In mid May, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is scheduled to visit Kyiv along with Deputy Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky. Former U.S. President George Bush will likewise travel to Ukraine on a private visit.
Other recent U.S. visitors have included former Secretary of State and head of the National Democratic Institute Madeleine K. Albright, the financier George Soros, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, representatives of the U.S. Council on Foreign Policy, and Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Steven Pifer.
These visits are tied to the upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections in October and to growing competition between the United States and Russia over Ukraine’s future geopolitical orientation.
The message that the U.S. authorities are giving to the Ukrainian side has varied, depending on the messenger. President Leonid Kuchma and his centrist-oligarchic allies are keenly studying how much election fraud the United States will let them get away with in this years election’s. They would prefer the American response to Azerbaijan’s November election rather than the staunch U.S. criticism directed at election fraud in Georgia a month earlier.
Messages brought by the Bush administration has come in two varieties. The first is a “Thank You” to Ukraine for providing the fourth largest military contingent – 1,700 troops – inside Iraq for the U.S.-led coalition there. The second message is a more moderate version of that also sent by U.S. Democrats. This warns Kuchma and his allies that Ukraine’s drive towards Euro-Atlantic integration will suffer if the country does not hold a free and fair election.
The Democrats tend not to mention Ukraine’s contribution to the military operation in Iraq; their main focus is on the regression of democracy in Ukraine and the upcoming elections. Albright was very critical of the Ukrainian authorities for an “intimidating, sometimes violent campaign.” But Albright also criticized the Bush administration, which she said “has been strangely and sadly silent” about developments in Ukraine. She complained that the current administration had only “spoken privately, and from a distance”.
Albright outlined how “The path that Ukraine will now choose has enormous importance for the United States.” She put forward three proposals. First, she said, the United States should “speak out” more forcefully and insist on the holding of free and fair elections. Secondly, the United States should increase support for independent media and civil society. Thirdly, the United States ought to work with Europe to provide “carrots” for Ukraine, such as a road map to future EU membership as well as membership in the World Trade Organization and greater military cooperation with NATO.
Albright and Mark Medish, a foreign policy adviser to Democratic candidate John Kerry, have argued in favor of tougher sanctions if Kuchma fails to hold free and fair elections. Albright warned Ukrainian leaders that if the elections “are fraudulent” not only will Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration suffer, but “their own bank accounts and visa privileges will be jeopardized”.
Medish backed Albright’s sanctions against Kuchma and his oligarchic allies. “The words of Albright represent the tendency found within the Democratic Party,” Medish said. “If the Ukrainian authorities decide to isolate Ukraine, then they will have to live with the consequences of this decision and we cannot talk about any partnership.”
These are not idle threats. The United States has warned against Kuchma standing again in this year’s elections (the Constitutional Court ruled in December that he was serving only his “first term,” since the constitution was adopted in 1996, two years after he first became president).
One U.S. sanction under consideration by the Democrats would involve a refusal to give visas to high ranking Ukrainian officials, a step already tried and tested with Belarus and Moldova’s separatist Trans-Dniestr enclave. The bank accounts of Ukraine’s oligarchs, such as those held by presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk in the Virgin Islands, would also come under scrutiny. The United States has already adopted an act limiting entry to the United States for politicians accused of corruption in their own countries.
Kuchma and his oligarchic allies face a conundrum of their own making. If they hold free and fair elections this would most likely ensure that Viktor Yushchenko becomes Ukraine’s next president. This, they fear, will lead to the loss of their assets and the possible launching of criminal cases against them.
On the other hand, if they hold fraudulent elections and ensure the victory of their candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, they risk isolating Ukraine, which would become Europe’s second “Belarus”. And this would effectively cost them their foreign liquid and property assets (New York Times, March 8, Zerkalo Nedeli, 30 April-15 May, Ukrayinska Pravda, May 2, Radio Liberty-Ukrainian Service, May 2).