As the tens of thousands of Ukrainians continue to protest the outcome of Sunday’s presidential runoff, Moscow has embraced Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, as the new president-elect.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who openly backed Yanukovych throughout the campaign, sent him his congratulations late Monday — even though the Central Election Commission had yet to declare a winner. “The battle was hard-fought, but open and honest, and his victory was convincing,” Interfax reported from Brazil, where Putin was on an official visit. Putin also spoke with outgoing President Leonid Kuchma by telephone and they agreed to meet soon in St. Petersburg, according to Putin spokesman Alexei Gromov (Interfax, November 22).
The election monitors from the CIS countries did not report any irregularities at the Ukrainian polls, calling the ballot “transparent, legitimate, and free.” The delegation Russia sent to monitor the election included politicians and public figures, and was headed by the State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who congratulated Yanukovych on his victory yesterday in Kyiv. Russia also provided transportation for 200,000 Ukrainian citizens living in Russia to travel to Ukraine to vote; most Ukrainian citizens living in Russia are believed to support Prime Minister Yanukovych (RFE/RL, November 22; Kommersant, November 23).
By contrast, no Western foreign leader has congratulated Yanukovych. Furthermore, most international organizations that were monitoring the polls pronounced the ballot un-free and its outcome unfair. Observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Sunday’s run-off vote fell far short of European democratic norms. The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about the election and threatened to review its relations with Ukraine if the government failed to investigate the allegations of election fraud. The U.S. official observer, Senator Richard Lugar, alleged “concerted and forceful” fraud, and the European Union called on Ukraine to review the election. It is expected that Ukrainian ambassadors in all the EU states will be summoned today to the foreign ministries in the countries where they are accredited and officially told about the bloc’s refusal to recognize the election result (BBC, Gazeta.ru, November 23).
Thus, the geopolitical “battle for Ukraine” between Russia and the West, which was being waged throughout the election campaign, is going on now over the ballot’s outcome, some Russian analysts contend. As one witty commentary put it, the fact that the Kremlin favorite became Ukraine’s new president is recognized only by Yanukovych himself, the Central Election Commission, and Vladimir Putin, while the United States, EU, and millions of Ukrainians are convinced that democratic challenger Viktor Yushchenko has won.
According to the noted journalist and publisher Vitaly Tretyakov, the West and Russia are waging “a political war” for influence over Ukraine and the “geopolitical orientation it will take after the election” (Ekho Moskvy, November 21). Many other Russian commentators agree. Oleg Panteleyev, a member of the Federation Council Committee for the CIS Affairs, says that he, “as a Russian citizen,” is happy about a Yanukovych win. Now, he argues, “Our geopolitical interests will likely be secured; by contrast, Yushchenko’s victory would have boosted the Americanization of Ukraine.” In the current situation of utter polarization in Ukraine, Russia, the lawmaker believes, has to use its economic and political clout to protect its vital national interests. “In general, we have to influence the policies of the neighboring states,” contends Panteleyev (Vremya novostei, November 23).
But some Russian analysts warn against viewing the political process in Ukraine exclusively through the prism of the Russian-American geopolitical rivalry. In the opinion of Sergei Karaganov, head of the influential Council of Foreign and Defense Policy, “Russia is not interested in Ukraine’s turning into a battleground for Russia-U.S. confrontation or for any other sort of battles.” Moscow wants to see this country’s leading political forces to ultimately unite to build a “strong and quickly developing Ukraine,” Karaganov says (Strana.ru, November 23).
Indeed, some Russian political scientists expect that Yanukovych and Yushchenko will try to reach an agreement. According to Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute, both sides are now busy looking for a reliable mediator to start the negotiations. But Alexei Makarkin, an analyst at the Center of Political Technologies, believes the likelihood of the “violent scenario” in politically divided Ukraine is rather high (Politcom.ru, November 22; Vedomosti, November 23).