The Path to a Free and Democratic Ukraine

By
F. Joseph Dresen

"I think one of the most interesting things about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine is the extent to which it really was a democratic movement—that is, a movement of the Ukrainian people to decide their own fate," said John Tefft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at a Kennan Institute lecture on 10 February 2005. Joining Tefft were former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine Steven Pifer and William Miller, Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center.

Tefft explained that the Ukrainian presidential election was the primary focus of U.S. relations with Ukraine since the fall of 2003. U.S. and European diplomats repeatedly told the Ukrainian authorities, both publicly and privately, that "we were watching the election closely, and that we considered it a test of Ukraine's commitment to democracy." U.S. election-related assistance to Ukraine was approximately $18 million, according to Tefft, and was used for nonpartisan training of political parties, fostering independent sources of information, and education of election officials. Of particular note, according to Tefft: "The United States funded what I think was probably the largest election observer effort ever mounted, which turned out to be critical in spotlighting and documenting the electoral fraud" after the November round of elections.

Tefft reported that there have been accusations in certain press outlets that the United States interfered on behalf of candidate Viktor Yushchenko. "This simply is not true," contended Tefft, "At no time did any American official in a responsible position, either here in Washington or in Kyiv, ever offer support to a particular candidate. Our support was for the process."

Now that President Yushchenko has been inaugurated, stated Tefft, the task before the United States is to help him achieve the reforms he has expressed as priorities for Ukraine. These include helping Ukraine reduce its aging conventional weapons inventory, including portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), contributing towards the construction of a new containment structure at the Chornobyl site, and increased U.S. aid to assist Ukraine implement its reform agenda. The United States also supports Ukraine in its desire to improve relations with the West and with Western institutions such as NATO and the EU.

Steven Pifer echoed Tefft's positive assessment of the outlook for Ukraine, noting that Ukraine "has the best prospect that it has had since 1991 to become a success story, and it is in our interest to see them succeed." However, he cautioned, Ukraine confronts some very serious challenges both at home and abroad. It is important for the United States to bear this in mind, and to realize that President Yushchenko may not be able to move as far or as quickly as he or we would like with his reform agenda.

These challenges include building a political coalition while at the same time reaching out to Yanukovych voters; separating business interests from government administration; and pursuing better relations with Western international institutions such as NATO and the EU while maintaining good relations with a concerned Russia.

Pifer noted that the Yushchenko team had endorsed a UNDP-sponsored study that recommended one hundred political and economic reforms. It will be very important for the Ukrainian government to identify what reforms are priorities and move in a focused and determined way to implement them, Pifer said, in order for the government to demonstrate early practical results both at home and abroad. Pifer added that campaigning for the 2006 parliamentary election begins in the fall, which limits the time available to the government to get things done. "The Orange Revolution—becoming president—was the easy part," concluded Pifer, "and now Viktor Yushchenko has to deal with the hard part, which is succeeding as president."

William Miller emphasized that there has been a genuine revolution in Ukraine: "It is a different place, and Yushchenko is a different leader. And this is so, even though he comes out of the same background as the previous crowd." Those differences, Miller argued, were forged in the struggles for a new national identity and a new value system. Yushchenko's entire team, Miller continued, appeared on the Maydan platform, and is "tough and hardened by the battle."

"The first order of business is to fulfill the pledges made by Yushchenko and the other leaders at the Maydan to the people at the Maydan," stated Miller. The agenda is a clear one, according to Miller. It includes rooting out corruption, improving the social safety net, enacting reforms in agriculture and taxation; and reversing past privatization deals that are determined to be corrupt. "What is going on now in the Rada is critically important," concluded Miller, "It is the test of whether the Orange Revolution will succeed. A party has to be created that will win, to be sure that the reforms begun will be continued and enduring. In the next year, the kind of assistance that was given by the OSCE and the various organizations that work on elections has to be continued."

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