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The Return Of The Union

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If Mikhail Gorbachev, the founding father of modern day Russia, were still holding the office of the President today, the values of GlastnostPerestroika would still be enshrined. The Oligarchs who had risen from humble backgrounds would still keep their fortunes and perhaps the relations with the Western World would be better.

Mr, Gorbachev sadly has been out of office for more than a decade; Vladimir Putin is President. There is still transparency and officiality in the government, yet it appears diluted, most of the oligarchs are either in jail (Yukos tycoon Mikhail Khordorkovsky) or in exile (Boris Berezovsky), and while Putin and Dubya may appear to be the best of friends, the oppression of civil liberties in the former Soviet Union states of Ukraine and Belarus have left the rest of the Western world unhappy.

Mr. Putin's biggest mistake on the international front perhaps is the jailing of Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khordovsky late last year for his political ambitions. Khordovsky, formerly Russia's richest man and top oligarch (a group of elite Russian businessmen who pull strings economically and politically) apparently wanted to run for President to Mr. Putin's dismay, and the Russian government had Khordovsky jailed when his plane landed in Russia. Today, Yukos has been charged with backdated tax bills worth US$25billion and its top oil-producing subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz, is in the process of being sold at a huge discount to (surprise, surprise) Russian state-run monopoly Gazrom.

This affair has led to the Kremlin receiving international criticism as many believe that Khordovsky was arrested not because of his alleged tax evasion but rather because of his political ambitions. On his day in court earlier this year, hundreds of his supporters protested in front of the Court where he was read his charges, demanding his freedom, which, today, sadly remains in the hands of Russian jailers.

Next comes Russia's relations with two former Union states in the Ukraine and Belarus Republics. Belarus' President, Alexander Lukashenka (widely assumed to be a Kremlim puppet), recently won an allegedly-rigged referendum that will allow him to stay on as President for another term when his current term expires in 2006. His oppression of democracy is equally well known (NGOs and the like were forced by his government to re-register their status in the late 1990s or face criminalization).

While in the Clinton administration, the International League for Human Rights wrote an open-letter to then-Vice President of the United States Al Gore to demand action from the United States against Lukashenka's "abrogation of international human rights agreements and increasingly autocratic rule have been accompanied by greater integration with neighboring Russia." The United States, sadly, failed to deliver what was asked of them and today the threat of the integration of Belarus back into Russia seems omnipresent, even though the prospects of a union seemed to have soured somewhat. London's The Economist Newspaper claims that Mr. Putin finds Lukashenka a useful idiot, if an exasperating one.

Yet, should one nation return back to Russia, it would appear that the message sent to the rest of the world is that the Soviet Union's ideals are stirring again. The likes of Lenin, Karl Marx and Stalin have long been laid to rest, but their ideals have not.

Of course, an important question of Ukraine comes into the equation. Its recent Presidential election was one between the current Prime Minister and pro-Russian advocate, Victor Yanukovich (on Dec 1, the Rada, Ukraine's parliament, passed a vote of no-confidence at the government of Prime minister Yanukovich. He refused to stepdown, and the current incumbent, the outgoing, Yanukovich-backing Leonid Kuchma refused to fire him) and the pro-West Victor Yushchenko (who had a brief stint as Prime Minister in the late 90s).

Although exit polls showed Yushchenko winning by an overwhelming margin, the electoral commission declared Yanukovich the winner, and almost immediately, (in what is now viewed by international sources as a foolish move) Putin called Prime Minister Victor to offer his congratulations. Only the election was declared rigged, and a new election is due to be called soon, with greater transparency. Yushchenko is expected to win by a landslide (More than a hundred thousand Yushchenko supporters, in freezing temperatures, camped in the streets of Kiev and protested against the election result) and Putin could hardly be more upset.

Yanukovich, in his electoral campaign, pledge to make Russian a official language in Ukraine and Russian-Ukrainian citizenship possible. That he failed in winning the Presidency shows, at least, that something is going right. In this election, far too many things have gone wrong - the fraudulent result and the dioxin poisoning of Victor Yushchenko. Nowadays, you see international figures flying in and out between Kiev, Brussels and Washington trying to short out the crisis. Ukraine is important because it remains one of the West's bridges to fulfilling the promise of full democracy in Russia and its former States.

Strategically, it is an important ally for the governments of Messrs Bush and Blair and even more important would be that, assuming the victory of Yushchenko, Ukraine would be free to join the EU in the near future, showing that a country, narrowly close to being drawn back to the Cold war days still would become a major player on the international scene.

Whatever it is, there is still threat that Russia may one day regain the power it once held. The ambition is definitely there and if Kremlin stooges like Victor Yanukovich and Alexander Lukashenka still remain in office, that day might not be a long way off. The Bush administration has already neglected enough of the world's more critically important affairs or muddled up the critical affairs in its first term. Now back by demand of 3% of the electorate to office, the likes of Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfield, must focus on the more ciritical affairs that are hatching in Europe.

Kristiano Ang is the founding Publisher of Vainquer Teens ( -The UNICEF supporting digital teenage magazine for young people around the world. Among his interviewees include American Idol 3 runnerup Diana DeGarmo and New Zealand sensation Hayley Westenra. His inspirations include Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Virgin Chairman Richard Branson and CNN founder Ted Turner. Located in Singapore, he can be contacted at kristiano7@ (space between @ and Gmail meant to protect against spambots)

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