From the Toronto Star:
Whichever candidate wins, it will be a victory for Russia, which took a beating as the villain of the Orange Revolution.
“The 2004 election was ideological,” said Ukraine expert Jakob Hedenskog, a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto. “It was an important choice between East and West. This time it’s about bread-and-butter issues.”
Under Yushchenko, Ukraine veered toward the West, with failed attempts to join the European Union and NATO, and a “national project” to promote the Ukrainian language and church, and gain recognition for the 1930s famine that killed millions of Ukrainians under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s brutal economic policies.
But antagonizing Moscow came at a price. Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine over a payment dispute, causing a drop in pressure in the Europe-bound pipeline and gas shortages in European countries.
Moscow’s fierce opposition to Ukraine’s EU and NATO membership also helped to curb the West’s enthusiasm for Kyiv’s entry.
This time, the crisis on the home front is more pressing. The International Monetary Fund has frozen an emergency bailout because government infighting undermined required budget cuts.
Unemployment is biting, and a new European visa regime has destroyed the livelihoods of cross-border traders in impoverished western Ukraine.
Meanwhile, corruption, broken government promises and an oligarch-dominated economy have disillusioned many of Ukraine’s 46 million people, and low turnouts are predicted at the polls.
Still, says Dyczok, life has improved in many ways since 2004, when she observed the elections.
“Society has moved forward in ways people don’t notice,” she said. “They are more engaged. They’re active, and they protest at the local level. The political spectrum is diverse, and there will be a strong opposition.”