Western reporting about Russian affairs is often biased and questionable. Most journalists, whether Left or Right in their opinions, have a built-in antipathy towards Russia. There is therefore a widespread willingness to trust information that would otherwise be considered questionable, provided that it supports the current wisdom portraying Russia in a negative light.
The 2004 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine was one of those newsworthy occasions when Western accounts of events were not necessarily to be trusted. Russian and Ukrainian political matters are always a hall of mirrors, and notoriously difficult for outsiders to decipher.
Natalie at Birdbrain specializes in Slavic affairs, so her blog is one of the best sources of information about the recent Ukrainian election. Last night she posted an analysis of the election of Viktor Yanukovych — the “bad guy” of 2004, from the point of view of the Western press — as president of Ukraine. With her permission, I am reproducing the entire post here at Gates of Vienna:
At the time of this writing, it looks like Viktor Fyodorovich Yanukovych is the next president of Ukraine. He appears to have won with 45.9 percent of the vote, a narrow but definite margin over his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who won with 45 percent of the vote.
A mere five years ago, Yanukovych was in disgrace, having won the presidential election but was soon forced out due to alleged fraud allegations (none of which I believe were true). In both the initial election (on October 31, 2004) and the run-off (November 21, 2004), Viktor Yanukovych defeated his rival, Viktor Yushchenko, in a narrow but perfectly possible and acceptable margin.
In a Western-backed revolution, the result was annulled due to alleged voter fraud. Another election was scheduled for December 26, 2004, but not before some important voting laws were changed to limit the use of absentee voting.
The West has been wrongly enamored of Viktor Yushchenko for some time now. Simply because he is anti-Putin, and simply because he wants Ukraine to join Nato, he is considered our ally and someone worthy of supporting, though this could not be further from the truth. He has very shady associates — including former ally Yulia Tymoshenko (the two have broken with each other since). Tymoshenko is an oligarch (one of the rare female ones) who almost certainly did not acquire her money honestly. Yushchenko himself is an old Communist apparatchik — it is to be expected for there to be quite a few of them in Ukrainian politics due to Ukraine being a part of the former Soviet Union. But what bothered me is the disingenuousness of the Western portrayal of Yushchenko as a squeaky-clean reformer untainted by the Communist system.
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Yanukovych was born in the city of Yenakievo, in the Donetsk region to a working-class family. His mother died when he was two years old. He had a bit of a shady adolescence, probably marked by crime and gang involvement. He received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1980 and worked as a manager of a transportation company. He became the governor of Donetsk in 1996. In 2001, he received a degree in international law. He eventually became a doctor of economics (see end note about Russian education system), the highest degree that one can receive in a chosen field. He was the Prime Minister of Ukraine under both Leonid Kuchma and Kuchma’s successor Yushchenko. He has been the leader of the Party of Regions since 2003.
In the initial election on January 17 of this year, Yanukovych won with 35 percent of the vote. Tymoshenko came in second with 25 percent and Sergey Tigipko was third with 13 percent. According to Ukrainian law, if one candidate does not receive at least 50 percent of the vote, there must be a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes. The run-off for the 2010 election was set for February 7 and almost immediately, the two candidates began campaigning for the run-off. In an attempt to bridge the gap between herself and Yanukovych, Tymoshenko promised to make Tigipko prime minister if she were elected president. This strategy did not entirely work out, as Tymoshenko was unable to overtake Yanukovych.
Under Yanukovych’s leadership, Ukraine’s position internationally will certainly be changed. Yanukovych has better policies than Yushchenko (which is why I support Yanukovych). The virulent anti-Russian sentiment will almost certainly come to an end, and Ukraine will resume relations with its most important neighbor, Russia (Medvedev famously broke off diplomatic ties with Ukraine in August 2009, a position I support). Yanukovych will not pursue anti-Russian-language policies like his predecessor did — he wants the Russian language to have equal status with Ukrainian.
Most importantly, Yanukovych has said that he will not pursue Nato membership for his country. Yushchenko aggressively pursued Nato membership, even though the people did not support it.
An article in The Wall Street Journal makes the ironic claim that Yanukovych may fulfill the promises of the Orange Revolution more than Yushchenko ever could. If by “Orange Revolution” the author means democratic leadership by a leader who has his country’s best interests at heart, then this statement is true.
Note on the Russian education system:
Russian education degrees can be a bit confusing to foreigners. The Russian (and Ukrainian) equivalent of what we would call a Ph.D. is kandidat nauk (кандидат наук). The degree’s field of study is usually specified: for example, this degree in history would be kandidat istoricheskikh nauk (кандидат исторических наук). There exists a higher degree called doktor nauk (доктор наук) and there is not really an American equivalent. Of the eighteen candidates who ran for president, only three held the highest degree, doktor nauk: Vladimir Litvin (in history), Ludmila Suprun (in economics), and Viktor Yanukovych (also in economics).
- On the percentage of votes received by Yanukovych and Yushchenko, here
- On the Orange Revolution, here
- On the biography of Yanukovych, here and here
- On election results, here
- On the incidents following the January 17 election, here
- On the education of the presidential candidates, here