Thursday, August 31, 2006

Kyiv Mayor Squares Off With Tymoshenko Bloc

KIEV, Ukraine -- The parliament was elected in March but has yet to get down to work, as the first plenary session was spent in battles and haggling over which factions would form a majority.

Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky

However, the workings of the Kyiv City Council, which was also elected last spring and has a make-up similar to that of the parliament, may offer some clues as to what relations between the various groups of national lawmakers will be like.

The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) appears to be squarely in opposition in both legislatures, taking on the role of public watchdog.

During the March 26 general elections, which brought Kyiv its first new mayor in 10 years, BYuT won the largest share of seats on the 120-member city council, forging a strong alliance and near majority with two other parties to oppose new Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky.

BYuT, one of the heirs to the Orange Revolution, almost immediately demanded new elections amid allegations that Chernovetsky’s team bought votes from pensioners and the poor.

Though the “opposition” in the Kyiv City Council has reportedly settled into a tentative working compromise with Chernovetsky, experts say that conflicts are on the horizon, especially when decisions made by the mayor put council members’ own political and business interests at risk.

Earlier this week, Chernovetsky, who campaigned for mayor on a platform of populist social programs targeting the needy, sparred publicly with one of BYuT’s most outspoken lawmakers in the national parliament.

The war of words involved a preliminary decision by the Kyiv City Council to allocate 28 hectares of land in Kyiv for 15 years to Vulcan Pravex, a company that Mykola Tomenko, one of BYuT’s most outspoken people’s deputies, said is connected to Pravex-Bank, a top Ukrainian financial institution controlled by the mayor.

Tomenko charged that the July 27 decision, made by the council’s 15-member land commission, smacks of abuse of office by both the mayor and the 21 city council members from Leonid Chernovetsky’s bloc.

In his appeal to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Tomenko noted that because Chernovetsky is a major stockholder in Pravex-Bank and his son Stepan, who is also a city council deputy, is top manager at the bank, this is a clear conflict of interest.

Tomenko said that if Vulcan Pravex receives the right to use the land, a plant already located and operating on the site could be closed.

Chernovetsky countered in a statement released by the Kyiv municipal administration on Aug. 28 that “none of the enterprises linked with this financial structure [Pravex-Bank] would receive a single square meter of land,” and added that no decision had been made by the Kyiv City Council to allocate land to Pravex-Bank.

Lev Partskhaladze, a former Kyiv City Council member and head of the European Capital party, which failed to get into the council during the last elections, played down the significance of the land dispute in the relations between BYuT and the mayor.

“In this case, I don’t really see any problems if they decided to, or plan to issue this land to that company, because technically there is already a plant operating on the property, and they [the city council] just registered it to the plant itself.”

A more fundamental issue, according to Partskhaladze, is ensuring that land plots are allocated by the authorities in Kyiv in open tenders before any building begins, allowing for the best use of the city’s land and guaranteeing a level playing field for developers.

The Kyiv City Council has come under criticism in the past for the non-transparent way in which building sites are approved.

Analysts predict that Kyiv’s ongoing development will continue to be one of the most divisive issues facing the 120 member council.

Mykhaylo Pogrebinsky, an analyst at the Institute of Political and Conflict Studies, said the issue could undermine the current “fluid compromise” between Chernovetsky and the so-called Fair Kyiv coalition, which was forged immediately after the mayoral elections between BYuT (38 council seats), the bloc of former heavyweight champion Vitaliy Klitchko (13) who lost to Chernovetsky in the mayoral race, and the Civic Active of Kyiv (7).

Chernovetsky’s bloc got only 21 seats, but is thought to be supported by the bloc of former parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn (6), the pro-presidential Our Ukraine (15) and the Socialists (7).

The Donetsk-based Party of Regions, which leads the majority coalition in the national parliament, has only nine seats in the Kyiv City Council, but is also thought not to oppose the mayor. Four council members are independents.

According to Pogrebinsky, “right now it’s hard to say who’s really in the opposition, because it’s completely understood that part of BYuT came to an understanding with the mayor’s team. Whether this will last is difficult to gauge.”

BYuT’s cooperation with the mayor is based not on the party’s political ends, but to the extent to which city council members are able to protect their own political and economic interests.

“The majority of deputies on city councils, who somehow make it onto the party lists of one or another political party, especially when these are not well known politicians, normally get elected in order to protect their own, primarily, economic interests,” said Yevhen Poberezhny, executive director of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, a Kyiv-based election monitoring group.

In this case, being in opposition is profitable for few of them,” he added.

Poberezhny said that the Kyiv city council is no exception to this rule. “There are a number of deputies, including some from BYuT, who did not get elected to the city council to be in the opposition, but to secure their own interests,” Poberezhny said, adding that at this point he would not say that there is a strong opposition to Chernovetsky in the Kyiv City Council that has a concrete strategy or that is willing to sacrifice something.

Nonetheless, the interests of these deputies will introduce oversight and control over the policies and decisions made by the mayor himself.

In this regard, Pogrebinsky views “Tomenko’s initiative [calling for a review of the land allocation to Vulcan Pravex] absolutely positively … I think that he should continue to work in this way in order to maximize control over these matters.”

Pogrebinskyi said that on the city council itself there are considerable resources to check the work of the mayor and guard against possible corruption in the future.
“I think that in this regard we can’t count on influential businessmen in BYuT, and if they work diligently, they can organize considerable control over the operations of the city council.”

Source: Kyiv Post

So, Ukraine Isn’t Orange After All

KIEV, Ukraine -- The re-emergence of Viktor Yanukovych as prime minister of Ukraine must rate as one of the most implausible developments even to the many seasoned observers who have long become accustomed to ‘transition shocks’ in post-Soviet Europe.

The so-called Orange Revolution, which followed the rigged presidential election illegitimately ‘won’ by Mr. Yanukovych in late 2004 was supposed to usher in a new democratic Ukraine firmly anchored to Euro-Atlantic geopolitical and economic structures.

However, the new government is committed to encouraging the nascent Ukrainian capitalism that has emerged out of the gangsterism of the 1990s and to re-establishing a close and cooperative relationship with Russia, whatever the West may say. Tellingly, the new government has an unambiguous democratic mandate.

Compared to the temporary economic shocks of the 1990s that were anticipated and analyzed by neoliberal economists, Mr. Yanukovych’s resurrection is all the more shocking because it suggests that the future of Ukraine is not Orange after all.

Combined with the re-election of President Lukashenko in Belarus earlier this year and Mr. Putin’s willingness to assert Russia’s national interests even at the expense of offending the West, it looks as if the future of the post-Soviet world can not be understood purely in terms of a single Western modernity.

Rather than being a source of cheap labor and a client of the West, it is at least possible that Ukraine will take its place in a new emergent capitalism centered on Russia with access to cheap and plentiful hydrocarbons and the potential to rival the West. Is it any wonder then that Western governments have been so keen to destabilize and re-align Ukraine?

That Mr. Yanukovych becoming prime minister for a second time – with enhanced powers that arguably make him more powerful than President Yushchenko – has shocked so many onlookers, is because so much comment in the West leading up to and following the Orange Revolution was based on wishful thinking. Whilst the Orange Revolution unquestionably mobilized millions of people yearning for a new Ukraine, it was not, as widely claimed, solely a national and democratic reawakening.

It was also the occasion for the latest tactical scramble for power amongst the cosy elite that has misruled Ukraine since Independence. Sober analysis of the protagonists revealed that the distinction between the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’ was not so clearly drawn as was often supposed.

The mass mobilization and the political jousting would not have occurred without the sophisticated political operation, predominately ‘made in the USA’, which destabilized the finely balanced domestic political landscape.

The aim of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine has been clear and consistent ever since Independence: to as far as possible detach Ukraine from Russian influence. To this end, members of the nationalist Ukrainian Diaspora in academia, the media and elsewhere have often been willing accomplices.

Ukraine has been subject to Western meddling through the operation of supposedly independent foundations, aid programs and technical assistance projects, as well as through the more formal (but often less public) instruments of Western diplomacy.

The failure to impose neoliberal economic policies in the 1990s led the U.S. to switch its focus to so-called ‘political processes’ and ‘civil society’. This entailed the mobilization of students, academics, NGOs, journalists and politicians to provide evidence of the authoritarianism of former Ukrainian President Kuchma’s incumbent regime.

Accordingly, Mr. Yushchenko’s presidential campaign focused largely on the legitimacy of the election process itself.

Hence the staged fracas between Mr. Yushchenko and the guards protecting the Central Election Commission building in Kyiv before the presidential election. Hence, too, the agents provocateurs who organized Orange rallies in the politically hostile east of the country in order to video the anticipated response.

Both Mr. Yushchenko’s campaign and the supposedly non-partisan interventions by Western governments were justified by the reaction they provoked. Once demonstrators had flooded onto the streets of Kyiv, they were lauded as the embodiment of the ‘Ukrainian people’ conveniently ignoring that ‘other’ Ukraine, which had supported Mr. Yanukovych and which was as suspicious of the events at Maidan as the demonstrators were of the electoral process.

Equally damning is the way the Orange Revolution failed to deliver stable government, failed to maintain rapid economic growth and made little progress in cracking down on corruption. Far from strengthening the state and promoting structural economic reform the Orange Revolution destabilized the productivist ideology that had united the country.

Just as the state was showing signs of consolidation and alignment after years of division between ministries and competing regional lobbies, the Orange Revolution undermined an already weak state machine.

The renationalization of the Kryvorizhstal steel mill that had been controversially sold to IMU, a holding company jointly owned by two of the largest business empires in the country, and its subsequent resale to the London-based Mittal Group, symbolized the severing of connections between the state and the country’s national capitalists.

Government was largely paralyzed and many voters found Mr. Yushchenko’s apparent fixation with NATO accession a bewildering distraction. Such political instability merely served to discourage much-needed investment and undermine economic growth. The conditions that had enabled rapid economic growth were torn asunder by the Orange Revolution and rendered the country almost ungovernable.

The appointment of Mr. Yekhanurov as prime minister last autumn was an acknowledgment that Mr. Yushchenko and his allies couldn’t govern the country without reaching an accommodation with their political foes based in the financial and industrial heartland in the east of the country.

The finely balanced waxing and waning as the regional lobbies vied with one another for influence in Kyiv was disrupted by the Orange Revolution.

During his first spell as prime minister, Mr. Yanukovych proved particularly adept at brokering between the rival regional lobbies and is perhaps now best placed to coax and cajole them to forge a functioning national state machine united in common cause with a governable national economy.

It is paradoxical that the most fervent supporters of the Orange Revolution now have the least confidence that it will have a lasting effect on the country.

But since Mr. Yanukovych and his party have apologized for their role in the rigged election and now unambiguously defend free elections and a free media, it is at least possible that his premiership will show the Orange Revolution marked the beginning of a new Ukraine after all. Only not the new Ukraine envisioned by many Orange protagonists and their patrons in the West.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ukraine Could Face Hike Of More Than 40 Percent In Gas Prices Next Year

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's government is preparing for a more than 40 percent hike in gas prices next year, even as Moscow and Kyiv hold talks aiming at averting another pricing dispute and supply disruptions, an official said Tuesday.

The government is anticipating an increase from $95 per 1,000 cubic meters to $135 - a 42 percent hike, said Vitaly Lukyanchenko, spokesman for Ukraine's first deputy prime minister, Mykola Azarov.

Ukraine had hoped to retain the $95 price - already a twofold increase over last year - for five years, but that looked less likely after Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, perceived as more pro-Russian than the Westward-leaning officials who ran the previous government, called recent price talks with Moscow "rather difficult."

Talks have been ongoing since Yanukovych took office earlier this month.

But "we are taking as the basis an optimistic scenario for the development of events," Azarov told Profil magazine in an interview published Monday.

He said Ukraine would be able to handle any jump in prices since the Cabinet was amassing a Hr 3 billion ($598 million) stabilization fund in case of such an event.

Ukraine's fuel and energy minister, Yuriy Boyko, said Tuesday that Ukraine would ensure that western European gas consumers do not suffer supply disruptions as they did in January during a price dispute between Ukraine and Russia, when Russia briefly turned off the gas taps.

Russia then accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas meant for Europe. Ukraine is the main transit country for Russian gas heading to Western Europe.

"European consumers and Russian resource owners won't have any surprises," Boyko said.

Boyko said Ukraine was "on schedule" with its efforts to store gas for the coming winter, rejecting European concerns that the country is falling behind.

Meanwhile, Gaz Ukrainy, a daughter company of Ukraine's state-owned gas company Naftogaz, began switching off the gas supply Tuesday to the Ukrainian capital's main hot water supplier, Kyivenergo, said Oleksiy Tkach, a Gaz Ukrainy spokesman.

As of Tuesday, Kyivenergo owed more than Hr 66 million ($13.7 million dollars) for gas used this year. The increase in the price of imported gas has prompted Ukrainian gas companies to take a harder line with debtors.

Ukraine is one of the world's most inefficient users of natural gas, with many factories and municipal suppliers using outdated equipment that makes little use of energy-saving technology.

Source: AP

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Poland Declares Unwavering Support For Ukraine's EU, NATO Drive

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland is unwavering in its support for Ukraine's drive to join the European Union and the NATO Western defence alliance, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Anna Fotyga said Tuesday in Warsaw following talks with her Ukrainian counterpart Borys Tarasyuk.

Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Anna Fotyga

Foreign Minister Tarasyuk announced Ukraine's new Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych would visit Poland in early September to attend the Krynica Economic Forum September 6-9 in the Polish mountain resort town of Krynica.

The Moscow-oriented Yanukovych is expected to meet for the first time with Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The annual Krynica Forum is created specifically for Central and Eastern Europe and modelled on the annual Davos World Economic Forum in the swish Swiss mountain resort.

"Poland is a strategic partner for Ukraine and what is important is how both counties will fulfil this relationship," Tarasyuk told reporters.

He pointed to guaranteeing the minority rights for Ukrainians in Poland and Poles in Ukraine and the liberal flow of people and goods along Poland's EU border with Ukraine as priorities in the partnership.

Having joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in May 2004, Poland is one of the most vocal advocates of the further eastward expansion of both blocs.

Tarasyuk also confirmed talks were underway to remove an import ban imposed by Ukraine on Polish meat. He did not specify exactly when the ban may be lifted.

Source: Deutsche Presse-Agenteur

Ukraine's Convicted Ex-PM Stripped Of Local Legislative Authority

KIEV, Ukraine -- A district court in eastern Ukraine has stripped a former prime minister and a local lawmaker of legislative authority, a Ukrainian Internet edition said Tuesday.

Pavlo Lazarenko, 53, served as prime minister under President Leonid Kuchma from 1996 to 1997. He was arrested in the U.S. in 1999, and was sentenced to nine years in prison and a fine of $10 million Saturday.

Lazarenko was elected to a local legislature in Dnepropetrovsk in March 2006.

Ukrainskaya Pravda said a lawsuit against the former prime minister, filed by Borys Filatov, a human rights activist in Dnepropetrovsk, was accepted and his legislative authority withdrawn.

During Ukraine's 1999 presidential election campaign, Lazarenko, who was wanted on corruption and embezzlement charges at home, sought political asylum in the U.S., claiming he had faced three assassination attempts. Instead, the U.S. authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.

Lazarenko denied all charges. The 9-year sentence is half of the maximum sought by prosecutors but five years more than his lawyers asked for.

Defense attorneys said that the prosecution was politically motivated and that they would appeal the sentence.

Source: RIA Novosti

Is Yanukovych Really Free to Fight ?

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Ukraine celebrated 15 years of sovereignty Thursday – an incessant struggle between supporters of rapprochement with Russia and those wanting greater distance from Russia.

The Yushchenko-Yanukovych and East-West dilemmas don’t seem like dilemmas any more. Ukraine is united again, and everyone’s attention is riveted on what is happening in Ukraine itself.

The Orange Revolution was proof of Ukraine’s desire for sovereignty and the latest configuration of state power confirms it. On the other hand, there is a difference between desire and ability. The last 15 years proved beyond the shadow of doubt that Ukraine’s economic dependance on Russia is much greater than political.

There is more to it than the simple fact that Ukraine cannot boast of having much oil and gas on its own territory. There is also the Soviet structure of national industry to consider. Ukrainian industry is extremely energy-inefficient, while all its markets are in Russia.

The “cheap energy in return for cheap commodities” arrangement was all right in a single state but when applied to two sovereign states at political odds with each other every now and then, it inevitably crumbles.

Russia is putting Ukraine under pressure from two directions at once nowadays. It closes its markets to Ukrainian goods and commodities (pipe export duties, problems with dairy products) and ups gas prices.

All this effectively undermines Russia-oriented Ukrainian industry whose principal centers are located in the eastern part of the country. Prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko did her best to try to alleviate the situation.

Tymoshenko thought that cheap energy was available elsewhere and that this diversification of gas imports would lessen dependence on Russia. She counted on Turkmenistan a a potential supplier of gas but Moscow’s influence with the Turkmenbashi proved strong enough to disrupt the plans of the Ukrainian prime minister.

Gazprom had bought all gas Turkmenistan had for sale for years to come. Ukraine began getting its gas courtesy of Russia via Rosukrenergo. The task of fighting dependance on Russia is in the lap of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych now.

Believing that his Regions Party is a pro-Russian political force is a mistake. Major Ukrainian businesses have their interests - and lobbyists - in the party in question. Like Ukraine in general, these businesses need the risks they are running differentiated.

Sure, the new government will certainly undertake to regain the lost benefits like an easy export regime and affordable energy prices but “political independence” is not going to be a lot at the auction.

If Russia refuses to have the old arrangement without the political aspect restored (and Russia will refuse), it will make the Ukrainian national economy all the more determined to start looking for new partners and markets in Europe.

All of it will be immeasurably more complicated than the simple Soviet-type arrangement of the past. Ukraine will buy expensive energy from Russia, charge a lot for its transit to Europe, and offer to the West and in the West what it used to sell to and in Russia.

All existing transit accords will have to be revised along with the documents concerning Ukraine’s future membership of the World Trade Organization. What really counts, however, is that the Ukrainian economy will have to be whipped up into shape and made competitive.

All these are nearly impossible tasks. Russia’s reluctance to be cooperative in the talks with Ukraine will only broaden the rift between the two countries. Ukraine is celebrating sovereignty.

Sovereignty from whom? Ukraine bartered independence from Russia for dependence on Gazprom.

This is what Yanukovych the freedom fighter should be thinking about.

Source: The St. Petersburg Times

Korrespondent Publishes TOP-100 Influential People List

KIEV, Ukraine -- Korrespondent, a leading Ukrainian news magazine, has announced its rating of the Top 100 most influential people in the country, an annual poll conducted by the editorial staff of the Russian-language weekly that attempts to reflect the changing fortunes of Ukraine’s power elite against a background of shifting public opinion.

This year’s rating results were presented by Korrespondent editors during an Aug. 17 press conference held at UNIAN news agency in Kyiv.

With the 2006 Top 100 list, the magazine’s fourth since it launched the poll in 2003, “Korrespondent wanted to offer its readers its own view of just how much the country’s landscape of personal influence has changed following the recent political shakeup,” chief editor, Vitaly Sych, said during the news conference.

The change in those positions compared with last year’s poll has indeed been significant, with some individuals “losing unlimited influence and power, and others, gaining it,” reads a statement released by the magazine.

Ukrainians reappraised their and the country’s priorities following the 2004 Orange Revolution and the March 2006 parliamentary elections, which both had a significant impact on the distribution of power among the elite in Ukraine, according to Korrespondent.

“While the political battles this year [the protracted fight over the formation of a parliamentary coalition and government following the March 26 elections] were not as pitched as the social unrest of the Orange Revolution in 2004, the consequences of those battles for the most influential people in the country were no less significant,” the statement continues.

A total of 44 new individuals made the rating this year – nearly as many as last year, following the 2004 presidential elections.

“The creation of a parliamentary coalition has truly changed the face of the elite,” according to the Russian-language weekly. “While the rating last year included only several members of the elite from Donetsk Region, this year they form the backbone of the list.”

This year, a businessman replaced the Ukrainian president in the top spot on the list for the first time in the list’s four-year history.

Considered to be the wealthiest man in Ukraine, Donetsk tycoon and parliament deputy Rinat Ahkmetov moved into first spot on the list from fifth position last year.

He replaced President Viktor Yushchenko, who moved to second place in 2006 because “his [Yushchenko’s] ideas are no longer as popular as they were two years ago and he also has fewer levers of influence over events in the country,” Korrespondent said.

The magazine named Akhmetov Ukraine’s most influential person due to his enormous wealth and sprawling business holdings, as well as the key role that he plays within the Party of Regions – the pro-Russian bloc that recently wrested power from the shattered Orange forces in parliament, forming a coalition of its own.

Vadim Karasyov, the director of the Institute of Global Strategies, a political think tank, told the Post, Korrespondent’s sister publication, that the list not only documents the rise and fall of Ukraine’s powerbrokers, but also shows the large extent to which big business – and big businessmen – have come to dominate and exert great influence on Ukrainian politics within the last year.

He said that in this sense, the fact that Akhmetov heads this year’s list, followed by a large number of other powerful businessmen, many of whom are also closely linked with Akhmetov, was very significant.

“Since the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has become the Republic of Businessmen, the Republic of Big Business,” Karasyov said. “Business has taken political power into its hands.”

Viktor Luhovyk, the head of communications at Kyiv-based investment bank Dragon Capital, said that the rating introduces a civilizing factor into the political life of Ukraine, since it not only reflects which individuals played the most important role in charting the country’s political and economic course over the last year, but also helps make Ukrainian politics more transparent.

“It helps remind politicians that they are in the public eye and being scrutinized by the mass media, as well as other observers,” Luhovyk said in an interview to the Post.

Source: Kyiv Post

Monday, August 28, 2006

Kucherevskiy Killed In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian football is in mourning after Evhen Kucherevskiy, the man who led FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to the Soviet title, was killed in a car crash.

Evhen Kucherevskiy

The former coach, who celebrated his 65th birthday on 6 August, was driving to watch a reserve match in his current capacity as Dnipro's sporting director when his car collided with a truck. He was rushed to hospital but died without regaining consciousness on Saturday.

After an unremarkable career as a goalkeeper with a number of Ukrainian-based Soviet second division clubs, Kucherevskiy found his true calling as a coach.

Starting his career with smaller outfits FC Kolos Nikopol, FC Sudostroitel, he joined Dnipro initially as reserve team coach in 1986.

Handed sole command, he led the club through an incredible period which saw the modest Dnipro finish as runners-up in the Soviet Supreme League in 1987 - his first season in charge - before claiming the title in 1988, the cup in 1989 and a place in the 1989/90 European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-finals.

He would subsequently coach clubs in Tunisia and Syria and moved to Russia to take charge of the national Under-21 team.

He returned to Dnipro as coach in November 2001, leading them to two third-placed league finishes and into the UEFA Cup, but stepped down to take up his current position in 2005.

At the time of his retirement, club general director Andriy Stetsenko said of him: "I think all Ukrainian football should thank him. Dnipro's players have contributed heavily to the national team's [FIFA World Cup] qualification and this has everything to do with Kucherevskiy."

Source: UEFA

Reputed Ex-Nazi Living In New York City

NEW YORK, NY -- An alleged former Nazi camp guard stripped of his U.S. citizenship three years ago still lives in New York City because no country will take him, officials say.

'Listen, I`m 84 years old; I`m not going anywhere -- except a funeral home,' Jakiw Palij told the New York Daily News.

Palij is to meet this week with Homeland Security officials who have been trying to deport him.

Ukraine, Poland and Germany have balked at taking the retired draftsman, the newspaper said.

The government brought a deportation case against Palij in 2002, alleging he was a guard at the notorious Trawniki labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and a member of several units that committed atrocities against civilians.

Palij has claimed he was forced into the service at age 18 and would have been killed if he refused.

'I was nowhere near to any camp,' he told the News. 'I didn`t hurt any Jews, anybody from Ukraine, Poland. Anybody.'

Source: UPI

Yushchenko: Ukrainian - Sole National Language In Ukraine

LVIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said the political leadership has been guided by European principles and standards while tackling the national language issue.

"The loss of the language is the loss of the nation and the loss of the foundations for national development.

Therefore, we are pursuing a policy compliant with European standards," Yushchenko said during celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Ukrainian poet, writer, social critic and political activist Ivan Franko.

"Ukrainian is and will remain our sole national language," Yushchenko said.

The Ukrainian president arrived in Lviv region on Sunday to attend events marking Ivan Franko's 150th birth anniversary. Yushchenko is expected to visit Ivan Franko's museum-estate in the village of Naguyevichi and lay flowers on his grave at the Lychakovskoye cemetery in Lviv.

Yushchenko will take part in a state award presentation ceremony.

Source: Interfax

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ukrainians Study Kansas Farmers

SALINA, KS -- Officials from Ukraine are visiting the United States as they seek to improve their farming methods.

A Kansas wheat farm

Yesterday, the former speaker of the parliament in Ukraine and two other men from the county visited Great Plains Manufacturing in Salina.

The company exports its equipment to Ukraine, as well as other parts of the world.

Ukraine used to import more equipment from Europe. But much of the European equipment is better suited for small farmers.

The group from Ukraine has been in the United States for about a week to check out what is new in agricultural equipment.

Like Kansas, the primary crop produced in Ukraine is wheat.

Source: AP

Ukrainians Hail Ex-Premier's Sentence As Victory Over Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian analysts and politicians on Saturday hailed the sentence handed down to former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko in the United States as a victory over corruption, but lamented that Ukrainian authorities have not done enough to tackle the problem.

Former Ukraine Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko leaves a federal court house in San Francisco, California, August 25, 2006. Lazarenko was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined $10 million in a U.S. court

Lazarenko, who was widely accused of corruption during his stint as prime minister in 1996-1997, was sentenced Friday in a federal court in San Francisco to nine years in prison and $10 million in fines for money laundering, wire fraud and extortion.

"The role of U.S. justice turned out positive - Ukraine has not had court hearings of the kind," said political analyst Mykhailo Pohrebinsky. "It has a symbolic meaning: corruption can be punishable - even if not in Ukraine but outside."

Lazarenko fled to the United States in 1999, ahead of a presidential election in which incumbent Leonid Kuchma won a new term, after being stripped of his legislative immunity and served with an arrest warrant at home.

Instead the U.S. government arrested and tried him in an effort to show that the United States must not be used as a safe haven for dirty money.

Ukrainian authorities have long maintained that Lazarenko used his time as prime minister to siphon huge profits from the distribution of natural gas in this former Soviet republic.

Yehor Khmelko, a businessman in the capital, Kiev, said Lazarenko's fate was less the result of his financial dealings than of political missteps.

"He made money like many other state employees in Ukraine. But he had bad luck: he entered a conflict with Kuchma during the presidential campaign," Khmelko said.

Defense attorneys said the prosecution was politically motivated and that political foes withheld evidence that could have exonerated Lazarenko.

"He shouldn't have fled Ukraine," Khmelko added. "All those who made huge money by state-scale fraud are in power now.

President Viktor Yushchenko, the Western-leaning reformer who came to power following the 2004 street protests dubbed the Orange Revolution, has pledged to fight corruption as one of his top priorities.

But many Ukrainians have become disappointed with Yushchenko amid infighting and allegations of corruption and incompetence in his entourage.

Lawmaker Serhiy Teryokhin said Lazarenko got what he deserved. However, he said, "Strange that it's the United States who punishes for crimes committed in Ukraine."

The sentence was half of the maximum sought by prosecutors, who said Lazarenko misused the premier's office to get rich through business schemes.

Lazarenko has claimed his multimillion dollar fortune was earned legitimately at a time his country, emerging from the Soviet Union's collapse, had a lawless free-market economy.

In a comment that reflected a lack of confidence in justice systems that is common in the former Soviet Union, schoolteacher Valentyna Dobra expressed doubt that lazarenko would serve the sentence.

"He will pay his way out of it, no doubt. He has stolen enough money to pay years of appeals, enjoying his villa at the seashore," she said.

Convicted in June 2004, Lazarenko has been under house arrest at an undisclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area on $86 million bail. A defense attorney said the conviction will be appealed.

Source: AP

First Funerals Held For Russian Victims Of Plane Crash

KIEV, Ukraine — The first funerals were held Saturday for Russians killed when a passenger jet crashed in Ukraine after encountering rough weather, killing all 170 people registered aboard.

Relatives carry coffins containing the bodies of Anna Gabitova, 26, behind, and her one-year-old daughter Alexandra, front, killed in the Pulkovo Airlines Tu-154 plane crash, at a funeral in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006

Meanwhile, the identified remains of 36 victims were being returned to St. Petersburg, Russia, where most of the passengers lived, aboard a cargo plane flight from Ukraine's Donetsk region, Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said. More than 30 bodies had been returned to St. Petersburg for burial a day earlier.

In the Russian Black Sea resort city of Anapa, where the Pulkovo Airlines Tu-154 had taken off on a flight to St. Petersburg, friends and loved ones buried Natalya Kuznetsova. State-run Rossiya television said the St. Petersburg resident had grown up in Anapa and was vacationing with her husband and son before flying back home alone to return to work while they continued their holiday.

At a village in the Krasnodar region, where Anapa is located, a funeral was held for a 19-year-old man who had been returning to St. Petersburg to start his second year at a university, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Dozens of relatives who had traveled to Ukraine to identify their loved ones were returning to Russia on Saturday, authorities said.

The plane slammed into a field north of Donetsk after its crew sent distress signals as a storm raged in the area.

Ukraine's Emergency Ministry said that while emergency workers were loading fragments of the shattered plane to clear the site, they found two bodies including one of a small child.

The crash was the third major air disaster involving a Russian airline or airport this year. An Airbus A-310 of the Russian airline S7 skidded off a runway and burst into flames on July 9 in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, killing 124 people, and an A-320 of the Armenian airline Armenia crashed into the Black Sea while trying to land in the Russian resort city of Sochi in rough weather in May, killing all 113 people aboard.

Source: AP

Saturday, August 26, 2006

New WBC Champ Ready To Fight Klitschko

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia’s heavyweight WBC champion Oleg Maskaev has accepted an offer to fight against IBF heavyweight champion Vladimir Klitschko, the agency reported. The date of the bout is to be set.

Ukranian boxer Klitschko celebrates as he is declared the winner and new IBF heavyweight champion in Mannheim

Maskaev said in an interview with the ESPN TV channel he is willing to fight against Klitschko. “I would like to have this bout but the schedule is problem. I need some time to recover,” he said.

Maskaev went to fight Hasim Rahman on August 12 with a back injury, and injured a thumb and the left arm’s elbow in the bout.

Vladimir Klitschko’s camp are not willing to put off a defense from November 11. Shannon Briggs is also named a likely candidate to fight Klitschko Jnr.

However, Maskaev and Klitschko’s managers already discussed financial terms of the deal. The Russian’s representative Dennis Rappaport said Ukraine’s Klitschko and his people agreed to divide the fight profits in half, though they earlier wanted to get all profits from TV broadcast in Germany.

Source: Kommersant

Former Ukrainian Leader Lazarenko Sentenced In SF

SAN FRANCISCO, USA -- A former prime minister of Ukraine was sentenced Friday by a federal judge in San Francisco to nine years in prison and fined $10 million for laundering millions of dollars in extortion funds through U.S. banks.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko leaves the federal building after he was sentenced in federal court to nine years in prison and $10 million in fines for money laudering, wire fraud and extortion,

U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins said "a significant sentence is appropriate" for Pavel Lazarenko, 53, because of his "utilization of the financial system of this country to conceal ill-gotten gains."

Lazarenko was prime minister -- the second-highest position in Ukraine -- in 1996 and 1997.

He was convicted by a jury in Jenkins' court in 2004 of 14 counts of laundering $21.7 million through American banks, money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud and transfer of stolen funds.

Prosecutors said he obtained the funds through extortion and kickbacks while holding a series of Ukrainian government posts in the 1990s. Lazarenko fled to the United States in 1999.

Prosecutors said the 14 counts concerned a total of $44 million in illegally gained funds, including $30 million extorted from former Ukrainian businessman Peter Kiritchenko and $14 million skimmed off from Naukovy State Farm, a state-owned dairy farm.

The unusual trial required prosecutors to prove both that the money laundering, fraud and stolen property transfers took place in violation of American law and that the money was gained illegally under Ukrainian law in effect at the time.

Lazarenko is only the second former foreign leader to be prosecuted in a U.S. court.

The other was deposed Gen. Manuel Noriega of Panama, who was sentenced in federal court in Miami in 1992 to 30 years in prison for cocaine trafficking.

U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan said after Lazarenko's sentencing, "The defendant's crimes lasted for over seven years and resulted in a $44 million loss to Ukrainian citizens and the laundering of over $21 million through the American banking system.

"As this case shows, we will persevere and obtain convictions and lengthy sentences for corrupt public officials -- even if they are from foreign countries -- especially when they abuse the American banking system to conceal their gains," Ryan said.

Defense attorney Doron Weinberg said that if the conviction were upheld, he would consider the sentence fair, but said Lazarenko's lawyers expect the conviction to be overturned on appeal.

"We believe no American crime was committed," Weinberg said. "We expect that will be the result on appeal and so we expect the conviction will be set aside."

Defense attorneys argued during the trial that Lazarenko gained his wealth legally through business deals during a tumultuous time in the early 1990s as the former Soviet republic moved from a Communist to a capitalist economy.

Weinberg said that Lazarenko is likely to serve only three and one-half to five years in prison, with credit for previous time in jail and for good behavior.

Defense attorneys had suggested a sentence of a little more than four years, while prosecutors, charging he "engaged in massive abuse of both his public office and the United States' financial system," urged the judge to impose a penalty of more than 19 years.

Last fall, Lazarenko told a Ukrainian television interviewer he had cleared his name in the U.S. courts and in March, he was elected in absentia to a regional parliament in Dnepropetrovsk, according to the government brief, which accused him of "an ongoing refusal to accept any responsibility for his criminal activities."

Jenkins scheduled a further hearing for Sept. 29 to consider the government's bid for forfeiture of $22.8 million in money laundering proceeds and a request by Kiritchenko for $17.3 million in restitution.

Kiritchenko, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge and became a prosecution witness against Lazarenko, is awaiting sentencing.

The forfeiture request includes $21.7 million in money laundering proceeds plus another $1.2 million for an increase in value of a Novato house Lazarenko bought with some of the proceeds in 1998.

Lazarenko bought the house, which once belonged to actor Eddie Murphy, for $6.7 million, but it was re-appraised at $7.9 million this spring, according to a prosecution brief.

Jenkins will also consider on Sept. 29 Lazarenko's motion for release on bail while he appeals.

Lazarenko has been on home detention at an undisclosed location on an $86 million bond since 2003 and is paying for the costs of a security task force to maintain the house arrest.

Lazarenko was originally convicted of a total of 29 counts, but last year, the judge dismissed 15 counts of wire fraud and transfer of stolen property, saying there wasn't enough evidence for those convictions.

Earlier, midway through the 2004 trial, the judge dismissed 24 other counts related to alleged kickbacks on a natural gas distribution contract and a housing enterprise.

The two actions together left only 14 counts in place from a 53-count indictment filed against Lazarenko in 2000.

Source: NBC11

Friday, August 25, 2006

State Glory: Gulag Of The Russian Mind

NEW YORK, NY -- It is now 15 years since the failed coup of August 1991 against Mikhail Gorbachev. At the time, Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost were seen by Soviet hardliners as a sellout of communist Russia to the capitalist West.

Mikhail Gorbachev

But it is now clear that the KGB and the military who launched the coup were not defending the idea of communism. They were protecting their idea of Russia's imperial mission, a notion that had given the Kremlin commissars greater control of the vast Russian empire, and of Russia's neighbors, than any of the czars had ever enjoyed.

Gorbachev's reforms not only liberated ordinary Russians from the straitjacket of Marxism-Leninism, but also released the national aspirations of people who had been locked in the empire for centuries. Having seen the peoples of Central Europe free themselves from Soviet domination just two years before, the constituent nations of the Soviet Union were beginning to seek the same freedom for themselves.

The Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were the first to insist on traveling their own national path, and have since linked their fate to Europe as members of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Others soon followed. By December 1991, the Soviet empire was no more.

But only the Baltics have secured the sort of independence dreamed of in 1991. Georgia, which is both European and Asiatic, teeters on the edge of instability.

Traditionally Asian Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have resumed the tribal forms of autocracy they practiced throughout the centuries. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have in essence become their presidents' wholly owned family fiefs.

Ukraine's break with Russia was perhaps the most wrenching, both for those in the Kremlin nostalgic for imperial control and for ordinary Russians who see Ukraine as the wellspring of Russian civilization. The Orange Revolution of 2004, which overturned a rigged presidential election, proved that Ukraine was no longer a Malorossiya (a small Russia), an inferior and subordinate Slavic brother.

That peaceful revolution, led by Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, was a reminder of how enlightened Kievan Rus had been before it was forced to give way to the despotic princes of Moscow.

Two years after the Orange revolt, Yushchenko (a politician who seems out of his depth) has now accepted the Kremlin placeman Viktor Yanukovich, the foe he had vanquished in 2004, as his new prime minister.

Nonetheless, the Orange movement -- now led by Yushchenko's former partner and prime minister, Tymoshenko -- has not fully lost its way, and still aims to preserve Ukraine as a truly independent and free country. Malorossiya, for the majority of Ukrainians, remains a thing of the past.

Despite all these epochal changes, Russians cannot accept the loss of their imperial role. The dream of empire is, indeed, the gulag that imprisons the Russian mind. Most Russians do not regard Europe's approach to their country's borders as a sign that they have, at long last, fully united with the civilization of which they are a part, but as a source of insecurity.

Something more is at work here than mere nostalgia. During the chaotic years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, it was perhaps understandable that Russians regretted their loss of great power status. Something had to be blamed for their dire economic conditions. Yet under President Vladimir Putin, with the economy growing robustly, these feelings have hardened, not diminished.

Russians are reverting to the past -- to the grand pronouncements of Russia as a unique great nation, destined to rule the world. As before the advent of Gorbachev -- indeed, restoring a centuries-old tendency -- Russians yet again believe that the people should be willing to forfeit their freedoms for the sake of the greatness of the state, which wins wars and launches Sputniks. A free press, free speech and free elections, it is feared, may diminish the brute power that is needed for Russia to assert itself.

Russians have long boasted of their various unique forms of greatness: first it was the holy Russian soul, so superior to Western practicality. In the 15th century, Moscow was declared a "Third Rome," the savior of spiritual Christianity.

The 17th century united this spiritual mission with imperial expansion, which eventually encompassed a landmass spanning 11 time zones. In the early 20th century, the imperial and spiritual mission became one, as Russia became the bastion of world communism.

All these forms of greatness, however, demanded that ordinary Russians accept debasement and enslavement. Development is not seen as a means of improving people's lives, but as helping Russia prove itself to be superior to everybody else. So, ultimately, the material achievements of Russian development always come with a body count. Josef Stalin's industrialization killed millions -- and became obsolete in only 30 years.

Putin's Russia doesn't go in for mass killing, yet it has not lost the country's "superiority" complex.

For Russia's elite, a restaurant bill cannot be too expensive, and one can never have enough bodyguards waiting out front for you. On a grander scale, Putin's Russia has become a great power in terms of energy production, but that looks to be temporary, as scant investment is being made to maintain and improve the oil and gas fields. What matters is selling the reserves and being rich now, not finding more for later.

So, as always, the trouble with Russia is that the state develops, but society doesn't. The good of the people is sacrificed for the good of the nation. The dream of great Russia remains the gulag of the Russian mind.

Source: The Japan Times

Former Ukraine Prime Minister Facing Prison For Extortion

SAN FRANCISCO, USA -- More than two years after being convicted of money laundering, wire fraud and extortion, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko faced sentencing before a U.S. judge Friday, and prosecutors are seeking the maximum term.

In arguing for an 18-year sentence, authorities say the 53-year-old former premier misused his high office in the former Soviet republic to get rich through a series of business schemes. He was the first former head of government to be tried in the United States since Manuel Noriega of Panama.

"The defendant's conduct was egregious, he misused his office to generate tens of millions for himself at the expense of the Ukrainian people and then sought to avail himself of our banking system to safeguard his criminal proceeds," federal prosecutor Peter Axelrod argued in court papers.

In addition to prison time, authorities seek more than $66 million in fines and restitution.

Prosecutors also urged U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins to impose the maximum sentence, so Lazarenko couldn't again exploit Ukrainian citizens. In March, Lazarenko was elected to a regional parliament office in Dnepropetrovsk.

A 12-member U.S. jury in San Francisco convicted him in June 2004.

Lazarenko has since remained under house arrest at an undisclosed location on $86 million bail.

Lazarenko denied he siphoned funds or accepted bribes in exchange for government contracts and favors, claiming his multimillion dollar fortune was earned legitimately at a time his country, emerging from the Soviet Union's collapse, had a new and lawless free-market economy.

Defense attorneys, who are pushing for a four-year sentence for their client, also said the prosecution was politically motivated and that political foes withheld evidence that could have exonerated him.

Doron Weinberg, one of Lazarenko's three attorneys, labeled the government's sentencing recommendation as "Draconian."

"This is the only implication that can be drawn," Weinberg said.

Lazarenko sought political asylum in the U.S. in 1999 during his country's presidential election campaign, claiming he had faced three assassination attempts.

Instead the U.S. government arrested him and said it decided to try him to prevent criminals from using the United States as a safe haven for dirty money.

According to the U.S. government, Lazarenko used his political clout to set up an international underground network of bank accounts to launder profits made through clandestine schemes involving natural gas, agribusiness, housing and other businesses in Ukraine. Authorities claimed $114 million was directed to banks in the U.S., mostly institutions in San Francisco.

Before trial, Jenkins had said the government must prove Lazarenko violated both U.S. and Ukrainian law.

Lazarenko has appealed his conviction.

Source: AP

Ukraine's Yushchenko Urges End To Language Debate, Backs Church

KIEV, Ukraine -- Addressing the nation on its Independence Day Thursday, the Ukrainian president called for the promotion of the Ukrainian language among politicians and the establishment of a united, independent Orthodox church.

In a speech from a central square in Kiev, Viktor Yushchenko said all the country's politicians should be able to speak Ukrainian.

Twenty-four percent of the population in Ukraine, which is marking the 15th anniversary of its secession from the Soviet Union, speak Russian, particularly those living in the east of the country, near the Russian border.

"The principle of this country is simple - a Ukrainian citizen is free to choose," Yushchenko said. "But a Ukrainian politician or a public servant must know, use and live by the national language."

Yushchenko also called for an end to religious debates. Ukraine's two leading religions are Catholicism dominating in the west and Orthodoxy in the east.

The president also said he advocated independence and international recognition for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Following Ukraine's independence in November 1991, Metropolitan Filaret, then head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, convened a national church council and declared the canonical independence of the Ukrainian church from Russian.

The council later asked Alexy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to approve the decision, but it was rejected in April 1992, and the Russian church went so far as to anathematize Filaret.

The Kiev Patriarchy has not been recognized by any of the world's Orthodox churches.

Yushchenko also called for a nationwide discussion aimed at historical reconciliation and mutual understanding between the eastern and the western parts of the country.

The split in Ukrainian society became particularly evident during the past 20 months of political turmoil, when candidates backed by the east and west of the country vied for power. The country emerged from the political wrangling with a pro-Western president, Yushchenko, and a new prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, backed by eastern Ukrainians.

The Ukrainian leader further said he expected parliament, the Supreme Rada, to adopt a bill declaring the famine of 1932-33, or "holodomor", an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation.

The famine, which claimed millions of lives, is said to have been deliberately orchestrated by the Soviet authorities under Joseph Stalin to destroy Ukrainian society and culture in order to subdue the nation.

Yushchenko instructed the government to set up a memorial to the victims of the famine by the 75th anniversary of the tragic events.

The fourth Saturday of November is the day of commemoration of the famine victims in Ukraine.

Source: RIA Novosti

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Putin Urges Breakthrough In Relations With Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hopes Russia and Ukraine will achieve "real" strategic cooperation soon, the Kremlin press office reported Thursday.

In a letter to congratulate President Viktor Yushchenko on Ukrainian Independence Day, Putin said: "Our people have always been and remain the closest neighbors, bound by strong bonds of friendship and trust. I am positive mutual understanding and compromise will help us tackle unresolved problems and achieve a real strategic partnership in our relations."

Putin said circumstances were favorable for improved cooperation between the two countries, and he highlighted areas of primary concern as including energy, investment and contacts within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose union of former Soviet nations.

Russia has pinned its hopes on Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's new prime minister. As a representative of the largely Russian-speaking industrial east of Ukraine, he is seen as someone who can balance the Western-oriented policies being pursued by the Yushchenko government.

Relations between the two former Soviet neighbors were marred by a series of disputes since Yushchenko and his "orange revolution" team came to power in early 2005, the gas price row being the most acute among them.

Russia briefly turned off natural gas supplies to Kiev in early 2006 after Ukraine refused to pay a market price for it. Ukraine and Russia then exchanged accusations, with Ukraine condemning what it called political revenge, and Russia claiming that gas intended for Europe was being siphoned off.

Yanukovych, who was confirmed as premier in early August, made his first official foreign visit to Russia. He later said a compromise price for natural gas, crucial to Ukraine's fuel-intensive heavy industry, would not be raised further this year, though the price for 2007 had yet to be negotiated.

While in Russia, Yanukovych also said the two countries should intensify talks aimed at establishing a common economic space. The project -- which also involves Kazakhstan and Belarus -- has been criticized by pro-Western politicians in Ukraine, who have pushed for European integration, for allegedly being dominated by Russia.

But Yanukovych toned down his pro-Russian rhetoric since a national unity agreement was signed with the "orange" team in late July, ending the protracted political crisis in Ukraine.

Source: RIA Novosti

Growing Pains

KIEV, Ukraine -- As Ukraine prepares to celebrate Independence Day it finds itself no longer at the infancy stage but firmly in its teens, though full adulthood is still at least a few years away.

That is probably an accurate assessment of the last 15 years. Ukraine had a rocky, unsure start as it began the 1990s with two Leonids - Kravchuk followed by Kuchma - at the helm.

It sees in the start of its 16th with two Viktors - Yushchenko and Yanukovych - steering the country. At the beginning of independence many ordinary folk were confident, buoyed by the feeling that resources-rich Ukraine would do better as an independent state as the Soviet Union imploded and the referendum on independence received the unanimous support of people in December 1991.

Kravchuk experienced huge inflation and Kuchma, promising reforms, found that, like many other politicians, it is easier to promise than deliver. He brought Ukraine some stability but was too busy playing off the European Union and Russia on the foreign front and magnates and businesses on the home front.

Viktor Yushchenko fought Viktor Yanukovych for the presidency and won only for the latter to complete a remarkable return by returning as prime minister with more powers than the president. Fifteen years on, and less than two years after the Orange Revolution, people's expectations have been tempered and, unfortunately, a level of realism and sense of "stability", a word used unsparingly during the Kuchma era, have set in.

However, there is no doubt that Ukraine has made progress in many respects. Economically, much needs to be done but the mass media is now freer and the political system is moving, albeit slowly, towards greater responsibility.

There is a plethora of political forces out there, giving the voter a wide choice of ideology, even if the majority of the main players hail from the Communist era and these forces do not resemble apparent counterparts in the West.

Perhaps more importantly a responsive civil society is being formed, thanks in part to the Orange Revolution. People now feel more confident about standing up for their rights.

Many thrifty business people, working mainly in small and medium-sized companies created from scratch, are thriving. However, it has to be said that progress by entrepreneurs has largely been despite and not due to the efforts of the authorities over 15 years.

Many people have been weaned off looking to the state to provide for them from "the cradle to the grave", as was the case in Soviet times. A middle class is forming and as society becomes more stratified the danger exists that unless an adequate social security system is put into place society will be divided even more into “the haves and have nots”.

Such social protection is vital during the lengthy transition from a command economy to one based on free market lines. Though it can be said that Ukrainian society is now more meritocratic than before much still needs to be done to give people in rural areas the opportunity and means to at least compete on a level playing field.

Cosy relationships and arrangements need to be challenged. A start could be made from the very top by ensuring MPs and their relatives declare all their interests, business or otherwise.

Business and politics have still not been separated. The countryside has been neglected by all governments and parties of every political color, despite promises to invest in the infrastructure.

Many big problems still exist – ubiquitous corruption and business monopolies are just two. Excessive, pointless bureaucracy is a third. It could be argued that time and opportunities have been squandered by politicians in moving the country ahead.
However, for all that Ukraine is now firmly on the world map.

No longer is it known just because of Dynamo Kyiv, Chornobyl or the latest scandal. Now it is known in the world for successful people like Ruslana, the Klitshcko brothers and Andriy Shevchenko.

It is known for quality products like its steel, the Ruslan plane and the Kolchuga radar system. It is known for the Carpathian Mountains, Crimea and wildlife reserves like the Aakania-Nova Biosphere Reserve.

Perhaps what Ukraine needs more than anything is a new and youthful generation of politicians to move it on over the next 15 years.

Perhaps then Ukraine will be able to make a qualitative big step to fulfill the hopes and dreams of those who voted for independence back in 1991.

Source: Kyiv Post

Air Tragedy Hits Nation On Eve Of Independence

KIEV, Ukraine -- Two days before the country was to celebrate its 15th anniversary of Independence, Ukraine once again became the scene of a terrible air disaster.

Emergency ministry workers collect bodies from the wreckage of a Russian Tupolev Tu-154 airplane of Pulkovo Airlines which crashed, 45 km (30 miles) north of the regional town of Donetsk

All 170 passengers and crew aboard a Russian airliner were killed when the plane crashed into a field 30 miles north of the eastern city of Donetsk at around 3 p.m. on Aug. 22.

Eyewitnesses of the crash said the Tu-154, headed from the Crimea resort town of Anapa to Russia’s St. Petersburg, was flying amidst rain and lightning when it suddenly went into a loud tail spin, bursting into flames as it hit the ground.

As the Post went to press on Aug. 23, investigators were still combing through the wreckage, trying to identify the victims and determine the cause of the tragedy.

According to preliminary reports by airport officials in St. Petersburg, as many as half a dozen foreigners from Western Europe may have been on board.

Around a fourth of the passengers were children reportedly under the age of 12, many returning home from their summer vacation.

The flight recorders, or so-called black boxes, have been recovered from the site, where Russian and Ukrainian cleanup crews numbering almost 500 were deployed.

"Right now, it is difficult to determine the cause of the accident," Ukraine's Transport Minister Mykola Rudkovsky said in televised remarks. He noted, however, that weather had been severe, and suggested the plane might have flown into a cyclone.

Ukrainian officials said a storm with heavy winds, driving rain and flashes of lightning was raging through the region at the time.

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova, citing information from her Ukrainian counterparts, said the plane was likely hit by lightning.

The pilot asked to make an emergency landing before disappearing from the radar screens at around 2:30 p.m. (1130GMT), said Mykhaylo Korsakov, an Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman in Donetsk.

Rudkovsky said the pilot was given permission to change course by about 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the east.

The wreckage was found about an hour after the plane disappeared from radar screens in Sukha Balka, a village about 400 miles (640 kilometers) east of Kyiv.

Under sunny skies Aug. 23, fragments of the plane - its engines, parts of the landing gear, the nose and chunks of the fuselage - were scattered around fields and a small forest.

Authorities had stretched red tape around a 700 square meters (7,500 square feet) area as investigators hunted for the recorders.

Vadim Seryogin, head of the team from the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, said Russian investigators, prosecutors and security service officials were at the site.

Authorities planned to begin collecting the bodies later Aug. 23, and at least 50 relatives were expected to visit the crash scene, said Vasily Nalyotenko, deputy general director of Pulkovo Airlines.

Of the 170 people on board, 45 were children, Pulkovo Airlines deputy director Anatoly Samoshin told reporters at the St. Petersburg airport. The list of passengers, most of whom were from St. Petersburg, appeared to include many families.

Preliminary information indicated a citizen of Netherlands, France, Finland and two Germans were among those who died, Nalyotenko said.

He said the 39-year-old captain of the crew was an experienced pilot who had flown 11,900 hours.

The crash was the third major incident involving Russia's aviation industry this year. It came less than two months after an Airbus A-310 of the Russian airline S7 skidded off a runway and burst into flames on July 9 in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, killing 124 people.

On May 3, an A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia crashed into the Black Sea while trying to land in the Russian resort city of Sochi in rough weather, killing all 113 people aboard.

Russian-made Tu-154s are widely used by Russian airlines for many regional flights.

Ukraine is also no stranger to air tragedy.

In late July 2002, Ukraine was the scene of the world’s worst air-show disaster near Lviv when a fighter jet crashed into a crowd of spectators, killing almost 80 people.

In October 2001, a Tu-154, flying from Tel-Aviv (Israel) to Novosibirsk (Russia) with 78 people on board, crashed in the Black Sea on Oct. 4, 2001, after being shot down by a stray anti-aircraft missile launched during a Ukrainian military exercise.

As with the earlier disasters, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has opened a criminal case into the Aug. 22 Donetsk crash.

Aug. 23 was declared a day of mourning, with festive events planned to mark the country’s Independence Day celebrations in the center of Kyiv put off until Aug. 26.

The air tragedy sends a dark cloud over Donbass, whose leaders have been triumphant since taking control over most seats in the government and parliament earlier this summer in a surprise comeback from their routing during the 2004 Orange Revolution.

A bilateral commission has been set up to investigate the disaster with top officials from Russia and Ukraine taking part.

The Russian Cabinet of Ministers has promised assistance to the families of the victims.

St. Petersburg governor Valentin Matvienko announced on Aug. 22 that the city would pay compensation to the victims’ families.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Comeback Kid

KIEV, Ukraine -- Viktor Yanukovych hasn’t stopped smiling since July. He was smiling when the Orange Coalition collapsed thanks to his new buddy Oleksandr Moroz crossing the floor, allowing his Blue Coalition to step in and take over.

He was smiling as the heart-wrenched President Yushchenko reluctantly agreed to admit his adversary to the most powerful post in the land. He was smiling during his swearing-in ceremony in the half-empty parliamentary chamber. And he was smiling as he strutted comfortably beside Russian President Putin at a private Black Sea resort, dressed in matching silver suits like two aging rock stars on a comeback tour.

Perhaps they were. The new PM rushed off to patch up “spoiled relations” with Russia, and it seemed remarkable that Putin – a president embroiled in civil war in Chechnya, and coming off a tough meeting with world leaders – would have cleared his schedule and found a whole weekend for such a minor figure as a government leader. The G8 leaders would have wished as much.

Just like the G8 summit, this meeting was all about energy – with Ukraine coming up with the short stick again and the average taxpayer footing the bill. Gas prices will rise, despite Yanukovych’s ridiculous campaign promises of 2004. By this time next year, the economy can be expected to slow down as higher gas prices help to depress the economy and drive trade underground and able-bodied workers abroad.

Even the most timid of political observers can also venture that gas was not the only topic on the agenda. One can almost smell the burnt rubber from the certain amount of backpedaling on trade issues and other crucial areas of Ukrainian-Russian relations. One can only hope that Yanukovych felt somewhat discomforted being compared in the press with former-PM and rival Yuliya Tymoshenko as to his conduct at the gas talks.

For Orange supporters – those supporting the West-leaning, democratic-oriented political parties - the last two months have been a nightmare. For the average Orange revolutionist, it was a cruel, cruel disappointment to watch Yanukovych sworn in as Ukraine’s 13th Prime Minister during the late-summer ceremony.

It was a bitter pill for the ordinary men and women, young and old, who awoke from the slumber of lethargic politics after a century, and who – having had their fill of corruption and deceit from public officials - sat in unwashed winter clothing for three weeks eating mass made soup and tried to prove a point.

The revolution symbolized a forum to turn all the grumbling and idealism into activity. Unfortunately, this opportunity to give a voice to people power has been wasted. Now the dream is over. There will not be another colored revolution. Nor will there be any need for a government crackdown. Yanukovych’s ascension to the throne ensured that such a huge show of public protest can be peacefully ignored.

The biggest public disenchantment lies with the politicians of the Orange coalition. Nobody can be more disappointed than Orange coalition mover and shaker Yuliya Tymoshenko, who remains in shock and awe at the defection of key coalition members, particularly such morally upstanding politicians as newly-enthroned parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz.

Moroz’s motives remain an enigma, particularly in light of press rumors of bribery. Although a staunch socialist, Moroz has proven a wily, yet calming influence on the Ukrainian political scene, averting more than one political crisis over two decades, and playing a major role in the Orange revolution. In 20 years, he has earned respect from all quarters of the political pie for being honest and loyal. He showed none of those qualities this summer.

This latest political meltdown of democratic forces should come as no surprise really. In fact, it follows a pattern established back when Soviet leader Gorbachev loosed the reigns on political candidates in the late 1980s.

A ‘kid-in-the-candy-store’ effect resulted quickly in which the very ability to form an alternative party after 70 years of one party politics sparked an explosion of parties and opportunities for personal political gain. Political diversity has now backfired with no unifying vision for the future, too many views of democracy and virtually no leadership material.

Until firebrand gas queen Tymoshenko entered politics, Ukraine had a dearth of charismatic and capable leaders in the democratic camp with countrywide appeal. In the end, the country settles for individuals like its current choice of PM – tough guys masquerading as father figures for the nation. But this tough talk and finger-pointing has become a hard sell with the modern, urban under-40 crowd who grew up under independence. They expect more finesse and professionalism.

The parliamentary elections in March were a disaster, and parliament should have been mercifully dissolved three months ago. The interim bickering has allowed Yanukovych and his kinder, gentler Party of Regions to reinvent themselves, aided by a gaggle of U.S. advisors.

However, these advisors and Western governments should not make the mistake of thinking that Yanukovych has had a change of heart or could be even mildly good for Ukrainian politics. He could not even wrestle lower gas prices – his big election promise – out of his new best friend, the Russian president. Yanukovych has simply changed his tactics.

Moreover, the only reason that Yanukovych regained his old Prime Ministerial office was because, for the first time in Ukraine’s new history, a president honored his word by following the rule of law and not his heart or the pocketbook of his cronies – and permitted the majority coalition of parties to form a government. The public should not be too angry with Yushchenko, who was left with a terrible choice.

It could have been so tempting for a minute to quash his rival, bringing some temporary personal satisfaction and revenge – all at the expense of the country’s political stability. But he didn’t do it. Now, for the next two years, Yushchenko will battle to keep Yanukovych in check.

This time around, rather than having free reign as was the case in the Kuchma regime, Yanukovych’s hands are somewhat bound by the Universal he signed with the president and by the whims of his political financiers.

Two years ago the PM hoped to gain power with the strong-arm tactics he learned in the penal system, like making ridiculous statements about his opponents and filling buses with large, leather-coated young men whose chief task was to beat up pensioners who were manning voting boxes. Today, opposition papers are rife with accusations that he has turned to the softer methods of promises and lining bank accounts.

So, what can we expect from the new Prime Minister? More of the same. The West – and more importantly the Ukrainian people - should be under no illusions that Yanukovych has changed and sworn off corruption and bribery. He is still a product of the soviet system raised on a feudal Russian system, and he knows and believes in no other.

Although his handlers try to paint a new image, the fine capitalist veneer cannot hide the coarse underlay – the tough, resilient boy from the coal mining regions who had to claw his way to the top. The ultimate key is power – both political and financial.

Finally, political watchers are wondering what awaits Ukrainian politics next. There are two possible outcomes. First, Yanukovych may enjoy a long run and achieve his goals of running for and winning the presidency, rewarding his friends and hiding behind the umbrella of Russian friendship for 5-10 years. But an even more likely scenario is possible.

As even the most casual spectator of Ukrainian politics has observed – prime ministers don’t last that long. With an average stay of 8 months, election to the Cabinet means a short but sweet career, although some PM’s have lasted up to two years.

In a peculiar twist of Ukrainian politics, Yanukovych could be gone in six months for any number of reasons, including the oft-cited presidential favorite “for failing to carry out his obligations as PM”. Whether he finds himself banished to the sidelines of politics or at the very heights of power, it is clear that even Yanukovych realizes Ukraine is a sovereign state that can no longer rely on good neighbors for such things as cheaper energy supplies.

Ultimately, a third of the voting public elected Yanukovych. His election is not about one man’s popularity, but about what he represents. So, a third of the population is trying to send a message that they cannot cope with the radical changes of the past 15 years and they seek solace in the comfort of familiar bygone days.

Runaway inflation, unemployment, high living costs and social changes threaten belief systems and security. The PM is promising a return to the familiar, something closer to the soviet utopia of predictable daily life and basic needs.

The Orange revolutionists offered the unknown. Thus, in the future both Western aid agencies and democratic movements must improve the circumstances of these most vulnerable sections of the population. It is on this basis that real democratic reforms can be built.

Source: Kyiv Post

KGB Used Clairvoyants As Agents — Report

MOSCOW, Russia -- Allegations that Soviet rulers enlisted the services of clairvoyants to spy on their enemies seem to have found confirmation, a popular Russian tabloid claims.

Correspondents of the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said that not long before he passed away, Professor Alexander Spirkin, well-known scholar and co-author of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, admitted in an interview that the Soviet KGB employed clairvoyants to spy on their enemies.

Alexander Spirkin used to head a secret lab under the Soviet government and worked closely with clairvoyants hired to carry out special missions for the Kremlin.

“I used to work closely with hundreds of all sorts of extrasensory individuals,” Mr. Spirkin recalled in a conversation with Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondents.

“In the 1960s, when the [Khrushchev] Thaw began (the period between the end of 1950s and the beginning of 1960s, when repressions and censorship reached a low point) and people began to speak out, groups of people interested in telepathy met at the Moscow Polytechnic Museum.

”Wolf Messing who possessed a true gift of clairvoyance and telepathy was a key figure at those gatherings. I had known him since university. His posters reading: “Experienced in reading thoughts at a distance!” were all over the country.

“In those days I had campaigned for studying those phenomena, claimed they were incomprehensible, and, in terms of Marxist and Leninist ideology inexplicable, but we had no right to deny the fact they exist.

Eventually, I was summoned to the scientific department of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] Central Committee and offered a post of the chairman of the laboratory for biological information. Provided, of course, its operation would be closely watched by the KGB and the Central Committee.”

Spirkin’s task was to hire at least 200 “agents”. Each contender was to fill out a questionnaire containing such questions as: “Which extraordinary properties do you possess?”, “What kind of dreams do you have?”, “Are they of erotic nature?”, “Do you fly in your sleep?”, “Are you able to influence people?” and “Have you ever tried to heal?”

Candidates were examined by a commission made up of clairvoyants who had already proved their ability, and Spirkin himself.

One of the female agents possessed great healing power, as her body produced extraordinary heat. Ivan Fomin used his extrasensory energy to investigate all sorts of disasters and technical malfunctions.

His services are still in demand in Russia, Prof. Spirkin said. He used to work as an advisor to Boris Yeltsin and investigated aircraft accidents. Spirkin also mentioned Boris Shapiro, who possessed a very strong sense of diagnostics. These days, Shapiro consults wealthy entrepreneurs.

All employees of the secret laboratory were closely watched by the Soviet omnipotent security agency — the KGB. Some of the lab staffers, too, were KGB agents. One of such “students” once entered Alexander Spirkin’s office and introduced himself as KGB General Makarevich. The official said that he was ordered to control the professor’s activities because they were of great interest for foreign intelligence and defense agencies, especially for the CIA and the Pentagon.

Spirkin responded that the laboratory had not developed a scientific base that could deserve such immense interests in other countries. The general replied that foreign intelligence officers wanted to know everything, even if there was nothing to know about. “Even the fact we have made no progress whatsoever also amounts to important intelligence data,” he said.

“In the end I had to leave the lab. New know-how and technical devices started to appear but I could hardly make them out. A special committee came to check our equipment, and they were shocked to see how obsolete it was. The laboratory was not closed. A younger scholar took over my post.”

Prof. Spirkin admitted he still did not know what the outcome of the research was. He knew that the military took great interest in the lab’s work, seeking to use clairvoyants for purposes of spying. The Soviets hired clairvoyants to report on the state of health of U.S. leaders or travel to the United States under the guise of tourists, so that they could report on local developments, using their extrasensory abilities.

Source: MOS News

Grieving Relatives Head To Ukraine Crash Site

SUKHA BALKA, Ukraine -- Grieving relatives and investigators were heading to eastern Ukraine on Wednesday where a Russian airliner carrying 170 people home from a seaside resort crashed, killing everyone on board.

Rescue workers, joined by a fresh team of Russian specialists, worked through the night with lights powered by generators, wading through marsh searching for the plane’s “black box” flight recorders, which have now been found.

Officials said the plane had probably been hit by lightning and then hurtled into the ground as the crew tried to maneuver out of a violent storm. But investigators warned against drawing any premature conclusions about the accident.

“Until the commission’s work is complete, we can make no explanations or suppositions,” Vadim Seryogin, head of a rescue team at the site, told Russia’s First Channel television.

Ten crew and 39 children were among the dead in the crash, the second major loss of life involving a Russian airliner in two months. Most of the passengers were Russians but some Dutch nationals were also on board.

Russian television showed the first group of relatives arriving in the Russian Black Sea resort town on Anapa before being taken to the crash site to identify the dead. Others were due to fly in later in the day.

Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin, head of a commission probing the accident, was also heading to the site.

Ball of flame

Russian television showed a film clip taken by a local resident showing a ball of flame rearing up in the distance along with a vast cloud of smoke.

“We all heard a loud rumble and I turned to see the plane beginning to fall...It hung in the air and then began to hurtle toward the ground. It all lasted about 10 seconds,” Yevgeny Donets, in his early 20s, told First Channel.

“We ran to the scene, but you could hardly see for the downpour. Everyone was dead. We made our way through the marshes. There was a big fire and a lot of smoke.”

Fragments of the Soviet-designed Tu-154 jet were scattered across a gully and woodland near the village of Sukha Balka. A burnt-out engine lay in a field and chunks of fuselage jutted out of a clearing.

Ukraine declared Wednesday a national day of mourning. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday would be a day of mourning in his country.

Flight 612, operated by Pulkovo Airlines, was flying on Tuesday afternoon from Anapa back to its home base in St. Petersburg.

Russian television said the aircraft had received authorization from air traffic control to fly across Ukraine’s eastern tip, where it encountered a thunderstorm.

“According to initial information there was a lightning strike on the plane,” a Russian Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday evening.

About 60 people came to the airport in St. Petersburg on Tuesday to meet the flight. Ambulance crews were called out to hand out sedatives after relatives were told of the crash.

Last month, 122 people died when their Airbus skidded off the runway on landing in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. Russian aviation had a poor safety record in the 1990s but it has improved its reputation since then.

Source: Reuters

Mourning For Ukraine Crash Dead

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is holding a national day of mourning on Wednesday for 170 people killed in a plane crash.

Russian Tupolev 154 airliner belonging to the Russian airline Pulkovo. All 170 people aboard a Russian airliner were killed when the plane crashed in eastern Ukraine after it ran into severe weather and was struck by lightning, officials said.

The plane was flying from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St Petersburg when it crashed near Donetsk, Ukraine, killing all on board.

Most of the passengers were thought to be Russians returning from seaside holidays, including about 40 children.

An investigation has begun, with bad weather or a possible fire among the causes under consideration.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that his country would declare Thursday a day of mourning for the victims.

Dutch passengers

The crew of the Pulkovo Airlines flight 612 sent a distress signal at 1537 Moscow time (1137 GMT), and the plane disappeared from radar screens two minutes later, Russian officials said.

It crashed into a field about 45km (30 miles) north of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

The plane was carrying 160 passengers, at least 39 of them children, and 10 crew.

There were foreigners on board, "including Dutch people", according to an official at St Petersburg airport, quoted by AFP.

The fuselage of the plane was entirely destroyed and a thick pall of white smoke hung in the air, an AFP journalist reported from the scene.

"It was floating, it circled around, then it went down," an unidentified women told Russian television.. Immediately there was an explosion ... and smoke started rising."

'Severe weather'

There have been conflicting reports of the cause of the crash.

Ukraine's emergencies ministry said the crew had decided to make an emergency landing after a fire broke out.

But Russian officials told the Itar-Tass news agency that the plane had encountered severe weather conditions before it came down.

Russia says terrorism has been ruled out as a possible cause.

St Petersburg-based Pulkovo Airlines is one of Russia's larger carriers.

The crash is the third serious air disaster in the region this year.

In July, at least 124 people died when a Russian Airbus A-310 skidded off a runway and burst into flames in Irkutsk in Siberia.

Source: BBC News

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Russia Announces Mourning Day As Plane Crash Kills 170

Moscow, Russia -- Russia declared August 24 national mourning day after a Russian passenger jet crashed over Ukraine during a thunderstorm, killing all 170 people on board, including dozens of children.

Firemen work at the site of the crash of a Russian Tupolev Tu-154 plane en route from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St. Petersburg, near the Ukrainian city of Donetsk. All 170 people aboard a Russian airliner were killed when the plane crashed in eastern Ukraine after it ran into severe weather and was struck by lightning, officials said

“I express my grief over the deceased, and send my condolences o their relatives,” President Putin was quoted by as saying. “I resolve to declare August 24th 2006 mourning day in Russia”.

A Emergency officials said preliminary information led them to believe that weather — not terrorism — caused the Pulkovo Airlines’ Tu-154 to plummet to the ground in what was the third passenger plane crash involving Russia’s aviation industry this year.

“Nobody survived,” Mykhaylo Korsakov, spokesman for the Donetsk department of the Emergency Situations Ministry, told The Associated Press.

Ukrainian officials said a storm with high winds, driving rain and lightning was raging through the region at the time. Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova, citing information from her Ukrainian counterparts, said the plane was likely hit by lightning.

Korsakov said the pilot asked to make an emergency landing before disappearing from the radar screens at around 2:30 p.m.

The Tu-154 was en route from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa — a holiday destination popular with families — to St. Petersburg when it ran into trouble. Two minutes after the crew sent a distress signal, it dropped off the radar, said Russian emergency official Yulia Stadnikova.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko also signed a resolution declaring the day of the crash national mourning day in the country.

Residents of Sukha Balka, a village north of Donetsk and some 400 miles east of Kiev, found part of the plane’s tail section and still-burning pieces of debris in a swampy field. Television footage showed scorched, smoldering land covered in small pieces of wreckage. Thick white smoke hung over the debris.

Of the 170 people on board, 45 were children, Pulkovo Airlines deputy director Anatoly Samoshin told reporters at the St. Petersburg airport. The list of passengers, most of whom were from St. Petersburg, appeared to include many families.

Investigators were searching for the flight data recorders commonly called black boxes.

Samoshin said the pilot decided to climb about 3,300 feet to try to get above the storm. But as the plane ascended from 29,500 to 36,000 feet, the pilot sent the first distress signal. Later, the pilot sent two more distress signals, the last from 9,800 feet, he said.

Ukraine Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Igor Krol told AP that a fire broke out on the plane at 32,800 feet and the crew decided to try to make an emergency landing.

“The only known fact is that the weather was bad, there was a strong thunderstorm and poor visibility,” Ukrainian emergency official Leonid Kastorsky told Russia’s NTV at the site of the crash.

The crash occurred just two days before the second anniversary of near-simultaneous explosions on two planes over Russia. Those explosions, which killed 90 people, were blamed on Chechen terrorists.

Both Russian and Ukrainian officials said nothing indicated Tuesday’s incident should be blamed on terrorism.

The crash “was not a terrorist attack,” said Leonid Belyayev, acting director of Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry in St. Petersburg.

The 16-year-old plane had flown 5,600 miles since its last maintenance checkup, and was not immediately due for another check, Samoshin said. Pulkovo is among Russia’s largest airlines.

The plane “was falling down like a petal,” one unidentified woman told Russia’s Channel One, waving her hand from side to side. “It was floating, it circled around, then it went down and then there immediately was an explosion ... and smoke started rising.”

Zhenya Donets, a 16-year-old villager, said he saw the plane hang in the air for a moment, before corkscrewing to the ground.

“There were fragments of the plane and bodies were lying among them. There were children there too. Many bodies were burning, we tried to put the fire out, but all people were already dead. It was a terrible sight,” he said.

The crash was the third major incident involving Russia’s aviation industry this year. It came less than two months after an Airbus A-310 of the Russian airline S7 skidded off a runway and burst into flames on July 9 in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, killing 124 people.

On May 3, an A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia crashed into the Black Sea while trying to land in the Russian resort city of Sochi in rough weather, killing all 113 people aboard.

Russian-made Tu-154s are widely used by Russian airlines for many regional flights.

Source: MOS News