Monday, February 28, 2005

Witness in Gongadze Kidnapping Wounded in Attack After Police Say They Identified Abductors

KIEV, Ukraine -- A key witness in the abduction and killing of a prominent opposition journalist has been wounded in a grenade explosion shortly after police said they had identified the perpetrators of one of Ukraine's most politically charged crimes, news reports said Feb. 28. Georgy Gongadze, a prominent Internet journalist who wrote about top-level corruption, was abducted in downtown Kyiv in September 2000. His decapitated body was later found buried in a forest.

Inna Kysel, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said late Sunday that investigators had identified people "who dragged Gongadze into the car."

"We have the vehicle as well," she said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

The report offered no further details and Kysel was not available for comment Feb. 28.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian media reported that a witness in the Gongadze case and a police officer who was escorting him were seriously wounded in Kyiv on Feb. 27, hours after the police announcement, when an unidentified assailant tossed a hand grenade at them. Kyiv's TV5 television identified the witness as Yury Nesterov.

Ihor Honcharov, a former police officer and a key witness in the Gongadze case who died in prison two years ago, claimed in a letter published last year by Ukrainian media that Nesterov "helped two agents of Kyiv's police bureau for fighting organized crime to kidnap, torture and kill Gongadze" in a warehouse in Kyiv's Moskovsky district.

Ukrainian media reported extensively last year that the former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko ordered agents to follow Gongadze shortly before his abduction.

In June, Ukrainian prosecutors announced that a suspect had admitted beheading Gongadze, but they provided no other details.

Gongadze's death touched off months of violent protests against then-President Leonid Kuchma, whom the opposition alleged was involved in the killing. Kuchma denies the allegations.

"Police want to find not only who were the executors, but also those who masterminded this crime. It might be difficult but we will find them," Kysel said.

Ukraine's new president, Viktor Yushchenko, recently promised Gongadze's mother that solving the case was a "point of honor" for him.

Last year, a parliamentary committee recommended criminal proceedings against Kuchma as the likely suspect in masterminding Gongadze's death.

Russian Portfolio Manager Travels to Ukraine

NEW YORK, USA -- Third Millennium Russia Fund (the "Fund") (OTC: TMRFX), named 'America's third best performing equity fund' in the February 21st issue of BusinessWeek for the four weeks prior, today reported that it has amended its charter to be able to include a limited number of stocks from Ukraine and the Caspian region.

John Connor, the Fund's Portfolio Manager, visited companies at Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, last week and attended the country's first Securities Conference, at which recently elected Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko spoke. "A personally courageous leader, President Yushchenko presented a clear picture of where he wants to take his country, becoming an integral part of Europe economically and politically," said Mr. Connor.

The Fund has now added to its existing 34-stock portfolio, the following four Ukraine companies: Donbasenergo (Symbol: DOES), an electric utility in eastern Ukraine; Zaporozh Stal (GDR: UWP), a steel company in that same region; Slavutich (SLAV), a brewery majority-owned by Baltic Beverages Holding (BBH); and Stirol (GDR: SVX), a world leader in fertilizer production and exports.

"Ukraine shows great potential, although the stock market at present is not developed and many companies are in need of requisite transparency, tax-paying and dividend-declaring skills, but the cash flows are there, " stated Connor.

In addition, the Fund purchased shares of two Caspian-oil-focused companies: an oil services company, based in Utah (EMPS Corp.: EPSU) and Nelson Resources (NLG).

Third Millennium Russia Fund focuses on the Russian oil & gas sectors, wireless and wire line telecom, steel companies, natural resources and commodities and a broad selection of other audited, market leading public companies. The Fund has gained over 16% year-to-date for 2005 and is ranked as one of the best performing mutual funds in America for the Five Year Period with returns totaling over 450%. Third Millennium Russia Fund is available no-load through Waterhouse and Charles Schwab & Company with a commission, through other brokers.

Ukraine, Georgia Agree to Reverse Flow of Oil in Disputed Pipeline

KIEV, Ukraine -- The flow of oil in a key Ukrainian pipeline will be reversed to carry oil shipments from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to Western Europe, instead of pumping crude from Russia to the Black Sea port of Odessa, the Ukrainian and Georgian prime ministers said Feb. 28.

The decision about the Odessa-Brody pipeline, announced following a meeting between Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her Georgian counterpart, Zurab Nogaideli, is likely to complicate relations between the two former Soviet republics and Russia.


Viktor Yushchenko (l) greets Georgian PM Zurab Nogaideli (r)

Last summer, Ukraine's Cabinet agreed to open the long-idle pipeline for shipments of Russian oil to Odessa. But the United States has opposed that, saying it will increase Ukraine's energy dependence on Russia and raise chances of an oil spill as more tankers travel through Turkey's clogged Bosporus strait.

Georgia stands to benefit from the new deal because it will earn transit fees. And Georgia, like Ukraine, is interested in expanding its self-reliance compared to the regional energy power, Russia.

Russia is Ukraine's largest trade partner and energy supplier, while key Russian pipelines and other infrastructure links with Europe run through Ukraine.

Nogaideli traveled to Ukraine on Feb. 27 for a three-day trip and was scheduled to meet top Ukrainian officials, including President Viktor Yushchenko.

It was Nogaideli's first trip abroad since filling the post after the sudden death of Zurab Zhvania, who apparently fell victim to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Later in the day, Nogaideli and Yushchenko discussed boosting bilateral ties, and agreed to refresh an alliance of five former Soviet republics aimed at enhancing regional stability and encourage economic development.

The GUUAM group - comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova - was established in 1997 in a bid to seek cooperation outside Russian influence.

Kiev Goes 'Orange' For Eurovision

KIEV, Ukraine -- The song that became the anthem of Ukraine's "orange revolution" has been chosen to represent the country at this year's Eurovision song contest.

The hip-hop tune Together we are many! (Razom nas bahato!) by Greenjolly beat 18 other contestants in an interactive vote in a qualifying final in Kiev.

It became an instant hit with many Ukrainians who rallied against last November's rigged presidential poll.

Ukraine will host Eurovision 2005 in May as it won the contest last year.


Ruslana and Wild Dances

The country's winning entry at the show in Turkey was Wild Dances by Ruslana.

'Now or never!'

Razom nas bahato! is a remake of the famous revolutionary song Pueblo unido jamas sera vencido! (The people, united, will never be defeated!) from the 1960s.

It was written by the Greenjolly duo in the early days of the mass protests in Kiev that eventually brought West-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

"No to falsifications!... No to lies! Yushchenko - yes! Yushchenko - yes! This is our president - yes, yes!" the song says.

"We aren't cattle!... We are Ukraine's daughters and sons! Now or never! Enough with the wait! Together we are many! We cannot be defeated," it says.

Greenjolly won the right to represent Ukraine in a telephone and SMS vote during Sunday's final shown live on UT1 television channel.

However, some local music experts have criticised the viewers' choice, saying the Eurovision is not a contest for political songs.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Car in Which Gongadze Was Driven Away Has Been Located

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the Gongadze investigation, a witness who saw the journalist get into a car “planted by the police” has been identified and the car has been located.

Yuriy Lutsenko, Minister of Internal Affairs stated this in an interview on ICTV television.

“We have clearly identified those who got Gongadze into the car. This car is also now in our custody,” stated the Minister.


Murdered Journalist Gongadze

Lutsenko again affirmed his certainty that the police will identify not only those who detained Gongadze, but also those who contracted his detention. “This will be more complicated, but we will get them,” added the Minister.

He also confirmed that not all police who “followed, tapped conversations, and got [Gongadze] to get into the car” are criminals, because they were carrying out the order of their superiors, not knowing that this order was a crime.

“If we need to preserve the anonymity, or even stimulate the solution of this crime with financial reward, we will do so, because this is the most famous criminal investigation in the world right now,” added Lutsenko.

Ukraine Prosecutors Probe Bizarre Russian Link in Yushchenko Poisoning

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a bizarre twist to the mysterious poisoning that disfigured the face of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, investigators in Kiev are probing a new lead that involves a Russian political consultant.

Prosecutors are studying an audiotape of a conversation which alleges a role in the dioxin poisoning by Kremlin-connected spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky, a spokesman for the prosecutor general told AFP.



Pavlovsky, a key campaign advisor to Yushchenko's defeated Moscow-backed rival Viktor Yanukovich, dismisses the claims as a 'fabrication.'

'The prosecutor has said he knows whose voices are on the tape. This is one of the versions we are working on,' said Vyacheslav Astapov, a spokesman for Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun.

The tape recording is of a bugged conversation between a Kremlin official in Moscow and a man in Kiev who is close to Ukraine's SBU secret services, the journalist who passed the tape to prosecutors, Volodymyr Ariev, told AFP.

'The person in Kiev told his contact in Moscow that the poisoning was Pavlovsky's idea. The aim was to disfigure Yushchenko's face, not kill him,' said the Channel 5 journalist, adding that the plot appeared to involve rogue Russian secret service elements.

Kyiv Post Editorial: Too Many Corpses

KIEV, Ukraine -- It has tended to be lost in all the excitement of a new government that some influential Ukrainians, with important ties to the nation’s business and political elite, have died recently under strange circumstances. There has been no adequate accounting for these deaths, but there must be if Ukraine is to move forward.

First, on Dec. 3 of last year, lawyer Yuriy Lyakh, 39, was found dead in his office at the Kyiv headquarters of the Ukrainian Credit Bank, of which he was the chairman. The case was ruled a suicide, and a note was reported to have been found on the scene. Lyakh had ostensibly stabbed himself to death in the neck with a paper knife.

With a paper knife? It doesn’t take a paranoid to view the official version of Lyakh’s death with a certain suspicion. Lyakh was, to put it mildly, well-connected. He was one of the so-called Big Seven, a group of associates of Viktor Medvedchuk, the former Presidential Administration chief, head of the influential Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united), and perennial power-player. Media reports have placed Medvedchuk at the center of the election fraud controversy that led to the so-called Orange Revolution, and implied that he wanted a hard line taken with anti-government protestors.

Then, on Dec. 27, Transportation Minister Heorhy Kirpa was found shot dead in a bathhouse near his home outside Kyiv. Korrespondent.net, the Post’s Russian-language sister publication, reported that Kirpa had met with an unknown member of Ukraine’s elite hours before his death. His demise was also ruled a suicide. The Prosecutor General’s Office reportedly opened an investigation into whether Kirpa had been driven to kill himself.


Heorhy Kirpa

Next, on Feb. 14, Roman Nikiforov, head of Donetsk’s Artemivsky Champagne Factory, reportedly shot himself by mistake with a rubber bullet. The Artemivsky Champagne Factory, media reports allege, is co-owned by powerful Donetsk-based tycoon Rinat Akhmetov.

President Viktor Yushchenko has, appropriately, ordered the PGO to investigate the Lyakh and Kirpa deaths. We’re not sure current Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Pyskun, a holdover from the previous power structure, is the man to get to the bottom of these peculiar cases, but Yushchenko’s move is a start, if only a start. Time will tell whether Nikiforov’s death deserves investigation as well.

For years, Ukraine has been a country in which suspicious deaths – starting with the king of them all, the 2000 murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze – don’t get solved. Capital mysteries drag on for years, as if powerful people don’t want them solved. It’s hard to imagine a better index of corruption than that. If Ukraine is to become the “European” country Yushchenko says it is, it must stop being one in which the authorities are blase (or self-interested) in solving capital crimes, and in which skeletons are allowed to rattle eternally in official closets. How can Ukraine move forward if it’s weighted down with corpses?

All these cases must be resolved to the satisfaction of reasonable people; the era in which the government drags its feet on investigating suspicious cases must end. Pressure has to be kept on Yushchenko and his government until there are answers. Taking him at his word, Ukrainians should never let him compromise.

Bush Advises PORA to Work in Moldova, While They Want to Focus on Belarus

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- The civic campaign PORA which took part in the Orange Revolution, will expand its activities in Belarus and Moldova.

Vladyslav Kaskiv, the leader of PORA, announced the organization’s intention to support democracy in Belarus during a meeting in Bratislava of US President George Bush with representatives of pro-democracy organizations.

According to a PORA press release, PORA’s intention to be active in Belarus evoked a “positive reaction” from Bush.


PORA Activists During Orange Revolution

Bush also supported the idea expressed by PORA that “freedom cannot stop at the Ukrainian border” and added that the object of such an international collaboration could be supporting democratic elections in Moldova.

Kaskiv also proposed the formation of an “International Democracy Institute” with a headquarters in Kyiv.

Following his meeting with the leaders of the various democracy movements, Bush appeared on the central square of Bratislava and talked about the potential for the spread of democracy around the world. During his speech, Bush mentioned the achievements of Ukrainians and Ukraine’s potential seven times.

At the same time, as reported by the Institute of Mass Information, another Ukrainian was to meet with Bush – UT-1 sign-language translator Natalia Dmytruk, who used sign language to report the truth about the election falsifications.

As has been reported, Natalia Dmytruk ignored the prepared text of broadcaster Tetiana Kravchenko during the November 25 morning news telecast about Yanukovych’s victory. Instead, Dmytruk told viewers the following: “The results of the Central Election Committee have been falsified. Don’t believe them. Yushchenko is our president. I feel sorry that it has come to broadcasting lies. I will no longer take part in it. I don’t know if we will see one another again."

Yushchenko Poisoning Answers Remain Elusive

KIEV, Ukraine -- Five months after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko first showed signs of dioxin poisoning, there are still more questions than answers about how he was poisoned and who was behind it.

It isn't even clear if the intent was to kill him or to weaken him so he would drop out of the race for the presidency.

Whatever the intent, it failed. Yushchenko swept to power after one election was declared fraudulent and he clearly won the second.

His skin pocked with dioxin-induced acne and him suffering pain so great he required infusions of drugs directly into his spine, Yushchenko took on almost messianic status.

"In a sense, he became a living martyr, a walking resurrection story," said Andriy Ermolaev, a political analyst at Kiev's Center for Social Studies.

Last week, Yushchenko said at a news conference that he was aware of tapes that might tie the poisoning to the Russian Federal Security Service, successor to the Soviet KGB.

The tapes reportedly contain the voices of Russian FSS employees talking about the poisoning and implicating a Russian official, Gleb Pavlovskiy. The tapes were given to a Ukrainian TV station in December and handed over to investigators Tuesday.

Pavlovskiy has denied any involvement. But the idea that the Russians might somehow have harmed Yushchenko appeals to many here who thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was too quick to congratulate Yushchenko's opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, on his "victory" after the first, fraudulent election.

Yushchenko said he would make no judgment on the reports of Russian involvement until the Ukrainian prosecutor completes his investigation.

The investigation has centered on a Sept. 5 dinner Yushchenko shared with three other men at a home outside the capital. The details of that dinner were revealed by Volodymyr Boyko, a reporter who in September broke the news that poisoning might be behind Yushchenko's deterioration.

According to Boyko, the dinner's host was Volodymyr Satsyuk, the No. 2 official in Ukraine's secret service. His boss, Ihor Smeshko, was also there, as were Yushchenko and David Zhvania, Yushchenko's close friend and one of the country's richest men.

According to an official report, Yushchenko was stricken with nausea the next morning. At first he tried traditional Ukrainian home remedies. But his symptoms worsened and by 7 p.m., suspecting food poisoning, he sought a doctor's care.

On Sept. 10, deathly ill, he flew to Austria for treatment. When he returned to Ukraine eight days later, chloracne scars had disfigured his face.

The dinner would have been an ideal setting for administering the dioxin, said Max Daunderer, a Munich toxicologist. The amount of dioxin needed for Yushchenko's level of poisoning would be significantly smaller than a grain of salt.

"And alcohol speeds up and intensifies the uptake of poisons," he said.

Others are less certain. Dr. Arnold Schecter, one of the world's leading dioxin experts at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, said he believes the symptoms surfaced too quickly for the dinner to have been the source of the poison.

"In medicine, there's always the exception, but dioxin usually takes at least three days to produce symptoms," he said. "Frankly, the timing of getting sick the next day would point away from the dinner."

Satsyuk denies that the poisoning could have taken place at his home. "We ate from the same platters, drank from the same bottles," he said. None of the other men fell ill.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

German Bank May Issue 2 Billion Euro Credit to Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Deutsche Bank and Ukraine’s oil and gas company Neftegaz are drafting an agreement on a credit of up to two billion euros for an energy project to overhaul the Ukrainian gas transportation network.



First Vice Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh told journalists on Saturday, “We are preparing a serious draft for a Deutsche Bank credit to the national joint stock company Neftegaz Ukrainy to a sum of about two billion euros for the technical modernisation of the gas transportation system and other projects.”

He said the work could be completed before President Viktor Yushchenko’s official visit to Germany scheduled for March 8-9.

According to Kinakh, one of the issues to be discussed in Germany will be cooperation in the creation of a gas transportation consortium.

“I support the resumption of systemic work on the creation of a consortium on a trilateral basis,” Kinakh said.

Earlier Ukraine, Russia, and Germany agreed to create a consortium for the development and management of the gas transportation system. Russia will contribute natural gas, Ukraine will provide transit capacities, and Germany will act as a consumer.

Yushchenko has stressed the need to resume work on the consortium with the participation of the European Union.

More Former Communist States on the Verge of Orange Revolution

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine's pro-democracy ‘Orange Revolution’ may be about to sweep eastwards as three more former communist states hold elections in the coming days.

Opposition parties in Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are cloaking themselves in orange, hoping to "do a Ukraine" and remove unpopular governments in parliamentary elections.


Ukrainian Orange Revolution

Like Ukrainians, opponents in these states complain of living under the yoke of tyrannical governments little changed from the days when they were part of the Soviet Union. They are optimistic that the elections will see the old guard swept from power.

Tajikistan goes to the polls today and Kyrgyzstan tomorrow, but opposition in the two countries has not enjoyed the same support from America as Victor Yuschenko’s party did in Ukraine.

What is missing from central Asia is American aid. Washington poured in help and expertise for the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. American money financed newspapers, think tanks and parties.

In both Georgia and Ukraine, PR experts advised on strategy, and Americans trained opposition youth groups in non- violent resistance.

In the case of Ukraine this paid off handsomely, with the youth group Pora - the name means ‘It is time’ - setting up the so-called Tent City protest in the heart of Kiev.

But in central Asia, America fears the beneficiaries of popular discontent may be Islamic parties who are hostile to the West. Kyrgyzstan has also helped America build an important air base for flights in and out of Afghanistan.

Observers also see problems in making the Orange Revolution exportable.

"If you are talking about these central Asian countries it depends on the level of the people," said Olena Viter, the executive director of Ukraine’s School for Policy Analysis. "The middle class was the main player that was interested in this revolution. But it was not only in the elections. There was a very long process before."

But Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva, of the Ata Jurt party, said the people were "absolutely ready" for a Ukraine-style change. "We’re not talking about a revolution but about the peaceful, calm and constitutional transfer of power," he said.

What has galvanised them was the sight of opposition supporters in Ukraine refusing to take no for an answer. On November 21, when the government rigged elections, hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Kiev.

Despite the intense cold and threats of attack by police and troops, Ukraine’s protesters remained on the streets of the capital. After three weeks of deadlock, the government buckled, called new elections and saw opposition hero Yushchenko elected president.

Two weeks after Ukraine’s revolution, neighbouring Romania followed suit. Opposition champion Traian Basescu won an election against former communist Adrian Nastase, amid streets awash with orange banners and flags.

Some see the Orange Revolution as a "second wave" bringing democracy to former communist nations which have yet to break with the past.

Best placed to see change is Moldova, which goes to the polls on March 6. It is sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, and controlled by Europe’s last ruling Communist party.

Further east, the opposition faces tougher obstacles. In Tajikistan, tax police shut down the main opposition newspapers last summer. They have since reopened but face continued harassment.

Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan has a much stronger opposition but they, too, have hit problems. The government is demanding each candidate pays a $768 registration fee - a fortune in a country where the average annual wage is $345.

Ukraine to Change Ideology of Privatisation

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian government plans to change the ideology of privatisation in order “not to eat away” the revenue generated by the sale of state property, First Vice Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh said.

He told journalists on Saturday, “It is unacceptable when all financial gains are directed towards consumption. We will try to make sure that the resources from privatisation go into innovative projects, small and medium-sized business support.”

In his words, the government is finalising a privatisation programme for 2005. It will be based on the transparency of privatisation auctions and equal access to them for all investors, he added.

Kinakh said privatisation revenue in 2005 was expected at 2.5 billion grivnas (almost 500 million U.S. dollars), which is half of what was projected by the previous government in the 2005 budget that will need to be corrected now.

The first vice prime minister confirmed that the national communication operator Ukrtelecom would not be privatised in 2005 because its sale will require “a serious pre-privatisation preparation”.

He said the government was still mulling over the list of property to be sold in 2005.

Kinakh also said that a special working group set up by the Ukrainian government was examining the legitimacy of the privatisation of about 20 enterprises.

“We are scrutinising the privatisation of several companies, including Krivorozhstal (metallurgical mill) and energy-related ones,” he said.

According to Kinakh, “The government will not allow the situation to slide to the re-division of property.”

He promised that the government would “protect the rights of owners”.

Founder of Amnesty International Dies

LONDON, England -- Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, has died, the human rights organization said Saturday. He was 83.

Benenson set up Amnesty International in 1961 after reading an article about the arrest and imprisonment of two students in a cafe in Lisbon, Portugal, who had drunk a toast to liberty.


Peter Benenson

He initially set up Amnesty, which is based in London, as a one-year campaign, but it went on to become the world's largest independent human rights organizations. Currently, it has more than 1.8 million members and supporters worldwide.

"Peter Benenson's life was a courageous testament to his visionary commitment to fight injustice around the world. He brought light into the darkness of prisons, the horror of torture chambers and tragedy of death camps around the world," said Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general.

"This was a man whose conscience shone in a cruel and terrifying world, who believed in the power of ordinary people to bring about extraordinary change and, by creating Amnesty International, he gave each of us the opportunity to make a difference," she said.

"In 1961 his vision gave birth to human rights activism. In 2005, his legacy is a world wide movement for human rights which will never die."

Amnesty International has been active in Ukraine, for a number of years.

Poroshenko Orders Inventory of Country's Weaponry

KIEV, Ukraine -- A top defense official ordered officials Feb. 25 to take an inventory of all military weaponry and equipment in Ukraine, just days after two anti-aircraft missile systems were discovered missing from a military depot.

Petro Poroshenko, recently appointed chief of Ukraine's Defense and Security Council, gave the military six weeks to perform a "total inventory," noting that it would be an "extremely difficult task" given the size of the country's weapons stores.



He said that once the inventory was completed, he would be "absolutely public and open" about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance discovered Tuesday of two SA-7 Grail missile systems from a depot in Ukraine's southern Crimean peninsula.

The Defense Ministry said an investigation had been launched into the missing systems - also called Strela-3M, or Arrow.

The heat-seeking Strela missiles are produced in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Egypt, former Yugoslav republics and elsewhere and are the anti-aircraft weapon of choice for guerillas, rebel forces and terrorists worldwide.

Ukraine's new government has been trying to clamp down on illicit weapons deals that flourished under former President Leonid Kuchma. Last month, a key Ukrainian lawmaker revealed the secret indictments or arrests of at least six arms dealers accused of selling Ukraine's nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran and China.

Ukraine Strips Ex-President of Retirement Perks

KIEV, Ukraine -- The cabinet Saturday stripped former president Leonid Kuchma of a plush - and widely criticized - retirement package that featured a monthly pension, two cars, a government home and much more.

New Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had ordered the government to come up with a new, slimmed-down package for former officials.

Kuchma's privileges were cancelled based on a decision by the Ministry of Justice that the previous government "exceeded its responsibilities," the cabinet said in a statement.

On Jan. 19, five days before President Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in, acting Prime Minister Mykola Azarov signed an order giving Kuchma a monthly salary worth about 8,200 UAH and allowing him and wife Lyudmyla to keep their government-owned home in Ukraine's most exclusive enclave. The package also gave Kuchma two aides, an adviser, securities, two cars, four drivers and a countryside residence.

Anger against Kuchma runs deep in this country of 48 million. Many Ukrainians accuse him of having run the state like a personal fiefdom, enriching those close to him while the rest of the country was choked by poverty and corruption.

Yushchenko, sacked by Kuchma in acrimony as prime minister in 2000, has cranked up the pressure on Kuchma and the previous government, ordering all sales of state property to be re-examined along with alleged "insider" deals under the previous regime.

Prosecutors are sifting through other major privatization deals and financial transactions, an investigation that is likely to focus on the wealthy clique of businessmen close to Kuchma.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko asked the country's Prosecutor General's Office to open a criminal case against Former President Leonid Kuchma, the party's press service said.

"The Prosecutor General's Office has to open a criminal case against Kuchma on crimes he committed when he served as Ukrainian president, which carry a sentence of high treason" said Symonenko.

Profile: Boris Nemtsov

MOSCOW, Russia -- Boris Nemtsov, once a rising star in the Russian political firmament, has joined forces with Ukraine's new liberal president Viktor Yushchenko.

His post as adviser to Mr Yushchenko might help export the "orange revolution" to Russia, some analysts say.

Mr Nemtsov - who is not renouncing Russian citizenship - insists his work in Ukraine will focus entirely on economic issues.

"The main thing is to normalise our relations and bring Russian investment into Ukraine," he told BBC Russian.com.

But the western-orientated market reformer, who was a favourite of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, does not deny seeking to influence the political climate in Russia.

On Monday he was in Kiev to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was on his first visit to Ukraine since the "orange revolution" - the massive street protests that helped secure Mr Yushchenko's election victory.

"Ukraine's success on the path to European integration is also Russia's success, and their failures are also our failures," Mr Nemtsov told the BBC.

"Our help to fraternal Ukraine ultimately means that the situation in Russia will get out of its present rut and the grey bureaucratic dictatorship will not last forever."

Mr Nemtsov's new appointment drew a mixture of excitement and scepticism.

Reformer

A nuclear scientist and environmentalist, he shot into the post of Nizhny Novgorod regional governor after the fall of communism.

The region, bristling with military industries, became a showcase for foreign investment in Russia - helped by Mr Nemtsov's media awareness. He quickly became one of Russia's most prominent politicians.

Many observers speculated that Mr Yeltsin was grooming Mr Nemtsov as his successor. He was appointed Russian deputy prime minister in charge of economic reform.

But he came to regret that decision, for it heralded the beginning of his political decline.

Any presidential ambitions he had were undermined by the August 1998 economic crisis, which also cost him the government job.

Along with other prominent liberals, Mr Nemtsov then created the Union of Right Forces (SPS).

Initially the party seemed very successful, gaining about 10% in the December 1999 election and forming an influential faction in the Russian parliament. But in the next few years the SPS attitude to Russia's new president Vladimir Putin evolved from conditional support to open opposition - and the party lost supporters.

In the 2003 election the SPS failed to reach the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament. It even got fewer votes than Grigory Yavlinsky's liberal Yabloko movement, which also suffered a major defeat.

Mr Nemtsov resigned as SPS leader and pursued a business career, while making futile attempts to reunite Russian liberals, left in total disarray by the election catastrophe.

Helping Revolution

Ukraine's "orange revolution" came as a breath of fresh air for the Russian liberals, because it made Mr Putin's increasingly authoritarian regime look not all that invincible.

Mr Nemtsov took an active part in the opposition rallies in Kiev's Independence Square, and was frequently seen alongside Mr Yushchenko and his ally Yulya Tymoshenko during their campaign.

Still his appointment as adviser came as a surprise.

Mr Yavlinsky - his arch-rival for leadership of the Russian liberal camp - had been seen by some analysts as a possible candidate for the post of Ukrainian prime minister.

Mr Yavlinsky hails from the Lviv region of western Ukraine and was even once a Ukrainian boxing champion.

But instead Ms Tymoshenko was made prime minister.

This was another shock for Moscow, which in the heat of the Ukrainian election battle even brought fraud charges against her.

Ukrainian analysts quoted by the Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta said Mr Nemtsov's appointment was made "to bridge the gap between Mr Yushchenko and the Russian-speaking population".

But other experts told the liberal Russian Gazeta newspaper that Mr Yushchenko was simply avenging Moscow for its open support of his main rival in the controversial elections, Viktor Yanukovych.

"Ukraine is now criticising the Russian model of controlled democracy, while Mr Nemtsov represents the Russian opposition. I don't think he can be of much help," expert Anatoly Galchinsky told Gazeta.

But according to analyst Konstantin Simonov, quoted by Rossiyskaya Gazeta, now Mr Nemtsov "will be able to say on every corner in Russia that he is a fully-fledged envoy of the orange revolution, claim the role of Russia's Yushchenko and lead a Russian 'orange fifth column'".

Ukraine Moves a Step Closer to Europe

KIEV, Ukraine -- During President Viktor Yushchenko's first month in office, he visited Europe twice, appearing at the European Parliament, EU, Council of Europe, and NATO. After a month of such visits and meetings there can be no doubt that Yushchenko is serious when he spoke of "the end of multi-vectorism". Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said that Ukraine's foreign policy will now be "consistent and predictable" and move away from the previous policy of "sending contradictory measures depending on which country he [former president Leonid Kuchma] was visiting".

Much has changed under Yushchenko, but not everything. The West does view Yushchenko as genuinely committed to the domestic policies required for Euro-Atlantic integration. Kuchma had always demanded a signal of future membership from the EU before launching reforms.



However, most Western governments did not expect a Yushchenko victory or an Orange Revolution, much less greater Ukrainian interest in joining NATO and the EU. The strains caused by his ascendancy were evident during Yushchenko's meetings in Western Europe this week. Ukraine's allies in its quest for Euro-Atlantic integration are the United States, Canada, the post-communist new members of the EU, and Scandinavia.

Of these countries, the United States is key to Ukraine's NATO membership, but Washington can only indirectly lobby for its inclusion in the EU. President George W. Bush mentioned Ukraine twice in his State of the Union address, and Ukraine's democratic revolution certainly fits his announced plans to support democracy around the world.

Bush and Yushchenko met at NATO headquarters shortly before Bush's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During their encounter, Bush compared Yushchenko to George Washington, praising him as somebody who had just led a "peaceful revolution based upon the same values that we hold dear".

Bush invited Yushchenko to visit the United States in the first week of April. Their talks contrast sharply with U.S.-Ukraine relations under Kuchma. Bush refused to meet Kuchma until the June 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul when they briefly met as part of a U.S. "thank you" for Ukraine's military contribution to Iraq.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration continues the difficult task of ideologically supporting Ukraine's democratic revolution while remaining geopolitically committed to cooperating with Russia. Since the Orange Revolution, the balance has tipped in Ukraine's favor, leaving Russia increasingly seen as autocratic, imperialist, and of little further use in the campaign against international terrorism. Advocates of supporting Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration are now emerging in the U.S. Congress, leaving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her purported russophilism in the minority.

The "Old Europe" countries of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg continue to remain apathetic towards Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. French President Jacques Chirac's early departure from the Ukraine-NATO Commission was seen by many as a diplomatic snub. France, a non-military member of NATO, was always lukewarm towards EU enlargement in general, while Great Britain has been more enthusiastic. However, London remains apathetic toward Ukraine. Britain's position is likely to gradually become more positive, particularly with U.S. prodding.

Moscow seeks to block Ukraine's westward orientation through the "Old Europe" bloc. Although Russia's official position is that Ukraine's membership in the EU is "OK" (while NATO is "nyet"), Moscow cannot truly wish Yushchenko success. But the more it lobbies "old Europe" to block Ukraine's EU aspirations, the more it will drive Ukraine into the hands of NATO, where the United States dominates and membership is easier to attain.

Russia now has a much less pliant government in Kyiv. Yushchenko and the government of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are looking for the right diplomatic formula to reject the CIS Single Economic Space. They also want Russia to treat Ukraine as part of the "Far Abroad," not the CIS "Near Abroad."

For the first time, Ukraine's foreign policy will be coordinated by a united group ideologically committed to Euro-Atlantic integration. These include Foreign Minister Tarasyuk (returning to the post after Putin successfully lobbied for his removal in October 2000), Defense Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Oleh Rybachuk, and Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Petro Poroshenko. Tymoshenko will focus on domestic affairs.

Ukraine's emerging new foreign policy will be judged on its success in having Ukraine designated a market economy this year and receiving WTO membership before the March 2006 parliamentary elections. Kyiv is committed to fulfilling the just-signed three-year Action Plan (with an additional 11 action points drawn up to provide additional support to Yushchenko) and completing the ten-year Partnership and Cooperation Agreement by 2007. Yushchenko believes these accomplishments will lead to an accession treaty with the EU in 2007-2008.

The situation with NATO is more complex. Attaining NATO membership is easier and quicker than that for the EU. Grytsenko has predicted that Ukraine would be a NATO member by 2009. However, there will be some domestic opposition from the Communist Party and former Kuchma loyalists, as well as opposition from Russia. Consequently, Tymoshenko's government program omits any mention of NATO and does not plan to accelerate the application process until after the 2006 elections. Nevertheless, after the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting, Yushchenko confirmed that he is seeking Ukraine's integration into both NATO and the EU.

Poroshenko left the NATO-Ukraine Commission with greater optimism about NATO's readiness to provide "very strong and powerful support". Both Bush and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer emphasized NATO's "open-door" policy that would admit Ukraine if its reformist policies are successful. Yushchenko hopes that the EU will also move to an "open-door" policy after 2007.

Ukraine President to Visit Iran

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko plans to visit Iran in the first half of this year, the presidency announced here Thursday after the ex-Soviet republic's new leader held talks with a visiting Iranian envoy.

Mehdi Safari, a special envoy of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, discussed ways to expand economic cooperation between the two countries, said a statement issued by Yushchenko's office.


Viktor Yushchenko (l) and Mehdi Safari (r)

Among areas where joint projects are being studied are the construction of gas pipelines, the oil sector, shipbuilding, space technology and the aircraft industry, the statement said.

Yushchenko, a reformist liberal who took power earlier this year after his Western-backed "orange revolution" ousted the pro-Moscow regime, has not hesitated nonetheless to ruffle Washington's feathers.

Ukraine is to pull out its troops from Iraq, dealing a blow to the US-led coalition forces, and continue to develop ties with Iran, a country seen as a "rogue state" by the United States, which accuses it of developing nuclear weapons.

LUKOIL Promises to Invest $300 Million in Ukrainian Plants

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia’s LUKOIL company plans to invest nearly $300 million of its assets in Ukraine in the next few years, LUKOIL’s chief Vagit Alekperov said after meeting Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko on Thursday.

He said that the company intended to go ahead with the modernization of the Lukor petrochemical plant and the Odessa oil refinery.

Besides, LUKOIL plans to launch the construction of a plant for the production of industrial oils near Kiev this year. The 18-month-long project is estimated to cost nearly $20 million.



The LUKOIL Company owns seven oil refineries in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania. Their aggregate refining capacity accounts for nearly 58.6 million tons a year.

The LUKOIL-Ukraina Holdings, a production and commercial regional structure of Russian LUKOIL, intends to create a network of 250 gasoline stations. The holdings comprise commodity operator “Litasko Ukraina”, the Lukoil-Odessa oil refinery and the LUKOIL-Ukraina regional sales enterprise.

Vagit Alekperov and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko discussed the investment climate in Ukraine at a meeting in Kiev on Thursday. The Ukrainian leader pledged to create equal rules of the game for all the investors without fail.

Friday, February 25, 2005

NSDC Head Promises to Stop Closures of Russian Schools

KIEV, Ukraine -- The secretary of Ukraine’s national Security and Defense Council, Petro Poroshenko, has promised to stop the process of closures of Russian language schools, to restore Russian language instruction groups at colleges, and to create a television channel and radio stations for the country’s Russian speaking population.

“We shall see to it that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking citizens have their own television channel and their own radio stations, and that the protection of their constitutional rights be fully guaranteed. This will be done to ensure nobody should be able to play the language card again in the 2006 Parliament elections, or in any other year,” Poroshenko told a news conference in Kiev.

President Intervenes in Kiev Row

KIEV, Ukraine -- Newly-elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko is to intervene in the ownership row over the country's top football club Dynamo Kiev, the Interfax agency reported.

A district court in the Ukrainian capital has ordered 98.71 percent of the shares in the club to be frozen following a lawsuit by the Pacific International Sports Clubs limited.

The dispute has the highest profile of dozens of reviews of the properties once owned by the Ukrainian government and privatized during the 1990s.

Yushchenko told Kiev reporters he was monitoring the case personally, and gave his promised the dispute would be resolved in accordance with the law.

A conversation on the matter between Yushchenko and Leonid Kravchuk, a former Ukrainian President, took place earlier in the day, Yushchenko said.


Dynamo Kiev President Ihor Surkis

A defiant Dynamo Kiev president Ihor Surkis said Thursday that the court decision would not threaten the team or its owners.

Surkis called Wednesday's ruling by Kiev's Pechersk district court "pure speculation," and said that "from the legal point of view we have everything right," according to a statement issued by the club.

"The unprecedented ... decision, which was made so quickly, is in the competence of the lawyers," he added.

Surkis stressed that he was currently concerned only with Thursday's UEFA Cup match at Villarreal.

"We'll talk about everything else after the game," he told the club's Web site.

Pacific International Sport Clubs Ltd is a company, owned by Russian businessman Igor Grigorishin.

It sought the seizure of shares as part of a planned appeal to restore its priority right for purchasing the club's stock.

The Pacific International Sport Clubs Limited has claimed that during the sale of 98.71 percent of the club's stocks from 2000-04, its right of priority purchase was violated. The company also claimed that this stock sale was in violation of the law and was performed without informing it.

The court order came less than a week after a top government official warned that the 11-time Ukraine league champion could come under scrutiny as part of the new government's review of past privatizations.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Profound Generation Shit Follows Ukraine's Orange Revolution

KIEV, Ukraine -- Revolutions such as in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), and Ukraine create a profoundly close, but ultimately complicated, relationship between the younger and middle generations who are jointly battling the older. The middle generation came to power in all three countries only with the help of democratic revolutions that prevent election fraud.

The revolutions themselves would be impossible without the energy of young people. Two-thirds of the Orange Revolution crowds were young people. President Viktor Yushchenko would not be in power today without the help of Ukraine's youth. His gratitude for this support was evident when he greeted the crowds after his official inauguration and when he sent greetings to the congress of the PORA! (It's Time!) youth group.



All three revolutions saw similar trends. The old guard removed by these revolutions was born in the 1930s and 1940s. This generation -- Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, and Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine -- were holdovers from the communist era. Their formative careers took place in the 1960s and 1970s, during the Brezhnev "era of stagnation." In Ukraine this torpor was made doubly worse by the rule of hard-line Ukrainian Communist leader Volodymyr Shcherbytsky from 1972 to 1989.

These formative years certainly had a negative influence on Kravchuk, then ideological secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, and Kuchma, then director of Pivdenmash, the world's largest producer of nuclear weapons. Ukraine began its post-Soviet development led by de-ideologized former Communists, who shared a lack of vision, an inability to break with Soviet ways of thinking and acting, and tolerance of corruption. They demonstrated "Little Russian" inferiority complexes, favored deception, and were prone to cynicism. Kravchuk aptly titled his memoirs, We Have What We Have.

Ukraine's neo-Soviet generation has been replaced by one that was born in the 1950s and 1960s, whose formative careers were under Gorbachev in the 1980s and independent Ukraine in the 1990s. Their background and socialization are totally different, a factor that will have a profound and positive impact on Ukraine's domestic and foreign policies.

The new cabinet includes individuals who are committed to "Europeanizing" Ukraine. Mykola Tomenko (Humanitarian Affairs), former U.S. citizen Roman Zvarych (Justice), Serhiy Teriokhin (Economics), and Viktor Pynzenyk (Finance) are committed to breaking with the Soviet methods that still exist in many areas of government by introducing European standards and making government more accountable and transparent.

Tymoshenko's cabinet includes 10 members born in the 1950s and eight born in the 1960s. Yushchenko is himself 51 and Tymoshenko 44. The new cabinet also includes two younger members, born in the 1970s, appropriately dealing with the Environment and Families and Youth.

The new cabinet's most radical departure from the Kravchuk-Kuchma era rests in placing the "power ministries" in the hands of young civilians. Interior (MVS), probably the most corrupt of these ministries, is in the hands of young Socialist Party activist Yuriy Lutsenko, who is committed to rooting out corruption and resolving the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Lutsenko was an active organizer in the Orange Revolution.

Lutsenko replaced Mykola Bilokin, whose reputation, according to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, "was unacceptable." Lutsenko has vowed to de-criminalize and de-politicize the MVS. When he presented Lutsenko to the MVS, Yushchenko declared that the ministry should now serve "not the authorities, not criminal groups, but people".

The Security Service (SBU) run by Tymoshenko's right-hand man, Oleksandr Turchynov. (Tymoshenko is nicknamed "the Terminator," while Turchynov is known as "the Detonator.") Turchynov inherits a power ministry that did play a positive role in uncovering fraud in the 2004 elections. Presenting Turchynov to the SBU, President Yushchenko said, "In the SBU there was much that was not undertaken in the national interest, because individuals managed to get into it who were influenced not by state interests, but the interests of certain groups".

Ukraine's new minister of defense, Anatoliy Grytsenko, is a former military officer who recently led Kyiv's best think tank, the Center for Economic and Political Studies. Commonly known as the Razumkov Center, the institute specialized in national security issues. Grytsenko headed the analytical-research wing of the Yushchenko election team.

The common thread uniting these new ministers, along with Oleh Rybachuk, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, as well as the returned Foreign Minister, Borys Tarasyuk, is a real commitment to democratization, rooting out corruption, and integration with Europe. The Kuchma-era mismatch between un-European domestic policies combined with stated foreign policy goals of joining the EU and NATO will no longer exist.

President Yushchenko's positive reception in the West shows that Western leaders accept that Ukraine is finally serious about "returning to Europe." The generation shift in Ukraine corroborates this new orientation.

People Close To Yushchenko Fear Probe Into Reporter's Murder - Politician

KIEV, Ukraine -- An influential Ukrainian political leader said many of the Ukrainian officials, including politicians close to President Victor Yushchenko, fear the ongoing investigation into the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze.

"If the investigation proceeds objectively, hundreds of Ukrainian politicians will find themselves in the dock," Alexander Moroz, leader of the influential Socialist Party, said in an interview with the newspaper Silski Visti.

He said he would insist on the resignation of the Prosecutor- General's Office's top figures if they do not order the use of recordings of conversations in ex-president Leonid Kuchma's office.

Analysis: Moscow Steps In To Check Kyiv's European Drive

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Kyiv on 21 February to remind the new, pro-Western government of President Viktor Yushchenko that it has some important obligations in the "eastern direction" left to it by its predecessor.

In September 2003, then-President Leonid Kuchma signed an accord on the CIS Single Economic Space uniting Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan

"Under the present conditions, when the European markets are closed for us,... it's better to have a real bird in the hand than two in the bush," Kuchma commented at that time. But the situation has since changed.

Eternal Friendship?

The same day that Lavrov was visiting Kyiv, Ukraine and the EU signed a three-year Action Plan envisaging EU support for Kyiv's bid to obtain market economy status in the coming months, to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and to sign a free-trade agreement with the EU. Moreover, President Yushchenko was to leave the same day for Brussels to take part in a Ukraine-NATO Commission session, where he reiterated Ukraine's commitment to closer rapprochement with NATO. Lavrov's trip to Kyiv thus appeared to be primarily a check of Kyiv's true intentions under the Yushchenko presidency, who has recently set Ukraine's priorities as remaining in an "eternal strategic partnership" with Russia and seeking vigorous Euro-Atlantic integration at the same time.

"Russia is Ukraine's eternal strategic partner," Yushchenko reportedly told Lavrov in Kyiv, which might have been expected. But subsequently, perhaps having remembered how nasty Moscow behaved toward him during the Ukrainian election campaign, Yushchenko went on in a less suave mood: "But I would not like to comment on all the pages of our bilateral relations. If we are friends, we should turn these pages." Additionally, Yushchenko told Lavrov what the latter was predictably prepared in advance to hear: "But it is important that our relations with the East do not block our path to Europe."

Ukraine Had A Seat At NATO's Table This Week

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk appears to have been equally noncommittal and smooth with Lavrov. "We face the need to develop a strategic partnership under agreements reached by our presidents," Lavrov told Tarasyuk. To which Tarasyuk responded: "If we are talking about a free-trade zone [within the CIS Single Economic Space], in principle this would not cause any problems in terms of our integration with the European Union or our membership in the World Trade Organization. If we are talking about a deeper level of integration [within the CIS Single Economic Space], there could be problems."

It might sound peculiar, but both Yushchenko and Tarasyuk might still be less than fully aware of the level of integration -- or problems, for that matter -- stipulated by the accord on the Single Economic Space. The text of that accord has never been made public in either Ukraine or any other signatory country, and Yushchenko's legal experts are now reportedly studying it to advise him as to what the document actually commits Kyiv to doing. Judging by earlier press reports, the agreement calls for the formation of a free-trade zone and a customs union of the four states, as well as a high level of political coordination of their economic and financial policies. Kuchma reportedly signed the accord with a reservation saying that Ukraine would commit itself only to those provisions that did not contradict its constitution.

The Verkhovna Rada ratified the agreement on the creation of the Single Economic Space comprising Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in April 2004, also reportedly unaware of its verbatim provisions. Opponents of the agreement, who at the time included Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party, argued that its full implementation would deprive Ukraine of any prospect of joining the European Union.

Space For Optimism

Only Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko appeared to have unambiguously lifted Lavrov's spirits during the visit. According to Lavrov, Tymoshenko "clearly confirmed" to him that Ukraine is interested in the further development of the Single Economic Space. But Lavrov should know that Tymoshenko's pledges or ideas are not always in line with those of Yushchenko. For example, last month Tymoshenko suggested that Ukraine might seek NATO membership jointly with Russia. "My personal view is that Ukraine and Russia cannot find themselves in qualitatively different, let alone mutually hostile, defense [alliances]," Tymoshenko wrote in a Russian newspaper in January. Prudently, Yushchenko has remained silent on this idea in Brussels this week, while promising to develop strategic partnerships with both the EU and Russia.

Russian press comments on Lavrov's trip to Kyiv can be aptly summarized by a subhead in "Kommersant-Daily" that reads: "Sergei Lavrov was given a warm, indifferent reception [in Kyiv]." Russian reporters underscored the fact that Lavrov's visit was primarily an exercise in diplomatic verbosity and has brought no practical results in bilateral relations. At the same time, most Russian press comments admitted that in the current situation, Kyiv has no apparent reason to be especially eager for integration with Russia, in particular, or with the Single Economic Space in general. Even if both Kyiv and Brussels carefully avoid mentioning any prospects or time frames for Ukraine's EU or NATO membership, Russian commentators now appear to realize that such integration options for Kyiv have become considerably less fantastic than they were just several months ago.

Ukraine Plans to Withdraw Iraq Troops This Year

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a move likely to dismay Washington, Ukraine's new defense minister said Thursday that his country plans to pull out all of its 1,650 troops in Iraq by the end of this year.

"I believe that our troops will be withdrawn this year," the Interfax news agency quoted Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko as saying.

The defense minister, who took up his post earlier this month, said that no concrete timetable would be announced before a meeting scheduled next week of the national security and defense council.


Ukrainian Troops in Iraq

"The president will decide what month this will take place and it is the president's decision whether or not this will be carried out in two or three phases," he said.

Last week, Hrytsenko said that around 700 of Ukraine's 1,650-strong contingent serving in a Polish-led multinational division would probably leave Iraq by the end of April.

Ukraine's decision is an unwanted headache for the United States, with Poland already having decided to pull out a third of its 2,400 soldiers from the war-torn country because of strong domestic opposition to the deployment.

Last year Spain's incoming Socialist government withdrew the 1,300 Spanish troops serving in Washington's "coalition of the willing."

New pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko promised during his election campaign late last year to pull Ukrainian troops out of Iraq - the sixth-largest contingent in the US-led coalition forces.

The United States, which backed him during the "orange revolution" standoff with Leonid Kuchma's regime that brought him to power, responded by insisting that any withdrawal should be made gradually and in a coordinated way.

A defense ministry spokesman in Kiev reiterated Yushchenko's pledge to consult, including with the Iraqi administration elected in January, before making any concrete moves.

"Before it withdraws its forces from Iraq, Ukraine will hold consultations with its coalition partners and the provisional government in Iraq," ministry spokesman Andrei Lysenko said.

But commentators in Kiev said the withdrawal was not in doubt and Ukraine was willing to risk US ire, despite its hopes of one day joining NATO as well as the European Union that Yushchenko sought to advance this week in Brussels.

"Of course Washington would like Ukraine to stay in Iraq, but Yushchenko can hardly back down on this issue as it was a campaign pledge," foreign policy expert Alexander Sushko said.

Those EU members of NATO who opposed the Iraq war, including France and Germany, would welcome Kiev's decision as they "would like Ukraine to be less pro-American and more pro-European," he noted.

Kuchma deployed troops in Iraq in what observers said was an attempt to mend fences with Washington, which accused him of approving a sale of military equipment to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq despite an international embargo.

A total of 18 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in Iraq.

The former Soviet republic has the sixth largest contingent in the US-led coalition after the United States, Britain, South Korea, Italy and Poland.

Japan to Assist Ukraine in Realization of Investment Projects

KIEV, Ukraine -- On request of the Japanese Embassy to Ukraine a meeting was staged between Minister for Transport and Communication Yevheni Chervonenko and Japanese Ambassador to Ukraine Kishichiro Amae.

Kishichiro Amae informed the Ukrainian Minister about Japan's readiness to assist Ukraine in realization of joint projects within the framework of economic cooperation with Ukraine and about the Japanese Government's decision to grant a credit to the tune of $170 million for the reconstruction of the state-run International Air Port Boryspil.

Yevheni Chervnonenko noted a great significance of this event, as the first Ukrainian-Japanese project in the transport sphere, and informed the Japanese diplomat that all documents for signing a Credit agreement between the Ukrainian Cabinet and the Japanese International Cooperation Bank to finance development of the state-run International Air Port Boryspil will be submitted to Japan in the near future for studying and signing.

Kishichiro Amae suggested to the Ukrainian party to sign an agreement during President Viktor Yushchenko visit to Japan in the first half of 2005.

During the meeting the parties also discussed a possibility for Japanese companies to make investments in the Ukrainian railroad transport modernization and renewal of its rolling stock; construction of highway junctures for railroad-automobile bridge across the Dnieper River in Kyiv; completing construction of the Kyiv-Odesa highway and a joint construction of a new deep-water container port.

Poland to Support Ukraine EU Membership Bid

KIEV, Ukraine -- Poland will actively support Ukraine on the road to the European Union (EU) while Kiev counts on the wide experience gained by Warsaw' in EU membership negotiations. Such is the leading idea of discussions on the first day of talks between Wlodzimierz Czymoszewicz, Marshal of the Polish Sejm, and Ukrainian partners. On Thursday, on the final day of his visit to Kiev, Czymoszewicz is to meet with Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko.

Integration into Europe was discussed on Wednesday during Czymoszewicz meetings with Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) Speaker Vladimir Litvin and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. Czymoszewicz received assurances that the Verkhovna Rada "will support Ukraine's policy course towards integration into Europe" and will ratify all the necessary documents. However, Litvin pointed out, "much will depend on a new make-up of parliament to be elected in 2006".

During the upcoming meeting with Viktor Yushchenko, the Marshal of the Polish Sejm intends to raise the subject of a continuation of the construction of the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline towards Plock so that the Heads of Government of the two countries could discuss the matter in specific detail early in March.

Ukraine Pushes for EU Talks at the Latest in 2007

STRASBOURG, France -- Addressing MEPs in Strasbourg, Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko presented his ambitious plans for reforms, with a goal to start membership talks in 2007 – or earlier – at its centre.

President Yushchenko gave his speech to European parliamentarians on Wednesday (23 February), after a series of talks in Brussels, where both the EU leaders and the Ukraine officially endorsed an action plan for co-operation with the country.

"The borders of Europe now stretch from the coast of Portugal to beyond Kiev. We have chosen Europe: it is not just a question of geography, but a matter of shared spiritual and moral values", Mr Yushchenko told the MEPs, referring to them as the "godfathers and godmothers" of his newly born democratic society.

While stressing that Kiev still also wants to deepen relations with Russia, he pointed out "European integration is the only path open for Ukraine. It is time to move beyond words and take action to develop democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the media and to tackle corruption. We must not lose this unique opportunity to bring the EU and Ukraine closer".

Mr Yushchenko said he believed Kiev could start EU membership talks directly after concluding the first projected stage of the action plan’s timetable in 2007.

However, talking to journalists later on, he suggested that if Ukraine met the so-called "Copenhagen criteria" - basic EU membership requirements on democracy and rule of law - prior to that, the talks could begin even earlier.

Asked about the possibility of Ukraine joining the EU before Turkey – with less controversy and stronger popular support – Mr Yushchenko diplomatically replied that he did not want to "cast shadow on the interest of other countries, [or] compete with Turkey now".

Neighbour or applicant country?

While the action plan endorsed this week is viewed as a step closer towards EU membership by Kiev, it is part of a different Neighbourhood policy framework projected in Brussels.

The Neighourhood policy was originally created for countries unlikely ever to be considered for accession, but Ukraine insisted during this week’s talks that the co-operation in its framework should not be considered as an alternative to the process of EU accession.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Court Freezes Shares in Flagship Ukraine Football Club

KIEV, Ukraine -- A court on Wednesday froze shares in the flagship Ukrainian football club Dynamo Kiev, less than a week after a top minister warned the club could be targetted in a probe into past privatizations, the Interfax news agency reported.

Dynamo Kiev, a 13-times Soviet league winner, dominates the football world in this former Soviet republic, having won every title except for 2002 and the year the league was set-up, 1992, when it finished runners-up.

The Kiev court upheld a complaint from a company called Pacific International Sports Clubs Limited (PISCL), that its rights were violated through the sale of more than 98 percent of the stock to third parties.

The court determined that the plaintiff, owner of 0.1 per cent of stock in Dynamo Kiev, should have had a priority right as an existing shareholder in the joint-stock company to acquire the shares.

Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko said on Friday that the ownership of Dynamo Kiev could be reviewed under a probe into allegedly corrupt privatizations during the decade-long rule of former president Leonid Kuchma.

The club's president is Ihor Surkis, the brother of the chairman of the Ukrainian football federation, Grigory Surkis, a lawmaker with close political ties to the ousted regime.

The court determined that the acquisition by several companies of 98.71 per cent of shares in Dynamo Kiev between 2000 and 2004 violated PISCL's rights and ordered documents about the stock's ownership from the registry company.

Ukraine's SBU Security Service chief Olexander Turchinov denied any political motive for the court decision.

"I don't think this is a question of politics. It's a problem that is purely an economic dispute which should be resolved through the courts," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Putin Congratulates Yushchenko on Birthday

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko on birthday and stressed constructive relations that the presidents of Russia and Ukraine have, the Russian presidential press service said on Wednesday.

“I praise highly the results of the recent meeting in Moscow, constructive relations that we maintain. I hope that our continued direct dialogue will serve to the development of an equal and mutually beneficial Russian-Ukrainian cooperation in all spheres,” Putin said in the congratulatory message.

Viktor Yushchenko turned 51 on Wednesday.

Kiev Seeks to Assuage Moscow

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine sought Wednesday to soothe Russia's fears about the expansion of the European Union, even as he declared in the European Parliament that his country's destiny lay with the West.

"We have chosen Europe not just geographically, but also its spiritual and moral values," Yushchenko said.

In his first address to the Parliament in Strasbourg, Yushchenko, who won power in December following a rerun of disputed elections, said Ukraine wanted to start EU accession negotiations, possibly as early as 2007, although he also conceded that the internal reforms necessary to join the EU "would not be easy."


Viktor Yushchenko (l) and Javier Solana (r)

Earlier in the day, in a move that is likely to antagonize Moscow, he signaled the probable reversal of the flow of a major Ukrainian pipeline, a step that could reduce Western Europe's reliance on Russian oil.

But in a gesture toward Moscow, he said: "Our moving toward Europe is not a problem for Russia because it will mean Russia will also move closer. We would not use our membership in the EU and NATO against Russia and its people."

European Union officials also sought to ease Russian concerns by playing down the prospect of an early entry by Ukraine into the EU.

Javier Solana, the EU's chief diplomat, warned the Ukrainian people not to expect too much from Brussels too soon. "In a very short period of time, we have done a lot together, but we have to move at a rhythm that is possible," he said after Yushchenko met with him and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in Brussels earlier Wednesday.

Solana's cooler stance reflects a split in the EU toward closer links with Ukraine.

Poland and the Baltic countries want to secure Ukraine's place in the Union, fearing delay could weaken reformers such as Yushchenko and cause Ukraine, a former Soviet state, to slip back toward Russia.

But others, such as Solana, believe Ukraine is not ready politically to join the EU. They fear eastern regions, which still have a strong allegiance to Moscow, could split away if Yushchenko leans too quickly to the West.

They also believe that the EU is not ready to accept another big country. France is among the most reluctant to countenance the prospect of Ukrainian membership. France is expected to hold a referendum on the new European constitution in the spring. Voters may reject it because they are worried that the EU, which grew from 15 to 25 countries last year, is becoming too big and unwieldy. The French government wants to avoid deepening these concerns by considering Ukraine's membership.

On Tuesday, President Jacques Chirac of France left a NATO-Ukraine meeting early, which some diplomats interpreted as a snub to Yushchenko. However, officials Wednesday insisted the departure was not meant as a gesture against Ukraine.

Yushchenko met NATO leaders at a summit meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to push for closer ties. However, he did not apply for formal entry, and in the past has said that many Ukrainians still harbor anti-NATO fears from the Soviet period when the trans-Atlantic military alliance was vilified.

A poll published Wednesday, by the Fund for Democratic Initiatives in Ukraine, showed that 48 percent of Ukrainians rejected NATO membership, while only 15 percent were in favor. But 44 percent supported EU membership.

In Brussels and Strasbourg, Yushchenko said he wanted to improve relations with Russia. One key condition for EU membership is that Kiev not bring disputes with its neighbor into the union. "I understand it is not possible to move toward Europe," he said in Brussels, "without having good relations with Russia."

Despite Yushchenko's conciliatory remarks, his comments on the key pipeline, the Odessa-Brody, are a rebuff to Moscow.

Last year, Leonid Kuchma, Yushchenko's Russian-leaning predecessor as president, ignored Western protests and reversed the pipeline's flow, so that instead of taking Caspian oil to the West it moved Russian oil to the Black Sea.

However, the Ukrainian government is now considering returning the pipeline to its original use and could extend the pipeline to Gdansk in Poland.

"We believe" the Odessa pipeline "project can be organically included in the concept of a unified energy market" in Europe, he said. "The project will allow us to explore new fields and new markets."

The move would reduce Ukrainian and Western European dependence on Russian oil. This would ease some fears about the EU's rising dependence on Russia for its energy needs at a time when Europeans and the United States are worried about the decision by the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, to roll back democratic reforms and crack down on dissent.

Ostash: New Ukraine-EU Relations Have Been Born in Brussels

KIEV, Ukraine -- "Today and yesterday in Brussels could be characterized as the birth days of the new relations with EU and the beginning of a long but prospective road to the European integration. We have left behind the foreign policy approaches used by the former president," declared the vice president of the OSCE Parliamentary assembly Ihor Ostash, MP.

He thinks that the most important event in Brussels was the signing of the Ukraine-EU Action Plan, since it anticipates serious cooperation in adopting Ukrainian legislation to European standards and solving the issue of acquiring the status of the free market economy by Ukraine, which will make it possible to enter the European market. The deputy paid special attention to the future signing of the agreement on exporting Ukrainian textiles and steel. "Better steel export and anti-damping protection is especially important for the eastern regions of Ukraine, as they are the most interested in it," he stressed.

Moreover, the Action Plan opens up the possibility of the new and more serious treaty with the EU, thinks the PA OSCE vice president. "The year 2008 could become the final year of the partnership treaty with the EU and the signing of the treaty on the associate membership," he is convinced.

The people's deputy also backed the president's position on Ukraine's joining NATO. He noted that, "joining NATO is easier than joining the EU," and it is possible to comply with the necessary conditions within two years. "However, the people of Ukraine will have to make a corresponding decision. If there are talks about unifying the nation, there is a need of helping people [understand and] accept NATO," noted Ihor Ostash.

At the same time he noted the importance of the success of the new government in the 2006 parliamentary elections. "The Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine will depend on how convincing the steps made by the new government team are because the president will get at least four-five years to implement his programme," noted the people's deputy, "The victory in the parliamentary elections is a serious precondition for joining both the EU and NATO."

Prosecutors Following New Yushchenko Lead

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prosecutors are following a new lead that might shed more light on the dioxin poisoning of Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, an official said Wednesday.

Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun has acquired audiotapes of what appeared to be a conversation between Russian secret service officials discussing the alleged role of Moscow political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky in Yushchenko's poisoning, said Piskun's spokesman, Vyacheslav Astapov.

"The prosecutor said he knows whose voice is on the tapes," Astapov said.

The tapes were first aired last year on Kiev's pro-Yushchenko TV5 but were widely dismissed as a hoax.

In the recordings, people described as Russian agents appeared to be discussing Pavlovsky's role in a plot aimed at damaging Yushchenko's ratings by ruining his good looks with toxic chemicals.

Astapov told The Associated Press that the prosecutors have "all the materials … and are working with these people." He did not elaborate.

Yushchenko fell ill in September after dining with the former head of the Ukrainian Security Service, Ihor Smeshko, and his deputy, Volodymyr Satsyuk. He went to an Austrian hospital for treatment, but the illness took him off the campaign trail for weeks and left him badly disfigured.

Subsequent tests confirmed he was poisoned with a massive dose of dioxin in what Yushchenko has called an assassination attempt. Both top security officials have denied any involvement in the poisoning.

Pavlovsky also denied involvement.

"When the tapes appeared on TV5, I took it as a joke … but when I heard the prosecutor-general had taken them, that turns a TV joke into a lie," the British Broadcasting Corp. quoted Pavlovsky as saying earlier this week.

Pavlovsky promoted Viktor Yanukovych, the former prime minister who was backed by the Kremlin in last year's race for president. Yushchenko won a court-ordered rerun of the election on Dec. 26 after the Supreme Court ruled that a Yanukovych victory in an earlier round was fraudulent.

Piskun ordered investigators earlier this month to inventory all highly toxic poisons located on Ukrainian territory and said prosecutors had acquired the exact formula of the dioxin, which can be produced in "four or five laboratories abroad," including in the United States and Russia.

Oleksandr Turchinov, the new head of Ukraine's security agency, said late last week that an investigation had been launched into Satsyuk's activities on suspicion of abuse of power. Turchinov also hinted that investigators might be looking into Satsyuk's possible involvement in Yushchenko's poisoning.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin wished Yushchenko a happy 51st birthday Wednesday in a gesture of reconciliation amid tensions between Moscow and Kiev.

The Kremlin press service made the unusual decision to send a press release quoting part of Putin's message. Usually, such public presidential missives are reserved for significant birthdays for Russian actors, musicians, cosmonauts and other national figures.

"I highly appraise the results of our recent meeting in Moscow and the constructive character of relations growing up between us," Putin said. "I consider that the continuation of our direct dialogue will serve the development of equal and mutually beneficial Russian-Ukrainian cooperation in all spheres."

Yushchenko, who was visiting the European Union headquarters in Brussels, met President Bush on Tuesday and attended the NATO summit.

Russia has watched warily as Ukraine, along with formerly Soviet Georgia, has sought to follow in the footsteps of the three Baltic countries, deepening ties with Western organizations such as the EU and NATO and moving out from under the Kremlin's shadow.

Yushchenko made Russia his first foreign destination following his inauguration last month.

Yushchenko Calls on European Lawmakers to Assist Ukraine’s Entrance in EU

STRASBOURG, France -- President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko, turning to European lawmakers, has called on them to assist giving perspective of EU membership to Ukraine.

According to an UNIAN correspondent, the European lawmakers have met the Ukrainian President with applauds.

Victor Yushchenko has noted in his speech that the European Union and Ukraine have no right to abstain from using the “unique chance, which appeared after the Orange revolution in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian President has said that the Orange Maydan is a symbol of the new Europe, created by citizens, who fought for their right to live in a free Europe.

“The Orange revolution confirmed that Ukraine belongs to the European civilization, not only geographically, but entirely, spiritually, politically, and mentally”, Victor Yushchenko claimed.

Yushchenko Claims that Two Witnesses on Gongadze Case Were Murdered

STRASBOURG, France -- President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko claims that two witnesses on the case of Georgiy Gongadze were murdered.

Victor Yushchenko has said this in Strasbourg at a press conference, asked about the investigation of the Gongadze case.


“I have information, which renders me optimistic, that we can put an end to this story… Many things were wiped out, two out of the four main witnesses were murdered”, said Victor Yushchenko, giving no details.

According to him, the main problem in the Gongadze case is to preserve the materials which may indicate the guilty.

The President has disclosed that after his meeting with Lessia Gongadze, a “special group of police and SBU departments was set up and subjected to the General Prosecutor’s Office”. According to him, this group is being used for an effective probing into this case.

“As of today, two cases, which are indirectly connected with the death of Giya Gongadze, have been passed by the PGO to court”, said the President.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ukraine's Army Said Two Anti-Aircraft Missiles Missing

KIEV, Ukraine -- Two anti-aircraft missiles are missing from a southern military depot in Ukraine, the Unian news agency reported Tuesday, citing the Ukrainian military.

Two packages containing the missiles systems known as SA-7 Grail, which is also called the Strela-3M, or Arrow, are unaccounted for in a military depot in Ukraine's southern Crimean peninsula, Unian reported.

Defense officials could not be reached to comment.

The Unian report stopped short of saying how the military discovered the missing weapons. It said only that a local commander notified police and demanded an investigation.

The heat-seeking Strela missiles are produced in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Egypt, former Yugoslav republics and elsewhere and are the anti-aircraft weapon of choice for guerillas, rebel forces and terrorists worldwide.

Ukraine's new government has stepped up efforts to clamp down on illicit weapons deals that flourished under the former President Leonid Kuchma.

Last month, a key Ukrainian lawmaker revealed the secret indictments or arrests of at least six arms dealers accused of selling Ukraine's nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran and China.

Ukraine Bid To Join Nato Threatens Wider Rift With Russia

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Cold war tensions threatened to flare anew yesterday after Ukraine, once the heart of the Soviet industrial-military complex, declared its intention to join Nato and won the blessing of the United States.

Ukraine’s admission would bring Russia’s Black Sea naval base and much of the former Soviet armaments industry into the embrace of the American-led military alliance, and expand Nato to Russia’s southwestern border.


President Bush (front L) and President Yushchenko (front R)

The newly elected President Yushchenko told a special Ukraine-Nato summit in Brussels of his long-term aim to join the 26-member alliance, although he insisted it was not a move against its giant neighbour Russia. “We want to see Ukraine integrated into both the European Union and the North Atlantic alliance,” he said.

President Bush supported Ukrainian membership in principle provided it made sufficient reforms. He declared: “Nato has an open door for those European democracies who fulfil the obligations. There is strong support for President Yushchenko in his challenging endeavour to bring Ukraine closer to Euro- Atlantic integration.

“We welcomed Mr Yushchenko and reminded him it is a performance-based organisation, and that the door is open. Nato will help him.”

Russia is coming to terms with its failure to prevent Mr Yushchenko winning December’s election, but is deeply troubled by the threat to its national security by Ukraine’s courting of Nato. Russia’s Southern Fleet is based in Sevastopol, southern Ukraine. The country is also a key designer, manufacturer and exporter of weapons, especially missiles, many of which are in Russia’s arsenal.

The country was controlled by Russia for 300 years before it won independence after the collapse of communism in 1991.

Russia had previously resisted Nato’s eastwards advance, and virulently opposed membership for the far less strategicially important former Soviet Baltic states.

Mr Yushchenko sought to pre-empt Moscow’s protests by declaring: “Let me say clearly that Russia is our strategic partner. Ukraine’s policy on Nato is in no way directed against any other country, including Russia.” However, Ukraine’s move is certain to add to the tensions when Mr Bush meets President Putin tomorrow in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.

Mr Bush questioned Russia’s commitment to democracy in a major speech in Brussels on Monday, and Washington is concerned about Moscow’s plans to sell nuclear fuel to Iran and missiles to Syria. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Secretary-General of Nato, said he would support Ukraine’s membership and announced a fund to decommission 1.5 million small arms and 133,000 tonnes of munitions in Ukraine as part of reforms of its military.

Ukraine is likely to win the strong backing of other former Soviet bloc countries that have escaped Moscow’s orbit.

Antanas Valionis, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, insisted that concern over Russia’s reaction should not inhibit any plan by Nato to welcome former Soviet states. “We have to co-operate with Russia, but at the same time there are sovereign states which are choosing their road, their way to democracy . . . and our obligation is to support them,” he said.

If Ukraine does join Nato, it will enable the alliance to control its weapons exports and to prevent them falling into the hands of hostile states or terrorist groups. Those risks were highlighted yesterday when Ukraine’s Unian news agency reported that two anti-aircraft missiles had gone missing from a military depot in Crimea.

Last month a key Ukrainian lawmaker revealed the secret indictments or arrests of at least six arms dealers accused of selling nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran and China.

Who Poisoned Viktor Yushchenko?

LONDON, England -- Was President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine poisoned on the orders of a Russian "political technologist" working for the Kremlin?

That's one of the sensational claims being examined by Ukraine's chief prosecutor as he gets to grips with the new inquiry into how Mr Yushchenko - the main opposition candidate in last year's elections - apparently ingested a large dose of dioxin, severely disfiguring his face, and according to some accounts, almost killing him.

The allegation's contained in a leaked tape that's been impounded by the prosecutor. A copy's also been obtained by Newsnight, which has conducted its own investigation into the poisoning.

On Tuesday, the man at the centre of the allegation - Gleb Pavlovsky, the head of a pro-Kremlin Moscow think-tank, categorically denied the suggestion that he had thought up the idea of giving Mr Yushchenko the "mark of the beast".

"For what reason anyone would do this is hard to imagine," he told Newsnight. "And how I could have come up with the idea... it's absurd, and absurd that in Kiev it's being discussed seriously."

When the tape of an apparently tapped telephone conversation mentioning Pavlovsky was first aired on Kiev's Channel 5 television, it was widely dismissed as a falsification - a deliberate attempt by Pavlovsky's enemies in the Kremlin to discredit him after his failed attempts to promote the Kremlin's preferred candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, in the election battle.

Criminal Investigation

The prosecution's decision to use it as evidence in their inquiry has surprised everyone - including Pavlovsky.

"When the tapes appeared on 5th Channel, I took it as a joke," he told Newsnight. "A bit vulgar for my taste... in the style of Orson Welles... But when I heard the Prosecutor-General had taken them, that turns a TV joke into a lie."

Mr Pavlovsky vehemently denies any involvement in an alleged attempt to poison Mr Yushchenko.

The criminal investigation is still in its fairly early stages. But the signs are that the possibility of a Russian link is one of its main lines of inquiry.

Officials have said the poison could only have been produced in one of four or five laboratories, probably in Russia or the United States.

The Interior Minister claims he knows who brought the poison across the border, and which member of parliament accompanied it.

Viktor Yushchenko, who campaigned for more democracy and closer links with the West, was taken seriously ill on September 6th or 7th with severe abdominal and back pain.

He was flown to Vienna for emergency treatment. Doctors could find no explanation for his illness, but when he returned to Kiev he claimed he'd been poisoned by the "political cuisine" of the Ukrainian Government.

Unusual Circumstances

Suspicion centred on a mysterious dinner attended by Yushchenko on 5 September 2004 - hosted by Volodymyr Satsiuk, the deputy head of Ukraine's secret service, the SBU.

Mr Satsiuk's denied any possibility of poisoning at the meal - and Newsnight's seen a photo of him embracing Mr Yushchenko at the end of the evening.

Volodymyr Satsiuk hosted the dinner party at which it is claimed Mr Yushchenko was poisoned.

The meeting was held under highly unusual circumstances. Yushchenko gave the order to dismiss his usual security detail. But he was apparently worried about attending. And his wife claims that when he returned there was an unusual metallic taste on his lips.

But witnesses and experts Newsnight has spoken to have cast doubt on whether Yushchenko could have been poisoned at that dinner.

Mykola Katerinchuk, an MP and friend of the Ukrainian leader said: "It would have been too obvious, too unprofessional."

And Alistair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University in the UK points out that dioxin does not normally cause severe gastro-intestinal damage as suffered by Mr Yushchenko.

The likelihood is either that Mr Yushchenko ingested a cocktail of poisons, or that he was poisoned earlier than is generally thought - and possibly on several occasions.

The inquiry still seems a long way from the truth. No-one has yet been arrested and Newsnight has learned that some key witnesses have not been formally questioned.

But it has the potential to provoke a serious political rift between Ukraine and Russia - two countries that now say they want to work together again.

Ukrainian President's Speech: NATO

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- "Mr. Secretary General, your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.

Today’s meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the highest level gives me first a chance to speak before the leaders of the state that altogether assume the responsibility to develop and protect the values of the Euro-Atlantic community.

My address to you is the result of victory, the Ukrainian people obtained freedoms and consolidated independence of Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians went out in orange on Independence Square in Kiev, on the streets and squares all around Ukraine, to protect the dignity and right to choose the future themselves.

They stayed until the very end and withstood cold, fear and discord. It is very important that the citizens of Ukraine didn’t feel lonely in the fight for freedom.

I want to use this opportunity and pass the words of thanks from the Ukrainian people to the representatives of the NATO member states who supported their right to choose. In particular I want to thank the observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO who witnessed the fact of falsification, contributed to the honest rerun of the voting. Your support has helped the Ukrainian democracy to win.

I want to express the special gratitude to the Secretary General, Mr. Scheffer. His statement on the alliance's commitment to territorial integrity, political independence and democratic development of Ukraine was made right in time. Undoubtedly, this statement confirmed once again that the relations between NATO countries and Ukraine are the strategic ones.

The European choice made by the Ukrainian people opens up opportunities for their elevation to equality to a new level.

Our course is to use the possibility of the country (inaudible). This includes the introduction to European standards in policy, economy and social life without the (inaudible) of the so-called multilateral policy in the past.

Our declarations which correspond to our actions, a course integration in the European and Euro-Atlantic structures from now on will determine the strategy and tactics of our policy.

We believe that Ukraine’s participation and engagement in the North Atlantic community of democratic peoples will strengthen peace and security on the European continent. We are ready to make all necessary efforts to achieve this noble goal.

We have already created a strong foundation for our mutual relations and can extend it.

Participation of the Ukraine in peacekeeping efforts of NATO was highly assessed. Implementation of the Action Plan is an important priority for us, indeed, these are the real steps forward but I am convinced that the time has come to speak about principles and new possibilities. And the changes in Ukraine open a way for elevating Ukraine’s relations with the alliance to a qualitatively new level in the development of civil society, the establishment of independent judiciary and freedom of speech and fight against corruption provide the real possibility for the substantial deepening of relations between Ukraine and NATO in the near future.

The most important task for the new government of Ukraine will be to bring political, social, economic and defense systems of the state in full compliance with the Euro-Atlantic standards.

We want every citizen of the country to see the advantage of these standards. Exactly in this understanding, we want the Ukrainian society to realize that the European future of Ukraine is inseparably linked with the deepening of its relationships with the alliance.

Thank you for your attention."