HOW TO STEAL A COUNTRY
By RALPH PETERS
November 24, 2004 — UKRAINE remains an independent state. For now. But last week's shamelessly rigged presidential-election results were engineered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin's security services.
Exit polling, opinion polling, international election observers, Ukrainian local authorities and the people agree that opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western Democrat, won. But the pro-Moscow government of Ukraine claims that the spectacularly corrupt incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych received the majority of votes.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to Kiev's streets in protest. Even Yanukovych has been wary of declaring his own victory. Yet Putin immediately extended his congratulations to the nervous "victor."
The Kremlin poured massive funding into the election campaign. The pro-Russian mafia that has a bully's grip on the Kiev government stuffed ballot boxes, manipulated absentee ballots, extorted votes and then simply changed the numbers to give Moscow's man a 49 percent to 46 percent lead.
This is the biggest test for democracy on Europe's frontier since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia always seemed fated for a hybrid government — part elections, part strongman rule — but Ukraine could go either way. Especially in the country's west and center, Ukrainians have struggled for freedom for centuries.
But Russia regards Ukraine as its inalienable possession, stolen away as the U.S.S.R. collapsed.
Fatefully, the ties were never severed between the successors of the KGB in Moscow and Kiev. Now the grandchildren of the Russian thugs who mercilessly put down Nestor Makhno's Ukrainian revolt against the Bolsheviks, who slaughtered Ukraine's prosperous peasantry and murdered Ukraine's intelligentsia are back at work.
This election may have been Ukraine's last chance.
The tale begins almost a millennium ago. Converted to Christianity, Kiev was the jewel of the north, a magnificent city of churches and piety; Moscow was a shantytown. Then the Mongols came, destroying "Kievan Rus." Muscovy slowly expanded to fill the vacuum left by the destruction of the great Slavic civilization of the Steppes.
For centuries, Ukraine's Cossacks resisted Polish and Russian attempts to rob them of freedom. But by the end of the 18th century, Russia finally broke the Cossacks, dragooning them into its own military forces.
Subjugated, Ukraine responded with a 19th-century cultural revival. The Bolsheviks put an end to that. The first and greatest victims of Lenin and Stalin were the people of Ukraine.
Finally, in 1991, after six centuries, Ukraine regained its independence. Putin intends to take it away again.
With its declining population and threatened Far-Eastern territories, Russia desperately wants the additional population and strategic position of Ukraine back within its own borders, beginning as a "voluntary" federation. An ethnic-Russian population in eastern Ukraine serves as a fifth column.
Disgracefully, the international community appears ready to give Putin a free hand in subverting the freedom of a sovereign, democratic state. President Bush values his relationship with Putin, although Putin hasn't hesitated to undermine Washington's policies.
While constructive cooperation makes sense, there are times when the United States must draw a line — unless we intend to make a mockery of our support for freedom and democracy.
This is one of those times. President Bush should not let a bunch of gangsters in Kiev and the sons of the KGB in Moscow destroy the hopes of a major European state. Ukraine isn't Russia's to steal.
The people of Ukraine who went to the polls to elect Viktor Yushchenko as their president, who want to be democratic, Western and free, need to hear from the White House. So does Mr. Putin.
If we allow Ukraine's freedom to be destroyed without so much as a murmur from our president, we will have betrayed the ideals we claim to support at home, in Iraq and around the world.
Ralph Peters worked as a Russia expert during his military career.
Ralph Peters, How to Steal a Country, New York Post Online, 24-Nov-2004, originally at www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/32142.htm