But this was where the Tinseltown happy ending scenario ends -- and reality enters. The Orange Revolution partnership of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko disintegrated into fractious bickering by autumn of 2005, and before too long the two could not even tolerate being in the same room with each other. Management of the economy has been a disaster and corruption is enormous.
Crossing the border into Ukraine is like entering some forbidden zone or a despotic country. Kleptocratic customs regulations make it impossible to import most commodities without the price more than doubling. Almost every other country in the region has signs of a middle class and thriving small businesses -- yet almost none of this exists in Ukraine.
Opening and registering a small business in a city like Kiev is difficult. The mayor of the nation’s capitol, Leonid Chernovetsky, is an international embarrassment, and the legions of agencies and organizations under his command – from the fire inspectors to health officials – only seem set on collecting bribes. There are few safe bets for foreign investors and – since it is about the only reliable investment vehicle that there is – property values are off scale.
The result is a country in which most of the population has lost hope in anything close to a positive future. No one can afford a place to live -- so few settle down to have families. In the meantime, the public health system is in shambles and other infrastructure is equally dismal. The consequences of such criminal neglect by successive Ukrainian governments are forecast in a penetrating 2007 analysis by Walter Laqueur, Europe’s preeminent postwar historian. His book, The Last Days Of Europe, projects the disaster that Ukraine is becoming. By 2050, Ukraine will have lost 43 percent of its population, 8 points more than the 34 percent that will be lost by Bulgaria, and almost double the 22 percent drop to be experienced in Russia (which up to this point was thought to be the region’s number one demographic cataclysm in the making).
At this point, it makes little difference which candidate – Yanukovych or Tymoshenko – takes control after February 7. Either one will be beholden to Russia. Both have declared that they are not interested in the country becoming a member of NATO, which used to be one of the cornerstones that would cement Ukraine's independence from Russia.
What will take place between now and the second round of voting is nothing more than absurd theater. Politicians will continue to look out for their own interests – with little regard for the population writ large. No wonder the Russians think the country is ripe for them to just walk in and do whatever they want.