Russia's Constant Interference in Ukraine

by WARNER TODD HUSTON October 12, 2012

America is in need of allies in Eastern Europe. Two states there are excellent choices for the U.S. to cultivate. One, Poland, is already a fast friend. But the other, Ukraine, is a fairly new friend, and one the U.S. should work harder to cultivate. One thing is sure, Russia is doing her utmost to meddle in the Ukraine and we must be aware of that fact in our dealings in the region.

One of the stumbling blocks to U.S. understanding of the situation in Ukraine is the recent arrest and conviction of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the success that Russia's version of the story has achieved here in the U.S. Too many in the west imagine that she was arrested by a Ukraine backsliding into a Soviet-styled police state where all opposition leaders are squelched. This, however, just isn't the case.

Unfortunately, the U.S. senate recently pushed a resolution threatening sanctions against Ukraine for the arrest proving that the Senate has fallen for the overly simplistic narrative that Tymoshenko was arrested on "politicized" charges.

But the truth is, Tymoshenko was tried on the quite legitimate charges of contempt of court and corruption. Tymoshenko was involved in corruption that was aimed at returning Ukraine to the control of the Russians, or if not Russia's direct control, at the very least Russia's heavy influence.

After all, one of the things Tymoshenko did was unilaterally sign a bad energy deal with Russia that binds Ukraine to pay above market prices for Russian natural gas. This deal was in Russia's interests, not Ukraine's and it is a deal that authorities say she had no right to make. Even her former partner in government, Viktor Yushchenko, testified against Tymoshenko saying that, "National interests were traded for political considerations."

Tymoshenko has had run-ins with the law in the past, to be sure. She was first arrested back in 1995 on currency smuggling charges when she was head of the Ukrainian Gas Korporation. She was again arrested in 2001 for attempting to bribe ex-PM Pavel Lazarenko, who is himself now in jail in the U.S. for money laundering. A pure as the driven snow democrat she is not.

An additional little incident that has scandalized Ukraine is the rumored prison-based love affair Tymoshenko is carrying on with her lawyer.

All this has made her one of Putin's favorite causes, naturally, as the Russian strongman has repeatedly called for Tymoshenko's release. This should be no surprise since Tymoshenko has been one of Putin's best assets in the former Soviet-satellite nation. Putin, it should be noted, is desperate to prevent Ukraine from revisiting the conditions of the favorable energy deal that the Russians realized under Tymoshenko's term.

Putin has not satisfied himself solely with occasional proclamations about Ukraine's political climate, though. Since 2004 Russia has been building a world-reaching propaganda news network via cable, satellite, and the Internet to push Putin's narrative.

As James Kirhick recently Kirchick wrote in The New Republic, this PR offensive is expensive.

"Gone is the international brotherhood propaganda of old: Today's p.r. offensive is flashy, sophisticated, and far more subtle -- not to mention expensive -- emphasizing the supposed commonality of Russo-American national interests. The Russians have begun purchasing the services of high-priced international consulting and lobbying firms and expanding the reach of their state-funded media abroad."

This PR campaign has given us absurd stories such as a story about American Cary Dolego, a one-time long-shot for Governor in Arizona, who went to Ukraine, got his money stolen, was given the run around by a faux marriage proposal, and ended up homeless. Was this story meant to make it seem that Ukraine is unforgiving to American visitors? Regardless, it was but one more little dig at Ukraine loosed by Putin's PR offensive.

Or, how about the blatantly anti-Ukraine story on Putin's propaganda news station discounting Ukraine just as perpetually "stormy," and filled with instability, protests and "brawls."

Putin's forces have successfully used the media to push its own, anti-Ukraine narrative and it is a false narrative with which we in the United States should become better acquainted before passing judgment on Ukraine. There is far more going on than a mere anti-democratic quashing of opposition forces. On the contrary, Ukraine's economy has grown 5.2 percent last year, the country has instituted many reforms, and is working to satisfy requirements to join the European Union.

Ukraine has come a long way toward joining the west despite Putin's interference and the U.S. should take notice of that and move to aide the country's further efforts.

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago-based freelance writer, and has appeared as a commentator on Fox Business Network, Fox News, CNN, and radios shows from coast to coast    

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