A recent political crisis, which culminated with the sacking of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Sept. 8, created ample opportunities for Moscow to re-establish its influence in Ukraine.
The Kremlin threw all its political muscle into the election of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian candidate, at the presidential vote last year, but failed. A pro-Western, Viktor Yushchenko, swept to power following a rerun vote in December 2004 and pledged to work hard for Ukraine to quickly join NATO, Russia's worst nightmare, and to seek joining the European Union within a decade.
Russia scrambled for a response by adjusting its foreign policy to new realities, seeking to economically punish countries like Ukraine and Georgia for their closer cooperation with the West.
But the answer to the challenge came from where few had actually expected: From within the ruling coalition in Ukraine.
As the Yushchenko and Tymoshenko teams bitterly split following the government dismissal, both had apparently sent messages to Moscow that may eventually produce a greater-than-expected cooperation between the two biggest states of the former Soviet Union.
Yushchenko appointed Yuriy Yekhanurov, a Russia-born ally of the president, to the post of prime minister. This is a contrast to Tymoshenko, who has been using populist anti-Russian rhetoric, such as pushing for the building of a natural gas pipeline bypassing Russia, and irritating Moscow for the past seven months. To push Yekhanurov through Parliament, Yushchenko struck an unprecedented agreement with Yanukovych, the Russian favorite, whose party had overwhelmingly backed the choice.
But the latest development in Ukraine’s political reshuffling appears to be even more surprising than anything. Tymoshenko traveled to Moscow on Sept. 24 apparently for a secret meeting with Kremlin strategists to outline her vision of a future cooperation.
The Russian authorities appeared to be so pleased with Tymoshenko's turnaround that they had immediately cancelled an international arrest warrant for her. Several Kremlin-controlled media outlets have followed with a favorable coverage of Tymoshenko in broadcasts that are widely viewed in Ukraine.
So, 10 months after Russia's fiasco at the presidential election in Ukraine, Moscow now appears to have much closer cooperation with all three major political groups that are expected to score well as the upcoming election in March 2006. The winner will become prime minister, a job that will have extended powers to shape the country's policy with amendments to the constitution coming into force on Jan. 1, 2006.
No matter who wins the election, Yekhanurov, Tymoshenko or Yanukovych, Russia seems to have already secured a favorable outcome.
Source: Ukrainian Journal