Just as President-elect Viktor Yushchenko predicted, Supreme Rada Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn chose Moscow as the destination of his first visit abroad after Ukraine’s presidential election. Lytvyn, who had switched allegiance from the Kuchma-Yanukovych camp to the constitution of Ukraine and supremacy of law during the presidential election campaign, encountered a cold reception at the highest levels and minimal official media coverage in Moscow.
In his January 7 meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov (the official host), Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, and — for reasons not publicly explained — Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Lytvyn was faced with intrusive questions regarding the choice of Ukraine’s next prime minister. At every step Lytvyn tactfully answered that Ukraine’s prime minister would be appointed in accordance with constitutional processes, and that he would not prejudge the Ukrainian president elect’s decision on the nomination.
That line of questioning was unsurprising in view of Putin’s year-end press conference admonition that, should Yushchenko win after all, “[politicians] surrounding Mr. Yushchenko must not include those whose political ambitions are guided by anti-Russian slogans and such things. In my opinion this is absolutely inadmissible. We, of course, do not ignore such remarks” (Kremlin press release, kremlin.ru, December 23). Given Moscow’s lax definition of what constitutes “anti-Russian” policies, Putin’s remark — and follow-up questions to Lytvyn in Moscow — seems to suggest that the Kremlin intends again to press for a measure of influence on the composition of Ukraine’s government, much as it managed to exert during the final years of Leonid Kuchma’s presidency.
Furthermore, at the public opening of their meeting, Putin admonished Lytvyn that “In the aftermath of Ukraine’s elections, the electoral slogans ought to be replaced by pragmatic views, answering to the interest of economic development and of raising people’s living standards.” Throughout the visit, neither side made any public mention of the Kremlin’s and the Russian parliamentarians’ (Lytvyn’s hosts) ringing endorsement of candidate Viktor Yanukovych during the campaign, and of the fraudulent election returns in his favor.
Lytvyn’s publicly quoted statements during the visit appeared designed to defuse any tempting expectation in Moscow that Ukraine faces political or east-west divisions ripe for exploitation. “No prerequisites exist for a split,” he repeatedly underscored. Noting that the “political situation is developing normally, in regular channels,” Lytvyn explained that it had never come to a “systemic crisis”; that the “acute stage of a political crisis” had been overcome on December 8 (with adoption of the political reform package by the Rada); and that decisions and verdicts of the electoral commission and courts had paved the way for Yushchenko’s upcoming inauguration as the lawfully elected president. “There is no going back,” he pointed out, apparently for the attention of doubters back in Donetsk.
Neither side publicly mentioned the issue of conferring official status on the Russian language in Ukraine –a common goal of Putin and Yanukovych during the campaign — during Lytvyn’s visit. Ukraine’s role in Russian-led plans for a Single Economic Space, now shelved, was mentioned only occasionally and perfunctorily by the Russian side. Both sides expressed satisfaction with bilateral economic relations: both Lytvyn and the Russian leaders termed those bilateral relations “irreplaceable,” and underscored the spectacular rise in the value of trade turnover in 2004 (a rise partly driven by price dynamics, however).
Putin and other Russian officials made no mention of Yushchenko’s offer to visit Moscow first, as early as possible. Lytvyn, having attended an Orthodox Christmas service on January 6 in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, made a point of inviting Putin to attend next year’s Christmas service in Kyiv. In front of the television cameras, Putin nodded to Lytvyn but did not answer anything.
Putin has not yet sent the normal congratulatory telegram to President-elect Yushchenko. Several presidents of CIS countries, who had congratulated Yanukovych on his fraudulent result at Putin’s behest, have in the meantime reversed themselves. Among these, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov sent a warm congratulatory telegram to Yushchenko on January 7.
Alone among the CIS member countries, Moldova had officially branded Yanukovych’s winning result after round 2 as fraudulent (Ministry of Foreign Affairs declaration, November 23, 2004); and, afterward, President Vladimir Voronin cabled congratulations to Yushchenko on his round 3 victory on the same day, December 28, that Ukraine’s Central Electoral Commission declared Yushchenko the ultimate winner (Moldpress, December 28).
(Interfax, RIA, Itar-Tass, Russian Television, January 7, 8).