Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ukraine's Orange Revolution Coming To An End?

Hopes were high five years ago when Victor Yushchenko came to power in the so-called "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine.

Ukrainians dreamed he would end the endemic corruption, spur economic growth, and for his ethnic Ukrainian base, namely in the west, pull the country out of Moscow's orbit and into the embrace of the West.  Now, with elections set for January, the man on whom Ukrainians hung their hopes, Victor Yushchenko, will likely be removed from office, and convincingly.

This video captures some of the giddiness at the time. 

Five years later, things look a lot different.  Ukraine's main export steel is down fifty percent as the country's industrial heartland in the east has suffered badly under the global economic crisis

Swine flu may have mutated into an even more deadly strain in Ukraine.

Corruption is rife, with, according to Transparency International, more than one out of every 10 respondents had to pay bribes last in the last 12 months. Four out of ten bribe-givers said the bribe was 10% of their annual income.

To stand out amid the morass of corruption requires true exception and Ukraine's gas shipping business, RosUkrEnergo , truly stands out with ties with a top alleged Russian crime boss, Semion Mogilevich and murky ownership ties.   

Few Ukrainian politicians aren't soiled by the corruption stemming from the gas trade.

Yushchenko was reported to have received money from one Dmitry Firtash, a gas tycoon with a 50 percent stake in RosUkrEnergo.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister, earned her "gas princess" mantel when she was president of another gas middleman company, United Energy Systems of Ukraine.  She was accused of selling enormous amounts of gas on the slide and pocketing the profits without telling the taxman in the mid 1990s. 

Yet, Tymoshenko stands a good chance of becoming president when Ukraine holds elections in January.

Yushchenko's own standings in the polls is grim, with his popularity in the single digits.  Here, in this interview with David Frost in October, Yushchenko tries his best to spin it.   

On the foreign policy front, if Yushchenko does lose, Ukraine will lose its biggest backer for it joining NATO and the EU. 

Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych, who as a teenager did time for robbery and assault, are more apt to ease relations with Russia than pursue even stronger ties with the West. 

Ukraine, however, is already tied to NATO through the western alliance's overlooked "Partnership for Peace" program. 

Another one is Finland, as well as Austria and Sweden.  

But Finland is especially interesting as it sits on a border with Russia, like Ukraine.  

Finland has opted not for full membership, ever aware that would only stir tension with Russia.  

The PFP program allows the Finns to pursue an "Open Door" policy of close practical ties with NATO without the baggage membership would entail.

This, from the Finish Defense Forces, sums its up.

From one perspective this policy is optimal. For it means that Finland is able to get extremely close to NATO in practical terms, while avoiding the politically sensitive issue of formal membership. From this perspective Finland is currently pursuing a two-track policy designed to link the country as closely as possible to NATO, leaving a 'hair-thin difference', where the only remaining gap is formal membership.

Finland's security and ties with the West come via its membership in the EU. 

Ukraine's next leader might want to push harder for EU membership over NATO and coming to some type of accord with Russia. 

Anyway, most Ukrainians, many of them in the Russified east, don't want in to NATO.

As the Informant has written, Ukraine's cohosting of the Euro 2012 with Poland is a key test for Ukraine to prove it belongs in the "Western club."

For Ukraine, the EU will not end the corruption, poverty, or find a serum to fight the swine flu, but it offers a path forward.

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