Democracy is on the line in the Ukraine, and it's time for President Bush to step out of the shadows and stand for freedom. The President needs to invalidate the current election and to insist on new, fair elections that will lead to legitimate leadership.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Prime Minister Yanukovych stole the election from the opposition leader Yushchenko. International observers, including European nations and President Bush's personal envoy Senator Richard Lugar, have condemned the election has failing to meet basic democratic standards. Ukraine's Supreme Court stepped in over the weekend, barring official publication of the results, and holding hearings to determine whether the results will stand.
The United States should move immediately to:
- Lead the effort with our allies to ensure that the Central Electoral Commission's certification of Prime Minister Yanukovych is not internationally recognized.
- Impose an internaitonal travel ban on Ukrainian officials responsible for intimidation and electoral fraud, including senior members of the current government. The United States should also threaten the use of economic sanctions.
- Bring in the United Nations or the OSCE to administer new elections. This has been suggested by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and others.
- The President should tell his friend Russian President Vladmir Putin to end his interference in the internal political affairs of the Ukraine. Putin has thrown the full weight of the Kremlin behind Yanukovych, campaigning in the Ukraine and pushing Russian businessmen to spend more than $200 million to tip the scales.
The Bush administration invited the current crisis by failing to hold Putin accountable for democratic abuses committed in Russia. By failing to speak out against the subversion of democracy in Russia – the intimidation of journalists, the gutting of the Russian parliament, the rigging of regional elections – President Bush has set a dangerous precedent.
A democratic foothold in the Ukraine would have significant regional implications, improving the prospects of creating positive democratic change in Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and in Russia itself. Freedom and democracy are marching backwards in the states of the former Soviet Union. We can't afford to be complicit. America's values are at stake.
Robert O. Boorstin is the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress.