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Could Ukraine Become Russia's Next Target?


The former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine are allies engaged in similar attempts to establish democratic rule, to join NATO and realign themselves with the West, much to the displeasure of Russia. During the conflict in Georgia, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko prohibited ships from the Russian Black Sea Fleet that are engaged off the Georgian coast from returning to port on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula without Kyiv's official permission. VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky examines how the Kremlin may react to Ukraine's pro-Georgian and pro-Western position.

In 2007, Public School Number 41 in Tbilisi was named after Mykhailo Hrushevsky, president of the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic in 1917 and 1918.

Ukraine's current President, Viktor Yushchenko flew to Tbilisi to join his Georgian friend and fellow head of state, Mikheil Saakashvili, in the school's re-dedication ceremony. Both men rode to power following mass pro-democracy protests that came to be known as colored revolutions. Georgia's was the Rose Revolution and Ukraine's was the Orange. Accordingly, the Hrushevsky School was painted orange.

Moscow has not disguised its displeasure with the colored revolutions and refuses to deal with Mr. Saakashvili. On Tuesday, President Yushchenko again flew to Tbilisi, accompanied this time by the presidents of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Mr. Yushchenko says the task of the presidential mission is to show that Georgia is not alone, that in this age the power of reason should not be replaced by the iron fist.

The Ukrainian leader says the five presidents came to Georgia to prohibit the of killing people and the execution of the country.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleksiy Melnyk, of the Razumkov Center think tank in Kyiv, told VOA the Polish, Ukrainian and Baltic leaders do not necessarily agree with all of the actions undertaken in the conflict by Georgian leadership, but notes they risked their own physical security to send a signal to Moscow.

Melnyk says Moscow should see the presidential show of solidarity in Tbilisi as a serious signal that Russian foreign policy of establishing control over former Soviet republics and its neighborhood achieves a totally opposite effect. The analyst says Russia is surrounding itself with nations that are, at a minimum, not friendly and perhaps even hostile toward Moscow.

Oleksiy Melnyk says Russian military actions in Georgia could lead the majority of Ukrainians who now oppose to their country's NATO membership to reassess their opinions about the respective security threats posed by the Western alliance and Russia.

The chairman of the European Integration Forum in Tbilisi, Soso Tsiskarishvili, agrees with Melnyk's assessment, but notes Ukraine is better prepared to meets NATO's democratic standards for membership than Georgia.

Tsiskarishvili says Ukraine's two recent parliamentary elections and Georgia's presidential and parliamentary contests differ from one another like heaven and earth in terms of democratic and transparent procedures.

But Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer cautions that Ukraine could be Russia's next target as part of what he says is a grand Kremlin plan for the partial restoration of Russian greatness.

"Russia right now wants at least half of Ukraine to be annexed," said Felgenhauer. "Vladimir Putin talked about that rather openly at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania in April. Ukraine will disintegrate into two halves, and we want the eastern half, including of course, first and foremost, Crimea."

Felgenhauer says Ukraine's overwhelming vote for independence in 1991, which included a majority of Crimeans, means nothing to Kremlin rulers, who the analyst says do not respect the will of even their own people.

Nonetheless, the analyst says Russia is tied down in Georgia and will not make any immediate military moves against Ukraine. He notes, however, that Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which leases naval facilities in Sevastopol in Crimea, will likely steam back to port in defiance of a Ukrainian presidential order that it must first ask for Ukrainian permission.

"If Russia openly challenges Ukrainian sovereignty, I think that Ukraine will then turn to the West and say, 'you know guys, they're challenging our sovereignty with their fleet.' And this will happen without any kind of use of arms, or anything made in anger. Ukraine right now, apparently wants to make the threat to its sovereignty obvious to outside powers," said Felgenhauer.

Felgenhauer says Moscow's vision of the world is that of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin; one in which Russia and Washington share spheres of influence. The analyst notes that Russia withdrew its bases from Cuba and Vietnam, expecting the United States to stay away from what Moscow thought was to be its sphere of influence. He says Moscow felt betrayed when Washington began supporting colored revolutions among Russia's neighbors.

But Soso Tsiskarishvili points to this week's visit to Tbilisi by presidents of five countries that border Russia as a sign that they do not trust the Kremlin.