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US, Russia Clash Over Ukraine at OSCE

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has rejected Russian charges that the West is trying to win influence in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics by pushing its own interests in the name of democracy. U.S.-Russian disagreements have dominated the meeting in Bulgaria of the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.

The OSCE was set up during the Cold War to monitor human rights and encourage Europeans to resolve their problems peacefully. But the denunciation by the organization's election observers that the second round of Ukraine's presidential election last month was marked by fraud has sparked a sharp reaction by Moscow.

Pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovich was originally declared the winner of the poll against the western-oriented Viktor Yushchenko. But, after several days of street protests, Ukraine's supreme court ruled that the contest had been rigged and ordered a re-run on December 26.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the OSCE of using one standard of election monitoring for former Soviet republics and another for its western members.

Mr. Lavrov suggested that the report by OSCE observers alleging fraud was tantamount to what he described as political manipulation.

A day earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of using the promotion of democracy to infringe on Russia's sphere of influence.

Secretary Powell rejected the Russian charges, saying the Ukranian election was not about spheres of influence but about allowing a country to choose how it wished to be governed. He also dismissed accusations of double standards in the OSCE's election monitoring, saying that the organization is simply following its mandate to support democracy and the rule of law.

We all back the democratic process that is underway, and we are looking for an outcome that reflects the true will of the Ukranian people," he said.

Mr. Powell voiced concern about restrictions in Russia on media freedom and the rule of law and chastised Moscow for failing to keep its promise to withdraw its troops from Moldova and to agree with Georgia on how long the Russian military presence there should last.

Mr. Powell says the United States will not ratify a 1999 treaty on troop reductions in Europe until Russia removes its soldiers from the two former Soviet republics.

The disagreements between Moscow and the West over Ukraine and the continuing Russian military presence in Moldova and Georgia blocked the OSCE from agreeing on a final consensus-based statement at the end of the meeting.