December 7, 2004


Putin Trips Up: It was a classic geopolitical power struggle. Russia's leader thought Ukraine was in his pocket. Ukrainians thought otherwise. They won, and so did the West. (Michael Hirsh and Frank Brown, 12/13/04, Newsweek International)

To Vladimir Putin, the cheers ringing through Kiev's aptly named Independence Square must have sounded like catcalls from hell. Only three weeks before, in a ham-handed display of Kremlin bullying, Putin had championed his own dubious candidate for Ukraine's presidency, an ex-convict turned apparatchik named Viktor Yanukovych, the chosen successor of the country's outgoing strongman, Leonid Kuchma.

A flagrantly fraud-tainted election followed. Exit polls showed that his man had lost badly, far beyond any possible margin of error, and international observers were quick to offer evidence that the election had been stolen. The Russian leader was undaunted. Haughtily dismissing calls for a recount, he proclaimed Yanukovych the clear winner—and warned against Western "interference." A long, tense standoff followed in which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians thronged the streets in protest. Putin dug in, angrily accusing the West of conspiring against both Russia and Ukraine. But Ukraine's Supreme Court thought differently—and last Friday ordered a new election for Dec. 26. When the news was broadcast live on the giant television screens in central Kiev, more than 30,000 supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko went wild, kissing, hugging and blowing raspy noisemakers. Then the pro-Western Yushchenko appeared, declaring, "Today Ukraine is a true democratic country."

Why is that bad for Vladimir Putin? Because he's got grand plans that don't necessarily square with a free-thinking democracy next door. The last thing Putin wants to see is another chunk of the old U.S.S.R. disappear into the maw of the ever-encroaching West. Yushchenko has promised to bring Ukraine into the European Union and possibly to follow the Baltic states into NATO. Ever since Putin rose to the presidency in 2000 promising to crush Chechnya's separatist Muslims—a pledge he's carried out with ruthless dispatch—he has sought to halt further disintegration of the former Soviet superpower and its sphere of influence.

Important to keep in mind that just a week ago the Realists were predicting this was the start of a new Cold War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 7, 2004 1:28 PM

As noted on Instapundit (and elsewhere), Bush should wear an orange tie for the State of the Union (or sooner).

Anything but red or blue.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 7, 2004 1:35 PM

Get ready for stage II, an insurgency in Russophone Ukraine.

Posted by: Bart at December 8, 2004 1:20 PM