Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2004 / 5 Teves, 5765
Inside Ukraine's freedom fight
So very much hangs in the balance when Ukraine goes back to the polls to vote for a president on Dec. 26. It would be a major blow for freedom, and a wonderful Christmas present to the world, if Viktor Yushchenko and the runoff, before the government stole both - becomes president of this key nation.
It has been my honor to serve as a consultant to Yushchenko during this campaign. His battle is not only an important one for freedom throughout the world, it also represents a key stand against the rekindling of an imperial Russia the major foreign policy goal of that country's President Vladimir Putin.
In both previous elections, Yushchenko actually got upward of 60 percent of the vote, only to have the government falsify the results. Fortunately, he adopted a technique I had found useful when fighting against the PRI, the party that controlled Mexico's government for decades: using exit polls to establish the real winner, and so expose the government's count of the votes as rigged.
Working with a combination of old KGB operatives, hardline and unreconstructed Communists, oil barons and Russian mafia, Putin is trying to take over the states that comprised the former Soviet Union and to assimilate them into a new Russian sphere of influence.
His strategy is to use the ethnic Russian minorities in these former Soviet "republics" as an electoral base for taking power. But, because they are minorities, he must add healthy doses of vote-rigging, intimidation, control of the media and attempted murder to the mix to have a shot at achieving control.
In Ukraine, the first step was to deny Yushchenko any coverage on state-controlled television and other news outlets. Only smear stories ran and we weren't allowed to buy advertising time to rebut them.
It was so impossible to communicate with the voters that the campaign was reduced to printing leaflets which were stuffed, three times each week, under every door in the country.
When it became clear that the Ukrainian people would not be fooled by the phony state-controlled media and Yushchenko continued to lead by 15 points in the polls, the ex-KGB types in the opposition campaign resorted to attempted assassination, once running Yushchenko's car off the road and then poisoning him with dioxin.
At first, we thought Yushchenko had a stroke. The entire right side of his face and body was paralyzed. A Ukrainian hospital diagnosed it as a stroke. Then Yushchenko went to Vienna, where they unearthed the poisoning. By then, the candidate had regained use of his face and limbs, but a horrible rash distorted and discolored his entire face.
The campaign faced a tough decision as to whether or not to show the candidate, once handsome and charismatic, on TV. Risking it, they did and that face soon became a symbol of the lengths to which the old communists would go to stop Yushchenko and a badge of honor that underscored why it was rucial to elect him.
To do the massive leafleting, to communicate over the head of the controlled media, the campaign needed to recruit hundreds of thousands of volunteers from around the nation the very same men and women who later took to the streets after the phony vote count was announced and refused to leave until a new election was scheduled.
In Russia itself, Putin has taken the first step to end democracy by using his majority in the Duma to eliminate locally elected congressmen and to change the constitution to elect the entire body elected by proportional representation from party lists. Because Putin can control the nominations and the order of their selection on party lists, he will have a rubber stamp Duma.
But it is abroad, in the former Soviet republics, that Putin is doing his worst work. The first effort was in Georgia, where an alert populace revolted and insisted on an honest vote count. Now, in Ukraine, he is trying to impose his will on the electorate.
The stakes for global liberty couldn't be higher. In Russia's bid to come back as an imperial power, the Ukraine struggle is the equivalent of Hitler's bid to remilitarize the Rhineland. A determined stand here will keep Russia (145 million) and Ukraine (50 million) separate and cripple Putin's imperial ambitions. With Ukraine inevitably drawing closer to the EU and further away from Moscow, its chances for prosperity and freedom will increase.
But all depends on forcing the country's powers-that-be to count the votes accurately.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, most recently, "Rewriting History", a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History. (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris