Emerging Russian Union

July 13, 1994

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, author Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been preaching a "Russian Union" of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. That dream may come closer to realization now that Ukraine and Belarus have elected presidents who advocate closer ties with Moscow.

This is a welcome development to those who favor Slavic cooperation under the Commonwealth of Independent States. But many Ukrainian and Belarusan nationalists see the outcome as a disaster. They fear an embrace by the Russian bear may suffocate their countries' fledgling freedom.

When they became independent three years ago, Ukraine and Belarus seemed likely candidates for success. They had some of the most fertile agricultural land in the former Soviet Union. Their industrial base was relatively good. Yet they squandered their opportunity at quick and decisive free-market reform. Instead, their economy and government are today in such disarray that Russia's troubles look decisively minor by comparison.

Last weekend's election outcomes reflected the voters' dissatisfaction and anger.

In Ukraine, the country's first president, Leonid Kravchuk, 60, was booted out of office. The new chief executive will be Leonid Kuchma, a former missile factory director who wants closer ties with Russia and has even talked about giving Moscow a much-desired naval base on the Black Sea.

Mr. Kuchma's unexpected victory may smooth Kiev's relations with Moscow, which have been rocky. Within Ukraine, however, it may result in heightened polarization among Ukrainian nationalists, who supported Mr. Kravchuk, and Russian speakers, who brought Mr. Kuchma to power.

In the worst-case scenario, that polarization may strengthen separatist movements among Russians in Ukraine, who already are campaigning to remove Kiev's control from Crimea. BTC Separatism could become a big headache if it hits the important mining and industrial region of Donbas. Heavily Russian, that area under Soviet rule had close administrative and economic ties to Moscow.

In Belarus, the landslide victor was Alexander Lukashenko, a demagogic anti-crime crusader who beat Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich. The platform of the future Lukashenko government is unclear. Some see him as a mere local clone of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian anti-Semite and jingoist who is a friend of his.

The weekend's election results are likely to be viewed in Russia as harbingers of things to come when President Boris N. Yeltsin's term runs out in 1996. Whether in the former Soviet Union or in America, unhappy voters are predictable: They want to throw the rascals out.

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