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The turmoil surrounding the post-election events in Ukraine -- a campaign in which Moscow openly and unequivocally supported a pro-Russian candidate -- has overshadowed another foreign-policy drive on the Kremlin's part. Following the 20-21 November summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group members in Santiago, Chile, President Vladimir Putin arrived in Brazil on 21 November. It was the first time that a Russian head of state has ever visited that country, despite 225 years of bilateral diplomatic relations.
With a population of more than 180 million people and the world's eighth-largest economy, Brazil is Russia's second-biggest trading partner in the Western hemisphere. In 2002, Brazil, Russia, India, and China signed the so-called BRIC agreement. Apn.ru reported on 28 October that, according to Goldman Sachs, the BRIC economies hold the greatest potential for economic growth in the 21st century. Earlier in November, Putin visited Beijing, and at the beginning of this month he traveled to India, where he harshly criticized U.S. unilateralism. Analysts believe that Putin hopes that the BRIC group can someday form something of a counterweight on the international stage to the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrialized countries.
During meetings with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Putin discussed a range of bilateral trade issues, including energy cooperation, the provision of Russian nuclear-power technology, the aerospace sector, and military-technical cooperation. According to media reports, Russia is a leading contender for a $700 million contract to modernize the Brazilian Air Force.
During the talks, Putin spoke out in support of Brazil's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. While in India on 3 December, Putin similarly endorsed Indian membership of the Security Council. At a 22 November press conference in Brasilia, Putin called Brazil -- like India and China -- a "strategic partner of Russia" and called on the two countries to triple bilateral trade, which currently stands at about $2 billion per year.
Putin's visit to Brazil, however, had more to do with his ambition to restore Russia's status in the global arena than with just boosting trade with the Latin American giant. Putin's visit was a response to a proposal put forward by de Silva in May, urging Russia to bolster the BRIC arrangement and to include South Africa in the emerging bloc, apn.ru reported on 28 October. De Silva, who is known for his left-leaning orientation and antiglobalist sentiments, argued that the bloc could not only counterbalance the G-7, but could also form a united front to counter the status of the European Union and the United States within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
De Silva's initiative dovetails well with Putin's own sentiments. In an interview with Ukrainian television on 26 October, Putin once again spoke out harshly against the idea of a "unipolar world" and specifically named China, India, Japan, South Africa, and Brazil as "the other poles of world civilization." Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told apn.ru on 28 October that Moscow is considering de Silva's ideas, which could potentially lead to the creation of a bloc encompassing the lion's share of the world's natural and human resources. Apn.ru further speculated that Moscow would be interested in seeing South Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, and Iran join the new club someday. Putin visited Turkey earlier this month.
There seem to be increasing signs that Russia, having suffered a defeat in Ukraine, is looking for a new, ambitious global project.
26 December: Presidential election in Ukraine
ECONOMIC TALKS NUDGE BELARUS TOWARD GREATER OPENNESS TO FOREIGNERS. Senior officials from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine met in Minsk on 15 December for meetings on the creation of a Single Economic Space (SES), RFE/RL's Belarus Service and ITAR-TASS reported. Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Kobyakov, Ukrainian acting Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, and Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Sauat Mynbaev attended the gathering. Azarov told journalists afterward that the parties reached agreement on the free transfer of persons, their vehicles, and funds across state borders, Kyiv-based "Delovaya nedelya" reported. Citizens will not be required to declare cash up to $3,000 between signatory countries under the new terms, for instance. In addition, the parties agreed that citizens of member countries may remain on the territory of other member countries for up to 90 days without registering. However, Azarov noted that Belarus wants additional time to conduct internal consultations on the latter point, since according to current legislation foreign citizens may stay in Belarus without registration for just 30 days. SES presidents met in Astana in September, where they tasked the High-Level SES group with developing documents by the end of 2004 to ease border-crossings for citizens of member states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004). JAC
YANUKOVYCH TEAM SEEKS PROBE OF U.S. ROLE IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE. Representatives of presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych have submitted a complaint to Ukraine's Central Election Commission requesting an investigation into allegations that the U.S. government financed Ukrainian opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's campaign, UNIAN reported on 15 December, quoting Nestor Shufrych, Yanukovych's representative to the commission. "The United States' meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs is obvious," Yanukovych told AP in a 13 December interview. "It is appearing as the financing of Yushchenko's campaign." Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko called for the creation of a parliamentary commission to look into "U.S. financing of the election campaign of one of the candidates for president -- Yushchenko," ITAR-TASS's Kyiv correspondent reported. JAC
TOP UKRAINIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL REPORTEDLY DISMISSED. Outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree dismissing Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) First Deputy Chairman Volodymyr Satsyuk, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www2.pravda.com.ua) and the opposition Channel 5 reported on 15 December. According to the website, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn announced the information about Satsyuk at a meeting with judges in Kyiv. Satsyuk had been combining his positions in the Security Service and as a legislator in the Verkhovna Rada, which is illegal. According to Lytvyn, the decree was backdated so that a Kyiv court decision on 14 December requiring Satsyk to be relieved of his parliamentary post would not have to be implemented. Opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko dined with Satsyuk and the latter's SBU superior, Ihor Smeshko, at Satsyuk's summer house around the time that Yushchenko contends he was poisoned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). JAC
TWO OF UKRAINE'S REGIONAL GOVERNORS TENDER RESIGNATIONS. The governors of Lviv and Kharkiv oblasts have resigned, Interfax and UNIAN reported on 15 December. Lviv Oblast Governor Oleksandr Sendeha told reporters in Lviv that he sent a letter of resignation to President Kuchma following a meeting with the Lviv Oblast legislative assembly the previous day. Sendeha said many baseless criticisms were lodged against him at the meeting and he does not want his name "soiled," according to Interfax. Kharkiv Oblast Governor Yevgenii Kushnaryov told reporters in Kharkiv on 15 December that he is resigning in order to participate actively in the presidential campaign for Prime Minister Yanukovych. He also announced his intention to leave the Popular Democratic Party and create a new party. According to Kushnaryov, the Popular Democratic Party has split, with one side supporting Yanukovych and the other Yushchenko, according to UNIAN. JAC