Lessons of the Ukrainian revolution for Russia: a hangover from somebody else’s feast


The “orange revolution” topic has been slowly moving out of the daily newspaper headlines, into opinion columns or weekly publications. However, the interest for the Ukrainian crisis is not diminishing; everybody and everywhere in Russia seem to be ready to discuss their own versions of the events and, most importantly, the probability of reiteration of the “orange explosion” in Russia.

Especially after Yulia Timoshenko, the “queen of the orange revolution” (according to Novye Izvestia), or “Ukraine’s Joan of Arc” (as defined by Novaya Gazeta), energetically promised at a press conference with Russian journalists: “This wave will inevitably sweep over Russia. This is what Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin must consider now in order to stay on top of this wave afterwards” (quoted in Gazeta).

These statements have deeply impressed Moscow and via Nezavisimaya Gazeta Timoshenko immediately received “our response to Chamberlain.”

Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov even considered it necessary to remind the Ukrainian “Liberty at the barricades” of the destiny of Ernesto Che Gevara, “who had been engrossed in the idea of exporting revolution” and finally fell as the victim to it. “Evidently, Ms. Timoshenko was’t reading history textbooks properly. She must read them and get certain that this idea has brought success to nobody,” Morozov edifyingly noted. Thus, said Morozov, the Russian authorities have nothing to worry about: “No revolution will come to Russia from without.”

Konstantin Remchukov, deputy minister of economic development and trade, is more pragmatic about substantiating the impossibility of a revolution in Russia. In his opinion, “we have no environment in which this might happen.” At the same time, in the remaining post-Soviet area the protest arises against the people, “who have been at power for at least two terms and became hackneyed among the people.” The people also refer the expectations for positive changes with the change in the regime, which is the source of the “charismatic passionary enthusiasm of masses.” Nothing of the kind is happening in Russia – “we have a different level of popularity and perception of Putin,” to whom “despite the heavy after-YUKOS year” the citizens still link their expectations of public justice and order, Remchukov says.

The Russian right wing takes the same line. Leonod Gozman, secretary of the Union of Right Forces (URF) Political Council, noted that “no revolutions are gifts. They occur of their own accord, for internal reasons.” In Russia, Gozman explained to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “the situation is substantially different from the situation in Ukraine; at least in the foreseeable future the Ukrainian scenario is impossible in Russia. This may dismay some people and delight others, but it is the current situation.”

Boris Nemtsov formulated the same idea with more pathos in his interview with Novaya Gazeta: “I think Ukraine may be proud of its people and we must feel proud for the Ukrainian people either. The things they are displaying are fantastic for us so far.”

The URF leader admitted to Novaya Gazeta, he’s overfilled with the impressions from the “revolutionary management” of Kiev: “It might seem to an outsider that organization of a people’s movement is the acme of organizational perfection; that there’s an organized group, which may manage hundreds of thousands of people, warm up, feed, cure them in an hour, etc.” However, says According to Boris Nemtsov, there is more to it than organizational skills of the opposition (“without denying their importance, that is”), primarily sense of duty of the protesters. “They are unanimous in the desire to topple this regime and to make it tell them the truth. All of that consolidates the people and makes them disciplined. No need to repeat again and again that the tents should be placed in this manner and not in that, or that there should be no drinking at all. Everybody knows that it may spark a provocation. In other words, the people’s self-organization is a factor much more important than any administrative technologies,” Nemtsov explains.

Yulia Timoshenko uses almost the same words to speak about the practice of revolution in Kiev: “Once I get into the square, the order, the distribution of all points and their steadfastness amazes me… The people are not only involved in all political processes, but manage them. The politicians will lose in case they fail to realize in proper time that they have a guide.”

However, the “orange princess” goes beyond the passive admiration of the ability of people masses for self-organization and passing crucial decisions. Given below is how Novye Izvestia describes once of her numerous escapades, which made her that popular in Independence Square: “Timoshenko alone could climb up to a refrigerator vehicle, which was slowly moving along the crowded Kreshchatik, in order to use a megaphone and appeal to supporters of the opposition with fervent combat calls.” It was very slippery on top of the vehicle, no fencing was near the edge, but “groaning and swearing, young men who are politicians of Yushchenko’s circle had to climb up to get “this crazy person,” not to become mocked and forgotten against the background of the people’s minion.”

Here’s another picture from Novye Izvestia: “The very day when the opposition leader swore illegitimate allegiance on the Bible in semi-empty hall of the Verkhovna Rada and then calmly appealed to his backing from the scene in Independence Square to wait until tomorrow, Timoshenko suddenly and impetuously came out and cheerfully appealed to the crowd: “Why should we wait for tomorrow? Let’s accompany our president to his workplace today!” According to the newspaper, the rows of protesters opened as by a miracle, “forming an even path with the length of a couple of kilometers from the scene to the presidential administration, which amazed Yushchenko followed.”

More wonderful things happened later: the rows of OMON soldiers who protected approaches to the presidential administration “silently split before Timoshenko, letting Yushchenko to get in together with her.” However, the opposition leader then came round, turned around and “instantaneously dispersed in the crowd.” Timoshenko went further on. Moreover, guards by the presidential administration raised her on the shields across the line and allowed to watch what was happening in the deserted building.

According to Novye Izvestia, after this very episode the Kiev police began taking the side of the opposition, guards of the administrative buildings “lowered their shields and opened their faces,” whereas supporters of Viktor Yushchenko freely began decorating “stiff rows of shields” with orange balloons and flowers.

No wonder that Yulia Timoshenko today “enjoys absolute confidence, is obeyed implicitly, her speeches in Independence Square are awaited more impatiently than the speeches of Viktor Yushchenko.”

Meanwhile, the actions of the Ukrainian opposition are arousing not only joy and envy in Russia, as leaders of the Russian right wing admit.

Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the Effective Politics Foundation, whom many observers in Russia regard as the “aggrieved party” in the Ukrainian elections – almost at the same level as pro-government candidate Viktor Yanukovich – speaks of the events in Ukraine with undisguised irritation.

In our time, Pavlovsky told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “creation of a correct picture and correct news for the global media” is likely to be most significant in any important event.

According to Pavlovsky, protestors in Ukraine are using “the same old cinema jokes, which are not spontaneous – like putting flowers on the police shields.” At the same time, Pavlovsky explains, “the flowers are alike; they’re brought in baskets by a truck.” This is how “an image very suitable for the media is being shaped: living people against the brutal authorities.”

In his opinion, on the whole the major and most dangerous result of all revolutions without exception is that they generate “exaltedly totalitarian masses,” which are first “euphorically joyful, friendly and sympathetic, as the square of Kiev during next first days.” However, says Pavlovsky, the moods are gradually altering. “Have a look now: the faces are different – belonging to stern village residents in Ukraine, who get to Kiev to “teach how they should love the nation.”

Despite the widespread delusion, concludes Pavlovsky, totalitarianism “is born not from the nomenklatura, but from a trash soul of the revolution,” which comes later – “to fulfill the will of the people, on which the street leaders are endlessly swearing” and to whom “idiots in Brussels are echoing,” he adds angrily.

In general, Pavlovsky hasn’t overcome the mental anguish which set upon him following a failure in Kiev. He says now that the chief problem of those who had prepared the elections in Ukraine was primarily “in Kuchma, who wasn’t willing any stability but for himself.”

Pavlovsky’s words suggest a conclusion that Russia is “lucky” with its leaders: “If Yeltsin had behaved like Kuchma in 1999 in Russia, Moscow would have boiled over by October and Putin would never have become president.” However, adds the ultimately furious Pavlovsky, “we’d have seen some impressive images of the people’s anger in Moscow headed by the Moscow mayor’s staff, TV bosses and ambassadors of goodwill from every insect of a country in Europe.”

Nevertheless, unlike many others, Pavlovsky thinks that “Kiev is a serious signal for Russia,” where “the risk of revolution always exist: it is a hideous risk, which is hardly remembered.”

President of the Effective Politics Foundation warns: “The combination of internal weakening in the political system and outward pressure, external provocations may develop into a new revolution…” Especially since “we avoided big losses in 1991 by a mere miracle. In 1996 and 1999 we avoided big losses everywhere but in Chechnya. However, no other miracle may occur.”

Therefore, Pavlovsky confessed, he’s “now more interested in counterrevolution, than politics.” He even proposes abandoning politics in favor of “focusing on new risks” for Russia, which has entered the global world and is fully aware of the influence of “uncontrollable external factors on our weekly manageable politics.”

Renowned journalist Maksim Kononenko, a.k.a. Mr. Parker, admits when debating over the link between events of the modern Russian and Ukrainian history in Gazeta that he is no proponent of a revolution, although he treasures the democratic values: “I’m in favor of democracy and liberty and even more – in favor of evolutionary development.”

However, admits Kononenko, the outward side of the Ukrainian revolution, which rejoices many people in Russia, is very attractive indeed: “If I had less work, I’d go to Kiev either, because having fun at the central square of the second most significant city in my life is nice, no matter what is happening there.”

But the author is not inclined to regard these events as a spontaneous expression of people’s will: “I recall 1991 and the crowd in the streets of Moscow, which was rushing along the streets and squares. About 95% of that crowd was made up of ordinary bystanders like me, while 4% of those present were the conceptually inclined anti-communist intelligentsia and 1% were special organizers, whose goal was to avoid any bad consequences which often accompany any uncontrollable crowd. For instance, such organizers arranged demolition of the Dzerzhinsky statue – to distract the crowd and avoid it from occupying the KGB building, which was a short way off. I’m thankful to these people for their work, although I regret a nice statue.”

According to Kononenko, in Independence Square in Kiev the crowd is alike: “It is more benevolent, more slower but is undoubtedly controllable, because if it were uncontrollable all the talks in Kiev would have been ended long ago – an uncontrollable crowd accumulated within several days inevitably starts acting according to the laws of panic. No exceptions occur. However, nothing of the kind happens in the square.”

The author ascribes this to the skilful actions of leaders of Viktor Yushchenko headquarters, who, “unlike illiterate employees of Yanukovich’s headquarters” managed to “correctly and accurately handle the chief resource of any revolution – the crowd.”

Therefore, the observer says in Gazeta, “this is not the people elect Yushchenko; this is Yushchenko (being more precise, organizers of his campaign) have selected the people as the most effective tool for its arrival to the power.”

Koronenko proposes drawing the balance: “Ukraine has the population of 50 million. The backing of Yushchenko says that about 1.5 million ballot papers were falsified. Observing the campaign of Yanukovich, I tend to accept that assessment of the falsifications. Let’s now calculate. According to official reports of the Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission, 49% of voters seconded Yanukovich and 46% – Yushchenko. Extrapolating these figures to 50 million of citizens, we get the following: 24.5 million for Yanukovich, 23 million for Yushchenko. Let’s now throw over 1.5 million from Yanukovich to Yushchenko – we get 23 million for Yanukovich and 24.5 million for Yushchenko. Has the choice of the Ukrainian people become thus more evident? Not for me. I see a country split in two, in which arrival to the power of any of the two candidates involved in the elections will only aggravate the split.”

Kononenko is confident that in accordance to laws of all revolutions, the “orange” one won’t pass without victims and will “be followed with crises, upheavals and disillusionment of all those who are in the square now.”

Moreover, the first victim is available, says the author: “This is Yuri Lyakh, president of the Ukrainian Credit Bank who stabbed himself in the throat lately with a paper knife.”

According to Gleb Pavlovsky (the citation is from Expert magazine this time), “even the revolution leaders have a problem with it: how could it be killed without blood, how could it be stopped?” No version of the final is yet found nowadays, with the exception of what Yulia Timoshenko proposes: “Recognize our legality and beat it!” However, continues Pavlovsky, “in addition to the east, which is offered semi-occupation, there’s the issue of Russia,” which, “no matter how weak our foreign policy is, will never agree to transformation of Ukraine into a bridgehead for export of instability – this is what organizers of the revolution are most concerned for.”

According to Pavlovsky, now “Ukraine is being compelled to the instability regime, promising to shield from the outside and party sponsor.” Remains unclear is the economic model of “transforming the country into a near-front state: how could it exist if it has bad relations with Russia and the border is closed?”.

“Only two weeks of economic crisis and the Ukrainian economy is torn to pieces. According to acting President Leonid Kuchma, the daily budget revenues have fallen twice. This is clear – the personnel of many enterprises are not working, but protesting (there are real strikes in western Ukraine). The size of crediting has decreased. Both individuals and legal entities are withdrawing deposits; the banks are crowded. It is impossible to buy currency, at least in the capital,” Expert magazine says.

As is widely known, in late November the National Bank of Ukraine introduced restrictions for sale of cash hard currency – no more than $1,000 per capita.

Industrialists of Ukraine declare cessation of supplies; no products are shipped without prepayment; delays in wage pays have begun, according to the magazine. The situation has been “impetuously developing into a financial and economic collapse” – this opinion expressed by enterprises’ leaders of Kharkov demonstrate the moods in Ukraine of nowadays,” Expert says.

However, renowned economist Duma deputy Mikhail Zadornov confidently said in his interview with Novaya Gazeta that all debating on the economic crisis coming up in Ukraine is speculative.

Robustness of the Ukrainian economy is sufficiently high, Zadornov explains: “A week of political crisis cost Ukraine some 600 million – 1 billion hryvnias. At the same time, by September the Ukrainian budget got 9 billion hryvnias of extra revenues.” Thus, even if the crisis is underway for a couple of months, this is not endangering execution of the budget, Zadornov says.

Zadornov doesn’t think the situation in the real sector is critical either. It is impossible to disregard the fact that millions of people in various regions have taken part in strikes and protests. The damage may amount to 2-3% of the GDP: “The feeling of a catastrophe could be ignored, given that by September the Ukrainian GDP already grew by some 13%.”

Thus, more important now is not the crisis but how Ukraine overcomes it: “If the situation is settled according to the option acceptable for the EU, the sovereign ratings of Ukraine, the price of equities of Ukrainian companies will grow soon after the legitimate president is elected and the Cabinet is appointed.”

Not to mention the fact, says the author, that after its political system is changed, Ukraine “may become closer to the associated EU membership, which implies a long-term increased concern of foreign investors,” both from Europe and Russia: “All in all, they need the same: equal rules of the game, no state protectionism or dominance in the economy, protection of property rights, transparency.”

In general, if the political crisis will draw Ukraine nearer to the EU, “the flow of investment will allow forgetting the recent economic problems.”

However, Russia’s problems in the relations with the West have only begun.

As Lilia Shevtsova says in Novaya Gazeta, “his intervention in the Ukrainian election generated doubts in Putin’s role of a pro-Western leader.”

It is hardly surprising therefore that the West is becoming more and more disappointed in Russia: “The EU will not initiate the process of integration with Russia unless Russian society transformed itself first.” The United States “preserves a formula of partnership with Russia, which contains nothing but rhetoric.”

However, says Lilia Shevtsova, the West will not strive for a bona fide cold war with Russia: “On the contrary, it will continue a policy of dialogue with Russia trying to prevent its isolation. At the same time, it is going to be a policy of advancement of Western interests.”

If, however, Russia decided to “put Ukraine under pressure” to have its candidate elected, a conflict with the West will become inevitable.

“The Kremlin’s regime of nowadays has two incurable diseases: it likes to interfere with foreign matters and is afraid of the people (both its own and any other nation),” says Novoye Vremya magazine.

In the opinion of the Russian authorities, this is politics, notes Novoe Vremya: “The idea that politics is the will of the people seem quite harmful and absurd to the authorities.”

Once the people start taking action, the Kremlin is at a loss, since in its view “democracy should be managed, which means all problems are solved by means of intrigues at the top, media pressure, and bribery.” If this doesn’t help, says Novoye Vremya, “there are finally APC vehicles.”

Even Alexei Mitrofanov, a Duma member with the LDPR faction, in his interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, considered it necessary to try to explain to the authorities that Russia is not Ukraine: “It is like a bear: it is in a den; a couple of hours are required to get it out, but then it is overcome with brutality and starts killing everybody…”

Mitrofanov has no doubts that “this is not ruled out in Russia, by 2007.” Therefore, the Kremlin should have learned some lessons from the Ukrainian crisis: “We need liberal media, democratic traditions and creativity” in order to ensure that the authorities are “capable of self-analyisis and self-renewal, rather than trying to isolate themselves within the world of the bureaucracy, because the power of the streets will sweep that away, as in 1991.”

In general, Russia is indeed no Ukraine – particularly because we have recent and unhappy experience of a mass revolution and its consequences. Given below is what Marina Koldobskaya says about the current euphoria in Ukraine: “We are watching them as sober people watch drunk people.” She goes on to say: “Like those who have already had a nap, freshened up, and gone to their detested jobs with a headache.”

“A hangover from somebody else’s feast – this would be most favorable lesson for the Russian authorities in the Ukrainian revolution. However, no signs of attaining sobriety are observed so far,” notes the magazine.