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One Year After Ukraine’s ‘Orange Revolution’

Author: Lionel Beehner
November 22, 2005
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What was Ukraine's “Orange Revolution?”

Cfr.org's Lionel Beehner reports from Kiev:

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The announcement last November that Viktor Yanukovych—the chosen successor to Leonid Kuchma and the Kremlin's favorite—had defeated Viktor Yushchenko, a former prime minister and advocate of market reforms, in the October 2004 presidential election brought thousands into the streets in Ukraine. In Kiev, young and old flocked to Independence Square to protest a vote they viewed as fraudulent. The demonstrators, reaching as many as half a million, erected tents, waved banners, and draped themselves in orange, the color of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party. Twelve days later, Ukraine's Supreme Court annulled the election's results and called for a rerun. Yushchenko won the follow-up election December 26 on the promise he would reform Ukraine's notoriously corrupt government, improve the economy, and reorient the country toward Europe and away from Russia.

What is the mood in Ukraine one year after the revolution?

Not good. According to a recent poll by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center, more than half of Ukrainians say Yushchenko's government has not delivered on his reforms. Many of the president's former supporters say his government has failed to clean up corruption,
improve the economy, or move Ukraine any closer toward joining the European Union. Further, many charge that Yushchenko's administration is riddled with corruption and political infighting. In early September, Yushchenko sacked his entire cabinet. What set off the government shake-up was chief of staff Olexander Zinchenko's charges against national security adviser Petro Poroshenko of bribery and media interference.

Yushchenko also let go of his populist premier, Yulia Tymoshenko, ostensibly
because of her political infighting with Poroshenko but also because of her push to punish oligarchs who profited handsomely from Ukraine's murky privatization deals in the 1990s. Some experts say that Tymoshenko, herself a former oligarch who spent months in prison for suspect business dealings, simply wants to settle old scores. Others say Tymoshenko symbolizes the true spirit behind last year's Orange Revolution and accuse Yushchenko of being weak-kneed on tackling corruption. Recently, Yushchenko has faced heavy criticisms for endorsing a bill that would, in effect, grant immunity to all politicians of any past misdeeds. Meanwhile, experts say Tymoshenko is jockeying to become prime minister again after March's parliamentary elections.

Why has Yushchenko's government been ineffective?

It was never a collection of likeminded individuals, experts say, but rather an unhappy coalition of convenience. Further, the unrest after last year's election left the country divided between the traditionally industrial and Russian-speaking southern and eastern regions, and the west, which is more pastoral and a hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism. Yushchenko has also made a litany of mistakes, expert say. He has failed to resolve the contentious 2000 murder of muckraking web journalist Georghe Gongadze, allegedly ordered by Kuchma's intelligence officials. Yuschenko has also taken heat for attacking journalists who criticized his son's lavish lifestyle. He has also overseen an economy that has slid from 12 percent growth in 2004 to under 4 percent growth in 2005.

Is the president responsible for Ukraine's poor economic performance?

Not entirely, experts say. The economic slowdown is partially the result of a dip in global metal prices. Yushchenko also inherited a whole stack of problems from the former regime that may take years to solve. Further, economists say investment in Ukraine may have been slowed down because of Tymoshenko's heavy-handed attempts to re-nationalize several key industries and to prosecute Ukraine's oligarchs. Yushchenko has been credited with last month's successful $4.8 billion sale of the Kryvorizhstal mill to Mittal Steel and has proposed spending the windfall of profits to pay down Ukraine's deficit.

What are the expected results of next March's parliamentary elections?

Most important, experts say, is whether the parties of Tymoshenko and Yushchenko form a coalition. A recent poll by the Razumkov Center indicates that Yanukovych's Party of Regions is Ukraine's most popular party at 17.5 percent, followed by Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party at 14.3 percent and Tymoshenko's Fatherland at 13.5 percent. Support for Ukraine's Communist and Socialist parties is under 5 percent, the poll reports. March's parliamentary elections are particularly important because, under new rules that go into effect January 1, 2006, the prime minister—or the head of the party that receives the majority of votes—will assume much more power in Ukrainian politics.

How are relations between Ukraine and Russia?

Relations have been strained since the Orange Revolution, when Russia intervened on Yanukovych's behalf. Yushchenko's efforts to reorient Ukraine toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance and the European Union (EU) are viewed by the Kremlin as a move against Russia. Another point of contention is Russia's Black Sea fleet based off of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula; Kiev has accused Russia of illegally occupying a square mile of land not covered under their 1997 agreement. Perhaps the biggest dispute between the two neighbors is over energy concerns. Ukraine still depends on Russia for cheap natural gas but, with rising prices in recent months, Kiev has sought to bypass Russia and acquire its natural gas from Turkmenistan and other former Soviet republics.

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