The U.S. State Department Monday expressed deep concern over reports of fraud in the second round of Ukraine's presidential election, said to have been won by incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. It urged speedy action by officials in Kiev to clear up the charges, and held out the prospect of U.S. diplomatic sanctions if they are not.
Officials here are not ready to say outright that the Ukrainian election was fraudulent. But the State Department says it is "deeply concerned" about charges of fraud and abuse raised by international observers, including U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, and it is calling for "quick and decisive" action by Ukrainian authorities to deal with them.
U.S. officials have for several months criticized the electoral process in Ukraine, citing what they said was bias by state-run media and diversion of administrative resources favoring Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in his race against a field of opposition candidates led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.
The United State has expressed disappointment over alleged irregularities in last month's first round of voting, which narrowed the race to a contest between the pro-Western reformer Mr. Yuschenko, and Mr. Yanukovych, the choice of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and a favorite of Moscow.
Senior U.S. officials including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had warned of a "re-examination" of bilateral relations if the run-off vote was flawed.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli cited reports by Senator Lugar's team, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and others, that the voting had fallen short of international standards. He urged Ukrainian officials to curb any additional abuse and fraud and to uphold international commitments to democracy and human rights, and made clear the threat of punitive U.S. steps in the event of a flawed election remains:
"Should, in the final analysis, this election prove to be fundamentally flawed and tarnished, we would certainly need to review our relations with Ukraine, and consider further steps against individuals who had engaged in fraud. Our hope is, our expectation is, that the government of Ukraine, that Ukrainian officials, will act now to insure that that eventuality doesn't come to pass," said Mr. Ereli.
Mr. Ereli, who insisted the United States had no favorite candidate in the race, joined European spokesmen in calling on Ukrainian authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with post-election demonstrations, and for all sides to express themselves "only in a non-violent manner."
A diplomat who spoke to reporters here said punitive U.S. steps in the event the run-off was deemed fraudulent might include travel and financial penalties against Ukrainian officials seen as having been involved in election irregularities.
He said there might also be cuts in military training and other forms of U.S. aid to Ukraine but discouraged the notion of a down-grade in the level of diplomatic relations.