IN OTHER WORDS: Real Ukraine

The plight of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine reminds us of the many other politicians in the post-Soviet world who raised large expectations in the West only to disappoint in the end — Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin come to mind. Perhaps it’s time to take a more realistic look at what’s going on in the former Soviet Union.

At the time of Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, many in the West saw largely what they wanted to see: a people rising up against corruption, manipulated politics and crude Russian pressures in the name of moving closer to democracy, free markets and the West. Yushchenko, survivor of a murder attempt, and his running mate, Yulia Tymoshenko, were the stars. Putin of Russia was the villain, scheming to deny the Ukrainian people their freedom.

Many in the West chose to overlook the fact that Ukra-ine, like most other former Soviet republics, remains intertwined with Russia and the other republics. In Ukraine, part of the Slavic core of the old Soviet empire, half the residents still identify with Russia, both ethnically and nationally. So to believe that Yushchenko could single-handedly shift Ukraine into the Western orbit was naïve. Also, by punishing Yushchenko for trying to pull Ukraine away from Russia, Putin is pushing Ukraine away from Russia.