- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

The Bush administration will not let differences with the Kremlin over the disputed Ukrainian election become an issue in U.S.-Russian relations, officials said yesterday, even as the two countries deplored each other’s “interference” in the ex-Soviet republic.

“We have not tried to make this an issue in our bilateral relationship, and we don’t see it as part of it,” a senior U.S. official said.

But with the two powers on opposite sides, there has been a surge of anti-Americanism in Russia, where many think the turmoil in Ukraine is a CIA plot aimed at destabilizing Moscow’s back yard, diplomats and analysts said.

“This is being portrayed as some conspiracy by the CIA in the national media,” said Michael McFaul, a leading Russia specialist at Stanford University and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who follows affairs in both Russia and Ukraine.

“People are trying to use this as an overtly anti-American campaign,” he said. “That is dangerous because it fuels nationalistic ideas and doesn’t help the democratic forces in Russia.”

U.S. officials said Russian conspiracy theorists fail to understand American interests in the region.

Unlike Russia, which still thinks in terms of spheres of influence, the United States does not consider this a geopolitical issue, the officials said, adding that Washington’s only goal is to ensure that true democracy takes hold in Ukraine.

Washington and allies in Western Europe have refused to accept the official results naming pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovych as the next president, but have not endorsed his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko.

Accusations of massive fraud and manipulation in the Nov. 21 runoff election have prompted huge demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital and separatist calls in the eastern Russian-speaking regions.

The Bush administration was so alarmed by a Sunday gathering where the separatist issue was discussed — particularly by the presence there of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Russia’s deputy ambassador to Kiev — that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell immediately called outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

But while U.S. officials accuse Moscow of inciting separatist feelings, Mr. Lavrov yesterday blamed those feelings on “provocations” from the West.

“Excessive involvement of certain European representatives in the process taking place in Ukraine has increased tension” there, Mr. Lavrov said during a visit to Bangkok.

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski are in Kiev to mediate talks between the two candidates on how to resolve the crisis. Although there is no direct U.S. involvement in the group, it has the backing of President Bush.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had called on Tuesday for the Ukraine dispute to be resolved without foreign pressure. Many Western diplomats found that remark ironic, given that Mr. Putin made two visits to Ukraine at the height of the campaign to support Mr. Yanukovych.

Mr. Putin also sent a representative to participate in the Kiev mediation group.

U.S. officials acknowledge that American organizations, such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, have supported Ukrainian opposition parties with money and advice — as they do around the world.

But the officials insist that the U.S. government has been interested only in supporting free and fair elections.

Foreign diplomats who deal with the Russian Foreign Ministry said some of their colleagues there think Mr. Putin went too far with his involvement in the Ukrainian elections.

“For the political elite in Moscow, this is a foreign policy disaster,” Mr. McFaul said.

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