RAY SUAREZ: Sunday, Ukraine's voters will get yet another chance to choose their next president. A first-round election in October led to a runoff in November between two candidates: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko.
But even before the polls closed, there were complaints of voting problems. When Ukraine's election commission declared Yanukovich the winner, Yuschenko's supporters took to the streets. Hundreds of thousands wearing the party's trademark orange demonstrated in Kiev's Independence Square and set up tent cities in that capital city.
The West protested, too, in diplomatic fashion. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the results illegitimate and European Union officials flew to Moscow to mediate a solution.
Ukraine's parliament denounced the results and the Supreme Court threw them out, citing massive voter fraud; judges ordered a December rematch. Along with fraud came charges of attempted murder.
When Yuschenko began his campaign a year ago, he looked like this. For the last few months, his face has been marked by boils and cysts, and he suffers from severe back pain. Tests at a Vienna hospital confirmed Yushchenko has 6,000 times the normal level of dioxin in his body.
He says his political rivals poisoned him; the government denies any involvement. Despite his illness, the opposition leader is out on the campaign trail. At a rally in Independence Square, he promised his government would be a fair one.
VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO (Translated): A new government will be formed comprising many political powers. The criteria of selection of the new government will be honesty, professionalism and patriotism.
Only honest officials have a place in the new government. There will be no place in it for falsifiers, corrupt officials and separatists.
RAY SUAREZ: For his part, Yanukovich now says he wants clear and transparent elections, and he said the demonstrators didn't represent all of Ukraine.
VIKTOR YANUKOVICH (Translated): You have to bear in mind that all these demonstration at Independent Square is not the whole of Ukraine. I am convinced that the path of rallies or demonstrations leads nowhere.
RAY SUAREZ: This bitter campaign has split the former Soviet republic, whose population tops 47 million. Yanukovich draws strong support from the industrial East, which has close ties to Russia, while Ukraine's West backs Yushchenko, a reformer who wants to move closer to the European union.
On Monday, the rivals met in their first debate and exchanged harsh words.
VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO ( Translated ): One reason why we are here today is because the results of the Nov. 21 elections were stolen. More than three million votes were stolen by my opponent and his team.
VIKTOR YANUKOVICH ( Translated ): I can tell you plainly, Viktor Andreyevych, if you think that you can win and become the president of Ukraine, you are making a big mistake. If you win, you may become the president of only part of Ukraine.
RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supported Yanukovich in the first run-off and congratulated him on his victory, said yesterday he could work with Yushchenko.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): I'm personally acquainted with Mr. Yushchenko from his tenure as chairman of the Ukrainian cabinet.
We had dealings with each other and we had normal, businesslike relations. We're always ready to receive any leader entrusted to Moscow by the Ukrainian people.
RAY SUAREZ: More than 37 million Ukrainian voters are expected to go to the polls Sunday.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the significance of this election, we get two views. Bruce Jackson was a Defense Department official during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush.
Now he's president of the Project on Transitional Democracies, an organization seeking to promote democratic reform in Europe.
And Anders Asland directs the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has served as an economic adviser to the governments of both Ukraine and Russia.
Guests, the world doesn't normally hold its breath for Ukrainian elections. Why this time? What is at stake for both Ukrainians and the wider world?
BRUCE JACKSON: Well, this is the largest democratic change we've really seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall some 15 years ago.
Remember, we are talking about 50 million people here or almost 50 million people that are make a change in their strategic direction, whether they want to remain a part of sort of the Russian sphere of influence or basically become a normal common European democracy.
This is also a new kind of thing. Up to now we have been looking really at post-communist states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, who have had a democratic tradition.
Georgia is a post-Soviet phase, part of the Soviet Union, and it's a different kind of thing. The democratic revolution is finally, you know, taking part in the former Soviet space.
This, coupled with the Georgian Revolution of last year, the so- called Rose Revolution, together they signal a fundamental new step in where the frontiers of democracy are.
RAY SUAREZ: Anders Asland, do Ukrainians think that's what they're doing, choosing between their Soviet pasts and a more western future?
ANDERS ASLUND: Definitely. You can say that this is formulated as a European choice. And if you look up on the slogan, it's "Yushchenko, our president." That is democracy.
And the other slogan is freedom. "You don't stop our freedom." These are essentially the two slogans. It says nothing about socialism, nothing about economics.
It's freedom and democracy and a turn to Europe that matters in these elections.
RAY SUAREZ: Just today, Viktor Yushchenko said publicly that he charged the government with making sure there would be no violence during the vote on Sunday.
Is that just pre-polling day posturing, or is there a real chance that there could be violence?
ANDERS ASLUND: Well, there have been statements now by former security officers within the opposition that certain violence attempts are being prepared in the East of the country.
And it's clear that President Kuchma and some of the leaders on the Yanukovich side have an interest in the destabilization.
So Yushchenko all along has been extremely cautious that everything should be peaceful. And if you look up on this massive demonstration we have seen in Ukraine, not one person has been injured, not one person has been arrested for drinking.
RAY SUAREZ: Russian President Putin, Bruce Jackson, was right out there after the last vote, immediately endorsing and welcoming the winning of Viktor Yanukovich, criticizing any attempt to revisit the vote.
But he's cooled it in recent days, hasn't he?
BRUCE JACKSON: I think the nicest thing we can say about Moscow's policy is when something is inevitable, Mr. Putin decides it's desirable.
He came to this position quite reluctantly, and, frankly, as late as this week, German Chancellor Schroeder was talking in a very serious manner to Mr. Putin to basically have him embrace an electoral outcome, a democratic outcome.
And it was not in his interests as he proceeds with his relationship with both Europe and the United States for him to be taking this managed view of Ukraine, that this was Russian space, that he would pick the candidate and successor to Kuchma.
The amount of money the Russians poured into this campaign is really truly extraordinary. And the estimates range between $300 million and $600 million.
Putin had quite a lot at stake in this coming out a different way, actually, in a fraudulent manner, and he is basically backing out of it reasonably gracefully.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you see it the same way, Anders? This week, the Russian president said, "No, no, we're not meddling. It's the West that is meddling in Ukraine."
Has he taken a different line as we've moved from October to November to December with the Ukrainian election?
ANDERS ASLUND: Yeah, I think he's facing up to the inevitable. It looks now like Yushchenko really will win, and Yushchenko has not antagonized Russia in any public way throughout the campaign. He has been extremely cautious on that point.
Even in his election program, you can see that he writes about the importance of having a good relationship with Russia, and he has avoided going into any debate with Russians while the Russian media, which are under state control, have just hammered on Yushchenko in all kinds of ways.
Yushchenko has refused to respond on this.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Bruce Jackson just talked about President Putin making a virtue out of accepting the inevitable. Is Viktor Yushchenko also doing the same thing?
Are the Russian and Ukrainian economies so intertwined? Are the relations so close that he really can't act like Russia's not there and sort of push himself away?
ANDERS ASLUND: Yeah, absolutely. And Yushchenko's recognized that from the beginning. So of course the person looks strange.
President Putin twice in Ukraine to campaign for Prime Minister Yanukovich, and on top of that, congratulate Yanukovich twice before the official results were out, so it is about time for President Putin to face the obvious.
But at the same time, he went, in his press conference the other day, on a sharp attack of president of Poland, who has played a very constructive role in the Ukrainian drama.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, not only the president of Poland, but the foreign secretary of the EU and the secretary of state of the United States have all had something to say about this. Is Vladimir Putin, at least from where he looks at it, is he right that the West is meddling?
BRUCE JACKSON: Well, the West has clearly not been meddling and Russia is accusing the West of its own sins.
The United States, just the name of a country I know, they only put $13.4 million into the election campaign, but only into the election monitors, never into any of the parties.
The democracy funds that they had were essentially normal and they went mostly to civic society groups and not to parties. All of what the United States did was open to all the parties in Ukraine.
And, frankly, the United States went so far as to provide a breakout of their spending to the Russians and asked them if they would disclose their same spending, which, of course, they refused. But the salient part of this, this has really been a European-led initiative.
The president of Lithuania, the president of Poland, Javier Solana from the European Union, and now, most recently, Gerhardt Schroeder of Germany-- these have been the international mediators, because this is very much a European decision.
What Yushchenko has talked about is that the future of Ukraine will be a market economy, membership in the World Trade Organization and ultimately membership in the European Union.
That is fundamentally incompatible with the economic and governance version expressed by Mr. Putin, which is a managed, state-controlled economy and basically a competitive zone of the commonwealth of independent states as basically a balance to the European Union.
So this is very much a European dialogue with Russia.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a very quick read from both of you on whether you feel this is over if there's a clear winner Sunday, or whether the losers take to the streets.
ANDERS ASLUND: We don't know if it is over. If Yanukovich loses, as we all assume, there is a slight danger of some military development, but I don't believe it.
BRUCE JACKSON: Yanukovich will try to exaggerate the disenfranchisement of the East to suggest that they're not part of the unified Ukraine. I think that will fail.
Nevertheless, Yushchenko, as he governs, will have a long time to basically manage the problem of Russia. That problem is not over for Ukraine.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you both.
ANDERS ASLUND: Thank you.