Understanding the Ukrainian Crisis: Part II – Stormclouds Gather
The Orange Revolution to the 2010 Presidential Election
Mr. Seurat is the our first featured columnist. He will be submitting weekly (or even bi-weekly) updates on current events. You may contact him at [email protected] with any questions.
(Note to readers: At the bottom of this page you will find a glossary of terms explaining different key ideas and people whose biography or history did not fit into the flow of the article or otherwise interrupted the history)
In 2004, Leonid Kuchma, then-president of The Ukraine, reached the end of his time in office. Mr. Kuchma stepped down, and an election was held. The two major candidates were Viktor Yanukovych, from the Party of Regions1, and Viktor Yushchenko, who ran independently. The election was hotly contested, and from the outset seemed to be riddled with corruption, bribery, and plain old brownshirting to procure votes. These allegations were leveled against those supporting Mr. Yanukovych’s candidacy and so, following the initial election (in which Yanukovych was elected), another election was held, this time monitored by international observers. In what was considered by most impartial parties to be a freer and fairer election than the initial one, Mr. Yushchenko took office with 52% of the vote.
However, Mr. Yushchenko would never have seen the inside of the presidential suite if it had not been for the actions of thousands of protestors.
After the initial election, many thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets, dissatisfied with the results. These protesters flew the color orange as a reference to the campaign color of Mr. Yushchenko, thus giving the protests their name. The Ukrainian Supreme Court, in light of the protests, found the results of the election to be in question, and so called a new one, which ended in victory for the Orangists and Mr. Yushchenko.
Why does this matter, one might ask? The impact of the 2004 election and the surrounding controversy can be seen as the impetus behind the EuroMaidan protests, for, if protesting against Yanukovych had worked once, why wouldn’t it work now? The relatively peaceful manner in which the matter was resolved gave credence to the belief that peaceful protests were indeed a game-changer in The Ukraine.
Following Mr. Yushchenko’s retirement from office in 2010, though, Mr. Yanukovych again ran as the candidate for the Party of Regions and won, in what was seen to be a free and fair election by international observers. Yanukovych’s voter base comes from the East and South3 of The Ukraine, where the majority of ethnic Russians live inside of the Ukraine. This voter base has now formed the bulk of the separatist movements within The Ukraine, as they feel that their democratically elected government has been overthrown. During the first two years of his presidency, Yanukovych pursued closer relations with both the Russian Federation and the European Union in an effort to grow his nations economy. As promises of European integration became more of a reality though, Yanukovych stepped back and pursued a closer tie with the RF. This reached its climax when Yanukovych vetoed a bill that would’ve provided for closer ties with the EU, and was the impetus for the EuroMaidan protests and subsequent revolts by disgruntled ethnic Ukrainians, a good majority of whom support integration into the European Union.
As a quick recap, we have discussed how the events of Orange Revolution provided the precedent for the EuroMaidan one, how Yanukovych came to power and why Russians in the South and East of the Ukraine feel betrayed, and why the conflict seems to have essentially boiled down to a conflict between the EU-EuroMaidan and Ethnic Russian-RF confrontation. In the next issue, we will cover the beginning of the EuroMaidan movement up to the ousting of Yanukovych.
In the next issue of Understanding the Ukraine Crisis, we will address the lead up to the EuroMaidan protests and their beginnings.
1The Party of Regions: A pro-Russian party which composed a plurality of the Ukrainian parliament when it was forced into hiding following the EuroMaidan protests/revolts.
2Ukrainian Supreme Court: Has an incredibly different and ever changing role in the Ukrainian government. It does not consist of judges with life tenure like the American once, but rather a group of (now) 48 judges with 5 year terms. It’s power was severely limited in 2010.
3East and South: To be defined more precisely as the Crimean Peninsula and the Eastern cities of Lugansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and the surrounding countryside.