Rice, In Ukraine, Criticizes Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Russia today, saying she had serious concerns about a proposed law that could shut down private groups, including some funded by the United States, that promote democracy, human rights and related issues.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L) looks at Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko as he speaks to journalists in Kiev December 7, 2005

She made her remarks during a news conference here with Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president who came to power a year ago after a popular uprising, many of whose leaders received instruction and advice from the very nongovernment organizations that Russia is proposing to ban or seriously restrict.

"We have concerns, and the United States government has expressed these concerns at all levels," she said "We would hope that the importance of nongovernmental organizations would be understood by Russia."

Her statement was the first public criticism of Russia's plans since the lower house of Russia's Parliament voted preliminary approval of the draft bill last month. Before now, administration officials had been noncommittal on the issue. But a senior State Department official traveling with Ms. Rice said that was because the department had hoped to convince the Russian government privately that the proposed new law was a bad idea.

"With the Russians, it is important that we discuss it discretely," he said. Two senior State Department officials, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried and Under Secretary Nicholas Burns, were in Moscow last week talking to the Russian government about the proposed law, the official said. At that time, he added, Russian officials professed an interest in changing the proposed law so it would not seem so onerous, though he said he did not know how seriously to take the statement.

In the face of internal and international criticism, the Parliament has delayed a second - and critical - vote on the legislation until at least Dec. 16.

The proposed law would force 450,000 private organizations to register under tighter rules next year. The draft bill would force foreign organizations to close their offices and try to re-register as purely Russian organizations, which would give the government greater control over their activities.

Representatives of several nongovernment groups said Russia is trying to convince several of the former Soviet states in Central Asia to pass similar laws.

Ms. Rice's statement about the law came amid a 24-hour visit to Ukraine, where she and her aides said they wanted to encourage Mr. Yushchenko to move on with instituting political and economic change. The Ukranian government is riddled with corruption left over from the old, Soviet-backed government that lost power last year, aides say.

Partly as a result of that, Mr. Yushchenko fired his entire cabinet, including his popular premier, Yulia Tymoshenko, in September. Ms. Rice met briefly with her on her way out of town today.

Along with the corruption and infighting in government, Ukraine's economy is stagnating; economic growth slid from 12 percent last year to 4 percent so far this year. Asked about that, Mr. Yushchenko cited a dizzying list of economic figures that he said showed that Ukraine's economy was healthy especially given strong exports of "cattle skins" and "nonferrous and ferrous scrap metals."

He blamed the former government for much of his problems, adding, "We managed to correct all those mistakes rather promptly and speedily."

Ms. Rice ended her visit to Ukraine with a visit to Shevchenko Univeristy, where aides said she hoped to learn what was on the mind of young people.

Instead, one student asked her how she could become "rich and famous" like Ms. Rice.

Another posed the question "How did you get the nickname 'warrior princess?' " Ms. Rice laughed and said she was not sure.

Source: The New York Times

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Anonymous said…
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT:

"A CRY FOR JUSTICE IN UZHGOROD"

Dear Mr. President Victor Yushchenko,

We are not rich or famous. We trail behind the powerful leaders with whom you often meet. We are far removed from Kiev. But we, the hard working concerned citizens of Uzhgorod and victims of injustice, have been with you. With our prayers and thoughts, supporting your Orange vision to make Ukraine once again a nation of hope and democracy.

Mr. President, we remember your words during the Orange Revolution when you promised to help Ukraine tackle a phenomena spreading as a cancer throughout the nation, and more specifically, our border town: corruption.

Despite threats and intimidation the undersigned, simple men and women of faith, decided to share with you our experiences. With judges and police who refuse to do justice because of receiving bribes or political pressure. With Uzhgorod's Mayor Sergey Ratushnyak and other local officials whose only mission it seems to enrich themselves in a town where houses cry out for a coat of paint, and ordinary people struggle with their every day lives.

And with prosecutors, who are reluctant to prosecute those misusing their positions, denying justice to people fighting for the democratic transformation of this still troubled nation. Mr. President, we have all experienced unfair decisions by judges. Some of us lost their jobs, others have lost their homes or lands, because local officials or their friends needed them. From a Carpathian point of view, our struggle often seems an uphill battle.

As an example we mention Svetlana Milchevich ,61, who last year bought a small piece of land to build a home from the money she earned with her life-long work as a clothing designer.

Ms. Milchevich received a building permission from the local municipality issued by Inspector Alexandra Sergeevna Zotova. However one day Inspector Alexandra Sergeevna Zotova suddenly prohibited Ms. Milchevich to continue construction. She said she received complaints from neighbors of Ms. Milchevich and therefore had "to make corrections" to the project, although it was done according to all building regulations and the laws of the land.

We have reasons to believe that she made this decision because the main neighbor opposing the construction, Mr. Josif Ivanovich Kostich, is a close friend and (former) business partner of Uzhgorod's current Mayor Sergey Ratushnyak.
Part of Ms. Milchevich's land as well as lands of three other neighbors were illegally privatized by the same person, who used his old mother as a cover. The illegal transactions were done in 1996 when Mr. Ratushnyak was serving his first term as Uzhgorod's mayor.

Mr. Kostich has beaten up workers and other people, seriously injuring some, and even threatened to kill Ms. Milchevich or anyone else who would dare to continue building the house, even using dangerous dogs. "You will not live here…" he shouted.
Police have refused to intervene saying "no crime is committed," while prosecutors are still "investigating" the attacks and death threats, for about five months. Meanwhile Ms. Milchevich, and others fear for their lives.

Desperate, she was hoping that at least the Court would rule in her favor. But despite hard evidences, Judge Vasily Dmitrevich Andrijtso (case No 2-1816/06) ruled Ms. Milchevich can not construct, despite an already issued and approved building plan. The decision is appealed in the regional court with a hearing expected soon.
In addition, Judge Jury Andreevich Koroly (case No. 2-1065/06) has refused to rule on the return of the land she lost, despite documents that part of the territory was illegally privatized and papers that prove Mr. Kostich is illegally using part of the land of Ms. Milchevich. The decision is appealed in the regional court and we hope a hearing will be held within the next few weeks.

Judge Koroly (case No 2a-373/06) also refused to declare as illegal the inactivity and apparent refusal of the previous mayor Mr. Pogorelov Viktor Victorovich to intervene. The decision was appealed in the regional court, but the appeal judges seemed to show solidarity with their colleague, and confirmed the ruling of judge Koroly. The case has been forwarded to the Ukrainian Supreme Court.

Judge Ivan Nikolaevich Mashkarinets (case No. 2-2077/06) also brought a decision in favor of Mr. Kostich Josif Ivanovich’s mother, although Ms. Milchevich has a mountain of hard evidences to show the illegal activities. The ruling will be appealed in the regional court.

One more case is still not closed by Uzhgorod’s Court: The acknowledgement that the local municipality supported the illegal privatization of land by Mr. Josif Ivanovich Kostich’s mother who privatized a much bigger plot of land than was allowed by Ukrainian law, and also privatized parts of lands from her four neighbors.

Judge Konstantsija Konstantinovna Pisanets (case No. 2a-778/06) is still dealing with the case, but we fear the trial will be postponed. Ms. Milchevich has had a nervous breakdown and says she feels herself as someone shouting in an empty desert, because even judges seem part of a network involved in illegal activities, including apparently taking bribes in whatever form.

Mr. President, the undersigned have all similar stories as Ms. Milchevich. Judges, police, prosecutors and politicians treat Uzhgorod as their personal empire. They build their villa’s and drive their Western cars. And we know Uzhgorod is not alone. We don’t want to punish the rich if they earn their money with honest business. We too work very hard. All we want, is justice and the Orange Revolution to finally reach our region as well.

Mr. President, we dream with you of a different Ukraine. A Ukraine where the rule of law is respected. A Ukraine that will find its rightful place in Europe as a full fledged member of the European Union. Where Western investors feel save and secure to create jobs. We feel it is a tragedy that a relative small group of people currently stop that process in a crucial border area.

Mr. President your [former] Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko once famously said: "Our government has come to the conclusion that Ukraine can never rise on her feet until she bows down her knees before the Almighty God." We also recall how you and your family led our nation in prayer.

We believe that God placed you at this position at a crucial time for our nation. We are proud to have you as our president. But, Mr. Yushenko, we ask you, please here our cries. And help us to renew our faith in our nation.

May God Bless You,
The Concerned Citizens of Uzhgorod
Zakarpatskaya region
Ukraine

About 200 signatures are enclosed to the letter

July 10, 2006