Why was the Kuchma regime, for all its crudity and casual ugliness, hollow? First, the Ukrainian authorities inherited only the branch plants of the repressive machinery of the USSR, not the headquarters that are making their fury at the collapse of Soviet communism so powerfully felt in Moscow today.
Second, for all its corruption, Ukraine’s privatisation process dispersed economic power much more broadly than Russia’s. The difference is summed up by a single economic indicator: over the past two years, the engineering sector in Ukraine has been growing by about 30 per cent a year. In Russia, the rate is about 12 per cent. As Anders Aslund, an economist who follows both Ukraine and Russia closely, explained to me over breakfast in Kiev: “In Ukraine, the engineering business is owned by independent people who develop those businesses. In Russia, it is owned by the oligarchs.”
Third, the Ukrainian political elite was privately lukewarm in its support for Yanukovich - its official candidate - and not particularly hostile to Yushchenko, a popular former prime minister and central bank chief. Indeed, at a personal level, much of Kiev officialdom felt more comfortable with the cultivated and technically
skilled opposition leader than with the rough, proletarian Yanukovich. This sympathy became apparent in the early days of the protests as swathes of the establishment, from the Kiev city government to the diplomatic service, defected
to the opposition.
Fourth, unlike Russia, Ukraine has no lost empire to mourn. In the end, despite the urgings of his prime minister, some of his security chiefs and some of his regional henchmen, Kuchma did not turn his tanks on his people. With no glorious imperial restoration to tempt him, he chose to go down in history as the midwife of Ukrainian democracy, however reluctant, rather than the butcher of Kiev’s Independence Square.
I would be inclined to agree with this except for the last. Until we know who ordered the movement of the military, it is a little early to credit Kuchma with being a statesman. (I posted on this here.)