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    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    Excerpt from The New Cold War

    The Globe and Mail has excerpted a short passage from my book in today's paper. It's not my favourite bit, but it goes nicely with a report I filed from Ukraine on Canada's behind-the-scenes role in the Orange Revolution.

    Here's what ran in The Globe today:

    In his new book, Globe and Mail correspondent Mark MacKinnon recalls how he came to meet the hero of Ukraine's Orange Revolution:

    Vladimir Putin's vision of how to formally restore Russian influence in the post- Soviet space began to take shape in May 2003, when he met Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma for a five-day summit in the Crimean resort of Yalta. Two months later, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan -- the four largest former Soviet republics -- signed a draft deal calling for the creation of something innocuously named the Common Economic Space (CES).

    The four countries pledged to move toward free trade, joint economic and energy policies, a tax and customs union, and co-ordinated talks with international bodies such as the World Trade Organization that had previously shown more interest in admitting Ukraine or Kazakhstan than Russia's still lawless and unpredictable economy; now one would not join without the others.

    Voting on all matters would be weighted according to the size of the countries' economies -- meaning that Russia, which dwarfed the other nations in every respect, would effectively be the only one with a say.

    Although Kuchma was distrusted and widely disliked by ordinary Ukrainians, the same people looked east and admired the way Putin was restoring a sense of order in Moscow. Some polls suggested that, were Putin allowed to stand in Ukraine's next presidential election, he'd win in a landslide.

    The West, though, had not given up on the idea of pulling Ukraine out of Moscow's orbit, nor of re-reversing the flow of the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline. Their hopes, however, were pinned on the uninspiring former central banker Viktor Yushchenko.

    When I landed in Kiev shortly after the CES deal was signed, I met Yushchenko at the office of his Our Ukraine party in Kiev's bohemian Podil neighbourhood.

    The CES, he told me, was a threat to Ukraine's sovereignty, giving Russia the final say in far too many matters. The next presidential elections, he foretold, would be "a good time for Ukraine to choose between East and West."

    Yushchenko, already by then identified as Ukraine's great democratic hope, had the monotone voice of an economics professor. As he droned on about the relative benefits and drawbacks of free trade with Russia, I started looking around the room, focusing first on the grandfather clock behind his chair, then on the gold telescope pointed out the window, then on an oversized Fabergé egg in the corner.

    I thought to myself that this man couldn't hold the attention of a dinner party, let alone convince a nation of famously laid-back Ukrainians to follow him. Furthering our absent-minded professor impression, he'd left a button undone on his shirt that day, leaving my friend and translator Yuriy Shafarenko and me trying not to look at the exposed white belly of Ukraine's would-be president.

    Faced with a slate of options that included a boring ex-banker, a president implicated in murder, a prime minister with a history of violent assault and Yulia Tymoshenko, the beautiful and fiery opposition leader who had allegedly made her fortune by illegally siphoning Russian gas, I could understand why some Ukrainians wanted to see Putin's name on the ballot.

    The book hits stores in Canada on Tuesday. Anyone who's in the Toronto area is welcome to swing by the Pravda Vodka Bar on Wednesday night to celebrate.


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