Skip to main content

Free elections good for Ukraine, but could be bad for Putin

By Kelly Ayotte and Peter Roskam
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Sat May 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Peter Roskam are in Ukraine for the presidential elections
  • They feel Russia's continued interference in the region undermines democracy
  • Vladimir Putin has been deliberately seizing ground in Georgia and Ukraine
  • They say the U.S. must not allow Putin to use force to meddle in Ukrainian affairs

Editor's note: Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Illinois, represents that state's 6th District, serves as chief deputy whip and chairs the House Democracy Partnership. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

(CNN) -- On Sunday, Ukrainians will go to the polls to elect a new president three months after the ouster of corrupt former President Viktor Yanukovych.

We will be there in Ukraine to observe the elections as members of an International Republican Institute delegation, witnessing a vote that is an important step not only for the Ukrainian people's struggle for democracy, but for the entire region's hopes for long-term stability and democratic development.

In the lead-up to this critical vote, pro-Russian separatists, taking their cues from an increasingly aggressive Moscow, have attempted to undermine the elections in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine through threats and violence.

In Donetsk and Luhansk, separatist leaders announced they will not participate in the presidential elections, while heavily armed militia fighters seize control of election offices and government buildings.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly called the election "a step in the right direction," but tens of thousands of Russian troops remain near the Ukrainian border, Russian intelligence forces continue operating in eastern Ukraine and Putin has been noncommittal about whether his government will recognize the outcome of the presidential vote.

On GPS: Will Ukraine detach from Russia?
Militants burn polling place in Ukraine
Where are tougher Russia sanctions?

As other countries in the region can attest, Russian interference in territorial sovereignty is nothing new. Since 1992, long before Putin came to power, Russia has occupied parts of Moldova, and for many years Moscow fostered a breakaway rebellion on Georgian soil, which eventually led to war in 2008.

Shortly before this year's Sochi Olympics, Russian forces used the pretext of security for the games to advance miles farther into Georgia, pledging to return to the ceasefire lines once the Olympics had ended. Instead, Russia's military has fortified its gains in Georgia and shows no indication of withdrawal.

Putin understands that successful elections and a new government committed to democratic ideals and anti-corruption will have a ripple effect throughout the region, including Russia.

In a recent interview, Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said, "If they [Ukrainians] survive this crisis there will be a future for all the countries in the region that border Russia." That is why Putin has undertaken extraordinary measures to undermine Kiev's effort to solidify its status as a sovereign, independent, and democratic nation.

To deter Putin's aggression, the United States must inflict immediate and serious economic consequences on Russia's financial, energy, and defense sectors. We must also expand and strengthen sanctions on Russian officials who were involved in the illegal annexation of Crimea. And Putin must know that additional acts of aggression will be met with even greater costs.

The vast majority of Ukrainians -- like the citizens of so many countries in the region -- envision their future as a united democracy, free from foreign intervention and intimidation, and integrated with the rest of Europe.

It is critical that Western nations support these aspirations through democratic assistance and economic development programs that support the new Ukrainian government as it enacts political and economic reforms to root out corruption, restore the rule of law and promote growth and prosperity for the Ukrainian people.

The United States and our European Union allies must not allow Putin to continue to meddle in Ukrainian affairs and use the specter of military aggression to undermine the safety and liberty of millions of people seeking democracy in the region.

It is our responsibility to stand with the Ukrainian people and their aspiration to live in a free and democratic society without fear of repression.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT