- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The presidential election in Ukraine has fulfilled the worst expectations. The fraudulent second-round vote is now threatening to tear the country apart. The United States, the European Union and international organizations have correctly denounced the results, but the old and corrupted guard in Ukraine is banking on the prospect that international and domestic outrage will peter out. Due to Ukraine’s geopolitical importance, the tainted election could have lasting consequences.

With almost all the ballots counted, the official vote tally has Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych defeating rival Viktor Yushchenko by almost three percentage points. According to international observers, Sunday’s election was even more flawed than the first round of voting on Oct. 31. Several reliable exit polls had Mr. Yushchenko winning the vote by a comfortable margin.

President Bush warned outgoing President Leonid Kuchma that Washington would review its relationship with Ukraine if authorities didn’t ensure the vote was fair. Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, who traveled to Ukraine as President Bush’s envoy, said, “It is now apparent that a concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities.”

The tainted election sent hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets of Kiev, the capital, yesterday in an impressive show of civil disobedience amid freezing temperatures. The fraud in the election is dividing the country. Kiev’s city council and the administrations of four other sizable cities said they would only recognize Mr. Yushchenko as the legitimate president. The cities closer to Russia are supporting Mr. Yanukovych just as passionately.

Mr. Kuchma has called for political forces to “to sit at the negotiation table immediately.” What’s needed, though, is clear enough: a fair tally of votes. Mr. Kuchma has called the pro-Yushchenko rallies “very dangerous” and said they “can lead to unforeseen consequences.” One consequence could well be democracy.

Mr. Yanukovych has tried to downplay the massive unrest the electoral process has triggered. “This small group of radicals has taken upon itself the goal of splitting Ukraine,” he said. While he is certainly correct about a potentially splintering country, those divisions are a result of the fraud, not the defense of democracy.

There is much at stake in the election for Ukraine — and for Russia, the United States and Europe as well. Ukraine is seen by Moscow as an important frontier of Russian economic and geopolitical influence. Ukraine is potentially a critical transit point for Caspian and Central Asian oil to Europe. A pipeline that was going to supply Europe with those energy resources was instead directed towards Russia.

A triumph by Mr. Yushchenko and subsequent construction of oil pipelines to Europe would strengthen the West’s ties not only to Ukraine, but also to Caspian and Central Asian oil suppliers. Also, Mr. Yushchenko would seek to bring Ukraine into NATO and the European Union.

The United States, European countries and international groups should continue pressing Ukrainian officials to restore democratic legitimacy. They will also have to lean on Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to congratulate Mr. Yanukovych on the election, despite the widespread allegations of fraud. The international community must press Mr. Putin to support electoral transparency in Ukraine. While the United States usually respects Mr. Putin’s strong administrative hand within Russia, U.S. officials should make clear that such forbearance doesn’t apply to action and policies taken beyond Russia’s borders.

Ukrainian authorities are waiting for the everyday needs of the Ukrainian people to bring them back off the streets and into their homes and workplaces. Mr. Yushchenko said, “We appeal to the parliaments and nations of the world to bolster the will of the Ukrainian people, to support their aspiration to return to democracy.” U.S. and EU officials must heed that appeal and keep the pressure on Mr. Yanukovych, Mr. Kuchma and Mr. Putin.

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