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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 46, November 8, 2014

Ukraine Poll gives Fractured Verdict

Sunday 9 November 2014, by M K Bhadrakumar

The quotient of happiness in politics can be very strange. All three external protagonists in the Ukraine crisis—Russia, European Union [EU] and the United States—have reasons to be both happy and unhappy with the results of the October 26 parliamentary election in that country.

Russia draws satisfaction that President Petro Poroshenko’s faction did well, but feels uneasy that Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (who is reputed to be virulently “anti-Russia”) did slightly better and came out as the leading party and that the disposition of the new parliament is distinctly “pro-West”.

The EU heaves a sigh of relief that the ultra-nationalists have been marginalised and there is now going to be a duly constituted “reform-oriented” government in Kiev, but has good reason to feel worried about its ability to forge a national consensus that is necessary to implement difficult decisions.

The United States is pleased that good old “Yats” [Yatsenyuk] remains in the top echelons of power in any new government, but remans somewhat wary about Poroshenko’s good showing, given his inclination to work with Moscow.

All three protagonists have chosen to keep the bar of democracy low in Ukraine and to confer legitimacy to the new parliament notwithstanding the fact that the eastern regions are not duly represented and there had been serious rigging to keep out the pro-Russia forces, especially the Communists.

Russia is hedging. It is hoping against hope that Poroshenko will now kickstart a political dialogue with the separatists, but it won’t take chances, either. Thus, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Moscow will recognise the result of the election that has been called in the separatist regions of southeastern Ukraine on November 2.

Lavrov’s remark has an ominous overtone and it amounts to an advance warning that if push comes to shove, Moscow might go ahead and recognize the region’s autonomous status. Moscow’s intention at this point seems to be to compel Poroshenko to negotiate with the leadership of the separatist region regarding constitutional reforms.

Moscow probably fears the combined pressure on Poroshenko from Washington and “Yats”, America’s man in Kiev, to go slow on engaging the separatists in dialogue.

Kiev and Washington have protested at Moscow’s move. The US seeks a Russian compliance with an international monitoring of the border with Ukraine as the pressing agenda today rather than the dialogue between Kiev and the separatist leadership.

Meanwhile, Yatsenyuk has openly challenged Poroshenko’s moves to have a new government led by his faction. Conceivably, the US is egging him on. The US Vice-President, Joe Biden, is scheduling a visit to Kiev and in a phone conversation on October 28 he stressed to Poroshenko the need for an “inclusive” govern-ment (read a government that includes “Yats”).

These political manoeuverings are finding their reflection in the tortuous negotiations between Ukraine and Russia (and involving the EU as well). Moscow is demanding that before it makes any further gas supplies, Ukraine should settle the unpaid gas bill ($ 4.5 billion) and also prepayment for the fresh supplies. But then, the money has to come from the EU or European countries—and that is a lot of money.

On the other hand, if the deal is not struck, Ukraine and Europe will have a difficult winter sans Russian gas supplies, which will generate more ill-will in the Russia-EU ties. Equally, Russia too will suffer a big drop in income from the gas exports, but seems willing to pay that price to safeguard its geopolitical interests (which mean first and foremost in today’s circumstances the commencement of political dialogue in Ukraine).

Left to himself, Poroshenko would probably go ahead and strike a deal with President Vladimir Putin. But for that to happen, he must first consolidate his grip on the incoming government in Kiev. And, “Yats”, who enjoys Washington’s backing, seems determined that he will remain the Prime Minister and will have a say in the new government policies.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.