Back to Sevastopol…Russia the real winner…
HELSINKI-Today Ukraine is voting in their first presidential election since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
The election is expected to go into a runoff scheduled for 7 February. I am currently preparing to return to the Crimean “flashpoint” city of Sevastopol at the end of the week. You can see my past work on Sevastopol here and here.
After the drama of the Orange Revolution brought the westward-looking Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency, Ukraine is trying hard to return to Russia. Yushchenko has proven himself unable to come through with his promises to create stability and fight corruption and is running for re-election polling in the single digits.
Having been poisoned during the Orange Revolution, many believe by the Kremlin, Yushchenko tried hard not to need Russia. Yet Ukraine is tied to Russian by more than energy pipelines. In Imperium, the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski writes, “The future of Ukraine will develop in two direction; in terms of its relations with Russia, and in terms of its relations with Europe and the rest of the world. If these relationships unfold propitiously, Ukraine’s chances are excellent. For it is a country of fertile soil and precious natural resources, blessed with a warm, hospitable climate. And it is a large nation of more than fifty million-strong, resilient, and ambitious.”
In Ukrainian, the country’s name means “homeland.” But in Russian the name means “borderland.” The entity that has evolved into Russia began as Kievan Rus in the territory that is now Ukraine in the 900s. The capital eventually moved north to Moscow, but despite long attempts by Ukrainian nationalists to create a separate state, Ukraine only really became independent from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has made statements that he does not consider Ukraine to be a real country. I heard similar sentiments from ethnic Russians living in Sevastopol when I was there in October 2008. The Russians living in Sevastopol in fact do not even consider themselves to be living in Ukraine. When they talk about “their country” they are talking about Russia.
All the candidates in today’s election can be considered ‘pro-Russia’ candidates. They all believe that a closer relationship with Russia is necessary for Ukraine to stabilize. After Yushchenko, this means that Russia will be the true winner of the Ukrainian elections. The contest now is more about the individual personalities of the candidates than ideological beliefs. Politics in Ukraine are brutal. The in-fighting may continue past the runoff this 7 February.
In Sevastopol I will find out who the ethnic Russians living there prefer to lead Ukraine and if they believe that the coming years will see Crimea move closer to Russia.