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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Democratic Ukraine, Yanukovych Fits as PM

Two years ago, politics in Ukraine seemed to be a battle between good and evil. Now the picture is more complicated. The good guy is president, but the bad guy is likely to become the next prime minister.

In the uproar after Ukraine's 2004 presidential election, there were clear principles at stake. Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-backed candidate, tried to steal the election through massive voting fraud. His pro-Western opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned. Massive popular demonstrations forced a rerun of the presidential race.

But since then Yushchenko and his Orange coalition have faltered. The government has had to face Russian bullying and a bevy of domestic problems while the momentum of revolution waned. In March's parliamentary elections, Yanukovych's party claimed the most seats. And after months of parliamentary wrangling, he won the nomination for prime minister last week.

It's not an outcome the West will like; Yanukovych as prime minister will do his best to keep Ukraine in Moscow's orbit. It is tempting to wish that Ukraine's president would call for new parliamentary elections in the hope that a pro-West coalition would get more seats.

But Ukrainians elected the current parliament only three months ago, and there was no evidence of widespread vote tampering. The emerging political settlement in Ukraine reflects the current divisions in the country: Yanukovych's natural constituency, comprised of a large ethnic Russian population in the east, pitted against a fierce Ukrainian nationalist movement in the west, Yushchenko's power base. It should be no surprise that the leader of the parliament might represent one and the president the other. The continued instability new elections would cause and the distrust in the east they would encourage wouldn't help cement democratic institutions.

This is a chance for the United States and Europe to show that they favor democracy first, not a particular democratic outcome in a single parliamentary election. That means being ready to support Ukraine's aspirations to join NATO or to assist Yushchenko in claiming energy independence from Russia -- if the Ukrainian government asks. Providing an alternative to Russian domination through deference to the democratic process and willingness to act in partnership with Ukraine will further the West's cause much more than would a pliant pro-West parliament.

Yanukovych may not be the prime minister the West would have voted for. But the West should respect the honest choice Ukrainians made.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.