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Ukraine: Analysts Advise U.S. To Exercise Caution Over Crisis

Thousands have taken to the streets in protest all across Ukraine The U.S. government is unhappy about the conduct of Ukraine's runoff election on 21 November. The official count shows Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who seeks closer ties with Moscow, narrowly defeating the West-leaning Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko's supporters, however, are alleging massive fraud. But what can the United States really do to punish Kyiv?

Washington, 24 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has been blunt in its criticism of Ukraine's presidential election.

A spokesman for the State Department, Adam Ereli, said yesterday that if the allegations of fraud are proved, there would be what he called "consequences" for bilateral relations.

"Should the elections prove to be -- prove, in the end -- [obtained] by fraud and abuse...then those would have consequences for our bilateral relations. There is no question about that," Ereli said.

But the United States is limited in what it can do.

Celeste Wallander, the director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says one instrument is to deny travel visas to Ukrainians suspected of being part of voter fraud. She points out in addition to Ukraine's political elite, hundreds of others -- including election officials, politicians, police, and influential businessmen -- also would be involved.

"[The lesson for those Ukrainians is:] 'Be careful what you do today, because your long-term planning of being part of the international community, being successful businesspeople, being able to get out of Ukraine and visit lovely vacation spots [laughs] in Europe and the United States may all be held at risk,'" Wallander says.

"And the word when I was in Ukraine in the beginning of October is that this message was not just received, but was actually causing a great deal of consternation among that kind of class of elite."

Tipping The Balance

She says the United States and the European Union could also join forces to freeze or seize the overseas assets of these same people.

Wallander adds that enough external pressure, in conjunction with the strong domestic pressure already being applied in Ukraine, could tip the balance.

"Does the United States have a lot of leverage? No. But it's not clear that blunt instruments necessarily are required in a circumstance where [Ukrainian] officials are already facing genuine, massive protests. And so all those individual officials [are] sitting in their offices right now deciding: 'Do I play my role [in] this fraudulent outcome?' All it takes is enough of those people deciding: 'No, we can't do this, it's too risky and I don't like the way this is going,'" Wallander says.

Anatol Lieven, a senior associate of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says any stronger action on the part of the U.S. government would probably backfire.

"Should the elections prove to be -- prove, in the end -- [obtained] by fraud and abuse...then those would have consequences for our bilateral relations. There is no question about that." -- State Department spokesman Adam Ereli
He says if the United States imposed sanctions on Ukraine, for example, Washington would be called "hypocritical," given the number of countries it supports -- such as Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia -- that are far from democratic.

Second, Lieven says, such pressure might push Ukraine's government into an even closer relationship with Moscow -- something the United States is hoping to avoid.

Lieven says if fraud is proved and Yanukovych wins the presidency by illegal means, the United States would be best advised not to sever ties altogether -- but to distance them.

"In the longer term, a measure of isolation of this government -- you know, international condemnation, denial of visas -- if properly calibrated, will, I think, have the effect both in preserving some kind of democratic process in Ukraine, but also in drawing Ukraine once again closer to the West," Lieven says.

Lieven says the United States -- above all -- has to resist the impulse to try to be too influential or it risks doing more harm than good.

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What Might A 'Yanukovych Presidency' In Ukraine Bring?

What Legal Recourses Are Open To The Opposition?

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