A Brezhnevian Detachment from Reality

I can understand some complaints coming from the Putinistas and even the moderates that criticism from the opposition can begin sound a bit like a broken record:  the same laundry lists over and over, just updated with the latest murdered human rights worker or journalist (which is a sad statement on current affairs in general).  The oppo rhetoric can especially get stretched whenever it comes to the Baltics, Ukraine, and Georgia, where the Kremlin arguments are well honed and even better funded.

Anders Åslund, whom we’ve interviewed in the past for the blog, raises what I think is a new point in this new Financial Times piece … that the state of poor relations between Moscow and Kiev can be seen as something of an embarrassment of failed Russian policy.  In writing about Dmitry Medvedev’s recent hostile lashing out against the deeply unpopular Viktor Yushchenko, Åslund points out that the Russian policy of recent years has created a situation in which even their loyal, pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, doesn’t stand a chance of winning an election in a country where the majority of the population has decidedly turned against such a deferential stance toward the former empire.

Perhaps Moscow should take a cue from Washington’s experience in Latin America – endorsing a certain candidate and promising better relations with one candidate over another, is the functional equivalent of the political kiss of death.  Nowadays, even Hugo Chavez is finding that such open support kills candidates.  People don’t like voting for foreign puppets.

From the Financial Times:

President Dmitri Medvedev’s strident open letter to President ViktorYushchenko amounted to a further escalation, with its declaration thatRussia would not send a new ambassador to Kiev. Mr Medvedev offered noconstructive proposals but listed old Russian grudges, claiming thatall faults lie with Ukraine.

The language was reminiscent ofLeonid Brezhnev in its detachment from reality. Mr Medvedev claimedthat no Russian threat against Ukraine exists, as if he were unaware ofhis prime minister’s statements. He went on in Soviet vein: “Russiaendeavours to be a predictable, strong and accommodating partner” toits neighbours. Well, hardly, as Mr Yushchenko noted in his response.

MrMedvedev’s obvious aim was to influence the Ukrainian presidentialelections scheduled for January, expressing hopes for improvedrelations with the “new Ukrainian leadership”. Mr Yushchenko is nolonger a credible candidate, having proven himself an ineffectiveruler. The two leading candidates are instead Yulia Tymoshenko, thecurrent prime minister, and Viktor Yanukovich, the former primeminister, with Arseniy Yatseniuk, the former speaker, as the only otherplausible contender.

But however much effort Moscow puts into theUkrainian elections, it is not likely to achieve its aims, as theOrange revolution illustrated. Contrary to common misconceptions, noreal separatism exists in Ukraine. The Kremlin has given up on MrYanukovich, the leader of largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine,realising that no serious Ukrainian politician can be pro-Russian.Recently, the Kremlin has preferred Ms Tymoshenko as somebody they cando business with, but there is no love lost.