Russia Loses Ukraine
Matthews, Owen, Nemtsova, Anna, Newsweek
Byline: Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova
No one can say for sure who will win Ukraine's presidential election later this month--the polls are too close to call. But one thing is clear: though Russia is likely to declare itself the winner, Ukraine will never return to being Moscow's subject. Ever since the 2004 Orange Revolution brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Kiev to overturn the rigged result of Ukraine's last presidential vote, Russia has been itching for a rematch. Seeing its man ousted in favor of a pro-democracy coalition that promised to take Ukraine into NATO and the EU was a massive blow for the Kremlin; Vladimir Putin still regards it as the "single worst strategic setback" of his presidency, according to his biographer.
On the surface, at least, things look to be turning around for Russia: Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president and Orange leader, now limps along with single-digit approval ratings, while Viktor Yanukovych, the Moscow-backed candidate ousted in 2004, narrowly leads the polls. But the reality is far more complex. For starters, a Yanukovych victory would result in few tangible benefits for Russia. Even if he wins, his party will control only a minority share in Ukraine's Parliament, all but ensuring that his presidency will look much like his short-lived tenure as prime minister last year, during which he failed to pass any pro-Russian reforms. …