Monday, January 10, 2005

Ukraine (The Editor's Cut)

The Tribune really couldn't use 4,500+ words about my week in Odessa and Kyiv, so this week's column is a shorter version of the lengthy post below about monitoring the Ukraine elections.

But enough Ukraine, you say. Sam, you ask, how did you do in the Rock-n-Roll Arizona Marathon yesterday? Why, thank you for noticing. I finished in 4:29:28, which is pretty darn good for me, and just over 33 minutes better than last year. So I'm happy, but I'm also being very, very careful not to drop anything because it really hurts to bend over to pick it up. UPDATE: Here's the link for marathon results. (It's tricky--you have to scroll down to the very bottom of the page to find the scroll bar for moving right, or just use the right arrow on your keyboard.) Here's the link for the newspaper version of the column, at least for a while.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 9, 2005

Here’s hoping, when it comes to Ukraine’s elections, that the third time’s a charm.

I spent the last week in December in Ukraine again, this time as an international election monitor with the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and the Association of Former Members of Congress. Our little band of three dozen U.S. and European former elected officials were part of a veritable army of international observers, over 12,000 strong.

Ukraine’s election law specifically encourages international observers, giving them the right to watch (and photograph) all aspects of the election process. That openness is one of the oft-cited “international standards” which we in the United States demand of other countries but may not provide ourselves, depending on what each state’s laws happen to say.

I’ve put my (embarrassingly long) “Ukraine diary” on my website, for those interested in the places, the process, the result, or links to region-by-region vote totals. (Do your own “blue oblasts vs. orange oblasts” maps!) But now that the “Orange Revolution” has triumphed and democracy actually marched, it’s absolutely crucial that we don’t forget Ukraine. Having done what many thought impossible, Ukraine now needs the West to respond both in kind and in proportion.

Ukraine sees itself as an integral part of Europe, not as a bridge. Ukraine wants a closer relationship with the European Union and to work toward EU membership once its economy improves to making membership feasible, both of which the U.S. should encourage. More awkwardly, Ukraine also wants a closer relationship with NATO, which would antagonize Russia more than it would reward Ukraine. The U.S. and Europeans may need to dance around that one.

But there are three specific things the U.S. should do now to recognize and reward this new Ukraine. First, pretty much any Ukrainian student wanting to study in the U.S., or any Ukrainian businesspeople wanting to expand trade, should be allowed to come. The dramatic declines, particularly in student visas, following 9/11 has impaired one of the best tools of American diplomacy. We need to resolve any homeland security issues and let Ukrainians visit as much (and as many) as possible.

Second, the Jackson-Vanik amendment imposed trade sanctions against the Soviet Union and other countries that blocked minority emigration and religious exercise. As a former part of the USSR, Ukraine remains subject to Jackson-Vanik. Since Ukrainian independence in 1991, each U.S. administration has given Ukraine an annual waiver. But Ukrainians see the waiver process as potentially risky and definitely insulting, and want permanent “graduation” instead. Scoop Jackson may be dead, but in our delegation former Rep. Tom Sawyer reported that even Charlie Vanik, now retired in Florida, thinks the law has long since served its purpose and should be repealed.

It may be surprisingly difficult to repeal a law that few -- including, in our delegation, former Reps. Elizabeth Holzman and Robert Drinan, who proudly voted for it in the 1970’s -- realize is still on the books. It’s a classic political problem, where a small but extremely agitated minority opposes repeal that would benefit, if only slightly, the vast majority. Repealing a now-outdated law would be a strong (if merely symbolic) reward to a democratic Ukraine.

Third, perhaps to demonstrate his independence from the U.S., President-elect Viktor Yushchenko promised during the campaign to bring Ukrainian troops home from Iraq immediately. While people around Yushchenko say that the withdrawal won’t be precipitous, 1,600 Ukrainian soldiers will depart, probably soon after Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections, while the U.S. scrounges for more troops to fight the insurgency. The Bush administration cannot let short-term Iraq troop requirements overpower our long-term strategic interests in a democratic Ukraine.

It’s truly thrilling to be in Ukraine now. People in Kyiv, both young and older, are quite proud of what they have accomplished. They appreciate the admiration that we Americans have shown, and they really enjoy that visitors from Moldova, Belarus, and especially Russia are openly jealous of Ukraine’s burst into democracy. But now comes the boring-but-vital part. Let’s fix the visa system, graduate Ukraine from Jackson-Vanik, and encourage Ukraine’s economic and political integration into Europe. It’s the least we must do to keep democracy on the march.

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