Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ukraine – The View From The Kremlin

KIEV, Ukraine -- Vladimir Putin’s Orange nightmare is over. The Russian leader can now sleep soundly. Premier Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions are clearly in charge in Ukraine and, in their own words, are cleaning house and restoring order.


Viktor Yanukovych (L) and his mentor Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Dec. 22 visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was an opportunity to observe firsthand the situation on the ground, and to quietly revel in the defeat of the Orange Revolution and its once worshipped hero.

Putin’s visit to Kyiv has received increasing attention from Ukrainian and Western political observers. Prediction, in a highly dynamic political environment such as Ukraine’s, is always hazardous.

Consequently, it is not surprising that much of the available commentary offers sweeping generalizations and often idle speculation about the possible results of this meeting.

Rather than add to this growing mountain of largely trivial speculation, it may be more instructive simply to highlight several key but generally inadequately grasped facts – essential background about recent Ukrainian-Russian relations.

Doing so may shed light on Putin’s true intentions in visiting Kyiv and on his preferred vision for Ukraine.

Fact 1: President Putin has been and continues to be Viktor Yanukovych’s most loyal foreign benefactor. He has never hidden his support for the fraud-marred premier.

His public expressions of support have been deftly adjusted since Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election to meet the country’s changing political landscape, but his allegiance to Yanukovych and his Party of Regions remains unswerving.

Amazingly, after blatantly fraudulent rounds of that election, Putin, like a brash schoolboy, rushed not once but twice to prematurely congratulate Yanukovych on victory.

Learning from experience, he subsequently adopted a more circumspect but no less active role in supporting Yanukovych and his Party of Regions in the 2006 parliamentary election.

Significantly, in the short period since becoming premier, Yanukovych has already met with Putin on several occasions, in Moscow and Sochi, to discuss bilateral cooperation.

Fact 2: Yanukovych and the Regions-led majority in parliament have unabashedly rushed to demonstrate their profound gratitude to Putin for his faithful support in shaping the Ukrainian political scene.

Their conspicuous haste to deliver major political dividends to their Kremlin sponsor, although tactically imprudent because it diminishes their already low credibility at home and in the West, tellingly reflects their steely determination to quickly and steadily repay their enormous political debt to Putin.

In just over 100 days, they have begun to synchronize important Ukrainian security policies with those of their northern neighbor.

And in the words of ordinary citizens here in Ukraine: “They are firing Orange-leaning Cabinet ministers and delivering their heads on a platter to Vladimir Putin.”

Fact 3: In Brussels last September, Yanukovych did much more than close the door on a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2006.

Although only dimly perceived in the West, he also effectively placed a cross on any future Ukrainian membership in NATO.

To the great delight of the Kremlin and members of Ukraine’s so-called Anti-Crisis coalition in parliament, he rested the issue squarely on a future national referendum.

It is no secret that Yanukovych’s Regions party adamantly opposes Ukrainian membership in NATO and relishes today’s harsh realities: Ukrainian public support for NATO today is low and declining, anti-NATO activities have increased over the past year, and the Ukrainian government’s support for a NATO information campaign remains scant.

Moreover, Moscow, as in the past, stands ready to resort to active measures in Ukraine to support anti-NATO forces, should the need arise.

To believe that this decidedly negative trend line on Ukrainian membership in NATO can be easily reversed is, indeed, a pernicious myth.

Fact 4: Vladimir Putin waged economic wars – gas, meat, and dairy notably, in 2005 and 2006 with the clear intention of destabilizing Ukraine’s economy and Yushchenko’s Orange government.

These “man-made crises,” unquestionably, harmed Ukraine’s economy and measurably influenced the political scene.

With his man, Viktor Yanukovych, now in power, Putin no longer needs to wage economic wars.

Putin, strictly speaking, only seeks good partner relations with Yanukovych and other Moscow-loyal members of the Regions-led parliamentary coalition.

Putin’s aversion to color revolutions and their leaders remains categorical.

His ongoing economic war with Georgia, home of the Rose Revolution and reportedly 70 percent support for NATO membership, is compelling evidence of this fact and a stark daily reminder.

At first glance, Putin’s decision to end economic wars with Ukraine and help stabilize its economy, if only to benefit Viktor Yanukovych, is welcome news.

The crucial question, however, is at what price to the nation?

Putin’s preferred vision for Ukraine is a mirror image of what he has accomplished in Russia during his presidency.

Translated, this means total control of the “commanding heights” by a Moscow-loyal Party of Regions with the virtual monopolization of parliament by pro-Regions forces, the consignment of any democratic opposition in parliament to the political wilderness, and judicial attacks upon any uncooperative big business.

It also means that the future of Ukraine’s budding NGOs and any genuine security sector reform will be in grave jeopardy.

It must be said that in Putin’s Russia a distinction is made between acceptable (government affiliated) and unacceptable (state adversaries) NGOs, while security services unarguably function as a political instrument.

To what extent do Yanukovych and Party of Regions leaders share such a vision?

Disturbingly, in just over 100 days in government, they have provided much cogent evidence of their preference for Putin’s authoritarian style of leadership and model of government.

Furthermore, their intent to gravitate toward a Moscow-Donetsk vector in domestic and foreign policymaking is evident almost daily.

Vladimir Putin will continue to view Ukraine through the prism of velvet revolutions and their clear and present danger to Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space.

He will struggle unceasingly to ensure the demise of the Orange Revolution and a Ukraine outside of NATO.

Moreover, Putin and Party of Regions leaders will likely remain loyal partners in this struggle.

Source: Kyiv Post

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