Ukrainian Democracy and Its Cynics

MOSCOW – “A pox on both your houses” may be an appropriate individual response to frustration with the political candidates on offer in an election. But it is a dangerous sentiment for governments to hold. Choice is the essence of governance, and to abstain from it – for whatever reason – is to shirk responsibility.

But that seems to be the stance of the entire West regarding the upcoming second round of Ukraine’s presidential election. Because the Orange Revolution in 2004 turned out to be a seeming unending series of disappointments, most Western leaders are acting as if it makes no difference whether Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko or her rival, Viktor Yanukovych, wins on February 7.

They are wrong, not only about what the election will mean for Ukraine’s people, who have stoically endured so much, but also about what it will mean for security and stability across Eurasia. For, if the Orange Revolution demonstrated one thing, it is that Ukraine’s politics are not those of the pendulum, swinging predictably between opposing forces that agree on the fundamental rules of democracy. Indeed, it is patently clear from his own words that Yanukovych does not accept the legitimacy of the Orange Revolution, which means that he does not accept the bedrock principle of democracy that you cannot cheat your way to power.

Yanukovych’s anti-democratic position should come as no surprise. His criminal record is often noted, but the particular crimes that sent him to prison are never spelled out. Let me do it.