RUSSIAN ELECTIONS : Old Soviet nations back the devil they know

EAST EUROPE VIEW

A joke attributed to Ukraine's President, Leonid Kuchma, has been going the rounds in eastern Europe before tomorrow's Russian election: On election night an aide rushes to President Boris Yeltsin and says: "Bad news, boss. Zyuganov's got 55 per cent." As the distraught president clutches his head, the aide adds: "No problem, though. You've got 65 per cent."

Jokes aside, there is no question that every leader in the former Soviet bloc, with the apparent exception of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, is desperate for a Yeltsin victory. Visiting Poland last week, Mr Kuchma himself said: "If Yeltsin loses, it would be an earthquake, especially for Ukraine but also for Poland."

However strongly they may feel about Mr Yeltsin's reassertion of Russian influence over many former Soviet republics, the leaders of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Moldova and other newly independent states feel sure that life would be far worse with Gennady Zyuganov. The same goes for leaders in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and others who have clashed with Mr Yeltsin over their aim of joining Nato but who still prefer him to his Communist challenger.

Although Mr Zyuganov's exact intentions are uncertain, he is clearly nostalgic for the Soviet Union and occasionally speaks of restoring the defunct state by peaceful means. Earlier this year the Russian parliament, where Communists are the largest faction, voted to condemn the 1991 treaty by which Russia, Ukraine and Belarus abolished the Soviet Union.

Alarm about the potential direction of a Zyuganov presidency is so high that Armenia's President, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, predicts that the 11 non- Russian members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) will try to dissolve the organisation if Mr Zyuganov wins. The odd man out is Belarus, where Mr Lukashenko is an unashamed advocate of union with Russia and, beyond that, full integration of the former Soviet area.

The Baltic states, with their large ethnic Russian minorities, have particular reason to be worried about Zyuganov, but they also see the presidential election as a chance to emphasise their new pro-European identity.

"The impact would be the same as on the European Union. Security is indivisible, and Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are part of Europe," said Estonia's President, Lennart Meri.

According to one theory, a Zyuganov win might at least jolt Western governments into accelerating the process of admitting new members into Nato and the EU. "This could be enough of an argument for our partners in Europe to speed up the integration process," said Poland's President, Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Yet politicians in most ex-Communist countries are also conscious that rapid expansion of Nato in response to a Zyuganov victory could bring undesirable consequences. It might divide Europe into Western and Russian spheres of control hostile to each other, and raise tensions to dangerous levels in countries caught in the middle such as Ukraine and the Baltic states.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit