Tuesday, December 20, 2005

CIA Chief Pays Secret Visit to Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Porter Goss had a secret meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on Friday to discuss global terrorism and regional challenges, Yushchenko's spokeswoman confirmed Monday.

CIA Director Porter Goss (L) and President Viktor Yushchenko

The meeting was confirmed only after a local newspaper had reported on the development early Monday, citing people familiar with the situation.

"This was a short meeting," Iryna Herashchenko, Yushchenko's spokeswoman, said. "One of the main issues at the meeting was the fight against terrorism."

Meanwhile, the meeting came amid escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas supplies that many officials fear could trigger a major instability in the region.

Russia has been recently pushing for quadrupling prices of natural gas it supplies to Ukraine starting Jan. 1, 2006, and had even threatened to cut the supplies completely if Ukraine disagrees.

Ukraine refused to accept the new prices citing a 10-year agreement it signed with Russia three years ago and that had fixed natural gas prices in trade between the two through the end of 2009.

Some officials in Ukraine and Russia fear the dispute could lead to disruptions in Russian natural gas supplies to the European Union next year. The pressure to quadruple the prices has been apparently politically motivated as Russia had been seeking to punish Ukraine for its pro-Western course, analysts said.

Also on Friday Yushchenko had a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin as both had apparently agreed to stay away from politicizing the gas dispute.

But Saturday Yushchenko warned that Russia's pressure had been threatening the national security of Ukraine and suggested that Kiev may appeal to world's nuclear powers, such as the U.S., Britain, France and China, to fend off the pressure.

The CIA has been carefully watching Russia's expansion in the energy sector of the former Soviet Union, including aggressive acquisitions of key energy sector companies, such as power distribution firms and oil refineries over the past several years.

The CIA expected Russia's efforts to accelerate this year, especially after Yushchenko, a pro-Westerner, had defeated a pro-Kremlin candidate at the presidential election last year and had declared Ukraine's goal to join NATO and the E.U.

Goss, in a testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in February, mentioned Russia's expansion policy as one of the key challenges to be faced in the region in 2005.

"Perceived setbacks in Ukraine are likely to lead Putin to redouble his efforts to defend Russian interests abroad while balancing cooperation with the West," Goss told the committee according to remarks released by the CIA. "We believe he is concerned about further encroachment by the U.S. and NATO into the region."

The developments come amid Western media reports that Russia's international spy activity has recently increased to levels matching a Cold War period, a charge that the Russians had denied.

"To my regret, it has become a rule to scare ordinary citizens abroad with Russian spies," Sergei Lebedev, the director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, said in an interview with Interfax on Monday.

"There have been instances of local counter-intelligence services deliberately exaggerating the Russian espionage threat to show their relevancy, enhance their staff or secure more funds," Lebedev said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

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