BRAMA, Oct 17, 2004, 1:00 pm ET|
US-Ukraine relations and presidential campaign issues dominate visit by former Ukrainian ambassador
(DC, L-R) Bohdan Sokolovskyy, Richard Murphy of CSIS, Anton Buteiko
Washington, D.C. Anton Buteiko, who served as Ambassador from Ukraine to both the United States and to Romania, and Bohdan Sokolovskyy, his former Deputy Chief of Mission (in DC), met with U.S. Department of State, National Security officials and representatives from the Office of the Vice President during a visit to Washington, D.C. on September 20 and 21. Mr. Buteiko, who is currently the Deputy Chair of the Ukrainian People's Party and Sokolovskyy, the Party's Head of the Secretariat, are supporters of Viktor Yushchenko, the democratic opposition candidate in the upcoming October 31 presidential election in Ukraine. Mr. Buteiko is widely admired as a man of principle and courage for having resigned his post as Ambassador to Romania in protest to the Single Economic Space Agreement with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed by President Leonid Kuchma. The Ukrainian American Coordinating Council and the Ukrainian Federation of America sponsored their visit to the U.S.
While in Washington, Ambassador Buteiko addressed a public meeting hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He also met privately with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, and with Mark Brzezinski of the John Kerry for President campaign. Together with Mr. Sokolovskyy, the former ambassador spoke before Ukrainian American audiences in New York City and Philadelphia.
Ukraine - Putin's Policy Priority
Ihor Gawdiak, Ukrainian American Coordinating Committee and the AUC
In all of his meetings, Mr. Buteiko echoed the thoughts of many Ukrainian American observers who believe that United States policy toward Ukraine at this time is driven almost exclusively by the degree of Ukraine's participation in the Iraq war.
Mr. Buteiko noted the absence of U.S. support in helping Ukraine achieve full membership in NATO and its efforts to move closer to membership in the European Union. He observed that in contrast, Russia's President Putin, who was quoted as saying "Ukraine is Russia's first foreign policy priority," has been eager to build stronger ties with Ukraine.
Mr. Buteiko is convinced that the Single Economic Space agreement and the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are Russian conceived schemes intended to ultimately integrate Ukraine into its orbit and reconstitute a variation of the old USSR. He derides the CIS as "a child born out of wedlock."
The former ambassador has been a strong proponent of a pro-Western policy for Ukraine throughout his career. In addition to resigning his position as ambassador in protest to the Single Economic Space with the four former Soviet states, Mr. Buteiko resigned from Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the same reason.
The U.S. and the West tend to focus on the negative and not the positive about Ukraine, Mr. Buteiko asserted. The U.S. has demonstrated little appreciation for the sacrifices Ukraine has made in giving up its nuclear weapons, in underwriting the clean up and shutdown of the Chornobyl atomic power station, and in supporting NATO military assistance in Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as Iraq. According to Mr. Buteiko, a fundamental change is needed in the conceptual approach of U.S. and West European policy toward Ukraine. The U.S. and Western Europe must try to be a counterbalance to Russian interference in Ukraine. They must realize that "Ukraine is not Kuchma," and her people deserve greater attention from NATO and the EU. If the West ignores and ultimately rejects Ukraine, the country will become a victim of Russian hegemony once again.
Fraudulent Ballot Scheme
The other prominent issue raised by both Ambassador Buteiko and Bohdan Sokolovskyy throughout their meetings and appearances was the critical importance of the forthcoming presidential elections in Ukraine on October 31 of this year. Buteiko and Sokolovskyy described how the current administration and the oligarchs supporting it are doing everything in their power to prevent the presidential campaign process from being fair and transparent, how the national democratic camp is blocked from reaching the electorate, and the high degree of control being exercised over Ukrainian media. They expressed fear that even though the polls show that Viktor Yushchenko, the national democratic camp's presidential candidate, is the favorite to win the elections, the current administration will do its best to falsify the results.
Mr. Buteiko illustrated one method of election falsification used in the past. The last presidential election in Ukraine took place during his tenure as ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Buteiko had requested 600 ballots from Kyiv, a quantity that would be more than sufficient for the number of the Ukrainian citizens residing in the U.S. who had registered with the embassy in Washington to vote. However, instead of the requisitioned 600 ballots, he received 11,000. When he inquired in a call to Kyiv why the excessively large number of ballots was sent to him, he was told that he should "know" what to do with the extra ballots, a clear hint that they were to be returned to the election commission in Ukraine marked as votes for the incumbent President Kuchma. He refused to participate in this fraudulent scheme and returned the unused ballots marked "void" in accordance with Ukraine's election law. Soon thereafter his tenure as ambassador to the U.S. was terminated. Sokolovskyy's diplomatic career was also adversely affected by his support of democratic forces in Ukraine.
Although the election campaign has already been marred with irregularities and unfair practices, they said, everything possible must be done to insure that the actual voting process is democratic, free, fair and transparent in the very short period remaining before the election. Both men emphasized that the nature of the current presidential election campaign and the election results will not only determine the future of the Ukrainian state but also will profoundly affect the stability and progress of democracy in the entire region.
The news about the alleged poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko came after Mr. Buteiko and Mr. Sokolovskyy arrived in the U.S. They expressed their deep concern about Mr. Yushchenko's condition, and pointed to this event as yet another attempt to destabilize the democratic process in their country.
When asked how the U.S. could help Ukraine in concrete terms, both men urged that high-level U.S. officials should continue to emphasize how important this presidential election in Ukraine is to the United States. They hoped that the U.S. would send a maximum number of observers for the upcoming election. Mr. Sokolovskyy also suggested that the U.S. might underwrite an independent television station in Ukraine to help democrats overcome the current regime's repressive news management and manipulation.