Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 172

The Kremlin sees the ongoing political crisis in Kyiv that culminated in last week’s dismissal of the Yulia Tymoshenko government by President Viktor Yushchenko as an opportune moment to restart the geopolitical “battle for Ukraine.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, although bitterly stung by the inglorious defeat of its favorite in Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election, has always regarded its recent failures as a temporary loss. As most Russian strategists contend, “It is just one battle that was lost and not the entire campaign, which is still ahead.” A consensus appears to be forming within Russia’s policymaking and analytic community that Moscow simply cannot allow itself to stay “passive or neutral” vis-à-vis the events that transpire in Ukraine today. As one influential commentator put it, there is absolutely no reason for Moscow to put on an appearance that it shouldn’t pursue “its own game in the unfolding struggle for power in Ukraine.”

For the Kremlin’s strategic planners, the moment seems ripe, as the Orange camp in Kyiv is in a state of total disarray. After all, quite a few Ukrainian observers themselves assert that a true “political war has broken out” between former allies, “and each day – every few hours – brings an intensification of the hostilities.” So, the Kremlin reasons, why not act now? In fact, some Moscow analysts argue, the “Ukraine campaign” has already restarted, and Russia must prepare and deploy all the necessary resources to win the decisive battle.

The political philosophy behind the Kremlin’s strategic stance is as follows: The overwhelming majority of Russian pundits consider the Orange Revolution not as a manifestation of “people’s power” but as a well-orchestrated “special operation.” In the opinion of one veteran political analyst, last year’s upheaval in Ukraine was an “artfully and artificially prepared coup d’etat within the local elites; it was inspired and sponsored by the outside forces.”

The Kremlin and the White House are deeply divided in their interpretations of political processes in the former Soviet republics, most Russian commentators say. The U.S. administration, they argue, tends to see “color revolutions” as the triumph of democracy over corrupt regimes. But the Russian leadership sees in these pseudo-revolutions evident signs of anti-constitutional coups planned to redistribute property and infected with the virus of corruption.

By firing the Tymoshenko government, Yushchenko has admitted to the failure of “orange” ideas, one recent commentary suggests. Another analysis goes one step further, claming that the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine has thoroughly “de-legitimized the already semi-legal presidential authority of Viktor Yushchenko.”

The unraveling of the Orange coalition in Kyiv will likely force Yushchenko to adjust Ukraine’s foreign policy priorities, some Russian analysts predict. Kyiv’s unequivocally pro-Western course may well be replaced with a more balanced strategy of seeking accommodation with Moscow. A number of analysts interpreted this week’s two-day visit to Moscow by the newly appointed State Secretary Oleh Rybachuk as Ukraine’s move toward rapprochement with Russia. Rybachuk said that he had received the invitation from his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s chief of staff. Calling Rybachuk from Moscow last Sunday, Medvedev reportedly proposed that they “get to know one another better.”

Speaking to journalists in Moscow on September 13, Rybachuk confirmed that the purpose of his trip was to establish personal contacts and facilitate cooperation with his Russian partners. Rybachuk, who was serving as deputy prime minister for European integration when he was appointed state secretary following the resignation of Oleksandr Zinchenko, said that there is no contradiction in strengthening contacts with Moscow as Ukraine pursues European integration. He added that his talks with Medvedev “exceeded his greatest expectations” and that they frankly discussed topics “that diplomats usually avoid.” As one commentary noted, “The haste with which the visit was organized may serve as an indication of official Kyiv’s intention to revise its relations with the Kremlin.”

At the same time, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin praised Yushchenko’s decision to sack the government and said that he hoped the country’s political crisis would be resolved soon. “The president of Ukraine made a courageous move and put everything in its place, and the president should not be reproached,” Chernomyrdin told journalists. It is not difficult to discern the true purpose of the ambassador’s pronouncement. By gloating at the political discord in the neighboring country, the Kremlin, some liberal Russian analysts point out, is seeking to deepen the divide. Ukraine’s current turmoil opens up for the Putin administration a wonderful playing ground for all sorts of “foreign-policy combinations and provocations,” one commentator argues.

It would indeed appear that the geopolitical tug-of-war over Ukraine is about to start anew. As some Russian analysts noted, Yushchenko assured U.S. President George W. Bush in a telephone conversation on Saturday September 10 that Kyiv “will remain committed to its pro-Western policies” despite the change of the government. “Unfortunately for the West,” they add, Yushchenko has very few allies left to help him prove this commitment.

For their part, a number of Western experts agree that the United States and the European Union should better be prepared to act if they want to retain their influence in strategically located Ukraine.

(Rossiiskaya gazeta, Izvestiya, Kyiv Post, September 15; Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 13, 14; Ekho Moskvy, Prognosis.ru, September 13; RIA-Novosti, September, 12; Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, September 9)