eal Kremlin insiders — not Steele’s anonymous “trusted officials” — reveal that Putin did not share the elation of his security officers and of the Russian people with respect to the unexpected election of Donald Trump. No conspiracy structure was in place. Putin had no idea how to create either a formal or a back channel to the Trump team, and he warned his oligarchs to get ready for more sanctions under Trump. He “suggested” that his oligarchs open up back channels, but his low expectation of success turned out to be correct.
Even The New York Times has admitted that the Steele dossier could be a Kremlin disinformation campaign to “hedge their bets and place a few land mines under Trump’s presidency as well.” Yet, the Times’ recognition of that does not answer why the Kremlin would sabotage the candidate it wanted so much to win.
Clearly, a nuclear option would risk long-term damage to Russia’s gas business with Europe. It would promote the construction of LNG terminals throughout Europe and drive European buyers into the clutches of American LNG. Europe could not afford to gamble with Russia’s unreliability as a supplier of such a key resource. But the nuclear option carries with it tempting short-run gains. It would remove Ukraine from the gas delivery business. Russia could destabilize the new administration of a young and popular president. Russia could again play king of the hill and split Eastern Europe from Western Europe, not only with cyber-attacks but with the more potent weapon of energy.
The Western world and Ukraine have had reservations concerning the election of a young, political novice with popular appeal based upon a career in show business. Zelensky’s handling of his first foreign policy challenge suggests a velvet-gloved Donald Trump willing to fight back but with a smile on his face and with carefully chosen words. Zelensky is off to a good start, but we have to recognize that he is not playing with a deck of strong cards.
The election of Zelinskiy has given Ukraine a third rebirth after the Orange Revolution and the Maidan Revolution. Consider this the “Citizen President Revolution." Ukraine has demonstrated it is a democracy.
Can it now become a prosperous free-market economy growing at its potential 8-10 percent? Much depends on the success of the reforms Zelenskiy has promised. If so, Putin’s worst fears would be recognized — a prosperous democratic Ukraine on his western border.
In evaluating the prospects for Ukraine’s election, it is tempting to focus on its glaring flaws and weaknesses, but that is not the point. The point is that we do not know who will win. It appears that no candidates wishing to run were denied their place on the ballot by a phony “electoral commission” as in Putin’s “managed democracy.”
On election day, Ukraine will be flooded by local and foreign election observers. Candidates who smack of Russian ties will have little chance. Putin’s aggression has indeed created a Ukrainian nation, whose voters will reject any Yanukovych-like candidate.
The various candidates seem to have marshalled an even balance of electoral resources so as to make this a battle of countervailing power.
Ukrainian voters, unaccustomed to the rough-and-tumble world of democratic politics, may be turned off by the unseemly electoral gutter fight, but they should worry more if the campaign resembled the routine of their Russian neighbor, with its slates of token candidates selected by the Kremlin.