The style of democracy ushered in by Ukraine's 2004 revolution has not been worth the price to stability, the pro-Russian front-runner in the presidential race said Tuesday, pledging to bring the "rule of law" back to the country if he is elected next month.
Viktor Yanukovych, whose Kremlin-backed election victory in 2004 was overturned by the Supreme Court amid allegations of fraud, said the pro-Western Orange Revolution that brought his rivals to power in 2005 has led to political chaos, corruption and a dismal economy.
Since taking power on a wave of hope and excitement, the revolution's leaders have disappointed many Ukrainians, fostering nostalgia among some for the stable, if autocratic, rule of an earlier era.
Democracy is "above all rule of law," which the Orange Revolution has failed to bring, he said.
"So what did this Orange Revolution give us?," Yanukovych asked in an interview with The Associated Press. "Freedom of speech? That's very good. But what price did the Ukrainian people pay for this? For the development of this democratic principle in our country, the price was too great."
The Orange Revolution took Ukraine out of Russia's orbit, as the pro-Western leadership sought membership in the European Union and NATO. It also deepened animosity between the pro-Russian east and the west of the country, where Ukrainian nationalism is strong.
Yanukovych said his first priority as president would be to revive the use of the Russian language in schools and in the workplace, a move that would reverse the "forced Ukrainization" of the millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who support him.
"This is the main question that we have to solve right now, the one that is very seriously worrying the people," he said.
With elections less than three weeks away, Yanukovych, 59, is leading in the polls. The former electrician told the AP that he would put his weight behind Moscow on issues ranging from trade to security.
He repeated his pledge not to seek membership in NATO, Russia's Cold War foe. But he said he would give his full support to the proposal of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a joint European security regime, which has gotten an icy reception in most of Europe.
He also promised, if elected, to do everything in his power to speed Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.
Viktor Yushchenko, the current president and the leader of the Orange Revolution, is going into the vote with approval ratings in the single digits. He has been at loggerheads with his former ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, for most of his time in office, causing political gridlock that has deepened the country's economic collapse and alienated voters.
Yanukovych, a barrel-chested hunting enthusiast, also denied that his 2004 presidential victory had been fixed. Instead the Supreme Court broke the law when it overturned his election and ordered another round of voting, he said.
"The third round of those elections was illegal," he said. "Why? Because five years have passed, and in those five years, the falsification of my election has basically not been proven. This means that those elections were legal. They were not rigged."
His campaign has focused on shaming Tymoshenko, his only real competition, for her leadership of the Orange Revolution, which he blames for turning Ukraine's government into one of the most corrupt in the world and its economy into one of the worst-performing.
"Democracy is above all rule of law, it is compliance with the law and constitution by everyone, and in these five years we have seen how the laws have been systematically broken, how the principles of the law have been replaced by political expediency," Yanukovych said.