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December 3, 2004

Transcript

BRIEFING AND OPINION

PAUL GIGOT: Over the past two weeks, extraordinary events and extraordinary pictures in Ukraine -- hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, taking to the streets of Kiev and seen on television throughout the world. They were protesting what was clearly a crooked election, rigged to support the candidate backed by Russia. It was even said to include the poisoning of the opposition candidate, seen here before and after the alleged poisoning.

Dan, these pictures really are amazing. They reminded me of the People Power revolution in the Philippines in 1986, what scenes we saw in Prague in 1989. What's at stake here in this show-down?

DAN HENNINGER: Well, I think this is the biggest democratic event since the fall of the Berlin Wall, quite frankly. It helps that, in this case, the whole world is watching. The whole world is watching in a way that it wasn't watching in Venezuela when Chavez stole that election.

PAUL GIGOT: Which was a shame.

DAN HENNINGER: Now, the question is, is it going to be carried through? Is the world going to support the Ukrainians out there in Independence Square through to the end of this? Because what's at stake is the rule of law in these emerging nations, the right of self-determination. And I think it has a direct connection to what's going to happen January 30th in Iraq. Are the people of Iraq going to get the same sort of global support that the Ukrainians are getting right now? And is George Bush going to make a choice between his friend Vladimir Putin at some point in a crunch time, and go with the Ukrainian people?

PAUL GIGOT: Let's talk about the world of Russia here, Claudia. Putin did endorse the party that stole the election, and then he embraced the results even before the existing president --

CLAUDIA ROSETT: He couldn't wait, exactly.

PAUL GIGOT: -- endorsed it. What is he up to?

CLAUDIA ROSETT: He's busy reconstituting a more efficient version of the Soviet Union, unfortunately. He's rebuilding the Russian empire. That's what's going on here.

PAUL GIGOT: I mean, is he really going to risk it, however? I assume that's not going to be very popular in eastern Europe, or western Europe for that matter. Is he really going to risk his business relationships with the West and the rest to do that?

CLAUDIA ROSETT: This speaks exactly to Dan's point, that this is a crucial moment. He probably won't if we really stand up to this effort and say no. You have enough to do tending your own garden. Go back and build a nicer Russia, but don't -- that's why it's crucial.

BRET STEPHENS: And I'm very sorry to say that the lesson that Putin has taken from his first four years in office is that he really has nothing to fear from the West. I mean, President Bush -- we might look back and say President Bush's biggest mistake in office was to look into Vladimir Putin's eyes and see a trusting soul there. Well, it didn't turn out that way. Putin has been abusing America's trust in terms of our foreign policy. He's been oppositional over Iraq, over Iran, over North Korea. He's run an increasingly autocratic and repressive domestic policy in Russia. Now he's returning to this policy of the near abroad. And I think it's time the administration gets a lesson that this guy isn't a friend.

PAUL GIGOT: Wait a minute. If you talk to the administration they will tell you that we got missile defense out of them, and we're getting cooperation on terrorism, which is no small thing. Aren't those important issues right now?

BRET STEPHENS: Sure, they're important issues. And I think Putin has chosen areas where he feels he can cooperate because it's in his interests. But if you look at the broad record, it's not an encouraging record. And I think that this president, this American president, needs to send a very clear signal to Putin that this relationship is conditional and that he's watching very closely at Moscow and not at Kiev.

DAN HENNINGER: I want to connect it to Bret's last point about the United Nations, which is there's a moral issue of being able to recognize the good guys and the bad guys. And Ukrainians are a country that's trying to develop. This week the parliament withdrew support from the government. Then, at the end of the week, the Supreme Court -- which is apparently a serious institution -- decided that the election was fraudulent and they have to re-run the election. Not have an entirely new one, but re-run it, which is precisely the point here.

If you cannot support a country that is achieving these sorts of benchmarks and standards, then what is the point of trying to make a distinction between good and bad countries?

PAUL GIGOT: Historians and strategists, prominent people like Zbigniew Brzezinski, or Henry Kissinger, would argue that Russia cannot be an empire without the Ukraine. I think we have maps showing the extent to which Ukraine brings Russia closer to Europe. And you can see how important that is. Is this the reason that the Europeans in the West, and the Poles and others, have been speaking up fairly aggressively, and in a way they're not in Iraq or in Venezuela, against the attempt to steal this election in the Ukraine?

CLAUDIA ROSETT: Yes. And so much is in the balance here. There is a movement -- we saw it not long ago in another former Soviet Republic, Georgia, now an independent country. The Rose Revolution. The same people power in the streets. They threw out Shevardnadze, the old Soviet hanger-on, and brought in a young, forward-looking democrat. Ukraine is trying this, too.

You remember, when you mentioned the Philippines earlier, the movement that swept East Asia in the eighties where they began going democratic. We have a chance here. It's so important to stand up for it.

PAUL GIGOT: The possibility has been raised of partition, that the ethnic east in the Ukraine, which tends to be more Russian, would break off -- perhaps even by force -- from the West, which tends to be ethnic Ukrainian, about 80 percent of the country is ethnic Ukrainian. Is that a possibility here? Could we really see a civil war?

BRET STEPHENS: Well, it is a possibility, but I think it's easily overstated. And someone like Putin has to remember that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Ukraine isn't the only country with secessionist possibilities within it. Russia has plenty of it, and we've been seeing it for the past decade in Chechnya. So I think it would be a very dangerous game. And I suspect Vladimir Putin is a smart enough operator to know this, to start pushing for secession of the Russian areas of Ukraine, because he will find that biting right back at him in other areas of Russia.

PAUL GIGOT: It seems the White House is trying very hard not to make this an east/west classic showdown. They're trying to give Putin some way of backing down without losing face. And shouldn't you give him that opportunity, and therefore maybe speak a little more softly than I hear the rest of you advocating?

DAN HENNINGER: Well, that's what's sometimes known as a Chinese exit. Yeah, I think up to a point he should do that. The president is doing that for Putin right now. But there's going to be a point beyond which he's going to have to make a decision. If Putin doesn't take the opportunity, George Bush is going to have to step in on the side of the Ukrainian people, I think.

PAUL GIGOT: All right. I want to go around the table and get each of you to answer. Is the next president of the Ukraine going to be Putin's man or not? Claudia?

CLAUDIA ROSETT: Oh boy. I'm going to be on Yuschenko. That's good Viktor.

PAUL GIGOT: Dan?

DAN HENNINGER: With all the TV cameras on this day and night, yeah, I think the good guys are going to win this one.

BRET STEPHENS: Well, so long as the TV cameras remain, they're going to win.

PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I think it's inevitable now that with the Supreme Court decision, that he's going to win what looks to be a new election. All right, thank you all very much.

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