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Post-Orange Ukraine

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
August 15, 2006

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Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once likened a successful revolution to "the kicking in of a rotten door." In the case of Ukraine, though, one might say the rotten door has swung back in full force, given the dismantling of the coalition that carried out the Orange Revolution. The ringleaders of the 2004 revolution proved ineffective and out-of-touch, resorting more to political infighting and settling scores than improving Ukrainians' livelihoods. With pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovich back in the prime minister's saddle, Ukraine looks poised to rejoin Moscow's orbit (CSMonitor) after a period of closer ties with organizations like the European Union and NATO. Yanukovich was recently in Russia and hammered out an energy deal that leaves, at least for the time being, the price of Ukraine's gas at its current level(Moscow Times).

The collapse of the Orange Revolution has created a stir among democracy activists across the post-Soviet space. After all, if Ukraine, a country in Europe's backyard with relative freedom of the press and a vibrant opposition, can't sustain a pro-democratic revolution, what hope is there for Belarus, Kazakhstan, or any other country where opposition groups have begun clamoring for more freedoms? "It will be seen very negatively by opposition groups [in the region] that had hoped to follow the path of the Orange Revolution," George Washington University's Taras Kuzio tells CFR.org.

However, some experts tell RFE/RL that Ukraine's reorientation toward Russia should not have a noticeable effect on its post-Soviet neighbors. Nor will the revolution's demise result in a firm tilt away from Brussels toward Moscow. "Ukraine's distinctive history," writes Columbia University's Mark von Hagen in the Wall Street Journal, "refuses to put the country firmly in the East or West, but somewhere in between." Yet, at least for the near future, Ukraine's attempts to cultivate closer ties to Europe and NATO appear to be "under a cloud," Columbia's Robert Legvold tells RFE/RL.

Regionally, the collapse of the Orange coalition should, if anything, soothe the nerves of post-Soviet authoritarian leaders, who are paranoid of grassroots uprisings sweeping them from power. The presidents of Belarus, Russia, and Uzbekistan, for example, have rolled back democratic reforms in the past year for fear of allowing a spark that could set off a color revolution. They have called government turnovers in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan the work of CIA-backed operatives. The president of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman, writes in the Journal of Democracy that the backlash following the Orange Revolution has wiped out the modest political reforms in many "hybrid regimes" and "prompted a more aggressive and coordinated response on the part of the world's authoritarians and autocrats" (PDF).

The issue of East versus West remains germane to Ukraine's internal politics as well. The Economist reckons that handing over the premiership to Yanukovich, who rightfully won the post and remains popular in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, should help heal the country's East-West divisions.

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