Wednesday, May 31, 2006

President Bush To Ukraine's Rescue?

KIEV, Ukraine -- Last week, the three potential members of an “Orange” democratic parliamentary majority voted together for the first time.

President George W. Bush

Two hundred and forty deputies from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc and the Socialist Party agreed to adjourn the Rada until June 7 in order to “complete” a coalition agreement.

But despite optimistic pronouncements from political party leaders that an agreement is all but assured, a big disagreement appears to remain – namely, who will become Ukraine’s next prime minister?

A failure to agree on this point would doom the coalition, and possibly damage international support for Ukraine’s attempts to integrate into Western structures.

Western European and U.S. leaders have made no secret of the fact that they would like to see a government formed immediately, and that they view an Orange coalition as more conducive to Western integration than any other coalition permutation.

The questions surrounding a tentative June 21 visit to Ukraine by U.S. President George Bush underscore this point. U.S. officials say privately that should the stop-over in Kyiv be confirmed, Bush may be prepared to announce U.S. support for the opening of NATO accession talks and to use the opportunity to support Ukraine’s entry into the WTO this year.

The visit promises U.S. support for President Viktor Yushchenko’s agenda. It also entails pressure on Ukraine’s politicians to finally agree on a new government more than two months after parliamentary elections.

Some U.S. officials have said, however, that without a reform-oriented parliamentary coalition already in place before mid-June, President Bush will not come to Kyiv.

On May 24, in a positive sign, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYUT) and the Socialist Party initialed a joint majority coalition agreement. The agreement reportedly includes the standard European coalition provision that the biggest party in the coalition will name the prime minister.

On March 26, BYUT garnered over 22 percent of votes, Our Ukraine received slightly fewer than 14 percent and the Socialists over 6 percent. Tymoshenko has already declared that her bloc would nominate her.

But just hours earlier, Our Ukraine announced that it had finalized its own draft coalition agreement – one which did not include any provision for choosing the prime minister – and called the initialing of the BYUT-Socialist agreement “a stunt.”

On 25 May, following the joint vote to adjourn parliament, Our Ukraine representatives reiterated their opposition to including the prime minister principle in any final agreement. If this position is maintained, an agreement may be unreachable.

The omission is hard to explain. Throughout Western Europe, coalition agreements routinely include mechanisms for choosing cabinet personnel. And the prime minister is routinely named from the biggest coalition partner.

Germany – which Our Ukraine points to as an example — is a case in point. Angela Merkel, based on her party’s tiny four-seat plurality, attained a commitment to be named Chancellor before she consented to sit down for official talks over issues.

“We will not start coalition talks until they accept the democratic principle that the biggest party nominates the head of government,” Governor Juergen Ruettgers, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said at the time. This commitment eventually was enshrined in the coalition agreement.

Our Ukraine’s refusal to accept this principle leaves a decidedly anti-European impression, and provides fodder for European representatives who do not believe Ukraine should be integrated into Europe’s economic and military unions.

Nevertheless, certain individuals within Our Ukraine have stated that they simply will not support a coalition with Yulia Tymoshenko at its head. These individuals dismiss the fact that their party finished eight points behind BYUT in the election as some sort of abnormality.

But, recent opinion polls showing that Our Ukraine’s support has now dipped to 10 percent suggest that this is not the case.

As the parties argue, reforms are stalled, important segments of the economy are underperforming, and Russian gas giant Gazprom is preparing to raise gas prices substantially beginning 1 July.

This, Acting Economics Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk recently said, could lead to a significant economic slowdown in the country, at a time when growth is already very limited. Yet, there has been little urgency to confirm a new government to tackle this problem.

And, although Yulia Tymoshenko has been criticized for speaking publicly about negotiations, it is, in fact, Viktor Yushchenko and the Our Ukraine party that have received the bulk of the criticism about the situation from foreign officials and press.

An early May appearance by Presidential Secretariat Head Oleh Rybachuk on BBC’s HARDTalk provides the clearest example. Rybachuk spent most of the interview ducking and weaving, thanks to journalist Stephen Sackur’s intense questioning over everything from the lack of a new government to the discredited January 2006 gas deal.

To Rybachuk’s credit, he maintained his composure. But he had difficulty effectively answering many questions presented to him. These included the most basic: “Yulia Tymoshenko clearly won the biggest number of votes in that [proposed] Orange coalition, 22 percent of the vote, a much bigger bloc than that which went to Our Ukraine, so she must be the prime minister, mustn’t she?”

In the midst of a somewhat rambling answer, Rybachuk disagreed, suggesting that Tymoshenko first must “convince [people] she is a different person.” Sackur’s disturbing response suggested corruption around the president.

“You know what many Ukrainians seem to think?” he said. “That is, that in the past, Mrs. Tymoshenko went after some of the cronies close to Mr. Yushchenko and he does not want her back in power because he fears that she would once again go on an anti-corruption crusade that would damage people close to him.”

Rybachuk called this statement a “nice fairy tale.” However, the generally negative tenor of Sackur’s questions is alarming coming from one of Europe’s most respected interviewers on one of Europe’s most viewed English-language news programs.

Yushchenko could use some support, and the President of the United States would like to provide it on 21 June.

But Yushchenko first must demonstrate his commitment to tackling Ukraine’s most difficult problems. His first step must be to support a coalition agreement. To do so, he must convince Our Ukraine – which campaigned under the slogan “The Party of Yushchenko” – that it is time to accept the reality of a Tymoshenko premiership based on election results.

Should he fail, it would be a blow to Ukraine’s attempts to prove its readiness for European integration. It could also undermine generally excellent U.S.-Ukraine relations at a time when Ukraine and its president need support more than ever.

Source: Kyiv Post

Employers Asked to Turn Blind Eye On Day Of Ukraine’s World Cup Performance

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian government asked employers to adjust the working day on June 14 so that Ukrainians can watch their national soccer team make its debut in the World Cup, AP reports.

Prime Minister Yury Yekhanurov

“On June 14 at 4 p.m., we expect an epidemic of unexplained illness to appear in Ukraine,” Prime Minister Yury Yekhanurov said Wednesday.

Ukraine’s appearance in the World Cup is a source of pride for the ex-Soviet republic, whose team is led by AC Milan’s Andriy Shevchenko — one of the world’s top strikers.

Much of the country’s 47 million population is expected to watch a TV broadcast of the team’s opening game.

Yekhanurov, noting that the game starts near the end of the working day, said the government recommended that employers start the day earlier or bring in televisions and allow a break.

“I want to say this so that all our players know that the government and all of the people will be supporting you,” Yekhanurov said at a cabinet session.

Ukraine is playing in Group H, which also includes Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

Shevchenko, who hurt his knee on May 7, is not playing in the warm-ups, but is expected to recover in time for the opener against Spain.

Source: MosNews

Ukraine-Russia Relations Have Never Been Worse: Russian Ambassador

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin delivered a strong message, on Tuesday, to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin

He pointed to a direct relationship between Ukraine's possible NATO membership and higher energy prices.

He said that if Ukraine joins the Euro Atlantic alliance, Russia will reconsider its strategic partnership with Ukraine.

He said relations between the two countries have never been worse.

Chernomyrdin cited NATO, the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, the conflict between Moldova and Trans-Dniester and the GUAM organization as issues that aggravate Russia most in its bilateral relations.

Source: Channel 5 TV

Opposition Parties Call Arrival Of U.S. Ship A Threat To Ukraine's Sovereignty

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-Russian opposition parties on Tuesday railed against President Viktor Yushchenko's government for allowing a U.S. naval ship to enter a Ukrainian port, calling it a threat to the nation.

Kremlin sympathizer Natalya Vitrenko

The USS Advantage's arrival in the Crimean port of Feodosiya this weekend sparked protests and left the government scrambling to explain that it was coming as part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program and was only bringing equipment for exercises this summer in the Black Sea.

Yushchenko wants this ex-Soviet republic to join NATO, but the military alliance remains deeply unpopular here, particularly in the largely Russian-speaking east and south.

Natalya Vitrenko, leader of a political party that is influential on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, accused Yushchenko of ignoring legislation that requires parliamentary approval before any foreign military troops or ships enter Ukrainian territory.

She also noted that parliament earlier this year voted to bar foreign troops from participating in military exercises in Ukraine.

"On May 27, an act of state betrayal was committed by Ukraine's top officials," Vitrenko said.

The larger pro-Russian Party of the Regions called the ship's arrival "an attempt to infringe on Ukraine's sovereignty and national security" and urged punishment of those who approved it. The opposition Social Democratic Party (United) also slammed the government.

Navy spokesman Mykola Nedohipchenko said the ship came to participate in Sea Breeze peacekeeping exercises, which Ukraine has been conducting annually since 1997. He said it delivered construction facilities to help Ukrainians update their training ground, bulldozers, lifting cranes, and medicine.

The exercises are to take place in July-August for up to 45 days and involve 17 countries, including the United States.

"The protest is just a political game aimed to cause unrest in Crimea," Nedohipchenko said.

Crimea has a large ethnic Russian population and its main port, Sevastopol - 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Feodosia - is home to both the Russian and Ukrainian Black Sea fleets.

The Defense Ministry said it will ask parliament to approve the training when lawmakers reconvene next month.

The U.S. ship left the port a day after it arrived. Vitrenko, who is known for her anti-American stance, accused NATO of plotting to construct a special permanent military base in Crimea. Ukraine's NATO office did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Source: AP

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Anti-NATO Bomb Threat Against US Soldiers In Ukraine Port

KIEV, Ukraine -- An anonymous bomb threat was called in against US soldiers in a Ukrainian port city on Tuesday as anti-NATO protests by local residents continued.

A Ukrainian bomb squad team inspected a dormitory housing 120 US service personnel in the Crimean provincial capital Simferopol after an unidentified man informed authorities of an intention to detonate the device.

The caller made no demands but said NATO troops should stay out of Ukraine, according to a police report.

Ukrainian sappers searched the building and found no explosives. No US service personnel were injured, the Interfax news agency reported.

The false alarm came a day after thousands of Ukrainian demonstrators opposed the unloading of a NATO cargo ship in the Crimean port Feodosia, Sehodnia newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Marchers erected a barricade at the port's entrance after the ship, chartered by the Atlantic alliance, arrived began discharging military materials.

The vehicles and supplies had been intended for use in joint training exercises between NATO and Ukrainian army troops next month.

The demonstrators, most linked with a fringe Ukrainian political party supporting Marxism, told reporters the planned exercise violated Ukraine's constitution, which forbids the presence of foreign troops on Ukrainian soil without express permission of parliament.

Marchers displayed signs saying 'NATO Out!,' 'No to NATO!' and 'Guys, we don't need (vulgar expletive) NATO in our land!'

Ukrainian special forces armed with automatic rifles and silencers had deployed to the site by Tuesday evening. There was no physical conflict between the soldiers and the crowd.

Drivers of lorries hired to carry the NATO materials to the training site however refused to move past the roadblock, in part because some protestors threatened to damage the lorry tyres if the vehicles shifted from a parking lot near the ship.

Ukraine has conducted joint training exercises with NATO troops for more than a decade. This year parliamentary permission has not been forthcoming, because Ukraine's newly-elected legislature has been stymied for two months trying to form a working majority.

Ukrainian constitutional scholars do not agree as to whether the Ukrainian President may allow foreign troops in the country, if parliament is not in session.

The annual training event, called Sea Breeze, sometimes involves dozens of warships and thousands of military personnel from nations throughout the Black Sea basin. Usually the soldiers practise a multi-national response to a regional crisis or natural disaster.

Protest leader Natalia Vitrenko, a Ukrainian politician known for her outspoken support of Leninism and close links to the Kremlin, in a speech predicted the Feodosia protest was just the beginning.

Anti-NATO protestors have targeted a training exercise scheduled between the Ukrainian and British air forces later this summer in Mikolaev, and preparations are in progress for demonstrators to lie down on runways to prevent their use by combat aircraft, she said.

Ukraine's government has repeatedly declared its intention to join NATO as soon as possible, although it has dragged its feet on military reforms necessary to allow the former Soviet republic to join the alliance.

Russia bitterly opposes Ukraine's sometimes nebulous NATO aspirations.

The majority of Ukrainians are against joining NATO, because of fears Ukrainian soldiers might be sent to Afghanistan and Iraq, and because of NATO's 1999 airstrikes against Serbia, a traditional Ukrainian ally.

Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Rates Of Neural Tube Defects In Ukraine Highest

KIEV, Ukraine -- Recently, the Nuclear Energy Agency noted that in Ukraine the impact of the Chornobyl disaster is profound and that “the concern of people for their own health is only overshadowed by the concern for the health of their children and grandchildren”.

Chernobyl reactor number 4

According to the press-release, sent to UNIAN by Dr. W. Wertelecki, chief of the Supervisory Council of OMNI-Net Ukraine International Charitable Organization, during the past twenty years, this has been the heaviest burden imposed by the disaster.

The dismissive term “radiophobia”, often used by international experts, is not appropriate in regards to the profound concerns in Ukraine about the Chornobyl threat to the genome of the population.

According to the press-release, following the Chornobyl disaster, it was determined that the areas most heavily contaminated by ionizing radiation lie principally in Northwest Ukraine. The distribution of the contamination is complex and contamination maps are very approximate.

Direct measurements taken from Ukrainian population showed that 65 percent of internal radiation was from Caesium (Cs-137) ingested with food. It was also established that levels of ionizing radiation accrued by rural populations were significantly higher than urban populations, mostly due to weaker control of sources of food.

In a paper submitted by Dr. J. Neel, a world renown geneticist who pioneered many studies of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bomb survivors and their children, he stated “if we had to do such studies over again, the most obvious change in the research design would be to include studies at the DNA level from the outset”.

He also recommended that the frequency of congenital malformations, stillbirths, death rates of live born children, and growth and development of surviving children should be investigated.

In 1999, through a cooperative agreement with the USAID, we initiated the slow and complicated process of establishing BD surveillance systems in Ukraine. After the USAID component ended in 2005, BD surveillance continues by the OMNI-Net, an international not-for-profit Ukrainian organization.

The OMNI-Net BD surveillance system began formal data collection in 2000 in the Northwest region of Ukraine (Rivne and Volyn oblasts). Nine raions (counties) of the Northwest region have been designated as impacted by Chornobyl, six are in Rivne and three are in the Volyn oblast.

In 2002, we noted elevated rates of spina bifida, anencephaly and encephaloceles, collectively referred to as neural tube defects (NTD). In 2004, we reported a prevalence of NTD in Northwest Ukraine of 21 per 10 000 live births, nearly 4 times what it would have been were the population consuming enough folic acid.

Data collected during 2002-2004 and preliminary data from 2005 confirmed ongoing epidemic rates of NTD in Ukraine. High prevalence rates persist in the Northwest and were also found in the Central and South regions of Ukraine.

The lowest prevalence rate, 10.7 per 10 000 live births, was in the South region (Kherson oblast and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea). Nonetheless this rate is three times as high as in many other countries, including the U.S.

In partnership with the Ukrainian Academy of Medical Sciences, the Ministry of Health of Belarus and the WHO Regional Office for Europe, conferences were held in Minsk, Belarus and Rome, Italy concerned with “Folic acid: from research to public health practice”.

The participating experts calculated that folic acid flour fortification at the level 0.42 mg/100g flour would reduce annual NTD pregnancies in Ukraine from 884 to 460.

In 2006, there was sufficient data to permit analysis of NTD prevalence rates in raions designated as impacted and not impacted by Chornobyl. The raions impacted by Chornobyl belong to a region called Polissia where the NTD rates were the highest we found in Ukraine.

Population based BD surveillance systems, such as the OMNI-Net, are designed to promote the prevention and better care of children with malformations, mental subnormality and other developmental disabilities. In view that most BD are due to unknown causes, surveillance systems are also designed to promote research.

One strategy, among others, is to monitor the occurrence of very rare malformations. In this regard, between 2000 and 2005 we noted five instances of conjoined twins in the Rivne oblast. Notably, one of the twins had spina bifida.

For the period 2000-2005, there were 81 909 live births in the Rivne oblast. In an informal review of ten large BD surveillance systems, each monitoring at least one million pregnancies, none reported more than one instance of conjoined twins.

The noted high prevalence of NTD in Polissia most likely reflects dietary folate deficiencies, perhaps magnified by significant alcohol consumption. Whether low dose chronic ionizing radiation is an additional risk factor remains speculative.

Deficiencies of folate result in higher prevalence rates of NTD and other birth defects. Folate deficiencies are also associated with elevated plasma homocysteine, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and perhaps higher risks for breast cancer and colon cancer.

The impact of alcohol on a developing fetus often results in serious BD and mental subnormality. Our studies in Ukraine show that 10 percent of children in Ukrainian orphanages have BD suggestive of prenatal exposure to alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol also impairs folate absorption and chronic alcohol use decreases liver stores of folates.

The children of Ukraine bore the brunt of Chornobyl and continue to bear a heavy daily burden of BD because the Ukrainian government has not implemented mandatory folic acid fortification, as done by some other 40 countries of the world.

The cost of each day of delay is the life of an infant. Regardless of future investigations, we urge Ukrainian authorities to immediately institute an intensive folic acid supplementation program in Polissia for all women of reproductive age.

Further molecular, genetic, folic acid, alcohol and epidemiologic studies by an international consortium are, in our view, essential. The results are likely to elucidate new facts important to the Ukrainian public and contribute to a better understanding of the complexities of the causes of BD.

Ukraine has, perhaps more than most countries, much to gain from an established and experienced BD surveillance system upholding international standards. The OMNI-Net BD surveillance system can facilitate the immediate introduction of folic acid supplementation, rapidly show the impact of the introduction of flour fortified with folic acid and facilitate studies of low dose chronic ionizing radiation effects on human reproduction. In the final analysis, the resolution of the questions discussed, are bioethical by nature and for Ukrainian authorities to resolve.

We want to emphasize that this report reflects the high competence of Ukrainian professionals engaged by BD oblast surveillance systems. Furthermore, these achievements were also made possible by the constant support of public health care leaders, as well as the directors of medical facilities where OMNI-Centers are located.

Source: UNIAN

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ukraine's Century-Long Quest

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will finally get the chance to appear in a World Cup for the first time, in Germany, despite a proud footballing history that stretches back over a century.

The first documented evidence of introduction to the game comes from the western Ukrainian city Lviv, where the first football match between the hosts and the visitors Krakow was held on July 14, 1894.

It was a sudden-death match, held at a newly built 7,000-seat stadium in Stryisky Park, which ended in the sixth minute when Wlodzimierz Gatynsky of the host team netted the winning goal.

By the beginning of the 20th century, football was rapidly becoming popular in most regions of Ukraine, which was then part of the Russian empire.

Dozens of teams and leagues were established in almost every Ukrainian city due in large part to the influence of the British companies which were doing business in the region and are credited with popularising the game.

The visit of Turkish side Fenerbahce to Odessa just before the outbreak of World War I opened the international football era at Ukraine.

The guests played three matches in Odessa and two games in the neighbouring town of Mykolaiv, attracting thousands of fans to the overpacked venues.

This initial flourishing of the game however was interrupted by the war and the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, along with the civil war that followed it, which conspired to bring sporting life in Ukraine to a virtual standstill for almost six years.

The revival of the game in Soviet Ukraine in the early 1920s was marked by domination of the team from the republic's new capital - Kharkiv, which won seven Ukrainian titles between 1921 and 1931.

In 1934, Ukraine's capital was moved to Kiev, whose team quickly clinched the leading position in Ukrainian football. Dynamo Kiev became the flagship side of Ukraine's football and was, in essence, the national squad.

Dynamo was the only non-Russian team in the top division of the Soviet league, which was set up in 1936. Kiev managed to clinch the silver medals of the first domestic championship, which Dynamo Moscow won.

However, it took almost two decades for Dynamo to clinch their first serious national success in the Soviet Union when, in 1954, the squad won the Soviet Cup, defeating Spartak Yerevan 2-1 in the final match. Shakhtar Donetsk repeated Kiev's success in 1961-62, winning two Soviet Cups in a row, while Dynamo Kiev became the first non-Moscow side to win the Soviet league in 1961.

In total during the Soviet era Ukrainian teams won 16 domestic titles and 16 Soviet Cups with Dynamo Kiev winning the European Cup Winners' Cup twice in 1975 and 1986 and the European Super Cup in 1975 in a two-leg showdown with Bayern Munich.

That run ended abruptly however in 1991 when the collapse of the Soviet Union plunged football in Ukraine - now an independent state - into severe crisis.

With Ukraine yet to form a FIFA-affiliated national association, several of the countries top players elected to play for Russia as it was designated the official successor of the USSR.

Almost as damagingly, Ukrainian league clubs faced hard times because of cash shortages, which also forced many young, talented and skilled footballers to seek their fortunes abroad.

To complete the set of disasters, the country's flagship side Dynamo Kiev was thrown out of the Champions' League in 1995 after the Spanish referee Antonio Lopez Nieto accused the club officials of a bribery attempt.

However, the years that followed have seen a steady revival of the country's football and in 1996 Dynamo Kiev returned to the European football stage after UEFA lifted the ban.

Meanwhile, thoughtful planning and huge investment by Ukrainian billionaire businessman Rinat Akhmetov, the president of Shakhtar Donetsk, has taken his club to the top of the domestic table.

The government also took part in developing the game, making football an obligatory activity in schools.

A special football textbook was written for the schoolboys, while more than 550 football pitches were constructed around the entire country and over one million footballs were bought to fit the demands of the programme.

Source: AFP

New Life, New Identity

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Russia’s aggressive geopolitical policies have helped revive a moribund regional organization, GUAM, comprising states interested in reducing their economic dependence on Moscow.

The leaders of the four member states – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova – gathered on 23 May in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to reanimate the long-troubled organization.

In a move designed to bury its troubled legacy, summit participants agreed to rename the group the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (ODED)-GUAM.

The new name underscores the differences that each of the four states have with Russia. Participants at the Kyiv summit stated that they intend to use ODED as a vehicle for accelerated integration into Western economic and security structures.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, in comments distributed by his press service, sought to draw a distinct line between ODED member states and Moscow, saying the group aimed to become a "hotbed of European standards" in the former Soviet Union.

At a 23 May news conference, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko emphasized the group’s Western orientation. "We are linked by common values [and] common goals: the aspiration to occupy a respectable place in a united Europe," Yushchenko said.

The organization has existed since 1997, largely in name only, as repeated attempts to undertake substantive regional economic cooperation never got off the ground. When a fifth member, Uzbekistan, withdrew from the organization in 2005, it appeared that GUAM was destined to end up a failed experiment.

Given its history, skepticism continues to cloud the group’s immediate future. But the leaders of member states seem more optimistic than ever about its prospects. "I am convinced that our organization, which is assuming a new format, will announce itself loudly in the international arena," the Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted Azeri President Ilham Aliev as saying.

Lending additional weight to the belief that the ODED-GUAM may have turned a corner was a report, distributed 24 May by the Azeri news agency Trend, saying that Romania was intent on joining the organization. Romania – which is already a NATO member, as well as a candidate for EU accession – has a strong cultural connection with Moldova.

Political experts believe that Russia’s heavy-handed behavior towards its former Soviet neighbors played a major role in prompting renewed interest in ODED-GUAM. Since the start of the year, Russian leaders have feuded with three of the four member states, with Moscow demonstrating a willingness to use coercive measures to impose its geopolitical agenda on the region.

Georgia has the tensest relations with Russia, which has introduced trade sanctions against Tbilisi, including a ban on the import of Georgian wine. In early 2006, Ukraine and Russia engaged in a bitter row over gas imports. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has rankled Moldovan leaders with its continuing support for Transdniester separatists.

The only ODED-GUAM state not to have a severely strained relationship with Moscow is Azerbaijan. However, Russia’s recent energy moves have exhibited an intent hostile to Azerbaijan’s new economic lifeline – the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.

Aliev indicated that ODED leaders see the group as a means to defend against Russian bullying. The Azeri leader appeared to take a swipe at Russia when he mentioned that those responsible for violating the territorial integrity of three of the four ODED members "have been subjected to neither international nor public condemnation."

He went on to say that the "energy-factor" would drive ODED decision-making. Yushchenko indicated that one of the ODED’s main aims was challenging Moscow’s energy-export dominance. "Azerbaijan has unique oil producing capabilities, while Ukraine has unique oil transit facilities. Why don’t we unite them?"

A free-trade agreement, signed by the member states on 23 May, is expected to give the group the cohesion that has been lacking. "I am confident that the next stage of our joint work will be harmonizing our relations concerning the unification of border and customs services," Yushchenko said.

The Ukrainian president went on to recognize the difficulty of unifying trade and tariff policies, but he stressed that "the four presidents have the will to solve" logistical issues concerning ODED development.

In a sign of the strong sense of solidarity now binding ODED states, billboards were put up in Kyiv in advance of the summit urging Ukrainians to buy Georgian wine that had been "banned in the Russian Federation."

In Azerbaijan, some political analysts expressed surprise that the Aliev administration, which has been assailed by human-rights organizations for restricting the individual rights of Azeri citizens, would join an organization that holds democratization to be one of its major aims.

“[The administration] is against democratization in the country because democracy undermines its authority,” said Zardusht Alizade, independent political analyst based in Baku. “Azerbaijan is there because the United States is backing this project [ODED-GUAM].” Eldar Namazov, the president of the Public Forum for Azerbaijan, suggested that Azeri leaders would probably stress the economic development aspect of the new organization.

Rasim Musabekov, another Baku-based political analyst, believed that ODED-GUAM may well serve as a transition mechanism to assist member states in Euro-Atlantic integration efforts. Musabekov downplayed the group’s potential for economic development, saying that “the volume of trade between Ukraine and Russia exceeds $20 billion, while turnover with GUAM states is roughly $1 billion. So this alliance will fail to impose an alternative to the trade with Russia.

“Let us hope that [the] ‘democracy’ word in the name of [the] organization will inspire real processes in this direction,” Musabekov added.

Russian analysts do not appear to be concerned about ODED’s creation. Political analyst Alexei Makarkin, in a commentary published on 24 May by the Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency, suggested that it was unlikely that the group’s grand energy-export designs would come to fruition. "There is a long distance between a declaration of intent and practical energy projects," he wrote.

Source: Transitions Online

Lukashenko Says Will Ban Flights Over Belarus In Response To Sanctions

MINSK, Belarus -- President Alexander Lukashenko suggested that he might ban Western overflights over Belarus in response to sanctions against his former Soviet state in connection with his disputed re-election, the Reuters news agency reported.

Europe's last Dictator Lukashenko

“Let them fly over the Baltic states or Ukraine. We ought to close the main route through,” Lukashenko told parliament in his annual state of the nation address. “Perhaps we will lose something here. But we must show them that we are proud people.”

The United States and European Union have barred entry to Lukashenko and other officials in response to what they say was rigging in Lukashenko’s March re-election.

Lukashenko’s latest comment was almost certainly in response to last month’s refusal by Canada and the United States to refuel a plane carrying Belarus’s prime minister to and from Cuba.

Source: MosNews

10 Injured When Elevator Plummets 23 Floors In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Twenty people in Ukraine have survived a 23-floor plunge in an elevator at the Transport Ministry.

Transport Ministry building where accident occured

Officials say ten were injured and eight are hospitalized.

It's unclear what caused the lift to fail, but an Emergency Situations Ministry official says a system of emergency brakes switched on automatically when the lift hit the 11th floor, slowing its descent.

Many elevators in former Soviet republics suffer from outdated technology and infrequent repairs.

Source: AP

Residents In Feodosia Protest Arrival Of NATO Warship

KIEV, Ukraine -- The arrival of a U.S. naval ship with military hardware and marines has sparked off protests in Feodosia, Crimea.

Feodosia port at night

Inter TV channel reported Sunday evening that the unloading of vehicles, arms and construction equipment from the military transport ship Advantage began at the seaport of Feodosia.

Local residents staged an impromptu rally at the gate of the port protesting the arrival of the naval vessel without the permission of the national parliament.

They stressed that the seaport in Feodosia is commercial and foreign naval ships are not allowed to call on it. They said they had sent a letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Andryi Lysenko said the Americans had arrived to prepare the Sea Breeze-2006 exercises to which 40 countries have been invited.

He said the ministry regards as a temporary problem the absence of permission from parliament for the presence of the Americans.

Source: Interfax

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gas Chief Unveils Plan To Upgrade Titanium Plant

KIEV, Ukraine -- Dmytro Firtash, the Ukrainian tycoon who last month revealed his ownership of RosUkrEnergo, the natural gas trader, has taken a further step out of the shadows by revealing his other holdings, including a titanium plant in Ukraine.

Crimean Titanium

Robert Shetler Jones, Mr Firtash’s British partner, told the Financial Times in an interview that he was working on a plan to consolidate Mr Firtash’s holdings in the chemicals sector, which include Crimean Titan, Crimean Soda and the Rivneazot, Nitrofert and Tajikazot fertiliser plants in Ukraine, Estonia and Tajikistan, respectively.

Both Crimean plants are currently owned by RSJ Erste, a German company in which Mr Shetler Jones is the sole shareholder. But he said RSJ was an “interim structure” and after the consolidation Mr Firtash would emerge as main owner.

Mr Shetler Jones said the consolidation of Mr Firtash’s chemicals companies was aimed primarily at attracting financing for an upgrade of Crimean Titan to enable it to produce a broader range of titanium and titanium alloy products for the aviation, space and defence industries. He said it would take up to five years at a cost of $500m-$800m (€392m-€628m) to upgrade the plant, which produces titanium dioxide for paint production.

“One of the options we look at very strongly is the introduction of strategic partners from the west,” Mr Shetler Jones said.

By revealing his ownership of the plants and his ambitions for Crimean Titan, Mr Firtash is raising the stakes in his effort to gain acceptance both in the west and in Ukraine.

Whether his efforts succeed will depend partly on the outcome of negotiations in Ukraine on a new government. The leading candidate to take over as prime minister, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has been an outspoken critic of RosUkrEnergo and has vowed to cancel a deal with Russia in January that made RosUkrEnergo Ukraine’s sole supplier of imported gas.

Mr Firtash’s plans for Crimean Titan come as Russia’s government is moving to rein in VSMPO-Avisma, a Russian titanium producer. Russia’s powerful state arms-export company, Rosoboronexport, wants to secure supplies of titanium for Russia’s defence industry and has pressed the plant’s owners to cede control.

“What we would like to do is create additional product to fill the supply gap but one that is also not Russian-based,” Mr Shetler Jones said.

Mr Shetler Jones said Mr Firtash also owned other companies in the gas industry including Russia’s Zangas, a pipelines builder, and an Austrian sister company also called Zangas, which recently built a stretch of pipeline for Turkmenistan in exchange for gas.

Separately, officials in Russia’s southern Astrakhan region announced last week that Mr Firtash had taken control of an undeveloped gas field by acquiring control of the Astrakhan Oil and Gas Company.

Source: Financial Times

Ukraine Hammers Costa Rica 4-0 In World Cup Warm-Up

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine hammered Costa Rica 4-0 in a World Cup warm- up match Sunday, showing that they can score without Andriy Shevchenko and give the visitors plenty of headaches.

Danny Fonseca of Costa Rica challenges Maksym Kalynychenko of Ukraine (L) during their friendly soccer match in Kiev May 28, 2006. Ukraine won 4-0.

Serhiy Nazarenko, Andriy Vorobey and Maksim Kalinichenko settled the matter in Kiev in 11 minutes between the 27th and 38th and Oleksiy Byelik completed the rout in the 56th.

The victory will boost Ukraine's morale as the team heads into its World Cup debut at the June 9-July 9 finals where the Group H opponents are Spain, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The star forward Shevchenko is expected to have recovered from his knee injury by then and attacking partner Serhiy Rebrov was not fit on Sunday either.

Costa Rica, meanwhile, need to improve quickly as the eyes of the world will be on the Central American team in the June 9 World Cup opener against hosts Germany. Poland and Ecuador are the other two teams in group A.

Ecuador were due to play non-qualifiers Macedonia later Sunday in Madrid. Croatia and Iran met in a duel of two World Cup teams in Osijek and the United States were due to host Latvia in East Hartford.

Source: DPA

Russian TV Sees Revitalized GUAM As Possible Threat To CIS

LONDON, UK -- The GUAM summit which brought together the leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova in Kiev was generally seen by Russian TV channels as an attempt to revitalize the organization so it would become a Russia-free alternative to the CIS.

Presidents (L-R) Vladimir Voronin of Modova, Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia raise their arms during a photo call at the GUAM summit in Kiev

Gazprom's NTV played down the threat to the CIS, while Moscow-government-owned Centre TV saw the renewed GUAM as potentially viable, particularly if plans for a Caspian-EU energy corridor came to fruition.

State channel Rossiya (RTV) viewed the organization as a US-funded attempt to counterbalance Russia's influence in the former Soviet Union area.

Although the Russian Foreign Ministry issued statements saying it did not view GUAM as an anti-Russian coalition, prime-time TV news reports on the summit generally took the view that an element of anti-Russian feeling was involved.

NTV Segodnya news programme on 23 May raised concerns about the summit's pro-Western focus, but then played down the possibility the organization would pose a threat to the CIS.

"In Kiev today there was criticism of the CIS and calls to move closer to NATO and the European Union", presenter Aleksey Pivovarov said.

The ensuing report featured comments by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko that full European integration was GUAM's main aim, while correspondent Roman Sobol cited a survey that showed that more than 60 per cent of Kiev residents believed that GUAM was an anti-Russian organization.

However, Sobol went on to say that the majority of those involved in the summit did not view the end of the CIS as imminent. "Although GUAM is called an alternative CIS, here they prefer somewhat less strident wording: not a replacement for the CIS but in parallel with the CIS,"

Sobol said, pointing out that only Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had categorically expressed a wish to leave the commonwealth.

The report suggested that the four member states were fundamentally incompatible and hinted that this may well hinder the organization's progress. "The Georgian and Ukrainian president's are old friends and leaders of colour revolutions.

But often the question arises: what links them to the Moldovan Communist Voronin and Azerbaijani leader Aliyev?" Sobol asked. Centre TV the same day also asked similar questions about the viability of GUAM, but was less quick to dismiss the possibility the organization could be successful.

Introducing the report presenter Nikolay Petrov highlighted the fundamental differences between the GUAM member states. "GUAM is now called the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development.

True, it is not entirely clear exactly what Communist Vladimir Voronin and crown prince Ilham Aliyev have to do with democracy," he said pointedly.

Correspondent Aleksandr Ogorodnikov noted that "it seems shared grudges against Russia unite the four presidents more closely than their common goals", but added that Aliyev had made a point of stressing Azerbaijan's good relations with Russia.

However, Ogorodnikov warned that if GUAM's proposed Caspian-EU energy corridor "which threatens to take the bread from Russia's mouth" became a reality, then conflict between Moscow and Baku would be unavoidable.

Nevertheless, the report saw the energy plans and the agreements on creating of a free-trade zone as a good basis for the future of "GUAM mark-II", especially as it has US support.

"So, GUAM, which nearly disintegrated six years ago, now seems to have a real chance of success," Ogorodnikov said. He went on to suggest that expansion to include Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania might even be on the cards.

RTV's Vesti on 23 May saw the plans for an energy corridor as the main aim of GUAM, which it suggested was nothing more than a US foreign policy tool.

Presenter Mikhail Antonov introduced the report with claims that the organization was funded by the USA. "GUAM's main task is to create a counterbalance to the CIS and provide an energy corridor from the Caspian to Europe, bypassing Russia.

The people who thought up this plan and are willing to finance it can only be found far beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union," he said. He added that because of this the abbreviation GUAM is particularly apt, as Guam is also the name of the American military base "from which the USA put political and military pressure on those it disliked".

The ensuing video report featured comments by political analysts which supported this view of the USA's role. Mikhail Pogrebinskiy, director of the Kiev-based Centre for Policy and Conflict Research, described GUAM as "an instrument for implementing US policy in the former Soviet area".

Director of the Political Research Institute Sergey Markov insisted that the organization was entirely dependent on US funds. In a fuller version of his comments, broadcast in the later Vesti Plyus bulletin, Markov described GUAM as an attempt "to shut the Russian bear up in its Siberian lair and isolate Russia from Europe".

Source: BBC Monitoring Service

Ukraine Players Unfit For Finals Says Coach Blokhin

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian national coach Oleg Blokhin told the press that only 16 players in his 23-man squad were in top form and ready to play at the forthcoming World Cup.

Ukrainian national coach Oleg Blokhin told the press that only 16 players in his 23-man squad were in top form and ready to play at the forthcoming World Cup, with star striker Andrei Shevchenko one of those suffering from injury.

"Some of my players including Andrei Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov are currently trying to overcome injuries," Blokhin told the press Saturday.

"We still have time to prepare for the tournament but so far the situation is not really optimistic. I hope that nobody else will suffer any injuries in Sunday's friendly with Costa Rica."

Blokhin also said that he still failed to finalise the name of a player to replace Dynamo Kiev full back Sergei Fedorov, who has an injured thigh and was taken out of the World Cup squad.

"Probably it will be somebody from our under-21 squad but I still cannot decide who," Ukraine's manager said. "Besides they may be exhausted following a very tough match with Italy."

However the coach said that the shortage of skilled players in top form should not decrease the level of competition in his team.

"I have warned my players that still nobody was guaranteed of a place in my team," Blokhin added. "I promise that in Germany only players who are 100 percent fit will play."

Source: World Soccer News

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Yulia Tymoshenko AIMS To Be Ukraine’s Answer To Thatcher

LONDON, UK -- Any day now, depending on the outcome of the coalition talks, Yulia Tymoshenko will return as Ukraine’s prime minister or emerge as its power broker.

Ukraine's beautiful "Iron Lady"

When she was interviewed in London, she was in high spirits and revealed she thinks highly of Margaret Thatcher. “I have Margaret Thatcher as my model”, she says.

This she presumably hopes will help reassure investors. When she was prime minister, Tymoshenko demanded a review of the privatisations carried out in dodgy circumstances during the reign of Leonid Kuchma, the former president.

At the time this was interpreted as an attack on private property. The new Mrs T says her policy was misunderstood.

“As a result of the severe political struggle between the old system and the new Orange team, the mass media published lots of myths about re-privatisations, nationalisation and price-fixing.

All of these things I would like to say are absurd, we want to pursue none of these things,” she says.

Any disputes over the legitimacy of past privatisations – some were at discounted prices to friends of the previous regime ­– will be determined by the courts, she says.

“Before the Orange Revolution we had an absolutely post-Soviet state with all the post-Soviet rules,” she says. There was “corruption, clans, unpredictability, helplessness, absence of an effective courts system, absolute bias and a lack of independence of the mass media.

To understand the importance of the Orange Revolution one needs to have lived in that period. The Orange Revolution has changed Ukraine absolutely.”

She wants to restart free-­market reforms. “My government managed to abolish more than 5,000 regulatory acts which were creating terrible conditions for corruption in businesses. Under my government, the only transparent, honest privatisation took place.

We would like to continue these policies.” She assured me she will continue to privatise Ukraine’s strategic industries, starting with the communications sector, slash duties and tariffs; remove barriers to foreign banks and insurance companies and reform the judiciary.

Earlier this year, to punish the country for the Orange Revolution, Russian President Vladimir Putin hiked the price Ukraine pays for gas; he briefly switched off supplies, which also affected Europe.

“Ukraine respects Russia as its neighbour, as a political partner, but the question of energy independence for Ukraine is issue number one. The reason why it hasn’t been solved is that there was no political will from political authorities.”

She wants to attract foreign investors to help rebuild the oil and gas sectors, to integrate Ukraine’s electricity network into Europe’s, to burn more coal and less gas, build new pipe­lines and make nuclear power stations safer.

“The reason why I came to London before the government is being formed is to meet world investors to organise this dialogue.”

Talks between Ukraine’s parties have been going on since the elections on 26 March. A new Orange coalition is most likely. It would be led by the Tymoshenko bloc and include Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine and the Socialists.

“For the second time, the population has voted for a European orientation, the European vector of policy, for integration in world markets,” she says.

Tymoshenko acknowledges the long negotiations “could look to some like instability or disorder but this I can assure you is not the case. All this testifies that a rapid and intense transformation is going on.

Ukraine today is the Poland or the Czech Republic of the 1990s. All ways are open to us.”

Source: The Business Online

Ukraine’s Elite Help Cigar Business Thrive

KIEV, Ukraine -- As cigar smoking increasingly becomes part of the glamorous lifestyle led by Ukraine’s wealthy, top cigar brands, cigar clubs and specialized magazines are attracting greater consumer interest to satisfy the market’s growing demand.

Davidoff cigars

One company eager to take advantage of Ukraine’s growing cigar market is Oettinger Imex AG, a Swiss-based company that owns the Davidoff brand and offers homemade tobacco and tobacco-related products.

The Davidoff boutique in Kyiv, a franchise that is owned by a Ukrainian businessman, became the first mono-brand cigar shop in Ukraine’s capital last year.

Last week, the boutique marked its official opening with a lavish celebration, attracting more than 300 VIP guests, including Sonia Davidoff, the 73-year-old daughter of the company’s Ukrainian-born founder Zino Davidoff.

“We are here for the same reason that Mercedes and Bentley are here,” said Raymond Scheurer, a member of Davidoff’s executive board, who arrived at the event along with Sonia Davidoff from Switzerland.

“If there is a market for those brands, there is a market for us as well,” said Scheurer.

Viktoria Selantyeva, deputy editor of Cigar Clan magazine in Ukraine, said the Ukrainian version of the specialized Russian publication on cigars was launched last year because “the audience appeared to be there.”

“Our audience consists of prosperous people with a high consumer culture,” said Selantyeva of the magazine’s readership.

“These are the people who can afford, and are already accustomed to, choosing the best – whether it’s clothing, accessories, cars, art, tobacco products or glossy magazines,” said Selantyeva.

According to her, Cigar Clan’s readers are successful business owners and top managers aged 26-55, who, opting for cigars, display a concern for their image and a taste for the pleasure of tobacco smoking.

Although cigar smoking is not a novelty for Ukraine - Cuban cigars were sold in shops in Soviet times – true cigar aficionados were few in number a decade ago, according to Jean Smotrich, marketing director of Cigar House Fortuna.

Fortuna was among the first firms to import handmade cigars to Ukraine at the end of the 1990s and promote the cigar smoking culture in the country, he said.

“It is only now that most big Ukrainian cities have cigar clubs where people can get closer to the cigar smoking ritual and its philosophy,” said Smotrich, who added that his company partners with existing cigar clubs in Kyiv, Odessa and Lviv, supplying them with cigars and accessories.

Cigars are never smoked in a hurry, Smotrich explained. They are enjoyed in a relaxed state of mind and, ideally, are combined with a friendly chat, coffee, and expensive alcohol, traditionally cognac, he said.

“Handmade cigars are a product for people with status, and oriented toward a very narrow segment of the market,” Smotrich said, adding that about 1 percent of all smokers in Ukraine prefer cigars over cigarettes, while worldwide statistics put that number at 3 to 5 percent.

The challenge of the cigar business in Ukraine, said Smotrich, has been the need to invest in the development of the cigar smoking culture and nurture potential customers.

“It’s a huge investment – in special equipment and the development of standards for product presentation, in teaching personnel, in development of marketing strategies,” said Smotrich, adding that Fortuna has worked on creating cigar menus in Kyiv restaurants and training their wait staff to offer the product.

Fortuna’s distribution network currently covers 22 of Ukraine’s biggest cities. The company runs an elite cigar salon in Kyiv, plus nine boutiques and some 30 tobacco kiosks in other parts of the country that offer over 40 cigar brands from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua, said Smotrich.

Cigar smoking, according to Davidoff’s Scheurer, is part of a certain lifestyle and can be fully appreciated only if “a person enjoys life and people.”

Scheurer said that while around 50 years ago the profile of a cigar smoker was a successful man in his 50s, now it’s a younger person and, increasingly, female. Ukraine is following the world cigar smoking trend, Scheurer said, and it’s the country’s financial capacities that determines the number of the company’s Ukrainian clients.

Indeed, cigars are an expensive pleasure.

A cigar at the Davidoff boutique costs from $4 to $50, depending on its size and type, while prices for accessories can be “as high as one’s imagination goes,” according to the boutique’s owner, Artem Holubchenko.

According to Holubchenko, the most popular products in his boutique are Zino Platinum cigars, which sell for $50 per cigar, and humidors, special boxes that maintain the right temperature and environment for cigars to maintain their original aroma. In particularly high demand, he said, are humidors that were produced in very limited editions. These models go for some $10,000.

Yet Holubchenko claims that high-profile businessmen are not the only customers of his boutique on Chervonoarmiyska Street.

“It’s true that we get customers who send their drivers to us with lots of money to spend on cigars,” said Holubchenko.

“But we also have people who apparently can’t afford a box of cigars, but come once a month, and for whom a cigar is a special treat,” he added.

Fortuna’s Smotrich said that since handmade cigars are not a mass-produced product, and regular advertising is not effective, the company tries to think of alternative ways to promote its products and attract its customers.

“Recently, for instance, we offered a new service of ‘cigar catering’ at VIP parties and presentations, when our representative arrives at a location with pre-ordered cigar brands and the necessary accessories, serving as a consultant,” said Smotrich.

Source: Kyiv Post

Shevchenko Set For Chelsea

MILAN, Italy -- AC Milan's Ukrainian striker Andrei Shevchenko will leave AC Milan this summer, opening the way up for a transfer to English champions Chelsea.

Soccer star Andriy Shevchenko, of Ukraine, arrives with his wife American model Kristen Pazik, at a party to celebrate Dolce & Gabbana

Shevchenko met with Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani on Friday, who offered the 29-year-old, who joined Milan from Dynamo Kiev in 1999, a contract extension to 2011.

But Shevchenko turned it down and Chelsea are now favourites to land him.

"I'm leaving for family reasons," said Shevchenko. "I want to thank the club for what they have done for me, there is no problem in terms of relationship and this isn't about money."

Galliani said the striker's decision was a "victory for the English language over the Italian one" in apparent reference to the fact that Shevchenko does not speak English, the language of his American model wife Kristin Pazik.

The couple, and their 18-month-old son, currently communicate in Italian.

"I did all that I could do to convince him to stay," Galliani admitted. "This is the most difficult separation since I have been at Milan. We will now start negotiations with Chelsea, but they won't be easy."

In the season that has just ended, Shevchenko scored 19 goals in 28 Serie A matches. He also netted nine goals in the Champions League.

The 2004 European Footballer of the Year lies second in AC Milan's all-time scoring table with 173 goals, behind Gunnar Nordahl on 223, and was for two consecutive seasons Serie A's top-scorer (2000, 2004).

Champions League winner in 2003, Shevchenko was also part of the AC Milan team that won the Italian league (2004), Italian Cup (2003) and the European Super Cup (2003).

Shevchenko will also spearhead Ukraine's bid for glory in what will be the former Soviet Republic's first ever World Cup finals (June 9 to July 9).

He goes into the World Cup having netted 28 times in 63 appearances for Ukraine, pooled in the group stages with Spain, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

Source: AFP

Ukraine's Tymoshenko To Block Ex-Security Chief Rada Speaker Bid

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia Tymoshenko, the one-time heroine of Ukraine's 2004 "orange revolution", said Friday she would refuse to back a former head of the nation's security council for the post of parliamentary speaker.

Yulia Tymoshenko

A Ukrainian newspaper said earlier Friday that Tymoshenko had met with Petro Poroshenko, who resigned as secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council last fall amid accusations of corruption, to discuss the distribution of a new government's posts among "orange" coalition members.

But the press service of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc dismissed suggestions that the fiery former prime minister would support Poroshenko's candidacy for the speaker's chair:

"Yulia Tymoshenko did not, does not and will not support Petro Poroshenko's election as Supreme Rada speaker," a spokesman said,

The press service said Tymoshenko would also reject the mooted appointment of Oleksandr Tretyakov, who like Poroshenko is a member of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine movement and is considered to be a member of President Viktor Yushchenko's close entourage, as the head of the president's secretariat.

Tymoshenko was originally Yushchenko's prime minister but was fired after only eight months in the job after a public falling out.

Tymoshenko's bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party are holding complicated talks to establish a parliamentary majority in the wake of March 26 elections that failed to produce a clear winner.

Source: RIA Novosti

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Walk In The Woods With Friends

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is reminiscent of the fabled giant in Kievan Rus who stood at the fork of three roads as he tortures himself over the choice of the next prime minister.

President Viktor Yushchenko at opening session of Parliament

The giant from the signposts knew what was ahead on every road, just as the president knew what his choices were on the second day after the parliamentary elections.

If Yushchenko takes the road on the right, leading to an alliance with the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc and Socialist Party, the Orange coalition will be restored. But then he will have to let the Orange Princess come back to power, and in triumph.

Timoshenko is not especially hiding her ambitions not only to play first violin in Ukraine, but to be the director at the same time.

This road means admitting his defeat in his dispute with Timoshenko on the future development of Ukraine that began almost immediately after their triumph in the Orange Revolution.

If Yushchenko takes the left path and enters into an alliance with Viktor Yanukovich's Party of the Regions, the ruling coalition will have an absolutely majority in the parliament.

But then he will no longer be the Orange president and will be forced to sacrifice his image as a democrat, which is what brought him to power in the first place, and which will not be taken well in his already shrinking electoral base.

The West, which Yushchenko is trying to orient himself toward, is not likely to applaud such an unprincipled coalition either.

The road straight ahead of him apparently looks less dangerous and more attractive to Yushchenko. Here he will not show preference for any potential ally and will remain above the squabbling.

At the same time, he will earn points internationally as the wise father of the nation. In his calculations, it won't be all that important who the next prime minister is, if he can form that image both at home and in the West.

In reality, there are many dangers on that road. First, the road doesn't go on forever. Sooner or later, a coalition has to be formed, unless Yushchenko wants permanent elections.

Second, the middle path is always doesn't take a democratic president anywhere. His authoritarian opponents will never acknowledge him as one of their own, and his democratic allies will soon disavow their ties to him.

Yushchenko may soon find himself alienated from everybody.

Source: Kommersant

Ukraine Looks To Shevchenko For World Cup Glory

KIEV, Ukraine -- Andriy Shevchenko will have the hopes of 50 million countrymen on his shoulders when he leads Ukraine into the World Cup finals for the first time in their history.

Ukraine Captain Andriy Shevchenko

The Ukraine captain has won everything at club level but has never played in a major championship. Shevchenko said it was his life-long dream to represent his country at the highest level.

"No matter how many trophies you've won at a club level, nothing can be compared with playing for your country," said the 2004 European Footballer of the Year, who has won the Champions League and Serie A titles with AC Milan as well as five Ukrainian championships with Dynamo Kiev.

"Every player dreams of representing his country in a World Cup and I'm no different. I can only imagine what it would feel like walking on to the pitch wearing your national colours."

Shevchenko feels Ukraine are quite capable of qualifying from their first-round group, which also includes Spain, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

"We have a young team, capable of causing upsets," he said.

Leading Ukraine to the knockout round, however, would be no easy task even for a proven goalscorer such as the 29-year-old striker.

Unlike his club, where he is surrounded by a great international cast including Brazil playmaker Kaka, Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf and Italy full back Paolo Maldini, Ukraine have often been regarded as a one-man team.

Shevchenko would love to prove sceptics wrong as he has done time and again in his career.

Few believed a skinny 22-year-old from Ukraine would make a smooth transition to the demanding Serie A when he joined AC Milan in 1999.

Shevchenko became an instant hit with Milan fans, however, notching up 24 goals and becoming the first foreigner to top the Serie A scoring charts in his debut season.

He is now the club's second all-time leading scorer behind Gunnar Nordahl and has a chance to overtake the great Swede.

Shevchenko is also the leading active scorer in European club competition with 55 goals and is fast closing on Gerd Muller's all-time record of 62.

Source: Reuters

Mittal Steel To Boost Some Workers' Pay

KIEV, Ukraine -- Netherlands-based Mittal Steel Co. has announced a 15 percent hike in salaries for workers at the giant Ukrainian steel mill it purchased last year, an increase that comes amid increasingly strong complaints by the Ukrainian government about low salaries.

The company said in a statement Thursday that it will increase salaries by 10 percent backdated as of January and by 5 percent from June.

The increase was agreed during negotiations with the local coal and metallurgical trade union, Mittal Steel said.

The average salary at the plant now is 1,590 hryvna ($318) a month, said spokeswoman Natalya Sedova. After the increase, the average salary will climb to 1,830 hryvna ($366) a month.

The State Property Fund, which oversaw Mittal Steel's purchase of Kryvorizhstal from the state last October, warned this month that it might sue if the company did not fulfill an alleged promise to increase salaries by June 6.

Mittal Steel countered that it has fulfilled almost all of its 60 obligations and accused the property fund of misinterpreting just one of the agreements.

Narendra Chaudary, general director of the mill, said in the statement that the company is fulfilling and will continue to fulfill all its obligations, and will aim "to solve all issues through negotiations."

Mittal Steel bought Kryvorizhstal mill for 24.2 billion hryvna ($4.8 billion) in October in Ukraine's biggest and most profitable privatization auction ever.

The sale earned Ukraine nearly six times more than the amount the mill was sold for a year earlier under former President Leonid Kuchma.

That sale to Kuchma's son-in-law and another tycoon was later declared illegal and canceled.

Source: AP

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ukraine's New Parliament Opens 1st Session, Govt Resigns

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's new parliament on Thursday opened its first session, while the outgoing government submitted its resignation ahead of a coalition taking form in June.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko addresses parliament during the opening ceremony in Kiev Ukraine, Thursday, May 25, 2006

The 450 newly elected legislators were sworn in in the ornate chamber that once served as home to Soviet Ukraine's parliament.

The five parties taking seats in parliament are expected to hold consultations on the formation of a coalition government within a month.

According to law, Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov announced the resignation of his government. The parliament, however, empowered him to head a care-taking cabinet until the new government is set up.

The parliament decided to hold another session on June 7 to elect parliamentary leaders and discuss the formation of a government.

At Thursday's session, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told law makers that he hoped the new parliament and the coalition government in the making would give full backing to his reform initiatives.

The new parliament faces the grave task of improving the systemof political power and the legal environment to ensure economic growth and national unity, Yushchenko said.

Ukraine held parliamentary elections on March 26. The Party of the Regions won the most votes, but failed to obtain a majority, forcing the country into difficult coalition talks.

The other parties to make it over the barrier were those of ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, President Yushchenko's bloc, the Socialists and the Communists.

Source: China View

Ukraine Lakes And Rivers Searched For Piranhas

KIEV, Ukraine -- A piranha search was on in dozens of Ukrainian lakes Wednesday as officials tried to determine how many of the aggressive South American fish were swimming in the former Soviet republic’s waters, Deutsche Presse-Agentur agency reports.

Marine biologists discovered a piranha school in the Kasianka Lake in Ukraine’s eastern Dnepropetrovsk region earlier this week.

Since then reports that hundreds of the carnivorous fish had taken up residence elsewhere has dominated the country’s news.

A full-scale search of all lakes and waterways in the Dnepropetrovsk region began Wednesday.

The netting and trawling program, headed up by wildlife experts of the Dnepropetrovsk regional council, would ’capture and destroy all the carnivores without exception,’ said Volodymyr Alekhin, a government spokesman.

Piranha-related reports were prominent in most major Ukrainian media on Wednesday. The popular Fakty newspaper was typical, featuring a front page splashed with a photo of three toothy piranha chasing hapless goldfish, and the headline: ’The aggressive fish have already attacked two fishermen and killed off the lake’s muskrats, ducks, and snakes.’

Five of the Amazonian fish, all small, were netted by Kasianka Lake fishermen on Monday and Tuesday. Two piranha bit their captors, inflicting minor injuries.

The competing Sehodnia newspaper offered readers a color photograph of an actual captured Kasianka Lake piranha, and interviews with local fishermen.

Although believed to be present in the lake since early spring, the piranha ignored lures of sports fishermen set for local pike and gar, said fishing expert Ihor Ushchakovsky.

Editorials generally blamed lax government control over the country’s pet industry, and the low cost of the fish (five to ten dollars each) to potential pet owners.

An owner unwilling to take care of the fish probably dumped them into the lake, where they apparently were free to multiply, Dnepropetrovsk police said.

Besides fishing to cull the population, the Dnepropetrovsk ’anti-piranha’ action plan called for increased government monitoring of open-air markets, where most pets in the region are bought and sold. The markets operate without effective regulation.

Source: MosNews

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Former Soviet Republics Break Free

LONDON, UK -- ONE of the last vestiges of the Soviet Union appeared to be crumbling yesterday, when four former republics signalled they would be pulling out of the organisation established to keep the Kremlin connected with its lost empire.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (C) gestures as he shows the Dniepr River to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin (R) and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L) during their meeting in Kiev May 22, 2006

At a meeting in Kiev, the leaders of the pro-Western states of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine pledged to form their own association to promote democratic values.

They also hinted they would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was created 15 years ago as a group representing most of the former Soviet republics.

While the CIS never fulfilled any great economic or political function, its very existence was supposed to reflect Moscow's continued influence from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus and on to Central Asia.

But ties between the Kremlin and some of its former client states have deteriorated with a wave of democratic movements that swept pro-Western leaders into power in Georgia and Ukraine and encouraged anti-Russian sentiment in Azerbaijan and Moldova.

The new group, to be called the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development, will be based in Kiev.

It will rival the CIS, which is based in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it is headed by Vladimir Rushailo, a tough former Russian interior minister.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said: "Our citizens are giving us a mandate to develop strong, democratic and successful states."

The move is seen as a huge snub to Moscow, which has not been invited to join.

It faces the prospect of being left in a CIS of eight states including Belarus, regarded as the last dictatorship in Europe; Armenia; and the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The splits within the CIS ranks have been growing in recent months.

Moscow, which backed Mr Yushchenko's opponent in the Ukrainian elections, clashed with Ukraine this year when it suspended gas sales, causing an energy crisis across Europe in the middle of winter.

The Kremlin has also argued openly with Tbilisi over Russian support for two breakaway regions in Georgia and its reluctant withdrawal of troops from the country.

Moscow's recent decision to ban the import of Georgian and Moldovan wine, on the spurious ground that they contain pesticides, has further strained ties.

Azerbaijan has provoked the ire of Moscow by developing close ties with the US and building an oil pipeline to pump crude from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, bypassing traditional Russian control over energy supply routes.

Moldova signalled yesterday that it might be the first country to quit the CIS.

President Vladimir Voronin said the issue would soon be debated in parliament, where the move was likely to be approved.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said his country was also debating the value of remaining in the CIS, and that the question of withdrawal would come up before parliament in a few months.

"Many in Georgia have been very critical of the CIS, of its performance, of its efficiency, and we, as a government, are accountable to the people's concerns," he told Britain's The Times during a visit to London.

He said Georgia had attempted to make the CIS more efficient and capable of dealing with important bilateral disputes, such as the Russian wine ban, but that the CIS was incapable of addressing real issues.

"What is the sense in having an organisation that fails to discuss basic issues that affect the countries concerned?" Mr Nogaideli said.

"It seems to me that Russia itself is not interested in the CIS, in reality. They want to keep it as an organisation, but they don't want it to be an effective and functional organisation.

"Russia only keeps it for prestige."

Source: The Times

Thousands Of Ukrainian Union Members Rally In Capital Against Increase In Gas And Energy Prices

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of Ukrainian union members jammed the capital's main square on Wednesday to protest the increase in gas and electricity prices and demand that this ex-Soviet republic do more to raise its people out of poverty.

Thousands of Ukrainian workers rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 24, 2006. Tens of thousands are protesting against the growth of electricity tariffs

"How can the government expect us to keep paying more when we don't receive a wage that you can live on?" said Kateryna Ivanchuk, a senior nurse at a Kyiv emergency room. She said the average nurse's salary was 354 hryvnias ($70) a month.

President Viktor Yushchenko's government has increased wages for state workers in this nation of 47 million, but the increases have been quickly gobbled up by rising prices for food and utilities.

This month, private consumers saw gas prices jump 25 percent, and Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov warned Tuesday that another 50 percent increase could be on the horizon. The cost of other communal services, such as electricity, have also increased.

The sharp increases became a necessity after this year's gas dispute with Russia, which led to a twofold increase in the gas price charged to Ukraine. Ukrainian lawmakers initially pledged that there would be no immediate impact on the population, and kept the promise until after the March parliamentary elections.

The protesters, who numbered some 15,000, carried signs reading, "Increase in prices means an increase in poverty." Nurses and medical workers, wearing long white laboratory coats, brushed shoulders with eastern Ukrainian miners in red hard hats and Communists waving Soviet flags.

Yekhanurov on Wednesday ordered the Ministry of Fuel and Energy to explain the reasons behind the increase and provide comparisons with neighboring countries, many of which pay more than Ukraine for energy supplies.

Ukraine is one of the biggest gas consumers in Europe, but critics say that huge amounts are wasted through inefficiency.

Oleksiy Shvetlichny, a member of the Donetsk Union of Metalworkers and Miners, said he feared that the rising cost of energy could drive some of Ukraine's factories and mines out of business. "How much are we supposed to endure," he said.

Source: AP

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tymoshenko May Fall Short In PM Quest - Official

LONDON, UK -- Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, seeking to return to power as prime minister in Ukraine, may have too little support in parliament to win the job, a top Ukrainian official said on Tuesday.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Tymoshenko, estranged ally of President Viktor Yushchenko, says she is entitled to be premier again as her bloc finished first of three liberal groups in March's parliamentary election.

Rival parties are now negotiating to form a coalition government, but Yushchenko has proved reluctant to put Tymoshenko back in the job from which he fired her last year.

Some of the president's allies want a coalition deal with the Regions party, led by Viktor Yanukovich, the Revolution's main loser in 2004.

Oleh Rybachuk, presidential chief of staff, said Tymoshenko had a good chance of clinching a coalition deal but might have too few votes to become premier, he said.

"My feeling is that she might not get those votes," he told a seminar organised by the Policy Exchange think tank in London. "If (the candidate) is Yulia, I don't want to predict, but there are high chances she will not get enough votes."

Outgoing Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov, the president's longstanding ally who led his Our Ukraine party in the election, restated his preference for a broad coalition.

That would embrace the Regions party, first in the poll but still short of a majority to govern on its own. It is supported mainly in Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions.

"I do not want them to be in opposition to the president," Yekhanurov told Ukraine's Radio Era, referring to the Regions Party. "The task is to consolidate Ukrainians, including those 8 million citizens who voted for the Regions Party."

The new parliament, empowered under new constitutional provisions to name the prime minister, holds its first sitting on Thursday and has about two months to form a government. Yushchenko expects a government early next month.

The coalition of parties behind the "Orange Revolution" have agreed in principle to a new coalition, but talks on a formal agreement appear stalled. Our Ukraine refuses to sign any deal that would make Tymoshenko premier.

Source: Reuters

Ukraine's Yushchenko Hosts Leaders Of Three Other Ex-Soviet Republics For Regional Summit

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Tuesday meets with the leaders of three other ex-Soviet republics to discuss strengthening economic and security cooperation and promoting democracy in the region along Russia's border.

Presidents (L-R) Vladimir Voronin of Modova, Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia attend a joint news conference at the GUAM summit in Kiev May 23, 2006

The summit brings together leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Molodova. The four countries formed an alliance in 1997 that has increasingly been seen as an alternative to the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States.

Yushchenko has insisted that the goal is not to squeeze out Moscow's role in the region, but to foster cooperation on a smaller scale between these largely Western-leaning nations.

However, in recent weeks, both Georgia and Ukraine have complained about the ineffectiveness of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has raised the prospect of quitting that grouping of 12 ex-Soviet nations.

"If we can breath life into the old format, let's try," Saakashvili was quoted as saying by the Unian news agency. "I'd be only happy. But, unfortunately, the CIS is not at its best right now." He added that the free trade and free movement the Commonwealth of Independent States was set up to protect had floundered.

Saakashvili was speaking in the Ukrainian capital on Monday at a festival to promote Georgian wine, which has been barred from Russia in a trade dispute, the latest strain in relations between Tbilisi and Moscow.

The four leaders planned to use Tuesday's summit to transform the loose grouping, known by its acronym GUAM, into an international organization, whose headquarters will be in the Ukrainian capital. The organization will be renamed the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development.

The presidents were also expected to discuss energy cooperation and ways to diversify energy resources.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was also expected to participate in the talks as an observer. Yushchenko also invited senior officials from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. The summit began Monday with an agreement to combine efforts to fight organized crime and weapons trafficking in the region.

Pro-Western presidents have come to power in Ukraine and Georgia since 2003, after their supporters poured into the streets to protest widespread allegations of election fraud. Moldova's leaders have also pulled away from Moscow's influence, and oil-rich Azerbaijan is being courted by both Russia and the West.

Source: AP

Ukraine's Tymoshenko Bloc Claims Ally Working With Opponent

KIEV, Ukraine -- The race to form a majority coalition in Ukraine's parliament took an unexpected turn Tuesday when the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc accused one of its allies of siding with a pro-Russian party.

Oleksandr Turchinov

Oleksandr Turchinov, a representative of the Tymoshenko bloc, said pro-presidential grouping Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions, led by former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, had voted together during a session of a four-party working group charged with overseeing preparations for the newly elected parliament's first session this week.

"This leads to the conclusion that a draft agreement [on a parliamentary coalition] between Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions is being prepared," Turchinov said.

Tymoshenko said she expected a draft agreement on forming a majority coalition in Ukraine's Supreme Rada early last week after a period of intensive negotiations between groups following March 26 parliamentary elections that failed to produce an overall winner.

The coalition was likely to include Tymoshenko's bloc, Our Ukraine, led by incumbent Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, and the Socialist Party.

Official results from the March ballot saw the Party of Regions take first place with 32.14% of the vote, which translates to 186 seats in the 450-seat Rada.

Yanukovych's party was followed by the Tymoshenko bloc with 22.29% of the vote (129 seats), Our Ukraine with 13.95% (81 seats), the Socialist Party with 5.69% (33 seats) and the Communist Party with 3.66% (21 seats).

No other party won a 3% share of the vote needed to take up a place in the Rada, which under the country's constitution must convene 30 days after the publication of the election results in two newspapers on April 27. A parliamentary

Our Ukraine, however, said it was suspending its participation in the talks until Tymoshenko clarified her position on how posts in the new government would be distributed.

The heroine of the 2004 "orange revolution" has consistently sought to return to the prime minister's post, from which she was dismissed after only seven months in office over a rift with President Viktor Yushchenko.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukrainians Gather At Mass Grave To Commemorate Victims Of Stalin Regime

KIEV, Ukraine -- Relatives and survivors gathered in a forest outside Kyiv Sunday at the site of Ukraine's largest mass grave for victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, commemorating up to 120,000 Ukrainians killed during his regime.

The Monster Josef Stalin

People laid flowers and tied linen towels with Ukrainian embroidery on trees at the Bykovnya grave.

"It's hard to imagine how it was possible to bury over 100,000 people in one forest. The most awful is that it's impossible to answer the question why they were killed," President Viktor Yushchenko said.

Historians say millions were killed throughout the Soviet Union during Stalin's reign, accused of state treason and other crimes.

Separately, up to 10 million Ukrainians died of the 1932-33 Great Famine, which Stalin provoked as part of his campaign to force Ukrainian peasants to give up their land and join collective farms.

On Thursday, thousands of Crimean Tatars marched in the capital of Crimea to mark the 62nd anniversary of their deportation from the Black Sea peninsula under Stalin, a forced exile that lasted almost half a century.

Some 200,000 Tatars were deported in May 1944 after Stalin accused them of collaborating with the Nazis and were not allowed to return until the Soviet collapse of 1991.

Source: AP

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ukraine Hosts Talks By 4 Ex-Soviet Republics

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is hosting a two-day meeting of officials from three other former Soviet republics aimed at building democracy in the region.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (C), holds his glass of Georgian wine during a Festival of Georgian Wine in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Monday, May 22, 2006

Representatives of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova join their Ukrainian colleagues in Kiev Monday ahead of a meeting of the four countries' presidents on Tuesday. Talks are expected to focus on energy issues as well as cooperation by the four nations, known under the acronym GUAM, in international organizations.

Ukrainian officials say the meeting will consider expanding the activities of the group and changing its name to the Organization for Democracy and Development.

The group was founded in 1997 with the aim of expending cooperation of the four members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Uzbekistan joined in 1999, but announced its withdrawal three years later, complaining that the group had deviated from its goal of economic cooperation to a focus on political issues.

Source: Voice of America

Oh Lordi! Rockers Take Eurovision

LONDON, UK -- Finnish 'horror rock' band Lordi astonished Eurovision viewers when they stormed to victory at this years contest.

Finland's Lordi celebrate after winning the 51st Eurovision song contest at the Athens Olympic Indoor Hall

Monstrous looking Lordi - who have one member who looks like a 'Star Trek' Klingon - scored a massive 292 points in the annual European singing contest - 44 ahead of runners up Russia.

The rock band won voters over with their song 'Hard Rock Hallelujah' despite the competition being traditionally associated with catchy pop tunes and heartfelt ballads.

Leadsinger, also called Lordi, said: "We are a rock band and we just won Eurovision - that's weird. This was a victory for rock music and also a victory for open-mindedness. This is proof that there are rock fans who watch Eurovision."

Not only was the victory a surprise because of the band's style and performance, which included fire jets and monster costumes, but the record point score was also a shock.

Eastern European countries traditionally collude with each other in the contest, and ensure their neighbours are given the most points.

Ukraine's Tina Karol came in 7th with her song 'Show me your love'.

But this year voting broke with tradition across the whole of Europe, ensuring that Lordi's win was spectacular.

Though a big contrast to Russia's second-placed entry, which included a routine with a ballerina emerging from a piano, Lordi are keen to assert that they are just good musicians.

Lordi said: "We have nothing to do with Satan worshipping or anything like that - this is entertainment."

Britain's own entry, 'Teenage Life' by rapper Daz Sampson only managed to come 19th out of 24 countries.

Finland's win means that they will host the contest next year.

Source: BANG Media International

U.S. Envoy Pledges Support to Ukraine in Revising Russia Gas Deal

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine can count on support from the United States if it wishes to reconsider its gas deal with Russia, U.S. Ambassador told a local daily.

John Herbst said in an interview published in the Saturday issue of the Den (Day) daily that if the Ukrainian government comes to a conclusion that the gas agreements with Russia should be reconsidered it can expect support from the U.S., which has pointed to certain problems in this issue since the very beginning of the gas price dispute with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.

At the same time, Herbst did not specify what support Ukraine could expect and suggested that Ukraine should find where it stands in this issue itself. Herbst also said he believes Ukraine’s convergence with NATO should not worsen Kiev’s relations with Moscow or any other country.

The ambassador described current relations between Ukraine and the U.S. as very good.

Among the steps that confirm this he mentioned the renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences, bilateral agreements on World Trade Organization membership, the granting of market economy status to Ukraine, and the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in relation to Ukraine.

All these steps signal the progress that Ukraine has made in its reforms, he said.

Herbst will conclude his diplomatic mission in Ukraine in May.

Source: MosNews

We Need Europe But Europe Needs Us Too – Yushchenko

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a Europe Day radio address to the nation, Victor Yushchenko said Ukraine’s integration with the European Union was mutually beneficial, according to the President’s press-office.

Viktor Yushchenko

“We need Europe but Europe needs us too, for Ukraine can give a powerful impulse to many European projects,” he opined.

The President explained that Ukraine could help Europe no longer be energy dependent by building new oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian region or new transportation routes.

In its turn, Ukraine must introduce profound judicial, economic, energy and social reforms. “This great challenge calls for political consolidation and political will but also great professionalism and responsibility,” he said.

The Head of State pledged to spare no effort to ensure that Ukraine makes a great breakthrough in this direction during his presidency. He said, in 2005, we had already done more than ever before, with the Ukraine-EU turnover reaching USD 20 bln and the export rate increasing by 60%.

“Now it is important not to slow down. We have implemented a considerable part of the Ukraine-EU Action Plan and hope to establish a new dialogue with Europe. We want to sign a free trade agreement and an associated membership protocol with the European Union, which will open the doors of EU before Ukraine,” he said.

Ukraine and the European Union are currently engaged in negotiations to liberalize visa requirements for our citizens.

“This path is painstaking but we will go to its end for the sake of our people,” he promised.

The President also said practically all political parties in parliament supported Ukraine’s integration with EU.

“I believe the Verkhovna Rada will form a coalition that will formulate European rules. I am sure our pre-election slogans should now be put into effect.”

Source: UNIAN