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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 21:16 GMT
Ukraine: Unfinished business
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The crisis in Ukraine has thrown up sharp differences between the West and Russia over the future of a country which could one day be the border between the European Union and Russia itself.

Protests in driving snow in Ukraine
Demonstrators hold cold vigil

Therefore, this crisis is important for what it says about relations between the West and Russia as much as for what happens in Ukraine itself.

Many Western governments see Ukraine as a piece of unfinished business. Ukraine has taken some steps in the right direction, they think, such as giving up its nuclear weapons, but it has not fully emerged into the democratic light of day as some of its neighbours, like Poland and Hungary, have.

The fact that Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner without the investigation into possible vote-rigging as demanded by Western leaders will only add to the tension.

The US Secretary of State Colin Powell's forceful condemnation and his threat of "consequences" shows that Washington, after a cautious start, has decided to make this an issue.

The West would have preferred a different result but it could have accepted any fair result. It is making a loud noise about what is thought to be an unfair result.

Russian view

For Russia, and particularly for President Putin, on the other hand, Ukraine should be in its sphere of influence. Ukraine after all was where the Russia state itself began in the 9th Century and the idea that Ukraine should float off to join the EU and maybe even Nato is not a welcome one.

This is not a case of 'win or lose' Ukraine for either side. Whoever leads Ukraine has to get on with both Russia and the West
Margot Light, LSE

"In the last year especially, President Putin has been trying to re-establish Russian influence in the former Soviet states," said Margot Light, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics.

"He has been a disappointment to the West, which does not quite know how to deal with him at the moment.

"But it is not a case of 'win or lose' Ukraine for either side. Whoever leads Ukraine has to get on with both Russia and the West. Yanukovych is not a Milosevic figure. Ukraine is not like Belarus.

"What has angered the people is the way in which the election was held. I attended the parliamentary elections there in 2002 and the level of administrative interference is tremendous. This is a popular revolt against interference."

Unlike the revolutions in Serbia or Georgia, there is, however, a sense that even if Ukraine does not move wholeheartedly towards reform this time, it is not the end of the story. The narrowness of the result shows a groundswell in favour of further reform.

Unless suspected irregularities are checked into, there will no doubt be economic implications for Ukraine, which gets considerable EU aid each year, and any idea that it might want to move towards candidate status for membership would have to be put on hold.

The EU will have a chance of putting its views to President Putin himself at a Russia-EU summit in The Hague on 25 November.


But Ukraine is not at the beginning of a revolutionary movement in the region. It is at the end of it. It is not a bellwether state. It is following a wind of change which has blown strongly elsewhere. So its importance is thereby somewhat diminished.

For some years, both the West and Russia were content that the country should feel its way forward slowly. It kept on good terms with both.

That ambiguity could not last for ever.

A result which is tainted by suspicion of fraud would make the thinkable - that Ukraine might indeed one day fully join the community of European nations - into the unthinkable again. Ukraine would remain a halfway house.

Why so many believe the vote was flawed

Guardian Unlimited Putin stokes Ukraine crisis - 51 mins ago
ABCNEWS.com Yushchenko Appeals to Ukraine High Court - 55 mins ago
FOXNews.com Ukrainian Opposition Begins Protest Strike - 1 hr ago
CNN Court challenge in Ukraine crisis - 1 hr ago
Los Angeles TimesUkraine Opposition May Block Highways - 1 hr ago
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