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Lessons from Ukraine: Mostly About Russia

Author: Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy
February 8, 2010
American Interest


The apparent victory of Viktor Yanukovych in yesterday's Ukrainian presidential election is yet another setback to the idea that the world is rapidly becoming a more democratic place.  The candidate whose fraudulent claims of victory in 2005 led to the much hailed "Orange Revolution" of 2004.  Losing candidate Yulia Tymoshenko has vowed to challenge the results in court and has threatened to bring her supporters out to the streets in a replay of the Orange protests, but the reports from international observers suggest that the elections, whatever little irregularities popped up here and there, passed the smell test.  It's likely that Prime Minister Tymoshenko's threats are part of the next round in Ukrainian politics as the newly elected President and the Braided One maneuver for power.

All politics is local; the Ukrainians voted the way they did mostly because of domestic political factors.  The two wings of the Orange Revolution wasted the last five years feuding and spatting with one another; Tymoshenko and the outgoing president Viktor Yushchenko could never get over their political and policy differences.  Had the two movements united they might well have won the latest election despite a 15% fall in Ukraine's GDP since the advent of the global financial crisis.  Most observers think that Yanukovych is a bit more pro-Moscow and a bit more predictable than Tymoshenko; given Ukraine's economic difficulties and given that it will be hard for the new president to gain effective control of Ukraine's parliament, Yanukovych is likely to experience some rough sledding in office.

But if the Ukrainians voted mainly for domestic reasons, the international implications of their choice are being widely studied.  In a nutshell the consensus seems to be: Russia up, US and EU down.

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