Ukrainians Go To The Polls Tomorrow

As Ukrainians go to the polls to elect their president tomorrow the result is not in much doubt: chocolatier and oligarch Petro Poroshenko will almost certainly be the next president of Ukraine.

But what is in much graver doubt is how Putin and the separatists he backs in eastern Ukraine will react to this result.

On Friday, Putin said that he would “respect the choice of the Ukrainian people.” However, that does not mean he will ever respect the Ukrainian people themselves or their right to chart a free and European course for their country. In fact, Putin has said that “Ukraine is not even a state.” Accepting the results of the election will not make Putin any more benevolent in his treatment of Ukraine or benign in his goals for Eastern Europe.

All of this should come as no surprise. Putin doesn’t respect democracy at home, why would we expect him to respect it in a country he doesn’t even consider legitimate?

These elections are important because even though the results are a foregone conclusion, they will set a high democratic standards on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Putin, who is tremendously popular at home but is still compelled to steal elections, recognizes democratic values as an existential threat to the authoritarianism-lite that he has built in Russia.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ukrainians should be proud of what they have accomplished in the last six months. They have ousted a deeply corrupt Kremlin puppet, and in a few days will replace him by free and fair election. Despite the sham referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk earlier this month, Ukraine will hold an internationally supervised vote right under Putin’s nose, just across the border from millions of Russians who have been denied that opportunity.

Putin has promised to “work with” whomever is elected Ukraine’s president. What that means in Poroshenko’s case is unclear. Poroshenko does plenty of business in Russia, even though the Kremlin has frozen his assets in the past to punish him for supporting the Maidan protesters.

Putin is clearly hopeful that Poroshenko will cut a deal that keeps Ukraine out of reach of European institutions and open to Russian influence and investment.

But if the last several months have taught us anything about Ukraine and its people, it’s that they are tired of compromising on their dream of a prosperous and democratic future in Europe, out of reach of the Kremlin’s iron grip.

It does not matter that Putin harbors disdain for this Sunday’s demonstration of democracy in action. Ukraine is at a turning point in its history, and holding this election declares loudly and proudly that Ukrainians are ready to live their European dream, Putin’s wishes be damned.