Last gasp of color revolutions?

Many readers of my blog first found it via my coverage of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, where I had worked in 1995-96 at its National Bank. (This was around November 2004 — scroll the archive if you wish.) The governor at that time was Viktor Yushchenko, and his rise to the presidency in 2004-05 was one of the high points of U.S. foreign policy, along with a Rose Revolution in Georgia and democracy movements in Lebanon and elsewhere.

Sadly, most of those programs have fallen by the wayside. Georgia’s democratic leaders have made a series of blunders and lost land and momentum to secessionist movements. Lebanon appears to have traded Syria for Iran in terms of foreign meddling. And in Ukraine the presidency of Yushchenko comes to an end with a whimper and many unfulfilled dreams.

Part of this was predictable. In order to secure a peaceful transition, Yushchenko bargained away much presidential power to the Parliament. Whomever controlled it would actually be more powerful than the president, and Yushchenko would have had to find ways to deal with that leadership. Alas, the two most powerful figures there were Orange Revolution heroine Yulia Tymoshenko, whose designs on power were obvious even during 2004-05, and the person who tried to steal the election in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych. Since peaceful transfer had to include a deal for him, his power base was never broken after Yushchenko took power and in first-round elections last week he rose to top of the polls again. Tymoshenko came in second; Yushchenko was an also-ran. After working with her in 2007 to help her win the premiership, the relations between the two soured.

So this Sunday the runoff occurs, and we tend to look sadly at the possible result. The Economist reviews the options between the two remaining candidates and argues “the biggest threat to Ukraine is its inability to govern itself.” But the seeds of that were laid when the Orange Revolution did not permanently cripple the corrupt regime before it. To elect Yanukovych now would render it meaningless, Tymoshenko now argues. In fact, it’s the only argument she has left.

(Thanks to Ed, AP, the divine Miss MM, and all the wonderful readers and commenters of this blog. I’m off to teach and caucus the rest of the day. Should you wish to find me, I’ve been here since Sept. 2002.)