A Vendetta Becomes a Foreign Policy

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian state media had a field day trashing Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko last week by airing the pronouncements of his domestic political rivals, including Volodymyr Lytvyn, the speaker of the parliament, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine President Yushchenko (L) and Russian President Putin

As I watched the reports joyously predicting that Tymoshenko would manage to get the recent gas agreement annulled in court I started to wonder about the goal of Russia's policy toward Ukraine. The evidence suggests that this policy boils down to President Vladimir Putin's personal vendetta against Yushchenko.

It's not enough that he didn't die after being poisoned; he went and won the election! Putin's only human, after all. And it's a lot easier to forgive someone who's done you wrong than it is to forgive someone you've wronged yourself.

The giddy coverage of Yushchenko's difficulties at home at least makes sense if psychology, not politics, is behind it -- a complex process of one politician gratifying his dislike for another politician by cooking up conspiracies and machinations, a little poison and turning off the gas.

But if we're talking about official Kremlin policy, and not just a personal feud, then this coverage makes no sense at all. Russia's political interests in Ukraine would be best served by drawing Ukraine into our sphere of influence.

But the Ukrainian opposition leaders we see on television are all speaking out against Russia. Yushchenko caved in to the Russians, they say, but we won't. We'll overturn that agreement.

The Kremlin has accomplished the impossible: Ever since the gas scandal, once-respectable Ukrainian politicians have been spouting the kind of rabidly anti-Russian rhetoric that was once limited to the most diehard nationalists.

Previously, a pro-Russian opposition seemed possible in Ukraine. Now opposition leaders compete to prove that they hate Russia even more than Yushchenko does.

The Russian state media broadcast all of this in reports about domestic opposition to Yushchenko, and the Kremlin takes credit for it.

Try to imagine that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had a personal falling-out with the prime minister of Israel. And that Israeli television was ordered to drag Abbas through the mud.

And that the leaders of Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades came out against Abbas, declaring that he had betrayed the interests of the Palestinian people by negotiating with Israel and calling for his ouster -- all on Israeli television. And that the Israelis then invited these same leaders to Tel Aviv for talks, and gave them money -- anything to get rid of Abbas.

And that after all this the talking heads on Israeli news programs declared with evident satisfaction that Abbas' days in power were numbered.

It couldn't happen, right? No democratically elected leader who decided to indulge his personal dislike for a foreign leader at the expense of his own country's national interests would hold on to his job for more than a month. Right?

Well, this is exactly what is happening in Russia today. And it offers grim evidence that the Kremlin no longer regards foreign policy as a policy of defending our national interests. We are now left with another kind of foreign policy, according to which wars are started because the princess of a neighboring kingdom rejects an offer of marriage, or the favorite of a neighboring king has a roll in the hay with our queen.

Lord Palmerston once said that Britain had no eternal allies, but that its interests were eternal and perpetual. The current denizens of the Kremlin no longer seem to have eternal interests, just the perpetual desire to rule.

Source: The Moscow Times