This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Dec. 27, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: After one of the most remarkable battles for democracy in Eastern Europe and a bizarre political saga that included the poisoning of the opposing candidate, the do-over elections in Ukraine appear to have made Viktor Yushchenko (search) the next president. Which my guest, Michael McFaul of the Hoover Institute, calls this the most important event in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Michael, welcome.


ANGLE: Why the most important event since the fall of the Soviet Union?

MCFAUL: Well, if you remember back when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, we thought that the transition from communism was going to be to democracy. That wasn’t true.

The three Baltic States made it. But the rest of the former Soviet Union have been languishing in quasi-autocratic rule ever since. Georgia broke through last year in the Orange Revolution (search). But Ukraine, now a country of 50 million people, is finally going to be on the road to democracy. That’s a big, big breakthrough for this region of the world.

ANGLE: And along the way, both Russia and Ukraine have gone through a period of corruption and sort of a Wild West political atmosphere.

MCFAUL: Well, that’s right. I mean Russia and Ukraine in particular; those two places have been run by quasi-autocratic presidents, some would call them dictators, closely captured with oligarchs running the governments there.

There and in particular, the corruption in Ukraine got especially bad under the President Leonid Kuchma. He, after all allegedly, and I think probably did, kill a journalist four years ago, ordered his assassination. So the Ukrainians finally said enough of this, we want something new.

ANGLE: Now this whole saga is bizarre to say the least.


MCFAUL: It’s a rough place, uh?

ANGLE: Yes. Exactly. Where the opposition candidate is poisoned and has the second highest level of dioxin ever recorded in anyone who is living. Here you see him coming out, declaring victory, even though the opposition hasn’t quite conceded. We’ll talk about that in a moment.

Now obviously after all he’s been through, this is enormous personal try of for him. But it seems like he has a lost challenges for him, both for his personal health and for the country.

MCFAUL: Well, you’re absolutely right. I mean his own personal health is not well. You know, doctors who looked at this closely don’t know exactly what will be the long-term consequences of this poisoning. More immediately, as the president of Ukraine, expectations in that country are very, very high right now about what’s going to happen after the revolution. As they are by the way in all revolutionary breakthroughs, right? Everybody wants to live like they do in Brussels immediately. And that’s not going to happen.

He has to manage Ukraine’s, you know, rather long and difficult road to becoming a normal democratic European country. And he has to do that sharing a border with Russia. He has to manage his relationship with Mr. Putin, who after all backed the opposition candidate. Just not backed him, let’s be clear, he campaigned for him. Hundreds of millions of dollars from Russia went into Ukraine to help them.

He’s now got to go back to Moscow and say despite everything you did during that election, I need to work with you.

ANGLE: Now Yushchenko wants to lean toward the West.


ANGLE: But he also has to make sure he has good relations with Russia for the reasons you just described.

MCFAUL: That’s right. It’s a delicate balance, made all the more complicated by the minority of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers that live in eastern Ukraine. And if you look at a map, those people voted overwhelmingly for his opponent, Mr. Yanukovych. He’s got to do that and he’s got to — you know, let’s remember, this is a country of almost 50 million people that is poor by European standards.

So the notion that Ukraine is going to be a member of the European Union in this decade or the next is a hope. And I really hope that the people in Brussels and the European Union (search) reach out to Ukraine. But they’ve got a long way to go.

ANGLE: Now, you mentioned Yanukovych. He has refused to concede. What do you make of that?

MCFAUL: Well, he’s trying to play the game that Yushchenko in his mind, in his judgment played in the second. He’s going to try to get the Supreme Court to look at it. But I think this is the last hoorah. Nobody I know in Ukraine thinks that he has a chance to get a hearing with the Supreme Court.

ANGLE: You know, it is amazing when you look back at this, 78 percent of Ukrainians voted.

MCFAUL: Three times.


ANGLE: Three times, exactly. And went out in the streets and refused to accept an election that was clearly corrupt. That is a remarkable expression of democracy in an area that’s not known for that.

MCFAUL: Well, that’s absolutely right. And I think for anybody that cares about democracy and liberty and freedom, this is a true, you know, an inspirational story. This is not a place known for democracy, for hundreds of years Ukraine has been part of the Russian empire, dominated Moscow.

People I know who study this part of the region of the world always thought that at the end of day, the corrupt autocratic regime of Kuchma would prevail. Yet when they tried to steal the election on November 21, like all the other autocrats in the region by the way they do, and it doesn’t make — you know, maybe you chat about it for 20 seconds and it goes away. This time however, the people mobilized for a true democratic breakthrough.

ANGLE: That’s great. Michael McFaul, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

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