The news of George W. Bush’s re-election has drawn scant comment from Ukrainian policymakers. This is not surprising, given the fact that the U.S. elections took place just two days after Ukraine’s own crucial presidential poll, whose first round ended in a draw between opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The lack of comment on the U.S. elections from Yushchenko’s camp has been no surprise. Yushchenko’s rivals portray him as an American puppet, never missing an opportunity to mention that his wife is a U.S. citizen. Consequently, he very rarely speaks about the United States, seemingly to avoid supplying his enemies with any pretext to accuse him of excessive sympathies with America.
Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, however, hurried to congratulate Bush on his re-election. An official report on the congratulatory message, posted on Kuchma’s official web site, is dated 12:30 am Kyiv time on November 4, which means that Kuchma offered his congratulations to Bush before Democrat John Kerry had conceded. “I am sure that under your active guidance the U.S. will continue to be the global leader guarding peace, stability, and democracy,” Kuchma said. “No matter which complications the current world faces, Ukraine will remain a reliable strategic partner of America.” But apart from Kuchma’s congratulations, the Ukrainian government ventured no comment on the U.S. election result.
Ukraine’s mass media offered ample coverage of the U.S. elections, but most newspapers and television news programs confined themselves to quoting U.S. and European media, offering little or no editorial comment of their own. Even the notoriously anti-Western 2000 and Kievsky Telegraf weeklies did not go further than merely listing facts and figures about the U.S. elections. This was hardly a sign of a change to their editorial line, but rather the consequence of their heavy focus on Ukraine’s own elections. The notoriously anti-American Inter TV, which is linked to Kuchma administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, offered its viewers a rather curious bit of information: “Following Bush’s victory, Australia and Canada are bombarded with applications for asylum coming from the U.S.,” it said, quoting European media’s sympathies with all the “progressive” Americans, meaning those who voted for Kerry.
Ukrainian commentators concentrated on predicting the consequences of Bush’s victory for Ukraine’s relations with the United States. “Relations between America and Ukraine depend not on who becomes the U.S. president, but on what will happen in Ukraine soon,” cautioned Yevhen Fedchenko of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, a university known for its pro-Western and pro-opposition sympathies, apparently meaning the outcome of the November 21 presidential runoff. The parliamentary newspaper Holos Ukrayiny offered comments by Volodymyr Malynkovych, a former editor at the U.S.-financed Radio Liberty who is close to the Kuchma camp. “There will be the same president and the attitude to Ukraine will remain the same,” he predicted. “This is a superficial attitude, in my opinion, based on scarce knowledge of Ukrainian realities. The U.S. will continue to be guided by the principle according to which those who support them are good,” he said. Oleksandr Sushko, director of the Kyiv-based think tank Center for Peace, Conversion and Foreign Policy, was less pessimistic. “If Ukraine’s new government earns a good reputation and avoids scandals, one can, without a doubt, expect improvements in bilateral relations,” Holos Ukrayiny quoted him as saying.
The pro-Yushchenko web site Ukrayinska pravda, however, openly mourned Kerry ‘s defeat, predicting that Bush’s re-election would only make matters worse for Ukraine. “The Bush administration will continue making efforts to keep the mock anti-terror coalition, which Ukraine has joined, together. And it will turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and encroachments on freedom of speech in Ukraine,” the website speculated. This gloomy prediction is in line with the jealous mistrust of Bush’s administration that is widespread among Ukraine’s liberal and nationalist opposition. Many of those Ukrainians who oppose Kuchma’s government believe that Bush tacitly agreed to overlook corruption and undemocratic practices in Kyiv in exchange for Kuchma’ s support for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. “Ukraine’s presence in Iraq will push it further away from Europe bringing it closer to America. America’s focus on Iraq will push Ukraine onto the sidelines of U.S. foreign policy,” Ukrayinska pravda continued. “During Bush’s first term, foreign aid to Ukraine shrunk by almost $100 million, and it will shrink further. This will mean fewer exchanges between students, teachers, military personnel, and parliamentarians,” the opposition website warned.
(President.gov.ua, Ukrayinska pravda, Glavred.info, November 4; Holos Ukrayiny, November 5; Inter TV, November 6).