25 November 2004

Russian Perspectives on Ukraine

All About Latvia, who fervently supports democracy but is not keen on either Yanukovich or Yushchenko, offers an interesting roundup of Russian views on the Ukrainian elections, including a translation of a cynical op-ed in Komsomolskaya Pravda.
The gloomiest predictions are about to be proven true. Ukraine once again is divided in half. The president of all-Western and Central Ukraine--Victor Yushchenko and the president of all-Eastern and Southern Ukraine--Victor Yanukovich both demand coronation.
Apart from Russia, the list of firm Yanukovich supporters is not very impressive.
Lenta reports that Belorussian president Lukashenko congratulated Victor Yanukovich with his presidential victory. So, officially or not, three leaders expresed their support for Yanukovich: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko and the leader of the Trans-Dienstr breakaway Moldovan Republic Igor Smirnov.
The official status of the Russian-supported Transnistrian portion of the former Moldovan SSR is still unresolved.
Beyond the control of any strong national government, the region has become an international transit center for smuggled goods. A Russian-sponsored peace plan for the region was rejected by Moldova in Nov., 2003, after Moldovan demonstrations against it; the deal would have permitted Russian troops to remain until 2020.
UPDATE: The Head Heeb has an interesting take on the reactions of Ukrainian Jews, in general cautiously favoring 'the devil you know'. Zackary Sholem Berger elaborates further. Also see the Head Heeb's earlier post, which opens with a segue I feel sure has never, ever been uttered before:
As most of you are no doubt already aware, French Polynesia is no longer the only country with two presidents.
UPDATE: Now China, Kazakhstan, and Armenia are reported to have joined the list of countries recognizing Yanukovich as president. And Economist.com has an update that concludes on a cautionary note.
International pressure may also have a significant effect on the outcome. As well as the pressure from America and the EU, a key determining factor will be the attitude of Mr Putin. The crisis in Ukraine is bound to overshadow his summit with EU leaders this week (see article [with map!]) and he risks serious difficulties in his relations with both Europe and America if he backs Mr Yanukovich in repressing the protests. Towards the climax of the Georgian revolution last year, Mr Putin seemed to lose patience with Mr Shevardnadze, perhaps contributing to his downfall. Does the Russian leader's even-handed call for both candidates in Ukraine’s conflict to obey the law suggest he has already begun to hedge his bets?

All along, both Russia and the West have been taking a close interest in Ukraine’s election, not just because it is one of eastern Europe’s largest countries, with 49m people, but because the outcome could have important consequences for the whole region. Mr Yushchenko presented himself as a pro-western, free-market reformer who would clean up corruption and enforce the rule of law. Mr Yanukovich, in contrast, stood for deepening Ukraine’s close links with Russia. If Mr Yushchenko had gained the presidency and led Ukraine towards becoming a westernised democracy with European-style prosperity, voters in Russia and elsewhere in eastern Europe might have begun to demand the same. Thus a win by Mr Yushchenko would have been a huge blow to Mr Putin, whose attempts to exert control over former Soviet states would be greatly diminished.

Though Mr Yushchenko is now hoping for a Georgian-style bloodless revolution to deliver him the presidency, there are also some less promising precedents among the former Soviet states: only two months ago, Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenka, “won” a rigged referendum to allow him to run for re-election. The EU decided this week to tighten its sanctions against those in his government it blames for the “fraudulent” ballot. But so far there is no sign that Mr Lukashenka will be dislodged from power. Azerbaijan and Armenia also held flawed elections last year: in Azerbaijan, there were riots after the son of the incumbent president won amid widespread intimidation and bribery, but these were violently put down; and in Armenia, voters reacted with quiet despair at the re-election of their president amid reports of ballot-stuffing. If Ukraine follows these precedents, hopes for change there, and in other parts of the former Soviet Union, may be dashed.
Siberian Light asks Why is Russia afraid of democracy? In his answer he acknowledges:
Russia has plenty of legitimate interests in Ukraine. It has a massive naval base in the Crimea, there is a large ethnic Russian population, and a big chunk of Russia's oil and gas exports go through Ukraine.

Time and again Russia meddles in the affairs of its neighbours. It almost never supports democratic opposition groups, preferring to prop-up regimes, good or bad (mostly bad). It seems pretty clear that Russia has made the decision that its interests are best served by opposing the spread of democracy through the Former Soviet Union.
And of course this rarely causes even a ripple of protest in the West.

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