Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bodyguard Who Accused Ex-President Back In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- A bodyguard who said he secretly recorded conversations of ex-President Leonid Kuchma and accused him of ordering the murder of a journalist returned to Ukraine on Wednesday after nearly five years in exile.

Mykola Melnychenko, former bodyguard of Ukraine's ex-President Leonid Kuchma, leaves the airport building in Kiev November 30, 2005. Melnychenko returned to Ukraine after a five-year exile in the United States

Mykola Melnychenko immediately vowed to see Kuchma and his allies punished for what he says was the ex-president's role in the killing in 2000 of Internet journalist Georgiy Gongadze, Ukraine's most notorious post-Soviet crime.

"I had intended to leave Ukraine for no more than three months," Melnychenko told reporters at Kiev airport.

"But we have now returned. This is our motherland and we will live here. We will do everything in order to ensure Kuchma's gang is held responsible for the dangerous crimes committed against each of you, everything for a court decision."

Melnychenko said he did not want Kuchma's associates, ousted a year ago by the election of liberal Viktor Yushchenko after "Orange Revolution" rallies, to hobble Ukraine's democratic development.

Melnychenko had thrown Ukrainian politics into turmoil by releasing what he said were recordings of conversations between Kuchma and officials made by a device planted under a sofa.

In one such recording, a voice resembling the ex-president's is heard expressing irritation at Gongadze's dispatches and telling his interior minister to "deal with" the reporter.

Melnychenko, wanted on charges of defamation and disclosing states secrets while Kuchma was in power, had lived in the United States since 2001.

After Yushchenko defeated Kuchma's annointed successor in last year's election, he said he was willing to return to testify in murder inquiries, provided he received guarantees of immunity.

No such guarantee has been made publicly, but investigators have said they will listen to Melnychenko's testimony.

Kuchma, whose reputation was tarnished by Gongadze's murder and the mass protests it spawned, has always denied any involvement. The reporter's headless body was found in November 2000, two months after he disappeared.

Police earlier this year announced the arrest of three senior police officers they said had kidnapped and then murdered Gongadze.

But no trial has been ordered and public impatience has grown with the failure to determine who ordered the murder.

Kuchma was summoned to testify before police investigating the murder. His interior minister of the time, Yuri Kravchenko, committed suicide hours before he was due to submit to questioning.

Source: Reuters

Another Murder

KIEV, Ukraine -- We’ve long been partisans of the idea that Ukraine isn’t going to get very far as an open society if the legacy of its independence-era institutional criminality isn’t in some way addressed.

How can a state move forward into enlightenment and decency if it’s dragging behind itself a couple dozen corpses, murdered in crimes in which some of the nation’s top politicians and businesspeople are implicated?

There needs to be an accounting, and a purging. Ukraine can claim to be “European” all it wants, but as long as members of its elite keep killing each other and paying no price for it, this won’t be Ireland.

The latest gangland-style murder to hit Ukraine’s elite occurred on Nov. 29. That’s when two men in a VAZ vehicle opened fire on the car of former Lviv oblast governor Stepan Senchuk, killing him and leaving bullet holes all over his Lexus.

Senchuk was a big player. Currently involved in a major agriculture concern, he was also the founder of the Dniester bank and had been involved in several sugar plants as well as in other concerns.

An Our Ukraine member, he financed President Viktor Yushchenko’s 2004 presidential campaign in Lviv oblast, and there have been rumors that he was an adept in the game of kompromat that is a constant feature of life in the Ukrainian power elite.

Now he’s dead, and Ukraine has another skeleton in the closet. We’re obliged to call for his murderers to be brought to justice, but the problem is far vaster than that. What has to happen in Ukraine is a comprehensive coming to terms with the country’s criminal past.

Not only Senchuk’s murder, but the many political murders that have desecrated Ukraine over the years have to be solved – or else the authorities have to exert themselves trying to solve them in a way that indicates their good faith.

But here’s how Yushchenko can exert himself: He can make a priority of reforming the justice system. Ukraine has a lot of priorities, of course, but few of them mean anything as long as it is impossible to trust the justice system, and as long as that system conspires not to solve murders.

It’s too late not to have kept on Svyatoslav Pyskun as prosecutor general, but it’s not too late to dismiss a whole row of judges, and clean house in the law enforcement agencies. Really, what does Yushchenko have to do that’s more important than that?

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine, EU Must Do More For Migrants - Rights Group

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and the European Union must do more to improve conditions for migrants and asylum seekers detained in the former Soviet republic, a human rights group said on Wednesday.

Ukrainian border guards are rewarded with medals and holidays for arresting illegal migrants attempting to leave Ukraine for the European Union

A Human Rights Watch report said visits to detention centres and interviews with refugees had revealed migrants were being denied access to lawyers and contacts with family, and subjected to beatings, harassment and other maltreatment.

It blamed a lack of funds, inadequate legislation and a failure by Ukrainian authorities to enforce regulations.

"This is a matter that the Ukrainian government needs to address. It is also a matter for the EU to address," London Human Rights Watch director Steve Crawshaw told a news conference.

"It cannot simply wash its hands of the matter. At the moment, there is too great a readiness to say this is a problem that Ukraine must deal with and there it ends."

Kiev authorities had to "intervene and send a clear signal of what is and what is not acceptable. Sending that signal strongly is one of the important changes we are looking for."

Human Rights Watch issued its report to coincide with Thursday's summit between the EU and Ukraine's liberal administration elected after last year's "Orange Revolution" protests.

The report said EU expansion to Ukraine's borders last year had put additional pressure on Kiev and put at 500,000 the estimated number of migrants in the country.

Migrants were pouring in from Iran, Iraq, Palestinian territories and elsewhere in addition to earlier arrivals from troubled parts of former Soviet states.

Some had fled persecution and were unable to claim asylum, while others were trying to reach EU states.

The report's author, Romanita Iordache, said the ordeal of 150 refugees interviewed during the investigation "are not isolated cases. We documented a pattern".

"We documented abuses and problems created not only because of a lack of funding but because Ukrainian legislation is not being implemented or does not comply ... with international standards."

More resources, she said, were needed to improve conditions. "But in order to observe Ukrainian legislation and treat people decently there is no need for resources," she said. "There's no need for a bigger budget if you don't want to beat detainees."

Iordache said Human Rights Watch hoped the Ukrainian government would acknowledge the extent of the problem.

Source: Reuters

Orange Coalition Crumbles Ahead of Polls

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Orange Revolution team that swept Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko into power a year ago enters the 2006 parliamentary election campaign -- officially underway since November 26 -- divided into several small teams. Most of them will be competing for the same pro-reform, pro-Western electorate.

Ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko - Iron Lady of the Orange Revolution

This may make the March 26 parliamentary polls an easy ride for the main opposition force -- the Party of Regions of presidential election loser Viktor Yanukovych, the undisputed leader of recent public opinion polls.

As there is no longer a strong common enemy, which a year ago was the corrupt regime of then-President Leonid Kuchma, ideological differences have come to the fore, preventing Orange reunification for next year's polls. The far left wing of the government team -- the Socialists -- have never concealed that they would run in the polls alone. It has proved impossible to reintegrate populist former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko back into Yushchenko's team.

Yushchenko has managed to gather under his wing the largest bloc of parties so far, but two key right-of-center parties -- the Popular Party and Reforms and Order -- refused to join his bloc. The radical youth party Pora, one of the symbols of the Orange Revolution, has not joined either Yushchenko or Tymoshenko.

On November 25, six pro-government parties signed an agreement reviving Yushchenko's motley "Our Ukraine" bloc. Our Ukraine won the 2002 parliamentary elections, but its character was different – it was bigger and in the opposition. The present-day Our Ukraine unites Yushchenko's People's Union-Our Ukraine party, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk's People's Movement, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Anatoly Kinakh's Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Party, Naftohaz state-controlled oil and gas company chief Oleksiy Ivchenko's Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, the Christian Democratic Union, and the Sobor Ukrainian Republican Party.

Sobor is a good example of how painful the rift between the supporters of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko may be. Sobor, an ethnocentric conservative party, has been part of Tymoshenko's team since 2001. But this past September, when Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko as prime minister, Sobor leader Anatoly Matvienko -- and probably the majority of the party's grassroots -- started to drift toward Yushchenko's camp.

The party's representatives in parliament, however, have stayed with Tymoshenko, and they elected veteran radical nationalist and Soviet-era dissident Levko Lukyanenko as their leader. Matvienko has accused Tymoshenko of splitting his party.

Lukyanenko's team will most probably join the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc. But the bloc itself has not yet been formed. This was expected to happen on November 26, when Tymoshenko's Fatherland party and the liberal Reforms and Order (RiP) group held their congresses. But RiP refused to join Tymoshenko's bloc on her terms, which included having RiP leader Viktor Pynzenyk resign from the post of finance minister and putting Fatherland members at the top of the joint lists for national and regional elections.

Tymoshenko also refused to back a RiP candidate for the post of Lviv city mayor. RiP decided not to burn bridges and continued talks with Tymoshenko. But Kommersant-Ukrayina reported that RiP is seriously studying other options, including separate participation in the campaign or forming a bloc with Pora.

Unlike Yushchenko, Tymoshenko apparently does not strive to gather as many parties as possible under her umbrella. Her main currency is her own popular name. Only one party, apart from her own Fatherland, has so far joined Tymoshenko's bloc. This is the obscure Social Democratic Party (not to be confused with the United Social Democrats of Viktor Medvedchuk).

United Ukraine, a party without a clearly defined ideology led by Bohdan Hubsky, a former ally and business partner of Medvedchuk, decided at its congress on November 26 to join Tymoshenko's bloc. But it is not yet clear whether it will be admitted, and on what conditions.

Only one thing is clear about Tymoshenko -- there will be no grand coalition between her and Yushchenko for the polls. This possibility exists only in theory, as the law gives parties and blocs until the end of December to compile lists for the election. But, speaking to the Russian Ekho Moskvy radio, Tymoshenko said she did not see any sense in unification with Yushchenko.

She did not rule out cooperation with Our Ukraine after the election, when she said her bloc would compete with Yanukovych to form the majority in parliament.

The far-right wing of the Orange team -- the nationalist Popular Party of Yuriy Kostenko -- is going to compete in the polls against both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Differences with the former partners are of an ideological nature, as none of them are really center-right parties, Kostenko told his party congress on November 27.

"Our mission is to give Ukrainian patriots a political force that stands on national positions," he said. Among his allies, Kostenko named the radical nationalist Prosvita and the Congress of Ukrainian Intelligentsia, as well as Cossack and veterans organizations.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Drug Use Fuels HIV Epidemic in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Vitaly became HIV-positive by injecting drugs with a contaminated needle -- the method that's fuelling a veritable HIV epidemic in Ukraine, estimated to be Europe's worst-affected country.

HIV-positive children at an orphanage in Odessa, Ukraine

The 29-year-old, who has been HIV-positive for five years, was aware that he could get infected by using unclean needles, but the urge to get high was just too strong.

"I knew that you can get infected through a syringe, but a person who is chemically dependent sets different priorities in life," he told AFP. "First comes the satisfaction, then comes everything else."

Drug use and unprotected sex are driving an HIV epidemic in Ukraine, where an estimated 1.4 percent of the adult population is infected -- the worst-affected country in Europe, according to a recent UNAIDS report.

"Fuelled by unsafe injecting drug use and unprotected sex, its epidemic shows no signs of abating," the report said.

Although official figures show some 85,000 HIV-positives in Ukraine, the UN estimates the number to be around 360,000.

In addition to health problems, those infected face enormous problems in a country where HIV and AIDS are seen as a disease of "addicts and prostitutes," and where ignorance of the illness and fear of transmission reach deep into all levels of society.

Vitaly, for example, once lay on an operating table waiting to get a boil removed, when hospital staff opened his chart and saw that he was HIV-positive. He was suddenly told that he needed to go to another clinic because removing boils was not that hospital's specialty.

"It sounded disingenous to say the least," Vitaly said. "I was already on the operating table, waiting for the nurse... and then I had to get up, put my clothes back on. I was shaking inside."

Another was when his parents set aside separate plateware for him to eat from.

"It hurt, because HIV is not transmitted in that way," he said.

The attitude that HIV only affects society's "untouchables" helps fuel the epidemic, as many people do not use contraception because they feel they are not at risk, analysts say.

Although slowly Ukrainians are becoming more tolerant of their countrymen who are HIV-positive, cases of HIV-positive children being refused admission to schools are not uncommon, said Vitaly, who today works at "Network for Those Living with HIV," a national non-governmental organization.

"The situation was worse five years ago, but even today it is not sufficiently good," he said.

Several UN-sponsored programs have been launched in Ukraine to help fight the disease, notably syringe exchanges among drug addicts, but experts say that they cover only about 10 percent of the nation's estimated 560,000 intravenous drug users, the UNAIDS report said.

Such programs are also hampered by government initiatives that aim to crack down on drug trafficking, but that end up penalizing drug users who use syringe exchange programs, analysts say.

"One must on the contrary raise the threshold of what doses would be criminal to own... as world practice shows an improvement in epidemics" when drug users do not have to fear criminal prosecution, said Vitaly Yanyuk, an official with the HIV-AIDS Alliance in Ukraine.

The government of President Viktor Yushchenko, who assumed power in late January and has called HIV a "global problem" for Ukraine, has begun to be more active in dealing with the problem of HIV/AIDS.

The Ukrainian leader recently met with HIV-positives, has pledged to pay "particular attention" to the problem, and announced that four national programs aimed at fighting the disease would be launched in 2006.

Vitaly for his part, is thankful that he became infected.

"I am thankful that HIV has appeared in my life because it motivated me to quit drugs and fundamentally change my life," he said. "A person who has faced death... values life more."

"That's not a recipe -- get infected and everything will improve. But in my case, that is exactly what happened."

Source: AFP

An Alleged Nazi Guard Fights to Stay in US

CLEVELAND, OH -- Returning an Ohio man accused of being a Nazi concentration camp guard to his native Ukraine would be like throwing him "into a shark tank," his lawyer argued in court yesterday.

John Demjanjuk, an 85-year-old retired autoworker, has been fighting for nearly 30 years to stay in this country, and his lawyer, John Broadley, said he should not be deported to Ukraine because he could face torture there.

But the Justice Department said Demjanjuk has not shown he would be mistreated.

Demjanjuk lost his US citizenship after a judge ruled in 2002 that documents from World War II prove he was a Nazi guard at various death or forced labor camps.

Yesterday's hearing in front of an immigration judge was part of a process for determining whether he will be deported.

The United States first tried to deport Demjanjuk in 1977, accusing him of being a notorious guard known as Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka concentration camp.

Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel, convicted, and sentenced to hang, but the Israeli Supreme Court found that someone else apparently was Ivan.

Demjanjuk returned to the United States. His US citizenship was restored before being revoked again in 2002.

The current case is based on evidence uncovered by the Justice Department alleging he was a different guard. Demjanjuk has denied the allegations.

Broadley said the US government never sufficiently disavowed its previous contention that Demjanjuk was Ivan, and Demjanjuk fears he will be tortured if he returns to Ukraine.

"We have a situation the US government created, and now he still carries a blood scent of Ivan the Terrible, and this would be like throwing him with that blood scent into a shark tank," Broadley said.

The Justice Department has suggested that the judge consider deporting Demjanjuk to Ukraine, Poland, or Germany. Broadley said there is no indication another country would be willing to accept him.

The judge is expected to issue a decision within 30 days.

Source: AP

Russia Warns Ukraine Joining NATO Could End Military Cooperation

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned on Tuesday that the country could halt military cooperation with Ukraine if it joins NATO.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov

Speaking to reporters after his talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Gritsenko, Ivanov said Ukraine's possible entry into NATO may have a number of consequences, including Russia's decision to stop bilateral military-technical cooperation.

"This may happen. I suppose so," Ivanov was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

The Russian defense chief stressed that was only "one of the consequences" of Ukraine's possible accession to NATO and that other consequences include border issues.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has made NATO membership a top goal of his country but the military bloc has shunned questions about when it might offer membership to this nation.

The accession to a military organization is a sovereign right of each country but any state also has a right to choose military-technical cooperation partners, Ivanov said.

During Gritsenko's visit to Moscow, he and Ivanov signed a military cooperation plan for 2006 and a cooperation agreement on providing flight safety for governmental aircraft.

Source: Xinhua

Ukraine to Get EU Market-Economy Status

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is set to win European Union recognition as a market economy, a British government spokesman said Tuesday, a move that would help ease its integration into the West and make it easier for the country to trade with the Union, especially in steel, of which Ukraine is a large producer.

Ukraine aspires to become a member of the EU

Tony Blair, the British prime minister and holder of the Union's rotating presidency, will announce the plan at a summit meeting on Dec. 1 in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, said Jonathan Allen, a British government spokesman in Brussels.

The remarks came as President Viktor Yushchenko pledged to speed up privatizations and reform energy and other markets to stimulate trade and economic growth.

"We would like to mark 2006 with a series of concrete structural reforms," he said at a conference attended by foreign investors. "We all understand that without change Ukraine cannot move forward and that goes for both the economic and social sectors."

Market-economy status would signal greater European trust in Ukraine by ensuring that the Union used Ukrainian data for trade inquiries affecting the country. The Union uses other nations' figures to calculate "antidumping" levies against Ukraine.

EU antidumping duties, designed to protect companies in the 25-nation bloc from lower-priced imports, cost Ukraine €200 million to €300 million a year, or $234 million to $256 million, Oleh Rybachuk, then Ukrainian vice prime minister and now state secretary, said in February.

Obtaining market-economy status is part of Ukrainian policy goals that also include starting talks on a free-trade zone with the Union, winning membership in the World Trade Organization and reorganizing the energy market.

The Ukrainian government had sought EU market-economy status in the first half of the year. The European Commission, the Union's trade authority, said the main obstacles were government price controls and legislation that prevented companies from going bankrupt.

The EU plan to grant such recognition is "on the basis of the commission's assurance that Ukraine meets the technical requirements for market-economy status," Allen said.

Yushchenko also confirmed on Tuesday that Ukraine had secured support from Kazakhstan to build a $6 billion pipeline to ship Caspian crude oil to Poland via Ukraine, increasing supplies to Europe after oil prices rose to a record this year.

Poland, Kazakhstan and Ukraine agreed to extend and expand an existing Ukrainian pipeline to link the Black Sea port of Odessa with the Gdansk terminal in Poland on the Baltic Sea, Yushchenko said. The partners could lift the oil link's capacity to 40 million tons a year, or 800,000 barrels a day.

"Ukraine will be reforming its energy sector because we want to integrate into Europe," Yushchenko said. "We have conducted all the talks and reached an agreement with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Poland and Georgia."

Kazakhstan, which plans to almost triple oil output to 3.6 million barrels a day in 2015, is expanding its ports to reduce the former Soviet state's reliance on Russia as an export route.

Chevron's Tengizchevroil, Kazakhstan's biggest oil exporter, said Nov. 22 that it planned to send more crude oil across the Caspian to Azerbaijan as a planned increase in output would exceed the capacity of existing pipelines via Russia.

The oil would be shipped from Baku, the Azeri capital, to the Black Sea, via Georgia. The link could carry 10 million tons to 15 million tons of Kazakh oil in 2006, Yushchenko said.

Ukraine is seeking to reduce its economic dependence on Russia, which supplies most of the country's oil and gas, after President Vladimir Putin last year backed Yushchenko's opponent in contested elections.

Ukraine is in a dispute about gas imports with the Russian energy company Gazprom, which wants to triple the price Ukraine pays for its gas.

Gazprom, which supplies a quarter of Europe's natural gas, is concerned that Ukraine's refusal to agree on 2006 gas supply contracts could disrupt exports to countries like Germany and Italy, which are shipped through pipelines that cross Ukraine, Gazprom's deputy chief executive, Alexander Ryazanov, said Tuesday in Moscow.

The Ukrainian oil pipeline from Odessa to the western town of Brody stood idle for three years after its completion in 2001. The Ukrainian government had planned to ship crude oil through the link to Brody, where it joins the Druzhba pipeline from Russia to Germany. The pipeline had been idle until BP's Russian venture, TNK-BP, started using it last year to transport Russian oil in the opposite direction, to the Black Sea.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Corruption's Grip Eases in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Viktor Kushner and about a dozen friends staged a rally at Kiev's city hall one day last week to protest what they call "corruption" in the sale of some public parkland to a private business.

This sort of demonstration is a regular sight on the streets of Kiev these days, though it was practically unheard of barely a year ago.

"The experience we had in the Orange Revolution last year showed that it's possible to change things by taking a stand," says Mr. Kushner, a public employee. "We've become freer, and we're learning to act like free people."

It's difficult to judge the issues involved in Kushner's specific complaint against city hall. But growing evidence suggests that one of Ukraine's worst scourges, corruption, may be receding in the face of heightened public awareness and postrevolutionary street activism.

Though the economic reforms promised by President Viktor Yushchenko have been slow to arrive, experts say significant numbers of businesses are leaving the shadow economy, more people are paying taxes, and fewer officials are taking bribes.

"There are very strong anti-corruption moods in society right now," director of the independent Institute of Global Strategy in Kiev. "The revolution was above all a moral event that changed public consciousness. Officials know they must tread carefully in this atmosphere."

The Berlin-based organization Transparency International, which annually rates the perception of corruption in 150 countries, this year notched Ukraine up to 113th place from last year's 122nd, putting it roughly on a par with Vietnam and Zambia.

Light shines into shadow economy

Government tax receipts rose by 30 percent in the first nine months of this year, despite a sharp economic slowdown, thanks to individuals and companies emerging from the shadows to pay their taxes.

In October, foreign investors received a heartening sign when one of Ukraine's biggest steel mills, Krivorizhstal, was "reprivatized" and bought at open auction by India's Mittal Steel Co. for $4.8 billion. The same company had been previously sold to the son-in-law of then President Leonid Kuchma for just $800 million.

"This was a signal to the whole society that times have changed," says Oleksander Chekmishov, deputy director of the Institute of Journalism in Kiev.

"It says that Ukraine is no longer a country of systemic corruption, in which a small elite linked to political power divided up most of the country's assets among themselves," he says.

Ukraine's improving performance, however slight, contrasts with the worsening perception of corruption in some of its post-Soviet neighbors.

Russia, which stands at No. 128 in Transparency International's table of 150 countries, has seen corruption levels soar hand in hand with the deepening authoritarianism of President Vladimir Putin's rule over the past five years.

For example, a recent survey by the independent InDem Foundation in Moscow, which tracks corruption in Russia, found that the average business bribe has grown by 13 times to $135,000 since Mr. Putin came to power.

In a TV address marking the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution last week, Yushchenko pledged to wage war on corruption.

"I am ordering the Cabinet to produce urgent bills to be put to parliament," including measures to prevent tampering with the judiciary, offering people a chance to declare past illegal incomes and new guarantees for property rights, he said.

Nevertheless, many Ukrainians, such as Kushner, appear to regard corruption as a bigger problem than ever in their country. "The whole system is dirty," he says. "Everything needs to be taken under public control."

One reason for the widespread distrust, experts say, is the acrimonious bickering that has broken out among the leaders of the victorious Orange coalition.

Last September, Yushchenko's chief of staff, Oleksander Zinchenko, resigned and accused several members of the president's inner circle of graft. In the political shock wave that followed, Yushchenko fired the entire government and one of his closest advisers, industrialist Pyotr Poroshenko.

Publicizing allegations

Another reason, some suggest, is that a freer post- revolutionary media has taken to airing allegations of official misconduct more thoroughly.

"In the past, the issue of high-level corruption was kept behind closed doors and seldom raised in the press," says Oleksander Shushko, director of the Center for Peace, Conversion and Foreign Policy, a Kiev think tank. "Now we hear about it every day on TV, so it seems like there's more of it."

The current feuding between the former leaders of the Orange Revolution, which largely takes the form of corruption accusations, could be a good thing for Ukraine's political growth, says Volodymyr Gorbach, an adviser to Pora, the radical student movement that intends to run candidates in parliamentary elections slated for next March.

"They have ensured that corruption will be a key issue in the election campaign, and that's good," he says. "It will help keep the momentum going so Ukraine can move into the next stage of deep democratic change."

Source: Christian Science Monitor

Monday, November 28, 2005

Yushchenko's Party May Lose Ukraine Election as Economy Slows

KIEV, Ukraine -- A popular uprising known as the Orange Revolution swept Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to power a year ago. A similar victory is unlikely for his party in parliamentary elections in March.

Viktor Yushchenko addressing "Our Ukraine" congress

Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party has the backing of 12.4 percent of the voters, according to a Nov. 3-13 survey of 1,993 people by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center. The poll had a margin of error of 2.3 percent. Yushchenko is lagging behind the Regions Party and a group led by former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.

"Expectations were very high, and I'm not just talking here about money," said Yuriy Ohulshanskyi, 73, a Kiev retiree who attended a Nov. 23 rally. "Our leaders made a mistake when they failed to sustain the revolutionary enthusiasm. They should have told us that even harder work was ahead of us. Instead, they told us to expect immediate paradise."

Since Yushchenko's victory in a re-run election in December, growth in Ukraine's $65 billion economy has faltered and citizens say corruption remains as rife as in the days of his predecessor Leonid Kuchma, who was criticized for stifling free speech and fixing asset sales. Millions poured onto the streets of Kiev last November after Kuchma's preferred successor was declared the winner of rigged presidential elections. Yushchenko promised more democracy, closer ties to the European Union, and rising living standards.

Campaigning for the March 26 parliamentary elections began on Nov. 26. The head of the winning party will become prime minister, whose powers will be expanded for the first time to include some responsibilities now held by the president, including the right to appoint the cabinet. Parties have until Dec. 25 to pick candidates.

Yushchenko Foe

The Regions Party, led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Kuchma's candidate who ran against Yushchenko for the presidency last year, ranked first with 17.4 percent support, according to the Razumkov Center survey.

Timoshenko's alliance, which she has cobbled together since her dismissal on Sept. 8, placed second with 12.8 percent.

"Such diverse political groups were united under the Orange banner that they were bound to split after they won, simply because the political ambitions of each of the groups' leaders were too high," said Oleksandr Lytvynenko, a researcher at the Kiev-based Center for Political and Economic Studies. "On top of that, the president didn't have enough political will to push through economic and political changes.''

Yanukovych's victory sparked the revolution when U.S. and EU observers ruled the balloting was rife with fraud. The results were voided after millions of people, many wearing the orange color of Yushchenko's party, demonstrated on Independence Square and across the former Soviet republic.

Yushchenko won the re-run election Dec. 26 and was sworn into office Jan. 21.


"There is disappointment," said Olha Hnotovska, a 45-year-old university employee who took part in the street protests last year that brought Yushchenko, 51, to power. She spoke after the Nov. 23 rally on Kiev's Independence Square. "The revolution wasn't about personalities. We were defending the freedom to choose."

Yushchenko dismissed his cabinet on Sept. 8 amid accusations of graft and accepted the resignation of his head of national security, Petro Poroshenko.

Timoshenko, who stood at Yushchenko's side during the revolution, was fired after Yushchenko said he lost confidence in her ability to improve the economy and fight corruption.

Slowing Economy

The economy may expand 4 percent this year, one-third the pace of 2004, after companies deferred investments following government seizures of properties that were sold by Kuchma at discount prices.

The annual inflation rate will probably top 10 percent this year, Yushchenko said Nov. 22, higher than the 8 percent he forecast on June 16. The trade deficit by September ballooned to $748 million from a surplus in July, as exports waned. The average monthly wage of $133 a month is still a fraction of Germany's $4,500 a month.

"The economy can't get much worse; it will improve, because there is a new, competent, government in place now," said Marianna Kozintseva, New-York based emerging market strategist at Bear Stearns Cos. "Growth slowed because of major mistakes by Timoshenko's government."

Lawmakers have yet to approve changes that would harmonize Ukrainian laws with those of the World Trade Organization's members. Ukraine, which has been trying to join the WTO since 1997, may enter the organization next year, after missing a 2005 deadline, Yushchenko said on Nov. 22.

Timoshenko Comeback?

Since her dismissal, Timoshenko has criticized Yushchenko, saying the administration of her successor, Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, is too closely allied with the nation's richest businessmen.

She said on Nov. 22 that the two political leaders should patch up their differences and work together during the campaign to ensure Yanukovych doesn't take power.

"If we don't stick together, Yanukovych will have his revenge," Timoshenko said in a Nov. 22 speech. "This isn't just a possibility. There is a 100 percent chance of this happening."

Lytvynenko at the Center for Political and Economic Studies, didn't rule out a coalition of Yushchenko, Timoshenko and Yanukovych.

"The majority will be formed by this troika, as none of them will be able to form a majority all by themselves," he said.

Source: Bloomberg

Bloom is Off the Orange Revolution

KIEV, Ukraine -- Crowds descended on Kiev's main square Tuesday to celebrate the first anniversary of the start of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, the weeks of mass protests of election fraud that ushered the opposition into power.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (R) speaks as sacked Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (L) applauds during a huge rally at the Indepedence Square in Kiev November 22, 2005

As a light snow fell, many supporters bundled up in orange scarves for the celebrations, featuring an address by President Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev's Independence Square, the site of the rallies last year.

The festivities were muted by Ukrainians' disappointment with the failure since the upheaval last year to achieve rapid progress in eliminating the poverty and widespread corruption in this former Soviet republic. However, Mr. Yushchenko, who defeated his Russian-backed rival on a platform promising to bring Ukraine closer to the West, told AP in an interview hours before the event that there was much of which Ukraine could be proud.

He wore a tie in the shade of bright orange that was his campaign's color.

Also addressing the crowd was Yulia Tymoshenko, a one-time Orange Revolution ally and now a chief political competitor after bitter rivalry drove them apart.

Nostalgia, a year later

As evening fell, the square filled with people, although in numbers far short of the massive crowds a year earlier.

Then, millions jammed the streets to protest fraud in the bitter election. They chanted "Yu-shchen-ko!" and set up a sprawling tent camp, bringing life in this city of more than 2 million to a halt.

A repeat runoff ordered by the Supreme Court led to Mr. Yushchenko's election.

"It was a turning point in the life of the nation," said Dasha Lysenko, 17, a student who spent two months in the opposition tent camps last year. "We stood on the square, not for politicians but for the ideals, for freedom."

With opinion polls showing a majority thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction, there's a natural inclination to fall back on the heady days of November 2004.

"For maybe the first time, the whole world learned where Ukraine was -- and not because of Chernobyl or some other catastrophe but because of the revolution ... it defined us," said Petro Poroshenko, a tycoon whose TV station broke through the government's press blackout to show the nation of 47 million what was unfolding in Kiev.

The Orange Revolution began hours after the polls for the presidential election closed on Nov. 21 last year. As the Central Election Commission began churning out fraudulent vote counts in favor of Russia's man, Viktor Yanukovych, reformist candidate Mr. Yushchenko summoned his partisans to Independence Square.

Court ordered second vote

They poured in, pitching hundreds of tents, setting up outdoor kitchens and vowing to stay until justice prevailed. Disciplined, cheerful, even picking up their cigarette butts, they demanded freedom and democracy. After 70 years as a Soviet republic, and another 15 feeling the rigors of the free market, many simply wanted Ukraine to be a normal European country.

"Yu-shchen-ko!" they chanted through the night. Sometimes, it was more rock concert than revolution.

Riot police stood ready. Departing President Leonid Kuchma went on television and called for an end to "this so-called revolution." European envoys scrambled to mediate. Politicians in the Russian-speaking provinces talked secession.

Twelve days later, the Supreme Court declared the vote count fraudulent and ordered the election rerun. Kiev erupted in fireworks and spelled Mr. Yushchenko's name in lights on the buildings around the square.

"The revolution became a symbol of the spirit and patriotism of Ukraine," said Mr. Yushchenko's former chief of staff, Oleksandr Zinchenko. "It wasn't just about one person ... it was about our freedom."

Last Dec. 26, Mr. Yushchenko won the rerun. Mr. Yanukovych fought on in the courts but to no avail, and Mr. Yushchenko was sworn in as president.

But the good will didn't last

The revolutionaries were a mismatched group of reformers, socialists, and populists united only by their hatred of Mr. Kuchma's corrupt regime. They had scores to settle, and some had political skeletons to hide. They inherited a nation divided between the pro-Russia east and the nationalist west. With just 52 percent of the votes, Mr. Yushchenko's victory was less than a landslide.

Initially, the new government plunged into action with pension and salary increases, sacked 18,000 bureaucrats and summoned former officials for questioning. Mr. Yushchenko traveled to the hostile east to publicly berate officials and remind them that he was "the president of the whole country." Demonstrators pelted him with snowballs.

One of the most contentious issues was the murky privatization deals during the Kuchma era, when much of the state's prime industry was sold cheap to insiders. Here the cracks in the government became obvious.

Inside deals challenged

New Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the president's glamorous, energetic ally, wanted hundreds of these deals revoked and the properties resold. Mr. Yushchenko resisted such a radical strategy.

The Tymoshenko government's heavy hand spooked investors. It also was blamed for triggering a jump in meat, sugar and gas prices by trying to impose price controls. Ukraine's economic growth slid below 4 percent, a shock after the soaring 12 percent of 2004, partly in response to lower world prices for its main metals exports.

In September, Mr. Yushchenko fired Mrs. Tymoshenko.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians complain that the revolution has failed to deliver on promises to improve living standards and restore trust in government, that it has been tarnished by claims of corruption and backroom political deals, and that Mr. Yushchenko is cozying up to the revolution's enemies.

Mr. Zinchenko has quit as Mr. Yushchenko's chief of staff and has accused former colleagues of corruption. One of those he accused is Mr. Poroshenko, the TV tycoon, who then had led the government's powerful Security and Defense Council. He quit over the corruption accusations and was later cleared of wrongdoing, though the former top prosecutor claims it cost him his job.

In an attempt to mollify his opponents in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Yushchenko signed a truce with Mr. Yanukovych that promises immunity from prosecution to those involved in election fraud in exchange for the opposition's parliamentary support for Mr. Yushchenko's new prime minister. He also has sent conciliatory messages to the Kremlin.

Mr. Yushchenko insists that Ukraine is still eagerly knocking on the doors of NATO and the European Union, though neither appears to be in any rush to respond. And not only is Russia a key economic partner, but the two countries' ties of history, culture, religion and language make a rupture impossible.

"The revolution couldn't carry on indefinitely," said analyst Mykhailo Pohrebinsky. "At some point, the government had to settle down."

President gets credit

Opinion polls show that Ukrainians credit Mr. Yushchenko with advancing democracy and freedom and improving Ukraine's international image. An example of the new openness: Just this month, Mr. Yushchenko took both friendly and hostile questions on live television from students on the hot-button issues of the day.

Andriy Yusov, a leading member of Pora, a youth group that was one of the driving forces of the Orange Revolution protests, concedes, despite his pessimism, that at least the controversy over Mrs. Tymoshenko, Mr. Yushchenko's first prime minister, played out on the nation's nightly news and not behind closed doors, as in the past.

"The people and the government have become closer," he said, "but it is not because the government moved closer to the people. It's the people who stepped right up into the face of the government."

At the televised session with students, Mr. Yushchenko, 51, reminded the youngsters of how much he had paid, personally and physically, for his country's sake.

"I sit in front of you without my own face," he said, referring to the pockmarks and swelling that still show from his dioxin poisoning last year -- a mystery still unsolved but widely viewed as an attempt to derail his presidential bid.

"I think that I drank not only my dose but also a dose for all of you, as we lived in a regime that didn't allow us to live," he said.

Source: AP

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bill Clinton Praises Ukraine's Reforms

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former President Clinton on Sunday praised Ukraine's reforms since last year's Orange Revolution but counseled Ukrainians to have patience.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton smiles at journalists after a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005, in the Ukrainian capital Kiev

"It takes time to build the kind of vibrant, progressive, forward-moving nation that you are all working to build," Clinton said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Many Ukrainians have expressed disappointment at their nation's failure to improve living standards and battle corruption since last year's mass protests against election fraud. There have been no demonstrable improvements in poverty rates, and Yushchenko's approval ratings have plunged after a split with his Orange Revolution partners and allegations of corruption against some of his closest aides.

Clinton came to Ukraine to offer his foundation's help to this ex-Soviet republic in its struggle against HIV and AIDS and to hold brief talks with Yushchenko.

The United States played an important role in condemning the fraud-marred vote and calling for a revote, which Ukraine's Supreme Court ordered and Yushchenko won.

"I see a more vibrant democracy, freedom of speech, a more aggressive, free press and freedom of political assembly and the kind of disagreements that characterize any modern democracy," Clinton said.

Yushchenko's party faces a tough challenge in March as Ukrainians elect a new parliament.

Yushchenko repeated a call for the country's democratic forces to unite.

"Solidarity and unity is the most original concept for bringing victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections," he said.

Under a deal signed Sunday, the Clinton Foundation will provide training for medical professionals who deal with HIV patients and will help Ukrainians get access to HIV medications at discounted prices.

Ukraine has one of the fastest-growing HIV rates in the world, with some experts suggesting that as many as 500,000 people - 1 percent of the population - are infected.

Source: AP

Ukrainian McDonalds Denies Visitors Free Burgers for Tymoshenko’s Birthday

KIEV, Ukraine -- Dozens of Ukrainian students rushed to the Kiev McDonalds restaurant, demanding a free lunch promised in a propaganda leaflet as a present from former PM Yulia Tymoshenko for her a birthday, news agencies reported Sunday.

Tymoshenko turned 45 on Friday, and spent the day quietly with her family.

However in Kiev the ousted PM’s birthday was celebrated without her participation, when students crowded in the city’s McDonalds restaurants, demanding free lunches, Itar Tass reported.

It appeared that somebody had distributed a leaflet around the city, promising everyone free McDonalds lunches to honor Tymoshenko’s birthday.

McDonalds management denied its participation in the action, and the young people had to leave.

Some observers call the incident a provocation, Itar Tass added. Campaign ahead of elections to Ukrainian Rada started this week, and Tymoshenko’s faction Batkivshina is an active participant.

Source: MosNews

Pirates Free Ukrainian Ship Off Somali Coast

KIEV, Ukraine — Pirates freed a Ukrainian cargo ship seized nearly 40 days ago off the coast of Somalia, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

The Panahia's 22 crew members were safe after being freed late Saturday, and by noon Sunday the ship was 90 miles (144 kilometers) away from Somalia's east coast, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear if the US$700,000 (euro585,000) ransom demanded by the pirates had been paid, although earlier officials in Kiev had said the Ukrainian company was ready to pay. No one at the Foreign Ministry could be reached to comment Sunday afternoon.

The ship, owned by an unidentified company from Ukraine's southern city of Odessa, was sailing under a Liberian flag and was carrying iron ore from South Africa to Turkey when it was seized on Oct. 18.

The Foreign Ministry said the ship was escorted away from the Somali coast overnight by a French vessel, and the Defense Ministry expressed thanks to French officials for their assistance.

President Viktor Yushchenko also spoke by telephone with the ship's captain and wished them a safe journey back home, the Foreign Ministry said.

Piracy is rampant off the coast of Somalia, which is torn by renewed clashes between militias fighting over control of the troubled African country of 7 million. Many companies resort to paying ransoms, saying they have few alternatives.

Source: AP

Campaign Kicks Off for Key Election in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has kicked off a campaign for a key parliamentary election next March, which forces supporting President Viktor Yushchenko will need to win in order for the president to continue with the pro-Western course he has avowed for the ex-Soviet nation.

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko (L)

Ukraine's central election commission had decreed Saturday the official start of campaigning for the March 26 election, during which voters will choose a new parliament, regional councils and city chiefs.

Because of constitutional changes that enter into force on January 1, 2006, the party that wins a majority of seats or is able to form a viable coalition in the 450-seat Upper Rada legislature will name the prime minister and form the government, powers currently held by the president.

Unlike previous years, all of the parliamentary seats will be elected by proportional representation, meaning voters will be casting ballots for parties which will need to get at least three percent of the national vote in order to enter the legislature.

Source: AFP

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ukraine Commemorates Victims Of Stalin-Era Famine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko planted trees in a city park in Kyiv today to commemorate victims of the forced Soviet-era famine that killed up to 10 million Ukrainians.

On 25 November, Yushchenko called on the international community to recognize as genocide the famine that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin provoked in the winter of 1932-33 when he imposed grain requisitioning as part of his campaign to force Ukrainian peasants to join collective farms.

Much of the Ukrainian grain was sold to make money for the Soviet industrialization campaign as Ukrainians starved.

Later in the day, Yushchenko participated in a commemorative rally where relatives and survivors lit 33,000 candles - representing the number of people who were dying daily at the famine's height.

Ukrainians lit candles at the monument to the victims of the Soviet-era forced famine that killed up to 10 million Ukrainians, in Ukraine's capital Kiev, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2005.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine Demands 'Genocide' Marked

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has called on the international community to recognise the 1930s Great Famine as Soviet-enforced genocide.

One third of the Ukrainians who starved to death, were children

"The world must know about this tragedy," he said, at the opening of an exhibition dedicated to famine victims.

Millions of Ukrainians starved to death in 1932-33 as USSR leader Joseph Stalin stripped them of their produce in a forced farm collectivisation campaign.

A small number of nations have already recognised the famine as genocide.

Ukraine has designated 26 November as an official day of remembrance for victims of "Holodomor" - meaning murder by hunger - and other political crackdowns.

There are plans to mark the anniversary this Saturday by lighting 33,000 candles - representing the number of people thought to have been dying every day at the height of the famine.

The true scale of the disaster was concealed by the Soviet Union, and only came to light after Ukrainian independence in 1991.

Cannibalism is reported to have become rife as a whole nation starved.

The tragedy should "become a lesson for our nation as well as for the whole world", Mr Yushchenko said on Friday.

In 2003, marking the 70th anniversary of the famine, the UN said the famine "ranks with the worst atrocities of our time" and a national tragedy - but left out any reference to genocide.

Russia opposed

Roman Serbyn, professor of history and a Ukrainian expert at the University of Quebec in Montreal, says: "Ukraine did not make a technically clear case."

Farmers' produce was forcefully collected by the state

He believes the "genocide" designation has proved elusive because the famine is often considered to have been aimed at a social group (peasants) rather than a national or ethnic group.

However, a strong case can be put showing that by closing the borders so Ukrainians could not escape to Russia, Stalin was targeting Ukrainian nationals, he says.

Russia opposes designation as genocide, he says, and "the biggest reason is national pride. But also the political and economic consequences... if you recognise a crime you might have to pay compensation".

In 2003 Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, was quoted by Interfax news agency dismissing talk of an apology or compensation, saying: "We're not going to apologise... there is nobody to apologise to."

Source: BBC

Friday, November 25, 2005

Former Boxing Champion Vitali Klitschko to Enter Politics

KIEV, Ukraine -- Newly retired WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said Nov. 25 that he plans to enter politics but kept Ukrainians guessing about where he sees himself - in the Kyiv mayor's office or in parliament.

Vitali Klitschko

Klitschko, who unexpectedly left international boxing last month, told reporters in the Ukrainian capital that he "didn't exclude" a possible electoral run, saying he wanted first to gauge public support.

"My sporting career is over, but I believe that I have a rather good opportunity so that my contacts, energy and knowledge can be put to a new task," the 34-year-old boxer said.

"If Kyiv residents support my initiative, I don't exclude the possibility of putting forward my candidacy for the seat of the city's head," he said.

After the packed news conference, Ukrainian journalists mobbed the popular boxer for autographs, which he smilingly gave them.

Klitschko retired after a knee injury forced him to pull out of a long-delayed title defense against Hasim Rahman in Las Vegas. At the time he hinted that he might be considering a career in politics.

During last year's tumultuous Orange Revolution protests, the boxer, who has a doctorate in sports from a Kyiv university, threw his support behind then-opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

He returned to Kyiv to mark the first anniversary on Nov. 22, pleading with now feuding, leaders of the Orange Revolution - Yushchenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko - to reunite.

"I still can't understand this artificial split between the democratic forces," Klitschko said.

He refused to answer questions asking if he had a preference for one side or another.

Opinion polls show that Klitschko's name recognition and popularity would make him a serious contender for the mayor's office, but running for the office might force him to take on his longtime patron, Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko.

Omelchenko also has kept silent about whether he plans to seek a third term, and many speculated he was waiting to see what Klitschko would do.

Source: AP

Ukrainian President Calls on World to Recognize Soviet-Era Famine as Genocide

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko called on the international community Friday to recognize as genocide the forced Soviet-era famine that killed up to 10 million Ukrainians.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko (L), is seen after he opened an exhibition to mark the anniversary of the 1932-33 forced famine, in Ukraine's capital Kiev Friday, Nov.25, 2005. Yushchenko called on the international community to recognize as genocide the Soviet era Great Famine that killed up to 10 million Ukrainians

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin provoked the 1932-1933 famine as part of his campaign to force Ukrainian peasants to give up their land and join collective farms. During the height of the famine, cases of cannibalism were widespread as people grew desperate to survive.

"The world must know about this tragedy," said Yushchenko at the opening of an exhibition dedicated to the famine victims on the eve of its anniversary.

He said the millions of victims should "become a lesson for our nation as well as for the whole world."

Yushchenko demanded that Ukrainian diplomats strengthen their efforts to receive recognition from all countries. Already, some countries such as Canada, the United States, Austria, Hungary and Lithuania have recognized the famine as genocide.

Ukraine plans to mark the anniversary Saturday by lighting 33,000 candles - representing the number of people who died every day at the famine's height.

The former Soviet republic also plans to plant an alley of trees and hold a downtown march in the capital, Kyiv. The National Broadcasting Council asked television and radio stations to not air any entertainment programs on Saturday.

Source: AP

Ukraine Struggles to Make Orange Revolution Work

KIEV, Ukraine -- One year after our Orange Revolution, many Ukrainians see its ideals as betrayed. Belief in a government answerable to the people and in a transparent market purged of insider dealing no longer guides government policy. Instead, the ideals for which we struggled appear as slogans invoked by those who want to protect their vested interests.

Yulia Tymoshenko (R) speaking at the first anniversary of the 'Orange Revolution'

Cynics explain this by saying that our "Orange" ideals were never anything but the rationalizations of one set of oligarchs struggling to overthrow another. Once masters of the situation, it is said, the zeal of those who promised reform mutated into a zeal to preserve their private wealth and that of their friends.

How did Ukraine reach this state of cynicism? A year ago, everyone gathered in the streets of Kiev knew what we were standing up against: a corrupt government that sought to command life and labor, and to dispose of state property, at its will. In so far as formal legal rights existed, no court could be relied upon to enforce those rights when our rulers saw their interests as challenged.

In evicting that regime, we believed that this form of absolutism was ended. Instead, those who benefited from the regime's corruptions insisted that their rights to the property they had stolen were inviolate. These crony capitalists argue that, if they were left alone to develop their assets, they would make the country prosperous. Tamper with property, no matter how ill-gotten, and no investor will have confidence, they claim.

That is the oldest excuse to justify wrongdoing: The end justifies the means. But power -- be it political or economic -- without legitimate origins is arbitrary. An economy that appears arbitrary and illegitimate in the eyes of the majority of people may, for a time, run on the false confidence of easy profits. Corruption, however, is inevitable because the rule of law, which is the market's ultimate guarantor, depends on the consent of all its participants and their belief in its core fairness.

A radical lawlessness was at the heart of Ukraine's privatization process. So we must not be tricked by the fact that those who gained economic power by looting state assets now employ lawyers, invoke free market nostrums, and claim to follow the letter of the law. For there is such a thing as a lawless legality. It is found when governments deny that in making or interpreting laws, they are bound by the spirit of the law.

In this respect, the oligarchs and their political placemen who insist that their right to stolen property is sacred make the same crude claim as the regime that we overthrew: that they have an indefeasible right to the exercise of power. They reject the principle that there is a law which is superior to presidents, magnates, majorities, or mobs. If their claim is upheld, then the cynics are right: Our revolution was merely about whether one class or another, one person or another, would obtain the power to work his or her will.

Endorsing the claim to arbitrary power is the cardinal heresy of those who say we should certify property stolen from the state as rightfully owned. I call this a heresy because it rejects the supremacy of equality under law and proclaims the supremacy of particular men. This is alien to any and all concepts of liberty. It is the legalism of the barbarian, and the nihilist philosophy that everyone has in reaction against the coming of political and economic liberty to Ukraine.

Legal primitives are not alone in embracing this stance. Many economists also believe that ownership of stolen goods must be recognized. They liken the transition from communism to the state of nature described by John Locke. So they imagine the property rights acquired through cronyism, nepotism and backroom dealing as somehow emerging from a Lockean realm of freedom. When my government questioned this assumption, they cried out that this was interference by the state with legitimate property rights.

Another group also succumbed to this delusion. Some who a year ago displayed great public spirit came to feel, when in government, that they could not vindicate the supremacy of law without curtailing economic growth. Because the grind of government can obscure enduring principle, people inspired by the best motives now find themselves on the same side as their criminal adversaries. They have, I believe, lost their way and taken a path that can only lead back to the supremacy of arbitrary power.

Indeed, the denial that men may be arbitrary is the higher law by which we must govern. Without this conviction the letter of the law is nothing but a mask for bureaucratic caprice and authoritarian will. For when people do not believe that their government adheres to this higher spirit of law, no Constitution is worth the paper it is written on; no business transaction is safe.

For maintaining a constitutional order and viable free market requires an intuitive dislike of arbitrariness, a sensitivity to its manifestations, and spontaneous resistance.

This was why my government sought to recover stolen state property. By doing so, and then auctioning that property in a transparent manner, Ukrainians saw that arbitrary action could be redressed, that the rule of law applied to the powerful as well as the weak.

The lesson is clear: If a president may not act willfully, arbitrarily, by personal prerogative, then no one may. Ministers may not. Parliament may not. Majorities may not. Individuals may not. Crowds may not. Only by adhering to this higher law will Ukraine develop the consciousness of law that true liberty demands.

By identifying the law with their vested rights, the oligarchs who have [for now] derailed the ideals of the Orange Revolution sought to shield their own interests from challenge. But because men pervert a truth, there is no reason to abandon it.

If, as we were taught by Marx, belief in a higher law is a mixture of sentimentality, superstition and unconscious rationalizations, then the predations that incited the Orange Revolution are in reality the only possible conditions in which we can live. We must give up the hope of liberty within an ordered society and market and resign ourselves to that interminable war of all against all of which Hobbes spoke.

Indeed, the policies now being offered seem hostile to the ideals of our Orange Revolution. We are asked to choose between social solidarity and economic growth. To escape from want we are told, we must embrace illegality. To promote truth, we are told that old crimes must not be examined.

These choices are as false as they are intolerable. Yet these are the choices offered by our influential doctrinaires. But to see these as Ukraine's only options is to mistake weariness for wisdom, and to be discouraged rather than to understand. For the search for law has an irresistible energy. No human obstruction can long withstand it. Though we may take a step back now and then, only by adhering to this higher law can Ukraine achieve freedom and prosperity for all. Achieve it we will.

Source: Yulia Tymoshenko

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lose the Fence

KIEV, Ukraine -- Bankova, the street that’s home to the State Secretariat as well as to other important Ukrainian government buildings, has for a while been closed off to the public. As Ukraine this week marks the anniversary of the start of the Orange Revolution, it’s an excellent time to point out that that’s a disgrace.

Bankova Street at start of "Orange Revolution" in November 2004

Actually, closing off Bankova represents a step backward even from the miserable standards of former President Leonid Kuchma’s government. During the Kuchma years, Bankova was – sensibly – closed to motor traffic. But any pedestrian was free to walk past the sentry posts and the vehicle barrier and access the street. The Kuchma administration was famous for treating Ukrainian citizens with the utmost contempt, but that the street was open, at least, was how it should have been.

Bankova, of course, played a central role in the Orange Revolution. Protestors clogged both its Instytutska and Lyuteranska intersections, facing down riot police in tense and by now famous stand-offs. The riot barricades that the government threw up to protect the strategically important street from the orange hordes were symbols of what the revolution was fighting. When Yulia Tymoshenko breached them and was handed into the inner sanctum, she provided one of the uprising’s iconic moments.

Soon after President Viktor Yushchenko finally took office, he ripped down not only the ad hoc riot barriers, but also the permanent Bankova fences, in a recognition of their symbolic importance. His stirring statement at the time was to the effect that his government didn’t need any fences there at all – his crew, unlike Kuchma’s, did not fear the Ukrainian people.

What a difference the better part of a year makes. Now Bankova is closed off completely. You can’t walk down it at all anymore.

As the Orange Revolution’s anniversary comes, the new fence is obviously a symbol to be used by anyone who would like to make a point about the insufficiencies of the Orange Revolution, and about how, supposedly, not enough has changed since the Kuchma days. The new fence is therefore a terrible idea for symbolic reasons, and an index of the president’s strangely wishy-washy political personality.

Yushchenko often seems politically tone deaf, but this represents a new frontier in strategic fecklessness. On the other hand, maybe Yushchenko hasn’t been tone deaf and feckless – maybe he really does fear the Ukrainian citizenry, and want to keep it as far away from himself as possible. It’s increasingly the tragedy of Yushchenko’s career that one never really knows exactly what motivates him, or where he stands.

Besides, it’s not as if blocking off Bankova, which we understand was an initiative of Internal Affairs department chief Ihor Tarasyuk, is all that necessary for security. Back in the Kuchma days, Bankova was a very tightly controlled street. Given all the machinegun-toting guards around, the pedestrian felt a bit uncomfortable and stared-at there, which was not inappropriate.

It seems to us that anyone causing trouble on Bankova back then would have lasted mere seconds before he was dropped. It also seems to us that the government need not fear the excessively disruptive potential of citizen protests. Let the guards simply put waist-high barriers up to keep people away from the doorways, as is already done in front of parliament.

There’s nothing except a superfluous bit of false security to be gained by erecting a fence between the citizenry and the government. It’s impractical, too. The House of Chimeras, arguably Kyiv’s most famous building, is now off-limits, which is ridiculous.

President Yushchenko, in the spirit of the Orange Revolution that we’re all celebrating this week, tear down that fence.

Source: Kyiv Post Editorial

Revisiting the Orange Revolution, Part One

WASHINGTON, DC --Ukraine held the second round of its contentious presidential election on November 21, 2004. When the incumbent regime of President Leonid Kuchma tried to steal the election from popular favorite Viktor Yushchenko, thousands of Ukrainians took the streets in what came to be known as the "Orange Revolution," in honor of the Yushchenko campaign color.

Yulia Tymoshenko on the First Anniversary of the Orange Revolution

One year later, the new administration has not fulfilled many of the expectations that arose from the Orange Revolution. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to paint the first year of Yushchenko's administration as either all positive or all negative, although the latter is currently more often heard.

In its first year, the Orange team has registered 10 achievements, but has come up short in seven other areas. The first part of this two-part article looks at the areas of progress.

Human Rights and Democratization. As the EU has noted, Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Yushchenko's election put the country back on the democratic track that had stalled in Kuchma's second term. Since the late 1990s most members of the Commonwealth of Independent States have evolved towards authoritarian regimes and "managed democracies." But a recent EU report noted that there are no systematic human rights violations in Ukraine.

Civic Empowerment. The number of Ukrainians who took part in Orange protests is huge. Throughout the country, one in five Ukrainians took part in protests locally or in Kyiv. In Kyiv itself, 48% of its 2.5 million population took part in the Orange Revolution.

Participation in the Orange Revolution changed Ukrainians from subjects into citizens. Ukrainians, who were traditionally viewed as passive by Soviet and post-Soviet rulers, are unlikely to continue to be submissive. A September 2005 poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology asked Ukrainians if they were ready to defend their civil rights; 51% said "Yes." In western and central Ukraine this answer was as high as 65%.

Democratic Political System. In early 2006, Ukraine will change to a parliamentary-presidential system resembling those commonly found in central Europe and the Baltic states. These parliamentary systems have helped these countries to register democratic progress and move toward Euro-Atlantic integration.

Media Freedom. Ukraine's media environment has been transformed. The Social Democratic Party-United (SDPUo) has lost influence at the three television channels it once controlled (State Channel 1, 1+1, and Inter). Other channels controlled by Viktor Pinchuk (ICTV, STB, Novyi Kanal) have become more balanced in their coverage.

The Internet received a major boost from the 2004 elections. The Orange Revolution has been described as the world's first "Internet Revolution." Today, nearly 20% of Ukrainians use the Internet regularly.

International media watchdogs, such as Reporters Without Frontiers, have also noted the considerable improvement in Ukraine's press freedom. Ukraine's ranking (112) in the 2005 Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index is far higher than that of Russia (138) or Belarus (152).

Ukrainian journalists now work in a freer environment, no longer fearing arrest or violence. Gone are the censorship instructions (temnyky) issued by Kuchma's administration to television stations.

Political Parties. The Socialists, allied to President Yushchenko since the Orange Revolution, are now the leading left-wing party, rather than the Communists whose allegiance to the Ukrainian state was always suspect. The Communist Party will likely win only about 30 seats in the 2006 parliament, down from 120 in the 1998.

Formerly pro-Kuchma centrists are in disarray. Only one of the three large centrist parties from the Kuchma era (Regions of Ukraine) is poised to enter the 2006 parliament. The SDPUo and Labor Ukraine parties each have ratings of 1%.

Corruption. The first year of the Yushchenko administration has seen Ukraine moving from a pretend struggle against corruption under Kuchma to a modest attempt at battling this problem. Some 4,500 of the myriad regulations to register businesses have been annulled, eliminating a major source of corruption. There is now a single channel to register businesses and a single channel to clear customs. Previously a new business venture had to seek permits from 34 separate groups, giving many opportunities for bribes.

Some 52% of Ukrainians believe some progress has taken place, but more needs to be done. Transparency International, a think tank researching corruption around the world, has recorded gains in Ukraine this year. Its 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index provides evidence that policies introduced this year to battle corruption are producing results. Ukraine's improved ranking has "resulted in an increased sense of optimism regarding governance and corruption in Ukraine."

Oligarchs. The era when oligarchs could earn high rents from a close relationship with a corrupt executive is over. The Yushchenko administration has outlined a "deal" whereby in exchange for no further re-privatizations, oligarchs now have to evolve into law-abiding businessmen.

This means an end to corrupt business practices; businessmen must move their activities out of the shadow economy and increase their tax payments. Revenues to Ukraine's annual $20 billion budget soared by 30% this year, despite an economic slowdown. VAT payments have grown from 16 billion hryvni ($3.2 billion) last year to 28 billion ($5.6 billion) this year. Taxes on profits have also grown by nearly 50%.

The Kyiv Post concluded that these healthier figures exist because "More Ukrainian companies are willing to come out of the shadows in order to boost their appeal to investors and drum up foreign money."

Social Welfare. The minimum pension was increased to the same level as the minimum wage. Wages for those employed by the state increased 57%. Social welfare spending, including child support to encourage Ukraine to move out of its demographic crisis, has grown by 73%.

Religious Freedom. The Ukrainian (Uniate) Catholic Church has moved its headquarters to Kyiv, a move that would have been hampered under Kuchma. Prospects for the unification of the pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian Orthodox Churches in Ukraine are now far greater.

Divergence from Russia. While Ukraine experienced a democratic breakthrough in Ukraine, Russia simultaneously fell further into an autocratic abyss. In the aftermath of Russia's fraudulent parliamentary and presidential elections, the New York-based human rights think tank Freedom House downgraded Russia from "partly free" to "unfree," the first time Russia has been given this rank since the collapse of the USSR.

The 2004 breakthrough "reinvigorated and jumpstarted the democratic political development" of Ukraine, Freedom House concluded. Ukraine recorded significant progress in four areas: electoral process, civil society, independent media, and judicial framework. Russia registered the greatest decline of any country in the in the same four areas in 2004.

Ukraine's "Democracy Score" (4.5) is better than Russia's at 5.61, out of a range of 1-7 with 7 being the worst score. But Ukraine's 4.5 score is also moving closer to Croatia's at 3.75, and Croatia is a possible candidate for EU membership in 2007 alongside Romania (3.39) and Bulgaria (3.18). Of the four "color revolutions," Ukraine's Democracy Score is the same as Serbia's (3.75) and improved on Georgia's (4.96) and Kyrgyzstan's (5.64).

Despite noticeable progress in these 10 areas, problems remain for the Orange team. These will be discussed in Part Two of this series.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Is Ukraine's Future Still Orange?

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- When President Viktor Yushchenko strode out before the crowds in Kiev Tuesday night, one did not need powers of clairvoyance to see what was on his mind. How different it is to start a revolution, he must have thought, than to bring its ideals to fruition.

Ukrainian demonstrators hold Orange flags, symbols of last year's Orange Revolution, during a rally at the Independence Square in Kiev, November 22, 2005. About 100,000 Ukrainians braved freezing temperatures and snow to mark the first anniversary of Ukraine's Orange Revolution

As Ukraine celebrates the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution, that, in a nutshell, is the nature of the problem Yushchenko has faced in the last 12 months and with key parliamentary elections looming in March it is a problem that is not about to disappear.

The critics have plenty to go on. Sky-high expectations have inevitably not been met. Economic growth has collapsed. The united front which led the revolution has buckled under the pressure: In

September, the president was forced to fire the entire government turning erstwhile allies such as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko into bitter rivals.

Yushchenko has paid a heavy price in the popularity stakes for all this. Polls by the respected Razumkov agency showed confidence in the president dropping from 48 percent in February, just after he had taken office, to just 20 percent in the last such poll taken in September.

There have indeed been setbacks and the president and his team do not have long to put things right. But there is also much to celebrate on this anniversary and if Yushchenko can use it to turn his people's mind to what they have gained from the Orange Revolution there is still hope that he can turn things around.

Yushchenko might begin by issuing a series of reminders over the next few weeks of how barbaric the previous regime led by Leonid Kuchma really was. In those days, Mafia gangs associated with the government ran huge swathes of the economy.

Journalists who criticized the government risked beatings and even death. In one such case in 2000, the headless corpse of investigative journalist Grigoriy Gongadze was found dumped in a forest outside Kiev. Civil society under the old regime ran risks that few of us in the West can comprehend.

As for the revolution itself, everyone knows about the assassination attempt in which Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin. But it has only recently emerged just how close the previous administration came to ordering a bloodbath.

Igor Smeshko, the former head of Ukraine's secret police, the SBU, told the BBC in remarks published on its website Tuesday that orders were, as some had suspected, initially given for fully armed troops to engage the demonstrators in Independence Square. They were sent back to barracks at the last moment.

But even then, according to Smeshko, there was a real danger of armed conflict breaking out inside the army and security services between supporters of Yushchenko and his opponent Viktor Yanukovych. Civil strife was a distinct possibility.

No one is saying that the political situation in Ukraine now corresponds to some sort of ideal, but the era of fear has at least passed. And that in itself marks a huge break from the past.

In other areas, the distinction between then and now is more blurred. Managing expectations about the economy, for example, was always going to be the toughest challenge for the reformists. Economic growth was heading into freefall even before Yushchenko took office. In the first nine months of this year it crept along at a modest 2.8 percent year-on-year compared with 12.7 percent in the same period in 2004.

No serious economist would argue that the downturn is due to the policies of the new administration. But try explaining the complexities of time-lag theory to a Ukrainian family living on $100 a month. Such people want immediate change. And when they don't see it they blame those who hold power now, and not the people whose previous policies condemned them to poverty in the first place.

Rooting out corruption was also going to be a major challenge and the new administration has suffered serious blows to its credibility amid charges that its senior officials have abused their positions to enrich themselves. Fortunately for the administration, the Prosecutor General's office cleared key Yushchenko ally Petro Poroshenko of wrong doing in late October. But it may take time to restore confidence.

More broadly, there have been some noteworthy successes on the corruption front. The $4.8 billion privatization of the Kryvorizshtal steel mill was conducted live on television, a move which has been widely praised by foreign investors used to major
state sell-offs being conducted in Ukraine behind closed doors among government cronies.

Transparency International's 2005 global corruption index also brought some modestly encouraging news, ranking Ukraine 113th out of 159 countries surveyed.

Usually, of course, a state of affairs which puts a European country on a par with Zimbabwe would be nothing to get excited about. But last year Ukraine was ranked in position number 128.

This is what progress in a country with the problems of Ukraine means in practice: small steps in the right direction, but the situation remains so dire that few among the public appear to notice that anything has changed.

On foreign policy, relations with Russia remain calm but cool -- about the best one could hope for with Vladimir Putin at the helm. The European Union has been predictably slow on the uptake with Ukraine, making positive noises about working more closely with the country but falling short of offering a clear path to accession.

Quick integration with NATO looks more promising. If reformists can work together to win the 2006 elections, the prospects for membership by the end of the decade are real.

But it is on those elections, of course, that everything in Ukraine now hinges. It is therefore vital that the estranged partners in the reformist camp can now effect some sort of reconciliation.

Because continued division could easily result in disaster. One can only hope that as Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko left the celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution on Tuesday, they did so in the knowledge that there are no guarantees that there will be a second in 12 months time.

Is the future still Orange? Only they can know the answer to that.

Source: UPI

Dioxin Level in Yushchenko’s Blood Down 83% Over 12 Months, Data Show

KIEV, Ukraine -- The level of dioxin, a toxic chemical, in the blood of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko fell by 83% over the past 12 months, according to latest test data revealed on Tuesday.

Viktor Yushchenko after dioxin poisoning in December, 2004

The level is still 1,000 times greater than normal, according to tests taken Nov. 9, Iryna Herashchenko, Yushchenko’s spokeswoman, said. A year ago, when Yushchenko was first diagnosed with dioxin poisoning, the level was reported at 6,000 times the norm.

“The Yushchenko family has just received this information,” Herashchenko said citing the latest test data.

The reduction of the dioxin levels shows the progress that Yushchenko makes while gradually recovering from the poisoning that had nearly cost his life during the last year’s presidential election campaign.

The normal level of dioxin is between 15 and 45 units per gram of blood fat, while Yushchenko has been diagnosed in December 2004 with about 100,000 units by the Free University in Amsterdam.

Almost everyone has some level of dioxins because the toxic chemical is widespread in the environment — mainly from its industrial usages — and accumulates in the food chain.

Most of what is known about the health effects of acute dioxin poisoning comes from experiments on animals. Most animals would die from the levels found in Yushchenko a year ago, scientists have said.

The latest tests were ordered by the Prosecutor General Office (PGO) in order to proceed with the investigation into the poisoning that some scientists and Yushchenko have described as the attempted murder.

Although the fact of the poisoning was confirmed by three independent western laboratories in December 2004, the PGO had only now requested official confirmation of the tests in order to proceed with the investigation.

The delays with ordering the tests shows either incompetence or neglect by Prosecutor General Sviatoslav Piskun, who has been fired by Yushchenko last month.

Yushchenko, then a presidential candidate, first fell ill after having dinner with Ukrainian Security Service chief Ihor Smeshko and his deputy, Volodymyr Satsyuk, on Sept. 5, 2004. He reported having a headache about three hours after the dinner, and by the next day had developed an acute stomach ache.

Yushchenko, who was rushed to a Vienna hospital on Sept. 10, later reported pancreatitis and gastrointestinal pain, as well as backache. He also suffered partial nerve paralysis in his face and an inflammation of one inner ear.

About three weeks after his first symptoms, he developed the rough, acne-like rash on his face which is the hallmark of dioxin poisoning.

Dioxin, which settles in the body fat, lasts a long time in the body. Some scientists mentioned liposuction, a procedure that sucks the fat out of the body, as one of the ways of reducing the contamination.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sacked PM Upstages Yushchenko At Mass Ukraine Rally

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's dismissed prime minister seized the limelight from President Viktor Yushchenko a year after Orange Revolution protests with an electrifying appeal on Tuesday to join forces in next year's parliamentary election.

One of the leader of 'Orange Revolution' and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko applauds as President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko speaks during rally on Independence Square in Kiev. Ukraine marks Tuesday the first anniversary of its 'Orange Revolution'

Both Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, the premier he sacked in September, told supporters in Kiev's Independence Square that only a united team of reformers could win the March 2006 election to a parliament led by a prime minister with expanded powers.

But Tymoshenko's impassioned 20-minute address, delivered without notes, clearly won over a crowd of well more than 100,000 marking last year's mass protests which helped propel the president to victory in the re-run of a rigged poll.

"I am certain that just as we supported Viktor Yushchenko in the presidential election, we must now unite to elect a prime minister who will embody everything we fought for," Tymoshenko, tears welling in her eyes, told the crowd.

"I want to dismiss all the rumours that it is Tymoshenko versus Yushchenko. This cannot be so, because this is the president that you and I helped bring to power. We did it together."

Tymoshenko's speech on what the liberal administration has proclaimed "Freedom Day" was clearly aimed at the March election campaign.

It also sought to justify her eight months in charge of a government that blew apart after splitting into rival camps, each accusing the other of corruption.

As snow fell on the square, she told supporters: "My heart is with you. If it didn't work the first time, it will next time round. We cannot stop with things half finished."


Tymoshenko's dismissal dented the ratings of both leaders. It also sapped public confidence among Ukrainians who had backed the ideals of mass protests against election fraud and Yushchenko's calls to move Ukraine into the European mainstream.

The Regions Party of Viktor Yanukovich, the rival Yushchenko defeated in last year's lengthy election campaign, leads polls for the March contest with more than 20 percent support.

Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party lies second with 17 percent and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine commands about 12 percent.

Yushchenko looked distinctly uncomfortable, issuing a similar call for unity at the end of an hour-long speech interrupted periodically by hecklers shouting "Yulia, Yulia!"

"Do we want to win the 2006 parliamentary election? Yes, we do!" the president, accompanied on stage by his wife and children, said to modest applause from the crowd.

"This team standing behind me must be united, must work together and extend a hand to one another."

Tymoshenko, widely popular among rank-and-file voters for her rousing speeches during last year's protests, was appointed prime minister last February under an electoral pact.

During her tenure, Western investors took fright at calls for a sweeping review of privatisations conducted under the previous administration. She also clashed with Yushchenko over attempts to control fuel prices.

Her replacement, technocrat Yuri Yekhanurov, is seen as a transition figure before the March election brings in new arrangements handing many presidential powers to the prime minister and parliament.

Source: Reuters