Yanukovych: the economic manager who defeated the populist

Like many other post-Soviet politicians, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who turns 60 on June 9, began his career as an economic manager. Circumstances drove him into politics.

Like many other post-Soviet politicians, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who turns 60 on June 9, began his career as an economic manager. Circumstances drove him into politics.

Although such transformation is usually a long and painful process, in Yanukovych's case we can pinpoint the precise date it took place: December 2004, shortly after he fell victim to the "Orange Revolution".

Strictly speaking, there was no revolution in Ukraine, orange or otherwise, because in politics "revolution" means a change of political regime. But Ukraine only saw elements of revolutionary thinking applied in practice.

Take the third round of the presidential election, which is not provided for in Ukraine's legislation or constitution. It was approved by the Supreme Court, which had been forced into it by the "masses" gathered in Kiev's Independence Square.

Figuratively speaking, the three leading politicians in Ukraine's recent history - Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych - came to power by inciting people in Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti as it is known in Ukrainian.

Yanukovych's first attempt to use the "masses" failed because the square had been monopolized by the passionate revolutionary, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was the first to learn how to focus the energy of these mass protests and used it to help her ally, Viktor Yushchenko, come to power.

Yanukovych, a mere political clerk unversed in methods of political struggle, soon learned the ropes, including ways of controlling those very masses, and was ready for battle by the next stage of the war for high office.

But back in 2005, after his public defeat he showed how one can retreat intelligently to well-prepared defensive positions. Faced with defeat he also behaved very differently from Tymoshenko: whereas five years ago he was calm and restrained, in 2010 Tymoshenko was hysterical and vitriolic.

In 2005, Yanukovych regrouped before his next offensive, not wasting time and effort on trifles but working persistently to expand his political territory. He became the leader of the parliament's largest party and was later elected prime minister, for the second time in his political career. But he resigned when he saw that he stood a better chance in the 2010 presidential election as an opposition leader.

For five years he worked to increase the number of his allies and supporters, who toiled away, guided by the Party of Regions' leadership, in preparation for the 2010 campaign. They also honed their populist skills, so they would be able to fight Tymoshenko on her own turf. That preparation proved a success: Yanukovych won the presidential race, although not without a hitch.

His rival, Tymoshenko, took her defeat badly, resorting to farcical moves, such as lawmakers opposed to the Black Sea Fleet agreement with Russia, throwing eggs and smoke bombs in Ukrainian parliament. She also called on her supporters to contest the election results and tried in vain to provoke a revolt. But people developed protest fatigue; she is no longer the queen of the Maidan.

Since the final tournament of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship is to be hosted by Poland and Ukraine, perhaps sports analogies would be appropriate here.

After losing the "game" in 2004, Yanukovych, like any smart coach, analyzed his mistakes and worked hard to improve his tactics.

Unlike him, Tymoshenko blamed her 2010 defeat on the referees (the Central Election Commission), the uneven pitch and the square ball, and her team provoked a scuffle with their rivals (in parliament) even though the battle was over and there is never any use crying over spilt milk.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych continues to reap the fruits of his victory. During his first 100 days in office, he set up a majority coalition in parliament which approved the new cabinet. It is chaired by his old ally, Mykola Azarov, who does not intend to follow an independent agenda. This has put an end to strife between the president and the prime minister in Ukraine.

Yanukovych has also restored relations with Russia without affecting ties with the European Union. On the one hand, representatives of the presidential majority in parliament say that Ukraine no longer intends to join NATO. On the other hand, Yanukovych has said that he would never recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or Kosovo, for that matter.

The Ukrainian president has to balance between the West and the East to protect his country's interests. And his experience as an economic manager is helping Yanukovych do this far better than Tymoshenko's talent for public speaking.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Nikolai Troitsky)

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