October 27, 2010

Good relations between Brussels and Moscow are bad news for official Minsk

The integration with the European Union is an increasingly articulated priority of Russia’s foreign policy in recent months. Analysts close to the Kremlin frequently stress the complementarity of the economies of Russia and the EU. The draft foreign policy programme published some time ago by by Russian Newsweek speaks in the same spirit. The fact that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will attend the NATO summit in Lisbon next month is another clear sign of a continuing warming between Russia and the West, and especially with the EU.

After all, throughout its history Russia was and remains primarily a sovereign country within the European civilization. Given Russia’s eventual inability to maintain its status as a regional pole of power equivalent in weight to the European Union or China, this will only be more vivid. Rallying several post-Soviet countries around itself, in the coming years Russia will naturally be more and more drawn to the linguistically, historically and culturally closer Western Europe than to the Islamic world or China.

There are two noticeable, although not decisive, factors that stand in the way of Russian-Western rapprochement and that sooner or later will inevitably arise as issues within this cooperation. The first is the authoritarian regime in Russia. The second is Belarus under president Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

At this stage the West does not seem to be expressively concerned with the progress of democracy in Russia. It seems ready to accept economic and geopolitical cooperation with Russia in exchange for putting a blind eye on human rights issues, at least as long as these issues do not become too serious. The Russian side is aware of this and therefore does not cross the line, leaving room for a limited but still possible realisation of certain political freedoms by its citizens.

However, the political circumstances and the irreparably worse image of Belarus, which, after all, is not far from reflecting objective reality, does not allow the EU to ignore the lack of democracy and massive human rights violations in the country. Oddly enough, criticism of the Lukashenka regime and a careful expression of concern about the state of democracy in Belarus is also a chance for president Medvedev to demonstrate his modernity and progressiveness.

The regime in Belarus should therefore not expect a controversy between Russia and the European Union and should not try to use it to maintain its own existence in the long term. Strategic interests of both Russia and the EU require compromise and a constructive cooperation rather than confrontation. Russia already does have a common border and maintains well-established contacts with the European Union and NATO. That is why Belarus can neither be a serious barrier to (an objectively impossible) military intervention from the West, nor can it be a full-fledged economic bridge between Russia and the EU. Belarus may facilitate this Pan-European integration, also by possibly creating a collective third subject of this process together with Ukraine and several other European countries outside the EU. Otherwise Belarus can continue to be a stone in the shoe of Russia-EU relations and create barriers and difficulties of a local nature, from which it eventually will suffer the most.

It is obvious that the Belarusian issue will not be a priority or object to special focus in the relations between Russia and the EU. More likely, the parties will aim to resolve it as things move their way. In the near future Russia will significantly reduce its dependence on gas transit through Belarus, after the launch of the Nord Stream and South Stream. This will produce a situation of non-contradiction between the strategic interests of Russian foreign policy and the interests of Russian oil and gas business. Therefore we can not exclude that Russia, which has a much greater influence on the situation in Belarus, will be collectively appointed to resolve issues with Aliaksandr Lukashenka. This can create an objective threat to the economic and political independence of Belarus from its eastern neighbour.

Anyway, the banal and the obviously correct idea that Belarus should build partnership with both Russia and the European Union, is becoming less and less utopian and even more urgent. All concerned parties are interested in Belarus ceasing to play a destructive role and joining the Pan-European cooperation. The Belarusian society is interested in this more than anyone else. The current leadership of Belarus seems unable to lead the country in the appropriate direction, leaving it outside of the regional context, largely isolated from the EU and in a permanent conflict with Russia.

There is a strong demand for a different foreign policy of Belarus, but as of now there is virtually no prospect of the democratic opposition, demoralised and weakened by 15 years of political repressions, coming to power. In these circumstances the appearance of a reformist clan within the ranks of the current nomenklatura is a matter of time. A different question is, whether the current president of Belarus will have time to realize it and to align to this situation.


// http://n-europe.eu/en/columns/2010/10/25/kamen_u_botse

May 7, 2010

Ukraine Becomes More Important as a Factor in Belarusian-Russian Relations

In the last months Ukraine has significantly increased its importance in the European part of the CIS.

The new president Viktor Yanukovych enjoys a honeymoon with Russia: Ukrainian-Russian cooperation has started booming after previous president Viktor Yushchenko had left office. Ukraine and Russia have agreed on lower gas prices for Ukraine [1], on the Russian Black Sea Fleet staying based in Ukraine till 2042 [2]. Vladimir Putin has even made a sensation by speaking of a possible merger of Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz [3]. Added to this, there come smaller initiatives to establish cooperation (or to sell relevant Ukrainian assets to Russians) in nuclear power, shipbuilding [4], aviation construction [5], power generation and supply [6].

At the same time, since the times of president Yushchenko Ukraine is an important partner for the largely isolated Belarus. Ukraine remains one of the very few European countries having official political contacts with the authoritarian Belarusian government and the contacts have only intensified with Yanukovych becoming president. Ukraine has recently become the transit country for the important Venezuelan oil supplies [7] to Belarus. In April the Belarusian parliament has finally ratified the border treaty with Ukraine [8], which has been the key issue of Belarusian-Ukrainian relations since the collapse of the USSR.

Relations between Belarus and Russia are currently in a crisis since Russia has imposed duties on oil supplied to Belarus. This came despite establishing a customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan at the very same time. The disappointment with absence of progress in the Russian-Belarusian integration have led to Russia unilaterally transforming the relations with Belarus into a more pragmatic and market-based form.

Ukraine could threat Belarus as a new strategic ally for Russia in Europe, for it would be psychologically easier for Russia to impose a hard line on Belarus when it isn't the only faithful satellite on the European continent. On the other hand, Ukraine could potentially act as intermediary between the two. In any case, Ukraine seems to become a more important actor not only in Belarus' relations with the EU, but also in Belarusian-Russian relations.

// http://belarusdigest.com/2010/05/05/ukraine-becomes-more-important-as-a-factor-in-belarusian-russian-relations/

January 27, 2010

Nothing personal, just business

My commentary on the Russian-Belarusian oil duties dispute, for Novaja Eŭropa on-line magazine

Let's admit, Belarusian authorities have no effective arguments in the current oil dispute with Russia. Therefore we must accept the fact that they will loose this fight sooner or later. In close future oil will become expensive, the Belarusian economy will face increasing difficulties, and a whole new stage of relations with Russia will come. Nothing surprising - we were going towards this all the past fifteen years.

Nothing to answer with

Note, Russia proposes to continue to charge no export duties for oil supplied for internal Belarusian needs. The new duties will only affect the (bigger) portion of the oil supply which enables the Belarusian state oil refineries to gain excess profits. Thus, it will first strike the rent part of the Belarusian economy which rather benefits from artificial privileges granted by Russia instead of creating a product competitive on the market.

Some Belarusian journalists support the official Belarus' position on the reasonable ground that a customs union, which our countries seem to be building together with Kazakhstan, by definition means removal of customs barriers and not their introduction. Nevertheless, the full terms of the customs union treaty have not yet been published.

In any case, it would be strange to see Belarusian authorities talking of the implementation of signed agreements as long as they themselves are responsible for actual sabotage of so many previously signed agreements - of all those treaties on a common currency with Russia and on integration with it in "unions" and a "union state".

Fundamentally, Moscow has the stronger arguments in the dispute. Belarus, unfortunately, has nothing to oppose Russia's pressure with. In late 2009 Russia launched the first string of the Eastern Oil Pipeline (ESPO), which runs from Russia to China. The construction of the pipeline will be completed in 2014. Russians have diversified markets for their oil, so its price for Belarus and Western Europe will now only grow. Why didn't Belarus, in turn, diversify its sources of energy?

The cursing miracle

Whatever the result of the Russian-Belarusian oil war, lessons for both sides were evident before and will be stressed again.

In a comment to the New Year's greetings by opposition leader Aliaksandr Milinkievič on the website of the newspaper Naša Niva, one reader wrote that he could not imagine this politician holding tough negotiations with the Russians on gas prices.

But as a matter of fact, tough negotiations with Russian monopolists shouldn't have become a New Year tradition for Belarus at all. Latvia, Poland or the Republic of Lithuania do not conduct annual dramatic negotiations with Russia on oil and gas, as they have no preferences and pay the market price. The Czech Republic has even built a gas pipeline from Germany to provide access to Norwegian gas.

To the contrary, the strategy of the Belarusian regime in the last decade has been the exploitation of Russian post-imperial phobias and the struggle for the preservation of politically motivated preferences in regards of oil and gas supplies. Sooner or later it had to end. Playing manipulatory games with the Kremlin is neither perspective nor moral, even though the game has so far been successful for Belarus. Relations between our two countries should be market-based: Nothing personal, just business.

Politicians make reforms only when the absense of reforms threatens the stability in the country more than the changes. Another new year's oil crisis has once again shown that the reforms had to begin a long time ago and that the so-called Belarusian economic miracle of the recent years was in fact a curse for the country. Belarusian authorities have had a major source of cash but the economy could remain unreformed and non-upgraded. Now the cash source disappears but market reforms in Belarus, according to Belarusian businesspeople, still haven't got the proper quality.

Finally, the independence of Belarus means market-based relations with Russia, plus the diversification of energy sources, plus market reforms in the country.

Rebooting relations

The news about Belarus' intention to cut Russian electricity transit to the Kaliningrad region could only have brought you a sad sarcastic smile: the verbal "everlasting brotherhood" of Russia and Belarus has actually turned into open hostility. It is noteworthy that Belarusian authorities have begun to threaten Russia with leaving the just created customs union almost since the very beginning of this conflict.

For Russia the dispute must therefore be another demonstration that any integration initiative can become an arms against Russia in the hands of official Minsk. The Belarusian regime can use every opportunity to accuse the Kremlin of sabotage of the "brotherly integration".

Therefore, both Belarus and Russia need a rigorous audit (and possibly termination) of the empty "unions". Not only is the pathos of the Belarusian-Russian integration untrue, it also discredits the very idea of any constructive relations between our countries for decades ahead.

The hangover from the long-standing pseudo-integration extravaganza will for a long time spoil the athmosphere of Belarusian-Russian contacts. Constructive relations with the largest neighbor are absolutely necessary to Belarus, but they apparently will have to start from scratch. The time for it is coming.

By Alexander Čajčyc

Read original story


January 7, 2010

2000s for Democracy in Belarus: a Decade of Disappointment

January 1, 2010 will not be just the beginning of a new year but the beginning of a new calendar decade. It is a formal and conventional event, but that’s the way our perception is constructed – it is easier for us to view history in decades. Swinging Sixties, Greedy Eighties, Noxious Nineties. The 2000s (or “noughties”) will be a separate segment in systematized history of mankind.

For Belarus, it was a decade of dictatorship. The first full calendar decade under the unlimited authoritarian power of Aliaksandr Lukašenka.

We have entered 2000 under the red-green flag of the Lukašenka regime and leave 2009 with it still over our heads. In the 1990s the key year for Belarus was 1996, when, after the infamous referendum, Belarus turned into a country where the whole power is concentrated in the hands of one man. 2006, with its tragic and disgraceful defeat of the opposition at the presidential elections, has become a landmark year in the 2000s. The lesson we should learn from these years is that 2016 is either unlikely to become the year of Belarus’ liberation from dictatorship.

In 2000, that seems so recent, one might have thought that Lukašenka is there for not a long time. A year, or two, or three, and Belarus will at last be free. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 has spread much hope that was not destined to turn into reality. The noughties have been a decade of disappointment for Belarus, a decade which has completely turned Belarus into a very special country on the European continent.

Thirteen years have passed since the coup d’état of 1996. During this time a whole new generation of Belarusians has grown up – another generation of people with Soviet mentality, even though it’s been almost twenty years since the Soviet Union itself doesn’t exist any more. We may remind ourselves of 1957, thirteen years after the Nazi occupation of Belarus has been replaced back by Soviet occupation. By that time the anti-Soviet partisan movement in Belarus and neighbouring Soviet republics has almost completely vanished. Perhaps, this was not least because the society had realized that the Soviets came to stay. The same can be said about today’s Belarus, with its tired, demoralized and split opposition; with the fact that Belarusians have mainly concentrated on consumption and primitive physical survival so that even the economic crisis does not initiate political protest.

In 1999 there could still be doubts, but the noughties have proven one thing to us. Belarus might have gained juridical independence simply following the trend set by Baltic countries and Ukraine, who had really struggled for it. However, we couldn’t have got democracy the same way. A whole range of specifically Belarusian problems came into play: weak national self-identification of the people, lack of political culture and absence of national elite, the unfinished process of formation of the Belarusian nation as such. All the dark legacy of the Soviet age, which might not be so noticeable to an outside observer, has realized its potential in the 1990s and became institutionalized in the 2000s.

Belarus enters 2010 as a very specific European country. A political system that rather resembles the relationship of a feudal and his serfs. An archaic economy, where the government has woken up with reforms twenty years after liberation of the socialist camp and where it is not clear, if there is still something to be reformed. A nation that missed the train of 20th century’s romantic nationalisms and represents a mechanistic community of pragmatic and indifferent people without native language and historical memory.

Any difference is a potential advantage. Belarus may be able to transform its difference into an advantage, to realize its potential as a land untouched by investors in the middle of Europe or as a cradle for a post-nationalistic pluralistic traditionalism. Otherwise this potential will be spent in vain with sad consequences for the country. There is no third option, and there’s not much time left till we find out the answer. It is, of course, necessary to hope for the better, but it may be far more useful to be prepared for the worst.



December 15, 2009

The Russian Way of Being Free

My article for Novaja Europa about freedom and Russian mentality.

"The severity of Russian laws is balanced by their non-obligatory execution".

Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin

Is Russia doomed to be authoritarian? In order to answer this question, we must try to analyze both the Russian mentality and the political history of the country.

Do not mix politics and "mentality"

A common place is the assertion that authoritarianism is a necessary part of Russian mentality, unlike that of other European nations. Thus, the current dire situation regarding democracy and human rights in Belarus is often attributed to the fact that the Belarusian lands have been occupied by Russia for over two hundred years. During this time, it is assumed, oriental authoritarian mentality and manners have been planted in what is now Belarus.

Another common point is the assertion that the seemingly authoritarian mindset has not prevented Japan and Germany from becoming prosperous democracies after the Second World War. Both countries, though not without an external stimulus, have built their "economic miracles" based on economic liberalism.

Thus, it is necessary to distinguish between the possibility of building a social system based on liberal principles and, on the other hand, specifics of business and labour culture (within a liberal economy), which are influenced by traditions and mentality. This also applies to Russia, where traditions of authoritarianism should not be grounds for the idea that Russian people are somehow predisposed to slavery and dictatorship.

In what way are Russians freer than western Europeans?

Western Europeans are accustomed to an institutionalized freedom guaranteed by law and custom. Western liberal legal culture has a long history: from Magna Carta and the medieval German urban communes where "city air makes you free", to women's emancipation and the desire to overcome the effects of racial segregation in the U.S. (as evidenced by Obama's election for president).

Legal culture in Russia has gone through the tragic history of the Mongol yoke and has been forming differently, also influenced by the huge territorial extent of the country. At the core of this culture lays the balance of power between the rigid dictates of the center, on the one hand, and fragmented execution of orders on the regions, on the other side.

At the same time the Russian people have traditionally learned to see a greater importance of "objectivity" and of a justice higher than formal law. The law has traditionally been of poor quality, and therefore required a critical approach. Russians have been able to develop this critical approach to a much greater extent than western Europeans. Law in Russia is not a norm to be executed, but at best a "guideline" or, in some cases, simply an obstacle to be overcome. Western Europeans are not accustomed to such wit and intelligence in relation to execution of laws. A famous Russian proverb says "You can turn the law the way you want" - perhaps in this respect a Russian is more free than a Western person.

The Russian conflict: man versus bureaucrat

Russia has traditionally had an authoritarian and usually irrational government, which hindered realization of the people's potential. The history of Russia is the history of an eternal silent battle between reason and the law, between Man and the Bureaucrat. Because of the poor quality of modern Russian legislation, enormous intellectual and organizational resources used to withdraw assets to offshores and reinvest them back instead of developing the business.

As a result of that, the small island of Cyprus has formally become the second largest foreign investor in Russia. Besides, countries that may potentially be used as offshores are the source for more than half of "foreign investments" into Russia: the Netherlands take 18.6% of the total volume, Cyprus - 16,6%, Luxembourg - 15,1%, the Virgin Islands - 2 8%. Up to USD 300m were being annually spent on bribes and kickbacks in Russia before the crisis. The large scale of tax evasion and license tricks greatly distorts national economic statistics.

There are also "everyday" examples of violations of the imperfect Russian laws. For instance, the prohibition of advertising of strong alcohol is being overcome by advertising vodka brands as mineral water, chocolates or even books - and that openly on TV.

Authoritarianism is considered a distinctive feature of the Oriental mentality, dominating in countries like China or Japan. But that authoritarianism is a functioning one, where people irrevocably subdue to the leader and do not grumble or sabotage the production process like Soviet workers did. Since the Mongol yoke, which largely determined the characteristics of the statehood of Muscovy and its derivative Russia, the Russian mentality is a mentality of a Western man enslaved by an Oriental ruler.

Italian-strike-like protest against the government, silent and motivated rather at a subconscious level, is a feature of such mentality. There is a corrosion of public institutions, but also is the converse: Russian society is capable of self-regulation and self-government. Along with the failing state institutions informal institutions arise. These informal institutions are often even more effective and more fair than the government.

Modern Russia: no czars and no great guiding idea

In modern conditions, where there is no will of the hated lord to be sabotaged, a Russian mind may start treating the legitimate interests of fellow citizens as this "obstacle to overcome". And this can, under certain conditions, become quite dangerous. In some respects such behaviour is demonstrated by the rulers of modern Russia. For the first time in Russian history these people do not feel some transcendental and spiritual mission upon themselves (by will of God Emperor of the Third Rome, the Head of Russian Orthodox Church, Father Czar), nor a secular but still global and pathetic mission (a Global Socialist Revolution, or, conversely, the romantic liberation from communist dictatorship of the early 1990s).

The current Russian leadership has been formed behind the scenes from representatives of middle and lower grades of Soviet and post-Soviet nomenklatura. Now these people do not have a boss over their own head, but are accustomed to act on the same schemes as previously. In such circumstances corruption becomes part of the governing mechanism, the real decision-making is quite different from what is defined in the Constitution. The state itself, among its priorities, pursues primarily the interests business groups close to the Kremlin.

In the 1990s Russia started a transformation towards a market economy and pluralist democracy. However, such transition could turn into stagnation, which apparently happened in this case. In such situation the "adolescence problems" may cause complications and increase the risk of destruction of the Russian state as such. Fortunately, considering statements of President Medvedev, some fractions within the Russian government seem aware of the danger.

Many peolpe speak a unique and special path to democracy and freedom for Russia. Those who use such rhetoric, if they do not aim to justify the de-facto deconstruction of democratic institutions, should really search for ways to make liberal reforms and to redefine the role of the state in relevant Russian national traditions. These traditions, these traits of national character existed before, and are still valid now.

// Novaja Europa


December 2, 2009

To Study, Study and Again Study Capitalism*

My new article on market reforms and privatization in Belarus, for Naša Niva:

To Study, Study and Again Study Capitalism*

For several weeks, before and after the Belarusian Investment and Economic Forum, the media was being bombarded by news on developments around the privatization of Belarusian state property and plans for further liberal reforms in the economy of the country. Belarusian authorities finally outlined plans to make order in the Augean stables of the national tax system - the world's worst according to international rankings. Movement in the right direction is good, but its shortcomings must be corrected.

How to attract adventurers

The Belarusian economy is perceived as a high risk investment target. To improve the image of Belarus, more than just one year is needed. Old scandals (unsuccessful investors to Belarus in the 1990s, like "Baltika" or "Ford") are much better remembered than new success stories. No protection of investments, biased courts and the overall exotic totalitarian image of Belarus - the government has a huge scope of work to do. Positive changes must happen and be recognized by the international community.

Only adventurer-type investors would be ready to invest in Belarus now. For ignoring the risky image of Belarus they want high returns on their investments. Prospects of such returns are vague: Belarus doesn't have natural resources that attract investors to Russia or Kazakhstan It is hardly possible to transform Belarus from the "Assembly Shop of the USSR", as it was called in Soviet times due to Belarusian heavy industry supplying the rest of the USSR, to "a Small Assembly Shop Near the EU" because Belarus is not even a member of the WTO. Today, when Finnish wood processors sometimes find it easier to handle Russian wood in China, Belarus is not physically able to compete with Asian countries as an eventual location for foreign production facilities.

"To be proud of one's export potential is past century," a senior foreign delegates of the Belarusian Investment Forum said in a private conversation. Investors are more interested in domestic market and the effective domestic demand, on which Belarus is not very attractive, he added.

The government could sell state-owned companies, which it can't manage anyway, for a lower price, but today the Western investors have enough cheap objects at home. This makes them less interested in Belarusian enterprises. There are many assets for sale in Belarus, but many of them lack a realistic valuation, the forum participant complained.

Bluff as style

Arrogance and inflated self-importance are usual for the foreign relations of the Belarusian government under Lukashenka. Their speeches sound like foreign capital just can't wait to rush into the country. This is where the high prices for state companies, which still require a lot of work to be done prior to a sale, come from.

So, it was strange to hear Prime Minister Siarhiej Sidorski presenting the Belarusian centralized economy as a successful model compared to the crisis-causing free market capitalism. Just as free market has very little to do with the causes of the current economic crisis, even the Belarusian Investment and Economic Forum, where Mr. Sidorski has held this speech, seems specifically to have been organized because the old approaches to the Belarusian economy had stopped working. There is a need for Belarus to catch up two decades of market reforms. In 2010 Belarusian accounting standards will be brought closer to IFRS, the licensing system will be radically simplified et cetera. Just why couldn't it all have been done in the previous years?

Already too late, or not yet?

The Belarusian government only learns to act in the circumstances of a modern economy. There has been a comic phrase occasionally said by Chairman of the State Property Committee some time ago, according to which the government of Belarus had then finally realized, what the difference between transforming of a unitary enterprise to a joint-stock company and privatization was. However, some publications in the media or the sudden appearance of the still unitary Beltelecom on the privatization list for 2009 indicate that there is still large space for the elimination of illiteracy.

Belarusian officials have found out about such a thing as a listing on a stock exchange and carefully repeat words about preparations for IPOs of companies of the Belneftekhim holding. It brings optimism to hear such things from previously conservative officials. Professionalism of the key people in the government and their ability to learn - that is what gives hope to investors.

The reforms are advancing very rapidly and even demonstrate short-term benefits of an authoritarian regime, that is not burdened by a discussion of new legislation with the parliamentary opposition. The latter is what has been drowning reforms in neighboring Ukraine over the past years. The problem is that the effect of reforms and good international ratings can be expected only in not less than five years. Much earlier will we know whether the government of Belarus is not already too late with its today's reformist enthusiasm. Those who come too late will be punished by life, Mikhail Gorbachev used to say.

// Naša Niva, translated by myself and Google Translate


* "To study, study and study communism again" - a quote attributed to Vladimir Lenin


November 27, 2009

Ukraine's orange advance

My newest article for Novaja Europa:

Ukraine's orange advance

These days have been the fifth anniversary of the the Orange Revolution in Ukraine - an event that has for several years shaped the political life in neighbouring Belarus and Russia. The orange color has since then
irrevocably obtained a political sense.

Presidential elections in Ukraine of 2004 have turned to a play with a happy ending: a handsome, intelligent, positive Ukrainian-speaking Viktor Yushchenko has in a tense struggle won against the criminal, negative, bad-mannered Russian-speaking Viktor Yanukovych. The actors have picked up stereotypical roles and performed them on stage of the Ukrainian Maidan Nezalezhnosti square live on TV: tense hours and days of the struggle for vote counts, revoting, week-long concerts, demonstrations, the legendary victorious fight of Klitschko wearing an orange ribbon on his shorts, Yuliya Tymoshenko wearing the orange shirt of Shakhtar Donetsk. For many years Belarus and Russia's public political lifes haven't been giving us such a spectacle and the sense that the fate of the country could be decided by ordniary people. The forgotten taste of democracy once again, for only one month, came to our already Soviet-styled dissident lifes.

Supporters of democracy in Belarus and in Russia have perceived Ukraine's Orange Revolution much more emotionally than the Rose Revolution in Georgia a year before that. Georgia was a distant and strange country while Ukraine was here, so close and seemingly similar to us. Many of us watched the developments on the Independence Square via the Internet, came to demonstrations at the Embassy of Ukraine. The Revolution gave a burst of democratic activity in Belarus and Russia. In Belarus this wave broke in late March 2006. In Russia it has faded after several hopelessly undemocratic elections.

After five years, and in anticipation of the Yushchenko's upcoming resignation, we all ask ourselves whether the Orange Revolution has brought Ukraine what we wanted.

Unfortunately, Ukraine did not have its own Mikheil Saakashvili who would have used the window of opportunity for radical reforms and a radical improvement. Coming to power on a wave of enthusiasm, Viktor Yushchenko turned out to be not strong enough, and thus the moment of his election remains the most vivid event of his presidency.

Last five years in Ukraine were marked by infinite tense parliamentary battles, which are being so joyfully mocked by Russian and Belarusian official propagandists. Ukraine kept sinking in corruption, the economy landed in severe crisis. Ukraine has a democracy and poverty, Belarus and Russia are authoritarian and until recently had the dubious illusion of prosperity, which is now disappearing in Belarus. What is better? Ukrainian democratic government works badly. But at least it obeys the Constitution.

Indeed, the strengthening of an effective pluralistic democracy in Ukraine brought to light the overall lack of political culture: the inability to conduct a civilized dialogue between different political parties, the inability to compromise and generate solutions, the readiness to sabotage the functioning of the state. The fact that these phenomena have now so clearly broken out in Ukraine is in the long run still better than the situation in Belarus and Russia. In these autoritarian countries a democratic political culture is not developing at all.

Ukraine shows us the long path we still have before us to reach civilized political standards. While Ukraine is walking this path and while Ukrainians are learning from their mistakes - we have not even started to move. The way the Ukrainian parliament looks today is the way a democratic Belarusian parliament will look in ten years from now. What Western Europeans are trying to teach the Ukrainians now will be what Ukrainians themselves will be teaching us in ten years from now.

Ukraine has managed to avoid what has happened to Russia and Belarus. Censorship and propaganda on television, repressions against the opposition and shamelessly organized vote rigging - five years ago these methods of politics have been clearly set off the agenda in the Ukraine. Our neighbours have passed the test which Belarus failed in 1996.

During these 5 years Russia has finally turned into a sad example of a corrupt authoritarian petro-state, having buried expectations caused by the first relatively promising years of Putin's rule. During these 5 years Belarus has experienced the collapse of hopes for a democratic change in 2006 and was forced to start transformation of its authoritarian regime, for which the Orange Ukraine soon became an important partner and a bridge to the West.

Authoritarianism is ineffective and therefore short-lived and unsustainable. We see it in Belarus, where the existing system of governance has exhausted itself. Sooner or later Russia's rulers will face a similar destiny, perhaps with the same consequences as last time, when a late understanding ended by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In many ways Ukraine is now more stable state than Belarus or Russia. At least because the question "What will happen after Yushchenko is gone" does not contain this threatening uncertainty as the questions "what will happen after Lukashenka is gone" or "after Putin is gone". Heaven will not fall on earth, the country will not disintegrate, the will be no more revolutions. Yushchenko's victory gave Ukraine additional five years of crystallization of a pluralistic democracy, and none of the current political actors is strong enough to get the country under an authoritarian rule.

On the eve of the presidential elections in 2010 the disposition looks somewhat like a race between Yuliya Tymoshenko and and Viktor Yanukovych. Ironically, but watching Tymashenko's happy chat with Putin automatically makes one wish Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's antagonist five years ago, to be the winner. It will be funny if he actually wins this election. But this victory will not be what it would be in 2004. The country is not the Ukraine of 2004 and well as Viktor Yanukovych is not himself of 2004 any more.