With his Orange Revolution government in disarray, Ukrainian President Viktor A. Yushchenko raised eyebrows Wednesday by traveling to the United States, where he will collect the $100,000 Liberty Medal on Saturday in Philadelphia.
Yushchenko's travel plans were uncertain after he sacked his charismatic prime minister last week.
"The timing is bad," said Taras Kuzio, a visiting professor at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. "The commonly held view in Ukraine and in Washington is that we are surprised he's leaving the Ukraine when he doesn't have a government in place."
By leaving the country on a nonessential mission, Yushchenko risks amplifying the perception that he is out of touch, Kuzio said. "He's not appreciative of the depth of the crisis in Ukraine," Kuzio said.
The Liberty Medal usually is awarded on July 4, but Yushchenko could not be here for Independence Day. The ceremony was rescheduled for Sept. 17 at the National Constitution Center. Many Philadelphia businesses plan to bathe their buildings in orange light to recognize Yushchenko's visit.
A provision of the Liberty Medal is that the recipient must personally collect the award, thus ensuring the attendance of world leaders at the annual event, said R. Andrew Swinney, president of the Philadelphia Foundation, which administers the Liberty Medal.
But Swinney said the rule was not ironclad. Polish President Lech Walesa, the first Liberty Medal winner, in 1989, sent his wife to collect the award. The Liberty Medal was created at the Constitution's bicentennial to heighten recognition of America's founding principles. The most recent winners were former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
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