The Controversy Surrounding the Ukrainian Elections

烏克蘭大選爭議 凸顯地緣政經角力----歐俄之間 既競爭又合作

Hung, Mei- Lan,

Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of Russian Studies,

National Chengchi University



Ukraine held a presidential election at the end of last October. The election was closely followed from the beginning by Russia, the United States and the European Union. The controversy that ensued after the announcement of the results by the Ukrainian Central Election Commission then became the focal point of the entire world. The reason why the election results garnered so much attention from the international community was not only due to their influence on Ukraine’s future development directions, but also with the fact that they would affect EU-Russia relations after the EU’s expansion. Furthermore, the results would have an affect on the way the EU and Russia interacted with the rest of the world.


The controversy that surrounded the election served to ignite a politic and economic crisis between the eastern and western parts of the country. There were also differences of opinion expressed by the United States, EU and Russia over the election results announced by Ukraine’s Central Election Commission. The reasons for these disparities can be analyzed from the perspective of the internal circumstances in Ukraine as well as from the competition between the EU and Russia.


The Difference between the Eastern and Western Parts of Ukraine


Let’s begin with the current circumstances within Ukraine. In the year 988, the Grand Duke of Kiev Vladirmir established the Greek Orthodox Church as the state religion, establishing the capital, Kiev, as the originating point of the Slavic people. In 1221, however, the Mongols invaded and captured the eastern part of the nation. The small, independent nation left in the west became submerged as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Finally the west was brought under the domain of the Poland-Lithuania kingdom and forced to change to Catholicism, which planted the seeds of the cultural and religious disparities between the eastern and western parts of Ukraine. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 18th century that the western part of Ukraine was made part of Russia. It was thus because the two parts of the country were under different regimes throughout history that they developed different religious and cultural ways of thinking, which has been the source of the disparate political models the two sides embraced in this past election.


Nevertheless, economic factors were probably the biggest reason for fueling the controversy of the past poll results. In the past, Ukraine’s economy was closely linked with the Soviet Union’s under a specialized division of labor framework. This was especially true in the east where heavy industry prevailed. After Ukraine declared independence in 1991, the nation sought to gain economic autonomy and broke off from its traditional economic dependence with the Soviet Union. Ukraine gradually not only forfeited its easy access to the Soviet market, but also saw the USSR exert pressure on its economy by reducing the supply of resources such as oil and natural gas that Ukraine needed to keep its economy up and running. Even though Ukraine was attempting to implement market oriented economic transformation and European oriented economic-trade policy at the time through the help of aid from western countries, its products were still hard pressed to meet the demands of the international market, which sent its economy into drastic decline. The grim economic conditions led many eastern Ukrainians to believe that it was necessary restore and strengthen relations with Russia.


Nevertheless, economic and trade ties between Ukraine and the EU continue to deepen. The EU provides Ukraine with a Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) as well as a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) that took effect in 1998. According to EU statistics, trade amount between Ukraine and the twenty five nations of the EU after its eastward expansion topped 14.5 billion Euros or 35% of its overall trade with the outside world. The EU has already replaced Russia as Ukraine’s most important trading partner, which has led to the people in the west of Ukraine to call for deepening relations with the EU; even going as far as saying the country should apply for EU membership. It is easy to see that the eastern and western parts of Ukraine have diametrically different opinions concerning the future development of the nation’s economy.


Russia’s Role


Next we should talk about the points of contention between Russia and Europe. European countries value human rights; they feel that pushing the values of democracy and freedom throughout the world can maintain stability in Europe as well as the rest of the globe and be a foundation for developing peace. After the end of the Cold War, the EU pushed these values on the former Soviet Union and the other East Bloc nations previously under its realm of influence. In Russia, the task to stabilize the domestic political and economic situation was more pressing for President Vladmir Putin than it was during Boris Yelstin’s term of office, which may be why Putin chose to uphold a stricter more hard nose leadership style. Putin’s use of presidential powers to control the media and weaken opposition, however, is something Brussels finds hard to accept, as the EU sees the possible reemergence of the Russian tradition of dictatorship and imperialism. Russia though has been gradually losing its influence with traditional alliances due to the eastward push by the EU as well as incurring substantial economic loss through the reduction of bilateral trade agreements. This has led to a tense, post Cold War atmosphere in what the EU terms the “common neighborhood” and Russia considers its “near abroad.” One nation in the midst of this atmosphere is Ukraine, which shares a common border with Russia and is home to a Black Sea port that is key to Russia’s maritime strategies. The port is currently Russia’s main economic growth lifeline, as it is an important launching port for Russian energy exports to Central Asia and Europe. For Russia, its geopolitical and economic significance goes without saying. Moscow is worried that, although in the short term it can still count on Ukraine to help get its energy exports out, once EU-Ukrainian relations become even closer, they may lose access to the Black Sea port as well as the possibility of heightened energy source strategy contention. Moreover, on May 1st of last year, the EU completed its new eastern boundaries. The biggest country now boarding the EU is Ukraine, which makes it an even more important buffer area between Russian and Europe.

其次,就歐俄競爭關係而言。歐洲國家重視人權,認為民主自由為普世及歐洲的價值,亦是維持歐洲與世界穩定、和平發展之基石。在冷戰結束後,歐盟積極地將此價值觀推展至原蘇聯國家及其附屬區。然而,俄羅斯在普欽(Vladmir Putin)政府的強勢領導下,其國內政經情況相對於西方指導時的葉爾欽時代要來得穩定,形成俄國國內崇尚此種領導風格。但是普丁之作風,譬如:利用總統權力對媒體進行整頓進而操控媒體;選舉弊端頻傳;反對派積弱不振等,卻令布魯塞爾無法茍同,因而擔心俄羅斯之獨裁與帝國主義傳統復活。反觀,俄羅斯在面臨歐盟東擴並獲得具體成效後,不但逐漸失去其對傳統盟邦之影響力,甚至在經濟上亦蒙受實質經濟損失,例如雙邊貿易量大幅縮減等等。因此,後冷戰時期歐俄雙方在歐盟所說的,與俄羅斯的「共同鄰近地區」,也就是俄羅斯所謂其「境外附近」形成一種相互較勁與競爭之氛圍。其中,烏克蘭右境與俄國直接接壤,並擁有影響俄國海洋戰略之黑海出口,以及俄國目前經濟成長主要動力 — 能源出口中輸往中亞或歐洲之管線,對俄羅斯而言,其地緣政經意義不言而喻。故莫斯科擔心,雖然俄國在短期間內仍可繼續以能源供應作為拉攏烏克蘭之策略,可是當烏克蘭與歐盟關係更加深厚,以及歐俄雙方互信基礎仍脆弱之際,損及其海洋、能源戰略的可能性亦將升高。再者,今年五月一日歐盟完成首批東擴後其東部新邊界接鄰的最大國家即是烏克蘭,此更大大地提升了烏克蘭作為歐俄戰略安全緩衝之地緣角色。

The two presidential candidates in the past Ukrainian election obviously held different political views. The two candidates differed in their leaning toward the EU and Russia, which tended to complicate the election and turn it into a battle for strengthening political and economic supremacy in the region.


EU-Russian Opposition and Cooperation


Even though Russia and the EU were hoping for different results in the Ukrainian elections that would serve their own self interest, since the end of the Cold War, the two sides have actually established closer economic ties. For example, Russia still needs foreign capital assistance from Europe and the US in a bid to resurrect its economy and stabilize development. According to Russian customs’ statistical data, trade with the EU stood at 36.1% of that with the rest of the outside world in 2003, making the EU Russia’s current largest trading partner. Furthermore, Russia is the EU’s main source of oil and natural gas in line with its diversification policy on the importation of energy sources. The two sides have gone as far as to discuss four “common spaces” during a high level summit in Rome last November. The four areas of cooperation under consideration include economics, judicial, humanitarian and internal security, education and research and external security. In view of economic growth, Russia has attempted to seek a common ground with the EU regarding the Ukraine issue. This is very evident in the change in stance Russia has taken on the Ukrainian election results. Russia initially supported the use of force by the Ukrainian government to quell demonstrations against the results and staunchly insisted that the November 21st election was fair. Recently, however, Russia has softened its stance, even saying it could accept reelections.


Intervention to Ease Tensions


Even though the main objective of the EU’s push eastward is to spur economic growth and strengthen the importance and influence of its entire economy in the international arena, there are still has no plans in the short term to include Ukraine in EU. In other words, the economic aid and strengthening of ties with Ukraine is still an attempt to keep Russia in check. In its current stage of expansion, the EU still sees Ukraine as a key regional and global security ally, with diplomacy motivations presently surpassing economic interests. Consequently, the EU of course does not wish to have its relations deteriorate with Russia because of the Ukrainian elections, which would also aversely affect their respective economic interests and somewhat cordial ties. The EU would also not be happy to see Ukraine break into upheaval over the election controversy, which would damage European peace and stability as well. Consequently EU officials have been dispatched to Ukraine in order to help with negotiations in hopes to help avoid a split between the eastern and western parts of the nation. The tensions in Ukraine have thus eased a bit due to the intervention of a global power. Finally, with the eyes of the world fixed upon Ukraine as well as the supervision of 12,000 international election observers, the country underwent reelections on December 26th, 2004. The winner this time was west-leaning Viktor Yushchenko, seemingly ending the Ukrainian election controversy. In point of fact, however, key controversial issues have yet to be resolved as the newly elected president begins his arduous mission. One major task will be to work with financial groups and political powers in the eastern part of the country in bringing about more comprehensive and effective economic reforms. This is especially important regarding economic policy, as it has to reconcile the different opinions between east and west on economic development in order to sustain national unity and continued growth. On the diplomatic front, the new administration must find a way to cooperate more with western countries in order to obtain proper aid packages to strengthen Ukraine’s market economy while simultaneously assuring Russia that the country is not becoming too westernized, which would put a strain on their relations. How these issues play out will also affect future Russia-EU relations.


In summation, the Ukrainian elections not only exposed to the world the differences between the eastern and western parts of the country, they also brought to light the paradoxical relationship involving both cooperation and competition between Russia and the EU in the post Cold War era. On the surface it seems that the election results show a victory of western democratic values over Russian might. In actuality, the results reflect the most pressing desire for the people living in the post-socialist countries----pursuing freedom and a better standard of living. Economic factors will determine whether or not Ukraine can maintain its unity, while possibly providing the basis for the deepening of cooperation between Russia and the EU, which could put an end to the diplomatic contention and mutual distrust between the two powers. As basis for political and diplomatic interaction between the EU and Russia is presently still weak however, it may be hard in the short term to break through any bottlenecks in the region. It remains to be seen whether or not mutually beneficial economic cooperation between the EU and Russia can help end diplomatic contention, but we should have reason for optimism after seeing the how the Ukrainian elections played out.

總結可見,此次烏克蘭總統大選不僅凸顯出烏克蘭東西部之差異,更顯示出後冷戰時期歐俄既合作又競爭之矛盾關係。而大選爭議的結果,表面上印證了西方民主價值的勝利和俄國之勢微,但事實上卻是再次反映了後社會主義國家人民當前最迫切之心聲 – 追求自由與更好的經濟生活。因此,經濟誘因將是未來歐俄爭取烏克蘭和烏國境內能否團結之關鍵要素,亦是歐俄彼此深化合作,賴以消弭其政治外交上之競爭與不信任感的利器。不過,由於現在歐俄雙方在政治、外交上之互信基礎仍薄弱,故短時間內雙方在此地區的較勁,勢必難以化解。究竟歐俄雙方在經濟利益之合作能否消弭其政治外交上之競爭,雖尚待持續觀察,但從這次烏克蘭大選事件來看,其結果是可令人樂觀期待。


Edited by Tina Lee/Translated by Susanne Ganz


(轉載自Taiwan News)


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