- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

KIEV — Strapped for cash because of weeks of political chaos, Ukraine’s government yesterday sought to increase transit fees for Russian oil, a move designed to generate revenue without risking a public backlash ahead of a Dec. 26 presidential vote.

In a new development involving the poisoning of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, a specialist said new tests reveal the level of dioxin in his blood is more than 6,000 times higher than normal.

The concentration, about 100,000 units per gram of blood fat, is the second-highest ever recorded in humans, said Abraham Brouwer, professor of environmental toxicology at the Free University in Amsterdam, where blood samples taken last weekend in Vienna, Austria, were sent for analysis.

An Austrian clinic over the weekend confirmed that Mr. Yushchenko had been poisoned by dioxin.

The proposal to boost tariffs by 30 percent is likely to infuriate the Kremlin — a key player in Ukraine’s political crisis. All but one of Russia’s major export lines to Europe pass through Ukraine.

Ukraine’s economy is desperate for extra revenue. Amid weeks of political unrest stemming from a disputed Nov. 21 runoff for the presidency, the state budget has fallen about $216 million short of expected revenues.

A rate increase could risk retaliatory measures from Moscow, which could cut back on oil exports to Ukraine and disrupt the country’s economy.

The Kremlin has backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the upcoming rerun of the November runoff that was ruled fraudulent by the Supreme Court.

Mr. Yanukovych rallied support Tuesday in Sevastopol, where nearly 90 percent of voters supported him in the runoff.

“I will not let you down and will do my best so that Ukraine would be strong and prosperous,” Mr. Yanukovych was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Mr. Yushchenko’s supporters, meanwhile, took the so-called “Orange Revolution” on the road, targeting provinces outside the capital where support for Mr. Yanukovych has been strong.

Cars and buses adorned with orange and packed with supporters reached east-central Ukraine yesterday as part of the caravan dubbed the “friendship journey.”

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