Ukraine's Orange Revolution Goes Sour

Following the Russian invasion of Georgia, there were growing fears that the Muscovite bear was sharpening its claws and hungrily eyeing the Ukraine for its next meal. These fears may now be put to rest. The deed has been accomplished without a single shot being fired or another gas pipeline being turned off. Neither armed threat nor spigot diplomacy will now be necessary. The Russians are back and the people of the Ukraine need not hunker down for another unheated winter. It is the West that is out in the cold.

The election as president of pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovich and the rejection of pro-West Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko can be explained by a number of salient factors. Ukraine has endured a crippling economic crisis for the last several years -- as has much of the world, for that matter -- but in this case systemic corruption and oligarchic infighting have contributed to a shrinking economy, leading to fierce public discontent. The promise of the Orange Revolution began to sour shortly after the election of Viktor Yushchenko in January 2005 and continued to deteriorate during the tenure of Ms. Tymoshenko. Add the usual, behind-the-scenes Russian meddling and something had to give eventually. For when the Russians aren’t hogging center stage, they’re busy in the coulisse.

Then there is an ethno-linguistic and geographic fact. Ukraine is split down the middle -- more or less along the Dneiper River -- between Russian speakers in the eastern part of the country, especially in the Crimean Peninsula, and Ukrainian speakers in the west, a state of affairs which produces a perennially divisive electorate and the inevitable schismatic destabilizations. (One gets a historical sense of this rupture from Nikolai Gogol’s celebrated 19th-century novella Taras Bulba, with one of the eponymous warlord’s sons defecting to the more sophisticated Poles -- here representing the west -- and the other remaining loyal to his Cossack brethren -- that is, east Ukraine.) Barring separation, this is not a fissure about to be healed in the foreseeable future.