KIEV, Dec. 1 – Russia, which heavily supported Viktor Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential election, will now back Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko ahead of the next vote in January 2010, a Tymoshenko ally said Tuesday.
Sviatoslav Oliynyk, a lawmaker from the Tymoshenko Bloc, also said Ukraine should consider extending the stationing of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet beyond 2017, when the 20-year lease term expires.
“I think the Kremlin will support Tymoshenko,” Oliynyk said in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant published on Tuesday.
“Everyone notes that the Russian television is quite positive in covering her work. So she is accepted,” Oliynyk said. “I don’t think the Kremlin will support Yanukovych. He has twice failed to justify the bets had been made on him.”
The comments may be politically damaging for Tymoshenko, who has been so far courting voters in western regions of Ukraine as a pro-Western – as opposed to pro-Russian - leader.
Tymoshenko was not available for comments. But at least one lawmaker from her party, Volodymyr Yavorivskiy, issued a statement lashing out at Oliynyk and calling him a “provocateur.”
The developments come days after President Viktor Yushchenko has accused Tymoshenko of making secret commitments to the Russians to change Ukraine’s foreign policy in the event of winning the presidency.
Yushchenko, citing intelligence reports, said Tymoshenko made the commitments at a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last week in exchange for Moscow waving $8 billion penalty for gas supplies in 2009.
The alleged commitments include extending the stationing of the BSF indefinitely, as well as postponing Ukraine’s accession to NATO, an alliance that Russia views as a military threat.
Yushchenko has been repeatedly stating the BSF will have to leave Ukraine’s territory when the lease term expires in 2017.
This, and his push for Ukraine’s quick accession to NATO, has angered Moscow, promoting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to accuse Yushchenko of promoting “anti-Russian” foreign policy.
“The stationing of the Black Sea Fleet is the destabilizing factor for our nation,” Yushchenko said on Tuesday. “This policy is not against Russia, but for the stabilization of Ukraine.”
The Russian leaders, including Medvedev and Putin, have been essentially boycotting and refusing to meet Yushchenko for the past 18 months.
By contrast, Putin has met Tymoshenko at least four times over the past 11 months.
Oliynyk argued that Ukraine should let the Russians extend the stationing of their beyond 2017 in exchange for economic and trade concessions from Moscow.
“I, as a resident of Ukraine, have a question: Do I have a difference what country is stationing its fleet there? No,” he said.
“So, why would I change things that would bring in chaos, tensions, especially if is against this?” he said. “Isn’t it better to approach the problem in a pragmatic way and to use this factor for its own interests?”
Sergey Markov, the Russian lawmaker and a Kremlin insider, agrees with this logic, but adds the Russian naval fleet must stay in Ukraine “for the next 100 years.”
“The Black Sea Fleet must stay for the next 100 years,” Markov said Tuesday in Simferopol, Crimea. “It is the guarantor of security in the entire region.” (tl/ez)