Ukraine's dangerous ode to Stalin

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This week Ukrainian Communists unveiled a bust of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the mainly Russia-speaking city of Zaporizhya in eastern Ukraine. They wanted to honor their World War II hero. The bust is the first monument to Stalin in Ukraine's modern history.

It doesn't matter that it was the initiative of local members of the Communist Party, was financed by donations from war veterans, or erected on private land -- it stands as another wedge between pro-Russia eastern Ukraine and the pro-Western or nationalist rest of the country. There, Ukrainians remember Russian oppression and the mass famine of 1932-1933 in which millions died under Stalin's agriculture policies.

The statue could easily bring out protesters in the western part of the country who could see this as more proof that their new government, under the leadership of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovich, is ceding the country to Moscow.

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In 2008, I had a chance to meet with members of Mr. Yanukovich's Party of Regions, which at that time was in the opposition. They had one message for visiting western journalists: All we want to do is restore balance in our foreign relations.

Now they're in power, but where's the balance? The parliament just approved an extension of up to 32 years to station the Russian Black Sea fleet on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, which is largely Russian speaking. Ukraine gets lower gas prices from Russia; Russia gets a stranglehold on Ukraine's foreign policy. The deal sparked egg throwing in parliament and street protests. Now Moscow is pushing a merger between the two countries' natural gas giants, as well as nuclear and aviation sectors.

Yanukovich has got to tread carefully, and he may have already overstepped. If he gets too close to Moscow, he could, defacto, lose Ukraine's independence. And, if he goes too far, divided Ukraine might actually split, with Crimea the natural place to declare independence. Then Russia wouldn't have to bother with negotiating any more lease deals.

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