Desperately Seeking a Reliable Partner in Kiev

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The unfolding gas crisis has made it apparent that Russia has no viable partner to deal with in Ukraine.

After putting all its eggs in one basket in 2004, when the Kremlin unconditionally supported Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine's presidential election, Moscow has tried to engage different, more reliable leaders.

First, the Kremlin tried to work out a good relationship with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, acting on the premise that you deal with the government at hand. Unfortunately, this approach did not work. Yushchenko quickly lost his credibility at home and proved unable to deliver on promises while poking Russia in the eye on politically touchy issues such as the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s and the rehabilitation of Ukrainian nationalist fighters who collaborated with the Nazis.

During her first term, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko did her share to sour the relationship with Moscow by trying to squeeze Russian companies in Ukraine. To add icing to the cake, she wrote an article titled "Containing Russia" in the U.S. journal Foreign Affairs.

In summer 2006, Moscow greeted a new parliamentary coalition in Kiev with relief. It was led by the Party of the Regions, which made Yanukovych prime minister again. The Kremlin invested a lot of political capital into Yanukovych, but he completely blew it by demonstrating indecisiveness on issues like the Russian language and NATO.

Tymoshenko now seems a better bet as she has recently demonstrated less eagerness to provoke Moscow while promising to deliver where it matters. In August, she skillfully distanced herself from Yushchenko's support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Last October, she made a strategic deal with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on gas prices and management of Ukraine's gas transportation network that would have precluded the mess we are seeing today. But on Dec. 31, as she was boarding her plane to fly to Moscow to close the deal, she got a call from Yushchenko and canceled the flight.

Today, Moscow is facing a lineup of Ukrainian politicians endowed with the infinite capacity to betray. In the fall, Yanukovych worked with Tymoshenko to oust Yushchenko; today, Yanukovych is working with Yushchenko to oust Tymoshenko. Ukrainian politicians flock to Moscow to request support for themselves and to deny it to others.

The Kremlin is fed up with this. It is time to reach out to the next generation of Ukrainian leaders.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.