Ukraine’s leader warns of Russian influence

Viktor Yushchenko fears a return to a vassal state. Viktor Yushchenko fears a return to a vassal state.
Associated Press / February 17, 2010

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KIEV - Outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko said yesterday that the policies of his newly elected successor could turn Ukraine back into a Kremlin vassal state.

Yushchenko made the statements, some of his harshest against President-elect Viktor Yanukovych, at a news conference nine days before he is due to hand over power.

“The victory of Yanukovych is a Kremlin project. It is a policy of deep dependence on Russia,’’ Yushchenko said.

Yushchenko was the leader of mass street protests in 2004 against Yanukovych’s Kremlin-backed election victory that year.

Dubbed the Orange Revolution, those demonstrations prompted the Supreme Court to overturn Yanukovych’s fraudulent win and call for a revote, which Yushchenko won.

Since then, Yanukovych has capitalized on Yushchenko’s ineffective rule, the slow progress of European integration, and the economic meltdown of the past year.

He won the presidential ballot Feb. 7 against the heroine of the Orange Revolution, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yushchenko saved particular venom for Yanukovych’s plans to give Russia a stake in managing Ukraine’s natural gas pipelines and to extend the lease Russia has on a Black Sea naval base.

“It is painful and demeaning for me to hear these pledges. It discredits us as a nation, as Ukrainians,’’ Yushchenko told a sparsely attended briefing, appearing dejected but calm.

Yushchenko had sought to expel Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which he sees as a threatening military presence on Ukrainian soil. He called Yanukovych’s pledge to allow the fleet to stay a “policy of being colonized.’’

In a statement, Yanukovych responded to Yushchenko’s attack with a pledge to pursue a balanced and pragmatic foreign policy.