As Ukraine prepares to vote - again -- for a new president this Sunday, the international online media continues to raise questions of outside interference and the disturbing possibility of violence.
On Monday, the Kyiv Post reported that a Ukrainian security officer and member of parliament has alleged the presidents of Russia and Ukraine are supplying weapons to gangs supporting Kremlin favorite, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Russian involvement has been persistent and well documented. Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Ukraine more than once to campaign openly for Yanukovych.
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The most recent allegations, picked up by MosNews in Moscow, added yet another twist to the already melodramatic story. Last week doctors came to the conclusion that someone had indeed poisoned opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western challenger, with a near-deadly dose of dioxin.
But in this highly charged atmosphere, Yanukovych's accusations of U.S. meddling in Ukraine politics, echoed by Putin and the local press, are especially provocative. One Ukrainian weekly, "2000," alleged that Yushchenko's "orange revolution" campaign was coordinated from "NATO's psychological operation centre" in Porto, Portugal. Citing unnamed sources, the story said the operation relied on high sound frequencies and drugs to influence the protesters.
Skepticism about Ukraine's so-called Orange Revolution has also been sprouting in the Western European press. In a piece for the Guardian, historian Timothy Garton Ash cited a Times of London report that described the opposition crowds in Kiev as a "mob." He noted that a pundit for Berlin's Tagesspiegel compared the opposition's tactics to those of communist mastermind V.I Lenin.
Guardian columnist Jonathan Steele wrote that the struggle over the Ukrainian election was not a contest between freedom and authoritarianism as some in the West portrayed it, but rather a "post-modern coup d'etat" orchestrated by the United States.
"Intervening in foreign elections, under the guise of an impartial interest in helping civil society, has become the run-up to the postmodern coup d'etat," Steele wrote. "Instruments of democracy are used selectively to topple unpopular dictators, once a successor candidate or regime has been groomed."
"In Ukraine's case this is playing with fire," he argued. "Not only is the country geographically and culturally divided -- a recipe for partition or even civil war -- it is also an important neighbour to Russia. Putin has been clumsy, but to accuse Russia of imperialism because it shows close interest in adjoining states and the Russian-speaking minorities who live there is a wild exaggeration."
Garton Ash replied that democratic opposition movements in Eastern Europe have been hearing these same arguments from Western Europe for more than 25 years.
"Those oppositions, we are told, threaten European 'stability.' Behind or beside them are nasty nationalists and/or the CIA. We must respect the legitimate security interests of Moscow (an argument originally used to justify the continued existence of the Berlin Wall). A ghastly Pandora's box will be opened by . . . (fill this space with: Poland's Solidarnosc, Charter 77, the Leipzig demonstrators - sorry, mob - in 1989, anti-Milosevic students in Belgrade, Georgian rose revolutionaries, or now Ukrainians).
Ash acknowledged that, "there is a real possibility of violence" in Ukraine and "of a painful split between Ukraine's more Russian-oriented east and the more western-oriented west." But for that reason he says the knee-jerk reaction that, "if the Americans are for it there must be something wrong with it" is "silly."
"An election was stolen. Most of the orange revolutionaries want their country to enjoy more of the freedoms, rights and opportunities that we in Western Europe enjoy, rather than being tied back closer to an increasingly authoritarian Russia. Wouldn't that be a good thing, for them and for us?"
Ash, a critic of U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, argues that the Ukraine issue shows the difference between American and European approaches to international disputes.
When foreign leaders came together to mediate the charges of the election fraud last month, the participants included a top European Union official, the Polish and Lithuanian presidents, and a senior Russian official "but not, so far as I know, any senior American. . . . This is a version of our European model of peaceful revolution, with the aim of rejoining Europe, not America. Now it's up to us to support it, with all the peaceful means at our disposal."
The Kyiv Post is hardly a disinterested party to the debate. Founded by an American of Ukrainian descent, the Post has been editorializing against Ukraine's authoritarian political culture for years. But they note that many countries besides the United States have supported democracy programs in Ukraine.
"Besides Denmark, Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway and the European Union as a body have done so. It's hardly a U.S. plot," the Post said yesterday.
"There's good democracy promotion, and there's bad democracy promotion," the paper continued. "A reasonable person could argue, for instance, that the Iraq war represents the latter type. But no person worth listening to could argue that the explosion of Ukrainian democracy has been negative, and no one should believe that the United States, and the West in general, have to apologize for what they've done in Ukraine."
"The United States has done its share of nasty things in this world," the editors concluded. "Support for Ukrainian democracy isn't one of them."