The unfolding election drama in Ukraine continues to fascinate Americans. We want to see democracy succeed. But we must insist that Ukraine be allowed to work out its future without U.S. government interference.
Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko appears to have handily won Sunday’s vote for prime minister, which was scheduled after last month’s election was annulled because of fraud.
“We peacefully, beautifully, elegantly and without any drops of blood changed Ukraine,” Yushchenko said in his victory speech.
But now Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is challenging the new election. “I will never recognize this defeat because there were violations of the constitution and of human rights in our country,” he announced.
Yanukovych was supported by current President Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Putin, president of neighboring Russia. Kuchma has only partly moved the country toward democracy and free markets since he first was elected in 1994.
The continuing dispute could yet lead to the country splitting apart. The eastern part, the political base of Yanukovych, includes many Russians, has most of the country’s heavy industry, is more Eastern Orthodox in religion and has close ties to Russia.
The western part, Yushchenko’s base, is predominantly Ukrainian, more Catholic and has close ties to Poland and Western Europe.
If secession occurs, one can only hope that it does so on the peaceful model of the breakup of Czechoslovakia a decade ago. There is no reason borders set by Soviet dictators need to be observed by free people today.
If Yushchenko prevails and becomes president, as seems likely, there are a couple of curious things about him that Americans will find fascinating. While prime minister from 1999 to 2001, he “helped implement some free-market reforms,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
His wife, Kateryna, an American raised by Ukrainian immigrants in Chicago, in the late 1980s and early 1990s worked in the human rights office of the U.S. State Department. The Journal also reported that “her business degree from the University of Chicago helped her land a job with KPMG, the U.S. international auditing company, and she prospered training (Ukraine’s) economists in Western practices.”
On the other hand, notes Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, Yushchenko did serve as prime minister in “the thuggish Leonid Kuchma’s government.” And, as the Financial Times reported of Yuschenko’s tenure heading the National Bank of Ukraine, “under his control, the bank was involved in a damaging row with the International Monetary Fund over the use of IMF loans to falsify the country’s credit position — allowing some politicians, but not Yushchenko, to benefit personally. He survived the ensuing scandal.”
This is a tangled mess that Ukrainians themselves need to unravel. Unfortunately, Ukraine’s democratic process has been influenced by about $14 million in aid from the U.S. government “to get rid of” Yanukovych, reported the Nov. 26 Guardian newspaper.
The U.S. government just shouldn’t have involved itself in Ukraine. Now it should end its involvement. Democracy is best and most lasting when the locals do it themselves.