After its 2001 failure to install a pro-Western president in Belarus, a former Soviet Slavic republic, the United States has returned to its policy of containing Russia by aligning with the countries on Russia’s periphery. A show of strength took place in Georgia where the virulently anti-Russian Michael Saakashvili replaced Eduard Shevardnadze, a life-long diplomat and perhaps the most respected of ex-Soviet leaders.

The United States replayed the scenario in Romania and the Ukraine. American involvement was meant to be highly visible. In both countries the US backed candidates adopted orange as their campaign color. Tons of orange coats and winter boots and . . . oranges, carefully prepared and exported to Romania and the Ukraine beforehand, show that the choice was not coincidental.

Foreign intervention is not necessarily detrimental to a country, though always insulting. The alternative to the American backed Yuschenko was the pro-Russian candidate Yanukovich, a twice-convicted felon who marked his short term as prime minister by knocking ministers’s teeth out and beating governors he found less than helpful. Closer ties with Russia—now ruled by a KGB foster child whose savagery has been demonstrated in Chechnya—are a dubious attraction for the Ukraine.

The wholesale condemnation of the elections by Western observers was orchestrated. The same watchdogs called the 2002 elections fair while local campaign managers who knew better grinned. Foreign observers, few of whom know Ukrainian or Russian, are useless. They do not understand the intricate technicalities of falsifying results which takes place largely outside the polling stations: forging the summaries that record vote counts, issuing fake voter registration documents, and hacking the computer system.

The only universal violation the observers reported was Yanukovich’s massive advertising through the government-controlled media. But Yuschenko enjoyed similar large-scale free promotion much longer, during all his years as head of the Central Bank from 1993 to 1999 and then as prime minister until 2001.

The Ukrainian Supreme Court decision annulling the vote should be taken with reservations. The court violated the principle of the separation of judicial and legislative powers by requiring the legislature to pass amendments to existing laws making the judiciary-mandated re-vote possible. Intimidated by crowds assembled around the court building, the notoriously corrupt justices had little choice but to give in. They proved as ready on this occasion to yield to threats as they usually do to bribes.

In an extraordinary démarche, the United States refused to recognize Yanukovich, the newly elected Ukrainian president. This was only to be expected after Madeleine Albright told the New York Times in March 2004 that the Ukrainian vote was certain to be rigged and that the perpetrators (presumably only those favoring Yanukovich) would risk having their foreign bank accounts frozen. The righteous itch of the US administration is a bit odd, because the elections were not exceptionally flawed in light of recent Ukrainian history. The United States government hailed the no less rigged Ukrainian parliamentary elections of 2002, but then the Yuschenko faction fetched victory. With the American presidential vote stained by redistricting abuse and outright fraud, who would expect very honest balloting in the thoroughly corrupt Ukraine? Both candidates seem to have adjusted the figures in the regions they controlled: the almost 100% vote for Yuschenko in Western Ukraine is as doubtful as is Yanukovich’s similar result in the East. When a month of active campaigning brought Yuschenko new supporters and cost Yanukovich some, the vote difference of only 8% between the contenders shows that they were close in the annulled run-off.

Yuschenko’s camp includes high-level bureaucrats accused and even charged with corruption, oligarchs profiting from insider privatization deals and right-wing radicals often compared to Nazis. During their years in power, Yuschenko and his allies conducted about the same economic policy as Yanukovich, and their parliamentary faction seconded most his moves.

Both camps overspent the allowed campaign limit dozens of times over, estimates running from one to two billion dollars.

The facts outlined above show that American involvement has little to do with promoting democracy. Rather the support was directed to an imperfect candidate whose major platform difference from the other also imperfect candidate was further distancing from Russia toward America. The United States government’s naïveté is puzzling. Just after the contested run-off, at the height of American support, Yuschenko’s parliamentary faction voted to pull the Ukrainian contingent out of Iraq: a reasonable measure to be sure, but hardly in sync with Bush’s expectations. Further disappointment followed when Yuschenko scheduled an official trip to Russia almost immediately after his inauguration. The White House shows ignorance of local realities by expecting the Ukraine to drift away from Russia, the only country willing to give it virtually free oil and gas, critical for its industry and the relief of its pauperized population.

The delusions of the Bush Administration should be of concern not only to American taxpayers. The winners of such elections take American support as license to suppress their opponents. Not so independent prosecutors have already charged many members of the defeated Yanukovich camp with criminal offenses, including calls for splitting the Ukraine up into autonomous districts. Here lies perhaps the biggest problem, since the United States is obsessed with preserving borders, erroneously believing that breaking a country up into more states means destabilization. The American refusal to cooperate in the disintegration of Yugoslavia led to ethnic conflicts of the kind that loom now in the Ukraine, where the vehemently nationalist Ukrainian West confronts the strongly pro-Russian East. Multicultural democracy works in societies such as Switzerland or (more or less) Belgium, which learned toleration painfully, or America, which went through the melting-pot stage. Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, and Russia, where totalitarian power has historically quelled ethnic resentment, have had no opportunity to learn ethnic and political tolerance. The 44% pro-Russian Yanukovich voters would hardly accept the extreme nationalists prominent in Yuschenko’s entourage as partners. Regional autonomy, if not complete dissolution of this artificially huge country, is the most practical solution, but both the White House and the Ukrainian ultranationalists whom it shores up oppose that sensible measure.

There is little doubt that an increasingly imperialist Russia will exploit the tension between East and West Ukraine. High-ranking Russian politicians are already calling for autonomy in pro-Russian Eastern Ukraine. The worst thing the Bush administration could do is to give unreserved backing to a nationalist government bent on quashing even discussion of autonomous regions. Given the historical record which shows that the American government props up any client regime so long as it remains receptive to United States corporate interests, there is little hope for a peaceful adjustment of territorial issues in the Ukraine.