- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has warned the United States against abandoning his country even as the Bush administration prepares to cut financial aid to Ukraine.
Mr. Yushchenko told reporters during a visit to Washington last week that undemocratic forces might turn to fraud and repression to try to win presidential elections scheduled for next year.
Mr. Yushchenko, Ukraine's most popular politician and the head of the reform-minded Our Ukraine party, is regarded by some analysts as the most pro-American candidate in the race.
He will challenge President Leonid Kuchma, whom Washington suspects of selling an air-defense system to Iraq. He has also been accused of corruption and of ordering the killing of a journalist.
"Yushchenko is the only hope for Ukraine," said Anders Aslund of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It's not even a matter of U.S. policy; it's pretty obvious."
During his stay in Washington, Mr. Yushchenko met Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as well as senators and congressmen.
"The United States is interested in a sovereign and democratic Ukraine," said Stephen Nix, director for Eurasia at the International Republican Institute, which helped to organize Mr. Yushchenko's visit. "And [Mr. Yushchenko] does represent the largest political bloc in the Rada," the Ukrainian parliament. His party got about 25 percent of the popular vote in the last elections.
U.S.-Ukrainian relations suffered after Mr. Kuchma was accused of selling sophisticated radar systems to Iraq despite a U.N. embargo. Some $55 million in aid to Ukraine was suspended last fall after the United States received tapes indicating Mr. Kuchma approved the deal.
New budget documents released this month show that aid to Ukraine will be cut further, falling from $155 million in fiscal 2003 to $94 million in fiscal 2004.
Mr. Yushchenko told journalists in Washington that Ukraine is undergoing the deepest political crisis since independence after the Soviet Union's fall and that it needs the help of democratic partners.
"We need to work together to make sure that elections in Ukraine are fair and democratic. It's the only thing that democratic forces in Ukraine really need," said the opposition leader.
The Ukrainian opposition does need help from the West to get its message to Ukrainian voters because most mass media organizations are controlled by pro-government clans, Mr. Yuschenko said.
"Political forces in Ukraine need free radio, independent newspapers and independent news agencies as well as independent people who can monitor that legislation has been followed," he said.
Mr. Yushchenko was also reported to have told U.S. officials that a decision to cut Ukrainian-language broadcasts on the Voice of America and Radio Liberty was premature.
He said the stations have a significant audience in Ukraine and are needed so that all political forces can have a voice.

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