Thursday, January 08, 2009

Russian and Ukrainian Politics

Washington Post | With its economy in deep trouble, Ukraine has little to lose by using its control of European fuel shipments to resist Russia's demand for a price increase. By contrast, Russia is suffering huge losses in immediate gas revenue and enormous damage to its reputation as an energy partner seeking European investment. Yet political considerations seem to have prevented the Kremlin from surrendering.

The Kremlin's relations with Ukraine have been strained since the 2004 street demonstrations known as the Orange Revolution, which resulted in a pro-Western government in the former Soviet republic that is seeking membership in NATO and the European Union. Ties worsened last year after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko vocally backed Georgia in its August war with Russia.

Putin later accused Ukraine of secretly supplying arms to Georgia before and soon after the fighting broke out. Some analysts say he is trying to using the fuel cutoff to damage Ukraine's reputation in the West and sink its NATO bid while undermining Yushchenko. Russian officials have singled out Yushchenko for criticism in the standoff, saying he refused to authorize Ukrainian negotiators to sign a deal on New Year's Eve.

"Russia is trying to browbeat us," said Ivan Lozowy, president of the Kiev-based Institute of Statehood and Democracy. "Polls show that Russians are more concerned about the loss of superpower status than poverty or economic issues. And for Russia to reestablish itself as a great power, Ukraine is critical."