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Ukraine Situation ...


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Well, for one I don't want Ukraine to head the way of Russia. In the past few years the President Kuchma PM Yanukovych government has gained a nearly all control over the state owned media, has been involved in a lot of political scandals (including the murder of a journalist) and has been increasingly seen as authoritarian. I for one, favour stronger relations with the European Union, and less of a reliance on Russia.

So overall, in my opinion the events that are currently going on in Ukraine are the right ones. The protestors have a right to protest, especially when:

1.) Several exit polls showed at least 10% advantage for Yuschenko over PM Yanukovych.

2.) US, EU, Canadian observers called the vote unfair, and stated that it fell short of democracy.

3.) State owned media showed a very strong bias to the incumbent PM Yanukovych.

4.) Yuschenko won the first run off (how could it turn around so quickly, or how could Yanukovych win so many more votes is beyond me.

You could probably write a whole book on this, but I support Yuschenko.

We should be glad we live in a democracy such as Canada.

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The danger in Ukraine is that this could lead to a civil war. While the election was unfair, Yanukovich does have strong support among the people in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea where the population is ethnically Russian. If the government decides to take a hardline stance and Putin gives them support things could get nasty very quick. The Crimea was given to the Ukraine as a gift in 1954 by Krushchev to celebrate 300 years of Russian and Ukrainian union against the wishes of its inhabitants. Since the fall of the Soviet Union the population has favoured rejoining Russia. Even the disputed election results show that Yanukovych won the eastern regions and Yuschenko the western regions.

This situation is very similar to the recent one in Georgia which ended relatively peacefully but in a not entirely satisfactory result for Russia. With the exception of the Baltic states most of the former states of the Soviet Union turned into democracies in name that were actually dictatorships. Kuchma's government has been very brutal and committed many political murders. Russia under Yeltsin was relatively democratic by regional standards but run incompetently. Putin is a far more skilled and intelligent leader but seems to be moving Russia towards a more centrally controlled and less democratic state. He is also interested in reestablishing Russian power and control in the region. After more than a decade of being largely ignored by the West, many of the former Republics are also interested in tighter relationships with Russia which while not yet near Western standards of living is still in far better shape than most of its neighbours including the Ukraine. Ukraine is far larger and more important than Georgia and the question is how far Putin and his Ukrainian allies are willing to go to ensure that it remains in the Russian fold. If both Ukraine and Georgia elect pro-Western governments this might create a trend in the region away from countries rebonding with Russia. It would also show the citizens of the many not entirely democratic democracies including Russia that they can take power away from their corrupt leaders. It should also be noted that the West in particular the US have not played a very admirable role in regional developments. There has been little effort to promote economic development and trade in the region. Not even a miniscule portion of the massive amount of money spent on military operations against the Soviet Union has gone into helping these countries become successful free countries. The US has largely concentrated on its own self interest, i.e. oil revenues and miltary intrigues designed to reduce Russia's power and increase its own. The majority of inhabitants of the former Soviet Union have seen their standard of living decrease dramatically from Soviet times without much increase in freedom.

I would hope that either Yuschenko is declared the winner or a new election under better conditions could be held. A lot will also be running on how Yuschenko governs and how the west responds in the future. Many dictators have been replaced by democratic opposition who quickly imitated their predecessors when actually in power. The Ukrainian nationalists who make up a large portion of Yuschenko's power base are also not known for particularly democratic tendencies. I think all of the region's countries should move towards the west including Russia. However, if the west doesn't start getting more involved in this region in a less self-interested, quick profit manner it will be hard to influence Russia's slide towards a less democratic more militant power and the movement of its neighbouring countries towards alignment with Russia. The Ukraine needs to balance the two influences of the west and east. Joining the EU would be a postive step but joining NATO would probably bring negative consequences for the whole region.

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The USA and Canada will not recognize the newly elected PM, Yanukovych.

quote:The US has largely concentrated on its own self interest,

Interestingly enough, the Candidate that the US favours in these elections, wants to pull Ukrainian troops out of Iraq.

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quote:Originally posted by Grizzly

The Ukrainian nationalists who make up a large portion of Yuschenko's power base are also not known for particularly democratic tendencies.

Good post, but I would dispute this statement. Isn't it obvious by now that Yuschenko's supporters want real democracy? And whatever happened in the second world war with Ukrainian nationalists doesn't matter much anymore (ex: Poland's close ties with Yuschenko)

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There is excellent coverage on the Ukrainian election and the history behind it on the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4045449.stm

Check in particular the election map which although from the disputed official results is still probably fairly accurate in regards to how split the nation is. Some interesting recent developments are that several military and police units have openly declared support for Yuschenko. The Russian consulate in the western city of Lvov has asked for armed protection as they have been threatened by police wearing the opposition's orange colours. The state controlled television stations have also declared that they are tired of being censored and told what to say and now fully back Yuschenko. In the east the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (home of Shaktar) have apparently declared that they want to separate (probably with the intention of joining Russia) if the results are not upheld. In Donetsk there are apparently large demonstrations equivalent to those in Kiev but in support of Yanukovich. Both sides are threatening strikes if they don't get their way but the east is economically more powerful and also has the coal mines that help to make the Ukrainian winter more bearable.

The regional split in Ukraine seems largely due to who ruled the different areas in Ukraine's past. This seems to have caused the cultural differences in the country as I don't think there is much racial difference between Russians and Ukrainians and the languages are very similar (although I know from experience that one should never say this to a Ukrainian). Kiev was the early capital of the Russian nation until the Mongols invaded since which Ukraine has rarely been autonomous. After the Mongol occupation of Russia was overthrown, power moved to northern cities with Moscow eventually emerging as the winner of the fight to be the capital. Present day Ukraine was split roughly along the Dniepr river with the Russians controlling the eastern territory and the west being controlled by the Polish and at times the Austro-Hungarian empire. This split lasted until 1940 when the Soviets took over the western area from the Poles in the course of World War 2 (the famed Ukrainian famine of the 30's was directed against the eastern Ukraine and other parts of southern Russia as the west was not yet part of the Soviet Union). Armed resistence to the USSR existed in western Ukraine into the 50's (as well as brutal Soviet countermeasures) and these areas have always felt themselves less "Soviet" than the east. The culture of the western part of the country is more influence by hundred of years of being ruled by central European countries while the east is similarly influence by Russian culture.

Both canadidates and Kuchma are actually from the east although Yuschenko is from a Ukrainian speaking town (the split is not as cut and dry as it may appear). Each has their own website (Yanukovich does not have any english on his, the other two have very good english sections).

The addresses are:

Kuchma (I especially like the section on his support for human rights, I guess journalists don't count as human as he has frequently murdered them) http://www.president.gov.ua/eng/

Yuschenko: http://www.razom.org.ua/

Yanukovich: http://www.ya2004.com.ua/

Hopefully whatever happens the resolution will be peaceful.

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I haven't heard anything about Yanukovich slapping Lukashenko although it would be great if he did and would certainly slightly improve my opinion of him. However, it seems unlikely as Lukashenko is the only world leader other than Putin who officially congratulated Yanukovich. Another thing that makes me doubt this is the following incident:

Egg incident

Mr Yanukovych's opponents have often made fun of his appearance - he is almost two metres tall (6ft 6ins) and is reported to weigh at least 110kg (240lb).

He has often played up his physical prowess, stressing his skills as a parachutist and a pilot.

Given this, he was widely ridiculed after the now infamous "egg incident" in Ivano-Frankivsk, when an opposition activist threw an egg at him in public.

Mr Yanukovych collapsed to the ground, groaning and clutching his chest.

Initially hospitalised in intensive care, he recovered within hours and went on television to say he felt sorry for the "wayward" youngster who had thrown the egg.

Putin apparently doesn't like or think very highly of Lukashenko but this doesn't stop him from dealing with him and Belorussia is steadily moving closer and closer to rejoining Russia (I have never understood exactly what the benefit or motivation for this would be for Lukashenko although the move is probably more popular with Belorussians than it is with Russians).

The reference to the Ukranian nationalist movement is not just in reference to their allying themselves with the Nazis in WW2. This movement like many similar extreme nationalist movements has always had some scary ideas and been associated with some shady characters even during Soviet times. The extremity of the situation during Soviet times probably moved the nationalist resistence to more extreme views but this tendency has not abated nor have their mafia ties been cut.

To see the current issue as solely one of protesters demanding real democracy is far too simple. This may be the intent of the people on the streets but is not necessarily the power that is moving things behind the scenes. The other motivation of the people on the streets is to ensure that their side (political, ethnic, language) wins power. In such a divided political situation the losing side will almost always declare that the election was unfair and don't ignore the large counter demonstrations in the east that we are not being shown. I think the election was rigged but even the notoriously innaccurate exit polls claim that the split was 55% to 45% for Yuschenko, not a large margin of victory. With the country so fundamentally divided one has to question what the future holds for the country. Can it survive with its present borders which are not necessarily the historically defined borders of the Ukraine?

The most important thing behind the politics in this region is to know who stands behind each movement. We know a lot about who is standing behind Yanukovich but far less about who is behind Yuschenko. A lot has been talked about the Russians supporting and funding Yanukovich but which countries are funding Yuschenko. Is the US funding him like they funded the Georgian opposition? If they are I don't believe for one minute it is out of the goodness of their hearts or their professed love of democracy. What will they demand for their money? Nato membership followed by the building of US bases on the Russian border as they are planning to do in eastern Poland in what I think is a very destabilizing and scary strategy? While Yuschenko may pull Ukrainian troops out of Iraq (or may change his mind when in power) their presence there is largely symbolic, it is a small force whose removal wouldn't create any large problems. Far more important to the US is having a presence in a large neighbouring country of Russia in the second most important country in the region. What powers are supporting Yuschenko within Ukraine and what do they want for this support? Where do the mafia and the oligarchs stand? Are there certain out of favour or regional based branches of these groups that want to better their position? Yuschenko is a former key member of the Kuchma government (rising as high as Prime Minister) during which numerous human rights violations occured. These problems didn't begin the day Yuschenko and Kuchma had a falling out because Kuchma feared Yuschenko's popularity. He was popular because he improved the economic situation of the country and stabilized the currency not because he believed in human rights and democracy. While in power both the liberal and nationalist opposition groups wanted to join forces with him, an offer he refused until he was fired by Kuchma. He didn't become such a force for democracy until he lost his undemocratic power. What will happen if he takes over and the Ukrainian economy gets even worse than the terrible situation it is presently in? What will occur if the people get a government which is more representative of west Ukraine and may or may not be more democratic but this causes the Crimea and several other republics to separate?

The poisoning story is also somewhat dubious, many doctors have said such a facial disfigurement is more likely an incident of a skin condition dramatically worsened by high stress than poisoning. It would apparently be quite a feat to be able to disfigure someone like that through poison. Poison would be much more effective in killing someone as opposed to mere disfigurement. No matter though as the story has already received massive coverage on CNN and other sources.

Don't get me wrong I think Kuchma is a dictator and I hope a new, fair election is held. I think Yuschenko is a much better choice than Yanukovich and I hope he can change things for the better. However, the television coverage we are getting is very biased, simplistic and pro-western. When they even show the counter-demonstrations there is always some comment that they are industrial workers (i.e. stupid) bused in from the east and whose support has been bought by a recent wage increase. The reason they are bused in is Kiev is the capital but also Yuschenko territory and the western media has made no effort to visit cities in the eastern regions to get the other side's point of view. Why don't we see the Donetsk demonstrations? If the Yanukovich supporters want to get any coverage they have to show up in Kiev. Great coverage from our free media. In Russia there are three political groups, Putin and his strong central government, the small liberal opposition who is funded by the oligarchs (against whom Putin is fighting and who are even less democratic than Putin) and the communists largely supported by elderly people who remember how much better their living standard was under Brezhnev. None of these groups is truly democratic and sometimes the communists seem the cleanest in the bunch as they are neither tied in with the mafia nor the oligarchs. I doubt the Ukrainian political situation is much cleaner than the Russian one. This situation is being presented as a simple situation of a dictator being overthrown by a nationwide popular uprising led by a great democratic figure. The west and in particularly the US want the figure in power who is more favourable to their interest and that is the story we are being presented by our media.

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If there is no deep split why do you claim that Yanukovich is able to manipulate the vote in the east and south and not in the whole country? The western observers and opposition's own exit poll results show Yuschenko with a 10% lead, i.e. roughly 55 to 45 % (official results were 49 to 46 for Yanukovich), still a victory but showing that close to half of the population supports Yanukovich. Neither poll may be accurate but both show far more support for Yanukovich than one would believe from the television coverage we are getting. Yuschenko has the luck that the capital and media centre of the country is also one of his bastions of support and what is happening in that city is what the western media wants to see. The BBC though has been fairer than most and showed todays Donetsk demonstration in which 10's of thousands were demonstrating for Yanukovich. Is this demonstration any less legitimate than that in Kiev?

Claiming that there is no split and supporting it by a dubious opposition site article from an anonymous group of enforcement staff who neither sign their names nor what particular body they are from is not very convincing. A neutral observer should be sceptical of both sides and there are some things on the maidan website and Yuschenko's website that seem just as suspicious as those seen on the websites of Kuchma and Yanukovich. What we are now seeing is many groups and politicians jumping on the Yuschenko bandwagon more because he looks like he is going to win than because they believe in him. Many of these same groups would have supported Yanukovich if he looked like the best bet for power. Suddenly groups of police, politicians and media have seen the light and become democratic although they didn't have such tendencies during the campaign.

As I said above I do think the election was rigged but that Yanukovich received a 40-45% of votes that were legitimate. I also think we have received very biased and simplified coverage (particularly in television) of the election and demonstrations which has failed to cover all of the issues and the real serious consequences that could result from whatever happens next. I hope Yuschenko is the great democrat and leader that he is portrayed but excuse me for being sceptical. Will things really change significantly if he forms the next government? Could this lead to regions splitting from the country or a civil war? Today a Romanian worker talking about the political situation in his country on the BBC said, "15 years ago we went out on the streets against the communists to fight for freedom, food to eat and a decent standard of living. Today we are still fighting for the exact same thing." This is probably the best summary I have heard of what has happened in the former communist countries of Europe in the last 15 years and will probably continue to be the case in Ukraine regardless of who forms the next government.

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In a disputed election such as this one, noone knows who won. This is particularly the case when the disputed winner does have a legitimate following of in excess of 40%. Two things were apparent before the election, there would be irregularities during the election and the opposition would claim that the election was rigged if they didn't win regardless of the evidence to back the claim. Whether the irregularities were large enough to change the outcome is not known by you, myself nor the opposition. We may have our reasons for believing they were but only a new election can prove this is the case.

You are obviously a supporter of Yuschenko. I support neither him nor Yanukovic but think I should view Yuschenko with the same sceptical eye that I look at Yanukovic. Certainly the Kuchma government was brutal, undemocratic and incompetent. Yet both candidates were important members of this government as was the opposition's number two leader Tymoshenko. She and Yuschenko only became great opposition leaders when they were kicked out of Kuchma's government, rather like all the politicians currently aligning themselves with the opposition due to opportunity. Much brutality and corruption occured while Yuschenko and Tymoshenko were in this government and continued during Yanukovic's government.

I don't believe the issue of this election is solely the fight for democracy as it has been presented by our media. There are unsavoury groups behind both parties. On a national level Russia stands behind Yanukovich as the US and EU stand behind Yuschenko. Both have their own interests in the foreground, i.e. they are less interested in a free independent Ukraine than they are in a Ukraine that does what they want it to do. Both parties have support from various business interests, mafia, trade groups and police and military units. The difference between the parties is not in the purity of their support but rather which groups feel they would benefit from which government. For example, the eastern based mafia interests would support Yanukovich,the western Yuschenko. The reason that Yuschenko is so unpopular in the east is that while his reforms benefitted the economy of western Ukraine the industrial workers in the east who are the economic motor of the country were losing their jobs or were not paid with any regularity all of which improved greatly under Yanukovic.

The key issue in this election is the future makeup and character of the Ukraine. The opposition has a western Ukraine, western Europe vision in which the "pure" Ukrainian culture and language has the upper hand. Yanukovich's vision is a eastern Ukraine, former Soviet Union countries orientated in which the Russian languange and culture may not be dominant but has an influence larger than the Russian population percentage warrants. Noone seems to be really supporting the idea of a multi-cultural, unified vision of Ukraine where each side is equal although both sides mouth some platitudes to this if foreign journalists are listening. Maybe if both sides are so set in their ways, certain regions should break off, the present borders are of fairly recent origin anyway. The west could then have a more pure Ukrainian state and tie their fortunes to Europe and hope that some economic aid and trade will actually follow all the nice words. The east could rejoin Russia which with they feel more comfortable and hitch their economically strong regions with the Russian economy that is far stronger than the Ukrainian one at the present. Russia may not be the democratic model like the EU but does generally get economically involved in the regions with actual deeds and not just words.

Interestingly enough Yuschenko refused an offer by Yanukovich for the election to be rerun with both of them stepping down and having another member of their party as a replacement candidate. If there is a rerun with more fair coverage one shouldn't assume that this will undoubtably benefit Yuschenko. More tv coverage will also mean more scrutiny of his views and he could be outperformed by Yanukovich during the campaign. As far as the media coverage goes, everyone knows the Ukrainian media is government controlled and biased but I am always loathe to be too harsh in my criticism without looking at our media which is increasingly controlled by a small group of corporations. For example, the whole situation of the eastern support of Yanukovich reported by me, a guy sitting at his computer in Canada with almost no resources at hand, three days before the BBC started giving it some coverage which has gradually flowed over into the other networks. Even still there is far less coverage of Donetsk than Kiev and often comments that the protesters are only there because they are paid (they must have a lot of money to pays 10s of thousands) and are drunk on vodka (this is the Ukraine, there are probably many protesters on both sides drunk on vodka). In conclusion, I remain sceptical of both sides and the forces behind them. In the end the only things that will probably lead to a great change in the country is if it breaks up. Otherwise it will be mostly business as usual regardless of which party forms the government.

On a lighter side, the above mentioned Tymoshenko is quite a babe at 44 years old. Her website is http://www.tymoshenko.com.ua/eng/index/.

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