Ukraine heads back into the arms of Mother Russia
Despite a dispute over fraud allegations in the wake of Sunday's presidential vote in Ukraine, pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovich is set to become the next president in what will be a dramatic shift back to pro-Kremlin policies.
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Experts say that geopolitical tension is likely to be a permanent factor in Ukraine's domestic political discourse. The country is deeply divided, with its Ukrainian-speaking and nationalist-minded western provinces now sharing borders with -- and gazing enviously toward -- EU and NATO members Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. Heavily industrialized eastern Ukraine was part of Russia for 300 years, most of its citizens speak Russian as their first language, and they tend to look to Moscow for cultural and political cues. Since Vladimir Putin came to power a decade ago, Russia has grown far more assertive in efforts to draw Ukraine back into its orbit.Skip to next paragraph
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Part of Europe - or Eurasia?
"The question is whether Ukraine will be part of Europe or part of Eurasia," says Pavlo Movchan, a parliamentary deputy with Tymoshenko's bloc. "Russia is stepping up its efforts to assimilate Ukraine, and this is constantly on our minds. It's a matter of national survival."
Some Ukrainian experts say Yanukovich's arrival in power may stimulate some fresh thinking about how Ukraine can best balance relations with it's historic oppressor but current top trading partner Russia, and the NATO and EU neighbors that it hopes to eventually join.
"There is a growing view among Ukrainian security intellectuals that the best course for Ukraine might be to declare neutrality between East and West, and seek to develop dynamic relations in both directions," says Dmytro Vydrin, deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, a key presidential advisory body. "We need to be wise about this. As long as Russia views Ukrainian membership in NATO in panic-stricken terms, we probably have to keep it off the table."
And much depends on whether the current warming trend between the US and Russia continues, or descends back into the cold war-like shouting matches of recent years.
"If Washington and Moscow develop a modus vivendi, then Ukraine's place in East-West conflicts will diminish and become unremarkable," says Mikhail Pogribinsky, director of the independent Center of Political and Conflict Studies in Kiev. "But if competition between them flares up again, we'll become the object of their active interests and disputes again."
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