Politics & Policy

Color Us Orange

Ukrainians fight for liberty.

What can one say about the Orange Revolution, so successful in its initial aim of forcing another presidential vote in Ukraine, except–”hurrah”?

This is an awe-inspiring victory of nonviolent action. There have been a dozen days of protests, with hundreds of thousands of protesters and not one violent incident. Amazing. Credit goes to the cheated opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who has, for instance, insisted on a policy of sobriety at the rallies (NBA, take note), and to the demonstrators themselves, who have behaved in a way explicitly designed to forge a better politics in Ukraine. As Vaclav Havel, among others, has observed, the nature of the revolution says much about what will be the nature of the resulting government. In that regard, the conduct of Yushchenko’ supporters bodes well for the future. They have wedded Ukrainian patriotism to a democratic politics, putting to rest the old smear (a favorite of the KGB) that any gathering of Ukrainians nationalists is a proto-fascist rally. They have a chance to create a country that has an entirely valid claim to join the institutions of the West.

If forcing a new vote, scheduled for December 26, is a victory in a major battle, the broader war still goes on. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma wants immunity for his crimes and those of his cronies, who made privatization a synonym for high-level looting. The electoral commission that certified the fraud has yet to be dismissed and the elections laws that facilitated the fraud still need reform. Kuchma wants to pressure Yushchenko into accepting a reduction in the powers of the presidency he is almost certainly going to win. Yushchenko and his supporters should continue the fight on these important points.

For the U.S., there has been a nice alignment of foreign-policy idealism and realism in this crisis. Spreading freedom is a good in its own right, and in this case, accorded with the cold geopolitical imperative of keeping Ukraine and Russia separate, thus securing Europe from Russian ambitions. Without Ukraine (and other former imperial appendages) Russia is a country of roughly 140 million, a major power, but hardly a colossus.

“There have been a dozen days

of protests, with hundreds of thousands

of protesters and not one violent

incident. Amazing.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin obviously badly mishandled the crisis, creating a self-inflicted defeat for his creeping authoritarianism. He thought he could still treat Ukraine as a colony (meddling there as he has in Moldova, Georgia, and Belarus), and sided with history’s losers in recent weeks. The ham-fisted way Putin and the Kremlin put in play the idea of Ukrainian separatism only created more sympathy for Yushchenko among Ukraine’s security services, which have no interest in participating in the break-up of their country. Meanwhile, Putin’s eagerness to rubberstamp the Ukrainian election served to highlight the bogusness of his own “53 percent”–yes, those are sneer quotes–margin in 2000.

All of this is an alarm bell about Putin’s intentions. But there is a limit to our direct influence over Russia. If both the Clinton and Bush administrations have tilted too far toward the Kremlin, it is also the case that Russia’s true democrats have so far shown few marketable political skills (although one hopes the last few weeks will provide them an invigorating jolt). The administration should be firm with Putin, but not aggressive. Its conduct during the Ukraine crisis is a kind of model. It was absolutely clear about its principles and its policy, but was careful not to deliberately humiliate Putin. Yuschenko’s prudence is worth noting here. He has gone out of his way to say that he wants good relations with the West and with Russia.

A note on the EU: It was a great help to the U.S. in this crisis, thanks influence of the former captive nations Lithuania and Poland, but it would be a mistake to read too much into that (as Robert Kagan did in Sunday’s Washington Post). This does not mean the dawning of a new era of U.S.-EU cooperation, based on entirely coterminous interests and values. During the Cold War, after all, the U.S. occasionally had common interests in specific crises even with the Soviet Union. The influence of the EU over the last few weeks is a signal of its growing power, and it is still dominated by a Franco-German axis that wants its new continent-wide creation to counterbalance American power. The haze of good feeling over the Orange Revolution shouldn’t obscure that important geopolitical fact.

But make no mistake, good feeling should rule the day. We say to the democratic demonstrators of Ukraine: We are proud of what you have wrought, and in recent weeks, everyone around the world who truly prizes liberty has been Orange.


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