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Published: Tuesday, 2/9/2010

Ukraine's turn

UKRAINE'S location on the border between Western Europe and the remaining sphere of influence of the old Soviet Union was illustrated by the results Sunday of its presidential election.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych defeated former Orange Revolution figure Yulia Timoshenko by a decisive although not overwhelming margin. The Orange Revolution of 2004 was considered to be a statement by Ukrainians that the country's days as a satellite of the former Soviet Union were over. Viktor Yushchenko defeated Mr. Yanukovych for president that year in one of the region's popular-based "color" elections that were almost revolutions.

Then came the hard part - ruling Ukraine, a relatively poor country with a significant Russian-speaking minority. Ukraine at the time of the Orange Revolution had hopes of turning westward toward membership in NATO and the European Union, and the resulting prosperity and security from Russia that had come with that status for neighbors Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and other former Warsaw Pact members.

Whether it was the country's close relationship with Russia, its internal divisions, corruption, or Russian interference, Ukraine didn't look westward this time. With the election of Mr. Yanukovych it has chosen leadership more closely attuned to Moscow's wishes than Ms. Timoshenko would likely have been.

Interpretations abound on what his election may mean for Ukraine, the European balance of power, and the United States. Mr. Yankovych was advised in his campaign by former consultants to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

It is possible that a more balanced posture for Ukraine toward Russia is a stable one, more likely to tone down its external and internal conflicts, creating an atmosphere conducive to the economic development that Ukraine needs badly. The European Union doesn't need or want Ukraine as a new member, since the union is sufficiently burdened already with the financial woes of its poorer members.

For the United States, its basic relationship with Ukraine remains unchanged, influenced by Americans of Ukrainian origin. The United States does not need Ukraine as a further source of contention between it and Russia.

If Moscow wishes to see Mr. Yanukovych's win as a victory for it in the region, so be it. The Ukrainians have spoken at the ballot box, for better or worse.

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