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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Not the Man He Could Have Been

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has finally taken off his gloves in his long-running political conflict with Viktor Yanukovych, the country's power-hungry prime minister. In dissolving parliament and ordering new elections, Yushchenko claims to have launched an all-out battle for Ukraine's fragile democracy.

Sadly, it may be a case of too little, too late. In the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Yushchenko had the authority to shape his country's future. In the past two years, he has squandered much of his political capital through splits with former allies, indecision and fruitless efforts to cooperate with Yanukovych, whose supporters tried to rig the fraudulent 2004 presidential election that triggered the Orange Revolution.

It would be wonderful if Yushchenko could recover the ground he has lost and put Ukraine on the road to a thriving, outward-looking democracy with strong ties to Russia and the West. His chances, however, are not good.

The conflict is the result of the compromise that ended the Orange Revolution, under which power was transferred from the presidency to the parliament. But it has been an unequal struggle. Yushchenko has felt obliged to try to make the agreement work, even at the cost of his own power. Yanukovych, who triumphed in last year's parliamentary elections, has taken advantage of the deal by presenting himself -- somewhat improbably -- as a champion of parliamentary democracy.

While playing lip service to cooperation, he has ruthlessly expanded his power, poaching pro-Yushchenko lawmakers. Ukraine's business oligarchs have mostly sided with Yanukovych, giving him the means to finance his support base.

Although Yushchenko has now staked his remaining political authority on new elections, it is uncertain they will go ahead. Even if there are fresh polls, Yushchenko seems unlikely to emerge triumphant. Opinion polls indicate he and Yanukovych will both retain strong parliamentary parties, as will Yulia Tymoshenko. Ukraine faces months, if not years, of political turmoil.

Such an ambivalent country is naturally prey to outside influence. Russia has tried to restore its political and economic influence and has already intervened in the latest crisis, with the State Duma on Friday condemning Yushchenko's actions.

The European Union is right to react cautiously. The West must support democracy in Ukraine, mainly by keeping alive the hope of future EU membership. It should also confront any attempt by Russia to subvert political freedom. But Western governments should not involve themselves too closely in the current struggle. The time is not right, the position is unclear and Yushchenko, unfortunately, is not the man he could have been had he capitalized better on the Orange Revolution.

This appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.