Ukraine in Context
Ukraine has undergone a major transition toward democracy since 2004, and CCD has kept a close eye on these events. This page presents a summary of Ukraine's recent history, as well as a useful place to monitor the latest news regarding Ukraine. We will continue to follow the political developments in Ukraine and post them to this site.
Summary of Recent Events in Ukraine
The Orange Revolution
To understand the current dynamics in Ukrainian politics, the “Orange Revolution” of November and December 2004 serves as an essential starting point. The Presidential election of November 21, 2004 was a contest between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovich. Yushchenko was a former prime minister who had become the most popular political figure in the country. He had previously served successfully as Chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine, and his appointment to the prime minister post in December of 1999 was meant to attract investment from Western donors. After initiating an extensive fiscal reform package, Ukraine experienced a strong economic turnaround under Yushchenko’s guidance. However, Yushchenko's rising popularity and knack for independence caused President Leonid Kuchma to perceive him as a threat, and Yushchenko was forced to resign in May 2001 after only 18 months as prime minister. In November 2002, Viktor Yanukovich was named prime minister after previously serving as regional governor in Donetsk. Yanukovich proved to be more in step with Kuchma, and he gained Russian support as Ukraine approached the end of Kuchma’s second and final term.
Opposition parties backing Yushchenko in the November 2004 election had predicted that the results would be fraudulent, and events leading up to the election presaged trouble. Repeated cases of government interference into Yushchenko’s campaign were alleged. Most prominently, Yushchenko mysteriously became seriously ill with what was determined to be dioxin poisoning, leaving his face badly scarred and grounding his campaign for a month. These circumstances brought greater international attention to the election, setting the stage for the explosive events that followed. The day of the vote, exit polls indicated a strong victory for Yushchenko, but when the official results were released, Yanukovich had been declared the winner. Since the country was generally divided politically between west and east – the western half, including Kiev, supported Yushchenko, while the eastern, pro-Russian half of the country favored Yanukovich – this provoked a strong response in Kiev.
The following day, hundreds of thousands of orange-clad Yushchenko supporters, orange being the official color of Yushchenko’s campaign, gathered at Independence Square in Kiev. Yushchenko defiantly declared himself President and even took a symbolic oath of office that day in a special session of parliament with those in the legislature who supported him. He called for a nationwide general strike and urged the military to stand with the people and back his presidency. On November 27, after non-stop demonstrations and international scrutiny, parliament voted to declare the election invalid, and six days later, Ukraine’s supreme court confirmed this decision and called for new elections. On December 26, the new vote was conducted amid a massive contingent of international monitors, and Yushchenko won the presidency with 52 percent of the vote compared to Yanukovich’s 44 percent.
Political Paralysis and the Return of Yanukovich
Yushchenko quickly found it difficult to hold together his governing coalition. The two main members in the Orange coalition were Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. Tymoshenko herself was Yushchenko’s choice for prime minister in January 2005. As the two began governing Ukraine, they often clashed, as the economically-liberal Yushchenko took issue with many of the initiatives of the more populist Tymoshenko. In September of that year, even sharper divisions emerged within the coalition, and internal charges of corruption led to the dismissal of Tymoshenko.
Parliamentary elections in 2006 brought about the first major crisis since the Orange Revolution. Yanukovich’s Regions Party, which had maintained its strength in the eastern regions of Ukraine, came away with the most seats. Tensions that remained from Yushchenko’s firing of Tymoshenko initially discouraged their parties from uniting, and for the next three months, political wrangling failed to produce a majority in the parliament. There was speculation for a time that Our Ukraine might enter into a coalition with the Regions Party, but Yushchenko and Tymoshenko finally agreed to come together. Unable to form a majority themselves, they resolved to join again with the Socialist party, led by Oleksandr Moroz to form the governing coalition. However, the Socialists changed course and dramatically announced in July that they would join with the Regions Party and Communist party. Moroz was elected parliamentary speaker with Regions Party support, and he announced that the “anticrisis coalition” would submit Yanukovich as its choice for prime minister. Yushchenko was forced to accept his rival as prime minister or dissolve parliament and call for new elections. Deciding that new elections would further weaken his and his party’s standing, Yushchenko reluctantly sent Yanukovich’s nomination to parliament for approval in August, pairing the two bitter rivals from the Orange Revolution as Ukraine’s new leadership.
Over the next several months, the two leaders continually clashed, and the strength of Yushchenko’s opposition continued to wane. In March 2007, 11 members of his coalition defected to support Yanukovich, prompting the president to call for the dissolution of parliament and declare new elections. He accused Yanukovich of illegally luring members in an attempt to usurp the power of the presidency, saying that his decision was “dictated by the strict necessity to save the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This once again threw Ukraine into turmoil, with both sides alleging violations of the country’s constitution, and the situation threatened to become violent in May 2007. The situation was resolved when Yushchenko and Yanukovich agreed to set a September 30 date for the new elections. As of June 2007, the elections are set to proceed on these terms, but doubts continue to linger.
Foreign Affairs: Ukraine’s Orange Revolution
Christian Science Monitor: Ukraine’s Orange rebels splinter
Christian Science Monitor: Ukraine’s pro-democracy reforms in doubt
Radio Free Europe: Our Ukraine Envisions New Tymoshenko Alliance
BBC News: Ukraine Leader Calls Early Poll