Ukraine After the Orange Revolution Kiev Euphoria Sliding into Disillusionment
The excitement generated by Ukraine's Orange Revolution has dissipated. Now, while Yushchenko guides his country toward the West, his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, finds herself under fire. Her tactics, critics say, are reminiscent of the authoritarian government she helped sweep from power.
Ukraine was full of hope when protests swept in a new government in the autumn and winter of 2004. Is the euphoria gone?
May moves in to Kiev from the south. The chestnut trees bear their magnificent blooms, the street cafes open at the crack of dawn, and people mill about on the Ukrainian capital's central boulevard.
Only a few months ago, downtown Kiev was impassable. Tens and even hundreds of thousands of demonstrators blocked the city's main arteries surrounding Independence Square, the Orange Revolution's stage for several weeks -- until former President Leonid Kuchma resigned and the country's highest courts confirmed that Kuchma's heir apparent Viktor Yanukovych had been the beneficiary of election fraud.
The two protagonists who directed Eastern Europe's most celebrated and most TV-friendly popular uprising since the fall of the Berlin Wall from the stage on Independence Square are now managing the country. Viktor Yushchenko is now president and Yulia Tymoshenko is his prime minister.
But little remains of the euphoria from those winter days when the beginning of a new era seemed to be dawning in Ukraine. The dominating economic oligarchs, it seemed, had reached the end of their rope. The corrupt government was falling and the strait-jacketed media would soon be free to provide the people of Ukraine with the truth. That euphoria, however, has evaporated. Now, disillusionment reigns in this city on the banks of the Dnepr River.
The faces of the revolution haven't disappeared. In fact, they are more in evidence than ever. The face of Yushchenko in newspapers and on television, a face still gray and scarred as a result of a presumed poisoning attempt during the campaign, has become a symbol of Ukraine's growing political importance. Whether he is visiting the White House in Washington, Berlin's Reichstag or Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Yushchenko, gentle and unwavering, is a fine salesman for his country on the global stage.
Ukraine looking West
And the West is schmoozing back. NATO is dangling potential membership in front of Ukraine's nose -- even though Russian warships will continue to dock at the Crimean port of Sebastopol until 2017. The European Union -- while not promising full membership -- is offering what it calls a "neighborly policy." The World Trade Organization has also hinted at possible membership.
Is Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko becoming a liability for President Viktor Yushchenko?
The second face of the revolution -- Yulia Tymoshenko -- continues to beam under her trademark halo-shaped, braided blonde locks. The Ukrainian prime minister has graced the cover of Elle and is a seemingly constant presence at the side of Yushchenko.
But when it comes to Tymoshenko's performance as prime minister, the jury is still out. Her approval ratings -- it is true -- have been rising, especially since public officials and public servants received pay hikes of up to 57 percent and retirees a 24 percent jump in their pensions. The disabled, orphans and single mothers have also benefited from her governance.
But critics note that such blessings are nothing but a continuation of the politics employed in Kuchma's day -- that of dangling overflowing cornucopias of gifts before the eyes of the populace while the government loses sight of curbing inflation and government debt. They say that Tymoshenko's cabinet is showing a tendency toward implementing measures reminiscent of Putin's Russia, citing the state's growing involvement in the economy, and the arrest of unpopular opponents.
Limited success in finding white collar criminals
And there have been few moves to bring members of the criminal former government to justice. The only leading figure arrested so far is the governor of the Donetsk region, the Russian-speaking industrial area in the southern Ukraine and source of the greatest opposition to those currently in power. Others, like Donetsk billionaire Rinat Achmetov have gone into hiding. International arrest warrants have been issued for others.
Additional criticism of the young government has resulted from the fact that little of the $7 billion in foreign investment promised for 2005 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland has yet materialized.
Tymoshenko has never shied away from publicity.
President Yushchenko had promised otherwise. He had said that no more than 30 such cases were to be reexamined. Now, after Tymoshenko's announcement, Yushchenko has demanded that the government immediately provide him with a list of disputed cases. He wants to make sure that domestic and foreign investors are not scared away. Yet despite the threats, only the largest case has actually gotten anywhere. During Kuchma's term in office, the government apparently sold the steel company Krivorishstal for a mere $1.5 billion -- half the highest bid. The firm has since been re-nationalized.
That, however, was an easy target. After all, the beneficiary of the shady deal was Viktor Pintchuk, son-in-law of President Kuchma and the second-wealthiest man in Ukraine. The acceptance of the joint bid he submitted with Achmetov, the leader of the Donetsk clan, further sharpened popular distaste for the country's oligarchs. Pintchuk now plans to file suit in the European Court of Human Rights, claiming illegal expropriation. Yulia Tymoshenko had barely taken office before she declared the Krivorishstal auction to have been invalid. And despite warnings from economists that such expropriations could harm Ukraine's economy, Tymoshenko seems intent on settling the score with those who once benefited from Kuchma's favoritism.
Her single-minded offensive aside, many detect opportunism in her policies -- and enemies of Tymoshenko abound. In the early 1990s, during the establishment of Ukraine's post-communist order and the struggle for control of the country's rich natural resources, she was on the side of her current opponents.
Tymoshenko knows the country's power brokers. Like billionaire Pintchuk, she also comes from Dniepropetrovsk, the industrial metropolis in the heart of the country. Like Pintchuk, she married well (the son of a once-powerful party boss), into one of the country's big-name families, and she and Pintchuk were still in business together in the mid-1990s, selling natural gas through the firm Sodruzhestvo.
Until recently, Tymoshenko had imposed a 20-percent tax on oil imports into Ukraine and banned reselling abroad. The people thought it was a great idea, but the justice minister was unhappy -- his wife happens to be involved in the multimillion dollar business of brokering oil. The fact that Tymoshenko made her own fortune in exactly the same way, except with natural gas instead of oil, and only a decade ago, is now practically forgotten.
Yushchenko was sworn in with high hopes of battling corruption within Ukraine's government and economy.
It also hasn't helped that an old party chum of Lazarenko and Tymoshenko was installed as the new chief of the Ukrainian secret service.
Indeed, the delicate-looking but iron-willed Yulia, a driving force behind the uprising against the cleptocrats of the Kuchma era, has become a risk factor in President Yushchenko's power structure. Even as the prime minister fights for the future of Ukraine from her Kiev office, she is constantly being confronted by her own past.
Tymoshenko under fire
The Ukrainian chief public prosecutor, Svyatoslav Piskun, who only two years ago had publicly accused Tymoshenko -- together with Lazarenko -- of having misappropriated $2 billion from the state budget, is now in charge of prosecuting the cases demanded by Tymoshenko against the beneficiaries of privatization. Yushchenko follower Roman Bessmertny, who as recently as January was claiming he would only work under Tymoshenko at the president's request, is now her deputy.
Finally, the "chocolate king" of Kiev, Pyotr Poroshenko, uses every opportunity he can to harm the prime minister. An extremely wealthy industrialist, Poroshenko feels that his position as director of the national security council is an inadequate reward for his role as the Orange Revolution's financier and TV master of ceremonies. When Tymoshenko cancelled an April trip to Moscow at the last minute, probably because of the warrant that had been issued for her arrest there, Poroshenko went in her place. When he met with Putin, he made sure to act the role of budding statesman.
Tymoshenko was one of the icons of the Orange Revolution.
Even within the government, there has been backbiting. When she successfully negotiated caps on gasoline prices with the petroleum multinationals Lukoil and TNK-BP, her minister of trade and commerce spread the rumor that, during he negotiations, Tymoshenko threatened the Russians with nationalizing their refineries. Minister of Transportation Yevgeny Chervonenko, for his part, complains that the decisions reached by the cabinet are being altered when she puts them into writing.
Because Chervonenko, as Yushchenko's former head of security, is also a close ally of Yushchenko, sources in Kiev suspect that the attacks on Tymoshenko have been sanctioned from the very top. Yushchenko fervently denies such claims and has nothing but praise for his relationship with Tymoshenko. Yulia Tymoshenko, for her part, says that rumors about her imminent resignation also raise questions about the president's future: "It is impossible to separate me and President Yushchenko. We are a team and we will remain a team."
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next March. Under the country's new constitution, and in keeping with a promise made during the campaign, the popular prime minister is to be confirmed by the people's assembly. It will be the Ukrainian people's first chance to evaluate the success of the Orange Revolution.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan