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» Society » Orange Revolution Aftermath in Ukrainian Politics and Society

Ukraine's Orange Revolution Aftermath

(written Feb. 15, 2005) 

Everyone knew the 2004 Ukraine presidential race was going to be heated. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma in his two five-year terms had created an authoritarian administrative machine that would face an uncertain future after he left office. In fact, many people did not believe that the unpopular Kuchma would actually leave office, but would find some clever way to remain president for as long as possible, for example, by using the post-election turmoil as an excuse to stay in office.

Support for Yanukovich

At least several groups had a stake in pro-Kuchma candidate Viktor Yanukovich—Kuchma and his cohorts, Donetsk region businessmen, and Russia. The unoriginal Yanukovich could be trusted to maintain a course similar to Kuchma's and ensure his post-election security (opposition leaders would try to bring Kuchma to trial for a number of alleged crimes). The so-called "Donetsk clan" were the primary funders of Yanukovich's campaign (besides the government itself) and likely expected to increase their influence and capital under Yanukovich, who was previously governer of Donetsk oblast. Russia's interests were a bit more complex, but essentially Russia did not want to lose influence in the region by Ukraine turning its back on plans to set up a tariff-free economic community with other post-Soviet countries and try to join the European Union or NATO—goals openly declared by opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko.

U.S. involvement in the Orange Revolution?

To be fair, we should recognize the West's (especially the United States') geopolitical interest in Yuschenko as a pro-West candidate and counterbalance to growing authoritarianism in post-Soviet countries. I don't pretend to understand all the U.S.'s interests in this part of the world, but this interest was sufficiently great to be heavily involved in political events behind the scenes. Just how much U.S. involvement there was has been a topic of continued debate. Articles such as Tom Mangold's in The Day (Australian publication) in late January, 2005, have fueled the fire. Mangold claims that U.S. and Russian secret services played a greater role in events than had been previously thought, that U.S. advisors helped orchestrate the Orange Revolution behind the scenes, and that the Russian secret service tried multiple times to poison Yuschenko.
While Mangold's article has been dismissed by many as sensational, a strong anti-American vein was an integral part of Yanukovich's campaign. Many accusations were made that Yuschenko's campaign had underground financial support from the U.S. government and George Soros and that the Orange Revolution was paid for by the U.S. It is a fact that many NGOs devoted to supporting free speech, election monitoring and exit polling, and political activism did have U.S. funding sources. How much assistance was rendered behind the scenes besides this remains unclear. However, anti-U.S. sentiment in Ukraine is not nearly strong enough to win an election on this alone.

Russian orchestration?

What is more evident is Russia's involvement in Yanukovich's campaign—mostly because Russia is Ukraine's neighbor and its interests in Ukraine are more obvious. Yanukovich's campaign strategy was essentially directed by Russian political scientists such as Gleb Pavlovsky. Many claim that the entire campaign was orchestrated in Moscow (article by dean of Ivan Franko National University). In my opinion this view is highly probable, as it is easily backed up by obvious facts: Putin's visits to Kyiv to support Yanukovich, Kuchma's visit to Putin for moral support during the Orange Revolution, Gleb Pavlovsky's statements during interviews, Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov's visit to Luhansk to support Ukrainian separatists, and many others. 

Geopolitical ramifications of the Orange Revolution

Because of their similar political and societal development, other post-Soviet countries are likely to experience aftershocks of Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Georgia's Revolution of Roses of 2003. This poses a threat to the Kremlin's current mindset and to other strong-armed post-Soviet presidents who are used to authoritarian rule and collaborating with other authoritarian rulers. Now Ukraine and Russia will have to build new relations based on pragmatism and equality and recognition of each other's national interests, as Yuschenko has stated repeatedly, implying that in the past relations have been too ideologicized and unequal.

Birth of Ukraine's civil society?

It has been common to hear Ukrainian politicians say that the Orange Revolution helped finally form the civil society that had been lacking in Ukraine for so many years. Time will prove this true or not. Undoubtedly, millions of citizens realized that they can influence political processes in their country rather than sit idly as rulers abuse their power. Political awareness in the election and post-election period has skyrocketed. During the Orange Revolution Internet use in Ukraine tripled as Ukrainians turned to the Internet as the only objective news source. I myself probably read the news online four hours a day for more than a month, as did many others. Civil awareness and political discussion increased to levels unseen since perestroika.
While this is certainly good news—enough to make one euphoric who is used to Ukrainians' usual civil apathy—let's not overly romanticize events. The majority of the population during the revolutionary events remained either apathetic or openly cynical about political events. 45% of voters supported Yanukovich; Yuschenko did not have a landslide victory. Many if those who voted for Yuschenko were not so much voting for Euro-integration and economic and administrative reforms as against Yanukovich. Finally, one or two months of frequent visits to Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Kiev's Independence Square) might change one's sense of civic responsibility forever, but it is not enough to erase the psychological effects of generations of totalitarianism. Repeat visitors to Ukraine will notice that although something may have changed in the country, it's still the "same old" Ukraine with all the good and bad.

Post-election changes in Ukraine

These days it's still exciting to read the news because of all the political and structural changes taking place in Ukraine. These actions are aimed at attacking corruption, downsizing government, separating business and government, reforming the military, police, and court and penitentiary systems, removing obstacles to foreign investment, correcting Kuchma-era abuses of power and unfair privatization, and resolving unsolved Kuchma-era criminal cases (especially the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze).
At the same time, it is not yet clear how different the new government will be from the old. How deep will the changes in the system go? Can Ukraine truly forsake patterns of bribery and corruption? Will the new prime minister Yulia Timoshenko become another Putin and wage a war on big business? As of February 20, 2005 she has the press, investors, and many others worried with her statements on re-nationalizing 3000 "unjustly privatized" commercial objects.