Yanukovych is the Russian-allied conservative who opposed Viktor Yushchenko in the Orange Revolution of 2004. As Applebaum reminds, he was portrayed at that time (certainly in the Western media) as the "bad guy" to Yushchenko's progressive democracy advocate.
Now, though, Ukranians have grown frustrated with the lack of economic growth under Yushchenko's leadership; here is Applebaum's summary of some of the country's problems:
The recession hit Ukraine hard, and many difficult decisions were not made. The Ukrainian government still has not gotten around to privatizing land or removing Soviet-era subsidies from the budget. Tensions between the western and eastern halves of the country have not decreased.
Applebaum does not think the election of Yanukovych is a step backwards for Ukraine -- at least not unless he governs as an autocrat. Instead, she argues that the election shows that democracy is taking hold there and enabling a peaceful transition of power. She also hopes that Yanukovych will move quickly to improve relationships with neighbors both east and west:
The Ukrainians need to expand their relationship with the International Monetary Fund, they need to negotiate stable and reasonable gas agreements with their Russian neighbors to the east, and they need to conclude visa and trade agreements with their European neighbors to the west. They are in need of practical, literate politicians, not ideologues. For their sake, we must hope Yanukovych is the former, not the latter.
416. Does Ukraine itself have natural gas reserves? Or is it that the reserves are in the Black Sea and that they must pass through Ukraine, via pipeline, on the way elsewhere?
417. What is Yushchenko doing now? Was he a candidate in this election? Is he still admired by democracy advocates or have they -- like the Ukrainian people -- been disillusioned by his actual performance in office?
The 2004 Orange Revolution was one of the first news stories that I tracked in my journals. Interestingly, Applebaum does not mention the infamous poisoning of Yushchenko (I remember the vivid pictures of him afterwards). I do not recall and cannot find in my journals whether anyone -- whether a political opponent or otherwise -- was ever convicted for the poisoning.
Here's an excerpt from one of my entries:
January 17, 2005, "Ukraine's Spies" - C.J. Chivers:
Through the Orange Revolution crisis of Nov. / Dec. '04, an "inside battle" was waged among Ukraine's top intel. officials, who ultimately chose not to follow Leonid Kuchma's orders.
Ihor Smeshko sided with the protesters. At a meeting at which the S.B.U. agreed to remain neutral, just after the election, Yushchenko gave Smeshko a landscape painting he had done.
An update: Philip Pan reports on the Post's website today (here) that international election observers are calling the election "free and fair," notwithstanding that Yulia Tymoshenko (Yanukovych's main opponent) has alleged a number of irregularities, including vote-buying and double voting.