- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

Ukraine undecided

A chief adviser to the Ukrainian prime minister sees uncanny parallels between his boss’s campaign for president and last week’s U.S. presidential election.

The Nov. 21 runoff between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko, a former prime minister, is too close to call. Each candidate received about 39 percent in the first round of voting on Oct. 31. Ukrainians appear divided between Mr. Yanukovych’s rural supporters and Mr. Yushchenko’s urban ones.

Also, as in the American election, billionaire George Soros, who poured millions of dollars into efforts to defeat President Bush, is also spending millions on the campaign against Mr. Yanukovych, said Eduard Prutnik, the prime minister’s adviser, on a visit to The Washington Times yesterday.

“It’s very much alike. We hope the outcome will also be the same,” he said, predicting a victory for Mr. Yanukovych by about five percentage points.

Iraq is also an issue, with Mr. Yanukovych pledging to keep Ukraine’s 1,600 troops within the U.S.-led coalition and Mr. Yushchenko promising to withdraw them within weeks if he is elected.

One of Mr. Prutnik’s goals on his visit to Washington this week is to try to explain why Mr. Yanukovych would be a better U.S. ally than his opponent, who is supported privately by some State Department officials and publicly by many Ukrainians in the United States.

“Unfortunately, people in this town want to speak in terms of black and white, making one 100 percent positive and the other 100 percent negative,” Mr. Prutnik said.

Critics suspect Mr. Yanukovych of harboring authoritarian tendencies like the current president, Leonid Kuchma, who is supporting the prime minister. They also claim Mr. Yanukovych is too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and would bring Ukraine under Russian influence.

Mr. Prutnik dismisses the criticism, saying the prime minister is independent of both Mr. Kuchma and Mr. Putin.

“He’s going to defend the interests of Ukraine based on what makes good business sense,” Mr. Prutnik said, explaining that exports to Russia are about equal to those to the United States and European Union combined.

He noted that Mr. Yanukovych, prime minister since 2002, has instituted a flat tax rate of 13 percent, down from an average of 40 percent under Mr. Yushchenko, who served in 2000 through April 2001.

Inflation also has fallen to 8 percent from 25 percent under Mr. Yushchenko, Mr. Prutnik said.

He pointed out one additional similarity to the U.S. election. While Mr. Bush’s extreme critics compared him to Adolf Hitler, Mr. Yanukovych’s opponents have compared him to Josef Stalin.

American culture also has inspired some campaign antics by the prime minister’s opponents, who doctored some of his campaign literature by replacing his photograph with the big, green cartoon character Shrek.

Bandar decries letter

Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar denounced a letter from Saudi scholars that urged Iraqis to support attacks against U.S. troops and the new Iraqi government.

Prince Bandar said the letter, posted on the Internet on Saturday by 26 Saudi scholars, has no official support from either the Saudi government or the Council of Senior Ulema, prominent religious scholars.

Both “have repeatedly condemned terrorism in Iraq and throughout the world,” Prince Bandar said.

“The Saudi people pray for the end of bloodshed in Iraq and the restoration of peace, security and stability in Iraq for the benefit of the Iraqi people and the region,” he said.

The letter said resistance to U.S. and Iraqi government forces is a “legitimate right.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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