Is Russia Punishing Ukraine?

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KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia says it shut off Ukraine's natural gas over a pricing dispute. But some view it as a move to control Ukraine and punish its leaders for moving in a pro-Western direction.

Striving to regain its role as a world player, Russia has been stepping up its efforts to control former Soviet countries.

Click the player to watch CBN News Correspondent Gary Lane's report from Kiev, Ukraine.

Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation says Russia's invasion of Georgia this summer was also a warning to Ukraine.

"It is sending a bad signal to Ukraine and that is the Russian bear is back," Cohen explained to CBN News. "These countries that are much weaker and smaller than the Russian federation has to do what Moscow is telling them to do."

Russian Foreign Policy

Why should the world care if Russia controls Ukraine and rebuilds its empire?  Because European countries need Russian oil and gas.

Russia supplies 25 percent of Europe's natural gas and 80 percent of it flows through Ukraine.

"Many countries like Germany are very dependent on Russian oil and increasingly so," Cohen said. "So the Russians by shutting down the gas supply to Ukraine, by increasing their dependence on Russian oil and gas, have a tool of foreign policy."

A foreign policy that could one day threaten Europe's security and freedom.

Yevgenny Sverstook is a former Soviet dissident who spent seven years in a labor camp for his writings. He says that Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin looks very familiar.

"They are going backward not forward," Svertook said. "They are going back. They are going to the former Soviet methods of governing the state. A KGB agent is able to do only those things he used to do.

The United States wants to see Ukraine break from Russia and form a stronger attachment with Europe through the European Union and NATO. But EU leaders are slow to accept Ukraine.

As to NATO, Valery Chalee of the Razumkov Center says countries like France and Germany are re-thinking a cooperative security agreement with Ukraine.

"Because of regional factor," she said. "This regional factor is only one word -- Russia.

No one wants to make enemies with a Russia that not only controls gas supplies, but has shown a willingness to use military force to further its objectives.

Where do the Wkrainian people stand on closer alliances with the West? Four years ago, they overwhelmingly supported President Victor Yushenko and the pro-Western Orange Revolution.

Today, the economic and social progress they expected to reap from that revolution has not materialized.

The Orange Revolution

Freedom Square in Kiev is the place where in 2004 Ukrainians stood up for true democracy. Since then, the leaders of the Orange Revolution have been fighting amongst themselves and the people are disillusioned.

"Four years ago, a lot of people believed this is Orange Revolution," one man on the street told CBN News. "But in our country, unfortunately our politicians behavior very very changeable."

"People didn't have hope and they gave them hope," a woman said. "People believed them, but nothing good came out of it."

President Yushenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko have been fighting each other since they came to power.

Yushenko has dissolved parliament and called for new elections twice in the past two years.

Ukraine and NATO

Russia's Putin used the squabbling to strengthen the pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

"Playing this three part circus in Ukraine is what gives more clout in the Ukrainian affairs and allows Moscow to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, " Cohen said. "This is against Ukrainian interest and American interest."

But even most Ukrainians don't support joining NATO.

Some anti-NATO protesters CBN News spoke to were orthodox Christians.

One man said NATO is against orthodox values, because it bombed Serbia, another orthodox nation, on Easter Day 1999.

Another said Ukraine and Russia's close historic ties make it impossible for them to be enemies.

"In reality, I cannot imagine myself fighting against Russia, because we have many historic relations and I can not imagine to fight against them," he said.

NATO advocates say that public opinion polls are fickle and the negotiations for NATO and EU membership should remain on track.

And where does incoming U.S. President Barack Obama stand on the issue of protecting Europe from a resurgent Russia? So far, he appears to be giving full attention to the economic crisis at home, taking little notice of foreign affairs.

A situation that could one day leave Ukraine -- and parts of Europe -- out in the cold.

*Original broadcast January 8, 2009.

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