[Культура] MOSCOW, August 12 (RIA Novosti) Russia 'resetting' relations with Ukraine/ Threat of new Russian-Ukrainian "gas war" increasing/ Moscow looking to replace Belarusian president/ Russians like U.S. better than Ukraine or Georgia - poll
RBC Daily Russia 'resetting' relations with Ukraine Analysts have taken Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's unexpected move to delay sending a new ambassador to Kiev as Moscow's signal for the start of the presidential race in Ukraine. The Kremlin has practically said whatever presidential candidate wins, Ukraine's relations with Russia will be rebuilt in a new way.
Naturally, no one in Moscow or Kiev was genuinely interested in "Ukraine's lame duck" President Viktor Yushchenko's response. Yushchenko, who is serving the last months of his presidency, stands a nearly zero chance of re-election, although he has announced his intention to run this year.
"The Kremlin is dotting the 'i's, and demanding that Ukraine's presidential candidates answer a few clearly worded questions," said Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the Center for Political and Conflict Studies in Kiev. However, he added, the majority of candidates would gladly avoid discussing Russian-Ukrainian relations during their election campaigning.
"Without the support of Russian-speaking voters, they can hardly expect to sweep the national vote," the analyst went on. "On the other hand, Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko are billing themselves as leaders of all Ukrainians, therefore, they will also have to seek support among the country's western regions."
"A clearly formulated state policy toward Ukraine is much more important for Russia than whether or not there is an ambassador in Kiev now," said Dmitry Orlov, director general of the Russian Agency of Political and Economic Communications. According to him, Russia has not had such a policy of late, a weakness Kiev has eagerly cashed in on, pursuing an anti-Russian strategy punctuated by occasional assurances of friendship and loyalty.
"Dmitry Medvedev has clearly defined the framework of Russia's dialogue with Ukraine and established certain key policies Moscow is not going to give up," Orlov emphasized.
Kiev will no longer be able to get away with using the usual general statements of the need to maintain a strategic partnership with Russia. In fact, what we are witnessing is a "resetting" of Russian-Ukrainian relations. These relations will from now comprise a different format, leaving no room for ambiguity and political maneuvering.
Kommersant Threat of new Russian-Ukrainian "gas war" increasing The Kremlin no longer intends to do business with Viktor Yushchenko. A significant reason for the break in relations could well be the actions of Ukraine's president in a sensitive area for Moscow - that of gas.
President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday: "Bypassing Russia, Ukraine's top political leadership has agreed with the European Union's leadership on Russian gas deliveries to Europe and signed a document that is totally out of line with January's Russian-Ukrainian agreements." The president was apparently referring to the Brussels Declaration of March 23, 2009, which outlines the division of Ukraine's Naftogaz into different businesses.
According to Kommersant's sources on Ukraine's gas market, Ukrtransgaz will control the transit and storage of gas in underground facilities. Neftegazseti will be responsible for supplying gas to the domestic market, while Ukrgazdobycha will concern itself with production and geological exploration. The division of such activities is not in line with January 19 agreements with Russia.
Vadim Karasev, director of the Kiev Institute of Global Strategies, told the paper that if this division along business lines takes place, Gazprom will have to sell all its gas on Ukraine's eastern border, while Naftogaz may allow all applicants to share the pipe, which would break the Russian corporation's monopoly on transits via Ukraine.
On Tuesday, news agencies reported that Ukraine had met European requests halfway to raise transit rates on Russian gas and reduce the volume of its own purchases in 2010. Naftogaz, for example, promised to lower purchases from the planned 52 billion cubic meters to 35 billion cubic meters. At the same time, the gas transit rate through Ukraine will be increased by 35% (to $2.65 for pumping one thousand cubic meters over 100 kilometers from the current $1.7).
Gazprom has never given its consent to such changes. Back in June, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said: "Contracts have been signed and will not be reviewed. The contracts are valid until 2019." On Tuesday, a Gazprom source confirmed that no new agreements had been reached at last week's negotiations. It is not being ruled out that in these circumstances it was decided to add a political dimension to the gas issue as is common in Russian-Ukrainian relations.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta Moscow looking to replace Belarusian president Alexander Ostrovsky, head of the State Duma committee on the CIS affairs, has met with Alexander Kozulin, former Belarusian presidential candidate.
No details of the meeting have been disclosed; analysts believe it was Moscow's way of telling Alexander Lukashenko that the current government of Belarus was not Russia's only and most preferred partner.
Relations between the partners in the Union State have grown exceptionally tense of late. Alexander Khramchikhin from the Institute of Political and Military Analysis believes the Belarusian president himself is to blame for the situation: "Lukashenko has always been using the union as a source of economic privilege for his country."
"The Lukashenko-led Belarus has always been found wanting in its attitude toward Russia. He never requested loans, even though it is an accepted international practice, but demanded them," said Belarusian political analyst Viktor Martinovich.
Until recently, the Kremlin has had its reasons for turning a blind eye to the Belarusian leader's antics, but the situation is changing now. "Russian officials must have realized that Belarus's ruling elite is incapable of agreement or compromise, but will always be trying to snatch as many privileges as possible using whatever pretexts it can find," believes another political analyst, Andrei Suzdaltsev.
Martinovich agrees: "Russia has realized that the friendship it used to trust was Belarus's way of providing itself with cheap resources and a vast market for its products."
"The recession is ongoing, production is declining, and it is unclear if Belarus will be able to rise to the pre-crisis level of development any time soon. People have no confidence in their future, which improves the opposition's chances at the upcoming elections," said political analyst Valery Karbalevich.
"True, Moscow is unlikely to be able to significantly influence the situation in Belarus now, but it can be trusted to make the 2011 campaign exceptionally difficult for Lukashenko. Moscow is now trying to find a candidate it can rely on," said journalist Pavel Sheremet, an expert on Belarus.
"It is high time the Russian government found new personalities to rely on in its relations with Belarus," agreed Georgy Chizhov, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies think tank. Or, at least, show Belarus that there are realistic options, he added.
Russians like U.S. better than Ukraine or Georgia - poll
Russians now feel closer toward the United States than to Ukraine and Georgia. Levada Center pollsters put this down to armed conflicts of recent years and the news environment created by Russian media. They stress that the attitude toward the authorities of neighboring countries is filtering down to residents in the states themselves.
On July 17-20, the center polled 1,600 Russians in 128 villages, towns and cities across Russia.
The latest poll said some 47% of Russians felt positive toward the U.S. compared with 44% and 25% sympathizing with Ukraine and Georgia. A similar breakdown is seen in Russian votes that view these countries "in a poor or mostly poor light": the U.S. - 40%, Ukraine - 47%, and Georgia - 63%. The Russians' dislike for these countries, compared with findings of a May survey, is now slightly down: in the spring, 50% of respondents felt "badly" toward the U.S., 69% toward Georgia and 56% toward Ukraine.
"The improvement is rather a general trend, because ratings merely climbed following a fall as a result of the South Ossetian war," said Denis Volkov, of the Levada Center. "These countries are not the focus of attention, and television does broadcast nightmarish stories. Their attitude largely depends on the position taken by central television channels."
Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center, puts the improved attitude of Russians toward the U.S. than to their closest neighbors down to the fact that Russians see the U.S. both as the "main potential opponent" and as a "partner, if a dangerous one," which has the image of a progressive power.
In general, according to Grazhdankin, the negative trend is due to the Russian authorities' foreign policy: "The attitude to Georgia deteriorated when the 'rose revolution' took place in the country and the Russian propaganda machine started building up a negative image of Georgia." The analyst links the attitude of Russians to Ukraine with the Ukrainian presidential elections and gas conflicts. According to him, "the attitude to the acting authorities" has shifted in the country as a whole, as is demonstrated by the latest findings.
In the analyst's view, the attitude of Russians toward Ukraine over Tuesday's demarche by the Russian president may worsen "if Medvedev's address marks the start of a large-scale campaign and these statements are repeated by the media for several weeks."
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