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PUTIN WARNS WEST AGAINST MEDDLING IN UKRAINE... In his first public reaction to the Ukrainian Supreme Court's 3 December decision to nullify the second round of Ukraine's presidential election, President Vladimir Putin, at a 6 December press conference in Ankara, Turkey, told journalists that he considers Western support for the "orange revolution" in Kyiv to be "intolerable," RTR and other media reported. "One can play the role of a mediator but one must not meddle and apply pressure. Only the people of any country -- and this includes Ukraine in the full sense -- can decide their fate," Putin said. He suggested that Western meddling in Ukrainian affairs will create "new divisions in Europe." "I don't want, as in Germany, for us to divide Europe into westerners and easterners, into first-class and second-class people," Putin said. He also said that Russia is openly and correctly working with Ukraine's government. "Of course we will...accept the will of any nation in the former Soviet space and will work with any elected leader," Putin concluded. VY
...SLAMS UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER... President Putin also on 6 December criticized recent comments made by Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who said that he was prepared to use force if necessary to take power in Ukraine. In comments made to Britain's "Sunday Telegraph" on 5 December, Yushchenko said that "if the old regime tries to interfere in any way and tries to defy the will of the people and of parliament, we will simply storm our way into the cabinet office. This is what people want." In response, Putin said that it is completely unacceptable to make threats that leave people with no choice. "When a political leader says that 'whatever happens, whatever the result of the elections, we will take power, including by force,' this is not just pressure, it is intimidation of the people," Putin said. VY
...WHILE UKRAINIAN OPPOSITIONIST SAYS PUTIN WAS WRONG TO CRITICIZE. Yuliya Tymoshenko, a prominent Ukrainian opposition leader, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 December that President Putin's recent criticism of the Ukrainian opposition is based on the incorrect perception that "the personality of the future Ukrainian president will define the strategic vector of Ukrainian foreign policy." According to Tymoshenko, Putin thinks that only Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych will cooperate with Russia and the CIS. "Regardless of who is elected Ukrainian president, relations between Russia and Ukraine will be warm and friendly," she said. The difference, she added, is that if Yushchenko is president, these relations will not be based on clan politics and behind-the-scenes deals. "Very soon, Putin will realize that it is better to cooperate with a democratic Ukraine, which will be a more reliable and predictable partner," Tymoshenko said. VY
EXPERTS DEBATE CONSEQUENCES OF UKRAINIAN CRISIS FOR RUSSIA. Institute of Globalization President Mikhail Delyagin said on 6 December that the current events in Ukraine signify that Russia is entering a new "Time of Troubles," referring to the historical period in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, apn.ru reported. The direct reproduction of Ukraine's "orange revolution" in Russia is impossible because in Russia democracy has already been eliminated in both form and essence, he said. The publisher of the radical weekly "Zavtra," Aleksandr Prokhanov, said that he believes that the "orange revolution" is the result of Western interference, but this is unlikely to happen in Russia, apn.ru reported on 4 December. Prokhanov also said that, in many ways, Ukraine's "revolution" relies on the mass media and, in Russia, the mass media are completely controlled by the Kremlin. As for the "fourth estate" in Russia, it simply does not exist anymore, Prokhanov said. VY
...WHILE EXPERTS ARE DIVIDED. In the light of the ongoing events in Ukraine, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 December asked a number of Russian politicians and analysts whether something similar could happen in Russia. Konstantin Remchukov, an adviser to Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, said that events such as those in Ukraine are "a matter of people protesting against people who have already been in power for at least two terms and who have made people sick of them." In Russia, he added, "people continue to link their expectations of imposing order and social justice with [President] Putin." Strategic Studies Center Director Andrei Piontkovskii said the impact of Ukrainian events on Russia "will be fairly strong." "A large part of the irritation that our leadership and the political elite are displaying is fear that yet another precedent is being created in the post-Soviet space for breaking down the model of managed democracy and the model of the inheritance of power," Piontkovskii said. Duma Deputy Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia) said "there is no such revolutionary situation in Russia today, and there can be none." "All attempts to bestow a revolution on us have no prospects," he added. "There is no tension in society, and there is no crisis of power or ideology." RC
UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION MOVE TOWARD COMPROMISE... Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych took part in roundtable talks in Kyiv on 6 December to resolve the ongoing standoff over the presidential election, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The talks were attended by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and Russian State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov. In the early hours of 7 December the sides reached an accord whereby Kuchma will submit to the parliament new candidates for the Central Election Commission and endorse amendments to presidential election law to eliminate election abuse and fraud. JM
...BUT ELECTION STANDOFF STILL FAR FROM RESOLUTION. The sides at the roundtable talks on 6 December have not yet reached an agreement on passing a constitutional reform bill that could limit the president's powers, which Kuchma is insisting on, and dismissing Premier Yanukovych's cabinet, which is demanded by the opposition. Earlier the same day representatives of all parliamentary groups reportedly reached a compromise whereby the Verkhovna Rada will pass amendments to the presidential election law and a constitutional-reform bill immediately after Kuchma sacks Yanukovych's cabinet. Such a scenario was apparently rejected by either Kuchma or Yushchenko at the roundtable talks. It is unclear when, if at all, the opposition will unblock the government and presidential administration offices in Kyiv. A statement issued after the 6 December roundtable talks includes a vague clause saying, "The foreign participants in the roundtable consider that after points 2 and 3 [replacement of the Central Election Commission and change of the presidential election law] are implemented, the state administration bodies have to be unblocked." JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER GOES ON LEAVE TO CONDUCT ELECTION CAMPAIGN... Yanukovych told Ukrainian journalists on 6 December that he is taking leave to campaign for a rerun of the 21 November presidential runoff which, according to last week's ruling of the Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004), should be staged no later than 26 December, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. "The only thing I ask the president, the Verkhovna Rada, and people's deputies, is to allow the current government to work until the end of the election," Yanukovych said. Under Ukraine's Labor Code, the dismissal of a state employee is prohibited when she or he is on sick leave or vacation. JM
...AND BRANDS RIVAL AS EXPONENT OF 'OLD POWER.' Yanukovych on 6 December seemed to disassociate himself from President Kuchma. "My opponents are using a propagandistic stereotype [by referring to] the Kuchma-Yanukovych regime," the premier told journalists. In fact, Yanukovych revealed, he was forced to make compromises with the presidency and "restrain his emotions" because, he added, he wanted to procure an "economic wonder" for all of Ukraine as he did in the Donetsk region when he was governor there in 2002. "I can say openly that two types of state power have existed in our country for the last two years -- old power and new power," Yanukovych said. "So our citizens should make their own conclusions as to whether Yanukovych is a candidate of the new power or the old power. I am sure that Yushchenko represents an attempt by the old power to seek revenge." JM
ROMANIAN NGOS APPEAL TO TV JOURNALISTS TO END BIASED PRO-GOVERNMENT ELECTORAL REPORTING. Twelve organizations representing civil society and journalism watchdogs published in the daily "Ziua" on 7 December an appeal to journalists working for public and private television stations asking them to end pro-PSD electoral reporting. In the letter, the NGOs appeal to journalists to be more courageous and "compare the risks you are facing today with those faced by journalists who were printing clandestine newspapers under communism." They also urge them to "take a look at your Ukrainian colleagues, who face much bigger risks." The letter ends with: "Then come and tell us if you cherish freedom [and remember that] guilty silence would be an answer in itself." MS
RUSSIA NIXES SIGNING DECLARATION ON TRANSDNIESTER. Unidentified Russian sources told Interfax on 6 December that the Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM) will not be signed in Sofia at the 6-7 December meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin hoped the declaration would be signed in Sofia, but it was decided at the very last moment not to discuss the declaration, because any OSCE decision requires consensus," the sources said. Voronin proposed the declaration -- which, among other things, would expand the current five-sided Transdniester negotiations format to include the EU and the U.S. as observers -- in June and support for it was expressed by the EU, the U.S., Romania, and the OSCE. Ukraine did not respond to the initiative and Russia refused to endorse it. MS
The results of the referendum held in Hungary on 5 December has lessened the danger of new tensions between European states with ethnic Hungarian minorities and Budapest. Preliminary official results show that voters failed to approve a referendum on whether to give ethnic Hungarians living outside the country the right to become Hungarian citizens and whether to continue the privatization of hospitals.
Countries such as Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Ukraine, and Serbia and Montenegro have ethnic Hungarian minorities resulting from the post-World War I dismemberment of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the 1921 Trianon Treaty, in which Hungary lost some two-thirds of its territory. Historians and political scientists have often characterized Trianon as a "living wound" for Hungarians on both sides of the country's current borders. To the same extent, however, for many of Hungary's neighbors, Trianon has acquired an equally symbolic value signifying independence, territorial integrity, and historic justice.
In the 5 December referendum, voters had to answer two apparently unrelated questions: whether to grant dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries and whether to keep the current state-run health-care system or continue the privatization of its hospitals. There was one link between the two questions -- politics and politicking. And that link produced some paradoxes.
The conservative opposition FIDESZ, headed by charismatic former Prime Minister Victor Orban, supported the dual citizenship measure and opposed the privatization of the hospitals, urged by the Socialist-Liberal government of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. This position is hardly in line with Orban's self-attributed "Thatcherite" ideology; precisely for this reason, Orban's political allies, the largely conservative Magyar Democratic Forum, opposed keeping in place the costly health-care system and were thus on the government's side.
Undoubtedly, though, the dual citizenship question was the major issue at stake. Gyurcsany, who took over from his predecessor Peter Medgyessy some two months ago, called on voters "not to vote yes." This odd formulation was not accidental. According to Hungarian legislation, for a referendum to count it must either have a turnout of at least 50 percent, or have a minimum of 25 percent of the participants vote "yes" or "no" to the questions posed. Plebiscite precedents, as well as previous low electoral turnouts, made the likelihood of a 50 percent turnout close to nil. The real question was whether 25 percent of the participants would cast a ballot on either side.
At the end of the day, turnout was just over 37 percent. With some 99.8 percent of the vote counted (final results will be released in a couple of days), votes in favor of granting double citizenship were somewhat ahead (51.56 percent) of votes against it (48.44 percent), but neither camp garnered the 25 percent that would have made the outcome binding for parliament to debate and enact legislation. The proposal to end hospital privatization failed due to the same reason, though the pro-Orban vote on it was higher in this case (65.02 percent).
Orban certainly remembers the conflicts with neighboring Slovakia and Romania over the "Status Law," approved by his government in 2001, which had to be amended by the successor Socialist-Liberal cabinet of Medgyessy following criticism from European institutions. Under the law, ethnic Hungarians living abroad were entitled to certain benefits and subsidies. This time around, in both Slovakia and Romania, there was criticism of the ethnic Hungarian leadership for its support of the Orban-backed proposal.
This is precisely what Orban is counting on. The "symbolic" significance of Trianon is far too powerful to leave Hungarians living beyond the borders of the kin-state indifferent. He thus garnered support from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) leadership, with which relations have been strained for some time, and from the leadership of the Slovak Coalition Party (SMK), part of which is also opposed to Orban's particular strand of nationalism. Not when it comes to overcoming the hated symbol of Trianon, however. Does this mean territorial irredentism? For most ethnic Hungarians abroad this is not the case. But carrying a Hungarian passport would have a powerful sentimental value.
Whatever the result of the referendum, Orban did not have much to lose. Had the "yes" vote come out on top, he could have counted on many more fresh votes from those who had acquired (or reacquired) Hungarian citizenship thanks to him. If he lost, he could point his finger at those who argued against the move on mainly economic grounds. Indeed, according to the government, there was a danger that after gaining citizenship, some 800,000 ethnic Hungarians from less-developed neighboring countries would want to move to Hungary. That would supposedly entail yearly costs of 537 billion forints ($2.8 billion) -- about one-half of the 2005 budget deficit.
As a politician, Orban has long been moving toward a conservative, nationalist populism. He may thus try to use this instance to reach the patriotic-inclined Socialist electorate. It is not by chance that the skillful manipulator of words told a gathering in Budapest's Hero Square on 27 November: "The invitations to the 5 December wedding were sent 84 years ago," before adding that "recreating a 15 million nation from a 10 million country is a historic deed." And emulating former West German leader Willy Brandt's famous 9 November 1989 speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Orban told the crowd that the vote was about "forging together what history has broken to pieces."