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Bush to cut aid to rights groups in Russia, Ukraine - paper

WASHINGTON, May 28 (RIA Novosti) - The U.S. administration plans to implement drastic cuts in financial aid to rights groups in Russia and Ukraine next year, The Washington Post said Monday, citing a Freedom House report.

The newspaper said the cuts in democracy funding for Europe and Eurasia were due to President George W. Bush's "deeper absorption in the Middle East," but criticized the administration for what it called a "retreat" from its export of democracy ambition.

Under the plans for Ukraine, the administration will "slash funding for civil society organizations - that is, the groups that led the democratic revolution of 2004 - to $6.4 million, reflecting a 40 percent reduction from last year," the paper said. "In Russia, where pro-democracy and human rights NGOs are under enormous pressure from an increasingly autocratic Vladimir Putin, a cut of more than 50 percent is planned."

The paper accused the Bush administration of failing to put out a strong political message to those countries, and warned that insufficient Western influence in Ukraine - which is bracing itself for early parliamentary elections following the latest standoff between the president and the prime minister - could turn the nation into Russia's "political satellite" or prompt violence in the ex-Soviet state, and its eventual splinter.

Three years ago, Ukraine was a focal point of Bush's "freedom agenda," the newspaper said. The U.S.-backed "orange revolution" protests in Ukraine, which led to a re-run of the allegedly rigged elections won by Russia-sponsored Viktor Yanukovych, and which swept pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Washington also moved to put Ukraine on a fast track to join NATO, sought by Yushchenko, but the premier-led factions have taken a more cautious approach to membership in the military alliance.

The Washington-based human rights group said the administration's foreign aid budget proposal for next year envisioned more funding for Liberia and Kosovo than for Russia. Freedom House urged the White House to raise democracy aid for Russia two or threefold.