- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

Ukraines recent political unrest has put in doubt badly needed economic reforms, a top State Department official said yesterday.
"The political turmoil has threatened the momentum for serious economic reform, unfortunately at a time when Ukraine had made its most significant progress since independence," Jon R. Purnell, deputy special adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell for newly independent states, told a hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Considered a key U.S. ally on Russias border, Ukraine has been reeling in recent weeks from the downfall of reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and from a string of revelations reportedly linking President Leonid Kuchma to last years disappearance and suspected murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze.
With Mr. Gongadzes wife and two young daughters seated in the House committee room yesterday, Mr. Purnell said the headlines out of Ukraine in recent months "have not been positive, and some of the news has been downright ugly."
A team of FBI investigators last week completed a second trip to Kiev to examine evidence in the death of Mr. Gongadze. Tapes furnished by a former bodyguard to Mr. Kuchma appear to show the president discussing getting rid of Mr. Gongadze, as well as intimidating political rivals and media critics.
An alliance of Communists and business "oligarchs" in the Ukrainian parliament succeeded in ousting Mr. Yushchenko last week. The prime minister enjoyed substantial popular support and backing from Western governments in his efforts to improve the countrys stumbling market economy and reduce corruption.
Mr. Purnell said a delegation of Ukrainian officials in Washington this week had assured the Bush administration that market reforms would continue despite the prime ministers fall. But he said much would depend on whether the parliament, Mr. Kuchma and the yet-to-be-announced new prime minister can unite on a program.
"Until a new government is in place, it is difficult to say" if the reforms will continue, Mr. Purnell said. But the State Department envoy said the United States still supports strong bilateral ties with Ukraine.


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