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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cunning Kremlin Strategy for Ukraine

It seems I may have been correct last week in my assessment of the Kremlin's secret designs for Ukraine. Moscow clearly backed former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's pro-Western bloc Our Ukraine in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Just as clearly, the Kremlin has decided not to support the pro-Russian parties and organizations grouped around President Leonid Kuchma.

Let me explain how I came to this conclusion.

The Yushchenko bloc was subjected to an unprecedented mud-slinging campaign in recent weeks on state-owned television stations ORT and RTR. The coup de gr...ce was ORT's unscheduled broadcast of "The Shadow of Black Wings," a documentary devoted to Ukrainian extremist nationalists.

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The networks' news coverage and the documentary followed the same pattern. The leading lights of the pro-Russian parties more or less directly accused Yushchenko of Russophobia and aiding and abetting Nazism. They even hinted that he was connected to a politically motivated murder. Our Ukraine was represented by second-tier officials or not at all. The bloc's viewpoint was freely interpreted by the networks' news anchors.

A lot of ORT's programming is broadcast in Ukraine by the popular station Inter. Many people have full access to ORT and RTR via legal and pirate cable networks. So the Russian networks' propaganda must have influenced the Ukrainian electorate. But in what way?

I have been professionally monitoring media coverage of elections throughout the former Soviet Union since the State Duma elections in 1993. On occasion I have worked as a monitor for the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This experience has taught me that there is no better way to promote a politician than attacking him on state television. And there's no better way to damage a politician in a former Soviet republic than by giving him favorable coverage from Moscow.

In Kiev back in 1994, shortly before the first round of the Ukrainian presidential elections, I watched a lengthy discussion on Russian Channel One between Leonid Kuchma and Arkady Volsky, then the heads of their respective country's Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists.

Next to the impressive, self-confident Volsky -- who was not exactly at the top of Russia's political and economic totem pole -- Kuchma, a presidential candidate in one of Europe's largest countries, came across as a fussy, ingratiating, sorry little schoolboy.

The following day the entire city was talking about Kuchma's pathetic performance, and cosmopolitan Kiev turned substantially more nationalistic. If not for this broadcast, organized by the Kremlin, Kuchma would probably have beaten his opponent, Leonid Kravchuk, in the first round.

Moscow's latest intervention in the Ukrainian electoral process on behalf of pro-Russian politicians was unprecedented in its unscrupulousness.

I truly believe that Russian state television is run by people who know what they're doing. And I believe that these people, in the Kremlin and at Ostankino, are pursuing a shrewd strategy. Only one thing poses a threat to the Kremlin's designs. In Ukraine, as in Russia, control of polling stations is the key to winning elections. And the polling stations are in the hands of the pro-Russian party of power.

Whatever the case, one hopes that Yushchenko himself is privy to the Kremlin's plans.

Otherwise, if he gets into power he may deal with Russian state television in Ukraine just as Putin dealt with NTV and TV6. And he would be fully justified in doing so.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (