TOPICS > Politics

Protesters Rally in Ukraine’s Capital Over Reports of Election Fraud

November 24, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Two views on the situation. Taras Kuzio is a visiting fellow at George Washington University. He has written extensively about Ukraine and just returned from there, where he was an election observer. Bruce Jackson was a Defense Department official during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush. He’s president now of the Project on Transitional Democracies, an organization which seeks to promote democratic reform in Europe.

How important a turn is this declaration of Yanukovich to be the winner?

TARAS KUZIO: It’s very important, because it shows that the authorities have reneged on the idea of compromise and negotiations which they talked about holding yesterday. It’s also an affront to the whole international community who have denounced the results and have also talked about the need to keep from withholding a final result until some negotiation solution is being held with the opposition. That hasn’t been done. So this does put the whole situation on the brink of potential conflict, especially now as the opposition are talking about moving their opposition towards a different scale of civic protest and civic disobedience.

JIM LEHRER: They’re talking about a nationwide strike; they want to shut down the country.

TARAS KUZIO: Not just strike, they’re talking about blocking railways, complete civic disobedience, schools closed down, and this coupled with the whole huge number of military facilities and military bases and police forces defecting to the opposition side, with areas of the country beyond the control of the government where the opposition have taken charge, and have refused to recognize the central government.

We have even the navy commander supporting Yushchenko.

JIM LEHRER: So, what does the government know that everybody else doesn’t seem to know? I mean, why would they go ahead and do this in front of the whole world to say nuts to you, we’re going to do this anyhow?

BRUCE JACKSON: Well, this is the transitional period that we all knew was coming from Ukraine with the departure of President Kuchma This basically exposed the criminal interests, business interests that were tied to the regime to scrutiny, and frankly under the Yushchenko government, the government that moved towards Europe, their way of life was over. This is essentially a last –.

JIM LEHRER: That’s when Yushchenko was prime minister before?

BRUCE JACKSON: Yeah, they moved him out and they moved other reformers out, and the opposition has consolidated itself and moved back to the election processes to establish the will of the Ukrainian people.

And these oligarchy interests reject that.

JIM LEHRER: And they think, but I’m thinking, my question goes to, they think they can get away with this?


JIM LEHRER: Why do they think they can get away with it?

BRUCE JACKSON: Well, there’s been a pattern of manipulation of elections. A month ago in Belarus, Yushchenko, the dictator there put himself there as in as the dictator for life and declared 95 percent of the people voted for him, which was not true. There been a pattern of fraud throughout the CIS states, –


BRUCE JACKSON: — the former Soviet Union and also called a larger Russia. There is always going to be a struggle for the strategic direction and identity of Ukraine. And Mr. Yushchenko has said that Ukraine’s future is in the European community and in a system of democracy. The other side rejects that and wants a return to politics of the past.

JIM LEHRER: We didn’t get it in the news summary, but later in the day, Yanukovich said, well, after he accepted his reelection, he said, well, I’m willing to meet with the other side tomorrow and we can work this out. Does that sound like a solution to you?

TARAS KUZIO: There was always a problem before he accepted that he’d been elected that nobody trusted him. After all he is the head of the government, and his region of the country, eastern Ukraine, is the region where you have this massive fraud. So if they didn’t trust him before today, I think it’s very unlikely that they are going to believe him now.

And the whole problem with the step they are taking today is it removes the possibility in many ways of some kind of negotiated compromise, some peaceful way out. The reason why I think they did move today was because the country was slipping from their control, and that if they had waited two or three more days you’d have had a million people on the streets, not 750,000 like today.

You’d have even more local governments and military units going over to the opposition. So they had to really kick it in the head as it were already now. After all in the first round they waited ten days before they released results and they had officially fifteen days they could do it this time, so it’s unusual.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Yushchenko called for – for the declaration, he called for a new round of elections, in other words let’s just do it again and monitor it and try to have them fair and honest. That clearly is off the table now, do you think?

BRUCE JACKSON: I don’t know if it’s off the table. What the central election committee’s decision of recognizing this fraud triggered is the response from both Europe and the United States which is interesting to see how well they are working together and our shared view American and Europe have of this travesty. The key remark was Secretary Powell’s, which was do not recognize as legitimate.

That basically says any further action put Yanukovich into power will not be recognized as legitimate, so essentially you cannot govern. You must return to a discussion between the parties to have a democratic outcome based on the rule of law, they’re forcing them back to some negotiated result.

JIM LEHRER: Secretary Powell also said if you don’t do this there are going to be consequences. What’s he talking about?

BRUCE JACKSON: Well, there is a pattern of noncompliance with international law, and there’s, steps will be taken; obviously the first step will be visa prohibitions and any travel of any of the officials who are engaged in this fraud. Much money is overseas that is owned by criminal interests that would be attached. They’re contact with Europe in European institutions such as NATO, or the European Union, would be set back. And personally you just will not see them in any summit or international gathering.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that matters, that will matter to these folks?

TARAS KUZIO: Well, it matters to a great proportion of the ruling elites in the pro-presidential camp, not all of them want to live like Belarus. They don’t want to just travel to Minsk.

JIM LEHRER: Explain what you mean.

TARAS KUZIO: Belarus is the most isolated country in Europe, because, until now, we’ll if Yanukovich becomes the second dictator, but at the moment it’s the country with the last dictator in Europe.

So many in that Yanukovich pro-presidential camp don’t want Ukraine to follow the route of Belarus, and they do want their children to go to private schools, they want their wives to go on shopping trips. They don’t want to be completely under Russia’s influence. So these threats are important. Between the first and second round, the U.S. leaked to the Washington Times about six or eight names of leading Ukraine officials who are already on the visa black list.

And that list now presumably will increase and may include President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yanukovich unless they begin to show some ability to compromise. But these issues are important, and the important thing is that other parts of the world, Canada and Western Europe, European Union as a whole, are likely to follow the U.S.

JIM LEHRER: Canada in fact did issue a similar statement today, said, the deputy prime minister of Canada said essentially the same things that Secretary Powell said, and the EU and other countries. But you think that will remain solid? Do you detect anybody who really is going to support these people except Russia?

BRUCE JACKSON: No, there’s no support for Yanukovich whatsoever.

I think the immediate job is to protect the Ukrainian people from further abuses against their decisions. So the first thing the administration is saying is stand still, don’t go any further in this. The second thing they’re saying is don’t dare use force to basically give us a fait accompli on the ground which further injures the Ukrainian people. And finally there are international mediators such as President Kwasniewski of Poland that are prepared to go in and basically reestablish a rule of law that will basically reflect the Ukrainians’ decision. That’s basically it. That’s all that’s on offer right now.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think? You were just there. What do you think the chances are that this thing igniting into some kind of really explosive or chaotic beyond civil chaos, in other words violence?

TARAS KUZIO: Well, it’s not in the interest of the opposition to go down that route, to adopt violent methods. That’s something the authorities would love them to do, because it would be a way of discrediting them as kind of extremists and terrorists and such like. They already planted bombs in opposition youth group headquarters in October as an attempt to discredit these groups.

So it’s not something that they’re likely to go. But this step today is maybe even an attempt to provoke that on the part of the opposition, because Yanukovich has brought his own thugs into Kiev, these organized crime skinheads, and football hooligans have come to Kiev already.

JIM LEHRER: Ready to react if the protesters go over the line or are perceived to go over the line?

TARAS KUZIO: Even as (inaudible) provocateurs to give the excuse for police to move in.

JIM LEHRER: How does the guns comparison work? If this thing does get violent, who wins?

BRUCE JACKSON: Well, quite clearly the regime has the army. Two months ago they fired the defense minister to clear the way for the use of armed force against Ukrainian people, which was an indicator of how far they were prepared to go. Also one might expect that Russia would send troops in to support the regime, much like Prague in 1968 where there was a crackdown.

JIM LEHRER: And the other side has no guns, no tanks?

TARAS KUZIO: Well, yes and no. With the reports coming in of the police and security service and part of the military defecting over and stating part of their loyalty to President Yushchenko as it were, then the authorities are not clear that the law enforcement bodies will actually support them in the crackdown. If we go back to the Serbian-Georgian revolutions, they didn’t, and that was why the revolution succeeded and that’s why it’s not surprising that there are rumors and strong rumors that Russian special forces have been flown in, two plane loads allegedly flown in today to Kiev and that were directed to go somewhere else.


BRUCE JACKSON: On that, Mr. Yushchenko clearly sees himself and his movement as a movement like Vaclav Havel’s movement in the Czech republic. This is a peaceful opposition. If violence is used it will come from the provocateurs.

JIM LEHRER: You’re sure of that?

BRUCE JACKSON: Absolutely. There’s no doubt about that.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any doubt — and you were there — is there any doubt in your mind that was a rigged election?

TARAS KUZIO: Absolutely no doubt at all. I sat in a meeting with Sen. Lugar and other international organizations –.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Lugar, who is chairman of our Senate Arms Services Committee.

TARAS KUZIO: And he was a representative from President Bush, and everybody had the same view. These elections were worse than the first round, not better.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that? No doubt about it?

BRUCE JACKSON: Largest political theft we’ve seen.

JIM LEHRER: Just for the record. Okay, thank you both very much. We’ll see what happens.