By Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Assistant National Editor
The Washington Times, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Within the forthcoming year, the fate of Ukraine hangs in the balance. Since
its independence in 1991 following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine
has been mired by a flailing economy, a corrupt leadership and isolation
from the West. It now faces the prospect of fighting for its very survival
as an independent state. The Bush administration would be wise to exert its
influence in the impending battle.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is deeply unpopular among most voters. The
Ukrainian leader has been on the defensive over accusations he had a role in
the murder in 2000 of journalist Georgi Gongadze, whose headless body was
found in a forest near Kiev. Furthermore, Mr. Kuchma has been criticized by
the Bush administration for his authoritarian rule, human-rights record and
restrictions on the media.
Relations between the United States and Ukraine soured last year following
the release of secretly taped conversations in which Mr. Kuchma was
apparently heard approving the sale of a $100 million sophisticated radar
system to Iraq.
More ominously, Mr. Kuchma seeks to abrogate Ukraine's hard-won national
sovereignty: he wants to foster closer ties with Moscow. A staunch
Russophile, his ultimate goal is for Kiev to rejoin a Great Russian
Imperium. At Yalta, he recently signed an economic union pact with the
leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. He has a tight-knit rapport!with
Russian President Vladimir Putin who wants Ukraine to fall under Moscow's
sphere of influence.
In January, Mr. Putin nominated Mr. Kuchma to become the leader of the
Commonwealth of Independent States, an alliance of former Soviet republics.
Under Mr. Kuchma's tenure, Russian companies have acquired strategic
Ukrainian economic assets, especially in the energy and chemical sectors. He
is transforming his nation into a Russian economic vassal.
Mr. Kuchma's second term is set to expire next year. According to the
constitution, he is prohibited from seeking another term in office. However,
many Western diplomats fear the Ukrainian strongman and his political
cronies may cling to power by manipulating or altering the country's
election laws. Such a move would only further undermine Ukraine's prestige
and credibility in the West, thereby strengthening the influence of Mr.
Kuchma's pro-Russian advisers who seek to forge a union of Slavic states.
Mr. Kuchma's Russophile policies have created a backlash among the Ukrainian
electorate. If next year's presidential elections are free and fair, the
surging democratic opposition led by former reformist Prime Minister Viktor
Yushchenko is expected to sweep into power.
Mr. Yushchenko is a pragmatic reformer, who wants to preserve Ukraine's
national sovereignty and distinct cultural identity. He and his democratic
allies vow to implement sweeping free-market reforms, the rule of law, a
genuine Western-style press and to eventually integrate Ukraine into the
European Union and NATO.
The Bush administration should do everything it can to support!the
pro-reformist forces. This resource-rich nation of roughly 55 million is of
immense geopolitical importance to the United States. An electoral victory
by the democratic opposition would provide the impetus for spreading
economic development and liberal governance throughout Eurasia.
Moreover, a prosperous, democratic Ukraine can act as a strategic bulwark
against Russian expansionism. Under Mr. Putin's leadership, Russia has
increasingly taken on the role of the successor to the defunct Soviet
empire, threatening the interests of its neighbors and America as well.
Moscow has increased its meddling in the internal affairs not only of
Ukraine, but also of Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The Russian army continues to wage a brutal war in Chechnya. Russian
companies have sold missile-technology and weapons to rogue states such as
Saddam Hussein's Iraq, China and Iran. Moscow opposed the war in Iraq and
continued to provide assistance to Saddam's sadistic regime.
In contrast, under pressure from the pro-Western Ukrainian electorate, Kiev
supported the U.S.-led military campaign. Ukraine has even contributed
nearly 2,000 peacekeepers in Iraq — the fourth-largest foreign troop
contingent in that country. Kiev can serve as a counterweight for the West
against the Russian Bear's grasping claws.
But there is also a moral imperative for a U.S.-Ukraine alliance. No other
peoples suffered more than the Ukrainians under the murderous reign of
Soviet communism. At a recent conference at McGill University in Montreal,
sponsored by Memorial, a leading Kiev research institute, the full extent of
Soviet atrocities was exposed. Roman Krutsyk, the head of the institute,
explained that newly discovered documents and archives show that about "50
million ethnic Ukrainians within the borders of the Soviet Union" were
killed during the Bolshevik regime from 1917 to 1991.
The most barbaric single event was the terror famine of 1932-33, in which
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin systematically starved to death 10 million
Ukrainian peasants in one of the greatest genocides of the 20th century.
Stalin sought the destruction of the peasantry in order to permanently
subjugate the Ukrainian nation.
Mr. Krutsyk says evidence has emerged revealing Soviet authorities practiced
large-scale ethnic cleansing, in which depopulated Ukrainian villages were
resettled with ethnic Russians throughout Eastern and Southern Ukraine. This
new information is only now beginning to seep into the Ukrainian public
consciousness. It must also be widely disseminated in the West, where many
liberal academics and journalists continue to downplay communist crimes.
After having won the Cold War, the United States has for the most part
turned its back on Ukraine. The result is that the tragic suffering of the
Ukrainian people has been forgotten and the country's future is imperiled.
By failing to promote a strategic alliance with Kiev, Washington risks
missing a golden opportunity to bring Ukraine back into its rightful place
among the European community of nations.
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