What should Moscow expect from Kiev?

MOSCOW. (Viktor Kuvaldin for RIA Novosti) - A short summer recess is coming to a close. Before long, Ukraine and Russia will be in for a hot fall - parliamentary elections.

For Ukraine, this is the moment of truth, a hope to come out of a deep political crisis, which has been tormenting the country with periodic aggravations for months. For Russia, this is no more than a training session before the main event of the political year - presidential elections next March.

Coincidence in time is largely reducing bilateral interest in each other's political cycles. Each neighbor is primarily concerned with its own domestic affairs. No matter how we treat the powers that be, our life depends on them, especially in former Soviet republics. Only professionals can afford the luxury of closely following both election campaigns at once.

But the political calendars are not all-important. In the past 16 years, we have moved away from each other so much that our interest in bilateral affairs has become much less emotional than it used to be - sometimes over the top.

We have come to realize that we are no longer bound by one and the same chain, and can choose where to go without paying much attention to a neighbor. This is particularly true of our part of the world, where one group makes a choice and another pays for it through the nose.

But no matter what importance we attach to elections, correlation of forces in parliament, political reforms, and foreign policy alliances and misalliances, they do not determine the future of our countries or their relations. The emergence of Russia and Ukraine on the political map coincided with belated, wild return of our nations to the primordial bourgeois civilization. The owner's instinct, big money and gold rush are bossing the show on the post-Soviet space without any regard for law, morality or supreme national considerations. Private ownership has enabled individualism to make a historic revenge - in the Soviet times public interests prevailed over any individual manifestations, whereas now the reverse is true - individualism is ousting public values all along the line, reaching unparalleled cynicism at the top.

Many members of our so-called elites are thinking much more about their own pockets than destinies of their countries. The civil society in Ukraine and especially in Russia is still too weak to make them forget this bad habit. This is why they enjoy more freedom of action than is normal for Europe. This is also why our nations have to pay so dearly for the wrong choice of rulers.

All this is true, but nonetheless, for Moscow, Ukrainian elections are not a routine event, and not because good guys are fighting bad guys or because pro-Russian leaders are battling against their enemies. We don't have supporters there, except for the heroic Natalia Vitrenko (a curious opposite of the Iron Yulia Tymoshenko).

This is normal. There are no pro-Ukrainian politicians in Russia, either, and nobody is surprised that they are none. Why should we apply a different yardstick to Ukraine? Any pro-Russian politician is bound to become a marginal with the consolidation of Ukraine's independence and we should not expect Yanukovich and his entourage to be happy to play this role.

A sensible approach lies elsewhere. In principle, it does not differ from what is accepted universally. I mean the willingness of certain political forces in Ukraine to take into account Russia's legitimate interests in building their strategy on many issues of mutual interest. In other words, develop partner relations to mutual benefit.

Our nations have truly unique potentialities in this sphere, given goodwill and a sober approach. The benefits of cooperation and the costs of conflicts are equally great for both sides. The problem is that not infrequently the national interests are being replaced with the opportunistic considerations of the clans, self-centered calculations and personal considerations.

The Ukrainian elections' political agenda consists of numerous and diverse issues. It is up to the Ukrainians how to resolve them. We must respect their choice whether we like it or not (reciprocity would be welcomed). But there is one urgent problem, which affects Russia's vital interests. It cannot and will not passively watch the increasingly overt attempts of certain Western circles to draw Ukraine into NATO.

Probably, Kiev, just as many other European capitals, does not fully understand why Moscow is so sensitive to NATO's continued eastward expansion. The Cold War is over; the likelihood of an armed conflict between NATO and Russia is close to zero; and they have established good working relations. It would seem that there are no grounds for concern and that Moscow's morbid reaction may be treated as a leftover syndrome of the past era. But in reality, the Kremlin's approach is quite rational. The world's most powerful military-political alliance is being deployed at Russia's borders. This is a bloc, which does not invite Russia to become a member, where Russia is not welcome. NATO does not even consider Russia's interests too much, thereby compelling it to take adequate measures.

This is all irritating by itself, but the main point is that the NATO-offered semi-decorative partnership is increasingly revealing what is for Russia an alarming reality - NATO has become a quite effective instrument for ousting Russia from the European space. As Europe's biggest country, Russia cannot accept this turn of events under any circumstances.

To sum up, Ukraine's European choice is logical and understandable. Russia is striving to move in the same direction. Ukraine and Russia should help, or at least not obstruct each other's way forward. Together, they will find a befitting place in the European family easier and quicker. Divided, they will not fulfill their historic mission in the world.

Ph. D. Viktor Kuvaldin (History) heads a chair at the Moscow School of Economics of Moscow State University.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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