Putin’s Ukrainian Catastrophe

During the elections, the Russian observers could not fail to notice a huge number of violations, but they gave the impression that they were seeing them only in the west of Ukraine, where the elections were supposedly being rigged in favour of Yushchenko. In reality, Ukraine unlike Russia is not a federation but a unitary state, in which local administrations are subject to the president. Before the second round of voting, President Kuchma had replaced the heads of administrations in the provinces where the opposition was winning. To a significant degree, the violations thus favoured the authorities not only in the east, but in the west as well.

The Ukrainian elections were no longer like those in Russia, but like somewhere in Nigeria, featuring violence, the exclusion of observers, and control by clan chieftains over the actions of voters on “their” territory. Yanukovich finally gained the number of votes he needed, but his victory was Pyrrhic. Not only did the opposition take to the streets, but it had obvious moral and political grounds for refusing to accept the election results.

The theses about the struggle of a pro-American opposition against a pro-Moscow political elite do not stand up to scrutiny, and neither do the constantly repeated assertions about a clash between the Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russian-speaking east. Yushchenko is unquestionably a pro-American politician. But the same can equally be said of the present rulers of the Ukrainian republic. It was current President Leonid Kuchma who, together with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, sent Ukrainian forces to Iraq. The same two leaders stage-managed the absurd crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations over a dam alongside tiny Tuzla Island. Meanwhile, a number of opposition politicians criticised the sending of troops, as did the communists, who have refused to support either side in the present conflict.

American financial support for Yushenko is quite visible. However one can easily discover that most sponsors who contributed to his campaign also contributed generously to Kerry’s campaign (Soros, National Democratic Institute etc.). Republican funding for Yushenko was almost symbolic. There was also a lot of Western European and especially German money. But ironically, some of the biggest contributions came from Russia – notably from those business groups who were not satisfied by privatization deals offered by Yanukovich and expected to rerun the process. These expectations were not unjustified.

Just as false are the attempts to divide Ukrainian society on linguistic lines. Kiev, the capital, is a stronghold of the opposition, even though the language one mostly hears on the streets there is Russian. Mass demonstrations took place in Kharkov, regarded as the center of Russian culture in Ukraine. The actions in support of the authorities that were organised in Donetsk and other industrial cities were reminiscent of Soviet-era demonstrations, to which people were driven with sticks. Those who spoke were mainly trade union officials and administrative functionaries, while the workers took the first chance to make off to their homes. Despite the claims that thousands of miners would be brought to Kiev to do battle with the opposition, the authorities managed to put on show only a few dozen Donetsk gangsters in ill-fitting miners’ helmets, along with a group of fancy-dress Cossacks.

Least of all can the Russian leadership be called anti-American or anti-Western. None other than Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly declared his support for George Bush in the November US elections. At the same time as Moscow television was condemning American interference in Ukraine, Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov was discussing with journalists the possibility of sending weapons to Iraq for the US-controlled Iraqi forces, and also of sending military experts. Germany, France and other European countries have refused American requests of this type.

It is also unclear how Russia in 2004 might “lose” Ukraine. After all, our own state long ago recognised Ukrainian independence. If we are talking not of control but of Russian political, moral and cultural influence on the neighbouring republic, it would be hard to think of any worse means for achieving this than what the Kremlin has done in recent months. If someone had set out deliberately to undermine Russia’s position in Ukrainian society, he or she could scarcely have achieved more than the Kremlin administration has managed through its work with Kuchma and Yanukovich. The Kremlin has not only shocked everyone with its crude and unconcealed meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state, but more importantly, has done this so ineptly that it has finished up harming its own cause.

The stakes in the political struggle in Ukraine are enormous, including for the Kremlin. But these stakes have nothing to do with national interests, or with the now long-gone contest between communist East and bourgeois West. The semi-criminal clans which in the course of privatisation seized control not only over the industry in eastern Ukraine, but to a significant degree over the population as well, have close ties with the bureaucratic-oligarchic groups that hold sway in Moscow.

Russian capital is starting a massive expansion in Ukraine. Talks have begun on the purchase of telecommunications companies, metallurgical plants, and even breweries. The Donetsk clans that have united around Yanukovich need to hold onto power, to ensure that the planned deals will go through smoothly.

There is no paradox here. The crisis of a ruling elite has an objective character, quite separate from Washington’s intrigues. All US diplomacy does is to realistically weigh up the existing situation, and then, instead of taking a stand on what is obviously the losing side, to select new and more promising partners from among the opposition. What is important for the US in such cases is to ensure that when the new leadership comes to power, the foreign policy course of the country in question remains as before. In other words, Washington supports democratic revolutions with a single aim: to geld them of their radical potential.

Many of the party’s supporters acknowledge that this situation is lamentable. Hence we read on a leading communist website: “The working class and its party have been unable to act as an independent political force, as an organised, conscious subject of the historical process. It has not been communists who have led the working class, but the bourgeoisie with its candidates and organisations. This is simply a fact. Meanwhile, the communists have been driven onto the sidelines of the struggle, forced into the position of onlookers, incapable of influencing the outcome in any way.” (http:///www.communist.ru/lenta/index.php?10168).

Whoever wins, one of the main victims of the Ukrainian crisis will be Vladimir Putin. By openly supporting the Ukrainian regime, investing large quantities of money in it, and by sending it a whole army of advisers and political tutors, the Kremlin risked getting only problems in return. Even if Yanukovich wins, his main concern will be with rebuilding relations with the West. At his meeting with the European Union in the Hague, Putin will have to try to justify himself, losing the last shreds of his authority. Most importantly, before his own people, armed forces and police in Russia he has once again shown himself to be a weak and incompetent politician. And in Russia, the weak do not prevail.

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