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Putin Asserts Authority in Ukraine Election Dispute


The dispute over Ukraine' election has been a kind of tug-of-war between Russia and the West, with Moscow's open backing of Prime Minister Yanukovych seen as a way to assert political influence over a key neighbor. The crisis shows the divide between East and West remains long after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As the political crisis in Ukraine drags on, Moscow continues to cast a very long shadow over events there.

This began during the election campaign when Russian President Vladimir Putin made two trips to Ukraine to show support for Prime Minister Yanukovych.

Moscow sees Mr. Yanukovych as the man most likely to help reassert Russia's political influence in a country that was under Russia's direct control for centuries.

Russian leaders are also alarmed to see the European Union and NATO expand into former satellites in East Europe and even the three Baltic republics, which were once ruled by the Soviet Union.

In a sense, Mr. Putin has drawn the line at Ukraine. He is seeking to reassert traditional Russian political influence in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine that Russia refers to as the "Near Abroad."

Despite all the talk about being a partner with the West, the Russian leader resents what he calls Europe's "preaching" on issues such as human rights.

Political analyst Marsha Lipman with the Carnegie Center in Moscow says the current crisis reveals the degree to which an "Us Verses Them" Cold War mentality prevails in Russia.

"I think the rift between Russia and the West has never been so deep as in this situation as in this crisis in Ukraine," she said.

Lipman says differing views about just what "democracy" means also lie at the heart of the divide.

Mr. Putin is a firm believer in the need for strong, centralized leadership in order to bring stability after the chaos in the early post-Soviet years a decade ago. He has successfully stamped his will on Russia, removing opposition parties from parliament through elections that also saw clear media bias as a means of getting preferred candidates elected.

Mr. Putin even plans to do away with some elections entirely. Parliament has given preliminary approval to abolishing direct elections for regional governors, something he calls "necessary" in order to combat the scourge of terrorism.

All of this adds to the differences between Russia and the West, differences which have become more apparent by the dispute over Ukraine's election.