The presidential campaign has actually split Ukraine into two camps, as predicted by international observers and campaign architects operating in this country. The two leading candidates, Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych, competed professionally and ended by scoring practically the same number of points. The other candidates played the role of extras.
There will be a runoff. Under the circumstances, both candidates must decide to enlist the support of Oleksandr Moroz and Petro Symonenko’s electorate (running third and fourth, respectively). Yanukovych objectively appears to stand a better chance because it is easier for him to mobilize left, communist voters, many of whom did not visit polling stations on October 31. Yushchenko has reached his canvassing limit, scoring some 40% of the vote. This is a very good percentage, of course, but it may not be enough to win, come November 21. It will all depend on the socialist and communist votes. As for Oleksandr Moroz, who is running third, most likely half of his supporters will back Yushchenko and the other half Yanukovych. Those who support the communist leader Petro Symonenko in the first round will vote for Yanukovych, never for Yushchenko. Of course, all this makes Viktor Yanukovych’s position better in the runoff.
If Yanukovych wins on November 21, the West will turn away from Kyiv in frustration, and Ukraine will turn away from the West, bitterly disappointed by the manner in which the West was promoting Yushchenko’s candidacy. Here, too, one question remains open: How closely will Yanukovych cooperate with Russia? A number of analysts (including those in Moscow) believe that Yanukovych, after becoming president, will promptly distance himself from Russia, the way Kuchma did in 1994. Of course, Yanukovych will find this more difficult to accomplish. Moscow will demand a reward for its support. In addition to building a “single economic space,” Russia will mount efforts to lure Ukraine into a “single defense space.” What makes the situation paradoxical is that the West, by supporting Yushchenko, is pushing Yanukovych into Russia’s embrace.
The way Russia and the West are behaving under the circumstances is a very important factor. After the presidential elections, US strategic centers, media, and foundations will have their hands free, and they will be following the Ukrainian campaign even more closely, although there is no evidence that newly re-elected President George Bush will seriously counteract Leonid Kuchma’s protege Viktor Yanukovych. After all, Kuchma and Yanukovych dispatched a Ukrainian battalion to Iraq, whereas Yushchenko took a markedly restrained stand toward the US war in that region. America, however, supports Yushchenko in principle because he is much closer to the West. Yushchenko’s presidency would once again bring Ukraine closer to NATO.
More active efforts in the direction of Ukraine’s EU membership could also be expected. Strategic neighborhood would be in the forefront and the Union would actively make up for lost time. This might work, especially since Ukraine’s neighbors, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic with their people currently in the European government, could become even more actively involved in their neighboring country’s campaign. All this would play into Yushchenko’s hand. Russia’s reaction would be understandably sharp, lashing out at the West for interfering. The fact remains, however, that Moscow, through its campaign architects, is meddling in the Ukrainian election campaign even more obviously than the West.
The domestic situation in Ukraine can also become unstable, especially in the west, where the local elite will not accept Yanukovych as president. Events, however, may take a complicated turn in Kyiv. The central elite, created by Kravchuk and having survived Kuchma, is aware that after Yanukovych comes to power, it will start being thrown out from high offices. This sad lot will befall many people and the eastern elite will act far more cruelly than the current government, considering that Kuchma did try to maintain a balance of sorts. It might come down to reprisals against the losing side. I am afraid that the liberal-minded Western elite, after building a sovereign Ukraine, may regard the coming to power of the eastern elite as a revolution, an encroachment on Ukrainian independence and achievements in the past thirteen years. It will then proceed to resist it on the sly and this may destabilize the domestic situation. Be that as it may, the Ukrainian rift will regrettably become deeper no matter who wins the campaign.
Viktor Yanukovych also has an electorate in reserve: pensioners. If he can promise them more benefits, they will surely cast their ballots for him in the runoff. Viktor Yushchenko, however, also has some unused potential: some seven million Ukrainians living outside Ukraine, in the West. But getting these people organized, canvassing them is easier said than done. Yushchenko will not become the next president unless he can win the trust of the liberal forces in eastern Ukraine. And these people must be wary of his nationalism.
If Yanukovych wins in the runoff, and there are obvious signs of rigged voting results, the fate of Belarus awaits Ukraine. Kyiv will have to join Russia in a verbal war with the West. This would benefit Moscow, because this pattern has long been designed by Russian campaign architects.
Russia will not be on the losing side even if Viktor Yushchenko comes to power. Yushchenko does not have a chance of duplicating Mikhail Saakashvili’s scenario in Georgia. He will never have ninety percent of the vote, as was the case in that country. Yushchenko might win, but not with more than 51%. This means that he will have to take into account the interests of the so-called eastern elite. I daresay that Yushchenko will be a somewhat weaker president than Yanukovych who, by his very nature, will never play into the hand of the western Ukrainian elite.