CBSN

Ukraine's Cold War Deja Vu

Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko's supporters hold yellow-blue, Ukrainian, and orange, the campaign color, flags while standing near the parliament, in Kiev, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2004. Ukraine's parliament convened Tuesday to debate the growing threat to this ex-Soviet republic's unity.
AP
Cold War-type intrigue is overheating in Ukraine.

Yanukovych said the United States is trying to exert its will on this nation of 48 million people by getting opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko elected president.

"The United States' meddling into Ukraine's internal affairs is obvious. It is demonstrated by the financing of Yushchenko's campaign," said Yanukovych, who has increasingly tried to paint his foe as tied to American interests.

The U.S. government denied meddling in Ukrainian affairs or helping Yushchenko.

"The United States strongly supports a democratic process that reflects the will of the people of Ukraine. That's what our view is," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We do not and have not supported any particular candidate in Ukraine's presidential election."

The Bush administration has spent more than $65 million the past two years to aid political organizations in Ukraine, but none went to political parties, U.S. officials say.

Yanukovych himself was actively supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the election. Putin congratulated him twice on a fraud-marred victory that was later thrown out by Ukraine's Supreme Court, and denounced the idea of repeating the Nov. 21 runoff — as the court ordered.

Yanukovych or his allies are suspected of poisoning Yushchenko with a near-deadly dose of dioxin that has disfigured his face.

However, Russia is questioning the conclusion of Austrian doctors that Yushchenko was poisoned. "Dioxin is not a poison with an immediate effect," the BBC reports Russian health official Yuri Ostapenko as saying in an interview with Moscow Echo radio. "Toxicity builds up over years, dozens of years, and it is impossible to receive a dose one day that would poison you the next."

A contrary opinion was given by Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University, who has also talked about the case on Radio Free Europe and worked on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee Report on Bioterror and the Anthrax Scare.

He told CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Harry Smith that a metallic taste Yushchenko noticed in a meal he ate with Ukraine' security chief was consistent with dioxin poisoning. He said Yushchenko developed stomach ulcers and debilitating back pain shortly after the meeting.

Yanukovych is the hand-picked successor of President Leonid Kuchma, who himself was suspected of ordering the murder of investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

Lawmakers in Ukraine's parliament reopened their investigation Monday into Yushchenko's illness.

The decision by a parliamentary commission followed a similar move by the country's prosecutor general on Sunday. The commission will be led by Volodymyr Sivkovych, a lawmaker who has supported Yanukovych.

Yushchenko asked investigators to wait until after the Dec. 26 runoff to avoid influencing the outcome of the vote.

U.S. officials admit some of the $65 million the government has spent in the past two years in Ukraine helped train groups and individuals opposed to the Russian-backed government candidate.

For example, one group that got grants through U.S.-funded foundations is the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, whose Web site has a link to Yushchenko's home page under the heading "partners." Another project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development brought a Center for Political and Legal Reforms official to Washington last year for a three-week training session on political advocacy.

An exit poll, funded by the embassies of the United States and seven other nations as well as four international foundations, said Yushchenko won the Nov. 21 vote by 54 percent to 43 percent. Yanukovych and his supporters say the exit poll was skewed.

The Ukrainian groups that did the poll of more than 28,000 voters have not said how much the project cost. Neither has the United States.

The four foundations involved included three funded by the U.S. government: The National Endowment for Democracy, which gets its money directly from Congress; the Eurasia Foundation, which gets money from the State Department, and the Renaissance Foundation, part of a network of charities funded by billionaire George Soros that gets money from the State Department. Other countries involved included Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Grants from groups funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development also went to the International Center for Policy Studies, a think tank that includes Yushchenko on its supervisory board. The board also includes several current or former advisers to Kuchma, however.

Lorne Craner, a former State Department official who heads the International Republican Institute, received $25.9 million, which was partly used to help Yushchenko arrange meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Republican leaders in Congress in February 2003.

The State Department gave the National Democratic Institute, a group of Democratic foreign policy experts, nearly $48 million for worldwide democracy-building programs in 2003. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chairs NDI's board of directors.

The NDI says representatives of parties in all the blocs that participated in Ukraine's 2002 parliamentary elections have attended its seminars to learn skills such as writing party platforms, organizing bases of voter support and developing party structures. NDI also has been a main financial and administrative backer of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog group that said the presidential vote was not conducted fairly.

NDI also organized a 35-member team of election observers headed by former federal appeals court Judge Abner Mikva for the Nov. 21 runoff vote. IRI sent its own team of observers.