As Ukraine Toys With Moving West, Russians Push East

MOSCOW, Russia -- Many Ukrainians may very well prefer to tilt towards Europe, and one look at two weeks of protests in Kiev would suggest that it might even be a majority.

The old Soviet Ukraine. By some estimates, Kiev is still taking orders from Moscow.

Yet, despite the pro-Europe, anti-Russian slant of the protests over an E.U. trade deal the Ukraine government rejected, Russia’s population prefers the Ukrainians stick with them.

According to a poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, 59% of Russian respondents agreed that Russia and Ukraine share “one blood” and that it would be better for them to have closer ties.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians on the streets of Kiev say its Western European blood running through their veins.

An increasing number of Russians see strains in the relationship between the former Soviet state and the Kremlin, ruled by one Vladimir Putin.

Protesters see Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych as kowtowing to Putin over a trade deal with the European Union that ex-Soviet states Georgia and Moldova recently signed.

Some 39% of Russians believe that the country’s relationship with Ukraine is getting worse, compared with 30% six months ago.

Last Friday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow had nothing to do with Yanukovych’s decision to renege on his talks with European leaders in Lithuania last month regarding tighter trade relations.

“They realized that at the moment, they’re not ready for this,” Medvedev said in a televised interview on Russia’s state TV channel Rossiya 1.

“In all probability, they decided at least to postpone the signing. We just focused on the problems of the deal, telling them what they might be,” he said.

On Tuesday, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow got political on his Twitter account, saying “Ukraine’s future lies with Europe.”

Vershbow made his comments in Brussels Tuesday after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, a decision-making body responsible for developing bilateral ties.

Street protests have been taking place in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities for the past several weeks.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian opposition leaders rejected talks proposed by the ruling government to help resolve the current political crisis.

“There will be no round tables with them, only immediate resignation of Yanukovych and his allies” former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko reportedly said from her jail cell in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko is from the “Fatherland” party, the country’s prime opposition party today.

She is fighting charges of murder and abuse of power over a Russian oil and gas deal with Gazprom in 2009.

Russia is Ukraine’s biggest, single nation trading partner, accounting for over 23% of the Ukraine exports.

The country ended 2012 in a technical recession and required a stand-by facility from the International Monetary Fund to keep its house in order.

Once the agricultural powerhouse of the old Soviet Union, Ukraine’s GDP per capita is just $7,500, less than Russia, China and Brazil.

“It is too early to say how any of this turns out, but I cannot think of any scenario where the outcome of this is good for Russia,” said Kingsmill Bond, chief strategist for Sberbank in Moscow.

“These protests are a big driver for the Russian market. Hard to see this as having a beneficial image on Russian shares,” he said.

Source: Forbes