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Ukraine election result -- a balancing act

The likely presidential winner, Viktor Yanukovich, was once the villain of the 'Orange Revolution.' He needs to bridge deep divisions at home and abroad -- and revive a badly beaten economy.

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In Ukraine, presidential elections look to have brought the country full circle. Voters have apparently returned to support Viktor Yanukovich, the villain in the country’s democratic "Orange Revolution" of 2004.

It was after fraudulent elections just over five years ago, when Mr. Yanukovich was declared the presidential winner, that Ukrainians persistently protested the phony results and eventually saw them thrown out. Their peaceful demonstrations inspired other “color” revolutions and rattled Ukraine’s eastern neighbor, Russia.

Ukraine must now get its geometry right and move forward instead of chasing its tail. Yet since the revolution, its democratic leaders have been running in circles, fighting each other while doing little to advance needed political and economic reforms. Last year, Ukraine’s economy contracted by a breathtaking 15 percent.

On Sunday, voters appeared to stamp the revolution’s outcome a failure – rejecting, even if by a close margin, one of its founders, Yulia Tymoshenko with her fashion trademark, a golden braid. (International observers deemed this election to be an “impressive” display of democracy, though Ms. Tymoshenko claims fraud.)

Whether Yanukovich can get Ukraine going again is far from certain, but he must, because this country – the size of France – is simply too important to fail.

Sandwiched between Russia and Western Europe, Ukraine has the potential to act as a stabilizing economic and political bridge between Moscow and the West – somewhat like Turkey’s potential to join the Muslim and Christian worlds.

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