Here goes a bit from my latest in the Huffington Post on the outcome of the presidential elections in Ukraine and the return of Viktor Yanukovych. Though it was published after I had already posted my article, I liked this line from the Economist: “…old habits will die hard. The practice of buying judges or appointing prosecutors to safeguard business interests is alive and well. The temptation to bend the rules again to win a valuable asset could prove too much to resist.“
The supreme irony of the Yanukovych victory is that there are many good reasons why this outcome is bad for Putin and good for Medvedev, and detrimental to the siloviki while opening opportunities for the seemingly yearning reformers within part of the state. As the historian Timothy Garton Ash has noted in the Guardian, “there is no evidence that the oligarchs behind him want Ukraine to cease being an independent country. Their interest is to play both sides, Russia and the European Union.”
Firstly, having a stoutly obedient Kremlin ally in a key neighboringcountry diminishes Putin’s ability to push his narrative as “Russia asthe besieged fortress.” It has long been a cornerstone of his argumentjustifying authoritarian powers that Russia was always being surroundedby the Americans and hostile forces, and that his seizure of power anddiminishing rights was just a necessary result of keeping themotherland safe. Yes, in this respect, the color revolutions wereactually very good politics for Putinism.
Secondly, the problem of Ukraine being a democratic examplestill remains. This is the third election in a row that Yanukovych andhis party have won in relatively competitive terms (which has turnedout to be much more successful than simple electoral fraud, such asthat in 2004), and this places a lot more pressure on the next timethat Russia plans to do another power swap masked by a mockery ofvoting. If Ukraine can hold real elections – despite the turnout andoutcome of either 2004 or 2010, then why can’t Russia? Here’s a radicalidea to follow that: how about Russians be allowed to directly electtheir own governors instead of having them appointed by Putin?