ONE of the most remarkable about-turns in politics is likely to begin tomorrow in the first round of Ukraine's presidential election. Five years ago the Orange Revolution led by the current president, Victor Yushchenko, seemed to point Ukraine towards the West and away from Russia's long-standing influence. But on Sunday Yushchenko faces defeat at the hands either of Victor Yanukovych, leader of the Moscow-leaning Party of the Regions or Julia Tymoshenko, the current populist prime minister, who also supports close ties with Russia. Probably neither of them will win outright and a run-off between them on 7 February will follow. In the polls Yushchenko, the hero of the Orange Revolution, has only four per cent support; Yanukovych, whose rigging of the 2004 election led to that Revolution and whose supporters later tried to poison Yushchenko, has 33 per cent and Tymoshenko 20 per cent. Yushchenko's fall from popularity is partly due to Ukraine's economic problems but it is probably also the consequence of the West's mishandling of relations with neighbouring Georgia. Assured of good relations with either of the leading candidates, Vladimir Putin has not interfered in the election but will obviously be delighted to see the way that it is going. Russia's main interest in a friendly Ukraine is the renewal of the lease for Russia's Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet which expires in 2017.


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