Geopolitical Diary: Ukraine Elections and an Orange Reversal?
It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day.
Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider
what might happen tomorrow.
Ukraine's parliamentary elections took place on Sunday, and none of the country's three largest parties won an outright majority. However, the chief result of the election already seems clear: Ukraine's political course toward the West is stalled. Exit polls showed that Viktor Yanukovich's pro-Russia Party of Regions took the lead in the vote, followed by the Bloc of Yulia Timoshenko (BYuT) and then President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine in third place. Though preliminary election results are expected on Monday, Timoshenko already has announced plans to form an alliance with Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party — reuniting the Orange coalition, which swept to power in the last presidential election — to claim a majority in the parliament. The coalition also should have the power to name a Cabinet. By forming such a coalition, Timoshenko has all but guaranteed her return to the prime ministry — the job from which Yushchenko dismissed her in September 2005. Given Yushchenko's own weak showing at the polls, the move was a shrewd one. Had she formed an alliance with Yanukovich, whose party bested BYuT, she would not have the upper hand in the partnership. That said, Ukraine is not likely to revert back to the overwhelmingly pro-Western policies associated with the first Yushchenko government. Though the Orange coalition should have a parliamentary majority, the election made it clear that the majority of Ukrainians do not support Yushchenko and his policies. NATO accession and movement toward European Union membership now likely will stall or fall by the wayside altogether. All of which certainly plays into the Kremlin's hands. Russia remains very concerned about Ukraine, an extremely important buffer state. The tilt in parliament can profoundly affect Moscow's influence — and the Kremlin will do everything possible to make sure that its interests are protected, even if the Orange coalition once again controls the legislative and the executive branches of government. Russia can be expected to promote its interests in Ukraine under the guise of protecting the interests of the supporters of the Party of Regions. The election results also hold implications for Ukraine's dealings with Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly. The Orange coalition remains divided on the issue of gas supplies from Russia: Timoshenko did not approve of the deal that was made to conclude the shutoff crisis in January — a position that generated some support for her at the polls. However, because the coalition itself remains divided, Russia likely will feel more confident in pushing its agenda in future negotiations over energy transit and delivery contracts. Ultimately, there is little that the main supporters of the Orange Revolution — the United States and EU — can do to prevent Russia's re-emergence in Ukraine. And, with attentions concentrated elsewhere at the moment, neither has an urgent need or desire to challenge Moscow so close to its home turf. While continuing with rhetoric that encourages democratic development, the West already has moved away from declarations of support for Yushchenko and his allies. And though the Russian-supported Party of Regions might not taste the fruits of its election win when an Orange coalition takes power, the victory — in the long run — may yet go to Moscow, as its influence rises in Ukraine and Western influence wanes.