Meltdown in Ukraine

TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE?

No country today has a more sullied reputation than Ukraine's. After 10 years of independence, this former Soviet republic is rated among the world's most corrupt nations by Transparency International, and it leads the pack in copyright piracy. To make matters worse, a lurid scandal now unfolding in the top echelons of Ukraine's government may utterly destabilize the country. Recently disclosed evidence appears to connect President Leonid Kuchma and his closest aides to the surveillance of parliamentarians, the suborning of judges, interference in criminal investigations, massive graft, falsification of election results, and the harassment of journalists -- including the September 2000 disappearance and murder of on-line reporter Heorhiy Gongadze.

The crisis -- which features a headless corpse, secret audio tapes, and alleged intrigues by Ukrainian and foreign intelligence and security services -- has led to widespread protests within Ukraine. And it has already caused Kuchma to shy away from the West and move toward Russia's more accepting embrace. This shift, if it continues, could have dire geopolitical consequences. Ukraine's drive for independence helped precipitate the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Kiev's autonomy remains crucial to preventing the re-emergence of Moscow as a major regional security threat. As Ukraine stands at the crossroads between democracy and repression, it is past time for the outside world to take notice and get involved.

THE TALE OF THE TAPES

In December 1991, many observers hoped that newly independent Ukraine would gradually establish an open society based on the rule of law. Motivated by the strategic importance of this country of 50 million people and worried that it might become a Russian puppet, the U.S. government provided $2.8 billion in aid to encourage democratic reform. These funds were supplemented by additional billions from western Europe and substantial loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

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