KIEV, Ukraine – Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (search) accused the United States on Monday of meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs, claiming the Americans have financed his opponent's presidential campaign.
The United States quickly denied the allegation, saying Washington sends money to Ukraine (search) to promote democracy, not to meddle in elections.
"The United States strongly supports a democratic process that reflects the will of the people of Ukraine. That's what our view is," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "We do not and have not supported any particular candidate in Ukraine's presidential election."
Yanukovych, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the "interference" can be described as Western pressure intended to exert the will of the Americans on this country of 48 million.
Yanukovych is running against Viktor Yushchenko (search) in a Dec. 26 rerun mandated after the Supreme Court ruled that a Nov. 21 runoff election was marred by fraud. Yanukovych was the declared the winner of the Nov. 21 vote, which later was nullified by Ukraine's Supreme Court after massive fraud was alleged by Yushchenko's camp and Western countries.
"The United States' meddling into Ukraine's internal affairs is obvious," he said. "It is appearing as the financing of Yushchenko's campaign."
The Bush administration has spent more than $65 million in the past two years to aid political organizations in Ukraine. U.S. officials say the activities don't amount to interference in Ukraine's election but are part of the $1 billion the State Department spends each year trying to build democracy worldwide.
No American funds were sent directly to Ukrainian political parties, U.S. officials say.
"The financing is unacceptable," Yanukovych said.
Yanukovych said he "stands for democratic values propagated in the United States and for trade and cultural ties."
He also distanced himself from the Kremlin, saying: "I've never used any help from any politicians but Ukrainian ones."
"Russia remains Ukraine's strategic partner," he said, even as he stressed that political alliances "between Yanukovych and Russia do not exist."
The strain of the campaign has been evident on Yanukovych, whose grave demeanor appeared at odds with the fresh-faced campaign posters plastered around cities in his base of support in eastern Ukraine.
The once gregarious leader appeared nervous and strained during the interview, with long pauses between phrases in an attempt to emphasize his thoughts.
But he also displayed flashes of anger, such as when he told of how he had to send his wife and family to his hometown of Donetsk for their safety. He said his son was attacked by youth activists in a movement allied with what became known as the Orange Revolution — weekslong street protests by Yushchenko's supporters after official results named Yanukovych the winner of the Nov. 21 runoff.
He offered no details on the attack, but said his wife received pictures of activists beating his son. He said his son was not seriously injured.