Stop using gas as a weapon

Bad cop, worse cop in the Kremlin.

Sergey Ivanov is a piece of work. Vladimir Putin’s bilious speech at last year’s Munich Conference on Security lacked only a lectern-pounding apocryphal shoe to take us back fifty years. Ivanov is Putin on Paxil; he soothingly assured this year’s conferencegoers that all is well in Russia—and can’t we all just get along?

Europe has no cause for concern over its growing dependence on Russian gas.

Partners can rest assured that Russia has been strictly fulfilling and will continue to fulfill all its commitments regarding energy supplies—I would like to stress that particularly.

Moreover, we do our best to develop our export potential and make it free from the political conditions in certain transit countries.

Putin must not have received that memo. Just two days later, Ukrainian President Yuschenko was in Moscow, forced to kiss Putin’s ring to forestall a cutoff of gas delivery to Ukraine—and to the much of the EU. Putin acceded, conditioned, it seems, on…political conditions in certain transit countries. At a press availability following their meeting, Putin was asked about Ukraine’s NATO bid.

It’s horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine. Imagine this for a second. That is what worries us.

“Such facilities” are the proposed US missile-defense interceptors and radar (to protect against an Iranian missile launch) that have been proposed for NATO and the Czech Republic. Problem is, Ukraine is not a part of any such proposal. What would you do, Mr. Putin, if Norway deployed robot sharks—with lasers!—in the Arctic Sea?

Yuschenko, sitting next to Putin, looked as if we here daydreaming about getting a root canal.

Update: Hey, presto! It worked.

Aspiring NATO member Ukraine is prepared to adopt legislation banning the alliance’s bases from its soil, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko as saying on Wednesday.

“If the Russian side is worried about military bases then Ukraine will never go for that … We are ready to underpin that constitutionally,” he said at a meeting with members of the Ukrainian community in Moscow.

Good news from Ukraine, sort of

Now the hard part starts.

Yushhenko wins, but Yanukovych gets 43%.

Minus the cheating, this seems to be about the same result as last time, despite the defection of much of Yanukovych’s elite support. So the pro-Russian, pro-tyranny, pro-poisoning vote is big and solid.

(What’s that I hear you say? That not everyone who voted for Yanukovych was in favor of tyranny or poisoning? Subjectively, that may be true: I’m sure not all Bush voters were subjectively in favor of torture, or of national bankruptcy. But obviously both Yanukovych voters and Bush voters so feared or hated what they thought the opposition stood for that they either refused to believe the facts or voted in spite of them.)

So Yushchenko has a hard row to hoe.

Once again: How much is this country prepared to pony up to make it work? If the answer doesn’t have 10 digits to the left of the decimal point, never mind.

When did anti-Americanism become fashionable in Ukraine?

Yanukovych charges Yushenko with being an American puppet. Yushenko responds by pointing out that it was Yanukovych who sent troops to Iraq. What happened to the “beacon of democracy”?

Sunday is Election Day in Ukraine, and Viktor Yushenko, the good guy, is expected to win in a walk, with something like 60% of the vote. That’s great news for Ukraine, and the black eye it gives Czar Putin is good news for the rest of Europe, and maybe even for Russia as well.

Good news of any kind is scarce enough these days to make me regret raining on the parade, but I have one worry and once piece of unquestionably bad news to share with you.

The worry is that Yushenko will be inheriting a very bad economic situation. He has promised drastic reforms in the economy and the political process. If he fails to carry them out, he will lose credibility; if he actually carries them out, the short-term pain is likely to be considerable. Russia matters to Ukraine, and Putin has every incentive to make life tough for Yushenko, unless Yushenko’s odds of success, both substantive and political, are overwhelmingly good. If Yushenko fails, Putin can hope to pick up the pieces.

In a sane world, the U.S. and the EU would rush to finance the transition, since their stakes in Yushenko’s success are so great.

But then, in a sane world the U.S. and the EU would have rushed to finance the transition in Russia and the rest of the Comecon states, rather than letting them go through the pain of the 1990s and letting Russia collapse back into dictatorship. From the viewpoint of U.S. national security, cutting the defense budget in 1990 and spending that money on making the Russians’ transition to something resembling democratic capitalism as painless as possible — while at the same time securing all the loose nukes — was obviously the right thing to do, and just as obviously it was a complete non-starter in political terms.

I’m worried that the same will be true now. In economic terms $10 billion a year — a tenth of a percent of our GDP — is pocket change to this county, compared to the cost of failure. But in political terms, anyone who proposed spending $10 billion a year to ensure that Ukraine remains independent and becomes prosperous and free would need to have his head examined. So the Ukrainians may be in for a rough ride.

That’s the worry. Now for the truly bad news.

Viktor Yanukovych must know by now he’s licked. But he’s still campaigning. And guess what issue he’s chosen to try to rally his troops in the last few days of the campaign?

Give up? Why, it’s anti-Americanism, just as if Ukraine were part of “Old Europe.” Yanukovych is charging that the $58 million in National Endowment for Democracy funds spent in Ukraine over the past two years was, in effect, a campaign contribution to the opposition. No doubt there’s some truth to that. (“Of carse we’re nootral,” said Mr. Dooley about America’s pre-1917 role in WWI. “The question is, whoo are we nootral fer?”)

Well, perhaps it’s not surprising that Putin’s lackey would think that anti-Americanism might be the right rallying cry. The really bad news is the response from Yushenko’s side.

Yushenko’s people aren’t saying that if the choice is between getting help from the U.S. and taking orders from Russia, they’re proud to have been helped by the U.S. They’re not saying “Of course the United States is in favor of democracy. If that means being against Mr. Yanukovych and his friends, that’s their fault, not America’s.”

Instead, they’re accusing Yanukovych of only pretending to be anti-American. After all, it was Yanukovych as Prime Minister who sent Ukrainian troops to Iraq; that’s one of the things the Ukrainian opposition, and Yushenko in particular, have consistently opposed.

Elect me, says Yushenko, and I’ll bring the troops home right away. Me too, says Yanukovych.

So it appears that both sides in heavily polarized Ukraine agree on one thing: it’s bad to be associated with the United States, and in particular with its current foreign policy.

Well, I suppose that was not an entirely unpredictable result of re-electing an administration that glories in its contempt for what the rest of the world thinks of us. (Who knows? Maybe Ukrainians, having lived under a police state, keep their disapproval of torture in their guts rather than just in their mouths.)

But it’s bad, bad, bad news, nevertheless.

Who’s supporting the thugs in the Ukraine?

No, that wasn’t left-wing anti-American Brit idiocy, it was right-wing/libertarian anti-American Brit idiocy.

An earlier item in this space was deliberately rude about the Guardian for publishing pro-Yanukovych propaganda. I assumed that I was seeing a particularly foolish and nasty example of Brit left-wing anti-Americanism.

Silly me. How was I to know that I was in fact seeing a particularly foolish and nasty example of Brit right-wing/libertarian anti-Americanism, with Euroskeptic and Thatcherite ties? (Or maybe — it’s hard to read — mostly non-ideological flacking-for-hire by a group that has adopted dictators and mass murderers as its target market.)

But this Guardian column straightened me out. Hat tip: Martin Stabe, who has more.

Hope in the Ukraine?

Is Kuchma dumping Yanukovych?

With both outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and his own campaign manager deserting him to call for new elections, Viktor Yanukovych may be looking for a new first name. That’s obviously good news, unless you write for the Guardian.

On the other hand, the Russophile-and-mafiya bloc behind Yanukovych includes the leadership of the Donetsk Basin, and those leaders are now threatening quasi-secession and defiance of the central government if Yanukovych is not inaugurated, in a mirror image of the threats earlier issued by Yuschenko supporters in the western region. (But at least one of Yanukovych’s billionaire supporters, and at least one Russian-owned company, were sufficiently freaked out by those threats that they publicly denounced them.) Obviously, Yanukoych has no chance of winning anything like a fair revote, but this isn’t a situation where a united population is kicking out a despised tyranny, and Yuschenko clearly won’t have an easy time if he does take power.

That’s especially true if Putin decides to be a sore loser. Apparently it was from Putin that Kuchma got the order to announce a Yanukovych victory. That suggests that, in carry a message to Kuchma warning against a rigged election, Richard Lugar was talking to the monkey instead of the organ-grinder.

The bad news in Tuesday’s New York Times — if it’s true — is that Bush seems to be backing off from Powell’s firm line in support of democracy. I’m not convinced that it’s true: everything in the story is consistent with a standard good-cop, bad-cop routine. (On the other hand, Mike Allen of the Post puts the same spin on the story, perhaps reflecting White House guidance; to say that “there’s just a lot of allegations of vote fraud” and that “the validity of their elections is in doubt” is certainly rather weaselly, and well short of saying that the result as announced can’t be allowed to stand.)

At minimum, it is clear that the Bush Administration thinks it needs Putin’s help, and that it will be reluctant to react strongly if Putin, having allowed Yuschenko to take power, then stirs up trouble for him. Can you say “overstretched”?

>(Dan Drezner has made himself Ukraine Central, and reports on lots of complexity.) More coverage at A Fistful of Euros, including this grim story on an outbreak of organized violence from the Yanukovych forces, with the police standing by.