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Monday, February 1, 2010

Ukraine headed back to the future

AS Ukraine's presidential election enters its final week of campaigning, the only orange glow appears to emanate from the fading prospects of Yuliya Tymoshenko. Unless she makes a dramatic breakthrough in the next few days, her arch rival, Viktor Yanukovych, looks assured of victory. That would represent an astonishing comeback for a man whose Kremlin-sanctioned ballot-rigging in the 2004 election provided the catalyst for the Orange Revolution led by Tymoshenko and her former ally, Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko's crushing defeat in the first round ended his hopes of a second term as president. Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, seems unable to rally the anti-Yanukovych vote sufficiently to make up a 10 percentage-point deficit on her rival. A majority of Ukrainians appears resigned to going back to the future with a Yanukovych presidency.

This is puzzling to anyone dazzled by the evident charisma of the candidate and the appeal of her message of pro-western reform. All the more so in comparison to Yanukovych, who would make a block of wood appear animated and who struggles to formulate his ideas in public. But "Yuliya fatigue" appears to have set in as a result of what one senior Ukrainian official described as "a serious disconnect between her rhetoric and her actions".

While Tymoshenko is viewed as appealing but unreliable, Yanukovych comes across as unappealing but reliable. Those around Yanukovych stress that he is a different man from the Soviet-style apparatchik of five years ago. They argue that he will govern from the centre and work hard to strengthen ties with the EU.

Whichever candidate emerges victorious next Sunday, however, the big winner is the Kremlin. Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have pledged more pragmatic and constructive relations after the years of friction under Yushchenko.

The Times

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