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Much depends on Ukrainian elections

By Messenger Staff
Friday, January 8
The Presidential elections in Ukraine, scheduled for January 17, are approaching. There are 18 candidates. The result will answer many questions, of which the most important is what Ukraine’s foreign policy orientation will be. Further developments in the post-Soviet space as a whole, and the global geo-political configuration, will be affected by this.

The only thing about these elections which analysts agree on is that there will be a second round on either January 31 or February 7, because it is unlikely that either of the main candidates will reach the threshold first time round. All opinion polls say this. One more thing which is almost certain is that current President Viktor Youshchenko will not retain his position, and will not even contest the second round, which will be fought between Viktor Yanukovich, opposition leader and Youshchenko’s main rival at the last Presidential election, and current PM Yulia Tymoshenko. Polls state that Yanukovich, who is clearly pro-Russian, is supported by the pro-Russian population, approximately 30%, whereas Tymoshenko, who has relations with both Moscow and the West, has the support of about 20%. Sergey Tigibko, a former President of the Ukrainian National Bank and close ally of Ukraine’s former President Leonid Kuchma, is supported by around 7% of voters. Next is Arsen Yatsenuk, and only after him Youshchenko, favoured by around 4% of the electorate.

The current situation is a reflection of the Ukrainian public's frustration with the results of the Orange Revolution and NATO delaying granting Ukraine a MAP and thus the perception that the West has betrayed Ukraine in its relations with Russia. The reset policy touted in Washington has resulted in Russia making more attempts to influence its nearest neighbours in political, economic and military matters. Whoever becomes Ukraine’s President, Yanukovich or Tymoshenko, will try to restore good relations with Russia and soften the country’s moves towards the West. Electors judge on the basis of results, and Ukraine’s Western ambitions have not so far yielded many positive results, but created certain problems in relations with Moscow, as last year’s ‘gas war’ confirmed.

Current President Youshchenko has built his campaign on Kiev continuing to embrace the West, saying that both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich are pro-Kremlin. He is trying to gain the support of that portion of the electorate which still has pro-Western sentiments, but this is leaving him far behind in the contest. Moscow is now becoming very strong and aggressive economically and militarily and therefore politically, so the new President will presumably conduct a policy which takes Moscow's views into account. This might result in Ukraine reducing its participation in the Eastern Partnership Project and GUAM and creating extra transit routes for Russian energy instead.

How this impact Georgia? Of course negatively, because the Kremlin leadership is in deep confrontation with Georgia's current leadership. Of course Saakashvili supports his friend Youshchenko, though he has very little if any chance, but this means that Ukraine’s future President might distance the country from Georgia, thus reducing the Ukrainian market for Georgian goods, to gain more brownie points in Moscow. As it known Ukraine has provided the best substitute for the lost Russian market. Furthermore some Western analysts highlight that Crimea is claimed by Russia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been snatched from Georgia by force, so why can Crimea not be snatched from Ukraine? The distribution of Russian passports began there long ago, the majority of the Crimean population are pro-Russian. It is perfectly possible that Russia might impose another 'new reality' on Ukraine, either peacefully or militarily.

Western analysts say that Ukraine can show very strong and substantial military resistance to Russia. It would not take two days to subdue Ukraine as it did Georgia. But Ukraine’s future leaders could show soft resistance if Moscow tries to achieve desirable results in the same soft way.