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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Counts Its Blessings in Ukraine

APViktor Yushchenko cracking open the champagne Sunday to celebrate his party's victory.
Russian observers agreed Tuesday that there was at least one bit of good news for Moscow in the radically changed Ukrainian parliament: Viktor Yushchenko's pro-Western party will not have a majority.

His party did nonetheless win Sunday's elections for the Verkhovna Rada, and he has emerged as the only clear candidate so far for the presidential race in 2004.

With vote-counting nearly complete, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine looks set to have 110 of the 450 seats in the fractured parliament, followed by President Leonid Kuchma-backed For United Ukraine with 102 seats. The Communist Party is expected to end up with 66.

The sternly anti-Kuchma Socialists of Oleksandr Moroz are looking at 24 seats and should not be confused with the loyal Social Democrats, or SDPU(o), of Viktor Medvedchuk, with 23 seats. Yulia Tymoshenko's radical opposition is likely to have 21 seats.

Half of the Verkhovna Rada seats are chosen by party lists, and the other 225 deputies are elected directly in single-mandate districts.

Reports of voting violations were rampant, but Ukraine's Central Election Commission chairman insisted the irregularities did not affect the outcome, The Associated Press reported from Kiev.

The election commission said Yushchenko's party won 23.5 percent of the party-list vote, while Kuchma's party got only 12 percent, but its candidates dominated in the single-mandate voting. The Communists finished second in the party-list vote, with 20 percent, but showed poorly in the single-mandate districts.

"What is most important for me is that the right-wing bloc, which dreamed of gaining half of the seats, did not get it," Russian State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov said Tuesday.

The problem for Russia in Ukrainian politics is that Ukrainian liberals are largely anti-Russian nationalists and those advocating good relations with Russia largely come from the Communist domain or the unpopular president's nomenklatura.

As a result, the Kremlin supported three forces in the elections, Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov said: presidential chief of staff Volodymir Lytvin's For United Ukraine, known by its acronym Za EDU, which means For Food in Russian and Ukrainian; the Communists; and Medvedchuk's Social Democrats. President Vladimir Putin, who is popular in Ukraine, met with Lytvin and Communist leader Petro Simonenko in the Kremlin during the campaign and with Medvedchuk during his visit last year to Kiev -- giving them support "no money can buy," Markov said.

"Yushchenko has been trying throughout these months to establish ties with the Kremlin to meet with Putin, [Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov or [presidential chief of staff Alexander] Voloshin, and we discussed beginning a dialogue with Yushchenko," Markov said. "But each time we thought: Why talk to other people's puppet? We don't believe that Yushchenko will be able to fulfill even one of his promises."

In the words of Markov and his colleague from the Kremlin-connected Efficient Policy Fund, Gleb Pavlovsky, who also played an active role in Ukraine's electoral campaign, Yushchenko's bloc was an "American project." Not of the White House or State Department, Markov said, but of "marginal" Russophobic lobbyists on Capitol Hill represented by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Senator Jesse Helms.

Liberal Russian politicians and analysts consider the Kremlin's approach to be mistaken.

"Our president is not a Communist and nonetheless we have ties with Ukrainian Communists -- that is a strategic mistake," said Vadim Bondar, a State Duma deputy from the Union of Right Forces, who had just returned from observing the Ukrainian elections. Bondar said he met with Yushchenko's representatives and, despite "cultural arguments," he could easily find common language with his liberal Ukrainian counterparts.

Russia is likely to face problems in dealing with post-elections Ukraine, where Kuchma's authority will be seriously weakened, said Sergei Kolmakov, vice president of a think tank called Foundation for the Development of Parliamentarianism in Russia.

"Yushchenko became the most promising candidate of the upcoming presidential race," Kolmakov said. "But a strong opponent -- someone who would argue for Ukraine's movement into Europe together with Russia -- has not emerged yet."

Bondar and Kolmakov predicted that with the elections over, the pro-Russian versus pro-Western dilemma in Ukrainian politics will subside and Moscow and Yushchenko will begin moving closer to each other.

Markov said that, as in the State Duma after the 1999 elections, the pro-president faction in the Rada will likely hold the key to many important decisions. "It may form a bloc with the Communists on foreign policy issues and with nationalists on economic reform," he said.

One aspect of Ukrainian elections that several Moscow analysts agreed is dangerous for both Ukraine and Russia is an increased geographical polarization of the vote: Western regions voted predominantly for nationalist-liberals; the east and south for the Communists and the "party of power"; and the center for the Communists and liberals.

Leonid Smirnyagin of the Moscow Carnegie Center said expectations that Ukraine's political coming-of-age, Yushchenko's bid as an all-national politician and Putin's pro-Western policies could bridge the gap did not hold up. "In geographical-political terms, the country is falling apart," Smirnyagin said. "Our relations are poisoned with ignorance. Sticking to the Communists as the main advocates of a good Ukrainian-Russian relationship means painting it in the archaic terms of the Russian-Belarussian Union."

Smirnyagin said many of his colleagues spent the last few months working as campaign strategists in Ukraine but, like others interviewed Tuesday, said they were not agents of some consolidated Russian policy. "It's just money, money, excellent conditions for work and an excellent opportunity to gather data for our profession," he said.

Markov agreed that PR strategists work "only for the sake of money." But he hinted that some funding did come from Russian sources. "It's another aspect that they received money in different ways. Most of it came from the Ukrainian blocs themselves."

Opinions differed on the role of the big Russian companies that have been increasing their presence in Ukraine. Kolmakov said that neither LUKoil, Russian Aluminum, nor TNK was noticed associating with any political party. But Markov said that LUKoil supported Yushchenko, and other Russian companies backed other candidates without any coordination.

"Russian Aluminum, LUKoil and Alfa sent their people onto Yushchenko's list," Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies was quoted as saying in an interview shortly before the elections. "They are acting in a more pragmatic and less ideological way than the [Russian] presidential administration and those PR strategists who were hired for this."

Markov nonetheless remained hopeful that Yushchenko is not a certain presidential favorite. "He will become president only if others sit around doing nothing," Markov said. "Ukrainian presidents are made not in the west, but in the [more populated] east and south."

Bondar, who acknowledged a large role played by Americans in the Ukrainian elections, said that Russia and the United States could try to coordinate their policies.

"A candidate supported by both Russia and America could have a very good chance in the presidential elections," he said.