Vienna, January 19 – Even as most Russian commentators are focusing on which of the two remaining candidates will become Ukraine’s president, one Moscow analyst is arguing that it is important to recognize that the incumbent leader, Viktor Yushchenko, played a critical role in transforming Ukraine into a very different country than the one it was when he came to power.
Indeed, Konstantin Krylov, argues on the APN.ru portal, Yushchenko’s administration, with all its problems, was for Ukraine if not fateful then extremely remarkable. After it, Ukraine became a different place. In reality, during [his much-criticized administration of the country], it actually arose (www.apn.ru/column/article22289.htm).
And because that is so, Krylov continues, Yushchenko’s impact will continue to be felt in Ukraine and elsewhere long into the future, even though he failed to attract enough votes even to get into the runoff that will now take place between Viktor Yanukovych, the man he ousted, and Yuliya Timoshenko, the woman with whom he collaborated and then broke.
This impact is especially important for Russians to focus on, the Moscow commentator says, because that country in the eyes of many of them “plays the role of ‘the other Russia,’ a different variant of our own historical fate which could have happened ‘if it hadn’t been for Putin.’ Some like that; others don’t, but all are interested.”
At a formal bookkeeping level, Yushchenko was a failure, Krylov says. “Not one promise” which he gave electors in 2005 was he able to keep, and that failure is in no way mitigated even if it is partially explained by the obstacles he faced at home from a fractious political system and abroad from the divide between Moscow and the West.
“Nevertheless,” the APN.ru columnist continues, “it must be repeated: Ukraine after Yushchenko has changed. In a radical way, and in the most important: Not one president before Yushchenko did so much for the total Ukrainianization of the country,” in ways and at a pace that surprised “even ethnic Ukrainians.”
And the Ukrainian president did this – and this is “the most interesting thing,” Krylov says, without “attacking the basic freedoms of [his country’s] citizens but even just the reverse expanding them” – exactly the opposite of what President Vladimir Putin was doing at the same time in the Russian Federation.
Indeed, in comparison with Russia today, Krylov suggests, “Ukraine looks like some kind of flowering garden of liberty and fraternity, an oasis where everything is permitted,” thus creating “for the first time over all the post-Soviet period” a sense of “frustration,” “resentment,” and even “envy” among Russians about one of their neighbors.
The reason for that is easy to identify: “A free and openly national state looks more attractive than a shameful anti-national dictatorship.” That does not mean that everything was perfect in Ukraine or even that Yushchenko’s regime was itself not based on a certain “falsification.”
But if “Putin’s Russia is a SUCCESSFUL project, in certain respects very successful,” Krylov continues, “it is very UNATTRACTIVE.” And consequently while “Yushchenko’s Ukraine is not so successful a project, it is on the other hand a much more attractive one, despite all its shortcomings.”
The Putin-Medvedev regime will be supported “while they are in power and successful, partially out of fear and partially in the hopes of getting some benefit. But if the system they have constructed suddenly falls apart and the ‘power vertical’ shakes – no one will defend these monstrous formations,” unlike in Ukraine, after Yushchenko’s time in power.
Krylov provides two epigraphs to his article, which together underscore his point. The first is the latest update of an old East European anecdote and the second a common by Boris Nemtsov, the longtime Russian liberal politician who served as one of Viktor Yushchenko’s advisors.
According to the anecdote, “a dog runs from Ukraine to Russia. The border guard asks – what are you running from? The dog replies, in Ukraine, there is a crisis, everything is terrible. After a certain time, the dog returns to Ukraine. Why did he do that, the dog is asked. He replies because in Ukraine I can bark.”
And according to Nemtsov, “Yushchenko is the Ukrainian Yeltsin. He defended the independence of Ukraine and did everything so that Ukraine could become a free democratic country. Now, [the Ukrainian president] is very unpopular, with many [in Ukraine itself] even cursing him for what he always was trying to do.”