Amid reports of widespread voting violations–including a candidate’s murder–Ukrainians went to the polls on March 31 to elect a new parliament. While the final results are not yet in, Our Ukraine, the pro-Western and reformist party headed by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, appears to have come in first, a result indicating the extent to which President Leonid Kuchma’s position has weakened. At the same time, Our Ukraine will probably have 112 seats in the Verkhovna Rada, the country’s 450-seat legislature–far short of a majority. In addition, the vote’s likely outcome–President Leonid Kuchma’s For United Ukraine party appears to have come in second, with Ukraine’s Communist party placing third–suggests that the country’s geographical political divide, between a nationalist and anti-Russian West and a pro-Russian East, with supporters of both Yushchenko and the Communists populating Ukrainians middle, is widening.

While up in Moscow the Putin administration was busy using its allies in the State Duma to purge the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) from key posts in the lower parliamentary chamber (one pro-Kremlin faction even called for a ban on the KPRF and the arrest of its leader, Gennady Zyuganov), when it came to Ukraine’s election, both the KPRF and the Kremlin backed the Communist forces, who oppose Kuchma, with the Kremlin also backing the pro-Kuchma For United Ukraine party. The Kremlin’s strategy in the Ukrainian election appears to have been “anybody but Yushchenko,” which is ironic, given that the former Ukrainian prime minister represents the kind of pro-economic reform and pro-Western stance often imputed to Putin. Despite Yushchenko’s reform credentials, two Kremlin-connected analysts, Sergei Markov and Gleb Pavlovsky, described him to the Moscow Times as a “puppet” of “‘marginal’ Russophobic lobbyists on Capitol Hill represented by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Senator Jesse Helms.”