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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, Nov 17, 2004, 1:00 pm ET

    Press release

    Canadian parliamentarians blast Putin's involvement in Ukraine elections
    by Stephen Bandera

    Kyiv, Ukraine — Three Canadian parliamentarians accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of meddling in Ukraine's presidential elections by campaigning on behalf of one of the candidates.

    Voters in former Soviet republic are preparing for a runoff poll between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych on November 21.

    "We are disturbed by the intervention of Mr. Putin in the election process in Ukraine," MP David Kilgour told journalists at a press conference in Kyiv on November 13.

    The Edmonton MP was in Ukraine from November 8 to 13 with Ontario Senator David Smith and Toronto MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

    "Mr. Putin's advisors are working for Mr. Yanukovych and Russian money has been evidently elicited for the same cause," Kilgour said.

    Putin visited Kyiv three days before the elections and praised the economic record of Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych government in a live televised interview.

    Putin met with Yanukovych again on November 12 in Crimea, where he wished the candidate success in the runoff.

    The episode was widely reported by Ukrainian television whose coverage is heavily skewed in favor of Yanukovych.

    "This is why our Prime Minister Paul Martin did not come to Kyiv recently although he was in the region because he did not wish to give the impression that he was interfering in your election," Kilgour said.

    Paul Martin was in Moscow from October 11 to 13 for an official visit to Russia.

    Yanukovych's main rival in the November 21 runoff is former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.

    Yushchenko edged his opponent by just over 155,000 votes in the first round of elections held on October 31.

    Kilgour said that "the governmental television stations in Russia that are broadcasting into this country are campaigning ultimately for Mr. Yanukovych," and that "there are even billboards up in central Moscow that gives the same message."

    "Such interference is shockingly inappropriate for any fair-minded person anywhere," Kilgour said.

    "If a U.S. president came to Canada during our elections and it was clear that he was backing a particular candidate, that would probably mean defeat," Smith mused.

    "Although the U.S. is our friend, ally, neighbor and largest trading partner, we Canadian value our independence. In fact, I'd be happy if some American politicians offered that type of help to our opponents," the Liberal Senator continued, "but they would never do it because they know the rules."

    "One young resident of this capital who voted for Mr. Yanukovych in the first round told me that she is extremely concerned about the role of Mr. Putin in this election," Kilgour told journalists.

    "Another Kyiv resident who did not vote in the first round told me that he is so upset by what Mr. Putin has done that he will vote in the second round," Kilgour said.

    "Intimidation of any type, be it goons at a polling station or inappropriate foreign intervention is unacceptable in a true democracy," Smith said.

    "When we return to Canada, we will hold consultations," Wrzesnewskyj replied to questions concerning what the legislators plan to do next.

    "We are optimistic that in the end the electoral process will reflect the will of the people. However, we also need to consider what our reactions will be if this is not the case. And there will be consequences, not only for Ukraine, but for Russia too," Wrzesnewskyj said.

    The Toronto MP said that he will raise the issue with the parliamentary foreign affairs commission, the Ministry of foreign affairs and with the Prime Minister.

    "We are not here to pass judgment on any of the two remaining candidates in the runoff election. It's up to the people of Ukraine to decide who represents their interests, honesty, integrity and a proper running of the economy and all of the things that are important for the Ukrainian people," Kilgour said.

    The three-member delegation also expressed "shock at the deliberate and widespread nature of election abuses," according to a statement.

    The shock was based on a report compiled by Canadian observers working in the heavily industrialized eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk that borders the Russian Federation.

    Two of the observers, Mark Keller, 40, and Julia Krekhovetsky, 23, both from Toronto, provided details of more than 500 electoral violations their ten person observation team encountered in eastern Ukraine in the last two weeks of October.

    The violations included bribery, intimidation and harassment of voters and campaign workers, voter list and ballot box violations, and obstruction of the rights of international observers and media, among others.

    The observers played a video tape of documented violations, including pro-Yanukovych campaign materials at the polling stations, individuals filling out blank copies of voting return reports on window sills outside polling stations and testimonials from campaign workers about physical threats.

    The observers filed a six-page report that detailed the exact times and places where violations were encountered.

    The report, which characterizes the violations as "ranging from relatively minor administrative errors to major infractions of Ukraine's election law," concluded that "the elections in the areas under observation were not universal, fair, secret, free or transparent."

    Canada has been one of the most vocal critics of the lopsided elections. A statement issued by Canadian ambassador Andrew Robinson on September 21 noted "Canada is seriously concerned that coming Ukrainian elections will fail to meet democratic standards."

    The next day Robinson was summoned to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where officials expressed "profound disappointment" and questioned the Canadian "Embassy's objectiveness in informing the Canadian Government about the real situation in Ukraine."

    On October 26 the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion sponsored by Wrzesnewskyj urging democratic and fair elections in Ukraine, sending a strong message to the Ukrainian government to clean up its act.

    In early November, Derek Fraser, former Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, wrote that "if the second round of voting in Ukraine is as fraudulent as the first, Russia's candidacy to join the WTO will be put on hold" in an op-ed published by a national newspaper.

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