Troubles in Ukraine
Pres. Viktor Yanukovych is moving his country closer to Russia, both strategically and in terms of political culture.


George Weigel

Shortly before the first round of voting in Ukraine’s hotly contested presidential election, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the Greek Catholic major archbishop of L’viv and a man widely admired throughout Ukrainian society, received an emissary representing presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who would go on to win the election. Yanukovych, it will be remembered, was the presidential aspirant whose corrupt victory in the previous election was reversed by the nonviolent Orange Revolution of 2004–2005.

The emissary evidently wanted some assurance that the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, which served as the repository of the nation’s culture and memory during the Soviet period, wasn’t about to endorse one of Yanukovych’s rivals for the presidency. Cardinal Husar replied that the church didn’t endorse any candidates, but raised moral questions that it hoped all candidates would consider seriously.

Somewhat taken aback, the Yanukovych campaign staffer then asked a rather blunt question that amounted to, “Well, what do you want?”

“All we want,” the cardinal replied, “is for all confessions to be treated equally according to the constitution.” Now thoroughly confused, and perhaps even stunned, the Yanukovych representative left.

Given that Viktor Yanukovych is known to be far more accommodating to Russian interests than the man who defeated him during the Orange Revolution, the admirable but politically hapless Viktor Yushchenko, close observers of the Ukrainian scene expected that Ukrainian public life after Yanukovych’s victory might begin to show unfortunate resemblances to life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia — an expectation reinforced by small dramas such as that involving Cardinal Husar before the election. But even the most pessimistic analysts have been surprised at how rapidly President Yanukovych’s administration has moved his country closer to the Russian orbit, not just strategically (e.g., by extending until 2042 the Russian Black Sea fleet’s lease on its Crimean port at Sevastopol and by reversing Ukraine’s previous policy of seeking admission to NATO) but also in terms of political culture.

Examples of this ominous trend abound:

The presidential inaugurations of Leonid Kuchma in 1999 and Viktor Yushchenko in 2005 were both preceded by ecumenical and interreligious prayer services in Kiev, with representatives of various religious bodies offering prayers for the new president and for the nation — a welcome sign that the foundations of civil society were being rebuilt in typically fractious Ukraine, and a popular enough innovation that the practice was legally codified in a presidential decree governing future inaugurations. Viktor Yanukovych ignored this precedent (and law) and invited one man, a non-Ukrainian, to offer prayers for his government on the day before his inauguration: Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia. Since taking office, Yanukovych has met only with representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate, one of three Orthodox factions in Ukraine and, as its name suggests, a church fully aligned with Moscow.