Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A New Era for Ukraine

Western reporting about Russian affairs is often biased and questionable. Most journalists, whether Left or Right in their opinions, have a built-in antipathy towards Russia. There is therefore a widespread willingness to trust information that would otherwise be considered questionable, provided that it supports the current wisdom portraying Russia in a negative light.

The 2004 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine was one of those newsworthy occasions when Western accounts of events were not necessarily to be trusted. Russian and Ukrainian political matters are always a hall of mirrors, and notoriously difficult for outsiders to decipher.

Natalie at Birdbrain specializes in Slavic affairs, so her blog is one of the best sources of information about the recent Ukrainian election. Last night she posted an analysis of the election of Viktor Yanukovych — the “bad guy” of 2004, from the point of view of the Western press — as president of Ukraine. With her permission, I am reproducing the entire post here at Gates of Vienna:

Yanukovych Victorious: A New Era For Ukraine
by Natalie


At the time of this writing, it looks like Viktor Fyodorovich Yanukovych is the next president of Ukraine. He appears to have won with 45.9 percent of the vote, a narrow but definite margin over his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who won with 45 percent of the vote.

A mere five years ago, Yanukovych was in disgrace, having won the presidential election but was soon forced out due to alleged fraud allegations (none of which I believe were true). In both the initial election (on October 31, 2004) and the run-off (November 21, 2004), Viktor Yanukovych defeated his rival, Viktor Yushchenko, in a narrow but perfectly possible and acceptable margin.

In a Western-backed revolution, the result was annulled due to alleged voter fraud. Another election was scheduled for December 26, 2004, but not before some important voting laws were changed to limit the use of absentee voting.

The West has been wrongly enamored of Viktor Yushchenko for some time now. Simply because he is anti-Putin, and simply because he wants Ukraine to join Nato, he is considered our ally and someone worthy of supporting, though this could not be further from the truth. He has very shady associates — including former ally Yulia Tymoshenko (the two have broken with each other since). Tymoshenko is an oligarch (one of the rare female ones) who almost certainly did not acquire her money honestly. Yushchenko himself is an old Communist apparatchik — it is to be expected for there to be quite a few of them in Ukrainian politics due to Ukraine being a part of the former Soviet Union. But what bothered me is the disingenuousness of the Western portrayal of Yushchenko as a squeaky-clean reformer untainted by the Communist system.
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Yanukovych was born in the city of Yenakievo, in the Donetsk region to a working-class family. His mother died when he was two years old. He had a bit of a shady adolescence, probably marked by crime and gang involvement. He received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1980 and worked as a manager of a transportation company. He became the governor of Donetsk in 1996. In 2001, he received a degree in international law. He eventually became a doctor of economics (see end note about Russian education system), the highest degree that one can receive in a chosen field. He was the Prime Minister of Ukraine under both Leonid Kuchma and Kuchma’s successor Yushchenko. He has been the leader of the Party of Regions since 2003.

In the initial election on January 17 of this year, Yanukovych won with 35 percent of the vote. Tymoshenko came in second with 25 percent and Sergey Tigipko was third with 13 percent. According to Ukrainian law, if one candidate does not receive at least 50 percent of the vote, there must be a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes. The run-off for the 2010 election was set for February 7 and almost immediately, the two candidates began campaigning for the run-off. In an attempt to bridge the gap between herself and Yanukovych, Tymoshenko promised to make Tigipko prime minister if she were elected president. This strategy did not entirely work out, as Tymoshenko was unable to overtake Yanukovych.

Under Yanukovych’s leadership, Ukraine’s position internationally will certainly be changed. Yanukovych has better policies than Yushchenko (which is why I support Yanukovych). The virulent anti-Russian sentiment will almost certainly come to an end, and Ukraine will resume relations with its most important neighbor, Russia (Medvedev famously broke off diplomatic ties with Ukraine in August 2009, a position I support). Yanukovych will not pursue anti-Russian-language policies like his predecessor did — he wants the Russian language to have equal status with Ukrainian.

Most importantly, Yanukovych has said that he will not pursue Nato membership for his country. Yushchenko aggressively pursued Nato membership, even though the people did not support it.

An article in The Wall Street Journal makes the ironic claim that Yanukovych may fulfill the promises of the Orange Revolution more than Yushchenko ever could. If by “Orange Revolution” the author means democratic leadership by a leader who has his country’s best interests at heart, then this statement is true.

Note on the Russian education system:

Russian education degrees can be a bit confusing to foreigners. The Russian (and Ukrainian) equivalent of what we would call a Ph.D. is kandidat nauk (кандидат наук). The degree’s field of study is usually specified: for example, this degree in history would be kandidat istoricheskikh nauk (кандидат исторических наук). There exists a higher degree called doktor nauk (доктор наук) and there is not really an American equivalent. Of the eighteen candidates who ran for president, only three held the highest degree, doktor nauk: Vladimir Litvin (in history), Ludmila Suprun (in economics), and Viktor Yanukovych (also in economics).

Sources:

  • On the percentage of votes received by Yanukovych and Yushchenko, here
  • On the Orange Revolution, here
  • On the biography of Yanukovych, here and here
  • On election results, here
  • On the incidents following the January 17 election, here
  • On the education of the presidential candidates, here

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really hope Yanukovych does not push for EU membership. If he resists the EU borg, and associates with his fellow Eastern Slavic (and Orthodox) nations, he will be a God-send.

Some good news though. He has been critical of the abysmal Ukrainian birth rate, and is not advocating immigration as a solution. A good sign, perhaps?

PatriotUSA said...

Yanukovych I think will be much better for the Ukrainian purpose and position in Europe. Not joining
Nato and bowing down to the new center of power would be an extremely important message.
We have seen what the wreckage of
'immigration' has done to much of
Europe, and certainly not for
the better. Excellent article,
Natalie. Thanks for having it
posted here. Will post a link to
it on my site with appropriate
credits.

Félicie said...

It is really scandalous that they haven't made Russian the official second language yet. This is in a country where Russian has always had a strong historical presence. It's unconscionable, really. i don't know if Yanukovich is going to do anything about this. He is more likely to do so than the Ukrainian nationalist block. But it might be too difficult politically.

Anonymous said...

The author lets her personal biases get in the way. Both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko are uber-thieves who would not be out of place in, say, Chicago - and Donbass is no different. This is not about ideology - this is about corruption and gang wars, pure and simple. Yanukovich is a small-time hoodlum who rose through the ranks to buy himself a governorship, an academic degree (no one who has ever seen him talk, a-gaffe-a-minute ("Gogol is a great Russian poet") would mistake him for Ph.D.), and a pardon for his two jail terms (handled so poorly that a tyro reporter was able to uncover it). This is not to idolize Yuschenko, but anyone expecting serious improvement under Yanukovich has his (or her) head in the sand.

Anonymous said...
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Félicie said...

Natalie, he meant he is not a poet. Gogol wrote in Russian. But his themes and settings are Ukrainian. So there is some basis for both cultures considering him their own. But there is also a great number of famous (and more unambigously) Russian writers and poets that come from Ukraine. It is true that both Yanukovich and Timoshenko are crooks, and I don't have any high hopes that this great historical injustice of the supression of the Russian language will be redressed under his leadership. Think of Finland that has two official languages to honor the historical presence of the Swedish population (even though it is much smaller percentage-wise). In Ukraine they are closing Russian schools and from September there is a law that prohibits students to speak Russian to each other during the break.

david said...

thank you, Felicie. No, this is not about nationality - this is about literature. The media is awash in Yanukovich gaffes: he called Lviv's population "a genocide", confusing the word with "genofond", or "gene pool". On more than one occasion he spelled his academic title as "proffesor". On another occasion he mistook Isaac Babel for German socialist August Bebel (many streets in Ukraine are named after him). I would give a lot to be a fly on the wall if he ever gets to meet Obama, with the latter's "Austrian language" lines. But what's more important, it is still Donbass mafia money that runs him, not some statesman ideals.

david said...

david=lbertarian
(for some reason my Open ID didnt work. Oh well.

david said...

Oops. A friend just corrected me. Actually, Comrade Y called Chekhov - not Gogol - a great Ukrainian poet (context: he was promising to fix up Chekhov's house museum in Yalta). Enough about Ukraine already, before I have him mixing up Gogol with Google

The Poster Formerly Known as Gordon said...

The main danger exemplified by Yanukovich is that he will decide to follow in the footsteps of Dictator Putin and end the real accomplishment of the Orange Revolution - the ability of the Ukrainian people to change their leadership when it no longer leads in the nation's best interest.

Under Putin the Russians have lost this ability. Do you think that this is OK, Natalie?

As for the whole Russian/Ukrainian issue, if the Ukrainian nationalists were smart they would cede the eastern-most Russified (by Stalin's forced famine) portions of the Ukraine, and the Crimea, to Russia, and take the remainder of the country firmly into the European camp.

But they have nationalist dreams, the same dreams that almost destroyed Europe in the 20th century and the dreams that many who comment on this site want to reinvigorate in Europe. And so Ukraine will remain a neutral state between Russia and the European Union.

Anonymous said...
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david said...

ah, ex-Gordon, well-observed re Ukrainian nationalistic ambitions. Alas, the situation is even more absrd - actually, only three regions - the Western Ukraine grabbed by Stalin in 1939-40 - are the ones who are truly, deeply anti-Russian, but because they are the only ones who have some knd of convictions they have been able to impose their will on the rest off the country. Yet a similar argument can be made in re Yanukovich: why wouldnt he ever suggest a referendum about separation along at least the Dnieper line? Because his Donbass clan would have too much to lose, thats why. Follow the money trail...

Anonymous said...

Why would it be smart for Ukrainian nationalists to hook up with Europe? So the EU can force them to accept millions of African and Asian "climate refugees"?

Russia may be flawed, but at least its government is not committed to the destruction of its people.

Zenster said...

Agent Chameleon: Russia may be flawed, but at least its government is not committed to the destruction of its people.

A country which countenances the institution of an entrenched oligarchy that removes all hope for prosperity is just as "committed to the destruction of its people" as the terrorist importing EU dhimmi-states. It is merely suicide by another route but suicide all the same.

One need only examine the tremendous impact of alcoholism in today's Russia for a glimpse of how hopeless and grim Russians feel about their prospects in a society ruled by an elite class with ZERO regard for the average citizen.

It is incomprehensible that people continue to overlook this fundamental fact as they keep praising Russia's supposed self-preservation. This, even as its birth rate sinks along side a rising mortality rate and rampant Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Lifespan duration alone is a prime indicator of just how severely flawed any praise is of the Russian system.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Russian birth rate has gone up in the last couple of years, which is more than what can be said for the US and the rest of Europe. And based on my understanding of Russian sentiments, it seems that the current Russian economic system doesn't really bother the Russians. Perhaps capitalism is not the end-all-be-all for civilization. At least for the Russians.

Anonymous said...

As my fourth and final comment (due to this blog's rules) here's an article by Russian blogger Stanislav Mishin, who writes an article critiquing the anti-Russian sentiments found in many US conservative circles. Yes he's biased, but I still think it's worth a read. It helped make me reconsider my view of Russia and how the Russians are doing compared to us.

http://mat-rodina.blogspot.com/2010/01/us-conservative-hypocrites.html

Sean O'Brian said...

What I, and I suspect others here, approve of about Russia is its insistence on being allowed to continue as a sovereign country, rather than as a subject of some supranational authority. This does not imply a general approval of everything the Russian State does. It has huge faults which it is not necessary to paper over.

It is leftists who are in favour of supranational power, dislike national sovereignty and generally supported the 'Colour Revolutions' in Ukraine and Georgia. This is of a piece with leftist support for the European Union and its Treaties, which is exactly the kind of tarpit trap which the international left would throw Russia into if they could.

Post-Communist Moscow poses a threat to European leftism by way of example, as a living alternative (though not to American leftism, because Americans would never emulate Russians). That doesn't mean that Post-EU countries would seek to convert en masse to the Orthodox Church or adopt Russia's economic model but just that they could see that it's possible to survive leftism and be re-born as a traditional, independent country.