Kremlin Ends Freeze With Kiev, In Relief Over Election

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia ended a five-month diplomatic freeze with Ukraine on Monday, demonstrating the Kremlin's relief over President Viktor Yushchenko's failed re-election bid and its willingness to work with either of his successors.

Russia has signaled willingness to work with Ukrainian candidates Viktor Yanukovych or Yulia Tymoshenko (R), seen meeting with Russian Prime Minister Putin in November.

Mikhail Zurabov, whose posting as Russia's ambassador had been delayed since August, arrived in Kiev and handed his credentials to Ukraine's foreign minister. He avoided the lame-duck president, who had angered Russian leaders with policies they considered hostile.

Mr. Yushchenko ran far behind the two frontrunners in the Jan. 17 election, who will face each other in a runoff next month. Before dispatching the new envoy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week he expected the Feb. 7 vote to produce "competent and effective authorities…open to the development of constructive, friendly, all-around relations with Russia."

Those relations have been severely strained since Mr. Yushchenko led Ukraine's pro-Western Orange Revolution of 2004.

Now Moscow's improved position is certain to complicate, if not reverse, Ukraine's political and economic integration with the West. It could also ease tensions that periodically led to price wars and halted winter supplies of Russian gas through Ukraine to a Europe.

Mr. Medvedev wrote a scathing open letter to Mr. Yushchenko in August, complaining of anti-Russian policies. That was widely interpreted as an appeal to Ukrainian voters to dump him for someone more accommodating.

But it was far less meddlesome than the Kremlin's ill-starred attempt to sway the 2004 vote. Vladimir Putin, then Russia's president, twice visited Ukraine that year to support Viktor Yanukovych's candidacy and rushed to applaud his tainted victory, only to be humiliated when poll results were overturned amid massive street protests against alleged fraud.

The Orange Revolution gave Ukraine a pro-Western government that appeared to stand as a model for other former Soviet republics seeking to distance themselves from Moscow. Mr. Yushchenko angered Russian leaders by seeking Ukrainian membership in NATO, supporting Georgia in its conflict with Moscow and campaigning to classify as genocide a Stalin-era famine that killed millions of Ukrainians.

Infighting among the Orange leaders paralyzed his efforts. Voters disillusioned by a limp economy turned against him.

Moscow's satisfaction with his demise is tempered by a wariness that its influence can go only so far, analysts say. Wary of another backlash, Russian leaders refrained from endorsing any candidate in January's first round of voting, while making it clear they could not work with Mr. Yushchenko, The Kremlin instructed Russian television networks to air balanced coverage of the race.

"Russia should be very happy that this strong anti-Russian trend in Ukraine is over," said Sergei Markov, a member of parliament from the ruling United Russia Party who observed the Jan. 17 election. "But I wouldn't call it a feeling of triumph. The mood is more cautious."

With Mr. Yanukovych back from disgrace and running again, the Kremlin cultivated both him and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the Orange heroine who later turned against Mr. Yushchenko. She finished second to Mr. Yanukovych earlier this month and will face him in the runoff.

In November, Mr. Putin praised Ms. Tymoshenko's work as prime minister after striking a deal with her on gas prices. Later he denied favoring her candidacy and noted that United Russia is allied with Mr. Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Both frontrunners said they would repair relations with Russia and shelve Mr. Yushchenko's bid to join NATO, even while pursuing closer ties to the European Union; neither is expected to continue the president's campaign on the genocide issue or his effort to restrict use of the Russian language.

"Russia played it subtle and smart," said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "No matter who wins in Ukraine, there will be fewer points of tension with Moscow."

Mr. Pifer and other analysts believe, however, that either candidate would resist being drawn into a customs union with Russia at the expense of a trade accord with the EU. Russian partisans of Mr. Yanukovych, including Konstantin Zatulin, a member of parliament from the ruling party, view him as a tough adversary on gas prices and other trade issues.

"Russian-speaking voters in Ukraine like Yanukovych more, which means…more convenient leverage for Russia," Gleb Pavlovsky, a political scientist close to the Kremlin said on the Echo of Moscow radio station. Ms. Tymoshenko, he added, is less predictable, "but she will always find a reason to come to agreements and will always find a price."

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Pushkin said…
For those who did not witness the Georgian war's mastermind MEDIA brainwash from the West; just observe the images and media clips from the faded Orange consultants (AKA Western press)... of course favoring Ms Tymoshenko...