Drop in U.S. aid hits democracy efforts in Ukraine [Article]

While Tymoshenko decides whether to contest her 3% shortfall – the same situation that was the prelude to the Orange Revolution, the Washington Post points out how Ukraine’s democracy since then has stammered partly due to the lack of US funding:

More than five years ago, a Western-funded exit poll challenged the official results of the presidential election in Ukraine and sparked the drama that became known as the Orange Revolution. Huge crowds protested voting fraud, the courts ordered a new election and the Kremlin’s candidate was forced to concede defeat.

When Ukrainians cast ballots for a new president on Sunday, the independent research groups behind that exit poll will be out in force again. But the poll took a hit after the first round of the election last month when it reported results at odds with those of other surveys as well as the final vote tally. What went wrong? A budget shortfall had forced organizers to cut the number of districts covered.

The poll organizers’ difficulties illustrate a larger phenomenon: U.S. financial aid intended to bolster Ukraine’s fledgling democracy has fallen sharply in recent years despite Washington’s rhetorical support for this former Soviet republic after the Orange Revolution.

But analysts say it also highlights Washington’s tendency to focus on elections and breakthroughs like the Orange Revolution instead of the difficult, drawn-out work of building institutions such as independent courts, free media and a vigorous civil society.

The temptation — for policymakers as well as activists — is to label countries such as Ukraine “democratic enough” and move on to the next dictatorship. But many scholars say the United States could have a greater impact by concentrating on shoring up the dozens of weak democracies worldwide that are so troubled by poor governance that they appear to be at risk of backsliding.

Some say Ukraine, for example, remains vulnerable to an authoritarian comeback similar to the one mounted by Vladimir Putin in Russia. Polls in Ukraine, a nation of 46 million strategically located on the Black Sea between Russia and the West, show deep frustration with democracy, with less than a third of respondents expressing approval of the transition to a multiparty system after the fall of the Soviet Union. Less than half say Sunday’s vote will be fair, and nearly three-quarters say Ukraine is headed toward instability and chaos.

But as he foundered as a leader, the funding fell from $40 million in 2005 to $20 million in 2008. The decrease mirrored a decline in overall U.S. aid to Ukraine, including funds for securing nuclear facilities, from a high of $360 million in 1998 to $210 million a decade later, according to State Department statistics. The Obama administration has proposed raising spending on democracy programs in Ukraine to $26 million this year.

Ilko Kucheriv, director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and an organizer of the national exit poll, said that even as the West has cut aid, Russia has been spending more to undermine the Ukrainian government and thwart reforms. “A democratic Ukraine wouldn’t make them happy,” he said.

In addition to supporting the exit poll, U.S. funds helped develop the network of grass-roots groups that later emerged at the forefront of the protest movement. It also financed training and exchange programs that exposed thousands of students, journalists and officials to Western political culture, including many of the judges and lawmakers who took a stand against the bid to fix the election.

“The problem is our politicians,” he said, noting that Washington paid for experts to help craft a sweeping judicial reform bill only to see it stall in parliament because political leaders were unwilling to give up control of the courts. He argued that the West should attach more conditions and demand results in exchange for aid.

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