But today, Putin is said to be fuming in the Kremlin at the defeat of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, whom Putin even twice visited Ukraine to campaign for, at the hands of fiercely pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko and his top advisers have made quite clear they are determined to rush Ukraine into the 25-nation European Union — and even into the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization — as quickly as possible. That would be the biggest blow to Russia’s power and clout in Eurasia and in the areas covered by the old Soviet Union since the collapse of the Soviet system 13 years ago.

Also, the pattern of foreign policy appointments in Bush’s second term team involved a virtual purge of the remaining “old guard” figures from the era of his father, the first President Bush, who were architects of cooperation and detente with the Soviet Union and Russia. Moscow policymakers now grimly anticipate an era of increased pressure on Russia from Washington and many European capitals.

Therefore, Perminov’s announcement should not be seen simply as a reflex of financial pressures on Russia’s space program. It is, rather, a red light warning that the long era of easygoing U.S.-Russian cooperation in space is rapidly coming to an end. And that could be the harbinger of far worse problems to come. ~Martin Sieff, UPI

In light of plummeting U.S.-Russian relations in the last two months, one has to wonder what use it has been to have a National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, who was supposed to be such an expert Russia hand from her specialised studies and her time in the first Bush administration. If Russian relations do as well when she is Secretary of State, things could get very ugly indeed. Along with invading Iraq, nothing else seems to declare more firmly that Mr. Bush intends to undo or repudiate his father’s legacy than the bizarre desire to destabilise and anatagonise Russia.

Nothing in European affairs should fill the American people with greater dread than the idea of bringing the Ukraine into NATO. As their presidential election showed, this is a country with inordinately great ties to Russia in its history, culture, religion and politics. A future Russian annexationist or unification movement is not inconceivable as a natural political development, and it is definitely unwise to endanger Russia’s access to the Black Sea by bringing the entire northern coast and the main ex-Soviet ports into the alliance. Combined with tacit encouragement of the Chechens, open backing of Saakashvili and the expansion of NATO into the Baltics it would not be hard for a Russian general or president to see a concerted effort to pressure Russia and control her access to the sea and vital oil pipelines.

As the hegemonists in and around the administration intend, a NATO member Ukraine would be a dagger pointed at the body of Russia and would be a constant provocation and insult. Such an aggressive posture will provoke a similar posture from the Russians. It makes no sense in terms of Russian or American interests. Russia has far more important things to do than have to fear foreign encroachment on its western frontier, and America has far more vital interests in pursuing our real enemies rather than chasing after shadows of the Soviet Union.

The only reason to incorporate the Ukraine into NATO is to promise it security against a Russian takeover, which is probably not forthcoming in our lifetime if ever (and is therefore of no use to the Ukraine or the real interests of the United States). In the event that such a takeover attempt were to occur it would mean a Russo-American war over lands that were historically and legally Russian as recently as 85 years ago. It is inconceivably arrogant, dangerous and pointless to guarantee Ukrainian independence against a country that has an extensive economic and political relationship with the Ukraine. If Mr. Yushchenko petitions the alliance for membership, he must be turned down for the good of all involved. But, of course, this election drama would never have occurred had the U.S., the EU and NATO not all wanted Yushchenko as their man in Kiev.