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Orange Revolution turns to rot

October 23, 2005|Oles M. Smolansky and Rajan Menon | Oles M. Smolansky is university professor emeritus of international relations at Lehigh University. Rajan Menon is the Monroe J. Rathbone professor of international relations at Lehigh and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

No bad deed, it seems, goes unrewarded. Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko recently received the Philadelphia Medal of Liberty and a prize from Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs, both honors bestowed for his efforts to advance democracy.

Ukrainians can be forgiven their puzzlement. Not long ago, they were ecstatic. Their Orange Revolution in the winter of 2004-2005 quashed an attempt by apparatchiks and oligarchs to preserve the corrupt status quo by rigging the presidential election. The revolution forced a new, closely monitored election, won by Yushchenko with his promises of democracy, economic reform and an end to cronyism and corruption.

But today, despite Yushchenko's continuing accolades outside Ukraine, hopes inside the country have been dashed. To survive a burgeoning corruption scandal and a major political fight between two of his top appointees, Yushchenko made a Faustian bargain. He joined in an alliance with Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-backed candidate whose rigged victory in 2004 had touched off the revolution.

On one level, the disarray in Ukraine is not terribly surprising. Leaders of the Orange Revolution had little in common except their determination to scuttle the odious system erected by then-President Leonid Kuchma, who had chosen Yanukovich to succeed him.

But few supporters expected that less than a year after Yushchenko's election, his inner circle would be accused by his own chief of staff, Oleksandr Zinchenko, of massive corruption. Zinchenko resigned, but his charges triggered a barrage of mutual accusations and recriminations.

Yushchenko tried to contain the damage last month with a housecleaning that included the removal of his two most powerful lieutenants. He fired the telegenic and popular prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and accepted the resignation of Petro Poroshenko, secretary of the Security and Defense Council. The two had been locked in a struggle to advance their political power and their own economic interests.

Tymoshenko's camp retaliated, accusing Yushchenko of accepting millions of dollars to finance his presidential campaign from the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. The president's acolytes accused Tymoshenko of incompetence and corruption, even though Yushchenko had consistently praised her and the Cabinet's performance. The accusations sullied the reputations of both the president and the ex-premier.

Yushchenko ordered the state prosecutor's office to look into the corruption allegations, but he quickly undermined the investigation by insisting that members of his administration --though not his Cabinet -- were above reproach. When the prosecutor agreed, finding no wrongdoing by administration officials, the public reacted with broad skepticism, just at a time when the government needed public trust above all.

In an effort to salvage the situation, Yushchenko appointed Yuri Yekhanurov as prime minister. Honest, pragmatic and nonpartisan, Yekhanurov had previously headed the Ministry of Economics and was widely seen as perfect man for the job. However, with Tymoshenko's bloc voting against him, he failed by three votes to win parliamentary approval.

Yushchenko then turned to his nemesis in the 2004 election, Yanukovich. The two men cut a deal. On a second parliamentary vote, Yanukovich's Party of Regions, which had abstained in the first vote, cast 50 votes to approve the new prime minister.

Yushchenko supporters were incensed. They had demonstrated for countless hours in the dead of winter to overturn Yanukovich's victory. Now their leader had not only bargained with him but agreed to halt any punishment of officials who rigged the first presidential election. Yushchenko gave an across-the-board amnesty to officials involved in falsifying the results of that election or who had since been accused of criminal misconduct.

This is tantamount to legitimizing criminal activity of the Kuchma-Yanukovich clan, and it further erodes Yushchenko's popularity and effectiveness.

We won't know what this means for Ukraine until the March 2006 parliamentary elections. Most likely, no party will win a majority. Yanukovich may then be courted by both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Should this happen, Yanukovich will rise from the ashes, imperiling Ukraine's reform, spooking foreign investors and increasing Russia's influence.

Ukrainians did not demonstrate in freezing weather to see this happen.

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