Gas Crisis Fueled Ukrainian Patriotism

KIEV, Ukraine -- At the height of a gas dispute this week, anonymous text messages zipped across Ukrainians‘ cell phones calling for a boycott of all things Russian.

Russia‘s threats to leave this nation of 47 million shivering through a cold winter triggered an outpouring of anti-Russian sentiment and patriotism, from which President Viktor Yushchenko will likely benefit in March‘s parliamentary elections.

Yushchenko, whose popularity has plummeted since his 2004 rise to power, desperately needed the boost. Some polls had shown his bloc coming in well behind the Kremlin-backed party that opposed the 2004 Orange Revolution — a weak showing that could seriously handicap his remaining four years in office.

Ukraine‘s bare-knuckle politics move at a quick pace, making it unclear how long Yushchenko will be able to capitalize on the crisis at the expense of opponents who favor closer ties to the Kremlin.

"From a political perspective, it would have been smart to drag things out a bit," said Ivan Lozowy, president of the Kiev-based Institute of Statehood and Democracy. "I had never seen anything like this ... it was clearly heading toward a huge disaster for Russia. The anger was ballooning and the European Union and the United States were weighing in and not on Russia‘s side. But it was settled relatively quickly."

Television news programs extolled Ukrainians to hang tough and make sacrifices, and talk shows featured Russia‘s most jingoistic politicians, who referred repeatedly to Ukrainians using a slur deeply offensive to many here — "khokhly" — which refers to the appearance of Ukrainian Cossacks and has come to mean "bumpkins."

"Russia now understands that to bring Ukraine to her knees isn‘t so easy," said Oleksandr Rudakov, 45, a Kiev engineer. "Ukraine is ready to suffer a bit in the short-term if this will safeguard her independence and sovereignty."

Ultimately, though, pain is inevitable. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who opposed the deal, said it could cost the country $4.5 billion this year — 16 percent of the national budget.

Mykhaylo Pohrebinsky, a Kiev-based analyst with ties to the opposition, predicted the crisis "will even further divide Ukraine into two halves — the pro-European west and the pro-Russian east." The Russian-speaking east will blame the conflict on the Orange Revolution team, which has sought to lessen Moscow‘s influence here, he said.

Source: AP