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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow No Match for Kiev

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For Russians the current political imbroglio in Kiev was similar to struggle for power that took place in Moscow in September and October 1993.

  On the outside, the two episodes look almost identical. In both cases, the heads of state lost patience with endless opposition from the parliament and opted to call for new elections. Parliament refused to recognize the decision, the public was at odds with the political elite over its interpretation of the Constitution, and the specter of two separate governments trying to rule simultaneously hung over the country with all the usual negative consequences. The similarity between the two events is even more striking in that both arose a little more than two years after a revolutionary restructuring of national authority -- in August 1991 in Russia and in December 2004 in Ukraine.

But a focus on these impressive similarities is misleading. The current situation in Kiev differs fundamentally from the earlier events in Moscow.

The first difference is that Russia had just experienced a critical socio-economic crisis, so the struggle for power in Moscow played out amid a mix of potentially explosive political forces. Despite numerous problems, today's Ukraine is a developing state.

The second is that there were almost no systemic avenues in place in the Russian system in 1993 by which different political groupings could pursue their interests. Fragments of the Soviet system were thrown together with elements of the new ideology, and out of this jumble emerged the aspirations of new social strata. The question of parceling out state property had yet to be decided, and it was impossible for any stable coalition of political interests to form. And no mechanisms to govern interaction between them -- whether in the form of public political parties, private back-room dealings or lobbying -- existed yet anyway.

Today's Ukraine has powerful and well-developed business groupings that exert influence through publicly supported political parties. The interaction between these groups provides the foundation for the entire political system.

The third major difference is that the fundamental questions of national authority and the future organization of the country were decided on the streets of Moscow in 1993. Each of the opposition groups expected to come out victorious, but it was the president's party that ultimately prevailed.

The diverse structure of Ukrainian society and elites makes it highly unlikely that any one group can even hope for an outright victory over the others. The cultural, historical and economic differences between the regions and different social groups are not going to vanish under any circumstances, and this is a reality with which any responsible Ukrainian politician must come to terms. Events of recent years demonstrate a clear pattern: As soon as any political group -- and the economic and other interests behind it -- tries to pull too much of the political blanket to its side of the bed, the remainder of the system immediately reacts to restore the original balance.

Just as in physics, every action in Ukrainian politics generates an equal and opposite reaction. The radical swing of the pendulum during the Orange Revolution upset the balance, but the pendulum quickly swung in the other direction, with the results of elections for the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, counterbalancing the earlier presidential election results. A compromise between the squabbling factions last summer established a new balance, but this has eroded over the last several months. When the parliamentary coalition decided to reconfigure itself to increase its influence, its opponents lined up against it.

The Ukrainian political map is like a microcosm of the very multipolar world that Moscow would like to see on a global scale. Systems of this type are unstable by nature, subject as they are to the ebb and flow of alliances and coalitions that try to battle the natural pull back toward equilibrium. It is impossible for one group to dominate such a system completely, just as it is impossible for one group of nations to dominate the larger international community fully. A two-party system in Ukraine is theoretically possible, but it would not be able to accommodate the country's great cultural and political diversity. The only option left, therefore, is the current system of never-ending maneuvering by various political forces as slow forward progress continues.

This does not mean that there won't be occasional dramatic reversals, but these will inevitably be followed by corrections to the general course.

Ukrainian society also differs from Russia's in its greater ability to maintain a semblance of order. Despite the fact that almost all governmental bodies were paralyzed from March to June last year -- the Verkhovna Rada could not convene, there was no confirmed government or Constitutional Court, and the country seemed to be on the verge of chaos -- Ukrainians serenely labored on and the economy actually grew more than it had when Yulia Tymoshenko was prime minister.

The current collision of political forces in Kiev is but the latest in a series of showdowns to determine the direction the country will take. In the winter of 2004 and 2005 the political elite had the presence of mind to avoid taking drastic steps, opting instead for civilized competition between rival factions -- however ludicrous or unattractive the process might sometimes have appeared. If common sense and the spirit of compromise prevail in this situation as well, it will demonstrate that Ukraine's expressed wish to be considered a European nation is well founded.

The country is going through a difficult maturing process toward becoming a properly functioning democracy. It is very important that actors to the west and east try not to interfere in the process. The West's "democratizers" and Russia's "great power" proponents have already played out their own campaigns in Ukraine and no longer have any rightful claim to be representing the interests of the Ukrainian people. The country has demonstrated its ability to find the most pragmatic solution to its problems intuitively, or at least to minimize the damage resulting from the actions of domestic and foreign politicians.

Fyodor Lukyanov is editor of Russia in Global Affairs.