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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, August 6, 2010, 9:00 AM ET

    Op-ed

    Democrats Need to Become a Unified Political Force
    By Boris Danik

    The logistics of the comeback victory of Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential election last February need to be understood and absorbed by the democratic community in Ukraine—if it is to shake off its present state of shock and confusion, and become organized as an effective political force, not merely a scholarly think-tank.

    The main reason for Mr. Yanukovych's win was the bad economy that unfolded in Ukraine in 2009, for which—as it often happens in major contests—the government of the incumbent party was largely blamed. No matter that it was not of its making, as the economic trauma was and still is world-wide.

    But another ace in Mr. Yanukovych's favor was a well organized, unified campaign by the Regions Party, with a firm rank-and-file base, reliable moneymen, and a recognized and unchallenged leader (despite his gaffes and a checkered past).

    The lesson is fairly obvious for the scattered democratic opposition, with a multiplicity of its parties and contestants. And yet, despite that lesson, they are circling around without a unified organizational hierarchy.

    Characteristically, spokesmen for the Committee for the Defense of Ukraine—a collection of parties and civic groups that sees itself as the main vehicle for the salvation of Ukraine in the face of authoritarian moves by the new regime—have recently pointed out that "Centralization is not needed. We are simply a civic organization. We stand for creating horizontal connections. We don't know what uncertain fate is awaiting us. We may be facing repression", explained Dr. Yuri Shcherbak, former ambassador visiting New York on June 20. (He was quoted in Svoboda newspaper in New Jersey, July 16.).

    Oddly, this sounds more like an admission of helplessness, rather than a mission to save Ukraine.

    If the political climate today in Ukraine is as threatening as some recent events suggest, the need for a robust centralization of the democratic opposition is urgent. And make no mistake, no one except Yulia Tymoshenko, with her Constitutional credentials as the parliamentary opposition leader and with a proven winning capacity, qualifies at this time for the top role.

    Public outcry about rights abuses is not enough. President Yanukovych's numbers are holding despite some predictions of his government's imminent collapse under the weight of its own deficiencies. (Bold predictions often border on fortune-telling, such as predicting, two years before the intrusion in Georgia, that "Russia is a third-rate power headed for a crash"). "Horizontal connections", desirable as they may be, are no substitute for a united political front, with a central top leadership and a concrete plan to bring back into the fold a million or more voters needed to tip the balance to the democrats' advantage in the next election.

    Again, some foundering is also apparent in the understanding of the American connection. To say, as Dr. Shcherbak does, that "President Obama has given away Ukraine into Russia's sphere of influence" and that "this is based on a massive amount of information" goes beyond broad-brushing.

    Here is why it is off-base:

    The cycle of events that watered down the US engagement in Eastern Europe had been accelerated (after the Georgia fiasco) by the Bush administration's bargain with Moscow to gain access to Afghanistan by land through Russia, for moving the American supplies and equipment. An agreement was reached after extensive negotiations, and was announced by General David Petraeus on January 20, 2009 (The New York Times the next day).

    That handshake certainly had troubling implications for the entire former Soviet space in Eastern Europe (The New York Times, February 4, 2009).

    But to blame Barack Obama for a sellout is chronologically absurd. The deal was arranged on President George Bush's clock.

    Moreover, President Obama's "reset" of relations with Russia (which mainly resulted in a lowering of the voltage of mutual antagonism) is not equivalent to abandoning anything except perhaps the fantasy of a "missile shield" that would not have shielded anything.

    Remarkably, Ambassador Shcherbak has posited that "American interest is in Afghanistan" (in his words). Therefore, he continued, the turning away from Ukraine is understandable from the American point of view.

    Not so fast.

    Despite "the media enablers" that as recently as last autumn had rationalized the escalation of war in Afghanistan and urged the president "to defer to military" (meaning the McCrystal repeated demands for more troops, prior to the general's most recent eruption that resulted in his dismissal), President Obama is preparing for an exit from the Afghan morass, as all evidence indicates, in the next 18 to 24 months.

    Hamid Karzai, the Afghan leader, is already making arrangements with Pakistan and Taliban for a "post-American era", not without some tutoring from American authorities, who for now are providing his bodyguards.

    President Obama has inherited from the Bush administration an appalling political, economic, financial, military, and social wreckage, including the two wars. The effects of group-think that was cultivated in America during the Bush years cannot be instantly remedied by some cerebral adjustment. But after years of pain, the shocks at the pump, and the financial collapse, it is now sinking in that America's military entanglements in Asia are a horrendous mistake (like earlier in Vietnam). It has undermined and sapped the US power and treasury, the influence and prestige around the world, and especially where it counts, in the post-Soviet space.

    And for what? There are an estimated 100 al-Qaeda personnel in Afghanistan. We have over 100,000 American troops there, in a semi-permanent unwinnable war for 9 years, institutionalized with vested interests. A quick withdrawal from Afghanistan would be like upsetting an applecart. It would refocus public attention away from Tiger Woods canoodling and the Tea Party antics and jeopardize careers in Washington. But it is in the cards, gradually, with redefining the word "winning".

    Thus, while Obama must address pressing issues at home and in other parts of the world, it is Ukrainians themselves who must have the vision and drive to make their way back to a democratic system

    Dr. Boris Danik
    North Caldwell, NJ
    August 5, 2010

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