We haven’t said much about the situation in Ukraine because, frankly, we don’t know much about it. The Washington Times has a good summary of the current status.
From what I know of the big picture, the situation in Ukraine seems relatively encouraging, in that the people’s commitment to democracy appears strong. I assume there is truth to the claim that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych “won” the election through fraud. But it seems noteworthy to me that even Russia’s Vladimir Putin is encouraging Ukrainians to settle the matter peacefully in the courts.
That may just mean, of course, that Yanukovych’s pro-Russia faction controls the Ukrainian Supreme Court, but bear in mind that just four years ago, Al Gore almost succeeded in stealing our Presidential election with the connivance of the Supreme Court of Florida. Electoral fraud is a terrible thing, but one that is not unknown even in advanced democracies. The fact that elections are being held and their results debated is, in itself, no small accomplishment.
There are several interesting blogs by Ukrainians, through which you can get a birds-eye view of the protests going on in Kiev and updates on the most recent developments there. Check out Le Sabot Post-Moderne, whose author is reporting from Independence Square. He writes:
Reading through my comments, I’m seeing that the situation really isn’t clear to some in the West. Discounting the reflexively silly Bush-haters, there are some normal people who are viewing this simply through the lens of election corruption. That’s only the surface.
You have to understand the situation in Ukraine. The country is run by a series of oligarchic clans that actually found their beginnings in the Soviet Union, and then grew fabulously rich during the early days of “privatization”.
Compare the situation to Russia, where an authoritarian Putin faced off against corrupt oligarchs. In Ukraine, authoritarianism and oligarchy are fused. Yanukovych isn’t just another unscrupulous candidate, he’s the main man of Akhmetov — the duke of Donetsk and the richest man in Ukraine. The current president, Kuchma, is the head of a different clan, Dnepropetrovsk. The presidential administrator is Medvedchuk, who happens to run the Kiev-based Medvedchuk-Surkis clan. He also owns the two biggest Ukrainian TV stations, which is awfully convenient.
While there is jockeying for control among these clans, the overall effect is for them to sustain one another in power. They all depend on the same system for survival, and actively collaborate to keep it in place.
This isn’t about a few stolen votes. It’s about an entire system of fine control over the political, social and economic life of the people. Economics and politics are incestuously fused here in a way that is difficult to imagine for those in the West.
Also, take a look at Tulip Girl, who has a running commentary on events and links to a number of other Ukrainian blogs and news sites. Tulip Girl posted this photo of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko putting flowers in the shields of policemen at Independence Square:
This worries me a bit, as those with guns tend to have the advantage over those with flowers. And there are rumors that Russian special forces have been sent to Kiev to quell the rebellion, if necessary. Still, the turmoil in Ukraine is far from being over, and, as we used to say in a far less noble context, the whole world is watching.
UPDATE: There is a webcam in Independence Square; you can see it here. It’s a little unreliable and seems to work better with some browsers than others.
THIS JUST IN: The Ukrainian Supreme Court has issued an order barring any proclamation of a winner in the election until it has had an opportunity to consider the appeal which has been filed on behalf of Yushchenko.