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US Warns Ukraine Against Repeating Fraud in New Vote

A U.S. official is warning that there will be consequences for Ukraine if the December 26 presidential runoff election is marred by fraud.

The balloting later this month will be a repeat election of the run-off vote November 21 that was invalidated by the Ukrainian Supreme Court on grounds of widespread fraud. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian candidate, had been declared the winner of the contest against the western-oriented opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko.

The United States is warning of consequences if there is evidence of fraud in the next round of voting.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, John Tefft, told the House International Relations Committee Tuesday that the United States would consider, among other steps, denying visas to anyone found to have taken part in corrupt election activities.

"If the repeat election once again fails to meet democratic standards, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine's hopes for Euro-Atlantic integration, and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud; this includes consideration of further use of presidential proclamation 7750, which denies visas to individuals engaged in corrupt and anti-democratic activities," he said.

Mr. Tefft says the Bush administration is seeking three million dollars from Congress to support election monitoring in Ukraine.

Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and President Bush's envoy to Ukraine during last month's vote, welcomed the administration's efforts. He offered a few recommendations of his own aimed at preventing fraud in the poll later this month:

"Absentee and mobile voting must be excluded," he said. "The presence of Ukrainian and international observers must be increased to ideally each of the 33,006 polling stations. The candidates must have equal time to present themselves and to broadcast their platforms to the Ukrainian people. And finally, the domestic and international press must commit to monitor and to debate the electoral process in an open and transparent manner that fully illuminates illegal activities and conveys legitimacy to the rightful winner."

The top Democrat on the House panel, Congressman Tom Lantos, emphasized the importance of a Ukrainian election free of corruption, saying it would have far reaching implications.

"I believe that Ukraine's ability to conduct free and fair elections on December 26 will have lasting effects, not only on the future of Ukraine, but also on Ukraine's immediate neighbors: Georgia, Belarus, and Moldova, and on the autocratic regimes in Central Asia that are slated to hold elections next year," he said.

Some lawmakers expressed concern over apparent efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to steer Ukraine toward Mr. Yanukovych. Mr. Putin twice visited Ukraine during the campaign to support the prime minister, and prematurely congratulated him on the win.

International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said not only would the Ukrainian people benefit with less Russian influence over their country, so would the Russian people.

"Without the prospect of dominating Ukraine, the Russian people will at last be liberated from their leaders' vision of an empire in Europe, one that has been instrumental in justifying their long centuries of oppression," he said.

On Monday, Russian President Putin appeared to soften his position, saying he was ready to work with any president elected by Ukraine.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tefft said he is encouraged by the comments.