WORLD AFFAIRS.  It’s become part of the conventional wisdom about Ukrainian politics that, for all the dissatisfaction with President Viktor Yanukovych, there is no alternative. He may be a disaster, so the thinking goes, but who else could possibly be elected president? Faute de mieux, vote for our man Viktor in 2015, right?

Naturally, Yanukovych and his Regionnaire pals don’t believe this rosy scenario for a second. If they did, they wouldn’t risk everything—including their power—by trying Yulia Tymoshenko in a kangaroo court. Only desperate self-doubters would be willing to alienate the world and provoke social disturbances at home in order to keep the lady who almost beat Yanukovych in 2010 from running four years from now.

Might the Regionnaires know something that conventional wisdom does not? Of course they do. They know for a fact that there’s actually a host of very serious democratic contenders for the presidency. None of them may be winning popularity contests today but, given the exceptionally volatile nature of Ukrainian politics—where even the twice-convicted loser of the Orange Revolution can become president—there’s no reason to think that Yanukovych is a shoo-in.

I can think of four such candidates. For starters, there’s Tymoshenko, whose stature can only rise in the aftermath of her show trial. To be sure, as someone with a criminal record, she’ll be legally forbidden from running for office. But the wonderful thing about the absence of rule of law in Ukraine is that, just as some court could wipe Yanukovych’s slate clean, so, too, some other court could work similar miracles for Tymoshenko. Unlikely? Sure. Impossible? No.

Then there’s Arsenii Yatseniuk, the 37-year-old leader of the Front for Change, who got 6.7 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections. He’s been written off, but he’s a quick study, knows the world, speaks English, and, as former minister of economy and vice-governor of the Crimea, has good credentials in both the Ukrainian-speaking center-west and the Russian-speaking southeast. According to an unpublished poll conducted early this summer (and commissioned by the government), Yatseniuk would beat Yanukovych about 55 percent to 45 percent in the second, decisive round of a presidential ballot. Polls aren’t necessarily evidence of anything, but the findings bode well for the bespectacled kid from the west Ukrainian town of Chernivtsi.

And why not Vitaly Klitschko, the 40-year-old World Boxing Council heavyweight champion? He’s already playing an active role in Kyiv’s politics, which could easily serve as a springboard for the national stage. He certainly has the name recognition both at home and abroad, is independently wealthy, and is completely free of any taint of corruption or old-guard chumminess. True, he’s not politically experienced, but neither was Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan or, for that matter, any of Ukraine’s four presidents. And one thing’s for sure: no Regionnaire thug would dare defy him—or his fists.

My personal favorite is Natalya Korolevska, the 36-year-old Tymoshenko ally from Luhansk. Korolevska is a smart, articulate, and charismatic Russian speaker who understands that Ukraine needs to have its own economy, identity, culture, and language. She’s championed the beleaguered entrepreneurs and has excellent democratic credentials. And, being from Ukraine’s most Sovietized and Russian-oriented province, she could never be accused of being anti-Russian. One can easily imagine her positioning herself as the post-Tymoshenko Tymoshenko and drawing a large number of Yulia’s supporters to her side.

I’m sure there are other politicians who’ll rise to prominence in the next few years, as the Yanukovych regime turns in upon itself and implodes. Some may even be nice-guy Regionnaires who decide to jump ship just before it goes down. In any case, the important thing is that, aside from the 51-year-old Tymoshenko, the other three contenders mentioned above are all quite young. They represent the new generation that will change Ukraine’s politics. They may not revolutionize the country, but they can’t possibly misrule it any more than the old guard. If nothing else, they’re not ex-communist functionaries or Regionnaire thugs.

Ukraine’s problem is not that there are no alternatives to Yanukovych, but that there are too many. Like Russia’s democrats, Ukraine’s have been notoriously incapable of joining forces when it matters most. Tymoshenko will want to be top dog, but the others—who knows?—just may decide they have more to gain from cooperating and pooling their talents than from trying to knock out Yanukovych on their own.

Alezander J. Motyl


Ukrayinska Dumka


Great Britain The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain has many branches throughout the country. Select a branch below to find out more information.