KRAKOW, Poland – Vice President Dick Cheney (search) voiced his support Wednesday for Ukraine's new president, and his bright orange tie — symbolic of Viktor Yushchenko's (search) "Orange Revolution" — drove home the message.
"The world has been inspired by the remarkable images emanating from Ukraine in recent months," Cheney said at a cultural center in Krakow, Poland, where the two met during a heavy snowstorm. "We have watched as Ukrainians, by the hundreds of thousands, converged on Kiev's Independence Square to preserve their freedom and safeguard their right to determine the destiny of their nation."
He said the Ukrainian people have shown the world the "unstoppable power of the popular will."
Yushchenko, who survived a nearly fatal poisoning to emerge victorious in a bitterly disputed election, faces a delicate juggling act, pushing for democratic reforms and aligning Ukraine with Europe while keeping fruitful relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin (search).
On Monday, Yushchenko smoothed relations with Putin in Moscow. On Wednesday, he stood side-by-side with Cheney at dual podiums to publicly express mutual support.
Yushchenko mentioned Russia along with the United States, the European Union and Poland as strategic partners, but he and Cheney refrained from saying anything that might have provoked Putin, who will meet with President Bush during his trip to Europe next month.
"We want to pursue the processes of liberalization and democratization in all aspects of life that are so badly needed in Ukraine and other Eastern European nations, shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners," said Yushchenko, his chalky complexion scarred by the near-lethal dose of dioxin he ingested during the campaign.
"After the Orange Revolution, the country and the nation have changed," Yushchenko said. "Not only do we have an independent country, we have a free country — a country capable of pursing new, independent and responsible policy."
Initially, the two leaders were scheduled to have a brief meeting and then eat dinner. But their meeting lasted more than an hour — more than twice as long as scheduled — and they skipped dinner.
Cheney is on a three-day trip to southern Poland to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps at nearby Auschwitz and Birkenau. The vice president's remarks with Yushchenko and, earlier, at a reception with Holocaust survivors echoed President Bush's inauguration day call to overcome tyranny and foster democratic reform across the world.
"We must face down hatred together," Cheney said. "We are dedicated to the task at hand and we will never forget."
On Jan. 27, 1945, Soviet troops liberated the death camps, where between 1 million and 1.5 million prisoners — most of them Jews — perished in gas chambers or died of starvation and disease. In all, 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
"Today, many Holocaust survivors have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Cheney said. "That, I believe, is the greatest victory of all. Evil did not have the final say.
"You survived terror. You have let the world know the truth and you have preserved the memory of those who perished."
Cheney's first official stop was at Wawel Royal Castle, where he met for about 40 minutes with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq.
However, Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski has said he thinks Polish troops should stay in Iraq only until the end of this year.
Poland has taken command of a multinational security force in central Iraq that currently includes about 6,000 troops — among them more than 2,400 Polish soldiers. Leaders have previously said they hope to scale down the Polish presence significantly after elections in Iraq, scheduled for Sunday.
In neighboring Ukraine, Yushchenko has said he will not reverse outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's decision to withdraw Ukraine's estimated 1,650 troops in Iraq by the end of June.
Yushchenko vowed in his campaign to withdraw the Ukrainian forces from Iraq. But Janusz Bugajski, an expert on Eastern European affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he thinks there might be a way for Yushchenko to honor his commitment to his electorate as well as the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
"Yushchenko may withdraw, but there may be some other kind of support Ukraine can provide, or maybe he won't withdraw them all at once," Bugajski said. "It may be a staggered withdrawal, or they [the Ukrainian troops] may be repositioned."