Orange turns Blue by Askold Krushelnycky

Ukraine’s presidential elections, marred by corruption and vicious infighting, have produced a winer in viktor Yanukovych, Moscow ’s favoured candidate. as Putin looks to enlarge his empire, what does this victory mean for the region?

Ukraine’s presidential election five years ago, which led to the Orange Revolution, seemed to signal that the country had finally torn itself out of Russia’s orbit and would cleave to the West, join NATO and occupy an integral role in the European Union’s vision of the continent’s development. That would have been a momentous and logical conclusion to the fall of the Berlin Wall and could have altered the geopolitical map of Europe permanently.As former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski maintains, without Ukraine Russia is no longer an empire. The election of Viktor Yanukovych as president has boosted Moscow’s resurgent imperial ambitions, rekindled by Vladimir Putin. Russia is gleeful because it was terrified the Orange Revolution would cross the border to where elections are utterly predictable and the new Czar, Putin, is waiting to come back to his throne in perpetuity.

Voters in the presidential elections, played out in two rounds in January and a February run-off, gave a small majority to Yanukovych, the pro-Russian candidate, against his rival, prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had pledged to bring Ukraine closer to the EU and NATO.

Ukraine’s election commission declared him winner saying that Yanukovych had received 48.95% and Tymoshenko 45.47%. She challenged the result but her hopes of mustering large-scale demonstrations to force a repeat of the run-off election faded. A further blow came mid-February when she dropped her legal challenge after the court refused to consider her claims of electoral fraud. Yanukovych has now been inaugurated as president.

Most foreign and domestic observers said that the election was generally fair, although both candidates had bought votes. President Obama was among the first western leaders to congratulate Yanukovych, who lost in 2004 after his team was found to have organised massive electoral fraud. EU leaders, the NATO Secretary-General and the presidents of Georgia and Belarus also offered congratulations. The Kremlin was, of course, overjoyed and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the result. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church – at bitter odds with Ukraine’s own Orthodox Catholic churches – showered Yanukovych with blessings.

Preliminary results showed that Yanukovych won by roughly 900,000 votes. But Tymoshenko alleged more than a million had been falsified in his favour, particularly in his core constituencies in the east and south. She also claimed alterations to electoral regulations hastily pushed through parliament by Yanukovych’s supporters between the two rounds paved the way for large scale vote-rigging.  “Yanukovych is not our president. He will never become the legitimate elected president of Ukraine under any circumstances,” she said and indicated she would organise the sort of mass demonstrations that occurred in 2004. But it is difficult to see an Orange Revolution revival.Then, international observers and organisations nearly all branded the elections as monstrously flawed. Not only had there been vote-rigging but Yanukovych’s supporters in the outgoing government of autocratic President Leonid Kuchma used intimidation to try to neutralise the campaign of the pro-western candidate,Viktor Yushchenko, who pledged to bring democracy and human rights to Ukraine and to fight rampant official corruption.  One of the most visible consequences of the dirty tricks campaign was damage to his face, whose skin was ravaged when he was poisoned.

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