The United States yesterday rejected the announced results of Ukraine's disputed presidential election and warned the government of the former Soviet republic to uphold democracy or face consequences in its relationships with the United States and Europe.
In a news briefing at the State Department, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered a sharp rebuke to the Ukrainian authorities who yesterday declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner of a runoff election Sunday that Ukrainian protesters and foreign observers said was marred by fraud.
"We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse," Powell said.
His comments came shortly after Ukraine's Central Election Commission announced that Yanukovych, whose candidacy was backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, won the runoff with 49.46 percent of the vote, defeating pro-Western opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who was said to have received 46.61 percent. Exit polls on election day had put Yushchenko well ahead, and U.S. and European observers said there were widespread irregularities.
Powell's remarks were more forceful than those the administration made Tuesday when President Bush issued a statement saying the United States was "deeply disturbed" by "indications of fraud" in the elections.
Yesterday, Powell called for "a full review of the conduct of the election" and tallying of results. "It is time for Ukrainian leaders to decide whether they are on the side of democracy or not, whether they respect the will of the people or not.
"If the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine's hopes for a Euro-Atlantic integration, and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud," he said.
Powell said he has discussed the situation with Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine's outgoing president and a Kremlin ally who backed Yanukovych, and with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, among other officials. In his conversation with Lavrov, Powell said, "I underscored our strong support for a fair investigation of the election and the absolute importance that no violence is used against the Ukrainian people."
Powell said the United States and Russia want to find a solution to the problem based on legal procedures.
"We're not looking for a contest with the Russians over this," he said. "We're looking for a way to make sure that the will of the Ukrainian people is respected. . . ."
He declined to specify the consequences he said could flow from Ukraine's failure to ensure a fair election outcome. "At the moment, we're not taking any actions," he said. "We want to see what the ultimate results are. So I would not get into any specifics."
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Ukraine's leaders should "immediately invalidate the election results, invite an independent commission to investigate the numerous reports of fraud and protect all peaceful demonstrators."
Germany has also criticized the election and expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine, which declared independence from Moscow 13 years ago. "There has been massive electoral fraud," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the country's legislature.
Another country expressing similar criticism was Canada, which echoed Powell's statement by announcing that it cannot accept the election results.