It looks as if Vladimir Putin has finally overestimated the tolerance of the Bush Administration for his nonsense.
Having given him a complete pass for opposing their position on Iraq (while savaging our allies France and Germany for taking the same stance), merely tut-tutted as he moves inexorably toward making Russia back into the Soviet Union (with the FSB, the successor to the KGB, replacing the old Army-Party-KGB troika), and said not a word as he announced plans for a new generation of ICBM’s designed specifically to penetrate the missile defense shield BushCo plans to spend eleven figures’ worth of your money to build, the Administration has, apparently, finally drawn the line. The virtually open theft of the Ukrainian presidency for Moscow’s candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, seems to have been a bridge too far.
As far as I can tell, this is a case where the Administration is on the same side as everyone else in the world except for Putin and his puppets. And it might even work: the Ukrainian Supreme Court has just issued an edit forbidding the official proclamation of the Kremlin candidate as the duly elected President of the Ukraine.
This does, of course, raise the same question that was raised about the Bush I reaction to the Iraqi seizure of Kuwait: wouldn’t it have been better to make it clear in advance what we wouldn’t tolerate? Right now it’s far from clear that Ukraine will get out of this mess without either surrendering to Moscow or undergoing a civil war. The Kremlin’s candidate has lots of real support, including a large proportion of ethnic-Russian population in the Donetsk Basin in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian/Russian, West/East split is also along religious lines, with the west largely Uniate Catholic and the East mostly Orthodox.
The fact that the pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, has already had to appeal to the military isn’t healthy sign for the future, nor is the fact that some of the regional authorities in the west have already refused to recognize Yanukovych as president whatever the electoral authorities or the courts say. The Ukraine’s chances of coming out of this a stable democracy have clearly taken a hard hit.
Still, I’m delighted that, in this case, democracy turned out to be — at least at last — a real factor in U.S. foreign policy.