Breaking news is now riveted on events in the Ukraine, where a Prime Ministerial candidate (Viktor Yanukovich) supported by Moscow is being accused to trying to steal the election from pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.
The Central Electoral Commission said Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won 49.4 percent of the vote in the election and Yushchenko had 46.7 percent. European and U.S. monitors said vote counting was flawed. The future of the former Soviet republic of 47 million people, sandwiched between the European Union and Russia, is in the balance 13 years after it declared independence, with Yushchenko advocating a free-market economy and closer links to the European Union and Yanukovych urging the country foster deeper ties with Russia.
The announcement of Yushchenko as a "so-called people's president, and calls not to fulfill decisions of legitimate power, are enormously dangerous and may lead to unpredictable consequences," President Leonid Kuchma said in his first statement, posted on his official Web site.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are in the streets surrounding Yanukovich's headquarters; Russian Special Forces have been reported by former US Congressman Bob Schaffer as guarding the Kremlin's candidate. Schaffer is an election observer. (Via Instapundit)
Russian special forces dressed in Ukrainian Special forces uniforms are in Kyiv. Ukrainian militia have been instructed by the mayor to protect the people from the Russian troops. Ukrainian militia have established a hotline for Ukrainians to report any incidents with the Russians and pledged to protect Ukrainians. These Russians flew into Ukraine this morning. They're now surrounding the administration buildings they say "to protect Kuchma (the outgoing president and his PM Yanukovich). Following is a chain of email messages I've been sending by blackberry. Please pass along to others. Bob Schaffer.
... A representative of the Greek Catholic Church (a man who appeared to be a priest -- dressed as one) announced at the demonstration that he was speaking on behalf of the Greek Catholic Church, the Kyiv Patriarchiat and several Protestant denominations (Lutheran was the only specific one I heard but there were several others). He said this coalition of churches recognizes Yushchenko as president.
Yuschenko is now leading one million people from the square and surrounding streets to the administration headquarters of the Ukrainian government. He is in front of the column and many fear he is vulnerable to getting shot. They should be at the steps in 15 mins. Keep in mind, this is where the Russian special forces are stationed, dresses in Ukrainian garb.
Yushchenko declared himself the victor and took an oath of office and act which Yanukovich's allies described as a "farce". Vaclav Havel has issued a statement in support of Yushchenko (via Instapundit again), according to Radio Free Europe, but the statement is couched in very general terms. (Again via Instapundit)
Allow me to greet you in these dramatic days when the destiny of your country is being decided for decades ahead. You have its future in your hands. All trustworthy organizations, both local and international, agree that your demands are just. That is why I wish you strength, perseverance, courage and good fortune with your decisions.
American, European and Canadian diplomats all expressed concern at the Kremlin's actions, creating remarkable psychological solidarity which is in stark contrast towards the wrangling over Iraq. The Guardian intoned (The Guardian!)
International reactions to the presidential elections in Ukraine have been remarkably uniform. From the US, through the European parliament, to Nato, the view is that serious irregularities and worse marred Sunday's second-round run-off. Expressions of concern and dismay might have little practical effect if it were not for the fact that the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, yesterday claimed victory over the official winner, Viktor Yanukovich, raising the stakes both at home and abroad. Demonstrators massing dramatically in freezing temperatures in Kiev have invoked the example of Georgia last year, when the "rose revolution" overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in favour of a pro-westerner.
Both Yanukovich and Yushchenko are negotiating to avoid an open breach. Although the Kremlin has deployed some Special Forces units to the Ukraine, it seems highly unlikely that Russia would risk an all out military campaign to bring the Ukraine within the fold. Although there are no explicit NATO security guarantees to the Ukraine, there have been many half-promises and partial arguments. The NATO website summarizes the situation thus:
NATO-Ukraine relations were formally launched in 1991, when Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (later renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council), immediately upon achieving independence with the break-up of the Soviet Union. A few years later, in 1994, Ukraine became the first of the Commonwealth of Independent States to join the Partnership for Peace – a major programme of practical security and defence cooperation between NATO and individual Partner countries. ...
Relations between the Allies and Ukraine hit a low point in 2002, when the Alliance expressed grave concerns about reports of the authorisation at the highest level of the transfer of air-defence equipment from Ukraine to Iraq. Yet NATO remained engaged in its cooperation with Ukraine, demonstrating the strength of the Allies' commitment to develop strong NATO-Ukraine relations and to encourage Ukraine to work towards closer Euro-Atlantic integration. In May 2002, just before the fifth anniversary of the Distinctive Partnership, President Leonid Kuchma boldly announced Ukraine’s goal of eventual NATO membership. In response, at a meeting in Reykjavik later that month, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed with their Ukrainian counterpart to explore ways to take the NATO-Ukraine relationship to a qualitatively new level. This paved the way for the adoption of the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan by Ukrainian and Allied foreign ministers at their meeting in Prague in November 2002.
The tug-of-war between Russia and NATO now in evidence was discernible even then. In this crisis, the counterweight of NATO is effectively the power of the United States, which has slowly been positioning itself not only on the western marches of the former Soviet Union but also in Central Asia. A list of US allies in Iraq illustrates this dramatically. These include the Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Mongolia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Albania, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Armenia; almost as if the entire former Warsaw Pact had come under CENTCOM control. If that were not enough, the United States has acquired a network of military bases at Khanabad in Uzbekistan, and at Manas in Kyrgyzstan.