A Battle for Ukraine

Posted in Russia , Other | 06-Nov-04 | Author: Dmitry Udalov

Despite the fact that the whole world is waiting for the results of the US presidential elections, there is one more region in the world where the outcome of the bid for the presidency is essentially important. As the second largest former Soviet republic, present-day Ukraine is one of the countries where democratic transition and economic transformation are still not over. Thus the results of the present presidential elections will largely define the future political course of the Ukrainian nation.

With a population of approximately 50 million people, vast territory, rich agricultural and scientific resources, it is difficult to underestimate the importance of this country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has passed through a difficult course to establish itself as an independent state, building a political system based on democracy and a market economy. Of course, such tremendous changes cannot be completed in 10 years; one has to take this into account when analyzing the situation in any post-Soviet state. Besides, Ukraine experienced far more difficult economic problems than Russia or any other former Soviet Republic. The main economic problem is energy. Ukraine totally depends on Russian oil and natural gas. Thus, economic development cannot be rapid enough without Russia’s cheap energy recourses.

The two terms of Leonid Kuchma's presidency can be given the grade C+, or satisfactory. He managed to save the country from total collapse, but at the same time his administration's achievements are far from impressive. Ukraine urgently needs investments for rebuilding its industry. Ukraine's economy has never really taken off, hobbled by excessive bureaucracy and corruption. Although the country is believed by many experts to be able to export its agricultural products to the whole of Europe as it has a natural advantage in this sphere, last year Ukraine had to buy wheat from its northern sister, Russia. This fact brightly depicts how natural advantage can be lost due to poor management and primitive technology.

In the sphere of foreign policy, Ukraine had to play a very tricky role. First of all, it wanted to separate from Russia and act totally independent through trying to find and attract new partners in Europe and the US. Ukraine has officially declared its desire to strive to become a member of the EU and NATO. It also supported US military operations in Iraq and sent its troops there.

At the same time, Ukraine vitally needs to build a partnership with Russia, mainly for economic reasons. Former economic ties are replaced quickly by economic relations with the EU or any other region. A lot of people are trying to find work in Russia as the salaries and living standards are a bit higher there.

Yushchenko or Yanukovich???
Yushchenko or Yanukovich???
On October 31, Ukraine held elections to choose a new national leader. Among the 20 candidates, two of them - Viktor Yanukovich (present Prime Minister) and Viktor Yushchenko (the leader of Our Ukraine faction) - had real chances of winning. Yet neither of them managed to win 50% of the vote. Therefore, both candidates will meet again on November 21 in runoff elections

Both candidates have vast political experience. Viktor Yanukovich is the present Prime Minister and Viktor Yushchenko was also Ukranian Prime Minister for some time but later became a bitter opponent of Kuchma. Both candidates said their goals were to eliminate poverty, increase salaries and pensions and reform Ukraine's military.

Positions of the candidates differ greatly on the ways and means of achieving set targets. Whereas Viktor Yanukovich believes partner relations with Russia to be the key element in Ukraine’s development, Viktor Yushchenko calls for wider cooperation with Western Europe and the US.

The results of the election reflected the geographic areas of voters. As a result, people from eastern parts (that border Russia) of the country voted for Yanukovich, and at the same time voters from western Ukraine preferred Yushchenko.

This year's presidential elections in Ukraine cost a tidy sum: Officially, Mr. Yanukovich spent $1.7 million and Mr. Yushchenko $0.7 million. However, experts from the Freedom of Choice coalition of public organizations of Ukraine say that all presidential candidates spent about $1 billion, and the second round set for November 21 will call for more financial injections.

The country is really divided. Both sides claim that if their opponent were to win, this would automatically mean be full disaster for the country. The results show that the margin between Yanukovich and Yushchenko is only about 0,64%. It means that both sides have equal chances of winning in the runoff elections.

In the remaining three weeks before the runoff elections, the favorites of the race will try to win over Alexander Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party, and head of the Communist Party Pyotr Simonenko, each of who won slightly more than 5% of the vote. The price is higher than ever before, because the candidate who convinces the outsiders will carry the elections. In fact, the communists and socialists will either bring victory to Yanukovich or Yushchenko. In this sense Yushchenko’s pro-western position is not likely to be supported by very conservative Ukrainian socialists or communists.

Yanukovich is also trying to raise the issue of dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship to attract extra votes. This is a vital question for many common Ukrainian and Russian people, yet it is too complicated an issue to be settled soon. Yet Yanukovich said that the basic terms of agreement are already developed and he is going to fulfill this issue if he is elected President.

The battle is not over. The campaign is only gaining momentum. Some experts are really aware of the situation to develop a Georgian scenario with frauds and as a result clashes, atrocities and outbursts of violence. Whatever the outcome of the election, it must be legitimate. The OSCE is to pay particular attention to the elections and must guarantee a truthful and just outcome in the runoff election.

Still in my opinion, the main challenge facing Ukrainian people is their ability to unite under a new national leader. I don’t think it would be easy given the present political circumstances, yet no one thinks that Kerry’s supporters would start a new civil war after their candidate lost the election. Something that is so obvious in a mature democracy is not so evident in an emerging democracy…