With the election of Viktor Yanukovych, the debate about which direction the new Ukrainian president will take his country has begun, such as with Mr. Yanukovych's own oped "Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West," Feb. 17. The opposite question also needs to be asked. In what direction will Ukraine make Mr. Yanukovych turn?
A place to look for this answer is the issue of Ukraine joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Mr. Yanukovych had indicated interest in joining such a union during his campaign, but could Ukraine today realistically do so? Ukraine has become a member of the World Trade Organization. All the existing members of this other union are not. In disputes within the union, the existing members could engage in any actions they wished, including protectionism. Ukraine would be held to the rules of the WTO, barring it from taking the same actions as Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan could. Ukraine would then be at a disadvantage.
The political realities of Ukraine will also have an influence on how Mr. Yanukovych governs in Kiev. Ukraine today is a genuine democracy. It has moved politically away from countries that still are a one-person states. Mr. Yanukovych will not be able to use the same tactics that politicians in such states do. He has to deal with an open and free media that he cannot attempt to silence. Ukraine is becoming a very different society than the other countries in the former Soviet Union. Mr. Yanukovych will have to govern by these new rules.
Mr. Yanukovych says that Ukraine will be a bridge between East and West. For a bridge to be strong, its pillars must also be. Today, as a bridge, Ukraine would be attached in the West to a pillar that is robust in terms of individual freedoms and democratic rule, the same foundation that Ukraine is being built on. In the East it would be attached to a pillar that remains weak in these attributes. A bridge with a weak support could collapse Mr. Yanukovych's vision.