RUSSIA-UKRAINE: A REPLY TO RUSSIAN LIBERALS

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MOSCOW (Political scientist Dmitry Yevstafyev for RIA Novosti) - Russian liberals sometimes make wonderful discoveries. Hardly had Viktor Yushchenko been declared the winner of the Ukrainian election and Yulia Timoshenko, to the horror of Russian authorities, was appointed his premier, arguments appeared that this might be for the best. Ms. Timoshenko, who has little Ukrainian blood in her, is now presented as almost a pro-Russian leader with whom we should learn to come to terms. How can this be done? Ask a senior Russian military officer who has been sentenced to prison for doing this.

It is argued that Mr. Yushchenko was - or perhaps still is - at a crossroads, thinking about how he can develop wonderful relations with Russia. Some especially zealous new advocates of the "orange scenario" even say that Mr. Yushchenko is creating an ideal, a magnet to which Russia should aspire. It also turned out that the Kremlin was guilty because it bet on the wrong man. And one more thing: the main enemies of the Russo-Ukrainian idyll are the malicious "St. Petersburg chekisti." Indeed, you can blame everything on the KGB/FSB.

Let us begin with determining if Mr. Yushchenko was tormented by a choice. In my opinion, he was not, if only because he never was an independent leader. Back at the beginning of his rise to prominence, his image was burdened with a phantasmagoric assortment of obligations to Western sponsors and his partners in the coalition, whose number grew as the election race went on. There were so many of them that it took them three days to approve the premier. Frankly speaking, I admire Mr. Yushchenko's ability to balance between such different people/accomplices as Alexander Moroz, Yulia Timoshenko, Viktor Pinchuk, Pyotr Poroshenko and Andrei Skipalsky, who would bite off your hand without thinking twice.

To survive in this group of self-made democrats with criminal records, Mr. Yushchenko needed solid protection. Like it or not, he foundit in the US Embassy. It is with the US, and not with Mr. Yushchenko or Ms. Timoshenko, that Russia should negotiate respect for its interests in Ukraine, which is quite possible. But the tight rope on which the Ukrainian president is balancing will break sooner or later. And even if Ukraine gets something for "reforms," the money will be invested not in Kiev but in Warsaw, which houses the main center for exporting democracy in Europe and Asia. A highly profitable business, that.

It would be fun to see how Mr. Yushchenko will combine a pro-American policy with the need to get reform money from the EU and to respect the commercial interests of his "team." I wonder how he would combine the interests of the US administration with the interests of George Soros, who intends to overturn it.

In other words, it is not clear if Viktor Yushchenko is a weak or strong leader, pro-European or pro-American. But it is apparent that he was never pro-Russian and would never take into account Russia's interests in his policy.

What strikes you as strange in the behavior of the Ukrainian "orange" politicians is their firm belief that Russians are pathologically stupid. They think the Kremlin will swallow any bitter pill if it is sugarcoated with words about the role of Russia and eternal partnership. Unfortunately, the reaction of some Russian officials to the first statements on Russia by the new Ukrainian leaders proves that this is largely true.

As soon as Yulia Timoshenko wrote in a youth newspaper that no one should fear Mr. Yushchenko, these Russian officials said they were wrong about Ms. Timoshenko, Mr. Yushchenko and President Aleksander Kwasniewski. And President Yushchenko's triumphal visit to Moscow created a series of idyllic pictures, which were stopped only by a harsh statement by Prosecutor General Ustinov, who said a criminal case against Ms. Timoshenko, "the gas princess", would not be closed and she would be detained during her first visit toMoscow.

We should read not what the orange leaders say and write in Russia and for Russia, but what they tell their target audiences. And they said everything out right to them, for it is very fashionable in Europe to be anti-Russian. This is understandable, as debts must be paid and then, nobody expects them to spend their life dividing returns from the transit of Russian gas. They want to enter the European economic mainline.

I will make a very unpopular conclusion now, against which the whole of the "progressive community" will protest: Russia acted correctly in Ukraine, and its strategic choice was right, including and most importantly, from the view of morality.

We refused to beg concessions from a leader who did not want to and could not be pro-Russian. We clearly, without nuances, outlined our position and adhered to it to the last, even when it became clear that Viktor Yanukovich was losing the race. This ability to fight to the last, without betraying allies, has always been a national trait in Russia, and I am happy that this trait, rather than the party/nomenclature ability to betray each and all, marked Russian policy during the presidential election in Ukraine.

I can only guess what courage the Russian leaders had to muster not to surrender before the third round and not to start wooing the assured winner. The argument that we should jump into the last car of the departing Yushchenko train was very strong in downtown Moscow. But this courage, which has a family and a given name, will be repaid a hundredfold. Many people in the CIS, who had thought that Russia would surrender its ally at the first order from across the ocean, saw that we can stand to the last even in a hopeless situation - and this encouraged them to become closer with Russia.

We must admit that the candidate for the role of a pro-Russian leader was not chosen wisely. We should start by reading CVs and looking in the eye. There was no fire and readiness to fight in the eyes of Mr. Yanukovich. Our political specialists were too busy disposing of the budget to take proper care of the Ukrainian election. But will anybody be called to account for this resounding flop? We failed to see through Leonid Kuchma's double play in time. We made a lot of mistakes, which is why Russia lost the battle. But its defeat in Ukraine is an optimistic tragedy from which we should draw the correct conclusions.

The main conclusion is simple: We must not hope that the West will respect Russia's interests in the post-Soviet countries. Hence, we can act symmetrically, gearing our actions to possibilities and interests and disregarding Europe's and America's opinion of the future of democracy in the former Soviet states. Eurasia is entering a period of harsh and sometimes ruthless politics, as the death of Zurab Zhvania showed. And we must be ready to talk with our partners in this language, which they apparently understand better than our calls to dialogue.

As for Ukraine, let it go where it wants - or stand where it is standing now. We should take two simple, if not primitive, steps.

First, Ukraine has made its choice and we must respect it. But we must not pay for it. So, the key task is to commercialize relations with Ukraine as much as possible. Russia can, and possibly should, pay for the feelings of the SOBs it likes, but it must not sponsor even the correctly speaking "pro-market liberals" if their actions do not correspond to Russian - and only Russian - interests. It would be good to review the agreements which Russia and Ukraine signed in the past years. The West brought the orange leaders to power, so let it pay for their actions now.

Second, we must protect history from Mr. Yushchenko, Ms. Timoshenko and Mr. Moroz. We must protect our past from their "orange" future. Let the history of "orange" Ukraine keep the likes of such dubious historical figures as Mazepa, Bandera, Petlyura and Hetman Skoropadsky. They may keep even the Klitschko boxer brothers and pop singer Ruslana - we have enough of our own. But the aircraft designer Oleg Antonov, the rocket designer Mikhail Yangel, General Nikolai Popel (a hero of the first weeks of WWII), and the designer of the T-34 tank Mikhail Koshkin - are part of our, Russian, history. They do not fit in the "orange" landscape. And Prince Vladimir who baptized Russia can hardly be part of Ukraine that is moving rapidly towards pseudo-unity.

We should take these harsh steps so as to be able to firmly create our own future without shuddering at the news about a Ukrainian president appointing a premier. Who would care?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editorial board.

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