The fallout from Ukraine's presidential election continues as rival candidates and their supporters have nearly paralyzed the government in Kiev. While the Supreme Court weighs arguments over the validity of the official ballot results, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and challenger Viktor Yuschenko negotiate terms to ease a general strike by the opposition. Wednesday, the parliament issued a vote of no-confidence in Yanukovych's government, a day after President Leonid Kuchma said new elections should be held.
Dr. Anders Aslund, director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will be online Thursday at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the ongoing standoff in Ukraine. Aslund, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, is researching the transformation of once socialist economies into market-based systems focusing on Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. He co-directs the Carnegie Moscow Center's project on Economies of the Post-Soviet States.
The transcript follows.
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Watching the events, as a(Ukrainian-American), I wonder what could Putin do next? Could he use Military force or economic sanctions? Would he be willing to work with Yushchenko if he becomes President?
: The greatest worry is that Russia will attempt to instigate chaos in Ukraine. Military force is not viable now, though there are apparently some 1,000 Russian spetnaz in Kiev, mainly guarding Kuchma.
The best way of accompliushing chaos is to let the crisis drag out, which can be acomplished in many ways, and toy with separatism in the East.
What would stop the Kuchma regime from using the same or similar tactics to rig the re-vote in favor of the government candidate? There are many precincts in the east that will never allow foreign observers inside.
: Yesterday I talked to an American observer in Donetsk. They were nicely treated, though they personally saw fraud (toughs took over one precinct, and Yushchenko commsioners were thrown out.)
The main thing, however, is the democratic revolution that has taken place which will do all fraud so much more difficult.
Still, of course, all means must be used to stop fraud
I have read that the US Gov't has funded opposition
groups and NGO's and have provided moral support to
protesters thru statements from Sen. Lugar and Sec of
State Powell calling the election a fraud -- all before their
due process mechanisms have had a chance to work (e.g.,
Supreme Court review). Is this what the US Giov't and
taxpayer supported NGO's should be doing? Doesn't this
involvement indicate that US NGO's have gone from a
"process" orientation to "outcomes"-based objectives
: USAID provided almost $14 million for election montitoring. NED, IRI, NDI and Fredom House have trained various young people in their civil society programs, financed by the US government. The total might be a couple of tens of millions of USD.
Given Mr.Yuschenko's success in economic reforms and the fact that he highly contributed to Ukraine's economic performance, what is it about him that Ukrainians in the east and the south do not like, and hence make them voice ideas such as regional autonomy in case he is elected?
: The great danger for Yushchenko has been to be painted into the Ukrainian nationalist corner. He has largely managed to escape it, but not completely. Yanukovich is personally popular in Donetsk as a good manager who o the region developing.
What do you think the real chances of a civil war are? The impression I get from my Ukrainian friends that voted for Yushchenko is that Ukrainian nationalism is stronger than the want of a particular person to be president.
Dr. Anders Aslund: I am not very worried about civil war. The Yushchenko spporters are very peaceful and indeed use the slogan "East and West togegther." The military, policy and security forces are so divided and their loyalties so unclear that hardly anybody will are to use them. The Yanukovich supporters do not seem at all as committed to their cause as the Yushchenko people, because the Yanukovich supporters fight for a man and money, while the Yushchenko people fight for dmocracy, a higher cause.
I have traveled to Ukraine on two occasions in 2001 and 2002. I found the people to be charming, intelligent, and friendly. But they're also generally politically apethetic. 70 years of communist mentality is hard to shake off. "10's of thousands" of protesters have filled Kratzatic Street many times before in various protests. Is this time different ? Have enough Ukrainians changed to make this revolution work ? I'm optimistic but skeptical ....
Dr. Anders Aslund: Yes, this is different. Ukrainians have blamed themselves as you say, and now they feel that they have grown up. The nation was born only now, and Ukrainians have gained enormous selfconfidence. They never beilieved this about themselves.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I have been planning for some time to travel to Ukraine in January to complete the adoption of three children there. Do you have any knowledge of how safe (or unsafe) it may be for a foreigner to travel and spend a few weeks there in light of the current political situation? Thank you.
Dr. Anders Aslund: I shall go there myself next week. Things have been totally peaceful, and everybody knows that they play with a eg of powder. The first one to shoot will lose, so I do not think that will happen.
Dr. Aslund, as someone who spent five years in Central Asia and the Caucasus, I've been checking the events in the Ukraine every hour. Kyrgyzstan is still scheduled to hold presidential elections next year, what is the forecast for the election and the chance of a middle class protest like Kyiv? And do you think that kicking out foreign NGOs like in Uzbekistan will be effective in weakening any future rose revolutions?
Dr. Anders Aslund: The elites throughout the former Soviet Union look with great interest at what is happening in Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan is indeed one of the most interesting cases, because it is one of the freest and most enlighted. it can go in different was, and the developments in Ukraine are highly likely to influence the choices both of the ruling elite and the informed middle class.
New Haven, CT:
I would like to understand better why the Yanukovich's camp threatens to split Ukraine in two and the Yushenko camp
(together with Nato) oppose this. If the country is so divided on crucial issues, couldn't splitting up be a solution?
Dr. Anders Aslund: Traditionally, Ukraine's unity has not really been an ssue in the lite discussion, while about one third of the population in polls have said that they would like to join Russia. There is no clear ethnic, national, or geographic dividing line, which would be one dispute. It appears to me that Yanukovich ust toyed with it last Sunday, and swftly decded that it was to go too far. The demand is not really on the table. The three easternmost governors discussed separatism, but only Donetsk and Lugansk stood by it. Today, both Kuchma and Putin speak strongly in favor of Ukraine's unity. The issue needs to be watched, but it has not really been raised.
Newport News, VA:
Do you think that the situation will become acute enough that NATO will consider going in? Who among the western democracy groups will assist a "clean" election do-over? Will it be NGOs or an official UN, EU or NATO group help?
Dr. Anders Aslund: I think it is excluded that any troops, Russian or NATO, go into Ukraine, apart from minor contngents of Russian special forces who are apparently aleady there. So far, everybody is very committed to peacefulness, and Ukraine has a strong record of peacfulness.
You have written that Ukraine's political development has taken on a different path than the country's economic development. To what do you attribute the disparity?
Dr. Anders Aslund: Ukraine is a true oligarchy in the sense that oligarchic groups dominate both the economy and the politics. On the negative side, this is an exclusive competition of a few, but positively it is an open and tought competition. The current attempt at democratization in Ukraine is possible because power is divided in so many ways, while in Russia power is concentrated to the President and his FSB. The fast growing economy has outgrown the political system.
Washington DC asked you about US involvment. Could you expand your answer beyond fiscal terms? How important was Powell's premature condemnation to Ukrainians?
On the other hand, how important was Putin's endorsement of the elections?
Dr. Anders Aslund: The US has paid a lot of attention to Ukraine. The US has been most sccesful in completing the denclearzation of the Ukrainian military, and Pentagon is grateful.
Ukraine has committed 1,650 troops to Iraq, for which Pentagon is very grateful.
The State department has focused on problems with democracy.
Eonomic cooperation is very limited.
People-to-people exchanges are huge.
Sir, if Mr. Yuschenko prevails and becomes President, will he be able to reform Ukraine political infrastructure which remains rife with corruption and hard line politicians who do not appear to care about taking positive steps to fix widespread corruption and Ukraine's struggling economy.
Dr. Anders Aslund: Obviously, corruption cannot disappear imedately, but one great advantage of a democratic revolution as we now see is that offcials become afraid of taking bribes. Extortion by officials was not a big probelm in Russia in 1992, while theft of state resources was. That can give Yushchenko a head start.
Yet, a lot of legislation must be redone, but a large amount of draft laws are ready to go sinc long.
Silver Spring, MD:
Would the "loss" of Ukraine significantly hurt Putin's purported plan to create a sphrere of influence in the former USSR states, or has Putin's intentions been exaggerated?
Dr. Anders Aslund: Given that Putin has put enormous resources into these elections, his failure would be a big blow to him both abroad and at home, if ihe does not do something to save his face pretty soon. I doubt he will, because e has proven himself more stubbonr than is good for any politician. Putin's intentions might have changed and turned worse. That is a cause of worry and attention.
Dr. Aslund, do you think the outcome of the Ukrainian election crisis is going to be a bellweather for the region, leading to more popular resistance to the autocrats in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, etc? Or is this a unique occurrence (a la the "people power" revolution in the Phillipines).
Thanks for taking our questions.
Dr. Anders Aslund: Surely, it will be a bellwheather. This is like Solidarity in Poland in 1980, and we see that the Poles ar perfectly at ease in this crisis. Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine are a natural line. CIS journalists who have been in Ukraine have particularly been from Georgia,Azerbaijan and Russia. This is a big challenge to all softly athoritarian regimes in the region. Interestingly, Azerbaijan and Moldova have not supported anukovich.
I think that our President is Mr.Yushchenko but yesterday he made a mistake signed the claim with Kuchma and I think it was under pressure. Also it would be better if Mrs.Tymoshenko could be invited for such meetings.
Do you think that re-election is only thing for Ukraine to do from crisis-ridden country?
Why do we have to re-vote again if the majority of Ukrainian people see Mr.Yushchenko as our President?
Dr. Anders Aslund: Essentially two options appear open now:
1. a revote of the second round.
2. a new election which can only take place in three months time.
I sympathize with your position, but the real danger is the second option, which Kuchma and Putin favor. That danger must be avoided, and the best wasy of doing so is to go for a revote of the second round, preferably on December 19 because you cannot get Western observers the day after Christmas.
To what extend Mr. Yuschenko can, or is willing to, withstand influence of the more radical part of the opposition camp? Mrs. Timoshenko and some others seem to be less ready for any compromises which may negatively affect the prospects of peaceful and smooth transition of power to the opposition.
Dr. Anders Aslund: Yushchenko has a great personal athority. he s a nice guy, but as Prime Minister and also now he has shown that he can be firm enough. It is quite amazing that Our Ukraine has hung together for the last three years. So far, Yushchenko and Timoshenko seem to play good cop and bad cop, but Kuchma will obviously want to split them, and we are likely to see many provocations.
Midland Park, New Jersey:
Why is the West so weak to make a unilateral stand supporting Ukrainian people. Only tacit approval is given, while Putin and Kuchma continue to plot the future of Ukraine and the "New Russian (Putin's) empire which will eventually haunt the West in the future?
Dr. Anders Aslund: Personally, I have been positively surprised by how firm and united the West has been, especially Colin Powell and the EU. Putin has successfully reunited the West against himself.
I think the West should focus on two demands:
1. democracy in Ukraine, that is a rerun of the second round of the election as soon as possible, and
2. Ukraine's national integrity.
Peacefulness is of course an overall demand.
What are the chances of Kuchma cutting a secret amnesty deal with Yushchenko (like the one Putin gave Yeltsin) at this point in time? Has the Chestnut Revolution, with the recent defections from the military and political elites to the Yushchenko side, pushed Kuchma to the point where he needs to start these discussions?
Dr. Anders Aslund: Yushchenko is a very decent man. I know him well since 1994, when I worked as an economic advisor to the government. He could have agreed previously with Kuchma, but now all bridges are burnt. Yet, I am a bit afraid of Yushchenko being too goodhearted. I fel rather better when tough negotiators sch as Zinchenko, Tymoshenko and Poroshenko deal with Kuchma and Yanukovich.
Do you think a recount (as opposed to revote)of Nov. 21 is feasible?
Dr. Anders Aslund: Yusuchenko has submitted 11,000 compalints about fraud, and Yanukovich 7,000. We know that every trick in the book has been used, including multiple pressure on voters, who then actually submitted their votes for yanukovich. Thus, recounting is first hardly possible and second not accurate. Yet, it is enough to check the ballotbox stuffing to see that Yushchenko won. That effect alone gave Yanukovich 5.5 percent of the votes cast extra in the second round and his official margin was only 2.85 percent. A rerun would clear the air.
Newport News, VA:
Who among the western democracy groups will assist a "clean" election do-over? Will it be NGOs or an official UN, EU or NATO group help?
Dr. Anders Aslund: There are so many election montoring groups and they say the same things, with the big exception of the CIS monitors. The main organization is OSCE, but NDI, IRI and Freedom House all had their monitors and many others. th Council of Europe is another highly authoritative lection ontoring organization.
Could you briefly share your thoughts on the impact these elections could have for the broader region, in terms of regional stability and the fight against transnational criminal networks? In the case a Yushchenko government ascends to power, would this have an impact on the peace process and Ukraine's position in the negotiations on Moldova's separatist region, Transnistria?
Dr. Anders Aslund: The fundamental thing is that Putin's/Russia's authority will be challenged, and thus the current authoritarianism. I think it is too early to consider exactly how ssues such as Transnistria will change, but they are likely to be easier to handle, and certainly different.
Dr. Aslund thank you for joining us. How close is Ukraine to all out revolution?
Dr. Anders Aslund: This is a democratic revolution, but I think and hope that it will stay peaceful. The parliament remains the central body of decision making, and it is after all rather democratic.
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