Russia keeps its powder dry as Ukraine votes

As war-weary Ukraine prepares to vote in a snap parliamentary election on Sunday, its former master Russia stands by for once apparently unable to influence the outcome.

AFP| Updated: Oct 23, 2014, 09:59 AM IST

Moscow': As war-weary Ukraine prepares to vote in a snap parliamentary election on Sunday, its former master Russia stands by for once apparently unable to influence the outcome.

But Moscow`s seeming impotence after years of alleged meddling in Ukrainian politics does not mean its policy toward the ex-Soviet state will be swayed by the results, analysts warned.

Nor will it prevent the war in the east, which Russia has been accused of orchestrating, exploding into large scale conflict again after the sporadic fighting of recent days, they said.

"Russia does not really have anyone to support in these elections," Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Kremlin-linked Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States, told AFP.

"There`s no desire to support those who stand a chance of winning and it does not make sense to support those who don`t."

Of the 29 parties running for seats in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the country`s parliament, none formally represent the ousted regime of Kremlin-backed Viktor Yanukovych and most support closer ties with the West.

Polls show that for the first time in 20 years the Communist Party will likely fail to win any seats as Ukraine severs ties with its Soviet past.

After a year of bloody upheaval, and six months of war in the east, for which most Ukrainian blame Russia, the Kremlin`s overt support for any party would be seen as a kiss of death, analysts say.

"The Russian propaganda machine does not crudely interfere in these elections," said Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Moscow-based Political Expert Group think-tank.

"If Russia shows support for Ukraine`s Communist Party, which hovers around the 5 percent barrier (for entry into parliament), it will flunk for sure."

A bloc supporting President Petro Poroshenko is widely expected to win, a result that suits Moscow.

"Unlike ordinary Ukrainians, Poroshenko understands that he will have to look for compromise in ties with Russia," said Kalachev.In the great scheme of things however, parliamentary elections in Ukraine are unlikely to change Putin`s thinking, no matter the outcome, analysts said.

"Of course, these polls will not change ties between Russia and Ukraine," said Zharikhin. "At play are factors that are far more serious than the makeup of the new Rada."

Some 3,700 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March, punishing its former Soviet republic for having turned its back on Moscow in favour of the West.

Despite a poorly observed truce agreed last month, no resolution appears in sight as Kiev wants rebel-held territory to remain part of Ukraine but separatists demand to be treated as virtually an independent statelet.

Key talks between Putin, Poroshenko and EU leaders at a summit in Milan last week ended in an impasse.

British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that Putin had "said very clearly that he doesn`t want a frozen conflict and he doesn`t want a divided Ukraine."

Yet Kremlin`s goal appears to be precisely the opposite, many analysts say.

Shortly after parliamentary elections separatists plan to hold their own vote, apparently with the tacit agreement of the Kremlin.

"Moscow`s goal remains the same," said Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics.

"This goal is to either control the Kiev government or block the decisions that don`t suit Moscow. And if this does not work out Moscow will try to destabilise the situation in eastern Ukraine -- and it has enough resources to do that."Accused by Kiev and the West of sending in regular troops to buttress Kremlin-backed separatists battling government forces, Russia is trudging through its most serious isolation since the end of the Cold War.

Analysts say that several rounds of Western sanctions have shaken the economy but have failed to break Putin`s will.

"The main problem is that no one can still understand what exactly is going on in the Russian president`s head," columnist Yevgeny Kiselyov wrote in the Russian opposition magazine the New Times.

"There are no guarantees that the military campaign won`t resume in one form or another next year."

Petrov of the Higher School of Economics said hostilities could resume soon after the parliamentary vote in Ukraine.

"Unfortunately, it would be logical to expect the situation to deteriorate after the elections," he said.

"Right now we are witnessing a sort of truce between Kiev and Moscow when relative stability suits both Poroshenko and Putin.

"But neither side is happy with its terms which means it`s quite likely that we will see an escalation of the conflict."