- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The United States has denied an entry visa to one of the most high-profile supporters of a Ukrainian presidential candidate backed by the Kremlin and the country’s current leader, Leonid Kuchma, and has put other allies of the candidate on the U.S. visa watch list.

American officials also predict a “chilly period” in relations with Ukraine if the candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, wins Sunday’s hard-fought runoff election, because he most likely would have “stolen” it.

Gregory Surkis, a lawmaker and businessman who is one of Mr. Yanukovych’s most prominent political allies, recently applied for a U.S. visa at the embassy in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, U.S. officials said.

The application was sent for review to the State Department, which decided to reject it, citing Mr. Surkis’ involvement in corruption and election fraud.

“We went pretty carefully through the things he had done,” a senior State Department official said. “We don’t do this lightly. There is a very careful examination of the record with lawyers.”

He declined to be more specific.

A presidential proclamation gives the U.S. government the authority to deny visas to foreigners engaged in corruption and undermining their country’s election process, said the official, who asked not to be named.

“Any top official of the Ukrainian government who is involved in [such activities] could expect that their applications for a visa will be reviewed in light of the corruption proclamation,” he said.

“We are looking at other people,” he added. “We are trying to make it clear to them that their actions in corrupting the election process will have consequences.”

Officials indicated that other allies of Mr. Yanukovych are on Washington’s visa watch list, which prevents any consular officer anywhere in the world from issuing them visas without the State Department’s specific approval.

Most visa applications are granted or rejected by the embassy or consulate where they are submitted.

The Ukrainians on the list include Mr. Kuchma’s chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk, who is thought to be the brain behind Mr. Yanukovych’s campaign; the president’s son-in-law and parliament member, Viktor Pinchuk; General Prosecutor Gennadiy Vasyliev; and Minister of Internal Affairs Mykola Bilokon.

Washington, which insists that it does not favor opposition candidate and Western-leaning reformer Viktor Yushchenko, has endorsed the assessment of European and other observers of the first round on Oct. 31 as not having met the standards of free and fair elections.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a change,” the senior State Department official said. “We remain quite concerned that they are not going to meet that requirement.”

In the first round, Mr. Yushchenko, 50, received 39.87 percent of the vote against 39.32 for Mr. Yanukovych, 54.

Mr. Yanukovych’s campaign has been accused of threatening and intimidating opponents and voters, denying press access to Mr. Yushchenko and engineering counting fraud in the first round.

“If there is fraud and Yanukovych wins, clearly there will be a chilly period in the relationship. I wouldn’t expect an Oval Office meeting with a guy who won the election by fraud,” the senior official said.

“I don’t think that anybody in the administration or on Capitol Hill wants us to undercut our long-term strategic relationship with Ukraine, but if the election has been stolen, we have to show disapproval of that,” he said.

• Natalia Feduschak contributed to this article from Kiev.

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