Two key former Soviet states - Belarus and Ukraine - head into
elections this month amid dramatic accusations of planned coups,
state coercion, and vote-fixing.
But Moscow isn't worried.
Instead, there is a sense of calm and fresh confidence here that
contrasts sharply with the Kremlin's panicky reactions to the surge
of "colored revolts" that swept through the region in recent years.
That revolutionary wave - which began with Georgia's 2003 Rose
Revolution and continued with Ukraine's Orange Revolution - seemed
unstoppable just a year ago, when Krygyz President Askar Akayev was
But the inability of new leaders to fulfill revolutionary
pledges, together with the failure of popular pressure to effect
change in other Soviet satellite states, has opened the way for
Moscow to reassert its influence in the region.
"Those upsurges were the response of people to bad governance and
worsening conditions, and the new leaders that came in have shown
themselves unable to offer improvements," says Gennady Chuffrin,
deputy director of the official Institute of World Economy and
International Relations in Moscow. "Ukraine could even see a
reversal of what happened a year ago. Obviously the Kremlin would
like to see a weakening of [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko,
and I think that's what's going to happen."
Ukraine's economic decline and disillusionment have propelled the
pro-Moscow opposition party into first place in opinion surveys for
parliamentary elections on March 26. In an ironic twist, the
opposition leader Mr. Yanukovych, who was forced out of power after
being accused of rigging Ukraine's 2004 presidential election in his
favor, claims the authorities are preparing to steal the polls. "The
orange team can only remain in power through massive falsifications,
and this is what they are doing," he said last week.
According to a survey conducted last week by the Institute of
Social and Political Psychology in Kiev, Ukraine, Yanukovych's Party
of Regions leads with 27 percent support, followed by former prime
minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc with 19 percent and Mr.
Yushchenko's Our Ukraine movement with 17 percent.
If the elections bring in a deeply split parliament, it could
lead to an extended political crisis that would play into Moscow's
hands. A January gas blockade by Russia appears to have deepened
Ukraine's economic slump while strengthening the hand of the pro-
"We can make Ukraine strong and rich, because democracy is
impossible in a poor country," Yanukovych told his campaign workers
last week. "Unlike the present leadership, we will not build our
strategy to the detriment of relations with Russia."
In Belarus, good relations with Russia are not an issue. The
Kremlin will try to put the best face on President Alexander
Lukashenko's almost certain third-term victory in polls slated for
March 19. But even Russian experts who support the Belarussian
leader refrain from calling the election process democratic.
Two candidates running against Lukashenko, Alexander Kozulin and
Alexander Milinkevich, have been all but barred from media and their
rallies have been broken up by force. …