On August 24, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR proclaimed the independence of Ukraine. On December 1 of that year, the former chairman of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR, Leonid Kravchuk, was elected president of the country.
In the early 90s, Ukraine was in a deep economic crisis. Gross domestic product declined sharply, industrial privatization was accompanied by increased corruption, enterprises had huge wage arrears to employees. The country began to flourish nationalism.
These factors caused serious disappointment in a significant part of the population. And in the second round of the new presidential election held on July 10, 1994, the ex-director of the Southern Machine-Building Plant Leonid Kuchma, who was running under pro-Russian slogans, won.
Alignment of forces
Having occupied the presidency, Kuchma began to pursue a policy known as "multi-vector" and did not provide for an unambiguous choice of Ukraine’s integration aspirations. Crisis phenomena in the country's economy were observed until the end of the 1990s. In the parliamentary elections, leftist forces were in the lead at that time. However, the 1996 Constitution, which endowed the president with broad powers, allowed Leonid Kuchma to occupy a leading position in the political system of Ukraine.
In 1999, Viktor Yushchenko was appointed Prime Minister, who had been the head of the National Bank for almost seven years and had pro-Western views. He was married to a former senior official of the US Department of State Catherine (in girlhood - Katherine-Claire Chumachenko). In 2001, a vote of no confidence initiated by the Communist Party was passed to his government. The communists blamed the Yushchenko team for breaking traditional ties with Russia, and the centrists for inconsistency in economic reform.
- Leonid Kuchma
Shortly before that, in 2000, transcripts of audio recordings were published in the media, testifying to the alleged involvement of Leonid Kuchma in a number of crimes, in particular in organizing the attempt and murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze. This caused a series of street protests, held under the slogan "Ukraine without Kuchma," and the decline in popularity of the president.
After his resignation, Yushchenko became one of the leaders of the Ukrainian opposition. In the 2002 parliamentary elections, the pro-Western bloc of Our Ukraine party led by him received 23.6% of the vote.
In 2002, the former head of the Donetsk Regional State Administration, Viktor Yanukovych, was appointed Prime Minister of the country. His government was able to achieve significant success. The economic growth rate averaged over 7% per year. By 2004, pensions and salaries increased significantly.
On March 18, 2004, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a decree calling for the presidential election on October 31, 2004, and on July 3, the election campaign officially began. Viktor Yanukovych was nominated as a candidate for the post of head of state led by him by the "Party of Regions." He promised to deepen cooperation with Russia and ensure the free development of the Russian language in Ukraine. His main rival was Viktor Yushchenko, who is going to the polls as a self-nominated candidate.
- From left to right: Viktor Yushchenko, Leonid Kuchma, Viktor Yanukovych, November 26, 2004
- © Gleb Garanich
The first round did not allow to identify the winner: Yushchenko got 39.9% of the vote, and Yanukovych - 39.26%. The third, fourth and fifth places were taken by nominees from various left forces: Alexander Moroz, Pyotr Simonenko and Natalya Vitrenko.
According to the results of the second round of elections held on November 21, 2004, Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner, gaining 49.42% against 46.69% from Yushchenko.
“Ukraine was divided diagonally. The northwestern regions of Ukraine and Kiev voted for Yushchenko, and the industrialized southeastern regions dominated by Yanukovych, in which the Russian-speaking population predominates, ”said RT Head of the Political Science and Sociology Department of REU named after Plekhanova Andrey Koshkin.
However, even before the official announcement of the election results, Viktor Yushchenko refused to admit defeat. He accused the election commissions of violations and on the night of November 21-22, 2004 urged his supporters to take to the streets to participate in protests. He was supported by representatives of other opposition forces, in particular, former deputy prime minister and leader of the Fatherland association, Yulia Tymoshenko. As a result, a conglomerate of pro-Western liberal and nationalist organizations came out in support of Yushchenko.
“The second round of elections was held in accordance with the requirements of Ukrainian law. However, the results of exit polls were mixed. Some testified to the victory of Yanukovych, others - Yushchenko. The opposition took advantage of this, accusing the authorities of “falsifications,” although there was no significant evidence of the use of technologies that could affect the results of the will, ”said Andrei Koshkin. - However, the correspondence of the accusations to reality did not matter for the opposition - they counted on the support of Western countries and received it. And inside the country, the opposition relied on NGOs funded by George Soros, foreign embassies and the State Department. In particular, the Pora! Youth organization was one of the drivers of radical protests.
Some local governments in Western Ukraine immediately announced that they recognize Yushchenko as president. In the center of Kiev and on the squares of large Western Ukrainian cities, supporters of the losing candidate began to gather. In the capital of Ukraine, tens of thousands of people took part in the rallies, including those who arrived and were brought from the western regions of the country. They pitched a tent camp on the central square of Kiev - Independence Square - and refused to leave it.
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Campaign materials used in Yushchenko’s campaign were decorated in orange and red. Attributes of the same color began to be used during opposition actions. The protests were unofficially called the Orange Revolution.
“In the protests of 2004 there was no mass popular will. The American technology of working with the civil society of Ukraine worked, in which the United States invested for many years. A specially developed “roadmap” for organizing mass disobedience campaigns was launched, which allowed mobilizing certain social groups and gathering them under the necessary banners, ”political analyst Alexander Asafov explained in an interview with RT.
On November 23, in the Verkhovna Rada meeting room, Viktor Yushchenko uttered the text of the oath and declared himself president of the country, but parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said that this oath was not valid. However, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine spoke out in support of Yushchenko in large numbers - about 150 Ukrainian diplomats signed their statement.
Yushchenko’s team members began to file numerous complaints with the CEC about the election process and lawsuits. They were connected, in particular, with the fact that people with disabilities and elderly people voted at home, and this, according to the opposition, created opportunities for fraud. In addition, claims were made that many people who were not at the place of registration on election day voted on absentee ballots.
On November 25, 2004, the Supreme Court of Ukraine banned the CEC from publishing the official election results until the end of all complaints and claims. On the same day, supporters of Yushchenko seized a number of administrative buildings in Kiev.
In response to what is happening in the capital in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, mass rallies began in support of Viktor Yanukovych.
Yushchenko’s team, in turn, announced the blockade of the administration of the head of state. On November 26, supporters of the Orange Revolution began to strike in western Ukraine. Representatives of Yushchenko in the Supreme Court demanded, contrary to the law, to declare the loser candidate as president after the first round of elections.
On December 1, 2004, the Ukrainian parliament, in violation of the Constitution by secret ballot, declared a vote of no confidence in the Yanukovych government. Soon after, representatives of the opposition in negotiations with the authorities agreed to unblock the activities of the executive authorities in the framework of resolving the political crisis, but the next day they refused their words.
On December 3, 2004, the Supreme Court of Ukraine decided to partially satisfy Yushchenko’s lawsuit and declared the impossibility of “establishing the results of the voters' real will”. The court ordered a “re-voting of the second round of elections” on December 26th.
“The announcement of the actually“ third round ”of the presidential election was not provided for by any laws and was a gross violation of the Constitution of Ukraine,” Bohdan Bezpalko, an expert of the Council on Interethnic Relations under the President of the Russian Federation, said in a conversation with RT.
The results of the "orange revolution"
On December 8, 2004, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted to amend the Constitution to reduce the powers of the President of Ukraine and expand the rights of parliamentarians. Yushchenko’s supporters agreed not to insist on Viktor Yanukovych’s resignation from the post of prime minister before the election in exchange for the executive’s consent for a “third round” and amendments to the electoral law. The procedure for voting by absentee ballot was greatly complicated, and voting at home was reserved only for disabled people of the 1st group.
According to Andrei Koshkin, the changes lobbied by Yushchenko’s supporters actually deprived millions of elderly people, people with disabilities, and Ukrainians who work outside their place of registration. The analyst notes that this ultimately affected the election results.
During the vote on December 26, voter turnout in the southeastern regions of Ukraine decreased, while in the western regions, on the contrary, it increased. As a result, Viktor Yushchenko won 51.99% of the vote, and Viktor Yanukovych - 44.2%.
- From left to right: former head of the presidential administration Alexander Zinchenko, Petro Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Victor Yushchenko, Kiev, May 29, 2005
“Yushchenko became president of Ukraine. He did not particularly hide that he sees the head of the government of his godfather Petro Poroshenko, but instead was forced to agree to the premiership of a situational ally - Yulia Tymoshenko. The latter, in turn, did not hide the presidential ambitions, and this worried Yushchenko. In order to control the “ally,” the president turned the National Security and Defense Council into a body with monstrous powers, whose secretary he appointed Poroshenko, ”said Andrei Koshkin.
According to the expert, the populism of the new leadership of the state, its inability to solve economic problems, as well as public quarrels between senior officials quickly led to the collapse of the rating of the “orange team”.
“In Ukraine, after the Orange Revolution, economic stagnation began. Therefore, Yushchenko’s team did not succeed in securing the support of the population in the matter of changing the foreign policy course, ”said Bogdan Bezpalko.
The specialist calls the main result of the “Orange Revolution” that the pro-Western proponents of Ukraine felt the possibility of a change of power in the country by force.
According to Andrei Koshkin, the “orange revolution” was a manifestation of monstrous legal nihilism on the part of the pro-Western opposition, however, Yushchenko himself turned out to be a much softer person than many representatives of his team, and did not hold onto power by force. As a result, the “orange team” first lost the 2006 parliamentary elections, and then the 2010 presidential election.
“Of course, the events of 2004 had nothing to do with real democracy, but they were at least camouflaged by referring to the outcome of negotiations and court decisions. However, in 2014, pro-Western forces in Ukraine used the experience of the “Orange Revolution” during the so-called Euromaidan, while doing a kind of work on the mistakes. They finally stopped reckoning with any norms of the law, and carried out an anti-constitutional coup, establishing a brutal repressive regime in Kiev, ”concluded Andrey Koshkin.