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Last Updated: Monday, 27 December, 2004, 02:19 GMT
Russians rush to rethink Ukraine
By Steven Eke
BBC Russia analyst

It appears that Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has won a decisive victory over Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the re-run of the country's presidential election.

Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko
Yushchenko (right) appears to have won, according to early results

Nowhere has Ukraine's political crisis been followed more closely than in Russia.

It is widely accepted that the outcome of this election will help to shape the relationship between these two historically bonded nations, which continue to share economic, social and religious links.

It will also help to determine Russian foreign policy over the coming years, particularly during the remaining time President Vladimir Putin has in office.

Litmus test

When Mr Putin came to power in 2000, he promised to restore Russia's influence in what he termed "the zones of traditional influence" - or the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Ukraine has been a litmus test of Russia's capacity to influence events in the neighbouring countries.

A woman comes out of a polling booth in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev
The Ukrainians' choice will also affect Russia

And it appears that capacity is limited after the defeat of Mr Yanukovych, the candidate Moscow directly backed with money, moral support, advertising and TV airtime.

Already, Russian commentators have rushed to set out what they see as the consequences for Russia, and for Russo-Ukrainian relations.

Some are distancing themselves from the policy of backing Mr Yanukovych, and the public recognition of his 'victory' after a second round marred by allegations of widespread fraud.

The hard-line, nationalist MP Dmitry Rogozin has promised that the top Kremlin spin-doctors, who helped to shape the Yanukovych campaign, will "pay" for their failures.

Speaking live on Ukrainian television, Mr Rogozin said they were "guilty of creating the wrong image of Russia among Ukrainians". Their contribution consisted of portraying Mr Yushchenko as a Nazi, an anti-Semite, anti-Russian and pro-American.


Ultimately, the Kremlin spin-doctors may have reinforced anti-Western stereotypes already widespread and deeply embedded in Russian society. This is clearly reflected in the doom-laden predictions of the Russian left.

The Orange Revolution virus will now spread to Russia

One communist newspaper, Pravda, says the result means "the complete loss of our gas and oil export routes to the USA or the European Union". It also voices the fear that Mr Yushchenko's election means "Russia no longer exists as a world-class power". Pravda blames Washington for this.

Centrist commentators portray a very different situation.

A writer for business publication Kommersant claims the outcome of Ukraine's political crisis means "the Orange Revolution virus will now spread to Russia".

He writes: "It will not take long to dismantle the new Russian totalitarianism".

Media sources close to the Kremlin have stayed away from an assessment of Ukrainian exit polls. Instead, they have concentrated on the happy atmosphere in Kiev, and the apparent absence (so far) of reports of mass violations.

'Angry tones'

Mr Yushchenko has said that, in the event of his election, Russia would be the first foreign country he visited.

Ukraine's high level of dependence on Russia means u-turns in its policies towards its bigger, richer, northern neighbour are unlikely.

But there are likely to be long-term consequences in Russia.

Perhaps there will be a rejection of the policy of preserving influence at all costs, tied with a greater acceptance that the empire is no more.

It would seem more likely, given recent events, that an increasingly angry tone in public statements about the wider world may emerge, particularly regarding the US and Europe.

Why the election re-run remains controversial

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