November 29, 2004

How Russia Should Maintain Influence In Ukraine

Russia should look to the UK/US relationship if it is serious about its need to maintain influence over Ukraine. The UK has good relations when it has an ideologically friendly party alignment (center-right Thatcher with center-right Reagan, center-left Blair with center-left Clinton) as well as opposite ideological tendencies (center-left Blair with center-right Bush).

If Russia could generate that sort of relationship, appeal both to western Ukraine as well as the more russified eastern section, it wouldn't have to put its thumb on the scales and spend so much political capital ensuring that "Russia's man" won the election. All the major parties would nominate people acceptable to Russia. This is going to be difficult because Russia has not been a good steward of Ukraine, dominating instead of partnering.

Russia has the same problem that the US has in Latin America where it has heavy handedly intervened in the past. You can get a lot of votes in Brazil by promising to spit in Uncle Sam's eye. That's always been the case. Spitting in Moscow's eye is always going to generate opportunity for Ukraine's political class. That's going to be the case until the first time Russia puts its thumb on the scales to prefer an honest pol coming out of Ukraine's west and figures out how that politician can be successful while Russia is happy in its essential interests.

Dr. Barnett has the question right when he addressed this issue. The only problem with his approach is that he seems to think that we're the ones who should be asking it. We should not. It's Russia's problem to solve and us butting our noses in that relationship infantilizes Russia and will inevitably cause resentment.

President Bush has got it about right. Electoral irregularities need to be adjudicated and settled by Ukrainian institutions before we, or anybody else, recognize one or the other candidates. Can you imagine if some country had recognized Gore during the recount phase in 2000? It wouldn't have been better if a country recognized Bush during that same period.

The situation in Ukraine is not settled, according to the law. If the courts find fraud, Russia should stay out. In fact, the best thing we should all do is to sit on our hands and let Russia be the first to recognize the official results. That would be a tremendous statement of respect and deference to Russia that would cost us absolutely nothing but could salvage honor and pride in the East.

Posted by TMLutas at November 29, 2004 09:55 AM