Policy analysts in Russia are divided in their understanding of the nature of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine. Yet many in Moscow maintain that the revolutionary mood now gripping Kyiv is capable of spreading to other CIS states.
The Western-oriented candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, is widely expected to prevail in the Ukrainian presidential run-off scheduled for December 26 - a re-run of the balloting conducted in late November. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the Kremlin's favored candidate, was proclaimed the winner of that vote. However, the Ukrainian Supreme Court subsequently tossed out the results and ordered a new election, saying the late November tally was marred by widespread fraud.
For Russian "derzhavniki," or champions of Russia's great-power status, a victory of Ukrainian democratic forces would signify a disastrous geopolitical defeat. In a number of articles and policy papers, Russian policy hawks, who tend to support President Vladimir Putin, assert that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the presidential race in Ukraine represented "the biggest [geo-] political war between the United States and European Union on the one hand, and Russia on the other."
Although some analysts conceded that the Ukrainian crisis possessed a "democratic dimension," the general view was that massive rallies in Kyiv in early December were the result of an international conspiracy. As one analyst argued in a commentary published in the weekly Ekspert, "the [Ukrainian] revolution, as the previous one in Georgia, has very substantial propagandistic, diplomatic, ideological and informational support from Western countries." The commentary maintained that the West's "great geopolitical game" aimed at tearing Ukraine away from Russia, establishing a cordon sanitaire that left Moscow isolated.
The Orange Revolution, the statists believe, could touch off a dangerous chain reaction. If Moscow fails to reassert its position in Ukraine, argues prominent political analyst Vitaly Tretyakov, "within the next two years 'velvet revolutions' will take place - according to the Kyiv scenario - in Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and, possibly, in Armenia." As a result, Tretyakov warned in a recent column published in the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the Kremlin might be deprived of "the room for maneuver in the post-Soviet space."
Many in the Russian policy community share Tretyakov's strategic concerns. It is no wonder, then, that some Kremlin political gurus have started talking about a need to foment a "preventive counter-revolution." In a wide-ranging interview with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, a leading spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky argued that "the Kyiv [events] are a very serious signal for Russia," adding that Russia's own political system, along with its regional interests, is vulnerable to the "new revolutionary technologies of the globalization era." Authorities in Russia and allied countries must take steps to protect themselves from "regime-change" attempts, Pavlovsky added. One antidote against a Western-sponsored velvet revolution, he suggested, would be the development of an ideology that contains "counter-revolutionary properties of our power structures and our society."
In sharp contrast to the hawks, liberal commentators in Moscow maintain Russia's geopolitical problems are largely self-inflicted, adding that much of the blame is connected to the Putin administration's guiding political philosophy of "managed democracy." Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Center characterized events in Ukraine as a "revolution of a new type." While the political conflicts in East Central Europe at the end of the 1980s were the revolutions against totalitarianism, the events in Ukraine are a "revolution against phony democracy," Shevtsova wrote in the liberal weekly Novaya Gazeta.
Like the policy hawks, Russian liberals tend to believe that the ideas underpinning Ukraine's Orange Revolution can prove contagious. In the words of Vasily Zharkov, editor-in-chief of the Prognosis.ru website, "a danger of a Kyiv-type velvet revolution is always present where the principles of 'managed democracy' rule."
Accordingly, concern about falling dominos is widespread in governing circles in many CIS states. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, where parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 2005, have warned about the "orange danger." Speaking December 10 in Bishkek at a conference called "Democracy in the Changing World," Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev alleged that opposition forces in Kyrgyzstan were using "dirty political technologies," adding his opponents were being financed by "foreign capital." According to the Kyrgyz president, the opposition is determined to come to power "at any cost."
Certain forces "are trying to impose democracy from abroad," Akayev continued. "Such practice is ruinous - it doesn't correspond to our national interests and might lead to unpredictable consequences."
In Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation with brittle regime, President Islam Karimov has harshly criticized Putin for mismanaging Russian-Ukrainian affairs, saying the Russian leader indulged in a "shortsighted policy" of open support for Yanukovich's candidacy during the Ukrainian campaign. The Kremlin's miscalculation was "one of the reasons that led to the events in Ukraine," Karimov maintained.
Armenia, where the results of the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections remain a source of contention and divisiveness, is another country that could be significantly impacted by Ukrainian developments. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Armenia's opposition, which alleges that the 2003 votes were rigged, has refused to recognize the legitimacy of President Robert Kocharian's mandate. Russia's policy towards Armenia is flawed because it is based on "unprecedented support" for Kocharian, wrote David Petrosyan, a political observer for Noyan Tapan news agency, in a commentary published by the Moskovskiye Novosti weekly. This staunch backing for Kocharian has caused Russia to lose a considerable amount of influence and prestige in the eyes of Armenian public, Petrosyan maintained. He predicted that, given recent developments in Ukraine, a large-scale political shift in Armenia is "quite likely."
Igor Torbakov is a freelance journalist and researcher who specializes in CIS political affairs. He holds an MA in History from Moscow State University and a PhD from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He was Research Scholar at the Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow; a Visiting Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC; a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University, New York; and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. He is now based in Istanbul, Turkey.