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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2004

29 November 2004

LONDON - The narrow victory of Ukraine's prime minister Viktor Yanukovych in last week's election, marked by fraud and systematic voting irregularities, is raising grave fears of civil war or chaos in this highly strategic nation.

If the pro-Russian Yanukovych's victory holds, coupled with the recent rigged electoral victory of communist strongman Alexander Lukashenko in neighboring Belarus, the two elections will mark a major milestone in Vladimir Putin's long-term strategy to rebuild the old Soviet Union. Putin campaigned long and hard in Ukraine for Yanukovych.

As I write, massive street demonstrations are underway in Ukraine's capitol, Kiev, protesting what western observers have denounced as a crudely rigged vote that re-elected old Soviet machine politician Yanukovych and dashed hopes the pro-Europe democratic reformer, Viktor Yushchenko, would lead Ukraine's 48 million people into closer association with Europe.

Ukraine has split along historic lines, with the European-oriented western, largely Catholic half, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, supporting Yushchenko, and the Eastern Orthodox portion, notably the Donets coal basin and industrial Luhansk, with 10 million ethnic Russians, favoring Yanukovych and Moscow. Crimea, an ethnic Russian and Tatar region, went solidly for the pro-Moscow camp.

Some pro-Moscow easterners are calling for secession from Ukraine, and possible union with Russia. Though fraught with dangers, a division of Ukraine might be one possible way out of the current mess.

Yushchenko supporters have massed in the streets and called on the army and security service to join them, invoking the threat of political chaos, even civil war. The fiery and brilliant Yulia Timoshenko, whom this column interviewed last year, has assumed the role of Ukraine's La Passionara, calling on Yuschenko supporters to besiege the regime.

As of this writing, the security services, heavily influenced by Russia's secret services, appear loyal to Yanukovych. But the call by one of their senior generals for the Supreme Court to decide the election raises the intriguing possibility the security organs may step aside, just as Soviet KGB units did during the communist coup in Moscow in 1991, and not confront the people.

While wily Putin was campaigning and intriguing furiously for Yanukovych, America, Canada, and Europe reacted with feebleness until it was almost too late.

Preoccupied by elections and Iraq, the Bush Administration did little to support pro-western forces in Ukraine. Instead of shoring up Yushchenko's forces with finance and diplomatic support, Washington sent the lightweight Senator Richard Lugar, a nobody on the international stage, to encourage them. Europe and Canada, which is home to one million people of Ukrainian descent, did even less.

After the rigged election, US lame duck Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a series of unspecified `serious' threats against Ukraine, an unproductive demarche everyone regarded as too little, too late.

No one seemed to notice that Washington's moral outrage over Ukraine's rigged elections comes right after the US rigged elections in Afghanistan and will do so again shortly in Iraq. Or that Washington's clients in the Arab World stage fake lections that make Ukraine's poll look like a Swiss election.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has been too busy bribing the post-communist regimes of Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania to send token troop contingents to Iraq to try to block Moscow's strategic ambitions in the region. It should be noted that in the great game of geopolitical chess, Russia has far more historical right to meddle in Ukraine's affairs than does the US or the EU.

Many westerners make the serious error of dismissing Ukrainians as just another bunch of sullen, unimportant East Europeans. Russia will never regain great power status or reassert its traditional influence in East Europe unless it re-absorbs strategic Ukraine. If Ukraine and Belarus fall back into Russia's mighty orbit, the Baltic States will come under renewed Russian threat.

Ukrainians, at least western Ukrainians, are a distinct, effervescent people of high culture that brought civilization and Christianity to Russia. Ukraine's Cossack origins imbue this feisty people with a fierce love of freedom, a rejection of authority, a profound romanticism, and a dashing spirit of adventure that make them seem more French than East European.

Ukrainians have suffered as much as any people on earth and deserve a decent life. The world remembers millions of Jews murdered by Hitler, but totally forgets the 6 million Ukrainian farmers and intellectuals murdered by Stalin, the ally of America and Britain.

Ukraine's Supreme Court has suspended the electoral results pending a review of opposition charges the vote was corrupted by massive fraud. On a positive note, Yanukovych has shown the first sign of compromise by offering to agree to a new election if fraud charges are proven. Both sides are struggling to avoid the rising danger of armed clashes between their supporters or military intervention.

Europe, finally alert to the danger in Ukraine, vows not to recognize Yanukovych, putting the EU on a potential collision course with Russia. Putin warns Europe to stay out of Ukraine. A disintegrating Ukraine poses enormous dangers for all its neighbors, even the threat of confrontation between Washington and Moscow — something not seen since the 1980's.

What to do? Europe has shown the way. Boycott and isolate any non-democratically installed government. Most important, Europe, Canada, and the US should demand that a new vote be held in Ukraine organized and run by the United Nations. It's time for a real people's revolution in Ukraine.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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