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For Ukraine rivals, no let up in Washington lobbying

Anti-government protesters stand behind burning barricades in Kiev's Independence Square February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Anti-government protesters stand behind burning barricades in Kiev's Independence Square February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three prominent Washington, D.C. lobbying outfits, representing rival political factions in Ukraine, continued lobbying for their Ukrainian clients through the last quarter of 2013, the most recent reports filed recently with Congress show.

Two of the companies, the Washington-based Podesta Group Inc and the Mercury public relations firm, have been registered with Congress for the last two years as lobbyists for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels group whose financial backing is obscure.

Opposition activists and news reports in Ukraine have described the group as tied to Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich's Party of Regions.

A third Washington group, the Wiley Rein law firm, has been registered with Congress since 2011 as lobbyists for Oleksandar Tymoshenko, the husband of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year prison term for alleged abuse of power.

The lobbying comes as Ukraine is experiencing its worst violence since independence from the Soviet Union. At least 26 people are reported to have been killed this week in clashes between protesters and government security forces.

Over the last month, all three lobbying firms have filed reports with Congress reporting that they had continued to represent, and to be paid, by the Ukrainian entities they represented through the end of 2013.

Wiley Rein, whose principal partner representing Oleksandar Tymoshenko is Jim Slattery, a former Democratic congressman, received income totaling $110,000 for the fourth quarter of 2013, bringing its total receipts from Tymoshenko for last year to $520,000, according to reports the firm filed with the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Podesta Group reported fourth-quarter 2013 income from the Brussels-based European Centre of $120,000, bringing its total receipts from the European Centre for last year to $510,000, Senate records show.

Podesta Group is headed by Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, who recently joined the White House as senior advisor to President Barack Obama. But Tony Podesta has said he has never discussed Ukraine with his brother John.

Mercury, whose team working on Ukrainian issues is led by former Republican Congressman Vin Weber, reported $70,000 in fourth-quarter 2013 income from the European Centre, bringing its 2013 yearly receipts from the Brussels-based group to a total of $280,000.

UKRAINE RESOLUTIONS

Both houses of the U.S. Congress have approved resolutions which threatened sanctions in the event the violence in Ukraine continues. The House of Representatives passed a resolution earlier this month urging dialogue among parties to the conflict, but also supporting possible targeted sanctions against people involved in using force.

Last month, the Senate also passed a resolution urging the president and Congress to consider similar targeted sanctions.

In its latest congressional filing, the Podesta Group reported only vaguely that it had been lobbying on "issues pertaining to relations between Ukraine and the United States."

Mercury - Podesta's partner in representing what are believed to be pro-Ukrainian government interests - reported that among the specific bills that it lobbied on were resolutions condemning the alleged persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko and calling for her release from prison, a resolution expressing support for the Ukrainian people in light of Yanukovich's decision not to sign an agreement with the European Union, and a bill creating and funding an exchange program between the U.S. House and Ukraine's parliament.

Mercury's filing does not specify what position its lobbyists were promoting on bills such as the pro-Tymoshenko legislation.

For its part, in its latest filing, Wiley Rein, representing Tymoshenko's husband, said it was also lobbying on bills condemning Tymoshenko's persecution and calling for her release from jail.

Representatives of Mercury, Podesta Group and Wiley Rein did not respond to emails requesting comment.

(Editing by Warren Strobel, Alistair Bell and G Crosse)

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