U.S. money has helped opposition in Ukraine
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has spent more than $65 million in the past two years to aid political organizations in Ukraine, paying to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet U.S. leaders and helping to underwrite an exit poll indicating he won last month's disputed runoff election.
U.S. officials say the activities don't amount to interference in Ukraine's election, as Russian President Vladimir Putin alleges, but are part of the $1 billion the State Department spends each year trying to build democracy worldwide.
No U.S. money was sent directly to Ukrainian political parties, the officials say. In most cases, it was funneled through organizations such as the Eurasia Foundation or through groups aligned with Republicans and Democrats that organized election training, with human rights forums or with independent news outlets.
But officials acknowledge that some of the money helped train groups and individuals opposed to the Russian-backed government candidate – people who now call themselves part of the "Orange Revolution."
For example, one group that received grants through U.S.-funded foundations is the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, whose Web site has a link to Yushchenko's home page under the heading "partners." Another project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development brought an official with Ukraine's Center for Political and Legal Reforms to Washington, D.C., last year for a three-week training session on political advocacy.
"There's this myth that the Americans go into a country and, presto, you get a revolution," said Lorne Craner, a former State Department official who leads the International Republican Institute, which received $25.9 million last year to encourage democracy in Ukraine and more than 50 other countries.
"It's not the case that Americans can get 2 million people to turn out on the streets," Craner said. "The people themselves decide to do that."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "There's accountability in place. We make sure that money is being used for the purposes for which it's assigned or designated."
Since the Ukrainian Supreme Court invalidated the results of the Nov. 21 presidential runoff, Russia and the United States have traded charges of interference. A new election is scheduled for Dec. 26.
Opposition leaders, international monitors and Bush's election envoy to Ukraine have said major fraud marred the runoff between Yushchenko and current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was declared the winner.
Yushchenko is friendlier toward Europe and the United States than his opponent, who has Putin's support and backing from the current Ukrainian government of President Leonid Kuchma. Putin lauded Yanukovych during state visits to Ukraine within a week of the Oct. 31 election and the Nov. 21 runoff.
Yushchenko's backers say Russian support for Yanukovych goes beyond Putin's praise and includes millions of dollars in campaign funding and other assistance. Putin has said Russia has acted "absolutely correctly" with regard to Ukraine.
Documents and interviews provide a glimpse into how U.S. money was spent inside Ukraine.
"Our money doesn't go to candidates. It goes to the process, the institutions that it takes to run a free and fair election," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The exit poll, funded by the embassies of the United States and seven other nations and four international foundations, said Yushchenko won the Nov. 21 vote by 54 percent to Yanukovych's 43 percent. Yanukovych and his supporters say the exit poll was skewed.
The Ukrainian groups that did the poll of more than 28,000 voters have not said how much the project cost. Neither has the United States.
The four foundations involved included three funded by the U.S. government: The National Endowment for Democracy, which receives its money directly from Congress; the Eurasia Foundation, which receives money from the State Department, and the Renaissance Foundation, part of a network of charities funded by billionaire George Soros that receives money from the State Department. Other countries involved included Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Grants from groups funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development also went to the International Center for Policy Studies, a think tank that includes Yushchenko on its supervisory board. The board, however, also comprises several current or former advisers to Kuchma.
Craner's Republican-backed group used U.S. money to help Yushchenko arrange meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and GOP leaders in Congress in February 2003.
The State Department gave the National Democratic Institute, a group of Democratic foreign policy experts, nearly $48 million for worldwide democracy-building programs last year. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is chairwoman of the institute's board of directors.
The institute says representatives of parties in all the blocs that participated in Ukraine's 2002 parliamentary elections have attended its seminars to learn skills such as writing party platforms, organizing bases of voter support and developing party structures. It also has been a main financial and administrative supporter of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog group that said the presidential vote was not conducted fairly.
The institute also organized a 35-member team of election observers led by former federal appeals court Judge Abner Mikva for the Nov. 21 runoff vote. Craner's group sent its own team of observers.
The U.S. Agency for International Development also funds the Center for Ukrainian Reform Education, which produces radio and TV programs aiming to educate Ukrainian residents about reforming their nation's government and economy. The center also sponsors press clubs and education for journalists.
By Matt Kelley ASSOCIATED PRESS December 11, 2004
© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.