The battle for the presidency in Ukraine between the ruling party candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, and the opposition party candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, enters its second week. In this week’s International Press Club, Judith Latham speaks with members of the media from Ukraine, Russia, and Western Europe about the election standoff, which some people say threatens to break the country apart.
Polish-born journalist Matthew Kaminski, who works in the Paris bureau of the Wall Street Journal, is the former Kiev correspondent for the Financial Times. He says the current situation in Ukraine resembles both the 1989 revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe and last year’s Rose Revolution in Georgia. He calls it the “awakening of a nation” as Ukrainian civic society matures. Matthew Kaminski says it’s important for the United States to maintain its strong position that the Ukrainian runoff elections were flawed and encourage European mediation. But he discounts the threat of a possible division of Ukraine into two halves – a pro-Russian east and a pro-reform west.
Serhiy Taran, director of the Institute of Mass Information in Kiev, also believes the government has exaggerated the threat of a split between eastern and western Ukraine. He says the exposure of voting irregularities by Kiev’s Channel 5, the only independent television network in the country, has had a huge impact on public opinion.
Dmitri Siderov, Washington bureau chief of Kommersant, Moscow’s business and political daily, says he thinks that the Kremlin is still trying to manipulate the electoral outcome from behind the scenes, even though President Vladimir Putin has somewhat softened his position backing Mr. Yanukovych. Dmitri Siderov says he thinks the Kremlin’s promotion of separatism in eastern Ukraine is intended as a warning to Kiev, although in the end Russia may be unable to control the outcome. He says the Kremlin is playing a “very dangerous game” because a split might not only cause serious economic problems for Ukraine but also for Russia.