Kiev, Ukraine, and WASHINGTON, D. C. — The international observers began arriving in Kiev by the planeload yesterday to oversee Sunday's presidential revote. By the weekend, the...
KIEV, Ukraine, and WASHINGTON, D.C. — The international observers began arriving in Kiev by the planeload yesterday to oversee Sunday’s presidential revote. By the weekend, the number of poll watchers is expected to swell to 12,000, the largest contingent of international observers ever to monitor an election.
The degree of Western interest — and funding — directed at Ukraine’s troubled democratic process over recent months has raised questions about the motives behind foreign assistance and its impact on this post-Soviet state.
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U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has alleged that $60 million in U.S. funding went overwhelmingly to finance activities that led to the “Orange Revolution,” two weeks of protest that followed the disputed victory by Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovich over opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and a few other foundations reportedly sponsored certain U.S. organizations, including Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the Solidarity Center, the Eurasia Foundation, Internews and several others to provide small grants and technical assistance to Ukrainian civil society. The European Union, individual European countries and the Soros-funded International Renaissance Foundation did the same.
Americans who have been involved in this process say that ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States has promoted democratic practices — including fair elections — in countries throughout the area of former Soviet influence.
“What the U.S. has been doing in Ukraine is the same thing we did in Romania and in other East European countries. We have been helping develop and strengthen organizations that support establishing the rule of law. We have worked on strengthening the election process,” said Jim Rosapepe, a former U.S. ambassador to Romania who has business ties to Eastern Europe.
Rosapepe and others see a difference between what the United States has done, and what they say Russian leader Vladimir Putin has tried to do.
“What we haven’t done is go and endorse candidates,” he said, referring to Putin’s trips to Ukraine to all but openly campaign for Yanukovich.
But Russia alleges that the United States is using “democracy building” as a stealthy means of toppling Moscow-friendly regimes, as in Serbia and Georgia, and replacing them with pro-Western ones.
Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected Russian academic who acted as an adviser to Yanukovich’s campaign, claims that alleged U.S. funding for the student group Pora, which organized the Orange Revolution, was part of a cynical powerplay. “This is not democratic,” he said. “Such people love democracy less than they dislike Russia.”
Canada, where citizens of Ukrainian descent make up a huge lobby, is sending 500 official observers to serve with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). While the United States is fielding just the OSCE quota of 100 official monitors, the unofficial Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, says it will be helping up to 2,000 people obtain accreditation.
“It’s like witnessing the birth of a nation,” said Ron Chyczij, coordinator of the unofficial Ukrainian-Canadian delegation, on why so many are coming. He says monitors have all been instructed to observe strict neutrality, and report any violations they find.
But he adds a view that would likely make them see red in the Kremlin: “I definitely think people would like to see a greater Western influence in Ukraine because it’s a way of getting away from the Russian influence that’s been here for so long.”