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Opinion: President Yanukovych threatens Ukraine’s democracy

If Obama meets with Yanukovych, they should discuss the importance of democracy to US-Ukraine cooperation.

Third, the appointment of Nikolai Azarov as prime minister dispels any prospects for economic reforms. As Rutgers University’s Alexander Motyl points out, the prime minister is "synonymous with government corruption, ruinous taxation rates, and hostility to small business."

Fourth, the Azarov government is the first of 15 in Ukraine over the last two decades that does not include a single woman. Both Yanukovych and Azarov have expressed brazenly chauvinist views that consign women to the kitchen or allege they are unable to work the long hours that are required during the economic crisis. Britain’s Guardian newspaper depicted Azarov as a "Neanderthal" for his sexist comments.

Fifth, the presidents staffing policies have returned corrupt oligarchs, those opposed to reforms and holding neo-Soviet and anti-American views to senior positions of power in law enforcement, the military and the intelligence services. These personnel escaped justice following election fraud five years ago by seeking asylum in Russia or through backroom immunity deals with President Yushchenko.

The return of such individuals to head the security forces have opened up channels for greater Russian influence over Ukraine’s national security apparatus and the country’s foreign policy orientation and reduces prospects for continued high levels of security cooperation with NATO and the U.S. Such cooperation has benefited Ukraine through military reforms and income generated by the military-industrial complex.

Ukraine became a democracy five years ago following Europe’s biggest mass protests since World War II when one in five Ukrainians protested in what became known as the Orange Revolution. The Supreme Court overturned a rigged election that brought Yanukovych to power and ordered a re-run which opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko won.

During the next five years U.S. political consultants Rick Davis and Paul Manafort worked on improving Yanukovych’s image by introducing American-style party rallies and election campaigns. Davis-Manafort’s re-imaging led many Western newspapers in the 2010 elections to portray Yanukovych as a "new-born democrat."

But, after less than two months in office Yanukovych’s "new" image is fraying and proving to be not very different from the old, un-democratic image he held five years ago.

When Yanukovych sought to undemocratically come to power five years ago he provoked a 17-day non-violent street carnival known as the Orange Revolution. If President Yanukovych attempts a second time to undermine Ukraine’s democracy he will be again faced by mass protests — but of a different type. The violent breakdown of order in Kyrgyzstan should be a wake up call to the U.S. that Yanukovych’s policies will fail to bring stability to Ukraine.

Taras Kuzio is a Senior Fellow in the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto and editor of Ukraine Analyst.