- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday asked Congress for $3 million to pay for monitors at the Dec. 26 rerun of Ukraine’s fraud-ridden presidential vote, as Russia and the United States sparred over the political crisis in Kiev.

The U.S. package would help underwrite observers from the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 100-member team from East and Central European countries and more than 1,000 monitors from nongovernmental organizations.

“We are trying very hard to fund and field as many, if not more, observers for the December 26th round as we had the last time,” John Tefft, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the House International Relations Committee.

Reflecting Ukraine’s size and strategic significance, Mr. Tefft said measures to ensure a free and fair vote constituted “one of the largest international observation efforts ever.”

Ukraine’s Supreme Court voided last month’s vote amid charges of massive fraud and vote rigging in favor of pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych over opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, widely seen as more favorable to the West.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, addressing a gathering of OSCE ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria, said he “categorically disagreed” with comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that U.S. and European criticism of the Ukraine vote amounted to interference in the country’s internal politics.

Mr. Lavrov warned the OSCE gathering against what he called “double standards in evaluating electoral processes.”

“We mustn’t allow the OSCE monitoring to be turned into a political instrument,” Mr. Lavrov said.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Powell rejected charges by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States was trying to establish a “sphere of influence” in a country and region long dominated by Moscow.

“You can have friends to the east and to the west, and it is not a matter of a ‘sphere of influence,’” Mr. Powell said. “It is a matter of allowing a country to choose how it wishes to be governed and who it wishes to have as its friends.”

Mr. Putin openly supported Mr. Yanukovych over Mr. Yushchenko, appearing with the pro-government candidate in the heat of the campaign and quickly congratulating him for the electoral win that later was voided.

Russian objections scuttled an attempt by OSCE ministers to issue a joint statement on the upcoming Ukrainian vote, European diplomats said in Sofia.

In Kiev, Ukrainian lawmakers adjourned for the day without voting on a set of electoral reforms tentatively agreed to by the two camps and blessed by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who also is considered partial to Mr. Yanukovych.

The two sides remain at odds over an opposition demand that Mr. Yanukovych step down until the Dec. 26 revote can be held. Mr. Kuchma yesterday hinted he might back away from the compromise package altogether.

“If we are to speak in general terms, no agreement was reached … and there was simply a statement for the press,” Mr. Kuchma said.

Representatives of the European Union in Kiev helped broker the deal, which was reached early yesterday morning after marathon talks.

The OSCE, which sent about 600 observers to the widely condemned Nov. 21 vote, plans to send 960 observers for the rerun, Mr. Tefft told lawmakers.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who was an observer for the Nov. 21 vote, said at the hearing that stern measures must be taken to avoid abuses in vote counting, absentee balloting, media access and intimidation of poll monitors that undermined the first runoff vote.

Mr. Lugar said the goal should be to have independent observers in each of the 33,000 polling stations across Ukraine later this month.

Without such action, “I do not believe that the Ukrainian people will have confidence in the integrity of the election process,” he said.

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