The Orange Revolution

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The Orange Revolution

Kherson, Ukraine - War with Russia
Kherson, Ukraine – War with Russia

Once again Ukraine humiliated Putin’s certainty. On November 25, the Supreme Court of Ukraine ruled against ratifying Yanukovych as President until Yushchenko’s complaints about possible falsifications had been examined. At the same time, the finely balanced Verkhovna Rada refused to recognize the election results announced by the CEC.

On November 27, the parties sat down for talks with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, EU representative Javier Solan, The Girl in Kherson, Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, and Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Kuchma insisted that the protesters stop blockading the buildings of the Government, the Presidential Palace, and the Rada.

Yushchenko, however, did not back down. Then Kuchma decided to resort to force. Late in the evening of November 28, Deputy Interior Minister Sergei Popkov ordered a 10,000-strong force to clear the center of Kyiv of protesters. Still, the transition of power to Yanukovych (and thus Putin) was thwarted. The Ukrainian army sided with the protesters and opposed the Interior Ministry. The “cleansing” of the center of Kyiv did not take place.

The government’s election fraud had created a broad revolt among Ukrainians. Mass demonstrations began in the western and central regions demanding a review of the election results. Another political crisis loomed against the backdrop of civil disobedience. It went down in Ukrainian history as the “Orange Revolution”, based on the color of the flag and scarf of the main Presidential contender Viktor Yushchenko.48

The mother lode of the Orange Revolution was the center of Kyiv – Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, where many thousands of protesters held continuous rallies for two months. Over time, this phenomenon came to be called “Maidan” (an Ottoman word) to mean something that translates as “Open Air”.

It started as early as November 21, 2004, when, after the CEC announcement of the preliminary results, Viktor Yushchenko and his team called on voters to gather in the evening for a rally to defend their choice without waiting for the official results. At the rally, Yushchenko, disfigured by the dioxin, rejected the election results as having been rigged and called for a general political strike that would not disperse until there had been a recount.

As in 2002, a tent city was erected on Kyiv’s central square. Roman Bessmertniy, a supporter of Yushchenko, was appointed as the “mayor” of the Maidan (later, when Yushchenko was President, he would become Deputy Prime Minister). In the beginning, Maidan was chaotic but over time ordinary citizens of Kyiv, and then small and especially medium-sized business, tired of the corruption at the top, began to sponsor the protesters. Food, medicine, and firewood were brought in to keep the protesters warm around the fires. A huge stage was erected on which opposition leaders and numerous artists performed for free.

The opposition factions called an extraordinary parliamentary session the next day to debate the crisis. However, of course, the Communists and pro-government factions did not show up. It proved a tactical mistake of the Yanukovych-Putin faction. At this session of the Verkhovna Rada, Yushchenko took his oath as President, which caused a new massive wave of support. Between 500 thousand to 1.5 million protesters now gathered in the center of the capital.

The police and special forces acted in a relatively neutral and respectful way, and they did not respond to provocation. Despite the large concentration of Interior Ministry personnel in the capital, bloodshed was avoided. Both sides, the opposition and the authorities, behaved with restraint.

From the capital, the Maidan movement spread to the provinces. As in Kyiv, the viability of the Maidans in the regions was made possible by the active support of the middle-class businessmen, who allocated people and money for the construction of tent camps and the provision of food and medicines for the protesters.

Despite the mass protests, the Central Electoral Commission announced its official results on November 24 and declared Viktor Yanukovych the winner. In response, protesters besieged the Presidential Palace and Kyiv’s central-government building. To counter these protesters, Yanukovych supporters from eastern Ukraine and especially from Donbas were bussed into the capital, camping out in the garden opposite the buildings. There were rumors about more than 300 thousand miners from Donbas to Kyiv who would “wipe out the Maidan activists” and prevent Yushchenko from coming to power. Ultimately, the number of Yanukovych supporters in Kyiv did not exceed 20 thousand people. These were mostly miners who were paid wages and a “traveling allowance” for the time they spent participating in the counter-protests. They slept in train carriages located on the spare tracks of the Kyiv railway station. A violent confrontation between the two camps and the use of force by the authorities to disperse the demonstrations hung heavy in the air.

On November 27, the Rada adopted a resolution about the political crisis, passing a resolution that stated that the Presidential Elections had been falsified and that annulled their results. While expressing mistrust of the Central Electoral Commission, it called for peaceful resolution of the conflict. In the western regions of the country, local governments decided to recognize Viktor Yushchenko as the legitimate President. In the eastern regions, leaders of the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions closest to Russia initiated the convening of a congress of local councilors to create an autonomous state and recognize the legitimacy of Yanukovych’s election as President.

 

 

The Southeastern Ukrainian Autonomous Republic

 

 

In contrast to the events taking place in the western regions of Ukraine and in Kyiv, November 28, 2004, saw a meeting of all elected officials from the south-east of Ukraine in Severodonetsk (in the Luhansk border region with Russia). It would be referred to as the “Severodonetsk Congress”.49 The key organizer behind the congress was the governor of Kharkiv, the well-known Ukrainian politician Yevhen Kushnaryov. It was attended by about 3,500 delegates from 17 regions of eastern and central Ukraine and Crimea, including 159 deputies or a third of the Verkhovna Rada. The aim of the congress was to develop a common strategy in the event of an escalation of the conflict.

At the congress it was argued that if Yushchenko and his “orange team” came to power, deputies of the southeastern regions and Crimea reserved the right to create southeastern autonomy from the government in Kyiv. At the same time, Viktor Tikhonov, head of the Luhansk regional council, stressed that the goal of the congress was to create a council of regions without yet declaring autonomy, as that question should be resolved by a referendum. Delegates at the congress were unanimous in condemning the “Orange Revolution” in Kyiv as a coup d’état, and called on residents of southeastern Ukraine to fight the “Orange Plague.”

 

Even before the start of the congress, a number of region councils adopted resolutions to expand their powers over the national government. Thus, on November 24, 2004, the Luhansk Regional Council decided to create an Autonomous Southeastern Ukrainian Republic and appealed to Putin for his support. On November 27, neighboring Kharkiv Regional Council on the border with Russia invested local executive committees of its own creation in its territory.50

 

The Kharkiv Region, prompted by Yevhen Kushnaryov, stopped transferring funds to the Treasury until the political situation in Kyiv had resolved itself. At the same time, representatives of the Odessa Regional Council and its city councils announced their intention to call a meeting of all elected officials of southern and eastern Ukraine to decide on the proclamation of “Novorosiya” along the Black Sea.

Yanukovych, still only a Presidential candidate and not a President, arrived late at the Severodonetsk Congress. Borys Kolesnikov, chairman of the Donetsk regional council, was the first to speak and suggested that if “illegitimate” President Yushchenko was installed as President of Ukraine, there should be a referendum in southeastern Ukraine on a vote of confidence in the central government and on an independent republic that is part of a federation of Ukrainian states. He said, “The situation is out of control. Until the very last moment, we were hoping for a peaceful resolution. But now it is clear that this has become fundamentally impossible. We have an obligation to protect the interests of our constituents. And if we are not allowed to defend our voters, we are ready to opt for extreme measures. We have no confidence in the national bodies of state, as they have violated the law. We want to create a new southeastern Ukrainian state as part of a federal republic. The capital of our new state would be Kharkiv.”

 

It was understood that the “main address” would be given by the governor of the Kharkiv region, Kushnaryov. His speech was emotional and seductive:

“There is no doubt that within a week a carefully planned and prepared, amply financed anti-state coup was carried out in Ukraine. Using the latest techniques in brainwashing the people, they tried to coronate a self-proclaimed President using any method, including force… But do not test our patience… We have our own answer to any outrage, including the most extreme measures you can think of. And I want to remind the fanatics with their orange banners: from Kharkiv to Kyiv it is 480 kilometers, but to the border with Russia it is – 40! [applause] We want to live in a state where everyone is protected. Where our rights, our culture, our [Russian] language, our history, our traditions and our customs are protected. We know that our eastern Ukraine is very different from Galicia, we don’t impose our way of life on Galicia, but we will never allow Galicia to teach us how to live! We must protect and preserve the main spiritual pivot that unites us, our faith. We will not accept a way of life imposed on us, we will not accept someone else’s symbols, our symbol is [Moscow] Christian Orthodoxy! Dear friends, we want to live, work, create in peace, but there is a terrible orange threat hanging over our country, over our future. So once again I call on everyone to be unwavering, to stand tall and defend our choice.”

 

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, known for his anti-Ukrainian statements back in 1998 in Sevastopol, was present at the invitation of the congress organizers, also sparkled with rhetoric. Known for being bald and wearing a cap, he said:

 

 

Two polar forces are now at work in Ukraine. On the one hand, there is crude interference in Ukraine’s affairs, and on the other hand, there is Russia, which fully respects the sovereignty of your country. As mayor of Moscow, I am ready to take off my favorite cap in order to look like Viktor Yanukovych.

 

 

Everyone was now waiting for the Presidential candidate to speak, confident that Yanukovych would galvanize the fight against the supporters of the Orange Revolution and call for decisive action. But his speech disappointed those in attendance who expected their leader to be intransigent:

 

 

I will never betray you, I will always march with you. And whatever you decide will be the law for me…. One more step and everything will collapse. Let us try to find a solution, without resorting to drastic measures. If even one drop of blood is spilled, there will be no stopping the tide. Protecting laws and rights is our goal. Please chose the solution that will ensure the integrity of the country and the rule of law….

 

 

In the end, it was decided to create an Interregional Council of Local Self-Government Bodies of Ukrainian Regions centered in Kharkiv.51 The Luhansk and Donetsk regions decided to hold a referendum in the first half of December 2004 to found independent republics. In addition, the Luhansk and Donetsk regional councils, following the Kharkiv one, announced that the police and other state agencies were to fall under their direct orders and that they would also stop contributing to the state Treasury.

On December 11, a second congress was scheduled to take further steps to autonomy, but the congress never happened. Neither Yanukovych nor the oligarchs around him had a clear understanding of what they really wanted: to surrender or fight, to secede from Ukraine or remain as an autonomous part of it, or even to join Russia. Ten years later, in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, a second congress of the same regional officials took place in Kharkiv. It faced the same dilemma, but this time Yanukovych shone by his absence.

When Yushchenko came to power, criminal cases were filed against Kharkiv Governor Kushnaryov and Donetsk Regional Council Chairman Borys Kolesnikov, as the organizers of the Severodonetsk Congress, accusing them of separatism and “attempting to change Ukraine’s borders by aggression”. Both were imprisoned, but the criminal cases were soon dropped “for lack of corpus delicti” and the prisoners were released. But calls for federalization and autonomy of eastern Ukraine and Crimea as well as demands for strengthening traditional ties with Russia became a permanent fixture in Ukrainian politics. From being one country since the Bolshevik conquest of 1917, Ukrainians once again divided themselves in west (right bank) and east (left bank). The political and business elite of these two parts of Ukraine held opposing views: the desire to follow the European path of development was towed in the western regions of Ukraine. The desire to strengthen ties with neighboring Russia and create a federative state with autonomous regions was claiming the east.

 

 

Viktor Yushchenko’s Victory

 

 

The European Union weighed in on the conflict in Ukraine by sending an EU mediation mission to Kyiv, as well as one from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to meet with Kuchma, Yanukovych and Yushchenko and representatives of Russia, Poland and Lithuania. As a result, a compromise was reached to “redo” the second round, that is, to schedule a new, third round, subject to ratification by the Verkhovna Rada.52

 

The session in parliament was televised so that the whole country could follow the process. More abuses and falsifications during the elections were revealed: appearance of “dead souls” on the voter lists, i.e. people who died but were recorded as voters (an evergreen in Russian elections) etc.

Before the Verkhovna Rada’s vote was taken, President Kuchma flew to Moscow for consultations with Putin, whom he met at the airport. Putin had already been wrong-footed when he hurried to congratulate his candidate Yanukovych on his victory. After the mass protests, Putin was no longer able to manipulate Ukraine’s election results as if they were genuine, and nor did he publicly get involved in Ukraine’s civil conflict. Perhaps Kuchma convinced Putin of the need for neutrality. On December 3, 2004, having previously blocked the investiture of Yanukovych, the Supreme Court ruled that it was impossible to determine a winner on the results of the second round, and on December 26 it scheduled a third round.

On December 7, President Kuchma agreed to comply with the court ruling, as well as to Yushchenko’s demand that Prime Minister Yanukovych be placed on leave53 and that a new Central Election Commission be formed to oversee the results. At the session of the Verkhovna Rada of December 8, amendments to the laws on Presidential and local elections and the Constitution were introduced, which set in motion the political reform about which the opposition had been talking about for so long. Parliament also approved the new CEC. Kuchma, present at the parliamentary session, signed the laws so that they came into effect immediately. The political crisis seemed to have been averted and protests stopped, though Kyiv’s tent city remained.

Twelve thousand international observers came to the third round of the Presidential Elections in Ukraine. Each of the political parties also had observers at almost every polling station in the country. The political bloc that supported Yushchenko’s candidacy was the coalition “People’s Power” (uniting Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland). The Socialist Party of Ukraine also agreed to support Yushchenko. In all Our Ukraine included about a dozen national-democratic parties.54

 

Despite a few attempts by the Ukrainian government to favor its candidate Yanukovych, something that should have happened in the second round took place: the re-vote held on December 26 led to the victory of Yushchenko with a landslide margin of about 8 percent. Yushchenko received nearly 52 percent of the vote; Yanukovych, just over 44 percent. As expected, the central and western regions of Ukraine gave their votes to Yushchenko, while the southeast and Crimea gave theirs to Yanukovych. The elections were deemed to have been held fairly, with no significant violations.

Nonetheless, Yanukovych filed a complaint, similar to the one previously filed by Yushchenko, with the Supreme Court. On January 20, it was rejected, however, and the CEC published the election results. There was general jubilation in Ukraine, people congratulated each other on the victory of Maidan, considering it their personal victory over authoritarianism, bureaucracy, and oligarchy. For the first time ever, the majority had truly won the Presidential Elections and, for the first time, Ukrainians believed that a new democratic and fair Ukraine had been born. It would follow the path of European history and the party-economic stranglehold that had dominated the country since 1991 would finally end.

The change in the political top of the Ukraine, and its radical reorientation of foreign policy, prompted many analysts to talk about a series of “color revolutions” in the world after 2004. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine followed the model of the 2000 overthrow in Serbia, when citizens fought against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (2003), the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon (2005), and the “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan (2005). A characteristic feature of these revolutions was, apart from the use of color, spontaneity, and the main driving force of all revolutions was the youth, especially students. They all began with discontent about the results of elections in which the candidates in power won, and ended with mass riots and protests in the country, until the resistance won and real elections were held.

On January 20, Yushchenko resigned his parliamentary seat. The Verkhovna Rada scheduled the inauguration of the new President for January 23, 2005. His inauguration was attended by heads of state and government from many countries. The official ceremony was held at the Verkhovna Rada, where the chairman of the CEC announced the election results. The President of the Constitutional Court confirmed the legality of the results and Yushchenko stepped on to the podium and took the oath of office for the Ukrainian people, placing his hand on the Constitution of Ukraine and on the Peresopnitsky Gospels, on which all previous Presidents had been sworn in. Having received the symbols of state, Yushchenko delivered his inaugural address and the Speaker announced the resignation of the government.

Having become President, Yushchenko and his family went to Kyiv’s Maidan where about half a million people awaited him, who greeted him with standing ovations shouting “Yushchenko, Yushchenko!” Addressing his supporters, Yushchenko said, “After the Orange Revolution we live in a different state – a country where there will be honest journalists, judges and officials. Today Ukraine is famous throughout the world. Now everyone knows that we are not only in Europe but that we are in the heart of Europe.

Addressing his son, Yushchenko said: “You have the country that I didn’t have. And we have created Ukraine where none of us will be ashamed.” Yushchenko ended his speech by saying to those gathered in the square, “I believe that you will not give away our victory!”

 

He visited many places in the capital that day, where ordinary people were waiting for him and warmly congratulated him and themselves on their victory. In the evening, a ball was held at the Ukrainian House to celebrate Yushchenko’s inauguration. It seemed that Ukraine was breathing in freedom.

 

 

The phenomenon of Yulia Tymoshenko.

 

 

Was it an illusion? Hardly anyone would dispute that Yushchenko owed much of his success to his closest supporter Yulia Tymoshenko. She was a politician on whom many epithets were lavished: initially they were “Lady Yu” and “Orange Princess” or “Princess of the Orange Revolution”; but, after repeated attempts by the authorities to put her behind bars: “Joan of Arc” and even “Countess of Monte Cristo” due to being imprisoned in the Kachanovskaya prison in Kharkiv.

During the Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko was especially popular. Ukrainians associated her and Yushchenko with the European future of the country. Tymoshenko’s charismatic personality, her assertiveness, fearlessness, for which she was nicknamed “the samurai in a skirt”, made her the mascot of the Maidan. She knew how to make an impression. When the public inauguration of President Yushchenko took place on the Maidan, people were waiting for him to arrive and greeted Yushchenko affectionately. A little later, breaking protocol, which no one paid attention to at the time, the Queen of the Maidan, Tymoshenko, appeared and was greeted with even more cheers. Yulia really looked like a queen. She knew how to stand out, unlike her faceless “fellow fighters”.

Tymoshenko’s biographers note her “uniqueness” as a politician. Perhaps it stemmed from a very difficult childhood, after her father left her and her mother. Her mother was a taxi-dispatcher in Dnipro, raising her daughter as best she could, trying her utmost to not make her daughter feel poor. From an early age, “Lady Yu” learned to make her own decisions, to protect herself from overbearing boys and she preferred dolls over soccer, volleyball, table tennis. In high school, however, Yulia began training in gymnastics and excelled as a junior champion. “The sports competitiveness of my childhood came in handy when I joined the ‘men’s club’ of politics.”

 

After graduating from high school Tymoshenko entered the Dnipro Mining Institute, but realizing that it was not for her changed to studying economics at the Dnipropetrovsk State University of Internal Affairs, graduating with honors. At 18 she married Oleksandr Tymoshenko, whose father was a well-known party functionary in the city, and at 19 she gave birth to her only daughter Eugenia.

In the mid-1980s, at the height of perestroika, Tymoshenko realized that she would not make much money as an economist and joined as “cooperator” a Soviet cooperative called “Terminal,” which dealt in video rentals. Not without the help of the Dnipro Komsomol committee, the youth division of the Communist Party (where the head of the propaganda department was later Kuchma supporter Serhiy Tihipko, who gave her invaluable help), the young and enterprising Tymoshenko managed to open video shops in many areas of the city.

In order not to pay taxes to the state, many cooperators registered their firms offshore or created joint ventures. Cyprus became an offshore paradise for such Soviet cooperators. Thus, Tymoshenko became director of Ukraine Gas, a monopolist in supplying petroleum products and lubricants to the agro-industrial sector. At the same time, she created an international company called Sial, which quarried natural stone. In addition, she got a 25 percent stake in the Took company, the only red granite quarry in the world, and in the mid-1990s, she created the Sodruzhestvo gas company together with Viktor Pinchuk, Kuchma’s son-in-law.

But Tymoshenko’s main business asset was her meeting in 1995 with Pavlo Lazarenko, “Lord” of the Dnipropetrovska region, who became Prime Minister in 1997. Her close acquaintance with Lazarenko enabled Tymoshenko to become a major oligarch in Ukraine’s gas market, ousting her former partners. Her company Ukraine Gas, reborn as UESU (Ukrainian-British United Energy Systems of Ukraine Ltd), controlled 25 percent of the Ukrainian economy. Having ousted Ihor Bakai, another oligarch close to Kuchma, Tymoshenko became virtually the sole supplier of Russian gas to Ukraine, earning her the nickname “gas princess”.

Tymoshenko joined the Unity party founded by Lazarenko, and was elected to the Verkhovna Rada. By then her fortune (according to the British newspaper The Times) was $6 billion, making her the most powerful woman in the country. An Investment Institute in Poland nominated her even for the title of “Man of the Year” in central and south-eastern Europe.

The interest in Tymoshenko by men and politicians was understandable. But she kept people at a distance. Some were afraid of her influence, others of her character. But public interest in her as a high society woman never faded. Women wanted to know what cosmetics she used (apparently French cosmetics by A-Studio, and Angel perfume), what clothes she liked (Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana). Men liked how she always looked elegant. It cast a spell on many. Her fashion consultants and makeup artists thus created an immediately recognizable image of Tymoshenko today with golden hair and a permanent braid. Ordinary citizens wrote her letters confessing their love for her. But this was already a different kind of love, and here, perhaps, was the key to another of aspect of her uniqueness: a love of people.

When she became an oligarch, the public was interested in her as a businesswoman. When she became a public figure, she drew attention to herself as a politician, able to overcome her opponents effectively and ruthlessly. Her speeches, vivid and entertaining, were the envy of any speaker. Unlike her dense-speaking male counterparts, Tymoshenko was articulate, fluent and intelligible in both Russian and Ukrainian; she said what the people wanted to hear.

Tymoshenko’s uniqueness also lay in the fact that she was exceptionally ambitious and arrogant. To achieve her goals she had no mercy, throwing allies under the bus along the way. The meaning of her life was determined by the struggle for power, for the highest level of power, for the Presidency. To achieve this goal, she was ready to make temporary compromises even with her enemies. But ultimately, she worked only for herself, was implacable and driven, regardless of the office she held, never forgetting for a moment that the ultimate goal was the Presidency. After losing another Presidential Election, she hid in the shadows for a while, but never gave up her fight for Ukraine’s highest public office.

 

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