BRAMA, Nov 17, 2004, 1:00 pm ET|
Canadian parliamentarians blast Putin's involvement in Ukraine elections
by Stephen Bandera
Kyiv, Ukraine Three Canadian parliamentarians accused Russian
president Vladimir Putin of meddling in Ukraine's presidential elections
by campaigning on behalf of one of the candidates.
Voters in former Soviet republic are preparing for a runoff poll between
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych
on November 21.
"We are disturbed by the intervention of Mr. Putin in the election
process in Ukraine," MP David Kilgour told journalists at a press
conference in Kyiv on November 13.
The Edmonton MP was in Ukraine from November 8 to 13 with Ontario
Senator David Smith and Toronto MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
"Mr. Putin's advisors are working for Mr. Yanukovych and Russian money
has been evidently elicited for the same cause," Kilgour said.
Putin visited Kyiv three days before the elections and praised the
economic record of Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor
Yanukovych government in a live televised interview.
Putin met with Yanukovych again on November 12 in Crimea, where he
wished the candidate success in the runoff.
The episode was widely reported by Ukrainian television whose coverage
is heavily skewed in favor of Yanukovych.
"This is why our Prime Minister Paul Martin did not come to Kyiv
recently although he was in the region because he did not wish to give
the impression that he was interfering in your election," Kilgour said.
Paul Martin was in Moscow from October 11 to 13 for an official visit to
Yanukovych's main rival in the November 21 runoff is former Prime
Minister Viktor Yushchenko.
Yushchenko edged his opponent by just over 155,000 votes in the first
round of elections held on October 31.
Kilgour said that "the governmental television stations in Russia that
are broadcasting into this country are campaigning ultimately for Mr.
Yanukovych," and that "there are even billboards up in central Moscow
that gives the same message."
"Such interference is shockingly inappropriate for any fair-minded
person anywhere," Kilgour said.
"If a U.S. president came to Canada during our elections and it was
clear that he was backing a particular candidate, that would probably
mean defeat," Smith mused.
"Although the U.S. is our friend, ally, neighbor and largest trading
partner, we Canadian value our independence. In fact, I'd be happy if
some American politicians offered that type of help to our opponents,"
the Liberal Senator continued, "but they would never do it because they
know the rules."
"One young resident of this capital who voted for Mr. Yanukovych in the
first round told me that she is extremely concerned about the role of
Mr. Putin in this election," Kilgour told journalists.
"Another Kyiv resident who did not vote in the first round told me that
he is so upset by what Mr. Putin has done that he will vote in the
second round," Kilgour said.
"Intimidation of any type, be it goons at a polling station or
inappropriate foreign intervention is unacceptable in a true democracy,"
"When we return to Canada, we will hold consultations," Wrzesnewskyj
replied to questions concerning what the legislators plan to do next.
"We are optimistic that in the end the electoral process will reflect
the will of the people. However, we also need to consider what our
reactions will be if this is not the case. And there will be
consequences, not only for Ukraine, but for Russia too," Wrzesnewskyj
The Toronto MP said that he will raise the issue with the parliamentary
foreign affairs commission, the Ministry of foreign affairs and with the
"We are not here to pass judgment on any of the two remaining candidates
in the runoff election. It's up to the people of Ukraine to decide who
represents their interests, honesty, integrity and a proper running of
the economy and all of the things that are important for the Ukrainian
people," Kilgour said.
The three-member delegation also expressed "shock at the deliberate and
widespread nature of election abuses," according to a statement.
The shock was based on a report compiled by Canadian observers working
in the heavily industrialized eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk that
borders the Russian Federation.
Two of the observers, Mark Keller, 40, and Julia Krekhovetsky, 23, both
from Toronto, provided details of more than 500 electoral violations
their ten person observation team encountered in eastern Ukraine in the
last two weeks of October.
The violations included bribery, intimidation and harassment of voters
and campaign workers, voter list and ballot box violations, and
obstruction of the rights of international observers and media, among
The observers played a video tape of documented violations, including
pro-Yanukovych campaign materials at the polling stations, individuals
filling out blank copies of voting return reports on window sills
outside polling stations and testimonials from campaign workers about
The observers filed a six-page report that detailed the exact times and
places where violations were encountered.
The report, which characterizes the violations as "ranging from
relatively minor administrative errors to major infractions of Ukraine's
election law," concluded that "the elections in the areas under
observation were not universal, fair, secret, free or transparent."
Canada has been one of the most vocal critics of the lopsided elections.
A statement issued by Canadian ambassador Andrew Robinson on September
21 noted "Canada is seriously concerned that coming Ukrainian elections
will fail to meet democratic standards."
The next day Robinson was summoned to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs where officials expressed "profound disappointment" and
questioned the Canadian "Embassy's objectiveness in informing the
Canadian Government about the real situation in Ukraine."
On October 26 the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion sponsored
by Wrzesnewskyj urging democratic and fair elections in Ukraine, sending
a strong message to the Ukrainian government to clean up its act.
In early November, Derek Fraser, former Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine,
wrote that "if the second round of voting in Ukraine is as fraudulent as
the first, Russia's candidacy to join the WTO will be put on hold" in an
op-ed published by a national newspaper.