As Ukraine waits for the Supreme Court to rule on the contentious presidential election results from November 21, President Leonid Kuchma flew to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Putin, who views Ukraine as part of Moscow's "sphere of influence," opposes a new run off vote between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who Putin supported and even campaigned for, and opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko.
Andrew Kuchins, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Moscow Center, was online to discuss the situation in Ukraine and Russia's role in the political crisis that has all but crippled the former Soviet state.
Kuchins, who arrived in Washington Wednesday from Moscow, writes about Russian foreign and security policy. Before joining Carnegie, Kuchins was associate director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and, before that, he was a senior program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, where he developed and managed a grant-making program to support scientists and researchers in the former Soviet Union. From 1989 to 1993, he was executive director of the Berkeley-Stanford Program on Soviet and Post- Soviet Studies.
The transcript follows.
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Chevy Chase, Md.: Dear Mr. Kuchins,
While in Kiev, I have met Viktor Yuschenko in my work with the World Bank and I have been to Donetsk many times. I have even been on several occasions underground in the coal mines (500 meters underground) around Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. They are a tough bunch, those coal miners, but they seem to have underestimated the will of the people of the 'Orange Revolution'. Do you think a re-vote rather than new elections will be held, and if so can Yuschenko be expected to win comfortably over Yanukovich? It will require the strict monitoring by international observers, much more so than last time. Can this be done in your opinion?
Andrew Kuchins: At this point, of coursel, it is difficult to say as we are awaiting the decisions of the Ukrainian Supreme Court about the claims presented by the Yushchenko campaign of massive fraud and falsification. If I have to say, I think at this point it looks more likely that new elections rather than re-running the second round is more likely. This can be done more in accord with existing Ukrainian law--the question that may be negotiated would be accelerating the new election as well as allowing candidates from the first round to run again. According to Ukrainian law, a new election would have to wait at least 3 months and candidates from the earlier election would be prohibited from running. The second proposition is obviously unacceptable to the Yushchenko camp, and the first proposition delaying the new elections for required 3 months is also undesirable for the Yushchenko camp. I think some kind of compromise to hold new elections beginning in January should be achieveable.
Clearly if there are new elections far more election observors will be required. A perfect election is impossible--as it is virtually anywhere, but if we can get a better picture of documented fraud and falsification that took place in the recent elections, that should help to lessen the amount taking place in event of new elections.
New York, N.Y.: It is blatantly clear that Putin/Moscow will go to almost all means (hopefully not violence) to keep control of Ukraine regardless of what the rest of the civilized world support. At this point in time, what are your thoughts for the clearest way forward in Ukraine to achieve a democratic (non-criminal), Ukrainian president and government?
Andrew Kuchins: The best outcome that we can hope for at this point, I believe, is for a re-run of the second round, but as I explained just before, I think that calling for new elections that will be more effectively monitored around the country is best likely outcome. We need to push for both Ukrainian authorities as well as international to as comprehensively and objectively documented the nature of the falsification for previous elections to help avoid next time around. I think it is also important that the US, the Europeans and the Russians come to a better understanding before the next round about standards and procedures for eleciton monitoring. I think President Bush will need to speak directly with Putin to push hard on this point. We need to try to avoid another outcome like in Belarus and Ukraine where Western and Russian eleciton monitors and exit polls are reaching diametrically opposed conclusions about the quality of the elections. Whethere that is possible is obviously an open question.
Washington, D.C.: How much influence has Putin had in the election. I understand Russia has spent several hundred million to support Yanukovich. Where did this money come from and how was it spent? Do you think that Putin's support of Yanukovich will backfire.
Finally, do you think that the West's support of Yushencko will embolden Ukrainians to support distancing from Russia. Thanks
Andrew Kuchins: More excellent and difficult questions. Clearly Putin and the Kremlin has intervened to an extraordinary extent in the Ukrainian elections as documented by the two highly visible visits of Mr. Putin to Ukraine before the first and second rounds and the extensive role played by Russian political advisors like Gleb Pavlovsky, Sergei Markov, and others. I do not have proof, but it is my understanding that the Kremlin has also contributed somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million that was matched by the Kuchma regime. Supposedly the Russian money was collected from leading oligarchs with the majority coming from the coffers of Gazprom. Exactly what the money was spent on we can only imagine--certainly there was a large pr effort in Ukraine as well as in Russia, but perhaps the lion's share of the money was used to pay off various Ukrainian election officials--just an educated guess, let's say.
Did heavy handed support for Yanukovych backfire? Difficult to say since we don't know how Yanukovych would have fared absent Putin's strong support. My guess is that support from the Russian president mobilized Ukrainian voters both positively and negatively depending on their inclinations to Russia and political authority in general. It is also difficult to say in the final analysis whether the Kremlin strategy was successful since we really don't know what their goals where. The standard explanation is that they wanted Yanukovych elected and their heavy handed intervention was a failure in policy. Another explanation would suggest that the Russians understood that Yanukovych's chances were not high but preferred a split outcome that divided and weakened Ukraine allowing for the Russians to have more leverage. Sounds kind of Machivavellian, but we should be careful about rushing to conclusions that the Russian effort was simply misconceived and poorly executed--that was my first inclinatoin, but there could be more subtle and devious explanations as well.
Harrisburg, Pa.: How were people able to determine that Ukraine election results had been altered? I recall the Filipino election that was discovered had stolen votes as the people putting the results into the computers came forth and proclaimed that the results being computed were different from the numbers they were putting in. I half joke that I know Ukraine exit polls couldn't be the answer to realizing the results were wrong, for if that was the case, they could challenge our election results. What enabled the Ukraine people and Secretary Powell to determine electiom improprities existed?
Andrew Kuchins: We still do not have a complete picture of the fraud and falsification that took place in the election and may never have a complete picture. But there is enough documented evidence at this point to conclude it was very significant. One, there were eyewitnesses to voters in some regions in the East being bussed around to different polling places to vote multiple times like old Chicago style. Two, there is evidence in some precints where the voter turnout was supposedly over 100%--obviously impossible. On the exit polling issue, that is just one of a number of data points leading to conclusion of falsifation of results. The differences that we saw in the recent US presidential election on exit polling results in Michigan and Ohio were reasonably close to being within the realm of mathematical probability accounting for margin of error. The differences of exit polls in Ukraine, however, showing a 10+% advantage for Yushchenko compared to the nearly 3% margin of Yanukovych victory is well outside of any mathematical margin of error. A number of these exit polling organizations have strong international reputations--the official Russian explanation argues that Western-sponsored exit polls were skewed to favor Yushchenko while Russian supported exit polls reached an opposite conclusion. Recall that when Putin was asked why he prematurely congratulated Yanukovych before Central Election Commission announced results, he said it was on the basis of exit polls. Disingenuous response? Your call.
Jackson, Mich.: Thanks for taking my question. How real is the supposed anti-American propoganda effect in the Ukraine and Europe. Writers in the Washington Post and other new outlets have said that Americas low standing in the world resulting from the Iraq war is now encouraging anti-American feelings to spill over into Ukraine's current crisis. Rumors are supposedly spreading that claim the CIA is behind the effort to remove Yanukovych. Are these rumors widespread, or is this yet another 'trend' that the media likes to highlight without hard evidence?
Andrew Kuchins: I think the Ukraine election dispute has united American and Europeans to a considerable extent--this is something we agree on in principle. Note that Secretary Powell's statement last week refusing to accept the results of the Central Election Commission accorded with the official EU position. Now it has not been lost by observors that President Bush's statements have not accorded directly with Powells and the EU, and it is also not lost on observors that Mr. Powell is headed for retirement. What is also not clear is just how hard Mr. Bush and other leaders in Europe are willing to press Mr. Putin, Mr. Kuchma, and hte Ukrainian government. The EU's voice would be strengthened if a leader of one of larger and more established countries were taking the lead along with the Polish and Lithuanian leaders and Javier Solana. I think it will also be key, as I noted earlier, that President Bush intervene directly with President Putin about the importance of guaranteeing a more free and fair election in event of re-run or new elections.
As for CIA plots, this is a popular theme in the Russian press especially given Mr. Yushchenko has an American wife. It is also a theme presented in more yellow European journalistic circles sympathetic to the Kremlin.
Chicago, Ill.: What do you think can be done in Ukraine to begin bringing the Eastern and Western parts of the country together? Clearly, the country is divided and with some Eastern oblasts calling for independance it seem the rift is only growing.
Andrew Kuchins: This problem has clearly become more accute in the wake of these various polarizing elections. As part of a broad national reconciliation package for Ukraine's future, the federal structure of the country may need to be revisited to allow for somewhat greater autonomy of the regions within a unified confederal structure. There is also discussion of constitutional adjustments to give more relative power to the Parliament and Prime Minister--make Ukraine less of a Presidential system so that less is riding, in fact, on presidential elections. The most pressing discussion point, however, is the one we have been talking about--the need to reach agreement on new electons of a re-run in which both sides will have less reason to believe in wide-scale falsification.
Deer Trail, Colo.: Is there in fact a serious Resource War in the background of the election crisis?
I can't help but think of all that is at stake, given Ukraine's huge industrial infrastructure that is potentially now going to be lost to privatized western interests, looking from Russia's perspective. And much of that industrial base is Russian military industry, particularly Russian NUCLEAR military industry. And then there is the mineral base -- and in particular, the manganese, titanium, zirconium, hafnium, graphite, iron, coal, etc, etc that is going to be privatized, if the Pentagon has its way. The point is that Russian war-making capabilities are going to be seriously disadvantaged, if the elections put Uncle Sam's guy in power. Don't you think this perspective needs to be aired out?
Andrew Kuchins: You make an important point that has been underattended in all of the discussion and commentary about this battle. Ukrainian industries and resources remain a critical part of the Russian military industrial complex--another Soviet legacy. But I think a broader point should be made in this regard that is often lost in Ukrainian election commentary, and that is there are narrow oligarchic interests in Ukraine supporting each candidate, and there are also Russian oligarchic interests that have interests in one outcome or another.
Washington, D.C.: I am curious as to Yushchenko's drastic change in appearance due to an "illness" or as he says himself, poisoning by Ukranian authorities. Why has this issue received such little attention to the media and what do you believe is the cause of his sudden illness?
Andrew Kuchins: Well, for those of us following Ukraine and Eurasian issues more generally, Yushchenko's mysterious illness resulting in the horrible disfigurement of his face received quite a bit of attention in Russian and Western press, to the extent that the WEstern press was interested in the run-up to the Ukrainian elections. Apparently the clinic in Europe where he received treatment was not able to decisively conclude about the causes of the ailment as far as I know. We do know, however, that Yushchenko's handsomeness was naturally viewed as a political asset by the opposition and the timing of this illness during the height of campaigning makes it extremely suspicious to say the least. There have also been a number of other poisoning incidents alleged in Russia nad Ukraine in the last year. Where there's smoke...
washingtonpost.com: That was the last question for today. Thanks to all who participated.