The Viktor in Ukraine

Is Viktor Yanukovych about to finally become the President of a country he sees as rightfully his? In final opinion polls coming just 2 weeks before voting in Ukraine, the original 2004 election victor is on course to narrowly win the first election since the Orange Revolution dramatically rocked the nation.

Viktor Yanukovych – twice Prime Minister of Ukraine is up against the woman who replaced him in 2007 and former so called Queen of Gas, Yulia Tymoshenko. The two are running neck and neck in the polls with a variety of results being predicted – putting them at no more than a 5% gap in the popular vote. But the one thing this election is unlikely to bring in either result – stability.

Stability that Ukraine so desperately craves.

[I wrote this article in 2010 and am reposting due to the crisis in Ukraine]

And with incumbent president, Viktor Yushchenko, unlikely to survive even the first round of voting – has his pro-European tilt been worth the effort as the nation is set to turn east towards Russia?

Ukraine – a country given very little attention by Western media, yet on the brink of an incredible important set of elections. Not just for Ukraine, but for relations between the European Union and Russia. Yushchenko, dramatically poisoned and crowned President of Ukraine in 2004 has referred to his two competitors – including his own Prime Minister – as ‘The Moscow Project’ – defining their seemingly Moscow-leaning politics as the headline election issue. Controversial issues such as the locating of the Russian Navy fleet in Ukraine’s Crimea are certain to be factors in deciding this close election – echoing the build up to 2004 and the following unrest when election fraud was blamed for Yanukovych’s ‘win’. And yet despite the candidates pledges to fight any corruption, with a country blighted by economic crisis, there remains doubt whether the Ukrainian people will be keen to protest an election result – potentially setting the stage for years of bitterness and anger.

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Politically, Ukraine remains in a difficult and dark position. Last week alone, President Yushchenko suggested his own Prime Minister take a break from front-line politics as “each month she remains in office, results in a colossal poverty for Ukraine.” Finding no friendly words even from her boss, Ukraine’s most powerful woman looks set to find it hard to continue in Ukrainian politics past this election – whatever the outcome.

“…Ukraine’s most powerful woman looks set to find it hard to continue in Ukrainian politics past this election – whatever the outcome.”

And six years on from the so called ‘revolution’, Ukraine finds itself only covered in the news when it fails to pay gas bills to Russia – who cut off supplies forcing outrageous deals to be decided by nothing more than blackmail until Tymoschenko submits and the taps come back on, all whilst under increasing pressure from Western Europe where prices rise as Russia plays bully. It is this instability – and not just in energy, but also economic and politically, which continues to threaten Ukraine’s position within Europe and its relationship with Russia.

Western leaders and the European Union must realise that the future of Ukraine will depend on stable government – a government that is able to balance relations with both the EU, NATO and the Russian Federation. We must come to the table with innovative ideas to begin to give Ukraine back sovereignty that it has craved since 1991 – but has had only in name. It means coming up with a solution to not only Ukraine’s, but also the European Union’s reliance on Russian oil and gas. It means investing in Ukraine’s industry – not just bailing out its government that has squandered so much through corruption – an IMF/EU bailout is not the answer to Ukraine’s future. We must open opportunities to the country’s leaders – no matter who they are, to explore working relationships within the European Union but so too show we are willing to negotiate on ending the ‘be all or end all’ of NATO membership; Ukraine needs options. Sitting in Brussels acting like Ukraine has a choice between the EU or Russia won’t help anybody.

“…The country is split entirely in half. One worker said; “We should cut Ukraine in two – give half to Poland, and half to Russia”…”

Ukraine will find it hard to vote for a candidate on Sunday that will hold the country together. The country is split entirely in half. So much so that one worker in Ukraine turned to a journalist and said; “We should cut Ukraine in two – give half to Poland, and half to Russia”. At the high of an economic crisis and a government paralysed by political infighting – the IMF continues to plough on conditions, knowing they will never be met. As a result Ukraine becomes ever more fractious and remains on the verge of real crisis.

As Britain takes one of the top jobs in Europe with Baroness Ashton becoming High Representative – it’s time for our Foreign Policy to become something more than just rhetoric and military intervention. Ukraine needs real nation building – and started out with much hope and optimism in 2004. But with the country’s popular revolutionary leader now seen as nothing more than a joke, the road to stability will be rocky. But with support from both the EU and Russia – to actually sit down and talk, to work on a new project to bring real change for the people of Ukraine who remain some of the poorest in Europe, perhaps progress can be made.

Europe will see Ukraine in 2012 as a modern, bright and upcoming country full of hope and optimism for the future. Through the power of sport – the world will see a new Ukraine. But under the surface trouble will be brewing. Whatever the outcome in Sunday’s election – the EU must show that its commitment to Ukraine is more than words, not just a pipe dream for an eventual land-grab for the EU. Ashton must show some new leadership, she must give hope to Ukrainian people that regardless of the result, the country can be something different. Not just for 2 weeks in the eyes of the fans at Euro 2012 – but a new country, with real stability and opportunity.