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November 30, 2004
Momentum Builds For New Ukrainian Election

The major players in the Ukrainian political crisis all seem to be moving towards the same solution to defuse the massive rejection of the fraud-ridden polling last weekend. Yesterday, both current President Leonid Kuchma and his protege and nominal winner of the discredited election, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, agreed in principle to a new election. Today, Germany reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to "respect" a new election in Ukraine:

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday to respect the results of any new election in Ukraine, the German government said.

The three-sentence statement from the government suggested a softening of Moscow's position and appeared to increase the likelihood of a new poll to resolve a week-old crisis triggered by the country's disputed presidential election on Nov. 21. ...

"The chancellor and the Russian president were in agreement that the results of a new election, based on Ukraine law and the will of the Ukraine people, would be strictly respected."

Seeing as how Russia and Putin represent the 800-pound gorilla on this particular issue, seeing it finally sit on the side of a new vote demonstrates that even the Russians see the uselessness of insisting that the last vote was definitive. It gives Viktor Yushchenko's opposition more prestige and hope that the situation has moved towards a peaceful solution.

Yesterday, Putin's ally Kuchma and his hand-picked successor had already retreated to the same position:

Ukraine's president and prime minister said yesterday they support a rerun of the country's sharply contested presidential election, even as the Supreme Court began hearing a request that it rule the vote invalid. ... Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma accepted that idea in an announcement yesterday, offering a way out of an impasse that has kept crowds of up to 200,000 in the streets of the capital for a week.

Yanukovych did not go quite as far, only offering to re-poll in the regions where his support was strongest and where allegations of voter fraud crescendoed last week. However, the momentum clearly has built for the protestors in the street who have blockaded government buildings and insisted that the election results be overturned. In fact, Yanukovych's supporters have begun abandoning him publicly:

A dramatic collapse of support for the government from senior officials continued. For the first time yesterday, former President Leonid Kravchuk, who heads the powerful Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United), said he favored a new election and blamed Mr. Kuchma for the crisis.

Serhei Tihipko, Ukraine's central bank chief who ran Mr. Yanukovych's campaign, unexpectedly resigned from both posts yesterday. He told the Channel 5 broadcast station that if Mr. Yushchenko became president he would become part of a "constructive opposition." ...

Ukrainian diplomats around the world, including those based in Washington, are also supporting Mr. Yushchenko.

Yushchenko announced yesterday that his supporters in Parliament would call for the resignation of the Yanukovych government. Unlike in most Parliamentary systems, the Prime Minister is appointed by the President in Ukraine and Parliament has no mechanism for recalling him. But with Parliament already supporting Yuschchenko and the tide of public opinion drowning Yanukovuch and Kuchma, the call for a resignation may just be successful.

Addendum: Yanukovych's desperation clearly shows in this last-gasp offer to buy off Yuschchenko:

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, looking increasingly isolated in Ukraine's deepening political crisis, offered again on Tuesday to make his opposition rival premier if allowed to take up the presidency. ...

"If (falsification) is not proven and if the Supreme Court rules in favor of my victory, I am ready... to offer Viktor Andreyevich the post of prime minister."

Yanukovych also made the strange assertion that if new elections are held, neither of them should run for president. One thing is clear -- Yanukovych knows he can't win in a second, cleaner election and will do almost anything to keep from contesting it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 30, 2004 5:17 AM

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