By BENNY AVNI,
UNITED NATIONS — Russia's confrontation with the West is escalating, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing the U.N. Development Program of collaborating with the financierGeorge Soros to fund Mikheil Saakashvili's rise to the Georgian presidency.
Russia has long accused Mr. Soros of financing the 2003 Rose Revolution, and Mr. Saakashvili in particular. Yesterday, Mr. Lavrov called for an examination of the ties between Mr. Soros and the UNDP. "At the time, George Soros was sponsoring members of the Georgian government," Mr. Lavrov told reporters, adding that UNDP "funds and finances" were also used to support Georgian officials.
"We should clearly check and establish clear rules for controlling the spending by international organizations," he said. "We should not allow that such organizations be privatized."
The Columbia University-educated Mr. Saakashvili swept into power in a January 2004 election that resulted from the Rose Revolution, ousting a Russian ally, Eduard Shevardnadze, as president.
Russia's war with Georgia over the independence claims of two breakaway Georgian regions, which began in early August, has ratcheted up tensions between America and Russia. Also, Prime Minster Putin reportedly has declined for weeks to take calls from Secretary-General Ban, whose statements on Georgia were seen in Moscow as one-sided.
American officials have raised questions about the relationship between Mr. Soros's Open Society Institute and the UNDP in the past. And as The New York Sun first reported in June 2006, a former UNDP administrator, Mark Malloch Brown, rented a house adjacent to Mr. Soros's estate in Katonah, N.Y., paying the financier what real estate agents in the area characterized as below market rate rent.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Mr. Soros's OSI has concentrated much of its pro-democracy activities in former Soviet republics striving to break with their totalitarian past, with local leaders and their nationalist supporters pledging to sever ties with Moscow.
Information about the UNDP's activities in Georgia is available to all the members of the agency's board, including Russia, a spokesman for the agency, Stéphane Dujarric, told the Sun yesterday. Launched in January 2004, the program in Georgia included "salary top-ups for leading officials," he said, and was designed "to enable the government to recruit the staff it needed, and also to help remove incentives for corruption."
The Georgian president, prime minister, and speaker of the Parliament received monthly salary supplements of $1,500 each; ministers received $1,200 a month, and deputy ministers $700, Mr. Dujarric said.
The program was funded initially by Mr. Soros's OSI, which gave $1 million, while the UNDP gave $500,000. A Swedish government agency later added another $1 million. An "exit strategy" was built into the program, Mr. Dujarric said, and the Georgian government assumed responsibility for the salaries after three years.
Mr. Lavrov's contention that the UNDP must avoid being "privatized" came at the end of a week in which Russia significantly sharpened its rhetoric against America.
At a press conference yesterday and in his speech before the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday, Mr. Lavrov repeatedly denounced Washington's disruption of the existing world order by invading Iraq. "The solidarity of the international community fostered on the wave of struggle against terrorism turned out to be somehow privatized," he said in his assembly speech, referring to the Iraq invasion.
Separately, Mr. Lavrov declined yesterday to provide new details about his country's resumption of military cooperation with Syria, amid reports that the Russian navy sent several ships to the Mediterranean port of Tartus. "This cooperation is conducted in the framework of the international law and does not endanger anyone's security," Mr. Lavrov said.