Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Russian Bear Awaketh

"Economically, Kiev has little choice but to increase investment and trade ties with America and Europe; geographically, Ukraine's security inevitably will be linked to Russia."
Doug Bandow, Between West and East, The American Spectator

As the world waits and watches, tensions intensify heading towards a boiling point between, on the one hand, the tens of thousands of protesters camping out in Kiev under subzero temperatures -- many of whom, incidentally, have had pictures taken with the apparently sympathetic army -- and, on the other hand, the Prime Minister and forces of the Kremlin, who consider the Ukraine, "the linchpin in the new frontier of Russia-led Eurasian integration." The sluggish Russian bear arises from his period of hibernation in time to maul the "Orange Revolutionaries"?

The Russian Bear has made it clear that it will not have Ukraine joining the EU or NATO, they would much rather -- and they are growling the point rather aggressively -- that the Ukraine become a satellite in the orbit of some sort of amorphous neo-Russian empire, with Putin as Czar.

In point of fact, Russian anxiety over the West's pressuring of it to in turn pressure Iran to drop their nuclear ambitions coupled with their intransigence on the issue of the Ukraine has put bilateral relations between the America and Russia at a crossroads. Russia feels that it is on the wrong side of Iran, a traditional ally.

Further, bilateral relations between the Ukraine and the US are thorny -- for one, Ukraine has given permission to allied forces to use its air space to deliver humanitarian relief to Afghanistan, and, second, German and US transport planes have been using Ukrainian air space since the beginning of operation "Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan. Our entanglements with the Ukraine has actually exacerbated Russia's change of heart of its current geopolitical position vis a vis Europe.

Cooperation between the Ukraine and the West over Enduring Freedom has heightened the existential anxiety that Russian hands feel at the widening sphere of western influence in their backyard coinciding with their geopolitical weakening. And we all know how territorial and grumpy bears can be when perceived threats get too close.

Add to the mix Colin Powell's somewhat undiplomatic (did this directive come from The President, or is this a rogue statement from a popular lame duck Secretary of State making waves for his successor, a Russia hand? We won't entertain the possibility that sour grapes played a factor?) questioning the legitimacy of the election (morally right, but certainly impolitic), going several degrees further than the measured response from the President.

Clearly this is a situation that can only be resolved by robust diplomacy. But how far will Russia go, especially with the full knowledge that the US is engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan and cannot possibly confront Russia, and the puny EU military (The Us has carried their water for decades)? Ought the Ukraine to be divided? The Russophile section of the country -- roughly 40 percent -- becomes a part of Russia and the Europhiles (Ukranian elites who are tied to economic engagement with the US and the EU) and Russophobic Ukranian nationalists -- roughly 60 percent combined -- to shed it's Russian ties and bask in the EU sphere of influence? Wishful thinking, of course, as there's no way Russia would ever allow for that pleasant and bloodless scenario to unfold, and yet, it appears to be the most wise course, creating precedent that would allow North Ossetia to do the same with Georgia (This time, in favor of Russians).

Voice of America describes the situation thusly:

"Ukrainian officials this week declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner of Ukraine?s presidential election. They say he defeated opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in the election last Sunday. Officials say Mister Yanukovych won forty-nine percent of the vote. They say Mister Yushchenko received forty-six percent.

"But on Thursday, Ukraine?s Supreme Court stopped the Central Elections Commission from officially publishing the election results. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear objections from Mister Yushchenko and his supporters on Monday. "

The always interesting Dick Morris has an insider's eye view (Morris was an unpaid, volunteer adviser to Viktor Yushchenko):

"... I have seen, firsthand, how Viktor Yanukovich, the Putin candidate backed by a coalition of the Russian Mafia, oil barons, former KGB officials and communists stole the election and thwarted the obvious will of the voters."

Tell us how you really feel, Dick.

"While the former Soviet Union was composed of many smaller nations, now independent, the key was the combination of Russia and Ukraine. Russia?s 145 million people and Ukraine?s 45 million are the core of what was the Soviet empire. Reuniting them has to be the primary goal of any aspiring Russian czar. But the Ukrainian people don?t want Russian domination."

Tibor Torbakov of the Eurasian Monitor wrote:

"The bulk of Russian analytic community seems to view the Ukrainian presidential race not as a primarily internal affair of Ukraine but rather as a major geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia and the West.

"Of all ten presidential hopefuls, the Kremlin regards the two frontrunners as polar opposites in terms of their strategic orientation. Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, President Leonid Kuchma's heir apparent, is seen as the man who will best secure Russia's political and economic interests in the region, whereas Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the oppositionist 'Our Ukraine' party, is perceived as dangerously pro-Western."

Morris continues:

"The result was obvious: Exit polls (more accurate in Ukraine than when our own TV networks do them) showed Yushchenko winning by more than 10 points. But the final results, announced by the government, which supported Yanukovich, showed a small margin in favor of the Russian-backed candidate. Putin regarded the contest as so important that he personally visited Ukraine in the weeks before the election to campaign for his candidate, a clear violation of the most elementary standards of independence and protocol. His former KGB henchmen ? and once and future communists ? combined with Russian organized-crime figures and oil barons to pump money into the race and to intimidate voters on the ground."

Matt Drudge has an interesting and -- quite frankly -- scary item, which pounds home the oily gangster element present in the way Moscow approaches Kiev politics:

"As Ukraine's popular pro-Western opposition leader claimed victory Tuesday in hotly contested presidential elections, the mystery surrounding an appearance-altering illness that twice prompted him to check into a Vienna hospital persisted.

"Yushchenko accused the Ukrainian authorities of poisoning him. His detractors suggested he'd eaten some bad sushi.

"Adding to the intrigue, the Austrian doctors who treated him have asked foreign experts to help determine if his symptoms may have been caused by toxins found in biological weapons.

"Medical experts said they may never know for sure what befell Yushchenko.

"But the illness, whatever it was, has dramatically changed his appearance since he first sought treatment at Vienna's private Rudolfinerhaus clinic on September 10.

"Known for his ruggedly handsome, almost movie star looks, Yushchenko's complexion is now pockmarked. His face is haggard, swollen and partially paralyzed. One eye often tears up."

Above: How Moscow tabled the "looks" issue in the Ukranian election.

"Doctors at Rudolfinerhaus declined to comment Tuesday. By the time Yushchenko checked out of the clinic last month after returning for follow-up treatment, physicians said they could neither prove nor rule out that he had been poisoned."

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