The Kremlin seems set to repeat last year’s performance in assisting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma withstand a Red revanche in the elections. Concerned lest such a revanche in Ukraine produce a spillover effect in Russia, the Kremlin and President Boris Yeltsin personally helped orchestrate political support for Kuchma’s camp in last year’s parliamentary elections; and are embarking on a similar effort ahead of this year’s presidential contest, in which Kuchma seeks reelection. The Kremlin’s support takes two main forms. First, postponing the moment of reckoning for Ukraine’s debts to Russia, instead of calling in the debts and reducing or stopping gas and oil deliveries. The later course of action could trigger a social and political backlash in Ukraine that would play directly into the leftist opposition’s hands. The second, even clearer form of support consists of organizing high-level meetings with television coverage designed to suggest to the Ukrainian electorate that Kuchma promotes cordial relations with Russia and has the latter’s blessing. That tactic robs the leftist opposition of the chance to play the “Russian card” in the populous, partly russified eastern and southern Ukrainian regions, whose votes ultimately determine the outcome of national elections.
The “no-neckties” meeting of Yeltsin and Kuchma on July 4 near Moscow kicked off that concerted effort. Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin is scheduled to hold extensive follow-up talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Valery Pustovoytenko and with Kuchma on July 15-17 in Kyiv. Yeltsin is now considering an official visit to Ukraine in September. And CIS Executive Secretary Yuri Yarov announced yesterday that the next CIS summit will probably be held, per Kuchma’s request, in early October in the Crimea. That timing falls just days before Ukraine’s presidential election; the venue is a leftist and Russian-oriented part of Ukraine; and the idea is to swing leftist and Russian votes in Kuchma’s favor (UNIAN, Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), Ukrainian TV, ORT, Itar-Tass, July 5-8).
…BUT IT CARRIES A PRICE.