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Axworthy calls for western monitors ahead of May vote

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Ukraine needs western election monitors, University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy warned from Kyiv Friday.

"One senior official said they're engaged in a question of survival," Axworthy said.

The national election is not until May 25, but there's no time to waste, Axworthy urged: "There's a need to start earlier. The pressure points are on now."

Axworthy has been part of a mission from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute examining preparations for the election.

The situation in Ukraine is "fascinating, enthralling, sometimes disturbing," said Axworthy. "We're watching this country change itself, fundamental changes."

There is a need for election monitors to be, well, everywhere, "so that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his people can't thwart the election, which is clearly what they want to do.

"The hangover is the Russian presence, troops on the borders, agitators being sent in," said Axworthy, a former foreign affairs minister.

"Striving for reform is a real thing" that will not only affect Ukraine, but the entire region, he said.

"It will tip the scales -- will this be a real democracy, or does the president of Russia get his way and draw Ukraine into his orbit?"

Axworthy emphasized the mission is not recommending NATO troops go into Ukraine -- the delegates want western observers to flood the country for the election.

In all his decades in politics and academia, he said he has never seen an election carry so much weight.

Ukrainians are determined to avoid the corruption, bribery and vote-buying that were so rampant for so long, Axworthy said, while finding ways to have even disputed Crimea take part in the election, and to have women participate fully in the new democracy.

Along with Ukrainian-speaking U of W vice-president of finance and administration Bill Balan, Axworthy has met this week with leaders of five Ukrainian universities, who believe even in ethnically Russian regions, 70 per cent of the citizens want to remain in Ukraine.

Axworthy said government officials to whom he talked this week do not fear that Russia will try to overrun the entire country.

But outside agitators are doing their utmost to disrupt the election, he said.

Some NDI delegates went into eastern Ukraine, with security and advance scouts to ensure their safety. No one saw trouble on the streets, he said.

"These (pro-Russian) protests are not widespread," even in Donetsk, where there has been fighting in the streets. "There are about 200 (Russian agitators) in a city of one million," Axworthy said.

But in the heart of Kyiv, he and Balan saw evidence of the killings two months ago.

"There's a great sense of mourning. You're reminded of that -- you see the memorials for the men and women who were killed."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2014 A24

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