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Putin's Warning Appears Aimed for U.S.

Submitted by Don Stacey

Dec. 2, 2004

Warning Appears Aimed for U.S.

(AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday warned thatUkraine's crisis over last week's disputed presidential election must besolved without foreign pressure - even as European envoys returned to Kievfor a second round of mediation.While it was delivered in a phone call with the German chancellor, Putin'smessage appeared aimed more at the United States, seen by the Kremlin asbehind a campaign to install Ukraine's pro-Western opposition leader ViktorYushchenko at the helm of the nation Russia has always regarded as its mainsatellite.The former Soviet republic of 48 million has emerged at the center ofarguably the biggest direct geopolitical confrontation between Moscow andthe United States and its Western allies since the late 1980s, when EasternEurope was still firmly in the embrace of the Communist empire butstruggling to break out.``Putin is being told by his advisers and allies that for a long time, theWest has been actively interfering in Ukraine and Yushchenko as a politicianis a purely American project,'' said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of a leadingRussian foreign affairs journal. ``He's told that the whole campaign isbeing run on ... mostly American, money, and if Yushchenko wins Ukraine willsharply change its political orientation - quickly joining NATO, trying torupture its ties with Russia and so on.''The United States and other Western nations have agreed with Yushchenko thatthe Nov. 21 runoff vote was marred by massive fraud.Putin told German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday that ``an exitfrom the crisis should be found in a democratic way, that is, on the basisof observing the law and not under external or internal pressure based onpolitical passions,'' the Kremlin said in a press release.The Russian leader has staked his personal and political reputation onYushchenko's rival and the declared victor, Ukrainian Prime Minister ViktorYanukovych, traveling to Ukraine twice to appear by his side during theelection campaign.Putin also was the first foreign leader - and one of a very small club - tocongratulate Yanukovych on his victory even as the opposition and foreignobservers cried fraud.The crisis has divided Ukrainians along traditional lines.Yushchenko, whose wife was U.S. born, says he wants to push the country togreater integration with Western Europe and has suggested he would seek NATOmembership.He drew his strongest support from the west, a longtime center ofnationalism, while Yanukovych's stronghold was Ukraine's pro-Russian,heavily industrialized east.The Ukraine imbroglio has followed a string of unexpected foreign policyfailures in Russia's backyard that have gone a long way toward convincingthe Kremlin that its influence in the region is waning.As in Ukraine, Putin openly backed the establishment candidate in thisfall's presidential election in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia -and all indications are that the opposition rival won in spite of fraud.Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko ignored the Kremlin's strongsuggestions not to hold a referendum that would allow him to run forpresident indefinitely; now he is busy sacking aides who have been mostclosely identified with Moscow.Moscow also is smarting from the eastward expansion of NATO and the EuropeanUnion, and its competition with the United States for clout in formerlySoviet Central Asia.``The president and the people surrounding him see Ukraine as the finalrubicon not to be crossed, a kind of Stalingrad,'' Lukyanov said - referringto the city deep in Russia where the Soviets stopped the Nazi advance inWorld War II at a painful cost.The spin doctors who have run Moscow's campaign for influence in Ukrainehave given loud voice to Kremlin suspicions about Western designs on thenation.Analyst Sergei Markov has advanced the theory that the United States isusing Ukraine as a ``Trojan Horse'' to boost the influence of neighboringPoland, which is mediating in the current crisis and is one of the EU'snewest members as well as a U.S. ally in Iraq, in Europe.The most prominent Kremlin-connected analyst, imagemaker Gleb Pavlovsky,told the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on Saturday that ``If we give upUkraine, the same thing will happen in Russia in a year.''Though few analysts could contemplate that, Alexei Titkov of the CarnegieMoscow Center said the Kremlin might fear that Ukraine could become a newlaunching pad for anti-Russian sentiment - as the formerly Soviet republicsin the Baltics have become.``It cannot be excluded that in case of a Yushchenko victory in Ukraine,relatively good conditions could be created for a Kiev-based Russianopposition that could spread anti-Putin propaganda,'' Titkov said.

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