Ukraine looks eastward [Article]

From the Globe and Mail:

It was the handshake that sealed the end of a revolution.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the charismatic Ukrainian Prime Minister and a key figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution that set the country on a pro-European, anti-Russian course, sat down late last year with Vladimir Putin, who offered her a generous deal for sending Russia’s natural gas through Ukraine’s pipelines, paying 30 per cent more than previously.

She appeared on television warmly shaking hands with the Russian Prime Minister in what is widely seen as Moscow’s endorsement – some would say purchase – of her candidacy.

The image of the handshake is everywhere this week as Ukrainians prepare to go to the polls on Sunday in an election that seems poised to bring the Orange Revolution to a close.

It marks, for Ukraine, the return of Russia.

Voters seem poised to give the greatest share of first-round votes either to Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed leader who was driven from office in the 2004 protests against his fraudulent election, or to Ms. Tymoshenko. Both have pledged to build relations with Moscow and to abandon plans to bring Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Almost immediately after the Orange Revolution protests brought Mr. Yushchenko to office in early 2005 amid promises to reform the economy and join NATO and the European Union, Moscow began to punish Ukraine for its defiance.

Europe was terrified by the Ukraine-Russia “gas wars” of 2006 and early 2009. Ukraine’s pipelines carry much of Europe’s natural-gas supply from Russia, and in both those years, Russia refused to pay Ukraine the price it wanted for carriage. In the winter of 2006, a chunk of Europe went without heat for days.

Mr. Putin’s deal with Ms. Tymoshenko was an apparent signal that the gas wars would end under her leadership.

Mr. Yushchenko, sidelined by the deal, issued dark warnings that his two opponents are part of a Kremlin plot. “Tymoshenko and Yanukovich are the finest representatives of a single Kremlin coalition,” he told voters in Lviv, in Ukraine’s European-minded west.

The European Union has essentially abandoned Ukraine, building tough border defences on its Polish flank and shutting the country out of the accession process – even though steps toward membership have brought political and economic stability to Croatia and Serbia under similar circumstances.

But they aren’t willing to give up the nationalist reforms of 2004, which outlawed the Russian language from schools and television. And none of the candidates, even Mr. Yanukovich, has dared touch these changes in campaigns.

Actually Yanukovych has been quite vocal about abandoning democracy and making his first priority as president would be to revive the use of the Russian language. Even the Financial Times endorses him! Either way this article is delivering a very stark look into Ukraine’s future after the elections. It’s up to the voters now, kinda – with Russian resurgence what are the chances the same corruption that initiated the response of the Orange Revolution will happen again?

[Read the rest of the article]

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