How Putin Lost Ukraine
Published: August 22, 2013 (Issue # 1774)
President Vladimir Putin's policy on Ukraine is tragicomic. It is as aggressive as it is unsuccessful. Although Ukraine is high on his political agenda, Putin seems to get it all wrong. His latest mistake is to toy with a trade war. His adviser, Sergei Glazyev, said, "We are preparing to tighten customs procedures if Ukraine makes the suicidal step to sign the association agreement with the EU."
In 2003, Putin started working hard on Ukraine, launching the Common Economic Space of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Shrewdly, then-President Leonid Kuchma went along, and in 2004 Putin saw Kuchma literally every month. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Putin went to Ukraine twice to campaign for his preferred candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. Despite gross election fraud, Putin congratulated him three times on his victory. Even so, he did not think much of Yanukovych.
But Kuchma was a clever politician. During the Orange Revolution in November 2004, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians protested against the rigged election of Yanukovych, he refused to order his troops to shoot on the demonstrators. Putin objected. He thought the state should not give in to popular sentiments. So did Yanukovych, who now allows Ukrainian courts to claim that Kuchma was responsible for the murder of the journalist Georgy Gongadze. Meanwhile, Yanukovych could not care less about the journalists who were murdered under his own watch.
Ukraine's Orange Revolution remains Putin's greatest nightmare. He rendered Russian legislation more repressive so that all preconditions for an Orange Revolution, such as independent political parties, television and nongovernmental organizations, would be eliminated. Predictably, he never got along with Viktor Yushchenko when he was president, while he actually could do business with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
In his fury over the Orange Revolution, Putin cut Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine and a large part of Europe twice: in January 2006 and January 2009. The resulting 2006 gas agreement was considered corrupt, while the 2009 gas agreement set too high a gas price for Ukraine. European Union gas policy came to life, and Gazprom's sales started to decline since it had proven itself an unreliable and excessively expensive quasi-monopolist.
In February 2010, Yanukovych won in a reasonably free and fair presidential election with a slight margin over Tymoshenko. Admittedly, an overwhelming amount of money was illegally delivered to Yanukovych, who also dominated television. Now, Putin thought he had his chance. So did Yanukovych.
Pages:  [2 ]