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Feature Story September 17, 2004
 
Ukrainians In the Mist
Gorilla tactics in the campaign for Ukraine's highest office By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
Page 3 of 6
 
Yanukovich wouldn't have a prayer in a free and fair head-to-head election against Yushchenko. Not only does he charisma, but he is an ex-convict who has served time twice. In much of the US, as a convicted felon, he wouldn't even be allowed to vote for himself. Sixty-five percent of Ukrainians are against a former prisoner becoming president. Not a single person out of dozens I asked said they would vote for Yanukovich (of course, this was in relatively cosmopolitan Kiev and western Vinnitsa; the east might be different).

Yushchenko, by contrast, is a civilized, intelligent man running on an anti-corruption, pro-European integration platform. People from the Russified east worry that they might be marginalized if Yushchenko were to win, but that fear is blown way out of proportion. So, the Yanukovich team has adopted several strategies. The most effective is the most simple: they'll probably just stuff the ballot boxes. Lest anyone doubt his democratic credentials, at the end of August Yanukovich was quoted saying, "I do not believe in exit polls. These are new technologies that will be tested in Ukraine for the first time. We do not know how to manipulate them."

But they have also embarked on a smear campaign against Yushchenko to paint him as a both fascist nationalist with ties to extremist movements and an American stooge. This improbable combination is achieved with the help of proxies who have been labeled "technological candidates." A proto-fascist presidential candidate like Roman Kozak will make outrageous claims in his heavily accented Carpathian-Ukrainian about, say, expelling Russians from Ukraine and then in the next breath say they'll endorse Yushchenko in the runoff. Interfax has estimated that fringe Kozak is, after Yanukovich and Yushchenko, the highest spending candidate. Dmitri Korchinsky, a once respectable nationalist who has totally sold out, is given primetime air to relentlessly attack Yushchenko's nationalist credentials, accusing him of being an American lapdog funded by the CIA. By attacking Yushchenko from both sides, the goal is to drum up fear among the fifty percent of Ukraine that is Russian-speaking while alienating his moderate nationalist base.

Vinnitsa bomzhi: Rzhavsky s fifth column

Vinnitsa bomzhi: Rzhavsky s fifth column

But Rzhavsky doesn't fall into either of these categories. In fact, nobody really knows what the hell he's doing. This is his second run for president and he's not afraid to spend money. The most plausible explanation I've come up with is that he likes the sound of his own voice. It is almost tempting to take his words at face value. "I visited Transdneister recently," he told me last week, "and the divisions within Ukraine today are the same that led to war there 13 years ago. We could be on the verge of war. I may not be everyone's first choice, but I represent the only viable compromise that will avert bloodshed." Well, maybe not that tempting, after all.

It takes an overactive imagination to picture Ukrainians upset enough over politics to start killing each other. Rzhavsky's hypothesis is that if Yanukovich wins, most Ukrainians will be convinced the election was a fraud and take to the streets. If Yushchenko wins, there will be powerful vested interests with too much to lose to give up quietly. However, this is the same country that couldn't even muster enough will to dethrone Kuchma after tapes implicated him in the beheading of muckraking journalist Gregory Gongadze. No matter how blatant the theft of the elections, few people believe Ukrainians will muster the political will necessary to overturn the results. Short of an extremely well organized strike like we saw in Georgia's Rose Revolution, the results of the election are likely to stand. It's not likely, as Ukraine is much bigger, there's much more money at stake, and the entrenched powers now know what to expect from the opposition.


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