President George W. Bush stated during his inauguration last week that: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”. There is no better way to fulfill this visionary call than to support the flowering of democracy in Ukraine where the world witnessed up to a million citizens on the streets of Kyiv defending their democratic rights in what became known as the Orange Revolution. As President Bush has pointed, the U.S. is now obligated to support Ukraine’s heartfelt desire to return to the civilized world of nations after centuries of foreign rule and decades of totalitarian regimes.
The International Republican Institute contributed to the triumph of democracy in Ukraine by educating its people and political parties on the values and practices of democracy since 1992. Ukrainians stood up for their rights peacefully when they thought they were violated. IRI has been working to teach citizens how to exercise those rights under the law in Ukraine for twelve years and this election showcased the effectiveness of such programs. In addition, before the 2004 Presidential Ballot, IRI implemented numerous non-partisan pre-election activities, such as:
- strengthening the political party grassroots by providing training, tailored to the individual needs of political parties, on such topics as membership recruitment, coalition building, campaign techniques and general leadership training
- working with party leaders to maximize their effectiveness in turning out their voters
- conducting numerous nationwide surveys in order to ascertain the issues that are most important to voters in Ukraine and to identify trends in voter participation
- conducting public political education campaigns and teaching the importance of informed participation
- targeting young urban voters to increase the participation of historically politically inactive, but generally better educated and progressive demographic
- training election lawyers to protect their parties’ and candidates’ rights under Ukrainian electoral law and prevent abuses of the law
- providing poll watcher training to party activists designated to be poll watchers.
In addition to its long-term programs, IRI deployed an international election observation mission for the Oct. 31 first round, the Nov. 21 run-off and the Dec. 26 repeat run-off of the Presidential election.
After the November run-off, IRI issued a critical statement, declaring that “Ukraine has fallen well short of international electoral standards, and the Ukrainian government has taken a significant step backwards in its quest to promote democracy,” calling additional international attention to the massive fraud and contributing to the pressure on Ukrainian government and courts to invalidate the results of the falsified second round that later resulted in the repeat vote and the election of pro-western reformist Viktor Yushchenko as the third president since Ukraine’s independence.
The vision for Ukraine of the president-elect Yushchenko reflects Ukraine the U.S. has always supported: a free, stable, prosperous state, integrated as a full member into Euro-Atlantic structures. However, before that can be achieved, the new Ukrainian government will be faced with significant challenges, where the USA should and can play a strategic role in ensuring the success of President Yushchenko’s reforms in Ukraine. The United States can help President Yushchenko re-unite his country; assist Ukraine on its way to becoming a stable market economy; increase its aid to Ukraine through programs that will help Yushchenko deliver on his campaign promises, especially to reform the government and fight corruption. Moreover, the West should welcome Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO and, eventually, the European Union. But most importantly, the U.S. should provide the crucial political support to the Yushchenko government by promptly establishing close working relationships with the new president and his team.
Though Viktor Yushchenko won by a significant margin, he drew his support mainly from Central and Western oblasts of Ukraine. Eastern regions voted overwhelmingly for his opponent, now ex-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, with support for him reaching over 90 per cent in some areas. Because of the bitter campaign and the fact that Yushchenko became president in a re-vote after their candidate’s victory was annulled, these voters, geographically concentrated in Ukraine’s most important industrial region, will be initially hostile towards Yushchenko presidency and the reforms he will try to implement.
Their animosity towards Ukraine’s new president can be explained to a large degree by the extremely bias media coverage in the East. During most of the election campaign, Viktor Yushchenko had virtually no access to the state-controlled TV channels, and private TV channels, such as TV 5 and Era Channel were blocked in the East of Ukraine. With his image distorted, Yushchenko will need to work hard to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western Ukrainians. United States, and more specifically American institutions, involved the promotion of democracy, can assist Ukraine by specifically directing their activities towards the Eastern regions of Ukraine. Ukrainians in the East could benefit a great deal from educational and professional exchanges for students, teachers, government officials, NGOs, political activist and journalists with the United States and Europe. Expanding these experiences, previously available mostly to residents of Kyiv and Western Ukrainians, would help to re-unite and re-integrate Ukraine.
Ukrainians await from the Yushchenko presidency first and foremost an improvement in their material well-being. United States can help increase the prosperity of Ukraine by assisting it in establishing a market economy. First, the U.S. should lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment which has been in force since 1974 to punish the Soviet Union for limiting the immigration of its religious minorities. This no longer pertains to Ukraine, so this provision that bans normal trade relations between Ukraine and the U.S. should be lifted, which would allow Ukraine to gain most favored nation (MFN) status and will stimulate its economy by increasing trade with the United States. [Please, note that Senators Levin and Lugar introduced legislation to lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment in Congress on Tuesday.] To further improve Ukraine’s economy through trade, the U.S. should support Ukraine’s application to become a member of the WTO. Another step in this direction, which is long overdue, is recognition of Ukraine as a market economy. Although Russia obtained this status in 2002 its market economy, according to the CATO Institute’s latest Index of economic Freedom, is far less advanced than Ukraine. Let’s recall that Ukraine’s 12% growth rate last year was the highest in Europe.
The United States should further promote democratic change in Ukraine and support the newly elected reformist government by increasing the amount of its monetary aid. Currently, the administration’s aid request for Ukraine for fiscal year 2005 is less than $80 million compared with $225 million per year in the late 1990s. Previously the U.S. government was dealing with a corrupt, neo-soviet regime in Ukraine, but with the new leadership, committed to greater democratic, economic, and structural reforms, U.S. assistance has a real chance to have a profound impact on progress in Ukraine.
The increased funding should target specific programs that have been demonstrated to be particularly effective in helping Ukraine to make the transition from a former Soviet republic to a western democracy. It should also be utilized to help Yushchenko presidency become a success. One of Yushchenko’s campaign promises that resonated strongly with voters was to combat corruption. The U.S. can help him deliver on this promise by increasing funding to non-governmental institutions that work on fighting corruption in Ukraine. U.S. government officials should also work closely together with the members of the Yushchenko government to determine the areas of reform where U.S. assistance would be most effective.
IRI will also expand its programs in Ukraine to include governance assistance to the Yushchenko government. We will work to help improve accountability and transparency of Ukrainian government on all levels and to improve Ukrainian laws and legal system.
Greater commitment to domestic reforms and battling corruption will make Ukraine eligible for Euro-Atlantic integration. The U.S. can only welcome such aspirations. If Ukraine so desires, it should be made clear that it will be welcomed as a member of NATO once the criteria for membership are met. The first step in this direction could be to move from yearly Action Plans to a Membership Action Plan that would offer the prospects of NATO membership later in the decade.
The U.S. has worked closely with the European leadership to support the democratic change in Ukraine over the period of the Orange Revolution and it should continue to encourage European officials to stimulate reforms in Ukraine. President Yushchenko has indicated numerous times that EU membership is amongst his top foreign policy priorities, and the U.S. should persuade the EU that leaving the door open for membership if Ukraine meets the Copenhagen criteria is the best way to encourage democratic, structural, and legislative progress within this country. The U.S. strongly backed Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU and lobbied behind the scenes through Poland and the UK to persuade the EU to move in that direction. Last month Turkey was finally offered the possibility of membership. It is in U.S. strategic interests for Ukraine to be given the green light by the EU for membership talks. And the first step of the European Union in adjusting its policy towards Ukraine should be to follow the U.S. in granting Ukraine market economy status with the EU. Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Oleh Rybachuk has optimistically predicted that a Yushchenko presidency would fulfill all of the Copenhagen Criteria within two years. U.S. assistance should be geared towards helping Ukraine achieve this lofty goal
Finally, the United States can help Ukraine reach a safe shore by strengthening cooperation with the new Ukrainian government and providing political and diplomatic support to the newly elected president of Ukraine. As Yushchenko takes power, strong encouraging statements from the United States leadership early on will increase his legitimacy domestically and abroad. U.S. officials should resume a close working relationship with Ukraine’s cabinet of ministers and presidential administration that deteriorated over the second Kuchma term due to his problematic policies. They should work with the Ukrainian government to develop further strategies to assist Ukraine on its way to a stable democracy and a market economy. A revival of the US-Ukraine strategic partnership is now feasible. Presidents Bush and Yushchenko share the same visionary goals. The renewal of this partnership will be cemented next month when both presidents meet, the first such meeting since May 2000 when President Bill Clinton visited Kyiv.
Yushchenko begins as Ukraine’s third president with a great deal of good will, both domestically and internationally. Ukraine has reached a crucial turning point in its history and Yushchenko is the man to lead the country away from its Soviet past towards a European future. The U.S. will play an important role in fulfilling President Yushchenko’s vision of his country re-joining the civilized community of free nations – a commitment that Collin Powell made during his visit to Kyiv for the Yushchenko inauguration last weekend: “I want to assure you, [President-elect Yushchenko], that you will continue to enjoy the full support of the American government and the American people as you move forward to undertake the efforts that the Ukrainian people are expecting”.
IRI will work with the Bush administration to assist President Yushchenko in these efforts. A critical component of meeting public demand for reform in Ukraine will be the ability to accurately gauge the political sentiment within the electorate. It is vital for the newly-elected president to have accurate survey data to guide the administration in setting forth its reform agenda, especially considering the experience of other reformist governments in Eastern Europe that quickly lost their political momentum by failing to effectively manage expectations of voters after coming to power.
Over the next year IRI will conduct several opinion polls and focus groups to evaluate public perception of the Yushchenko reform agenda. A key component of IRI’s polling will be to work with the new government leaders to assist them in managing expectations and allow them to be in-tune with the voters’ wishes. In addition, the research would provide valuable insight on prospective policy, as well as to assist the new government in developing its legislative agenda.
IRI has already successfully assisted the reformist government in Georgia with using the public opinion to determine its legislative agenda priorities. In fact, the key problems President Saakashvili addressed since coming to power were indicated as top concerns amongst the Georgian voters in polls conducted by IRI. By utilizing IRI public opinion polls to develop his reform agenda, Saakashvili now enjoys a close to 90% approval rating.
With our and U.S. Government assistance, Yushchenko administration will be able to overcome the significant challenges it faces and implement the reforms long awaited by the Ukrainian people that will lead this strategically important country toward a democratic and prosperous future.