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Opinion: President Yanukovych threatens Ukraine’s democracy

If Obama meets with Yanukovych, they should discuss the importance of democracy to US-Ukraine cooperation.

Ukraine's president-elect Viktor Yanukovich holds up the presidential seal during his inauguration ceremony at the parliament hall in Kiev, Feb. 25, 2010. Yanukovich arrives in Washington on April 11, 2010. (Anastasiya Sirotkina/Pool/Reuters)

WASHINGTON and KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych is in Washington for the nuclear summit with the hope of securing a meeting with President Barack Obama. If a meeting goes ahead, Yanukovych should be reminded of the importance of democratic values to the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship.

In 2008, the United States and Ukraine signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership that highlights cooperation in security, energy, democracy and economics. President Yanukovych supports continued cooperation within the Charter but his domestic policies, after only 40 days in office, point to him backsliding on democratic and economic reforms.

Speaking to a conference on Ukraine at George Washington University this week, University of Florida’s Paul D’Anieri does not see encouraging signs for democracy in Ukraine: "Will there be free and fair elections in 2015? It's early, but the signs aren't encouraging. Already it appears that Yanukovych seeks to eliminate political competition in Ukraine, and it is questionable whether there is any force powerful enough to stop him."

A presidential meeting on the sidelines of the nuclear summit should be used by Washington to discuss five areas that threaten further U.S. cooperation with Ukraine. The first should point to the unacceptable trend of the Yanukovych administration towards clawing back Ukraine’s democratic gains. Only four days before Yanukovych set foot on U.S. soil he engineered a blatantly political ruling by the Constitutional Court.

Political corruption, which is now being rewarded, is by far the biggest threat to Ukraine’s democracy. Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko warned that the court’s ruling "blessed corruption" and "opened great perspectives for corruption by Ukrainian parliamentary deputies."

The court's ruling legitimizes the ruling coalition by permitting factions and deputies who have defected from their factions to join a coalition. The ruling contradicts an earlier ruling that permitted only factions to join coalitions and overturns the very essence of Ukraine’s proportional system whereby voters elect parties, not individuals.

Second, the president's coalition has indefinitely postponed local elections set for May and introduced draft legislation that permanently takes away the vote from Kyev to elect a mayor.

Threats to media pluralism, one of the main democratic achievements in Ukraine, are growing.

Evidence of interference by the Chairman of the Security Service, Valery Khoroshkovsky, an oligarchic media tycoon, into allocation of television licenses have led to growing protests by journalists. Journalists have been arrested and harassed by police and officials.

Intolerance of the opposition is gauged by arrests and police brutality against protesters. An investigation is to be launched against Tymoshenko into alleged financial transgressions when she headed the government.