Friday, February 03, 2006

An Inside Job

In EDM, Vladimir Socor notes Moscow's change of tactics in its efforts to undermine the achievements of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. Since the clumsy and adversarial "gas war" did not work, the Kremlin is now trying to influence and co-opt Ukrainian power structures from within instead:
From the Kremlin's standpoint, the crisis of governance in Ukraine opens a strategic opportunity to roll back the Orange Revolution's democratic gains and re-assert Russia's economic and political influence in the country. While advancing that strategic goal in the run up to the March parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Moscow has changed its tactics in mid-stream.

Initially, Moscow envisaged a prolonged cutoff in gas supplies. This was to hit hard at Ukraine's economy, discredit President Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine bloc irreparably with the electorate, turn Europe against Ukraine by charging that Kyiv was "stealing" Europe's gas from the transit pipelines, and set the stage for transferring those pipelines from Ukrainian to shared Russian-Ukrainian jurisdiction. Kremlin-controlled media and the officially licensed punditry laid those goals bare and rejoiced in anticipation of the "punishment" to Yushchenko's team at the parliamentary elections.

Those tactics changed markedly, however, on the advice of several Kremlin consultants, preeminently Gleb Pavlovsky, Sergei Markov, and Vyacheslav Nikonov. Although these consultants were partly responsible for the defeat of Moscow's policy in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, they now argued that policy must not be guided by considerations of revanche or "punishing" Yushchenko. In articles and interviews during late December and January -- and undoubtedly in internal channels to the Kremlin -- they argued that the initial choice of tactics was bound to misfire: Ukrainian voters would blame Russia for excessive price hikes and supply cuts; a rally-around-the-flag syndrome would ensue in Ukraine; Orange political fortunes would be lifted by a second wind from their slump; Ukraine's eastern regions, strongholds of Russia-oriented parties, would be the hardest hit by the "gas attack;" Europe would ultimately side with Ukraine against Russia; and, the longer the confrontation, the higher the political costs to Russia and its allies in Ukraine.

These consultants called for resuming gas supplies to Ukraine at prices fixed in Moscow and working flexibly with several political forces in Ukraine. They anticipate that Yushchenko and Our Ukraine would have to contend with stronger oligarchic and pro-Russia groups in the new parliament. Accordingly, these Kremlin consultants recommended political accommodation with a weakened Yushchenko and using this relationship in the post-election period to advance Russia's objectives in Ukraine. This tactic corresponds with Yushchenko's own attempts to reach out to the Kremlin for support to his embattled presidency.
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