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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Headed in the Same Direction

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Things appeared to be cooling down in Kiev after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych agreed on Friday to hold early parliamentary elections, although a date has yet to be worked out. But the degree to which this averted a crisis has probably been overstated -- largely because the sense of crisis itself was blown out of proportion.

Yushchenko's decree to dissolve the parliament on April 2 was followed by headlines in international media like "Thousands Converge on Kiev to Protest Yushchenko Order" and "Ukraine on the Verge of Another Revolution." For those of us who live and work in Ukraine, these sensational headlines have been both comical and frustrating, as it is nearly impossible to compare what is happening on the streets of Kiev today to the Orange Revolution of 2004.

In 2004, Ukrainians took to the streets en masse to protest a regime that, much like the one in Russia today, seemed to feel no responsibility toward its electorate. In 2004, you could find factory workers standing side-by-side with bankers around the clock and many Kiev residents weaving through the crowds handing out pieces of paper with addresses where those who had come from other cities could go for a warm meal and a shower.

This community spirit and support has not been present over the last few weeks. For the most part, the arrival of miners and pensioners from the pro-Yanukovych east has been met with indifference and mild frustration resulting from their blocking of some of the city's larger thoroughfares. It is common knowledge that those bussed into town had been paid, and their highly orchestrated nine-to-five protests have even drawn criticism for being too similar to Soviet-era demonstrations. An acquaintance of mine from the east recently traveled to Kiev for the day with his girlfriend on a coalition-sponsored bus. They were given a bit of spending money and told they would have to stand by the Constitutional Court building for four hours, after which they would have three hours for sightseeing before being bused home in the evening.

The current political situation is not the result of a split in the national idea. Ukraine's jerky Westward course is set, and those behind both the orange and blue camps see greater integration into Europe as fundamental to Ukraine's success as a nation. This is a power struggle involving two or three groups within the political elite for the right to lead Ukraine in that direction. For the average Ukrainian, the battle is of little interest.

Ukraine has changed in a fundamental way since 2004, and although many of the principal actors in the Orange Revolution are still around, most facets of Ukrainian life demonstrate that the rules of the game are now different. The Party of the Regions is a perfect example of just how big this change has been.

In 2004, Yanukovych and company received major support from the Kremlin and were widely viewed as Russian puppets. Following the party's failure in the 2004 elections, it has undergone substantial changes. Yanukovych goes to great lengths not to annoy the Kremlin, but decisions are made at home and tend to follow the will of his financial backers more than that of Russia. Yanukovych himself now speaks only in Ukrainian in public, his party has hired a U.S.-based public relations team to boost its image both at home and abroad, and the he rarely misses a chance to travel to Europe to plead the country's case for greater involvement in European bodies. It is also noteworthy that the party's main campaign promises of official status for the Russian language, a free trade zone with Russia and a 2007 budget heavy with social benefits have all been shelved since it came to power. In fact, Ukraine is much closer to joining the WTO and entering into a free trade agreement with the EU than with Russia. The status of the Russian language status has again returned to the nontopic it was pre-2004, and it was Yushchenko who had to demand that the prime minister's coalition increase social spending in the 2007 budget.

The media, at the same time, has become more of a watchdog than ever before. Before 2004, protests against President Leonid Kuchma's administration received little or no television coverage, with the reports that were aired distorted to favor those in power. The media Ukraine today is flourishing. In the past, only a couple outlets like the newspapers Ukrainskaya Pravda and Korrespondent could be counted on to report the whole story. Now there are a number of dailies that have either appeared on the market, like Kommersant, or been bought by large Western media groups and, as a result, benefited from a boost in professionalism and credibility. The quality of electronic media has also witnessed a huge jump in quality over the last two years, and on any given night, you can see politicians from all across the spectrum debating the country's current political course on live television.

Nowhere is the new face of Ukraine more noticeable than among its large business groups. In 2005, Viktor Pinchuk's Interpipe Group and Rinat Akhmetov's System Capital Management were under attack from the government and saw their questionable privatization of the steel company Kryvorizhstal annulled and the company resold to Mittal Steel. Akhmetov spent a substantial part of the year out of the country, while Pinchuk's assets one by one came under threat from the government. The shock therapy provided by the Orange coalition caused both business groups to undergo complete makeovers in terms of corporate governance, and they are now in the process of restructuring and dumping their shady business schemes as they gear up for IPOs.

Moreover, the ongoing mergers and acquisitions frenzy in the Ukrainian banking sector, which has seen the arrival of major global banks, has been unaffected by political turbulence and helped push double-digit asset growth and massive expansion into retail banking. All of this has helped Ukrainians gain easier access to credit and upgrade their standard of living. The results of this development are most visible on the streets of Kiev, where the number of cars on the streets rivals that of most West European capitals.

Ukraine's selection as a host country for the Euro-2012 football championship is only likely to further the country's development and push it closer to Western standards. Plans for the championship envision the construction of up to 34 new hotels in Ukraine's host cities and investment of more than $20 billion to modernize the country's road and rail infrastructures. Local construction and development companies like XXI Century Investments and TMM are likely to reap huge rewards from infrastructure projects that will also help boost the Ukrainian tourism industry for years to come.

Even after the upcoming elections, politics in Ukraine are likely to remain divided along orange and blue lines in the near future. Regardless of whether the party of power is waving an orange or a blue flag, the country's overall course will continue to be toward the West. Just about everyone -- from the country's oligarchs to its bus drivers -- thinks of himself as a European.

Nick Piazza is an analyst at Concorde Capital in Kiev.