WMU News

Corruption at center of upheaval in Ukraine

Dec. 3, 2004

KALAMAZOO--A power struggle between pro-western candidate Viktor Yushchenko and his pro-eastern counterpart, Viktor Yanukovich, is cited most often as the underlying cause for the election crisis in Ukraine. That's accurate, but is only part of the story, says Dr. James Butterfield, a WMU professor of political science, who has lived and worked in the regions covered by the former Soviet Union and conducted extensive research on the people and politics there.

"Yanukovich was closely aligned with President Kuchma, who's been in power for much of the last decade," Butterfield says. "His presidency was characterized by very high levels of corruption. Transparency International, which is the international NGO, that rates countries and investigates levels of corruption, places Ukraine 122nd out of 145 countries in terms of corruption, tied with such stellar countries as Sudan and Guatemala. And part of this election was a referendum on that."

Something else that is not being widely reported is a countermovement in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian activists are avidly backing Yanukovich, Butterfield adds.

"The protesters in Kiev are getting a lot of coverage," Butterfield says. "It's a very striking visual image that our news cameras like. But there's a countermovement taking place in eastern Ukraine with provinces such as Donetsk, which is a power base for Yanukovich, threatening to hold a referendum on autonomy, if not complete succession from the Ukraine, if Yanukovich and his victory are not recognized."

Butterfield says the election that put Yanukovich in power was almost certainly fraudulent. But Ukraine's apparent move toward holding another election will not really solve the problem.

"Let's suppose for the sake of argument the next election is free and fair and Yushchenko comes out the victor. That's not going to solve the problem by any means," Butterfield says. "There are still going to be these very deep-set divisions in this country."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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