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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pushing and Pulling in a New Ukraine

The plight of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko reminds us of other politicians in the post-Soviet world who raised large expectations in the West only to disappoint in the end. Perhaps it's time to take a more realistic look at what's going on in the former Soviet Union.

At the time of Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004, many in the West saw largely what they wanted to see: a people rising up against corruption, manipulated politics and crude Russian pressures, in the name of moving closer to democracy, free markets and the West. Yushchenko, the survivor of a dastardly murder attempt, and his running mate, Yulia Tymoshenko, were the stars. President Vladimir Putin was the villain who was scheming to deny the Ukrainian people their freedom. What the West chose not to see was that Yushchenko is more a technocrat than a leader and that Tymoshenko was at best a tactical ally whose suspect fortune and populist politics were bound to come in conflict with Yushchenko's plodding pragmatism.

More to the point, many in the West chose to overlook the fact that Ukraine, like most other former Soviet republics -- with the exception of the three Baltic states -- remains intricately intertwined with Russia and the other republics. In Ukraine, part of the Slavic core of the old Soviet empire, half the residents still identify closely with Russia, both ethnically and nationally. So to believe that Yushchenko could single-handedly shift Ukraine into the Western orbit was naive. Not only was Russia interfering, but Europe was, and is, far more interested in Russian gas than in Ukrainian democracy.

Fifteen years on, the dismantling of the Soviet state is a work in progress and politics is still largely a bald power struggle, with countless players and alliances. In Ukraine, thousands of candidates and 45 parties are slugging it out for 450 seats in the March 26 parliamentary elections. It is typical, and predictable, that incumbents have pounced on Yushchenko for having been forced to accept doubled gas prices from Russia. Oddly enough, Putin is achieving what Yushchenko failed to do. By punishing Yushchenko for trying to pull Ukraine away from Russia, Putin is pushing Ukraine away from Russia.

This comment first appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.