- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

This week marks President Bush's first visit to Russia and the start of the Bush-Putin summit, which is guaranteed to be filled with goodwill and congratulations. In Ukraine, President Leonid Kuchma, hurt by his failure to pack the newly elected parliament with his supporters and floundering in the face of accusations of selling arms to Iraq, is quietly watching and waiting to see how the United States develops its new relationship with Russia, while trying not to appear to have isolated himself and Ukraine. After all, the United States has invested huge amounts of money and effort into bringing Ukraine into the community of civilized nations equal to Russia.

Everyone has moved on: Diplomatic circles working on the former Soviet Union are humming with talk of building military bases, reducing missile warheads, entrance into the World Trade Organization and energy pipelines. Yet, on May 21, it would have been murdered journalist Georgi Gongadze's 33rd birthday. Instead of joining in the media hubbub around Messrs. Bush and Putin or even trying to make sense of Ukraine's relationship with Iraq, Georgi still lies, where he has lain for the past 18 months, in a morgue somewhere in Kyiv, as a headless heap of decomposing matter. All efforts to move his case along have stalled.

The Ukrainian authorities have refused to issue a death certificate so that he could be buried with dignity. Their logic, of course, is water-tight and suffused with old Soviet thinking. At first they argued that if there were no corpse, then there could not have been a murder. And even now, with the results of a series of DNA tests conducted by American and Russian experts, each verifying to 99.6 percent that the corpse is Georgi, the Ukrainian bureaucracy still refuses to issue the documentation to provide details of the time and cause of death, since this would reveal their incompetence. Without this documentation, it is impossible to move forward with an investigation of his murder.

Evidence that would normally be admissible in a Western court, such as the testimony of Maj. Melnychenko, who claims to have recorded Mr. Kuchma issuing orders to get rid of Georgi, has been dismissed by the Ukrainians as not acceptable under their version of Ukrainian law. Despite the symbolic status this case has achieved in high-level discussions between Ukraine and the United States, the Ukrainian authorities continue to thumb their noses at requests from such high-profile visitors to Ukraine as Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to resolve this case, to enable U.S. -Ukrainian relations to move on. The FBI team promised by Condoleezza Rice, returned to the United States empty-handed after a week, unable to make even a first step in providing assistance because of the Ukrainians' stonewalling.

Meanwhile, the murders of several other journalists remain unresolved and the list of journalists beaten up, harassed and in one instance, suffering from acid thrown in her face, grows longer by the month. Regional journalists tend to be under greater pressure than those in the capital city, who are controlled through financial pressures. In Russia, the fate of journalists is no better. A prominent editor was killed in Togliatti in the past month, supposedly in retaliation for his investigations into organized crime, and the son of a well-known journalist and president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation apparently "committed suicide" by jumping from the 11th floor of an apartment building. The deaths of Chechen journalists, notably two who were killed in December, rarely even make the international press. This story is repeated throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union and beyond.

It is understandable that the United States wants, finally, to put an end to the Cold War and to enlarge the circle of countries cooperating in the struggle against terrorism. But not all of the lessons of the Cold War should be forgotten. The United States should also look closely at the societies of its new allies. A country where the media is routinely manipulated and where journalists cannot publish objective information for fear of their lives, cannot be a reliable partner. We should be glad that there are treaties being signed to reduce the amount of weapons of mass destruction, but what about the weapons and means that Messrs. Putin, Kuchma and other leaders still hold in their hands that silence the voices of their people? Mr. Bush should understand that whatever he says to Mr. Putin will be heard by every other leader in the states of the former Soviet Union.

So, when Mr. Bush meets with him this week, let him remember Georgi's ghost, who will surely still be restlessly circling around and listening for a commitment to protect the lives and work of journalists and the free press. If Mr. Bush does not demonstrate America's leadership by doing this, then nobody else in the world will.


Myroslava Gongadze, widow of Georgi Gongadze, has political asylum in the United States with her young twin daughters.


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