Christian Science Monitor reporter Fred Weir reports from Kiev on the rerun election that pitted the pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych against pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. [includes rush transcript]
In Ukraine, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has claimed victory in the rerun of the country’s presidential election. Exit polls showed Yushchenko winning by between 15 and 20 percentage points.
Speaking in Kiev’s Independence Square, Yushchenko told supporters, "We have been independent for 14 years but we were not free. Now we can say this is a thing of the past. Now we are facing an independent and free Ukraine."
The election marks a major defeat for the pro-Kremlin Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych who appeared set to become president a month ago following the first presidential vote. But international monitors and Yushchenko supporters claimed the vote was rigged and forced a revote.
While the losing candidate Yankukovych was strongly backed by Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Kremlim, Yushchenko had major support from the west. The U.S. government alone pumped $65 million into the elections over the past year. While the money was officially designed for non-partisan purposes, it went to aid the opposition movement.
Putin accused Washington of fomenting "permanent revolutions" in Moscow’s backyard. He accused the US of creating the so-called orange revolution that swept Yushchenko into office as well as the so-called "rose revolution" in neighboring Georgia which led to the presidency of US-educated President Mikhail Saakashvili.
- Fred Weir, reporter for the Christian Science Monitor in Kiev.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Fred Weir, who joins us from Kiev, writes for the Christian Science Monitor. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Fred Weir.
FRED WEIR: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what the latest news is after the. People have voted?
FRED WEIR: Well, it doesn’t seem that Yushchenko 's victory is as quite as huge as they were celebrating last night. The exit polls turned out to have been very, very wrong. He still won, but it looks now like the margin will be maybe 7% or 8%, which the returns are still coming in, but what 98% of the returns — of the precincts have reported and it looks like maybe 52% for Yushchenko, 44% for Yankukovych. It's still not final, but somewhere around 10% or less, which suggests — that would be about 3 million votes, about exactly the amount that were claimed to have been fraudulent or falsified in the last round, and that raises the likelihood that despite everything that happened in the orange revolution and all of the upheavals and so on, nobody in this very divided country actually changed their mind.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Fred Weir. What will happen now?
FRED WEIR: Well, I don’t think that there will be any serious challenge to the election. There will be some legal suits launched by the Yankukovych crowd but it does seem very clear that there was fraud last time around. The society rebelled against that. There was quite a lot of genuine outrage in the streets of Kiev in the last month, and it also seems that the round we had yesterday, according to all of the international observers was pretty clean, and honest. I think that people will accept the result. Now, it will very much depend on Yushchenko to heal a lot of the wounds or show some wisdom in approaching the very underlying, the deep problems, and one of them is that there’s a fault line in this country between east and west where they are practically foreigners to one another, and that’s a line that has to be walked very carefully.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking about healing wounds what about the poisoning of Yushchenko?
FRED WEIR: Yeah. That’s one thing that will have to be sorted out. It’s a very strange story, and I don’t think that we have heard the truth about it yet, or the last of it. For example, the man that Yushchenko claimed was among the poisoners, the General Igor Smeshko turns out to be a strong supporter of Yushchenko and is going to be on his team. I just don’t know about that, but certainly that whipped up a lot of passions over the past couple of months. It seems to be the signature of this really ugly process that took place here in October and November. I think that the jury is just out on what happened there, who poisoned him or if he was poisoned or how. I think we just have got to wait for investigations on that.
AMY GOODMAN: Fred weir, you generally report from Moscow. What about the effects of this election being that Yushchenko is not the Kremlin-chosen hand indicate here? What about the effects and the relationship with Putin?
FRED WEIR: Yes. This has been a terrible black eye for Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin and its entire strategy for the post Soviet space, which they have a way of regarding as their sphere of influence. Putin did interfere egregiously into the process here. There are very credible reports that the Kremlin funneled up to $300 million to the Yankukovych campaign through oil and gas companies, Russian ones, which if that’s true, Yankukovych will have spent more money in his election campaign than George W. Bush did in his… with less success. And so, the Kremlin really is one of the — one of the losers, big losers in this. They have lost a lot of credibility and prestige, especially here in the Ukraine. They will have to rethink their strategy quite radically for how to manage the things they want in the former Soviet Union and first and foremost is economic reintegration. This was — there was a big Kremlin sponsored plan to create a kind of a post soviet common market, but without Ukraine, I don’t think that will fly. Mr. Yushchenko has made it fairly clear, he is not going to join.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Fred Weir, what about the tens of millions of dollars that poured in from the United States in support of Yushchenko’s candidacy, the whole election apparatus, the US wanting Yushchenko to win?
FRED WEIR: I think there’s no doubt that that played a role, and it’s one that probably deserves to be scrutinized. I myself would find it hard to argue against money that goes into the kinds of democracy training, grass roots organizing of NGO’s that promote democratic values and so on. It is no surprise that most of those people, like young western oriented people who absorb these ideas turn out to be Yushchenko supporters. There are suggestions that western money also went into preparing for the orange revolution, that is training the hard core students of the Para movement to act as kind of shock troops, street revolt and so on. That’s not confirmed, but if that’s true, that would constitute also egregious interference in the Ukraine’s affairs.
AMY GOODMAN: Fred weir, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Christian Science Monitor reporter, usually based in Moscow now speaking to us from Kiev. The Ukraine elections results have been tallied. The new President of Ukraine is Victor Yushchenko. This is Democracy Now!