Sunday is Election Day in Ukraine, and Viktor Yushenko, the good guy, is expected to win in a walk, with something like 60% of the vote. That’s great news for Ukraine, and the black eye it gives Czar Putin is good news for the rest of Europe, and maybe even for Russia as well.
Good news of any kind is scarce enough these days to make me regret raining on the parade, but I have one worry and once piece of unquestionably bad news to share with you.
The worry is that Yushenko will be inheriting a very bad economic situation. He has promised drastic reforms in the economy and the political process. If he fails to carry them out, he will lose credibility; if he actually carries them out, the short-term pain is likely to be considerable. Russia matters to Ukraine, and Putin has every incentive to make life tough for Yushenko, unless Yushenko’s odds of success, both substantive and political, are overwhelmingly good. If Yushenko fails, Putin can hope to pick up the pieces.
In a sane world, the U.S. and the EU would rush to finance the transition, since their stakes in Yushenko’s success are so great.
But then, in a sane world the U.S. and the EU would have rushed to finance the transition in Russia and the rest of the Comecon states, rather than letting them go through the pain of the 1990s and letting Russia collapse back into dictatorship. From the viewpoint of U.S. national security, cutting the defense budget in 1990 and spending that money on making the Russians’ transition to something resembling democratic capitalism as painless as possible — while at the same time securing all the loose nukes — was obviously the right thing to do, and just as obviously it was a complete non-starter in political terms.
I’m worried that the same will be true now. In economic terms $10 billion a year — a tenth of a percent of our GDP — is pocket change to this county, compared to the cost of failure. But in political terms, anyone who proposed spending $10 billion a year to ensure that Ukraine remains independent and becomes prosperous and free would need to have his head examined. So the Ukrainians may be in for a rough ride.
That’s the worry. Now for the truly bad news.
Viktor Yanukovych must know by now he’s licked. But he’s still campaigning. And guess what issue he’s chosen to try to rally his troops in the last few days of the campaign?
Give up? Why, it’s anti-Americanism, just as if Ukraine were part of “Old Europe.” Yanukovych is charging that the $58 million in National Endowment for Democracy funds spent in Ukraine over the past two years was, in effect, a campaign contribution to the opposition. No doubt there’s some truth to that. (“Of carse we’re nootral,” said Mr. Dooley about America’s pre-1917 role in WWI. “The question is, whoo are we nootral fer?”)
Well, perhaps it’s not surprising that Putin’s lackey would think that anti-Americanism might be the right rallying cry. The really bad news is the response from Yushenko’s side.
Yushenko’s people aren’t saying that if the choice is between getting help from the U.S. and taking orders from Russia, they’re proud to have been helped by the U.S. They’re not saying “Of course the United States is in favor of democracy. If that means being against Mr. Yanukovych and his friends, that’s their fault, not America’s.”
Instead, they’re accusing Yanukovych of only pretending to be anti-American. After all, it was Yanukovych as Prime Minister who sent Ukrainian troops to Iraq; that’s one of the things the Ukrainian opposition, and Yushenko in particular, have consistently opposed.
Elect me, says Yushenko, and I’ll bring the troops home right away. Me too, says Yanukovych.
So it appears that both sides in heavily polarized Ukraine agree on one thing: it’s bad to be associated with the United States, and in particular with its current foreign policy.
Well, I suppose that was not an entirely unpredictable result of re-electing an administration that glories in its contempt for what the rest of the world thinks of us. (Who knows? Maybe Ukrainians, having lived under a police state, keep their disapproval of torture in their guts rather than just in their mouths.)
But it’s bad, bad, bad news, nevertheless.