Heroes of Ukraine

Editorial

Los Angeles Times

December 4, 2004

The 21 justices of the Ukrainian Supreme Court displayed courage Friday in declaring that the country's November presidential election was rigged and in calling for a new ballot Dec. 26. The judges defied the current president, his handpicked successor, who had been fraudulently declared the winner, and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who appears to be the real loser in this Ukrainian drama.

Viktor Yushchenko, a Western-oriented economist declared the real winner by international observers, has done a good job of keeping protests peaceful. He remains a favorite to win a legitimate election, much to Moscow's dismay. The hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters added their names to the roster of peaceful revolutionaries in former Soviet republics like Georgia and onetime Moscow satellites like Poland and Czechoslovakia.

A day before the Supreme Court ruling, Putin, a former KGB agent, reverted to his Soviet-era form. The outgoing Ukrainian president, Leonid D. Kuchma, left a crisis-torn nation to fly to an airport near Moscow and meet the Russian president. Putin, who campaigned for Kuchma's designated successor, Viktor Yanukovich, arrogantly criticized the demands for a new, clean election. He said if there was a new round of balloting, the election process would have to start anew rather than just redo a runoff. Yushchenko and Yanukovich were the top two winners in the first round. But an entirely new election would take time, leaving Kuchma in power and giving him the chance to choose a new candidate pleasing to him and Putin. Reformers have staged street demonstrations against Kuchma for months, and the election campaign highlighted a deep divide between the eastern part of Ukraine, where many look toward Moscow, and the west, which looks toward Europe.

European mediators played an important part in getting Yushchenko, Kuchma and Yanukovich to negotiate. Washington was strong in denouncing the fraud and quick to applaud the Supreme Court ruling. Thirteen years after escaping Moscow's rule, Ukraine is showing signs of real independence.