According to various reports, Yulia Tymoshenko's party, the well-named Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc is leading as the votes are counted in Ukraine's most recent parliamentary election.
Tymoshenko is described as "pro-West" in many articles. I find this an intriguing concept. In the post-Soviet space, there appear to be two models of development, pro-Moscow and pro-West. Pro-Kremlin countries, like Belarus and Kazakhstan, are wholly undemocratic entities. They are, as my friend would put it, "loyal stooges" of Vladimir Putin. One guy gets in power and stays in power. Lukashenko came to power in Belarus when I was in ninth grade. I am now nearly 28 years old. That's the kind of nonsense I am talking about.
"Pro-West" on the other hand seems to mean western integration, ie. integration into western economic structures like the European Union, and western defense structures, like NATO. My interpretation of Russia's dislike of these institutions, particularly NATO, is not that it bears the hand of the United States, but because it makes it more difficult to meddle unilaterally in adjacent countries.
NATO membership for Georgia, for example, would be a headache for Moscow because it would no longer be able to tinker in Georgian domestic politics in the middle of the night, for example, by dropping unexploded missiles in fields near the breakaway province of South Ossetia. It would internationalize politics near Russia, bringing in unsavory actors such as Dutchmen, Brits, or Americans to figure things out.
But beyond these superficial structures of western integration, I think there might be a more personal basis for Tymoshenko's western leanings -- the reality that without Ukrainian democracy she would not have the status that she has today. Perhaps Leonid Kuchma would have handed the state over the Viktor Yanukovich. In any case, females don't seem to dominate in the pro-Kremlin post-Soviet space.
Tymoshenko's beauty appeal has certainly helped her. If I had to vote in Ukraine, I would probably vote for her because certain biological twitches would make it less possible for me to examine the issues. A Ukrainian cab driver told me once that she is a corrupt oligarch, like the rest. But ... just look at her. Does she look like the kind of woman that would steal your money?
[Pausing for the sake of irony]
One has to wonder, is this how women voters feel when presented with a male candidate? In my country I have heard some rather vulgar remarks about John Edwards and Barack Obama -- women's locker room talk about two men that want to be our president. Unfortunately, when I was actually in the men's locker room back in the '90s, we never talked about Hillary Clinton.
One more reason I like Tymoshenko is that she has managed to irritate Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of a joke country called the Russian Federation. I have some genuine unhappy feelings about Russia these days, not least because Andrei Piontkovsky, a famous Russian analyst, is on trial there for writing a book.
What does this all mean for Estonia? Estonia has played an active role as a mentor to Ukraine through a concentrated effort from the ministry of foreign affairs, particularly under the auspices of NATO. Indeed, I sometimes feel that Estonia's head is more often in Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Kiev than it is closer to home in Hell-stinky, Stockholm, and Riga, not to mention Haapsalu, Pärnu, Häädemeeste -- you get the picture.
Ukraine's continued adherence to democracy shows that maybe that presence has paid off, or that Tallinn's efforts have not been in vain. Maybe one day Ed Lucas at The Economist can add Yulia Tymoshenko to his list of eastern European leaders that matter, right next to Vladimir Putin and Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Or maybe not. Your thoughts?