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U.S. firm ends lobbying deal with Ukraine-related group

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Washington lobbying firm with close ties to the White House and Democratic Party has ended its relationship with a Brussels-based group linked to ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich.

A second Washington lobbying firm with ties to the Republican Party continues to represent the same Brussels group, according to disclosure documents recently filed with the U.S. Congress by the two firms.

The political movement once led by Yanukovich has been deeply disrupted by protests in Ukraine, where a political crisis has deepened after moves by Russia and its sympathizers to take over Crimea and oppose the new Ukrainian central government.

One of the documents, filed on April 21, shows that the Podesta Group, headed by Tony Podesta, terminated its representation of the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine on March 31. Reuters reported in December that disclosure documents showed that during 2012 and 2013, the European Centre had paid $900,000 to the Podesta Group for lobbying activities.

The biography posted for Tony Podesta on his firm’s website describes him as “one of the Democratic Party’s top political strategists”. He is the brother of John Podesta, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Tony Podesta said last year that he had never discussed Ukraine with his brother John.

Another document shows that Mercury, a public relations firm, recently reported to Congress it was still representing the European Centre, and had received a fee of $70,000 from the group for its work during the first three months of 2014.

The document shows that the Mercury personnel registered to lobby for the European Centre include Vin Weber, a former member of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.

A representative of Mercury did not respond to a request for comment. The European Centre also did not respond to a request to explain why it had changed its lobbying arrangement in Washington.

The group is linked to Ukraine’s Party of Regions, which supported the government of Yanukovich, who fled to Russia earlier this year amid civil disorder.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Storey and Andrew Hay