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Sergei Markov is right to worry about potential unrest and instability in Ukraine after the upcoming presidential vote. What his "view from Moscow," laid out in an op-ed in The Moscow Times earlier this week, fails to see, however, is the source of this unrest. The necessary, though not sufficient, condition for unrest is a clearly documented falsified vote. If "Moscow" is concerned about instability on Russia's border, then the Kremlin should be doing all that it can to ensure that the vote is free and fair. To date, there are few signs that Moscow is committed to facilitating such an outcome.

Of course, the playing field for all presidential candidates in the Ukrainian election has never been level, and the Kremlin has done much to tilt the context in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Millions of Russian rubles have bankrolled Yanukovych's campaign. Public relations specialists like Markov have set up shop in Ukraine for the duration of the campaign. Most amazingly, President Vladimir Putin has decided to spend several days in Ukraine in what can only be viewed as active campaigning on behalf of Yanukovych. Imagine the international outcry if a U.S. president spent three days traveling in Mexico in support of a presidential candidate. Yet somehow, in Ukraine, this kind of campaign assistance from the regional hegemon is considered standard practice.

Russia's meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs is disappointing, but at this stage, these are already facts on the ground about which little can be done. A stolen election, on the other hand, is still something that can be avoided. Unlike Russian involvement in the election, a stolen election is also the kind of event that could trigger unrest -- an outcome that neither Washington nor Moscow should want to see.

The examples of Serbia and Georgia are important to remember. OTPOR and KMAR were only successful in mobilizing Serbians and Georgians to fill the streets because both groups could produce undisputable evidence that the official results of the presidential election in Serbia in 2000 and the parliamentary election in Georgia in 2003 did not correspond with the actual vote totals. Professionally executed exit polls and parallel vote tabulations confirmed the gap between the real will of the people and the claimed will of the voters offered by government authorities. Without these data, there would have been no protests in Serbia or Georgia.

So if Moscow truly desires stability on its Western border, then Putin should state unambiguously that he is only interested in the process, not the outcome, of the election; that he looks forward to reading the results of Ukrainian exit polls and election monitors; and that he looks forward to working with whoever wins a legitimate election. U.S. President George W. Bush or a President-elect John Kerry should make a similar pledge.

Judging from Markov's view from Moscow, however, such a pledge from Putin seems highly unlikely. Markov states bluntly that "Moscow does not consider Yushchenko a democrat" because presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko holds different policy positions from the Kremlin regarding international relations and the status of the Russian language in Ukraine. Someone should be judged a democrat or not based on the procedures he embraces in deciding who governs, not by which policy positions he takes. Such statements about Yushchenko's democratic credentials suggest that Moscow is not really interested in observing the democratic process in Ukraine's presidential vote, but rather is only concerned with who wins, by whatever means necessary.

Markov makes this clear when he writes, "Moscow is certain that a pro-Russian candidate will always be victorious in any democratic election." In fact, the essence of democratic elections is that the procedures are certain, but the outcome is not. At this stage in this very competitive election, the only way Moscow can be certain of a Yanukovych victory is if the Kremlin already knows how the votes will be counted.

No one in Moscow or Washington or anywhere else should desire unrest in Ukraine. Whether by design or accident, such highly charged moments can quickly turn peaceful protests into violent conflicts. A free and fair election is the best guarantee against unrest. Rather than trying to influence the outcome of the vote, Moscow and Washington should be joining together to help provide such a free and fair process.

Michael McFaul is a Hoover fellow and professor of political science at Stanford University. Among other books, he is co-author, with Sergei Markov, of "The Troubled Birth of Russian Democracy" (2003). He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.