COMMUNISTS and their allies were big winners in Ukraine's parliamentary elections, early election results showed yesterday. This outcome promises noisy political clashes with nationalists and suggests the former Soviet republic may turn its focus to integration with Russia.
At least two-thirds of Ukraine's impoverished electorate turned out for the deciding round of Ukraine's first post-Soviet elections, despite predictions of apathy and loss of faith in political institutions.
Early results showed at least 100 Communists, Socialists, and Agrarians swept industrialized, pro-Russian eastern Ukraine after two rounds of voting. Unofficial returns indicated about 60 nationalists took seats in the 450-member parliament, largely in their stronghold of western and central Ukraine.
``The parliament is more polarized than before,'' says Ian Brzezinski, a Western adviser to parliament. ``We're going to see the emergence of very strong factions, and they are going to butt heads.''
At least one-third of the new deputies is likely to be unaffiliated, adding an unpredictable element to a body previously dominated by ``reformed Communists.'' The elections were scheduled after months of deadlock between the parliament and President Leonid Kravchuk.
The new, left-leaning parliament is likely to put on its agenda membership in an economic union with Russia - an idea embraced by Communists and decried as an end to sovereignty by nationalists. The legislature is scheduled to convene next month.
Tensions between independent Ukraine and its massive northern neighbor were heightened yesterday when Russia accused Ukrainian special forces of storming a Russian-controlled naval base in the Ukrainian port of Odessa.
Ukrainian defense officials confirmed that 120 Ukrainian troops attacked a reserve naval yard of the jointly owned Black Sea Fleet Sunday night. But in a statement, they said the arrest of three Russian colonels was connected with an earlier incident, in which Russian sailors defied Ukrainian orders and left Odessa with a ship carrying expensive naval equipment.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin called President Kravchuk yesterday to complain about the raid.
Wrangling over the Black Sea Fleet has been the biggest sore point between the two former Soviet republics, which agreed to take temporary joint control of the 300-vessel fleet until it is divided between them. Ukraine has offered to surrender its share in return for release from gas and oil debts, but technical disputes have stalled the process.
Two years after the Soviet Union broke up, Ukrainian statehood is fragile as Russian dominated southern and eastern regions seek more autonomy and closer ties with Russia.
Despite a turn-out of more than 66 percent yesterday, results in more than 100 districts may be invalidated under complicated electoral rules. Electoral officials said at least 350 deputies would take seats, enough for the parliament to convene.
Kravchuk warned as he cast his ballot that the Communists would risk confrontation if they continued calling for the end to privatization and pushing their Soviet-style program of subsidies, state property, and economic cooperation with former Soviet states.
``The bottom line in Ukraine is the economy. They can either introduce real economic reforms or slip into an escapist foreign policy like an economic union would be,'' Mr. Brzezinski says. ``This election will hopefully make the West more aware of the tug-of-war going on in Ukraine, which is the decisive bit of territory in post-Soviet Europe.''
But the Communists, the largest single political group in the new parliament, appear better organized than their nationalist counterparts, and have already pledged to form a bloc with Socialists and Agrarians, in sharp contrast with nationalists.
``It would make sense for the left to be more organized, because of old party structures and party discipline,'' says Chris Siddall, a Western analyst.
Nationalist deputies, who had failed earlier to form a lasting bloc, agreed with Kravchuk that the surge of Communists could create more conflict and worse deadlock than in the previous parliament.
``Communism and extreme nationalism will end up destroying each other in parliament,'' says Taras Stetskiv, a leading moderate nationalist elected in the city of Lvov. ``Clashes will be on three issues - membership in the CIS, a new constitution, and the staging of presidential elections.''
Economic collapse has driven the majority of Ukrainians into poverty and caused most of eastern Ukraine to regret voting in favor of Ukraine's separation from the Soviet Union over two years ago. But economic misery failed to produce the same effect in western Ukraine, where an upsurge of ultranationalists was expected. Only three extremists, from the Ukrainian National Assembly, made it past the second round.