Kremlin Cheers As Public Turns Its Back On Yushchenko

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia cheered the exit of Viktor Yushchenko, who lost Sunday's presidential election in Ukraine in the first round of voting. The western-oriented president had antagonised Moscow during his five-year rule.

Boris Gryzlov

Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian Duma, or lower house of parliament, told journalists on Monday the lesson of Mr Yushchenko's presidency was encouraging for Moscow: "The Ukrainian people made it known very clearly that anti-Russian policies have no future." he said. "This policy did not answer the needs of Ukraine's national interest."

Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation, based in Moscow, said "Russia is rejoicing", adding that Mr Yushchenko's policies were examples of "ideocratic and extreme nationalism".

"These policies were inappropriate in a country that is fundamentally not anti-Russian. Ukraine is not Poland. It is much different," he said.

Mr Yushchenko's presidency was a stark demonstration of how much politics in the post-Soviet region has become a zero-sum game of geopolitical competition between east and west. Ukraine's decision to apply for NATO membership drew a harsh Russian response in 2008.

Mr Yushchenko accused Russia of committing genocide against Ukraine during the reign of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, and took Georgia's side against Russia during a brief war fought in August 2008.

Sergei Karaganov, head of Russia's Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, said that neither Mr Yanukovich nor Yulia Tymoshenko, who now face each other in a February 7 run off, were obviously preferable for Moscow.

"Both of them will be a challenge to deal with, but are people who reflect the interest of Ukraine, and realise that this interest lies in balancing the west versus Russia. Yushchenko didn't understand that, and that is why he was a sorry footnote."

But Mr Nikonov said that Russian officials would likely prefer Mr Yanukovich, whose party has a partnership agreement with United Russia, which is headed by Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister.

Mr Yanukovich also favours giving the Russian language official status in Ukraine, while Ms Tymoshenko does not. Such a promise is likely to be empty as Ukraine's parliament would be unlikely to approve such a step.

Some liberal commentators see the fact of Ukraine's election as a positive legacy of western-oriented reforms championed by Mr Yushchenko.

Matvei Ganapolsky, of Moscow's opposition-oriented radio station Ekho Moskvy, said the comparison between Russian and Ukrainian political systems makes it clear to many Russians how little political freedom they have under the current Kremlin regime.

Source: FT