Rift deepens between Kiev and West as poll is criticised

Thu, Nov 1, 2012, 00:00

THE ORGANISATION for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s criticism of Ukraine’s election and the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has angered the ex-Soviet state and highlighted deep rifts in the 56-nation group as Kiev prepares to replace Ireland at its helm.

Monitors from the OSCE said Sunday’s parliamentary ballot represented a setback for democracy in Ukraine, complaining that it was tilted in favour of the ruling Regions Party by biased media coverage and the unfair use of so-called administrative resources.

The European Union and United States took their lead from the OSCE monitors in denouncing the vote, which could deepen the existing chill in relations between Kiev and the West.

Ukrainian officials responded calmly to the OSCE’s preliminary findings, but insisted that while the vote may not have been perfect, its results did accurately reflect the will of the people. Monitors from several ex-Soviet states, grouped around Russia, found no major fault with the election.

Ukraine’s anger was piqued by sharp criticism from senior OSCE representatives after they were prevented on Tuesday from visiting Ms Tymoshenko, who is receiving hospital treatment for back problems after being jailed for seven years last October for alleged abuse of power.

She denies the charges, and has gone on hunger strike in protest at what she called a rigged election.

“Yesterday we were speaking about democratic regression in this country. And unfortunately today this fact that we cannot meet Ms Tymoshenko once again proved this right,” said OSCE special co-ordinator Walburga Habsburg Douglas, after being prevented from seeing the ex-prime minister. “It is disconcerting when the incoming chairmanship is not fulfilling their OSCE commitments,” she added.

Oleh Voloshyn, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said the attention given by Ms Habsburg Douglas and OSCE colleagues to Ms Tymoshenko suggested they had not come to monitor elections but to help the politician “whose political position appeals to them most”.

Mr Voloshyn criticised Ms Habsburg Douglas for linking the conduct of the vote to “events that have nothing to do with the elections . . . Visiting Tymoshenko is an issue that has nothing to do with the elections.” Ukraine’s frustration with the OSCE monitors echoes complaints from Russia and many other former Soviet states which believe the organisation’s assessments of elections are heavily influenced by the political preferences of the US and EU.

Russia has frequently accused OSCE monitors of bias, and last month denounced the “deliberately politicised approach” of their criticism of elections in Belarus.

Before Sunday’s vote, Ukrainian foreign minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko said he hoped OSCE monitors would deliver “a report reflecting reality and not just perceptions”. He also spoke of Kiev’s desire, matched by Russia and its allies, to standardise the OSCE’s election-monitoring process and remove subjectivity.

“So that it is not about what I like in this or that, but ‘tick’, ‘tick’, ‘tick’ according to specific standards,” he told The Irish Times, while marking boxes on an imaginary check-list.