Tuesday, December 28, 2004
The Autonomous TransDonbass Republic?

As the Ukraine shifts towards the American sphere of influence, the lesser stars of the Kuchma regime have realised that their best hope is to maintain regional power bases like Donetsk. Ukrainian Canadians have reported that ballot rigging and intimidation still took place in this region, although the scale was less blatant than in November. Yanukovych received more than 90% of the vote in this region in the Boxing Day election.

In the Donbass, Yushchenko is seen as a radical Ukrainian nationalist, not as a Westerner:

While Mr. Yushchenko is often portrayed as a pro-Western reformer, Ms. Fetisova sees him as a radical Ukrainian nationalist who is likely to cut ties with neighbouring Russia and cripple the economy of the coal-producing Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, which is centred around Donetsk, a city of 1.1 million.

Such fears are common here in Ukraine's Russianized south and east, where many look more to the Kremlin than to Kiev, and demonstrate the scale of the challenge that Mr. Yushchenko faces.

The referendum on autonomy that was scheduled to take place on January 9th has been cancelled but, as Yanukovych battles the result in court, we can see that this issue may form part of a package of concessions for these areas. More than anything, Ukraine wishes to avoid the shadow of the Transdniester Republic and Abkhazia, Russian satellites carved out of Moldova and Georgia.

This may yet be the result despite the crowing of many over 'people power', a calculation that the Kremlin siloviki do not merit. If they wished to up the ante, they have the power:

And despite Mr. Putin's conciliatory words, met by a promise from Mr. Yushchenko to make Moscow his first foreign trip after being sworn in, relations with Russia promise to be difficult. Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst, told the Interfax news agency yesterday that many in Russia feared that Ukraine would now be invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and speculated that a "gas war" between Russia and Ukraine -- which is almost entirely reliant on its big neighbour for energy -- could follow.

Expect Ukraine to continue its soft shoe shuffle westwards.


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