Now more than ever, the bedrock idea on which U.S. foreign policy rests is that the nation's security is enhanced by the spread of democracy. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the idea has been that security depends on democratization in nations with slight, if any, traditions of popular sovereignty.
However, the policy of promoting democracy is a sharp scythe that can mow down more than the persons wielding the tool might intend. In Ukraine's debased election, Russian President Vladimir Putin twice campaigned for the candidate who benefited from fraud, violence and other violations of civilized norms, incidents that seemed to bear Putin's signature. Commenting on Ukraine, Secretary of State Colin Powell said:
"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."
Which could have been said of President Putin's own reelection earlier this year. What President Bush said three years ago was that he had "a sense of" Putin's soul -- formed by 15 years in the KGB -- and liked what he sensed: "We share a lot of values." Events in Russia have not tempered the president's reiterated insistence that "freedom is on the march."
Putin stands athwart that march in Russia, where he has marginalized inconvenient parties, controlled the media and used the criminal justice system to intimidate potential rival sources of power and social authority. Now the Kremlin, which issued instructions to Ukrainian state-controlled media during the presidential campaign, seems determined to export Putinism to contiguous countries.
Putin calls Viktor Yanukovych's vote a "convincing" victory over Viktor Yushchenko. He received 46.61 percent in his challenge to the authoritarian regime that backed Yanukovych, who favors closer relations with Russia, in the manner of some other "managed democracies" among former Soviet republics. Yushchenko favors Ukrainian membership in the European Union and, perhaps, in NATO.
Criminality against Yushchenko's campaign went beyond multiple instances of violence, intimidation and vote fraud. The Financial Times reports that when Yushchenko appeared before a large crowd of supporters in Kiev, and his face filled a large video screen, a woman exclaimed, "Oh, how terrible. He was so handsome." His pockmarked and scarred features are the result of what seems to have been a poisoning that felled him hours after dining with the head of Ukraine's secret service.
Russia's attempt to control Ukraine's destiny is partly a reverberation from the dissolution of the Soviet empire. Russia's desire to envelop Ukraine within its sphere of influence is a centuries-old Russian tendency. The novel impulse at work here is the transformation of "Europe" from a geographic into a political expression -- and Putin's recoil against that.
In its admirably sharp criticism of Ukraine's election, the European Union is postulating certain standards of civic hygiene integral to European identity. If the E.U. extends membership to Turkey, Europe's border will abut Iraq. And if, in time, Ukraine joins, Europe's border will be within 250 miles of Moscow.
The canon of European literature includes Pushkin, Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, but that does not settle the question of Russia's identity -- its relationship to Europe. Charles de Gaulle spoke of Europe extending from the Atlantic (in some of his moods, from the English Channel) to the Ural Mountains. But there is a lot of Russia -- eight time zones of it -- east of there.
Ukraine has been independent for 13 years -- the length of time between America's declaration of independence and the election of its first president, when the cohesion of the national entity was in doubt. Talk of secession is rife in Ukraine's eastern, Russian-oriented region.
The 19th century featured national consolidations -- the United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, etc. Recently, the disintegrative forces of religion, ethnicity and language have driven events in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Ukraine, where Catholicism and the Ukrainian language flourish in the west and Orthodox Christianity and Russian in the east, could be the latest cauldron to boil over.
The United States, with its foreign policy hostage to January elections by the Palestinian Authority and those in Iraq, has a stake in Ukrainian events that is much larger than its leverage. As Lech Walesa, hero of Poland's liberation, told a mass meeting of Yushchenko's supporters, Poland supports you but you must do this yourself.
The problem, in Ukraine and others among Russia's anxiously watching neighbors, is Putin. Perhaps Secretary Powell intended the wide arc of his scythe to encompass Moscow when he said that corrupt elections cannot create legitimate governments.