Anyone But Yulia

Ukraine is wounded as I have never seen it.

The last several months have taken a toll on its people, and today, an old imperial master is slowly dismembering a country too shell-shocked and too trapped to fully respond. Abandoned by a West that is both too timid and too lethargic, riven by internal strife, and with an economy teetering on the edge of collapse, the presidential elections in a week are the only visible sign of unity for a country badly in need of it.

It is for this reason that Yulia Tymoshenko must not be its next president.

Many of the reasons for this are well-worn. Mrs. Tymoshenko abused her office as prime minister, turning her position of trust into a launching pad to attack the man whose government she nominally headed, and from 2008 onward as a means to step into the presidency. By public temperament, when in power, she is prone to authoritarian behavior not unlike Russian president Vladimir Putin’s; when out of power, she is an eternal martyr, a put-upon flickering flame of resistance against whatever government had the gall to defeat her.

Yet this is not the whole of the case against her. Today, she is a symbol of all of the worst of all possible worlds. Her dealings in the 1990s that provided her the fortune on which she built her political base speaks of at the very least strong familiarity with corruption. Her time working with Leonid Kuchma brings back unpleasant memories of his time leading Ukraine; her time as Prime Minister in the hapless Orange Government reminds Ukrainians of the catastrophic early 2000s; and while she sat in prison during President Viktor Yanukovych’s first years in office, there is a very good reason why she lost to him in the 2010 election.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, she has spent no small amount of her time calling for the formation of semi-private militias to defend against Moscow’s aggression, on the stated rationale is that the Ukrainian armed forces and police have not been able to accomplish this end.

This alone should permanently disqualify her from the presidency – at best, it is forming armed bands of men who do not answer to the formal chain of command and so are potential security threats in their own rights; at worst, she is calling for the formation of a private army. She is therefore either trying to turn Ukraine into mid-2000s Iraq or 44 B.C. Rome.

All of these many sins have left her unable to lead the country. To Western Ukraine, she smells of corruption, power hunger, incompetence, and frequent chumminess with Putin. To Eastern Ukraine, she stinks of the Orange revolution, power hunger, corruption, incompetence, and a tendency to be a political weathervane.

Under the new constitution, the president will be both a symbol of national unity and the face of Ukraine to the world and to itself. That president cannot be Yulia Tymoshenko – she cannot even be a symbol of national unity to herself.

In less than a week, Ukraine will vote and once again tell the world that despite its travails, it is a sovereign nation, where democracy lives as it has for two decades. It will seek a path forward even as dangers press in from the East. It will try to draw the West closer for its own protection while preparing for the dark times ahead.

Many will contest to lead these efforts. Fewer are capable of doing so. Yulia Tymoshenko is not one of the latter. Ukrainians must send her to a peaceful retirement, and step into a future of their own making.

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