Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Around the world: Russia and the Ukraine

By Michael J.W. Stickings

We've been doing a lot of international-news-oriented posts recently -- not because we're turning away from the U.S. -- we're still mostly U.S.-focused -- but because, well... because there's been lot going on around the world. The situation in Burma is the big story at the moment, and rightly so, and we've been covering it extensively, as we've been covering other top stories, often election-related, but here, in the latest entry of our Around the World series, are a couple more, both from the former Soviet Union:

1) Russia: It looks like Putin might be pulling a Chavez after all. He's not trying to change the rules to keep himself in power -- no, he hasn't gone that far, yet -- but he may not step aside, or out, when his presidential term is up.

President Vladimir Putin, in a surprise announcement, opened the door Monday to becoming Russia's prime minister and retaining power when his presidential term ends next year.

The popular Mr. Putin is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in the March presidential election, but has strongly indicated he would seek to keep a hand on Russia's reins after he steps down.

Mr. Putin's remarks Monday at a congress of the dominant, Kremlin-controlled United Russia party hint at a clear scenario in which he could remake himself as a powerful prime minister and eclipse a weakened president.

You know what they say about power, especially the absolute variety.

Putin may install a puppet as president -- say, current Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, a Putin loyalist whom Putin recently put in place -- and rule from parliament, the Duma.

Garry Kasparov, chess master and now the leader of the pro-democracy, anti-Putin forces in Russia is right: "In fact, Putin has done nothing more than decide to use United Russia [Putin's political party] as the main mechanism for retaining power." He is also right to attack "the anti-democratic and anti-constitutional nature of this whole electoral process".

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2) Ukraine: Another close election, too close to call:

Leaders of the two main political parties in Ukraine both claimed victory on Monday in crucial parliamentary elections, but the vote appeared so tight that it could be many days before a new prime minister takes office.

Supporters of Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was a stalwart of the Orange Revolution of 2004, insisted that the final tally would show that she was the victor. But her chief rival, Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich, dismissed those statements as premature.

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Officials said late Monday night that with 93 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Yanukovich’s party had 34 percent and Ms. Tymoshenko’s had 31 percent. But those numbers could fluctuate as polling places finish reporting.

Ms. Tymoshenko’s party said she would become prime minister again by reaching a deal with President Viktor A. Yushchenko’s party, which received 14 percent, rekindling an alliance that was triumphant in the Orange Revolution, but collapsed in acrimony later on.

Nothing is certain, however, and many votes remain to be counted. Yanukovich could still pull ahead.

But what the Ukraine needs is a Yushchenko-Tymoshenko alliance, that is, a continuation of the Orange Revolution that has brought genuine democracy and the prospect of a brighter future to a country still trying to emerge from the dark shadows of its former totalitarian masters.

More here.

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