By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia has joined Russia in recognizing the official results of Ukraine’s weekend presidential election denounced as fraudulent by the West, with President Robert Kocharian congratulating Moscow-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich on his hotly disputed victory.
Yanukovich’s pro-Western opposition challenger, Viktor Yushchenko, refuses to concede defeat, accusing the Ukrainian authorities of rigging the two-round ballot that has plunged the ex-Soviet republic into its worst-ever political crisis. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have staged daily protests in the capital Kiev against the widespread electoral fraud reported by international observers.
News of the congratulatory message sent by Kocharian to Yanukovich was first reported by Russian media on Thursday. Kocharian confirmed it the next day as he spoke to journalist after inaugurating the Yerevan municipality’s new building.
“During the entire pre-election period we did not express our approaches in any way,” he said. “We had no preferences. If Yushchenko was elected I would congratulate him. But it is Yanukovich who was elected and we congratulated him.”
“We did what we had to do for pragmatic considerations,” Kocharian added without elaborating.
A similar view was expressed on Thursday by a leading member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). Galust Sahakian said a Yushchenko presidency is good for Armenia because Ukraine would remain under “Russian influence.” Repesentatives of the HHK’s two coalition partners, the Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties, avoided taking sides in the Ukrainian standoff.
Another pro-Kocharian group represented in parliament, the United Labor Party, voiced its “unequivocal support” for Yushchenko. Armenia’s two main opposition groups also threw their weight behind the Ukrainian opposition leader. “Presidential candidate Yushchenko has won and the will of the Ukrainian people must be respected,” said Victor Dallakian of the Artarutyun alliance.
Incidentally, the Armenian leader’s press service issued no official statements regarding the congratulation as of late Friday. Nonetheless, Russian news agencies already reported quotes from Kocharian’s letter the previous night.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been the most outspoken foreign backer of Ukraine’s ruling regime, lambasting the West for its blunt rejection of the official vote results. The European Union and the United States say the election fell far short of international standards and called for a review of its conduct and outcome.
Putin has twice telephoned the Ukrainian premier to congratulate him on the contentious win. Also congratulating him were the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. None of them is regarded as democratically elected in the West. Kocharian’s reelection last year was also strongly criticized by international observers.
Moscow has argued that Yanukovich’s victory has been legally certified by Ukraine’s Central Election Commission (CEC) and must therefore be accepted by the international community. However, the official results were called into question on Thursday by the Ukrainian Supreme Court which barred their publication in the official gazette pending its verdict on Yushchenko’s appeal.
Yanukovich was chosen as successor by Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s outgoing president. Kuchma raised the eyebrows in Armenia last June when he publicly sided with Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “We have always supported and will continue to support the principle of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan,” he said.
Ukraine was among those countries that voted earlier this month for a UN General Assembly debate on a pro-Azerbaijani resolution on Karabakh.
(Photolur photo: Opposition supporters demonstrating in Kiev.)