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January 16, 2007
Orange, Crushed

The Orange Revolution dramatically moved Ukraine from the Russian orbit under the corrupt hand of Leonid Kuchma and his hand-picked successor Viktor Yanukovich to the Westophile government of Viktor Yushchenko on a wave of massive, peaceful protests by Ukrainians, fueled by anger from an election Yanukovich fixed. Two years later, Yanukovich has eclipsed the man who led the Orange Revolution, turning him into a figurehead with the help of Yushchenko's Orange ally:

The man who led Ukraine's orange revolution two years ago has been transformed into a lame-duck president following a humiliating parliamentary vote that effectively strips him of all powers.

Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's opposition leader turned president, no longer has the power to veto the choice of prime minister or foreign minister. ...

The president lost his responsibilities after his ally-turned-rival Yulia Timoshenko decided to vote with the party of Ukraine's pro-Russian prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich.

In late 2004, Mr Yushchenko and Ms Timoshenko led the popular orange uprising against a rigged presidential election. Mr Yushchenko duly beat Mr Yanukovich as president.

Timoshenko captured the imagination of the West when she partnered with Yushchenko. Fiery, tactically reckless, and beautiful, her picture became an emblem of Ukrainian defiance towards Vladimir Putin and his allies in Kuchma and Yanukovich. Now her ambitions have led her to ally with the man she led street protests to remove, and her allies in the Ukrainian parliament scoff at the notion that she has betrayed the people she led to a peaceful revolution. This, they claim, is perfectly reasonable politics.

Is it? If it isn't, it would be hard to say who betrayed whom. Yanukovich had never lost all of his appeal after the exposure of the fixed election. His popularity continued in the eastern provinces that supported the closer Russian ties of Kuchma and Yanukovich. The clan system, one of the most underreported aspects of Ukraine during the political upheaval, still favors the old guard. Yushchenko won his battle against these elements but appears to have lost the war. He had the opportunity to partner with Timoshenko to form a government last year, but instead selected Yanukovich as his partner when he would not compromise with Timoshenko and name her as Prime Minister. And Timoshenko has returned the betrayal by throwing in with the factions supporting Yanukovich in a bid to bolster her own prospects for power.

Once a politician starts fixing elections, one can never trust them to run honest polls again. The failure of Ukraine to move away from its autocratic past, and the self-inflicted failure of its near-martyred revolutionary, does not seem to be reasonable politics from the outside. It looks a lot like backsliding and betrayal, potentially a sad ending to Ukraine's real independence from Russia and Vladimir Putin.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 16, 2007 5:12 AM

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