Daniel W. Drezner
Does the process or the outcome matter in Ukraine?
Over in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich’s apparent narrow victory over the Yulia Tymoshenko has had the anticipated effect inside the U.S. foreign policy community — there’s been an exercise in massive navel-gazing. I’m therefore going to make things worse by engaging in meta-navel gazing (usually something I only consider doing with you-know-who). Let’s start with the Century ...
Over in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich’s apparent narrow victory over the Yulia Tymoshenko has had the anticipated effect inside the U.S. foreign policy community — there’s been an exercise in massive navel-gazing. I’m therefore going to make things worse by engaging in meta-navel gazing (usually something I only consider doing with you-know-who).
Let’s start with the Century Foundation’s Jeffrey Laurenti:
Yanukovych’s election yesterday, narrowly edging out prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the run-off, spotlights the folly of Washington conservatives who pressed single-mindedly to lock Ukraine (and Georgia) into the Western military alliance during the Bush administration. They discounted deep ambivalence among Ukrainians themselves and sought to override overt opposition from NATO’s leading members in western Europe.
Like insects trapped in Baltic amber since dinosaur days, American conservatives remained frozen in a comfortingly simple cold-war view of the world: Russia is incorrigibly suspect and must relentlessly be hemmed in by American power.
That sounds like a cue…. yes, let’s click over to The American Interest’s Walter Russell Mead:
The apparent victory of Viktor Yanukovych in yesterday’s Ukrainian presidential election is yet another setback to the idea that the world is rapidly becoming a more democratic place….
In hindsight, the choice that we made to extend NATO farther east in gradual steps might have been a mistake. Russia hates NATO expansion and always has. To some Russians it looks like the inexorable approach of a hostile alliance that endangers the motherland; to others it is a constant humiliating reminder of Russian weakness and the west’s arrogant presumption after 1989. The expansion was annoying when it was limited to the former Warsaw Pact Soviet allies; it was maddening and infuriating when it extended to territories that were once part of the USSR like the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The prospect of a new wave of expansion to include Georgia and Ukraine, and push right up to the Russian frontier, was a worst case scenario nightmare for Russia.
If we were going to expand NATO eastward, we probably should have done it all at once, making agreements in principle and establishing basic interim security treaties with those countries whose actual entry might have to be delayed. What we’ve done instead is like pulling a bandage off tiny bit by bit, endlessly prolonging the agony. We should have ripped the whole thing off twenty years ago. (We should have also thought much more seriously than we ever have about the likelihood that expanding NATO probably ultimately entailed bringing the Russians in as the only way to stabilize the security situation across Europe.) Now the combination of Russian opposition (which, among other things, reduces European enthusiasm for expansion), geopolitical instability (do we want to get sucked into a new Russia-Georgian war?) and the general decline of US interest in Europe make a strong new push for expansion unlikely — even if the Yanukovych government wanted to join NATO.
So here we are: stuck with a security fault line in Europe, while the Russians will continue to fish where there aren’t any signs.
Both of these posts suggests way too much focus on the immediate implications of the election — a president more favorably disposed towards Moscow.
I think this is one time when the mainstream media actually brings greater value-added to the table. The New York Times’ Clifford Levy makes an intriguing suggestion in this news analysis — that the process of Ukraine’s election is more significant than Yanukovich’s victory:
[T]he election won by the candidate, Viktor F. Yanukovich, was highly competitive, unpredictable and relatively fair — just the kind of major contest that has not been held in Russia since Mr. Putin, the prime minister, consolidated power.
On Monday, for example, European election monitors praised the election that was held Sunday, calling it an “impressive display” of democracy. Ukraine’s election, in other words, did not follow the Kremlin blueprint and, if anything, seemed to highlight the flaws in the system in Russia. As such, it presented a kind of alternative model for the former Soviet Union….
[Analysts said] that while the public ousted the Orange government, it did not want to do away with all aspects of the Orange democracy. They said a backlash would occur if Mr. Yanukovich tried to crack down.
The Ukrainian model may have particular resonance now with recent rumblings of discontent in Russia.
Late last month, antigovernment demonstrations in Kaliningrad, a region in western Russia physically separate from the rest of the country, drew thousands of people and seemed to catch the Kremlin off guard. Some protesters chanted for Mr. Putin’s resignation, complaining about higher taxes and an economy weakened by the financial crisis.
And last week, a prominent politician from what had been perceived as a puppet opposition party unexpectedly turned on the Kremlin and lashed out at Mr. Putin’s domestic policies. “Is opposition and criticism dishonest?” said the politician, Sergey Mironov. “In a civilized society, this is the duty and goal of the opposition.”
It is highly unlikely that Russia will soon have Ukrainian-style openness. The question now is, what will be the long-term impact across the former Soviet Union if Ukraine can follow its successful election with a relatively peaceful transition to a Yanukovich administration?
That’s far from guaranteed, if Tymoshenko’s latest actions are any indication. And the past is not necessarily encouraging — Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko won free and fair elections the one time they were held in Belarus, back in 1994.
Still, this is an outcome that should have democracy activists pretty pleased with themselves — and members of the foreign policy community less obsessed with the international relations version of horse race politics.