Ukraine: the beginning of the end?

The tumultuous presidential elections in Ukraine is finally over.. at least on the surface. There were worries that the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, after publicly backing Viktor Yanukovych, the anointed heir of outgoing (now ex-) President Leonid Kuchma, would continue in its refusal to acknowledge the result of the Dec 26 rerun, which Yuschenko decidedly won by a margin of around 8%. Considering Russian involvements in separatist movements in Moldova and Georgia, such continued hostility could have been potentially disastrous for the region.

It is quite interesting to note that a closed Yuschenko ally, Yulia Timoshenko, considered by some to be too radical for the Prime Minister position,
extended an olive branch
to Russia in an editorial published by
the Moscow Times on January 12th. One week later Yuschenko’s side sealed victory when the Supreme Court rejected Yanukovych’s last appeal of the results, and the Russian government finally offered its congratulations to the President-elect.

On the inauguration day itself, it is notable that while heads of state from the ex-Soviet Baltic republics and the ex-satellites in East Europe attended – and outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his last overseas trip – Russia only sent a low-level dignitary. Relations between Ukraine and Russia is likely to be thornier than that between US and the European Union for the time being.

It is interesting to note that Timoshenko is insisting that she is not in the running for any position in the new government. That she will get a position is assured, so her insistence might be aimed at assuaging Russia and the Russian speakers, or part of negotiations between the parties in Rada, the parliament. The line-up of the upcoming cabinet will be something to watch: the challenge will be to push for reforms, which could potentially be economically painful for the industrial East, and moving closer to Europe, without alienating Ukraine’s giant neighbour to the East. The upcoming constitutional changes ceding power from the President to the Rada, originally pushed through by Kuchma’s administration as the chance of a Yanukovych victory grew dimmer, might throw a spanner in the works, unless Yuschenko capitalized on his popular support by holding snap parliamentary elections. Heady times..

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