Celebrating Ukraine's recent Orange Revolution as a "powerful example of democracy for people around the world," President Bush promised the country's visiting leader Monday that he would help the former Soviet republic move closer to the West and eliminate decades-old trade barriers.
Bush hoped the White House meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who rode a wave of popular indignation to power last December, would fortify the new government and send a signal to other countries struggling with tyranny. At the same time, the show of support may be seen as a challenge in Russia, which has grown jittery at three such revolutions on its borders in 16 months.
At a news conference with Yushchenko before a White House lunch, Bush endorsed the peaceful street revolution that toppled an unpopular establishment in Kiev as a model for others to follow. "We share a goal to spread freedom to other nations," Bush said with Yushchenko at his side. "I mean, after all, the Orange Revolution may have looked like it was only a part of . . . the history of Ukraine, but the Orange Revolution represented revolutions elsewhere as well."
With his face still badly scarred from a mysterious dioxin poisoning during last fall's campaign, Yushchenko renewed his commitment to reorienting his nation of nearly 50 million toward the rest of Europe -- and implicitly away from its historic place in Moscow's orbit. "The ideals for the new Ukraine are the ideals shared by Western civilization," he said.
Bush offered support for Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO and the World Trade Organization, and vowed to lift Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions, first imposed against the Soviet Union in 1974 and still applied to some of its former components.
For three years Bush has promised to lift restrictions against Russia without persuading Congress to act, but Ukraine may be an easier sell on Capitol Hill. If Bush succeeds with Ukraine, it will be seen in Moscow as another slap.
But the United States has pledged support for Yushchenko before without following through. While he was prime minister, many Ukrainians complained that Washington did nothing to help him enact Western-style reforms, and a change-resistant parliament fired him in April 2001 after 16 months in office.
For all the comity of Monday's meeting, Bush and Yushchenko agreed to disagree about Iraq. Yushchenko promised during last year's campaign to withdraw Ukraine's 1,650 troops, one of the largest non-U.S. contingents in Iraq, and he has committed to following through since taking office. Bush brushed off the dispute. "He's fulfilling a campaign pledge," Bush said. "I fully understand that."