Ukrainian Blues

Yanukovych's Rise, Democracy's Fall

In February 2010, Viktor Yanukovych made a remarkable political comeback. In the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, Yanukovych, who was then Ukraine's prime minister and the handpicked successor to President Leonid Kuchma, was accused of fraud and ousted by the Orange Revolution, which was led by Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. Just over five years later, surrounded by his party's blue-and-white banners, Yanukovych became president.

When it first came to power, Ukraine's Orange government seemed like it would fulfill popular demands for radical political reform and rapid integration into Europe. But those expectations were quickly dashed. Yushchenko, as president, and Tymoshenko, as prime minister, proved incapable of working together, continually clashing and publicly criticizing each other. Soon, Ukraine's dysfunctional political system became known to Ukrainians as a durdom, or "madhouse."

Then, the global economic crisis sent Ukraine's economy into a tailspin. In 2009, the country's GDP fell by about 15 percent, exports by 25 percent, and imports by just under 40 percent. The consumer price index rose by more than 12 percent. Popular anger and frustration set in. Yearning for stability, Ukrainians were willing to support anyone in this year's election who could fix the mess. Tymoshenko, Yanukovych's main challenger, was seen to share fault for Ukraine's problems and could not easily claim to be that person.

Wisely, Yanukovych presented himself as a moderate, democratic professional who could unify a country increasingly divided over whether it should align with Russia or the West. He claimed that he would be able to strike the right balance between the two and could transform Ukraine into an economic tiger, making it one of the world's 20 richest nations. Yanukovych's campaign slogan -- "Ukraine is for people" -- captured the right tone to counter his previously negative image. It suggested that he was a man of the people who would place the interests of citizens above his own, in contrast to the supposedly power-hungry Tymoshenko. Yanukovych also claimed to have learned from his mistakes in 2004. In December 2009, he wrote in Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, one of

Read the full article on ForeignAffairs.com