New York Times
December 28, 2004
Ukraine has a new face of democracy: the deeply disfigured visage of Viktor Yushchenko, who survived poisoning, a flawed initial runoff, a Supreme Court battle and Vladimir Putin's ire to win Sunday's presidential election handily. Mr. Yushchenko's first-place finish is a victory for more than his own "orange revolution." It is a triumph for all Ukrainians, who showed they were capable of using their own institutions to correct the voting fraud that marred the earlier election.
Now it's time for Russia and the West to back away and let Mr. Yushchenko begin the hard task of uniting his deeply divided country. It will be a tough job. Returns show that western precincts, including Kiev, voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Yushchenko, while the Russian-speaking east voted almost entirely for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. Even allowing for the irregularities in the Nov. 21 election, which Ukraine's Supreme Court nullified, it's clear that the most economically viable part of the nation - eastern and southern Ukraine - will be the center of opposition to the new government.
Mr. Yushchenko has promised to break the hold of what he calls a corrupt elite that has enriched itself during the privatization of state resources. He has also pledged to orient Ukraine toward Europe and the West. That's all to the good. But if he wants to dampen talk of separatism from the half of his country that believes it lost the election, he will also have to repair relations with Russia, which has strong ties to eastern and southern Ukraine. And Europe and the United States, which both rightly fought for a fair and democratic election, must now work to dispel any perception that it is Washington and Brussels, not Kiev, calling the shots.
For his part, Mr. Putin disgraced himself by meddling in the internal affairs of Ukraine - which he clearly considers one of his territories. He even summoned Ukrainian authorities to a Moscow airport to demand that the first compromised election results stand. Now Russia has lost face. Mr. Putin may well have been playing solely to Kremlin hard-liners opposed to the West, but in so doing, he alienated the eventual winner of the Ukrainian balloting.
Initial reports suggest that Mr. Yushchenko is so far proving to be the bigger man. Last week he said that his first trip after the election would be to Moscow. It would certainly now behoove Mr. Putin to paste a smile on his face and put a spring in his step as he welcomes the new Ukrainian president.