Ukraine’s Election Exposes Putin's Lies

Despite the best efforts of Vladimir Putin and his terrorist commandos in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s presidential elections did in fact take place on May 25th, under conditions that international observers concur were fair and free. As of this writing, Petro Poroshenko appears to have won in one round. 

Herewith a few lessons:

First, Ukraine is hardly the unstable almost-failed state that Putin and his Western apologists say it is. The terrorist violence was confined to two provinces—Luhansk and Donetsk. In the rest of the country, the voting proceeded smoothly. On top of that, Ukraine’s security forces were able to maintain law and order in much of the country, a positive development that builds on the armed forces’ creditable performance in their “anti-terrorist operations” in April and May.

Second, Ukraine is anything but the illegitimate state Putin and his western apologists say it is. Voting participation for the entire country was high: about 60 percent. Not including the two provinces that were terrorized by Putin’s commandos, participation was even higher. Everyone knows that the only thing that kept Ukrainians in the Donbas from voting was Putin’s terrorists.

Third, Putin’s terrorist commandos have been outflanked by the elections. People want stability; they want a return to normality. And they know that elections can bring about both. The terrorists, like Putin, have nothing but violence to offer. That is not a winning electoral platform. Nor is it any way to win the hearts and minds of the eastern Ukrainian population the terrorists claim to be defending from wild-eyed Ukrainian “fascists.” Small wonder that, after hemming and hawing for several months, even Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, got off the fence and denounced the terrorists, while calling on Donbas residents to take to the streets and march in protest. (And, in an indication of just what is still so wrong with the Donbas, hundreds of thousands heeded his call. Were they not, one might well ask, capable of acting on their own—without being told to do so by some higher-up?)

Fourth, while Ukraine now has a legitimately elected president, Putin has egg on his face—lots of it. Russia’s fascistoid dictator can continue questioning democratic Ukraine’s legitimacy, and he is perfectly entitled to believe that fair and free elections are unfair and un-free, but at some point such truculence becomes nothing more than childishness, stupidity, and petulance. Come to think of it, haven’t those three qualities defined Putin’s behavior since the fall of 2013, when he coerced Ukraine’s since-deposed sultan, Viktor Yanukovych, into backing out of the Association Agreement with the European Union? Ask yourself this: just what has Putin gotten out of this entire crisis? An arid peninsula with enormous economic and political problems, a spike in his popularity, and affirmations of love from his Western apologists. And just what has he lost? Good relations with the West, good relations with Ukraine, and the prospect of a rapid recovery of Russia’s moribund economy. Isn’t it time to recognize the obvious: that Putin’s statecraft is about as refined as Yanukovych’s?

Fifth, Ukraine’s much touted, much decried, and much denounced “radical, right-wing extremists” attracted about 1–2 percent of the vote—which surprised no one who knows a bit about Ukrainian politics. (Contrast that with the 25 percent achieved by France’s National Front in the May 25th elections to the European Parliament.) In a word, Ukraine’s right-wingers are a fringe phenomenon that has played no serious role in Ukraine’s national politics, is playing no serious role in Ukraine’s national politics, and will continue to play no serious role in Ukraine’s national politics. All those Western, Russian, and Ukrainian analysts who’ve been beating the drum about the nefarious influence of Ukraine’s right in the last few years—while turning a blind eye to the extremism of Yanukovych’s thuggish regime and the even worse extremism of the pro-Russian hyper-chauvinists who eventually became the core of Putin’s terrorist commandos in eastern Ukraine—have some serious crow to eat. And some serious apologies to make: for diverting attention from the real danger in Ukraine to their own personal obsessions.

Sixth, it may be time to be guardedly optimistic about democratic Ukraine’s prospects. True, the Donbas will remain a problem for a long time, but Putin’s terrorists are unlikely to branch out to other parts of the country. As Turkey, Israel, Colombia, and many other countries have shown, life can go on, even when terrorists are ensconced in regional strongholds. More important, Putin and his terrorists appear to be in a dead end. The government of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has a serious reform program that should bring about radical economic change and a whole-scale decentralization of authority. The newly elected president has good credentials and a huge popular mandate. The West—the United States, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—supports Ukraine and will make sure that reforms are in fact implemented. Finally, the capital city, Kyiv, has a new mayor, the pro-Western reformer, Vitaly Klitschko.

Not bad for a country that, according to Putin’s Russian propagandists and Western apologists, is supposedly on the verge of collapse.  


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