George Will

     Criminality against Yushchenko's campaign went beyond multiple instances of violence, intimidation and vote fraud. The Financial Times reports that when Yushchenko appeared before a large crowd of supporters in Kiev, and his face filled a large video screen, a woman exclaimed, ``Oh, how terrible. He was so handsome.'' His pockmarked and scarred features are the result of what seems to have been a poisoning that felled him hours after dining with the head of Ukraine's secret service.

     Russia's attempt to control Ukraine's destiny is partly a reverberation from the dissolution of the Soviet empire. Russia's desire to envelop Ukraine within its sphere of influence is a centuries-old Russian tendency. The novel impulse at work here is the transformation of ``Europe'' from a geographic into a political expression -- and Putin's recoil against that.

     In its admirably sharp criticism of Ukraine's election, the E.U. is postulating certain standards of civic hygiene integral to European identity. If the E.U. extends membership to Turkey, Europe's border will abut Iraq. And if, in time, Ukraine joins, Europe's border will be within 250 miles of Moscow. 

     The canon of European literature includes Pushkin, Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, but that does not settle the question of Russia's identity -- its relationship to Europe. Charles de Gaulle spoke of Europe extending from the Atlantic (in some of his moods, from the English Channel) to the Ural Mountains. But there is a lot of Russia -- 8 time zones of it -- east of there.

     Ukraine has been independent for 13 years -- the length of time between America's declaration of independence and the election of its first president, when the cohesion of the national entity was in doubt. Talk of secession is rife in Ukraine's eastern, Russian-oriented region.

     The 19th century featured national consolidations -- the United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, etc. Recently, the disintegrative forces of religion, ethnicity and language have driven events in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Ukraine, where Catholicism and the Ukrainian language flourish in the west and Orthodox Christianity and Russian in the east, could be the latest cauldron to boil over.

     The United States, with its foreign policy hostage to January elections by the Palestinian Authority and those in Iraq, has a stake in Ukrainian events that is much larger than its leverage. As Lech Walesa, hero of Poland's liberation, told a mass meeting of Yushchenko's supporters, Poland supports you but you must do this yourself.

     The problem, in Ukraine and others among Russia's anxiously watching neighbors, is Putin. Perhaps Secretary Powell intended the wide arc of his scythe to encompass Moscow when he said that corrupt elections cannot create legitimate governments.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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