Region: Putin vs. Ukraine
Latest WikiLeaks cables show Russian prime minister thinks little of neighbor's leaders
Posted: March 16, 2011
ISIFA PhotoAccording to leaked U.S. Embassy communiques, Putin, right, has a low opinion of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as disdain for his predecessor.
By Peter Byrne
For the Kyiv Post
Online whistleblower WikiLeaks released another U.S. diplomatic cable that shows what little respect Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has for Ukraine and its leaders.
First the world learned that Putin has no respect for Ukraine's status as a sovereign nation. Now there are revelations that Putin also doesn't think highly of the nation's leader - and hated the last one.
While Ukraine's Foreign Ministry is refusing to comment on one of the latest U.S. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, it is also not denying that the cable's contents accurately reflect the views of current Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko.
Authored Jan. 30, 2009, by former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, the cable quotes Gryshchenko as telling the American representative that Kremlin leaders seek a "regency" in Ukraine, i.e., someone in power who is totally subservient to Moscow.
Taylor also noted that Gryshchenko, then ambassador to Russia, told him that Putin "hates" then President Viktor Yushchenko and has a low personal regard for President Viktor Yanukovych.
But Gryshchenko reportedly told Taylor that Putin saw then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as someone perhaps not whom he can trust but with whom he can deal. Gryshchenko also, according to Taylor, made this observation of Kremlin life: that everyone in government seemed to be part of the "security brotherhood" that people are afraid to joke about, and it is "back to the USSR."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshyn told The Kyiv Post that it is a policy of the ministry not to comment on classified U.S. State Department cables published by WikiLeaks.
"If we comment on one of the cables, then we have to comment on all of the cables," Voloshyn said. But he added that Gryshchenko's views are well known and have not changed.
"Gryshchenko believed at the time that Russian leaders preferred to agree with Tymoshenko rather than negotiate a tougher deal with Yanukovych, who at the time was in the opposition," Voloshyn said.
Gryshchenko was Ukraine's ambassador to Moscow from 2008 to 2010, when the Kremlin waged a public campaign against Yushchenko, who irked Russian leaders by relentlessly (and fruitlessly) promoting NATO membership and a less Russian-friendly view of Ukrainian history.
Gryshchenko has been the top foreign policy guru in Yanukovych's inner circle since the early 2000s.
Vadym Karasyov, a political consultant, speculated on why Putin may have respected Tymoshenko more than Yanukovych.
"Tymoshenko would not have hesitated to bring Ukrainian oligarchs to heel [as Putin did soon after coming to power]," Karasyov said.
"Yanukovych has been unable to do the same, in part because they put him in office."
Oleksandr Sushko, a political expert with the Kyiv-based Institute for Euro-Atlantic cooperation, said Putin's reputed low regard for Yanukovych and desire to see a subservient leader in Kyiv, as laid out in the WikiLeaks documents, illustrates the discomfort of many Russian leaders with Ukraine's independence.
"Russian leaders during the 2000s have gone out of their way not to show respect for Ukraine's leaders and the country's sovereignty," Sushko said.
"This remains the prevailing view among many Kremlin leaders. It's part of their political culture."
Putin, as president on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, reportedly went out of his way to belittle Ukraine's sovereignty.
Putin supposedly told then U.S. President George W. Bush, "Well, you understand, George, Ukraine isn't even a state," according to Russia's newspaper Kommersant, citing a diplomatic source in attendance.
"What is Ukraine? One part of its territory is in Eastern Europe, and the other part, the significant portion, was a gift from us."
However, after Russia's invasion of Georgia later that year, Putin - then as prime minister - moved to quell Ukrainian fears of a similar military intervention by saying, "Crimea isn't a disputed territory. ... Russia recognized the present-day borders of Ukraine long ago."
Vasyl Yurchyshyn, director of economic programs at the Razumkov Center, said, "My sense is that Kremlin leaders found it easier to deal with Tymoshenko in the economic sphere" while she was prime minister from 2007 to early 2010.
But "Yanukovych's willingness to extend the lease of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea" pleased Moscow but may not have improved the Kremlin's opinion of the Ukrainian president.
"The willingness of Yanukovych to seek short-term economic gains by making strategic concessions has not brought more respect," Yurchyshyn added.
Experts say that U.S. State Department cables released earlier have provided insight into U.S. interest in Russia's rocky relationship with Ukraine, top-level government corruption in the transit of Russian natural gas via Ukraine to Europe, Ukraine's plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the consequences of Russia's full-scale military invasion of Georgia in August 2008.
Future releases, to take place in the months ahead, are expected to include more than 1,000 diplomatic cables originating from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv from December 2005 through February 2010.
Despite some controversial information leaking out through the WikiLeaks site already, Ukraine's leadership does not seem rattled. Presidential Administration Deputy Head Hanna Herman in December said Ukraine "has nothing to fear" from the leaked diplomatic correspondence.
"What the current authorities say in tete-a-tete conversations is no different from the official position of our state and those who have power," Herman said.
"We do not have double standards."
Peter Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org