A Divided Ukraine Turns Back To Russian Roots

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine, a country divided into linguistic and cultural solitudes, showed its Russian face Sunday night as voters appeared to elect Viktor Yanukovich, a former leader whose 2004 election had been declared fraudulent by the courts.

Yanukovich claims win in big comeback for former leader.

Mr. Yanukovich, 59, delivered his presidential victory speech last night in Russian, his native tongue and the language used by about one-third of the Ukrainian population.

And there were no gestures of magnanimity after an electoral battle with Yulia Tymoshenko that saw accusations of crime, child molestation, corruption and incompetence flying back and forth.

“I think Ms. Tymoshenko should start getting ready for her dismissal,” Mr. Yanukovich said in a TV broadcast from Kiev.

“Ms. Tymoshenko showed she was a strong opponent and it is very important that she accepts defeat.”

But there's a risk of protests and procedural standoffs Monday after Ms. Tymoshenko, the charismatic gas-pipeline magnate and Prime Minister, insisted last night that the results were unclear and plagued with irregularities.

She declared that any celebration of victory counted as a further form of electoral fraud. Her team accused their opponents of serious electoral manipulation, launching a feud that could freeze Ukraine for days.

“It is too soon to draw any conclusions,” she said.

With half the vote counted last night, official results showed Mr. Yanukovich with 49.6 per cent and Ms. Tymoshenko with 44.7 per cent. An exit poll of 16,000 voters conducted by three organizations showed the result as 48.5 per cent to 45.7 per cent.

Ballots will be counted through Monday, and 3,000 international election monitors, including more than 200 Canadians, had yet to issue their report, although monitoring officials reached last night said there appeared to be few visible irregularities.

Backers of Mr. Yanukovich – who tends to be brusque and verbally awkward in person, and who avoided all debates and most speeches during the campaign – say he intends to create a more unified country by serving both its Ukrainian-speaking West and its Russian-speaking East.

He believes that the country's Eastern flank was neglected and isolated by the Ukrainian nationalism of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The Orange-backed president elected in 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, managed to infuriate Moscow and also to make no headway toward bringing Ukraine closer to European Union membership.

His policies, which were plagued with mismanagement, twice caused the gas-transit pipelines that are Ukraine's largest industry to have their flow cut off in pricing standoffs – events that plunged parts of Europe into cold and darkness and terrified the European Union.

He also oversaw an economic collapse, driven by excessive borrowing and a property-price bubble, that led Ukraine to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which will force the country to cut spending and avoid expensive new programs until the debts have been repaid.

Voters strongly rejected Mr. Yushchenko in the Jan. 17 first round, in which he received only 5 per cent of the vote.

It is likely that his backers either gave their votes to Ms. Tymoshenko, who was his prime minister during the economic crisis and eventually became his nemesis, or avoided voting altogether.

Mr. Yanukovich's backers said in a briefing last night that he would put an end to gas-flow lapses by establishing stable energy ties with Moscow, launch European Union accession on stronger terms and end any talk of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Source: Globe and Mail