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Ukraine heads back into the arms of Mother Russia

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"We know that Tymoshenko reached a wide-ranging deal with (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin when they held negotiations over Ukraine's gas debts," says Oleksiy Kolomiyets, president of the independent Center for European and Transatlantic Studies in Kiev. "She is very pragmatic, and she isn't one who would pursue unpopular principles -- such as joining NATO -- the way Yushchenko did."

Though Ukraine appeared to lurch Westward following the Orange Revolution, public support for Yushchenko's policies remained tenuous. For example, opinion polls have consistently showed that around two-thirds of Ukrainians oppose joining NATO. Though he was defeated in the presidential contest in 2004, Yanukovich's pro-Russian Party of Regions continued to score high votes in subsequent parliamentary elections, particularly in the heavily russified eastern Ukraine.

Russia's more subtle approach

The Kremlin, which had overtly backed its favored son, Yanukovich, in the allegedly rigged 2004 elections, revamped its approach to influencing Ukraine. Outright political interference was replaced by "commercial" pressure, which meant no more cheap Russian gas to power Ukraine's energy-hungry steel and chemical industries, and tougher controls on millions of Ukrainian "guest workers" seeking employment in Russia.

In a series of "gas wars" over issues of price and transit conditions for Russian gas to European customers through Ukraine's pipeline system, Moscow consistently outmaneuvered Kiev diplomatically, making Ukraine look more like an unreliable partner than a victim of Russian strong-arming.

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