The economy has been growing pretty swimmingly lately. It came to an abrupt halt in the months after the "Orange Revolution" (under Yulia Tymoshenko's dubious experiments), but then recovered, buoyed by the Russian boom nextdoor, with similar growth patterns occurring in much of the post-Soviet space: mobile phones, retail, car ownership, and now exploding real estate construction. Detractors might say that for a few years before 2005 Ukraine's economy grew at a 9-10% annual pace, while after the Orange Revolution it dropped to about 5%, below Russia's consistent 7% rate. Ironically, Ukraine's trade with Russia is higher today than before the pro-Western "Orange Revolution."
All of Ukraine's recent elections have been close and indecisive. Last Sunday's are no exception. As expected, the Party of Regions finished first, with about 34.5% votes. The biggest surprise was the strong showing of the Yulia Tymoshenko's BYT party, slightly short of 31%. But the biggest loser was President Yushchenko himself, with about 14%. The "Orange" camp overall gained ground slightly over 2006 elections, but now Yushchenko is a weak partner in a possible coalition with Tymoshenko. In fact, Yushchenko very likely dreads going into a coalition with Tymoschenko, as he had a bitter fallout with her in 2005. There were credible rumors that he'd rather make a "grand coalition" with Yanukovich – that would have made Ukrainian politics more predictable at least. But Yulia again spoiled the party for everybody else.
Tymoshenko is considered "pro-Western" and a "reformer" in the American and European media. But what she really is an uber-populist. She promises everything to everybody. It is utterly pointless to search for consistency, logic or credible figures in her "program." This is true to some extent for all politicians, but not to such wild extent as with her. The last time such runaway populism was a serious force in Russian politics was in the early 90's, but in Ukraine apparently such populist scamjobs still work. And now Ukraine is about to step on the Tymoshenko rake for a second time.
If Yulia becomes Ukraine's PM, relations with Russia will be difficult for sure. Last May she published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled "Containing Russia" in which she essentially offered her services (in case she'd return to power) as a buffer against Russian "encroachment" into Europe. For Tymoshenko herself this probably meant nothing. During her political career (as well as in the latest campaign) she has tried to approach the Russian leadership offering to be the protector of Russian economic interests in Ukraine. Still, her article was very depressing, but not because it was anti-Russian. It was full of all standard cliches of currently-fashionable American think-tank jargon. There wasn't a single phrase in her article that didn't look like it hadn't been copied and pasted from a report from the Hoover Institute or some other neocon lair. Tymoshenko wasn't the real author of the article, of course; it was reportedly written by her advisor, Dmitry Vydrin. He was associated with Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko party in Russia in the early 90's. But I'd doubt anyone in Russia could work with Tymoshenko now. After that article, Moscow's power elite could only regard Yulia Tymoshenko as just another Ukrainian whore working a tochka on Leningradskoe shosse.
But the Russian political class is, in general, tired of this Ukrainian political circus, as well as all the similar circuses in the larger post-Soviet area. Ukraine's last election campaign, in stark contrast to presidential election of 2004, was observed with mild amusement by Moscow's chattering classes. Back in 2004 many key Russians rather clumsily interfered in the presidential elections, trying to support Yanukovich's candidacy. Today the general feeling in Moscow is "go to hell--sort out your own mess." You can see Moscow's lack of interest in the decision to charge all of its neighbors the same price for Russian gas, whether for unpredictable Ukraine or seemingly loyal Belarus, hostile Georgia or friendly Armenia. For better of worse, Russia feels it is better associated with global structures and definitions such as the "energy superpower," the G-8, the BRIC leading emerging market countries, or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, rather than being a guardian of the squabbling post-soviet space