The Blog

Back in the USSR?

The crisis in the Ukraine is a clash between a people who want to look toward the West and an old power who wants its vassal states back. But the fight may already be over.

10:55 AM, Nov 28, 2004 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Pro-Yushchenko protestors in the tent city in Kiev's city center.Pro-Yushchenko protestors in the tent city in Kiev's city center.


In another major development in Ukraine's post-presidential election crisis the national parliament, the Verkhovnaya Rada, met in emergency session on Saturday and voted to declare last Sunday's electoral results invalid. The parliament also passed a vote of no confidence on the country's Central Electoral Commission (CEC), which had rushed to certify the results of balloting and ignored the multiple charges of fraud by international observers.

However, Ukraine's political system is close to that of other former Soviet Republics in that the real powers of parliament are limited and the president is an almost benign dictator. Parliament's vote, although it clearly reflects the will on the people who have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands in protest, is only symbolic and is not legally binding. The more meaningful decision has to be taken by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who has been reluctant to see anyone other than his current Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovich, succeed him.

A legal case brought by the opposition candidate's campaign, Viktor Yushchenko, to declare the election invalid is to be heard in Ukraine's supreme court on Monday. Yushchenko had won the first-round balloting, after which all of the lesser candidates threw their support to his camp. With those other candidates behind him his victory in the second round run-off against Yanukovich should have been close to the 54-43 percent split that Ukrainian exit polls indicated.

The official results, which gave Yanukovich a three percent victory, and the over 11,000 cases of election fraud documented by Yushchenko's campaign are the cause for what has become a popular revolution. In addition to their paper documents and statements by witnesses, an online Ukrainian newspaper has produced transcripts of taped phone conversations between Yanukovich aides, unidentified campaign workers and the head of the CEC, Sergiy Kivalov, discussing how to rig the results to guarantee the PM's win.

Should the supreme court echo the parliament's vote, President Kuchma would have little choice but to enact legislation calling for new elections and eliminating the provisions in the current election laws that have seen the absentee balloting process become the center of accusations of ballot-box stuffing. The current date being suggested for a re-run of the election is December 12.

THIS CRISIS, which has paralyzed the political process in the country is now entering its second week, but it has been a long time in the offing. On October 28, the city's main downtown street, Khreshchatyk, and the massive Independence Square were the site of a large military parade featuring modern-day Ukrainian elite units led by a WWII-era T-34 tank. The combination of "past and present" military power was meant to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the city's liberation by the Red Army. But the parade's timing and the dignitaries in attendance foreshadowed the crisis now gripping the Ukraine.

The officially recorded date of Kiev's liberation was November 6, not October 28. (As Soviet forces were driving the Germans westward, Stalin decreed that the city be taken back from the Wehrmacht before the USSR's celebration of the November 7th Revolution Day holiday--regardless of the cost.) This year's parade had been brought forward nine days for no other reason than to be a live campaign event for Yanukovich.

In attendance--and on the podium--was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who offered his very public endorsement of Yanukovich. Russia much prefers a Ukraine led by the PM, who comes from heavily industrialized and Russian-speaking eastern region of Ukraine, over the reformist and pro-western Yushchenko. Those supporting Yushchenko point to the parade as symbolic of the message Putin has been sending: He wants Ukraine securely locked in the orbit of the old Soviet establishment.

The protest at Independence Square carries on late into the night.The protest at Independence Square carries on late into the night.