Viktor Yushchenko is currently wrapping up a three-day visit to the United States, his first since he led Ukraine’s Orange Revolution last winter. On Monday Yushchenko met with President Bush at the White House. Yesterday he received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in Boston, where the award committee cited his commitment to democracy despite the efforts of his Russian-backed political opponents and a nearly fatal dioxin poisoning. Today he addresses a joint session of Congress.
Yushchenko is a hero to those around the world who support democracy. Still, there is much work to be done in Ukraine. Portions of the country favor secession, more than half of economic activity takes place on the black market, and the country’s nuclear-capable missiles are still a major problem.
But although President Bush publicly praises Yushchenko’s government as a “powerful example of democracy for people around the world,” he has fallen short when it comes to supporting Ukraine. His administration has cut 46 percent of funding for democracy programs in the former U.S.S.R. over the last four years. And early in his first term, Bush proposed slashing funding for Nunn-Lugar, the program designed to secure nuclear weapons in former Soviet territories.
President Bush recently proposed $60 million in funding to help cement democracy in Ukraine. Right-wing radicals in the House of Representatives , however, are trying to cut that amount to $33.7 million. Will the president put his money where his mouth is and fight for this funding for Ukraine? Only time will tell, but if recent history is any indication, Ukrainians probably shouldn’t bet on it.