Sunday, February 07, 2010

Yanukovych Wins Ukrainian Presidential Election

A former member of the Communist party, a two-time felon, and a mechanic by trade.  That is the short bio of Ukraine's new president Viktor Yanukovych.  On Sunday, the 59-year-old got his revenge for his 2004 ignominy, when his election to the same post was snatched away by the "Orange Revolution."  This time not only did Yanukovych win, but he defeated one of the main heroines of that 'revolution', Yulia Tymoshenko.  For Moscow, the result is sweet as well.  The Black Sea Fleet, Ukraine's energy pipelines are now on the block prepped for Moscow's bidding.  For many, the biggest disappointment five years after the Revolution has been choosing between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, two overly familiar figures both tainted by scandal.  Anyway, out with Orange in with Blue.

Yanukovych made it clear what he thought about the "Orange Revolution", Viktor Yushchenko's attempt to bring Ukraine closer to the West and put a little more Ukraine into Ukraine, long viewed by Moscow as "Little Russians."

On the last day of campaigning, he had this to say:

"The seventh of February will be the end of the Orange era. The five years of this Orange rule made it clear to the people that it is impossible to continue to live like this. A majority of the Ukrainian people voted for a new Ukraine, without the Orange ones."

The euphoria from the "Orange Revolution" days is gone.  Yushchenko failed to make a dent in corruption or reform the economy.  The economy is now in a downward spiral, with GDP growth down 15 percent in 2009.  The government is weeks away from going broke, and the IMF is dangling an 'austerity' program that the Washington institution is famous for that will make the suffering for the mass of people worse in the short term. 

The weekly Korrespondent on its cover unflatteringly portrayed Yanukovich in the outfit of a medal-festooned Soviet leader and Tymoshenko as a smiling assassin clutching a hand grenade.

As the Informant has reported, Yanukovych, has worked tirelessly to retouch his image as a Communist-era bureaucrat, too closely wedded to the Kremlin. 

Yanukovych and Tymoshenko both talked about pursuing better ties with the EU, with Tymoshenko putting a five-year timeline on Ukraine joining the Brussels bureaucracy.  

And while the media in the West potrayed Tymoshenko as the pro-West candidate and Yanukovych as Moscow's boy, the truth is more blurred.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke glowingly about Tymoshenko, saying she was someone Moscow could work with to avoid the gas pricing wars that have left homes in western Europe cold in past winters.  

But Yanukovych goes further.  

Russia has a "lease" to base its Black Sea fleet at Simferopol on the Crimea.  That lease is due to expire in 2017.  Yushchenko had pushed for the lease not to be renewed.  
Yanukovych has spoken of the need not to "politicize" the issue, admonishing Orange leaders for, "demonstrating openly their enmity to Russia, which is our strategic ally... and have been searching for conflicts."

In 2006, Yanukovych expressed support for extending the lease for the Black Sea fleet. 

And then their are energy pipeline politics. 

Yanukovych wants Ukraine to help build the Nord and South Stream pipelines planned by Russia to transit gas avoiding states like Ukraine.

“We will introduce proposals about Ukraine’s participation in the building of Nord and South Stream,” Yanukovich said last week, according to Reuters.

Writing in Asia Times, Vladimir Socor, however, says Moscow has never wanted to literally circumnavigate Ukraine to ship gas to Europe. 

Socor says Moscow is looking for a friendly government in Kiev to ink a cooperation deal. 

At the moment, Russia wants Ukraine to consider an agreement on bilateral cooperation in the gas sector. The Russian draft's centerpiece is a proposal on Gazprom's participation in upgrading Ukraine's gas transportation system until 2030, apparently through a consortium arrangement.

Back to the polling, Tymoshenko has been defiant, saying she won't concede the vote, contending Yanukovych has stuffed the ballot boxes in eastern Ukraine again, just like he is alleged to have done in 2004.

But the times are different now.  Ukrainians are disillusioned and disgusted with their political elites. 

The chances of another "Orange Revolution" are next to nil.

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