another $1 billion or so from the subsidized oil, and billions more from Ukrainian paychecks earned in Russia, until we stuck a finger in Russia's eye and lost the cheap gaz.

Hm. Maybe that wasn't so smart."

And unless George is willing to either write big checks, like, now, his only alternative is to send Kate Harris to Kiev to supervise the vote-counting.
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