Vienna, February 11 – Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia’s ambassador in Kyiv, says that Moscow has little or no chance to bring Ukraine back into its sphere of influence anytime soon, not only because of Ukrainian attitudes toward Russia but also because of the scope of American activities in Ukraine.
In remarkably undiplomatic language, Chernomyrdin, who earlier served as Russia’s prime minister, not only acknowledged d that his own government is losing influence in the country to which he is accredited but also denounced both the US for its activities in Ukraine and Ukraine’s support of Georgia against Russia (www.kp.ru/daily/24240.5/439857/).
The Russian representative told ”Komsomolskaya Pravda” that like the US under George W. Bush, the Obama Administration will not give up its dominant position in Kyiv and will continue to work not only to ensure that Ukraine adopts an anti-Russian position on gas transit but also becomes a member of the Western alliance.
Asked directly whether Moscow had any chance to change this situation and bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence, Chernomyrdin answered baldly: “No, we will not be able to do that,” because the US won’t allow it and because Ukrainians, especially those in the current government, have such a negative attitude toward Russia.
The Americans, he continued, are “everywhere,” using “more than 2,000 foundations” to promote their interests, inviting people to study in the United States for free, and even sitting in the ministry of defense and “openly working” on behalf of American interests and the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO.
Tragically, Chernomyrdin said, Russians have not “learned” how to respond to this American challenge and consequently are losing their influence. And that problem is compounded by the experiences many Ukrainians working in the Russian Federation have had with Russian officialdom, experiences that have alienated them further.
As a result of all this, the Russian ambassador said, one can hardly reach an accord “with this Ukrainian leadership,” although it is possible that after the presidential elections in January 2010 a new group will come in and then it will be possible to do so, especially if the new people are “sober” and “normal” in their relations with Russia.
Asked whether Viktor Yanukovich, who has the reputation of being pro-Russian was the person Moscow would like to deal with as president of Ukraine, Chernomyrdin said that “it is difficult to say. It is possible to speak with him. But one should not trust anyone,” hardly an expression of support for someone committed to expanding Kyiv-Moscow ties.
Chernomyrdin’s undiplomatic remarks are intriguing both because many Russians believe they have numerous ways of forcing Ukraine to return to Moscow’s fold (see www.ua-pravda.com/analitika/politicheskiy_krizis_na_ukraine_i_vozmozhnaya_strategiya_r.html) and are even celebrating what they see as a growth of Russian influence there.
Such commentators point to the declaration of a “Donets Republic” in eastern Ukraine this week (newsland.ru/News/Detail/id/338843/cat/42/) and among the Rusin community in western Ukraine (www.rosbalt.ru/2009/02/09/616821.htm), but they say Moscow can employ “a South Ossetian” strategy in Crimea (www.fleet.sebastopol.ua/index.php?article_to_view=2218).
Why then given all these self-confident expressions in Moscow did Chernomyrdin choose to give this interview at all? At least three possibilities suggest themselves. First, he may be frustrated with Moscow’s failure either to respond to his own recommendations or to recognize the emerging reality in Ukraine.
Second, he may be hoping either to prevent the Russian government from making the situation worse by seeking to destabilize Ukraine through non-diplomatic means or alternatively he may want Moscow to pursue such measures with even greater vigor given the enormity of the stakes involved.
Or third, he may be positioning himself for a return to politics in Moscow itself, hopeful that his expressions of a new realism will appeal either to President Dmitry Medvedev who may be more interested in finding an accommodation with Ukraine than was his predecessor Vladimir Putin or to groups who feel neither Medvedev nor Putin are behaving appropriately.
Whatever Chernomyrdin’s calculation was – and a combination of all of the above may be at work – his remarkable interview with the Moscow paper could prove to be a turning point in Moscow’s relations not only with Ukraine but with other post-Soviet states as well, either boosting Russia’s chances for influence there or eliminating them for some time to come.