Sweeping Ukrainian reforms seem all but assured after Viktor Yushchenko was elected president this week. But the opposition leader's test will be successfully negotiating the...
Sweeping Ukrainian reforms seem all but assured after Viktor Yushchenko was elected president this week.
But the opposition leader’s test will be successfully negotiating the changes in Ukraine’s relationship not just with the West but with Russia.
Yushchenko won Ukraine’s latest presidential election handily after the Nov. 21 election was overturned because of widespread fraud. For weeks in Kiev’s Independence Square, irrepressible Ukrainians sporting the opposition movement’s signature orange hue vigorously protested the results — a victory by Yushchenko’s pro-Russian opponent.
Even now, Viktor Yanukovych vows to contest the election. That’s likely a futile move considering emerging international consensus that this was a legitimate election.
The struggle of the “orange revolution” is represented in Yushchenko’s face, disfigured by poison in an apparent assassination attempt. His pockmarked face looks West to stronger relationships with Europe and the United States. Ukraine will be nurtured under the European Union’s neighborhood plan, potentially paving the way for full membership. A NATO membership might be in the offing by 2007.
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Another Westward-moving republic is disappointing for Mother Russia. President Vladimir Putin supported Yanukovych to continue close ties and keep modern Europe and its democracies at bay.
Yushchenko will do anything but. Ukraine’s former national bank chief will continue the economic modernization he started when he became prime minister in 1999. Old-guard communists and business interests railed against the reforms, prompting his 2001 dismissal.
Yushchenko’s base is rooted in the Ukraine’s emerging middle class, which benefited from his reforms, and in the western region. His most difficult challenge will be winning over the industrialized eastern Ukraine, which voted for Yanukovych and is more culturally aligned with Russia.
As for relations with the U.S., Yushchenko seems poised to withdraw 1,600 Ukrainian troops from Iraq, the fourth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led coalition. Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell congratulated Ukraine on a “historic moment for democracy.”
It is surely that.