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Russia & the 2004 Presidential Election

Russia, seeking to regain hegemony in its historic sphere of influence, believed it must draw the line in Ukraine. The prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine would undermine Putin's project of a 'single security space' in the CIS, and would be deeply disturbing to Russia's Armed Forces. Russian commentators and Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin have repeatedly stated that Russia would view a Ukrainian application to join NATO as an unfriendly act.

Kuchma solicited President Vladimir Putin's support, since relations with the West deteriorated in the wake of the Kuchmagate crisis in November 2000. The May 2003 signing of a Russian-Ukrainian "strategic partnership" was a step in the strategy to ensure that Kuchma's chosen successor would win the 2004 elections by appealing to voters in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country.

Putin and Russia held the key to the 2004 transition to a post-Kuchma era. Yanukovych's Russian-inspired electoral platform called on Ukrainians to abandon their aspirations for NATO and EU membership, promised to make Russian the second official language and introduce dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship.

If the Kremlin "lost" Ukraine, it could be source of instability in Russia. It would represent a failure of Putin's policies. And a democratic Ukraine could make Russians more likely to believe in the possibility of a democratic Russia.

Russia may also fear losing access to the Crimean port of Sevastopol, which Russia's Black Sea Fleet has since Ukraine won independence from the Soviet Union. The Russian fleet rents the port until 2017. Russia may fear it would have to withdraw the fleet sooner rather than later if Yanukovych lost the presidential election. But Yushchenko has promised not to review the deal before 2017.

Yanukovych has no more desire to be a Russian vassal than President Kuchma. Though he is oriented towards Russia, Yanukovych seeks to expand relations with the West; and while he is no democrat, he seeks a broad base of support in Ukraine.

During his 12-14 November 2004 visit to Crimea, Putin may have warned Kuchma that Russia would not accept an opposition victory. In any event, Kuchma reportedly emerged very shaken from this meeting.

It is widely reported that Yanukovych expended $600mn on his campaign (a sum, incidentally, equivalent to that expended by Bush's campaign in the United States, whose official GDP is more than 50 times greater than Ukraine's). Of this sum, half was reported to have come from Russian sources and a large portion of this from Russian energy companies.

If Yushchenko won, Russia would conclude that another western-backed coup, like the so-called Rose Revolution in Georgia, has moved another post-Soviet country into the Western orbit. To avoid this, the Kremlin allegedly funnelled $300-million into Yanukovych's electoral war chest, and Russian political consultants flocked to Kiev from Moscow.

But Putin's efforts may have backfired, since he gave regional players such as Poland an opportunity replace Moscow in its traditional role of mediator in Ukraine. That role has passed to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski -- western Ukraine was part of Poland until 1940. Russians have watched with dismay as events have unfolded in a country that was ruled by Moscow for over three centuries and which the Kremlin views as lying entirely within its sphere of influence.

Yanukovych's Russian political strategists -- "political technologists" in Russian parlance -- had advocated playing on the differences between Eastern and Western Ukraine. Yanukovych's propaganda depicted Yushchenko as a lackey of American imperialists.

The split between Russia and Western nations over Ukraine is the deepest since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia has said Western nations are taking actions which have inflamed the tense situation in Ukraine in the wake of the disputed election. President Vladimir Putin even accused the European Union of encouraging supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko to take to the streets in mass demonstrations, which Russia terms "anti-democratic". Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has taken it a step further, saying that certain countries want to "move things beyond legal norms" and that they want to push the Ukraine "to be more with the West."

On 19 November 2004 [two days before the Presidential run-off] Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych met with Chairman of the Russian Duma Boris Gryzlov, on a working visit to Ukraine. The parties to the meeting discussed the pre-election situation in Ukraine and matters of facilitation of trade-economic and political relations between the two states. The Ukrainian Prime Minister expressed his gratitude for Russia's prompt reaction toward Ukrainian initiatives to likely introduction of dual citizenship. In turn, the Russian Speaker told Mr Yanukovych that he conveyed the President's decree on signing the law, which allows Ukrainian citizens to reside in Russia without obligatory registration within 90 days, on Friday. According to him, thus, parity has been reestablished. As he expressed his belief, noting that it wasn't only his own, but of the State Duma as well, Ukrainian citizens should be provided with preferences in this issue.

On 23 November 2004 it was reported that a Russian special forces detachment had flown into the base at Irpin for unspecified deployment. On 24 November 2004, a report from Nasha Urkaina (Yushchenko's political bloc) stated that "two Russian aircraft landed at the Kyiv International Boryspil airport today carrying military personnel of the "Vityaz" special forces unit. Approximately 1,000 in number, they were transported to Kyiv, but their whereabouts are unknown." Colonel Lyashenko, Assistant Commander of Aviation, who services military aviation at Boryspil, refused orders to service the aircraft and promptly resigned. Although 1,000 is an implausibly high figure, Lyashenko's resignation was confirmed by the SBU, which, however, stated that Russian spetsnaz had not landed at Boryspil.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that the first units of Russian special forces were transfered to Ukraine on 23 November 2004. The first airplane with Russian soldiers onboard asked for permission for transit flight over Kiev 23 November at 1:32 at night. It was supposed to be military transport aeroplane An-26 with hull No RA-26410. Another airplane, a Ukrainian Il-76, passed over Kiev two hours later, at 3:17. Both planes landed at Gostomel aeroport near town Irpin'. Soldiers of the Russian unit of special forces "Vityaz" were on the planes. The soldiers were taken to the Irpin' base of the "Bars" unit of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, and dressed in the uniforms of Ukrainian militia.

According to several observers, including former Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko (Yushchenko's campaign chairman), Russian spetsnaz are deployed at the headquarters of the Presidential Administration on Bankova Street. The full deployment consists of three special units armed with machine guns: a Ukrainian spetsnaz unit from Irpin, a Russian spetsnaz unit and a unit of the Presidential Guard, surrounded by a cordon of militsia (police) in full riot equipment. According to the same source, the Ukrainian spetsnaz unit left its post and has 'gone over to Yushchenko' (23 November 2004).

On 25 November 2004 at the EU summit, Putin said that Ukraine's vote needed no outside affirmation. He warned that "we have no moral right to push a big European state to any kind of massive disorder." Putin criticized the opposition's taking to the streets as an attempt to "seize power by using crowds."

On 26 November 2004 the Foreign Ministry in Russia, which had backed Yanukovich, said Moscow also favored a new election. in a significant retreat from its earlier insistence that the elections were valid, Spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Moscow regarded a revote favorably. The Kremlin also said the matter should be settled through the courts.

On 27 November 2004 Sergei Yastrzhembskii, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said "certain forces" in the West have decided to test "the strength of post-Soviet territory." He called Ukraine's election dispute a "powerful test" of Russia's relations with the West and accused politicians in the United States and Europe of fomenting political change in the former Soviet republic. He said street protests against the official results in Ukraine bear "the same signature" as demonstrations that brought down former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze last year, and also likened them to Poland's anticommunist Solidarity movement of the 1980s. "Given the importance of Ukraine, its special position on the geopolitical map, the that certain circles in the West have in terms of Ukraine, of course it's a powerful test of the strength of relations between Russia and the West," Yastrzhembsky said.

On 29 November 2004 Ukraine's Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the attempts to call in question Ukraine's territorial integrity. It was announced in the official statement of the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine that reads: "In the light of the National Security and Defense Council statement of November 28, the Foreign Ministry expresses profound concern over the appearance of a number of political speculations concerning the state's territorial integrity". The MFA said that Ukraine have concluded with all neighboring states treaties clearly fixing inviolability of its state borders and territorial integrity. According to the statement, all attempts to call into question these fundamental principles not only contradict Ukraine's interests, but also may pose a threat to the stability in Europe. n this connection the MFA stressed the inadmissibility of any instigating and biased statements by foreign officials, whose actions may only further aggravate the situation, and called upon Ukraine's foreign partners to act prudently and constructively for the sake of the soonest possible stabilization of the internal political situation in Ukraine.

On 29 November 2004 Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder conducted a phone conference on Ukraine. The German chancellor and the Russian president both agreed that the result of a new election that is conducted on the basis of the Ukrainian constitution and reflects the political will of the Ukrainian people should be strictly respected.

On 30 November 2004 Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said today that Ukraine is headed for breakup or bloodshed over its disputed presidential election. Gryzlov had taken part in attempts to mediate between pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his West-leaning opposition challenger, Viktor Yushchenko. Gryzlov accused the Ukrainian opposition of failing to carry out its part of what he claimed was an agreement reached at the talks to end protests against the election result.

On 30 November 2004 the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry warned the Russian Embassy about the undesirability of statements by Russian politicians about the elections in Ukraine. The deputy head of the Foreign Ministry press service, Dmytro Svystkov, informed that Russian Embassy minister-counselor Anatoliy Korsun had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told it was essential that "public figures, including Russian ones, should refrain from statements about the elections in Ukraine, especially statements that could worsen the situation in the country and be used to inflame separatist inclinations". This warning was issued in the light of a Foreign Ministry statement on speculations about the territorial structure of Ukraine. Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov and Korsun attended the all-Ukrainian congress of MPs and people's deputies of all levels on November 28 in Siverodonetsk, Luhansk Region, where the issue was raised of creating an autonomous southeastern region of Ukraine. Luzhkov also addressed the forum, calling it "historic".

On 01 December 2004 Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Russian Embassy about Russian politicians making public statements concerning Ukrainian elections. Press secretary of the Ministry Dmitri Svistkov expressed these concerns to Anatoliy Korsun, the Russian Embassy diplomatic advisor. It was accentuated, that Russian politicians "should not make any statements concerning elections in Ukraine, especially those that may worsen the situation in the country and can be used to deepen separatist mood".

On 02 December 2004 Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the Ukrainian opposition's push to repeat that country's disputed presidential election. Putin, who met with Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma at a government airport outside Moscow, suggested that repeating the 21 November runoff might not resolve the current crisis. "A repeat of the second round [of the presidential election] might fail to work, too," Putin said. "Will it have to be held three, four, or 20-five times then, until one of the parties gets the desired result?" Yushchenko criticized Kuchma's trip to Russia, saying "the source of power is located in Ukraine - it's the Ukrainian people."

On 02 December 2004 the Russian parliament passed a resolution accusing the West of taking "destructive actions" in Ukraine by "pushing a radicalized portion of Ukraine's population towards dangerous actions". The Russian Foreign Ministry also accused Europe of interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs and supporting a "breach" of the country's constitution.

On 04 December 2004 Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to send Russia parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov to attend the European-sponsored talks on 06 December 2004.

On 06 December 2004 Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would work with any elected leader. "We accept ... the wishes of any nation in the post-Soviet territory and will work with any elected leader," RIA Novosti news agency quoted Putin as saying during a visit to Turkey. "Some politicians say 'we'll seize power anyway'. We in Russia cannot support such developments, even if someone wants to call it democracy," the Interfax agency quoted him as saying.

On 07 December 2004 a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) member states heard a warning from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Moscow might withhold its budget contributions unless the organization changes its operating methods. The Russian statement came after a heated meeting at which Russia objected to OSCE's approach to the Ukrainian crisis and the question of Russian troops in Georgia and parts of Moldova. It criticized OSCE's position that the recent elections in Belarus were not democratic.

Russia also objected to OSCE's election-monitoring operations. "Russia yesterday, in response to proposal of our partners, proposed a text which supported the following -- the necessity of avoiding the use of violence in the current situation in Ukraine, the necessity avoid any threats which unfortunately find a place among some of the participants in the process in Ukraine, and the necessity of fully respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and avoiding interference in its internal affairs and respect for the right of the Ukrainian people to solve their problems independently, based on the constitution and the laws," Lavrov said.

Russia blocked a resolution by the 55-member OSCE that called for all parties in Ukraine to cooperate for a fair rerun of the election. "Our partners demanded additional formulations that actually meant interference in the negotiation process in Ukraine," Lavrov said.



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