Ukraine election: Growing concern of fraud
Yulia Tymoshenko, the fiery heroine of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, warned of massive fraud by her rival Viktor Yanukovich in Sunday's election and threatened to call for street protests. But few Ukrainians seem eager to march.
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"Most voters have become less politicized and to some extent disillusioned by the failure of politicians to deliver any improvements after the Orange Revolution," says Alexander Chekmyshev, chair of the Committee for Equal Access, Ukraine's oldest grassroots monitoring group.Skip to next paragraph
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"In 2004 it looked to both sides like a choice between black and white," he says. "Today, for most people, it just looks like different shades of gray."
At Kiev's Shevchenko University, which was a hotbed of activism in support of the Orange Revolution, many students just shrug off the coming confrontation between the two familiar antagonists from those days.
"We know what's going on, but I don't know anybody who's excited about it," says Yulia Stepanenko, a linguistics student. "It doesn't seem real; it's just more political theatrics."
No overt Russian interference
Another element that seems absent this time is evidence of overt Russian interference in Ukraine's electoral process. In 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin twice visited Kiev to lend his support to the Kremlin's favorite, Yanukovich.
This time around, Moscow has abstained from overt support for either candidate, though it made no secret of its abhorrence for Yushchenko.
"To guarantee ourselves from future Yushchenkos, Russia has been working to develop its 'soft power' capabilities," says Vladimir Kornilov, director of the Kiev branch of the official Russian Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was set up here immediately following the Orange Revolution.
"The lesson of 2004 was well understood by Russia, and it's clear that Moscow must not take public positions," on internal Ukrainian politics, he says. "Anyway, it's thought that Russia can work with either Tymoshenko or Yanukovich."
A conversation with Mr. Kornilov, who almost certainly reflects Kremlin thinking, leaves the distinct impression that Yanukovich remains Russia's favored candidate.
Another factor, which may work decisively against any extended protests next week, will be the verdict offered by nearly 3,000 international election observers who are on hand to monitor the voting.
"We have hundreds of observers from Western countries, whose verdict will be trusted in the western Ukraine, as well as a big contingent from Russia, who will be listened to in eastern Ukraine," says Mikhail Pogribinsky, director of the independent Center of Political and Conflict Studies in Kiev.
"If the observers endorse the election results, whatever they may be, then passions will be calmed and no attempt to disrupt the process will work," he says. END