U.S. rejects Ukraine election results
(c) 2004, The Washington Post
WASHINGTON – The United States on Wednesday rejected the announced results of Ukraine’s disputed presidential election and warned the government of the former Soviet republic to uphold democracy or face “consequences” in its relationships with the United States and Europe.
In a news briefing at the State Department, Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered a sharp rebuke to the Ukrainian authorities who on Wednesday declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner of a run-off election Sunday that Ukrainian protesters and foreign observers said was marred by fraud.
“We cannot accept this result as legitimate, because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse,” Powell said.
His comments came shortly after Ukraine’s Central Elections Commission announced that Yanukovych, whose candidacy was backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, won the run-off with 49.5 percent of the vote, defeating pro-Western opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who was said to have received 46.6 percent. Exit polls on election day had put Yushchenko well ahead, and U.S. and European election observers said there were widespread irregularities.
As tens of thousands of opposition protesters demonstrated for a third day Wednesday and riot police guarded government buildings, Yushchenko called for a national strike and warned that the electoral commission’s decision “puts Ukraine on the brink of civil conflict.” Addressing supporters clad in orange, his campaign color, at a wintry late-night rally in Kiev’s Independence Square, he vowed that the work stoppage affecting transportation, schools, universities and businesses would “force the authorities to think about what they’re doing.”
Yanukovych, meanwhile, described himself as Ukraine’s new president, even as he announced talks with the opposition beginning Thursday. In a brief appearance on Ukrainian state television, he said, “Tomorrow, we start talks with Yushchenko’s team. We will look for common ground. I am ready to listen to the opposition proposals.”
The outgoing president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, a Kremlin ally who backed Yanukovych, accused the opposition of trying to carry out a coup and warned that authorities “will not allow a force scenario in spite of any pressure, internal or external,” the Interfax news agency reported. He urged immediate negotiations and said foreigners should “refrain from interference in Ukraine’s affairs.”
During the campaign, Yanukovych stood for strengthening ties with Russia, while Yushchenko promoted free-market economic reforms and closer relations with the European Union and NATO.
Powell said the United States is “deeply disturbed by the extensive and credible reports of fraud in the election.” He called for “a full review of the conduct of the election and the tallying of election results.”
The United States “stands with the people of Ukraine in their effort to ensure their democratic choice,” Powell said. “It is time for Ukrainian leaders to decide whether they are on the side of democracy or not, whether they respect the will of the people or not.”
He added, “If the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine’s hopes for a Euro-Atlantic integration and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud.”
He said he has discussed the situation with Kuchma and with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, among other officials. In his conversation with Lavrov, Powell said, “I underscored our strong support for a fair investigation of the election and the absolute importance that no violence is used against the Ukrainian people.”
Powell said the United States and Russia both want to find a solution to the problem based on legal procedures.
“We’re not looking for a contest with the Russians over this,” he said. “We’re looking for a way to make sure that the will of the Ukrainian people is respected.”
He declined to specify the consequences he said could flow from Ukraine’s failure to ensure a fair election outcome.
“At the moment, we’re not taking any actions,” he said. “We want to see what the ultimate results are. So I would not get into any specifics.”
Germany has also criticized the election and expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine, which declared independence from Moscow 13 years ago.
“There has been massive electoral fraud,” German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the country’s legislature. He said European countries “all share an interest in the situation not escalating into violence.”
Among the countries expressing similar criticism was Canada, which on Wednesday echoed Powell’s statement by announcing that it cannot accept the election results.
In Brussels, top officials of the European Union and NATO called for review of the results. Otherwise, warned European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who heads the union’s executive body, Ukraine could face economic repercussions. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters, “A review of this election is absolutely necessary.”