By Dick Morris - 11/24/04 12:00 AM EST
As an unpaid, volunteer adviser to Viktor Yushchenko, the democratic candidate for president, I have seen, firsthand, how Viktor Yanukovich, the Putin candidate backed by a coalition of the Russian Mafia, oil barons, former KGB officials and communists stole the election and thwarted the obvious will of the voters.Would-be czar Vladimir Putin has taken a giant step toward reasserting the regional hegemony of the former Soviet Union by stealing the election in Ukraine right under our noses.
As an unpaid, volunteer adviser to Viktor Yushchenko, the democratic candidate for president, I have seen, firsthand, how Viktor Yanukovich, the Putin candidate backed by a coalition of the Russian Mafia, oil barons, former KGB officials and communists stole the election and thwarted the obvious will of the voters.
While the former Soviet Union was composed of many smaller nations, now independent, the key was the combination of Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s 145 million people and Ukraine’s 45 million are the core of what was the Soviet empire.
Reuniting them has to be the primary goal of any aspiring Russian czar. But the Ukrainian people don’t want Russian domination.
The election contest pitted Yushchenko, who got the virtually solid support of the 60 percent of the population that is Ukrainian by ethnicity, against Yanukovich, who won equally united backing from the 40 percent that is ethnically Russian. The result was obvious: Exit polls (more accurate in Ukraine than when our own TV networks do them) showed Yushchenko winning by more than 10 points. But the final results, announced by the government, which supported Yanukovich, showed a small margin in favor of the Russian-backed candidate.
Putin regarded the contest as so important that he personally visited Ukraine in the weeks before the election to campaign for his candidate, a clear violation of the most elementary standards of independence and protocol. His former KGB henchmen — and once and future communists — combined with Russian organized-crime figures and oil barons to pump money into the race and to intimidate voters on the ground.
Yushchenko, a pro-Western former prime minister, survived two assassination attempts to make the race. At the start of the contest, he was run off the road while driving in Ukraine. When he walked away from the wreck, the opposition poisoned him. Hospitalized in Vienna, his doctors diagnosed the poison, which mimicked a stroke in its symptoms, and nursed him to recovery.
If they couldn’t commit murder, Putin’s boys decided to commit larceny and did all they could to stack the election. Their totally controlled print and television media — all the information outlets in the nation — refused to give any favorable coverage to Yushchenko and biased all their news toward Yanukovich. We couldn’t even buy advertising space in any mass-media outlet. But, undaunted, Yushchenko’s supporters got their message out by hand, distributing leaflets and fliers to every single household in the nation several times each week.
When, finally, the forces of freedom won the election, Putin’s operatives rigged the count and released totally phony results showing their stooge to be the winner.
The stakes could not be higher. If Ukraine and Russia combine, as Putin clearly
wants, the old Soviet Union will be back on the road to regional domination and the old ambitions of global power will return. And 45 million people will be cheated of the right to determine their own future.
We, in the West, are at best distracted and at worst willing to cede to Putin regional control in return for his assistance in the war on terror. This is a mistake of the same order of magnitude as the allies made in the 1930s in dealing with Hitler. The theft of the Ukrainian election is parallel to Germany’s decision to march into the Rhineland. And our refusal to notice or act is akin to the French and British policy of turning the other way.
Freedom may be on the march in the Middle East, but it is in full retreat in Eastern Europe.
So, again the echo of the Nixonian question about China: Who lost Ukraine?
Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.