Russia is seeking to identify “a Ukrainian Putin,” declared the Kremlin’s top political operative Gleb Pavlovsky in the wake of Ukraine’s March 31 parliamentary elections, and then to propel him to Ukraine’s presidency when incumbent President Leonid Kuchma’s term expires in 2004. Moscow wants the three parties it supported in these elections–namely, the pro-presidential bloc For United Ukraine (FUU), the quintessentially oligarchic United Social Democrat Party (USDP) and the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU)–to rally round a pro-Russian candidate in the 2004 presidential election and defeat the Western-oriented reformer Viktor Yushchenko. To that end they should use “the powerful administrative machinery and national mass media,” according to Pavlovsky, whose Kremlin team played a key role in the FUU’s and USDP’s campaigns. Shortly before the balloting, Russian President Vladimir Putin–concerned over the likely strong showing of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc–openly enlisted Ukraine’s Communist Party in an anti-Yushchenko, anti-Western front (see the Monitor, March 20, 27).
In the wake of the balloting, Russian officials and politicians across the spectrum defended the “administrative pressure” on Our Ukraine as “something normal in elections.” According to Kremlin public relations official Sergei Markov, the conduct of the electoral campaign was “fully compatible with European countries generally.” The head of the Russian electoral observers’ group, Duma deputy Aleksandr Saliy, concluded that “administrative pressure was applied, as it is in any country when state bodies influence voter choices.” CIS Executive Committee Chairman/Executive Secretary Yury Yarov, waving off the evidence of fraud, described the elections as “unquestionably democratic,” as did Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Contrasting with Western assessments, the Russian ones covered up and condoned antidemocratic practices in Ukraine, even encouraging their repeat in 2004 as a means to defeat the prodemocracy Our Ukraine. Russian officials and the media under their control openly fought against Ukraine’s Western-oriented and nationally minded parties while favoring corrupt oligarchs and, ultimately, the Communists in the electoral campaign. Putin met not only with Kuchma but also with the Communist leader Petro Symonenko–the first time since 1991 that a Ukrainian Communist was officially received in the Kremlin–thus giving them “support that no money can buy,” according to Markov. Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, and other Kremlin and Foreign Affairs Ministry officials went public encouraging the pro-Kuchma FUU, the United Social Democrats and the Communists to cooperate against Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, “that American project of the Russophobe lobby.” According to the same Moscow officials, “Yushchenko and his team are incompatible with the Russian idea of Russia-Ukraine integration.” The officials aired plans for a Moscow-brokered coalition of FUU, USDP and the CPU, “so as to strengthen Russian-Ukrainian bilateral relations.” “If we put them all together, they will undoubtedly prevail [in the new Ukrainian parliament], and so will Russia,” concurred Konstantin Kosachev, first deputy chairman of the pro-government Fatherland-All Russia in the Duma and a senior figure among Russian observers of these Ukrainian elections.
On the other hand, the independent Russian observer Aleksei Pankin, one of Europe’s most experienced media watchers and former head of the Dusseldorf-based International Institute on the Media, zeroed in on Russian state media’s propaganda assault on Our Ukraine. “Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine’s electoral process, on behalf of pro-Russian politicians, was unprecedented in its unscrupulousness,” Pankin found. By the same token, “the Yushchenko bloc was subjected to an unprecedented mud-slinging campaign by [Russian] state television networks ORT and RTR.”
Indeed, Our Ukraine was depicted as “anti-Russian,” dominated by “radical nationalists,” hostile to eastern Ukraine generally and the Russians there specifically. Russian television networks–as well as Kremlin-affiliated producers, using Ukrainian television channels–slandered Yushchenko as a protector of pro-Nazi groups and a Russophobe, and dredged up old disinformation, long since debunked, about Yushchenko having been implicated in banking malpractice while head of Ukraine’s National Bank. The Russian state television introduced Communist leader Symonenko favorably as “pro-Russian” while sneering at Yushchenko as “pro-Western” (UNIAN, Den, Zerkalo Nedeli, Moscow Times, Interfax, April 1-9).
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