Ukrainians voted in an election on Sunday that was expected to maintain President Viktor Yanukovych's parliamentary majority, despite his rollback on democracy during nearly three years in power.
Yanukovych's Party of Regions appeared to be capitalizing on the three issues: the jailing of the charismatic opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister; a divided opposition camp; and Ukrainians' overall disillusionment with politics.
The West is paying close attention to the conduct of the vote in the strategic ex-Soviet state, which lies between Russia and the European Union and is responsible for transporting energy supplies to many EU countries.
A strong showing by the Party of Regions would cement Yanukovych's grip on power and likely turn Ukraine further away from the West. Ukraine's relations with the West have soured over the jailing of Tymoshenko, which prompted the European Union to shelve a long-awaited partnership deal with Kiev. If the West turns a cold shoulder to Ukraine, Moscow is likely to court Kiev to create a greater economic and political alliance.
The pro-Western opposition groups hope to gain enough parliament seats to weaken Yanukovych's power and undo the damage they say he has done: the jailing of Tymoshenko and her top allies, the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the snubbing of the Ukrainian language in favor of Russian, the waning press freedoms, a deteriorating business climate, and growing corruption.