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March 26, 2006
The Orange Devolution?

Last year at this time, the world celebrated the collapse of the clan-based kleptocracy in Ukraine in favor of the clean election of Viktor Yuschenko in what was dubbed the Orange Revolution. Yuschenko managed to unite the opposition factions to the Kuchma regime and his hand-picked successor, Viktor Yanukovych, and overcome the political divide between the West and East in Ukraine. Ukraine defied Russia and Vladimir Putin by sending Yanukovych packing, a slap that damaged Putin's relationship with the West.

After the year has passed, however, the Orange Revolution has given way, a victim of the factionalism that Yuschenko managed to briefly overcome. That division has allowed the clans to once again develop momentum and return Moscow's fair-haired boy to political viability:

For a man who was supposed to be politically dead, Viktor Yanukovych has a light step. With a bounce in his stride, he emerged onto a downtown stage Friday evening, faux-marble columns framing his salute, as a crowd of thousands chanted his name in four hard beats: "Yan-U-Kov-Ych."

The Kremlin's favorite for power in this former Soviet republic, he was vanquished 16 months ago by the weeks of marches and sit-ins known as the Orange Revolution. Now, opinion polls predict that his party will win the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections Sunday.

His comeback reflects the advent of genuine democratic freedoms in Ukraine, a nation of 47 million people on the shores of the Black Sea, and the rapid disintegration of the political coalition the revolution brought to office. President Viktor Yushchenko and his former allies on the streets now trade accusations of corruption, incompetence and betrayal almost daily.

Russia is watching the vote closely. Yanukovych is the country's hope for the central goal of its foreign policy: the fostering of sympathetic governments in the former Soviet republics that share its borders. In the months since the revolution, Ukraine has aligned itself firmly with the European Union, the United States and NATO; Yanukovych has said that any government he heads would swing back toward Moscow.

Ah, democracy! Winston Churchill once called it the worst form of government, except for all the others, and there is some truth in that. No one should be surprised by this development; despite his participation and benefit from the corrupt practices that led to the Orange Revolution, Yanukovych has never lacked true popularity in the Russophile east of Ukraine. The Orangers have given Yanukovych his opening by disintegrating back into factions that show little sign of the kind of cooperation needed to form a long-term governing coalition.

It need not be the end of the road for Ukrainian democracy if Yanukovych comes back into power, either. Yuschenko has had over a year to implement the kinds of checks and balances to keep the party in power from stealing elections. That in itself would be a major victory, and most observers believe the election will be fair. Public debate will be open and energetic. And Yanukovych and his Party of Regions know now that Ukraine will rise up to stop the kind of autocracy that Yanukovych and his mentor, Leonid Kuchma, attempted to impose in 2004.

In fact, Yanukovyh may find himself a strange ally if he manages to gain a plurality in parliament: Viktor Yuschenko, who pushed him out of power last year. Yuschenko has indicated a willingness to form an alliance with Yanukovych, a stunning rejection of his Orange partner, Yulia Timoshenko, who has refused such a partnership with the man she helped depose. It shows the depth of the nadir that the movement has reached. It also shows the kind of strange bedfellows one finds in a functioning democracy.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 26, 2006 6:54 AM

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