- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

KIEV Political reforms in Ukraine must keep pace with economic prosperity for the relationship between Washington and Kiev to succeed, Condoleezza Rice told Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma yesterday during her first visit to the former Soviet republic as national security adviser.
"We stressed the importance of the rule of law, of press freedom, freedom of religion and we expressed the inextricable linkage of economic reforms and economic prosperity to those political values," Miss Rice said following her hour-long meeting with the Ukrainian president.
In a roundtable discussion with Ukraine's independent media, think tanks and nongovernmental organizations, she said she and the president had also discussed energy issues, pipeline development, security issues and missile defense. Miss Rice said she had received assurances that Ukraine would stop selling arms to Macedonia so as to encourage a political, rather than military, resolution to its conflict.
Although brief, the Rice visit comes at a time when Kiev and Washington are trying to repair a tattered relationship.
The House of Representatives is looking to slash Ukraine's foreign assistance for next year from the $169 million proposed by the Bush administration to $125 million. The Senate will review funding later this week.
Bilateral relations took a nose dive last year after the headless corpse of Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze, who wrote about suspected corruption within the Kuchma administration, was found outside Kiev. Secretly recorded tapes that revealed the president telling aides to "get rid" of Mr. Gongadze sparked the country's worst political crisis since it declared independence nearly a decade ago.
After a review, authorities said last month that Mr. Gongadze was killed during a run-in with two thugs. They later retracted the story when one of the men in question, who officials said was dead, appeared in media reports very much alive.
Earlier this month, investigative television journalist Ihor Oleksandrov was clubbed to death with a baseball bat outside his television studio after it aired a series of stories accusing local officials of corruption. Mr. Kuchma said he would take personal control over the investigation, which is still under way.
Miss Rice said the U.S.-Ukraine relationship cannot gain momentum until the mysteries surrounding both journalists' deaths are convincingly resolved and Ukraine demonstrates that its March 2002 parliamentary elections will be transparent.
"This is just very important to the world's confidence that Ukraine is moving in a politically liberalizing way as well as an economically liberalizing way," she said.
Despite its political problems, Ukraine has made headway in reforming its economy. Economists expect growth to be between 6 percent and 8 percent this year, while inflation fell to 4 percent last month.
Many pro-democracy lawmakers still feel Washington is placating the Ukrainian president for fear that if they push too hard for democracy and freedom of speech, he will turn to Russia for political support.
"The American government needs to understand you can't talk with that bandit," said Stepan Khmara, an opposition deputy who said he's been warned by high-ranking friends that his phone conversations are being tapped by internal security. "The situation is worse now than it was 10 years ago."
Others, however, feel the United States is beginning to strike the right balance by quietly warning the Kuchma administration it needs to get its house in order, while leaving the door open for better relations.
"Rice was fairly diplomatic in her assessment in meetings and discussions with official persons in Ukraine," said Borys Tarasyuk, Ukraine's foreign minister until his recent dismissal by Mr. Kuchma. He now heads the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation.
"Without respect toward human rights and democracy, without democratically fair elections in Ukraine, we are unable to talk about an atmosphere of trust in the bilateral relationship," he said.

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