Feature

Yanukovych Won. Get Over It.

Ukraine has cast its vote for the guy who was on the wrong side of the barricades in the Orange Revolution five years ago. The end of civilization as we know it? Not likely.

So Ukraine has elected a new president. The winner is Viktor Yanukovych. Remember him? He was the bad guy in the Orange Revolution, back at the end of 2004. The voting masses rose up in protest against dirty tricks at the ballot box committed by Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow party and kept at it until their man, Viktor Yushchenko, ended up president. Yushchenko's key ally in that great triumph for democracy was Yulia Tymoshenko. She's the one who lost to Yanukovych on Sunday.

You can see why some people have been saying that the Yanukovych win is a turning point in Ukraine's recent history. Ukrainian political analyst Taras Kuzio cast this year's election as a replay of the Orange Revolution. Tymoshenko, he wrote, represented "European-style democracy," while Yanukovych enjoyed the ominous support of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's very own political party. "The forward-looking choice is clear," Kuzio wrote, "and its [sic] not in the direction of Russia." Russian-American commentator Nina Khrushcheva delivered a glowing portrait of Tymoshenko's democratic attributes and prophesied that a Yanukovych win would mean "the last free vote Ukraine sees for a long time."

And what does Reality Check say? Life goes on. Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

First of all, let's get one thing straight. Ukrainians were absolutely correct to stand up and defend their democratic rights back in 2004. Yanukovych and his party were guilty of egregious election fraud. Moscow supported Yanukovych so openly, and so brutishly, that some Ukrainians presumably ended up voting for his opponent out of sheer spite.

But let's face it. The record since then hasn't exactly been an exercise in the glories of Ukrainian democracy. No sooner had Yushchenko and Tymoshenko achieved power (as president and prime minister, respectively) than they began to indulge in a feud that essentially paralyzed Ukrainian politics for the rest of Yushchenko's term. The result was a long list of non-accomplishments. Kiev-based commentator Mykola Riabchuk, an ex-supporter, ticks off the list: "He failed to bring Ukraine closer to Europe," thus frustrating one of the central demands of the Orange demonstrators. "He failed to separate business and politics" -- another key disappointment for a country where a tiny group of business tycoons wields power constrained only by their competition among themselves. No sooner was the new president elected, Riabchuk notes, than he appointed several of his oligarch supporters to ministerial positions.

Small wonder, then, that Yushchenko didn't make much headway against Ukraine's fantastically stubborn culture of corruption. Last year global corruption watchdog Transparency International gave Ukraine a ranking of 146 on the group's notorious "Corruption Perceptions Index." To offer some context, that was the same rating achieved by Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, East Timor -- and, oh yes, Russia. In 2004, when Yushchenko scored his great victory, Ukraine's ranking was 122. "I don't think that's changed, and no one's tried to change it," says David Marples, a Ukraine-watching history professor at the University of Alberta. "In Ukraine the corruption goes right down to the village level."

Let's leave aside, for the moment, the question of whether Yushchenko did anything right. So what sorts of choices did Ukrainian voters face this time around? Yanukovich hasn't changed much. For this campaign he relied on a stable of slick U.S. campaign advisors rather than the "electoral technologists" from the Kremlin who served him five years ago. But not even his K Street minders could smooth over his brutish way with words, his criminal record (he was convicted of burglary and assault back in the Soviet days), and his worryingly intimate ties with corporate bosses from his hometown of Donetsk in the country's industrial heartland.

Given his past behavior in office, there's certainly reason for concern about Yanukovych's future as Ukraine's president. Frank Sysyn, an expert from the University of Alberta, worries that social tensions could increase dramatically if Yanukovich tries to push through his plans to reintroduce Soviet-style education and raise Russian to the status of an official language, along with Ukrainian. Pro-Western Ukrainians, Sysyn notes, fear that Yanukovych will move Ukraine back firmly into Moscow's orbit -- and could succumb, as a result, to the lure of separatism (since most Yanukovich-haters tend to be concentrated in the country's western regions) or even emigration, with sad consequences for Ukraine's future development.

Tymoshenko is quite a different breed of politician -- a fiery speaker and a shrewdly manipulative populist, an avowed admirer of Eva Peron who seems to believe more in the force of her own theatrics than in the niceties of democratic give-and-take. (One of her close advisors was fired when he refused to go along with her party's policy of using noisemakers to drown out opponents in parliament.) "She has never really been a democratic figure," says Marples. "She's a real politician with tremendous possibility. And yet it's very hard to say what she really stands for. I can't really say what she'd do if she were president."

Her supporters insist, for one thing, that she'd clean up the business world. During her brief tenure as prime minister under Yushchenko she did succeed in reining in some of the egregiously corrupt practices of the country's vital gas industry. She's also declared herself in favor of renationalizing many of the industries that were chaotically privatized during the rough-and-tumble 1990s (though she tends to get vague on the details).

And yet this is the same woman who's known, at other times, to have created opaque structures that funneled profits from the lucrative energy sector to her cronies. During the privatization battles of the 1990s, Tymoshenko formed a close alliance with Pavel Lazarenko, who was later convicted of money-laundering in a U.S. court. At one point, thanks to her gas-related maneuverings, she may have controlled as much as 20 percent of the country's gross national product (as estimated by one American journalist).

So would she have taken Ukraine in a fundamentally different direction than Yanukovych had she won? It's hard to say. European integration is a long-term rather than immediate goal for Ukraine no matter who's president; France and Germany have made it clear that there's little readiness to find room within the European Union for a newcomer as enormous as Ukraine any time soon. The same goes for NATO, which is still struggling to absorb the new members from Eastern Europe it accepted during its last round of enlargement. A number of powerful factors -- and not only the country's continued dependence on Russian natural gas -- would be nudging Ukraine toward a closer relationship with Moscow at this point regardless of who commands the political heights in Kiev. That, presumably, is why Tymoshenko began pursuing an openly conciliatory policy toward Russia in recent years -- even while Yanukovych was giving lip service to notions of "reform" and "closeness to Europe."

Then again, perhaps Tymoshenko's high-profile meetings with Putin were actually aimed at burnishing her with a bit of the popularity the Russian leader enjoys among voters in her own country. Polls have shown that Putin consistently enjoys much higher ratings among Ukrainians than any of their own politicians do -- evidence, perhaps, of Ukrainians' deep fatigue with the endless infighting at the top. (A strikingly large number of them voted "against all" in the runoff.)

The simple fact of the matter is that Ukrainian voters really didn't have a lot to choose from in this election. "In 2004 it was a kind of millenarian struggle," says Riabchuk. "This time we had to decide which was the lesser of two evils." But, as he hastens to add, there's a positive note to be struck here as well. For all his faults, Yushchenko never succumbed to the temptation to crack down on Ukraine's hard-won media freedoms or rights to assembly -- and, perhaps paradoxically, they are reinforced by the deep divides in the country's political culture. "The Orange Revolution succeeded in opening up Ukrainian society," says Sysyn. "These changes are not going to go away. This is not going to disappear just because Yanukovych won the presidency." Let's certainly hope so.

A final note: As this story was published, Tymoshenko was still refusing to concede defeat, despite the urgings of international election observers, who declared the vote fair. Watch out: There may well be more to this story yet.

ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images

Feature

The LWOT: The underpants bomber talks; millions for the KSM trial

A new weekly brief on the legal war on terror.

Welcome to the LWOT: Foreign Policy's new weekly brief on the legal war on terror by Andrew Lebovich of the New America Foundation, from the closure of Gitmo to the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from the Supreme Court to the cells of Bagram, from Indonesia to the Maghreb. Every Friday, we'll produce a quick read on the week's wrangling, with updates on all the most relevant trials, arrests, and presidential directives. You can read it here on foreignpolicy.com or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Obama goes on the offensive on the underpants bomber

This week, Barack Obama's administration forcefully pushed back on Republican criticism of the detention and interrogation of failed underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, asserted that Larry King is a better interrogator than the FBI. In response, Attorney General Eric Holder released a five-page letter defending Mirandizing Abdulmutallab and trying him in a civilian court. Other Democratic officials noted that the legal interrogation didn't make Abdulmutallab clam up.

Indeed, in Senate testimony on Feb. 2, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that Abdulmutallab had detailed his time in Yemen and given up important information on radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Abdulmutallab reportedly began talking at the urging of family members flown from Nigeria to Michigan by the U.S. government. The Wall Street Journal profiled Abdulmutallab alongside the man who first raised alarms about his radicalization -- his father.

KSM trial moves from New York -- but to where?

Responding to pressure from Congress and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, President Obama is considering moving alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's (KSM's) trial out of downtown Manhattan. Federal law requires that Mohammed must be tried near the site of one of the 9/11 attacks, though the Los Angeles Times details why various proposed sites near New York are far from ideal.

Despite the opposition, the administration is moving ahead with plans for the trial. The 2011 Justice Department budget, released this week, includes a request for $73 million to try Mohammed and four others in civilian court, in addition to $237 million to purchase and staff a prison in Illinois for Guantánamo Bay inmates.

But the budget does not come into effect until October 2010, meaning that detainees could not be transferred until then. Further complicating the efforts to close Gitmo is a small but growing group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress threatening to pass legislation barring funding for civilian trials for suspected terrorists.

Inside Holder's war to try KSM in a civilian court

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer has this week's must-read article on the battle Attorney General Holder is waging in defense of a civilian trial for Mohammed:

At [Rahm] Emanuel's urging, Holder spoke with [Sen. Lindsey] Graham several times. But they could not reach an agreement. Graham told me, "It was a nonstarter for me. There's a place for the courts, but not for the mastermind of 9/11." He said, "On balance, I think it would be better to close Guantánamo, but it would be better to keep it open than to give these guys civilian trials." Graham, who served as a judge advocate general in the military reserves, vowed that he would do all he could as a legislator to stop the trials. "The President's advisers have served him poorly here," he said. "I like Eric, but at the end of the day Eric made the decision." Last week, Graham introduced a bill in the Senate to cut off funding for criminal trials related to 9/11.

Pakistani neuroscientist, "Lady al Qaeda," convicted

On Feb. 3, Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui was convicted of attempted murder and several related charges in a New York court. In 2008, Siddiqui picked up an unattended rifle and fired at FBI agents and U.S. soldiers while detained at an Army base in Afghanistan. She had initially been held on suspicion of planning a terrorist bombing, a charge she denies, instead claiming that the military held her for years in a secret prison. Her supporters are demanding her release, and one Taliban commander has threatened to kill captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl if she is not freed.

Can the United States assassinate Americans?

Buried in a Washington Post story and picked up by bloggers: The U.S. president can order the assassination of U.S. citizens abroad, as long as they are suspected of terrorism. Former President George W. Bush made the rule, and Obama might soon make use of it. Salon blogger and lawyer Glenn Greenwald has the best outraged response:

The people on this "hit list" are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities. More critically still, the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration before it -- defines the "battlefield" as the entire world. So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks. That's quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.

Trials and tribulations: Spain investigates Gitmo, Bush lawyers cleared, Uighurs to Switzerland

  • On Feb. 1, a Denver court unsealed the indictment against the father of alleged bombing plotter Najibullah Zazi. It accuses the elder Zazi of tampering with evidence in his son's case. Mohammed Zazi will be transferred to New York to respond to the indictment, which will likely happen within one to two weeks.
  • The five young American men arrested in Pakistan in December on suspicion of plotting to join terrorist groups passed a note out of their cell on Feb. 2 saying that they had been tortured by the FBI and Pakistani police. The U.S. State Department said it would investigate the charges, while a Pakistani court has ordered the men to undergo a medical examination.
  • Influential Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón this week announced he will investigate accusations of torture and mistreatment of Guantánamo prisoners, citing a law that allows Spanish officials to investigate any crimes with links to Spain.
  • A U.S. Justice Department report concluded that the two former Bush administration lawyers who wrote memos declaring waterboarding and other so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" legal under U.S. law -- John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- should not face legal sanction for their actions.
  • Canada's Supreme Court ruled that U.S. and Canadian officials violated the rights of Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr -- the Americans for using enhanced interrogation techniques on the then-wounded teenager, and the Canadians for visiting and interviewing Khadr at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004. Canada has not requested Khadr's repatriation; he faces a U.S. military commission on charges that he killed a U.S. soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan.
  • The last two of seven remaining Uighurs detained at Guantánamo have been offered asylum in Switzerland, staving off a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could have seen the men released into the United States. The two men are brothers, one of whom decided to remain at Guantánamo even after being freed in order to stay with his mentally ill sibling. The Swiss are taking the men despite Chinese threats.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images