Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ukrainian Lawmakers Probe Gov't Spending

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian lawmakers voted Thursday to set up a special committee to investigate how the government spent the billions of dollars it got from last year's privatization sale of a giant steel mill.

The move comes amid allegations that some of the 24.2 billion hryvna ($4.8 billion) received from the sale of Kryvorizhstal could not be accounted for.

The vote caused an uproar in parliament, and forced Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz to call a temporary break as lawmakers swarmed the speaker's tribunal. When lawmakers returned, a revote was held to overcome objections raised by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc, which has spearheaded the accusations that funds were diverted and which was unhappy with changes in setting up the committee.

Lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament approved the proposal in the second ballot with a vote of 348-0. President Viktor Yushchenko's party, which was in charge of the government when the privatization was held, refused to vote, as did the Socialists, who objected to the decision to hold a revote.

Mittal Steel Co. bought Kryvorizhstal last year in what was billed as Ukraine's biggest and most profitable privatization ever.

The sale price was nearly six times what the mill had fetched under former President Leonid Kuchma, who had sold it to a consortium made up of his son-in-law and another Ukrainian tycoon. That sale was later declared illegal by a Ukrainian court and canceled, and the mill was re-auctioned.

Tymoshenko, who was sacked by President Viktor Yushchenko before the sale took place, has accused the government that replaced her of diverting some of the windfall funds. Officials had pledged to direct some of the funds to the eastern Ukrainian region where the mill is located, to address some ecological and social-economic problems and top up the country's pension fund.

Parliament had initially proposed putting a Communist lawmaker in charge of the commission, but the Communists later withdrew their candidate. The commission will now be headed by a member of Tymoshenko's faction.

Source: AP

Ukrainian Parliament Asks Premier To Fire Interior Minister

KIEV, Ukraine -- Parliament on Thursday called on Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to sack the country's interior minister, a move that will remove one of President Viktor Yushchenko's strongest allies in the government and further weaken the president's position.

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko

Yanukovych was expected to quickly endorse the decision, which lawmakers passed 232-69 - just six over the amount needed to pass.

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, a leading organizer of the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests, was one of the few remaining members of the Orange Revolution team in the current government.

After Yanukovych became premier following this year's parliamentary elections, Yushchenko appealed to him to keep Lutsenko in his job. Yanukovych agreed, even though Lutsenko was deeply unpopular with Yanukovych's supporters, against whom he spearheaded numerous corruption investigations.

Thursday's vote came after a special parliamentary commission concluded that Lutsenko should be sacked. Lutsenko had been accused by the commission of failing to reform police agencies, politicizing his office and corruption. The corruption allegations involved granting officer ranks illegally and giving pistols to citizens without proper licenses.

"People, who are we appointing as ministers?" Yuriy Boldyryev of Yanukovych's Party of Regions said before the vote. "A revolutionary who called on citizens to seize the government? A terminator who has tried to destroy the police?"

Other lawmakers credited Lutsenko with gradually turning around corrupt law enforcement bodies.

"This is nothing more than a political show," said Valentyn Zubov of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc.

The Socialists broke ranks with the other members of the governing coalition and refused to endorse the dismissal of Lutsenko, a former Socialist. The coalition was able to pick up enough votes, however, by winning the support of some lawmakers in Tymoshenko's faction.

Following the vote, Lutsenko said he intended to keep working until the Cabinet formally accepts parliament's decision.

The loss further weakens Yushchenko and could add to tensions between the president and the premier. The pro-Western Yushchenko and the more Russian-leaning Yanukovych share power in an awkward arrangement that was initially billed as an effort to unite Ukraine, but instead has turned into a tug-of-war for influence, with the president largely on the losing end.

Also Thursday, Yushchenko asked parliament to dismiss the head of the state security service, Ihor Drizhchany. The request was submitted with no explanation, and the president's office refused to comment, saying further details would be made available Friday.

An order posted on Yushchenko's Web site Thursday said that Drizhchany had been awarded the rank of army general. Ukraine's Interfax news agency, citing an unidentified official, said that Drizhchany was expected to be named to the president's Security and Defense Council, which would require his resignation from the security service.

Source: AP

Mixed Messages

KIEV, Ukraine -- The on-again, off-again, power tussle between Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Premier Viktor Yanukovych already has many diplomats confused as to who in Kiev is in charge, and which direction the country is heading.

Victor Yushchenko (L) and Viktor Yanukovych

Yushchenko, a proponent of speedy Western integration, has in recent months criticized Yanukovych’s stalling of reform initiatives while downplaying his arch rival’s attempts to muscle away control over domestic and foreign policy. But the question of who is ultimately in control, or holds more influence, is key.

Despite declarations from Yushchenko that his agenda would not be derailed, and assurances from high-level officials insisting Ukraine’s two Viktors are eager to be partners, both men still hold considerably different views on which direction Ukraine should go and at what speed.

Yanukovych has made an effort to appease Western diplomats, assuring them he has changed since Orange Revolution days - that he would support democratization and pragmatic Western integration while keeping relations with Moscow cool.

But his first moves as premier tell a different story. He has stalled integration initiatives. On the domestic front, his government has assertively interfered in the economy, slapping quotas on grain exports, for example.

Furthermore, the surprise announcement this week that Yanukovych would stop off in Moscow ahead of his big United States visit should not be taken lightly. The villain from the Orange Revolution has a history of favoring close ties with Moscow.

It is hard to remain calm as Yanukovych gradually eats away at Yushchenko’s authority. Equally disturbing is Yushchenko’s passive response. Harsh criticism and counter attacks against Yanukovych from Yushchenko-loyal political camps provides some relief. But the efforts do not eradicate rising uncertainty as to which Viktor is in control and which direction they are taking Ukraine.

Indeed, the wrestling match over authority on domestic and foreign policy has sent out a lot of mixed messages in recent months, but none as confusing as the events of this week.

As a front page article in the Post this week points out, Yanukovych will make his first trip to the U.S. since returning as premier. Ever more poised as Ukraine’s leading statesmen alongside an increasingly marginalized president, Yanukovych expressed his desire to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush.

While Bush has shunned the offer, it’s a clear attempt by the Donetsk strongman to further sideline Yushchenko.

Within Ukraine’s political arena, Yanukovych has played a game of cat and mouse, ignoring then partially acquiescing to Yushchenko’s demands.

Yushchenko issued a presidential order demanding he approve Yanukovych’s agenda for the U.S. visit. When Yanukovych failed to comply, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, a dedicated Yushchenko ally, notified the U.S. Embassy that the premier’s trip would be postponed.

Yanukovych responded with a repeat call for Tarasyuk to be fired; Tarasyuk balked at Yanukovych, confidently suggesting Yushchenko would once again ignore such an appeal.

But a day later, on Nov. 29, what was described by a Cabinet official as “a technical” issue was settled, and Yushchenko signed off on Yanukovych’s trip.

Why the confusion? Was it purposely masterminded to prevent a Yanukovych-Bush meeting? Or was the trip genuinely on the verge of cancellation amid a serious fight to control foreign policy? Were the events a repeat of smoke-and-mirror political backroom maneuvering devised by brilliant spin doctors and strategic masterminds?

More likely, the diplomatic fiasco was the aftermath of a chaotic fight for authority by power hungry politicians who have once again put Ukraine’s interests on the backburner to personal ambitions.

Whatever the reason, what we sadly have again on the world arena is another mixed message coming from Kiev.

As another front page article points out, Ukraine has progressed in recent years, jumping ahead of other former USSR states, establishing itself as a beacon of democracy on former Soviet turf.

A study produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research outfit within the Economist magazine group, tagged Ukraine as a “flawed democracy,” a status short of a clear-cut “democracy,” but noticeably ahead of other former Soviet states lingering in the abyss as “hybrid” or “authoritarian” regimes.

Ukraine’s leaders need to finally get their act together and avoid such diplomatic debacles.

Failure to do so could further alienate disenchanted Ukrainians and complicate diplomatic relations with countries eager to help Kiev shed its reputation as a “flawed democracy” to join the rest of Europe.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Looking To 2009 On Ukraine’s Second Orange Anniversary

KIEV, Ukraine -- A year ago, there was still a great deal of optimism in Washington and other Western capitals that following the Orange Revolution, Ukraine would be able to consolidate its democratic gains.

Supporters hold a portrait of President Viktor Yushchenko during a gathering in central Kiev November 22, 2006. Ukraine marked the second anniversary of its 'Orange Revolution' with a minimum of fanfare

On the second anniversary of the Orange Revolution, this optimism has now been replaced by a greater degree of realism and, in some quarters, pessimism.

Was it our optimism that was misplaced or did Ukraine’s Orange leaders fail their voters and the one in five Ukrainians who participated in the Orange Revolution? Indeed, has Viktor Yushchenko ‘betrayed’ the Orange Revolution, as some of his own supporters now claim.

Orange politicians and revolutionaries never had a unified view of what policies they wished to see implemented after Yushchenko came to power. The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and youth NGOs, such as Pora (It’s Time), strongly backed calls to implement the Orange Revolution campaign promise of “Bandits to Prison.”

President Yuschenko and the presidential party, Our Ukraine, have not moved on steps to criminally charge senior officials from the regime of President Leonid Kuchma for election fraud, abuse of office and corruption. Investigations into the two most notorious cases, the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and the poisoning of Yushchenko, have stalled or only led to low-level arrests.

The issue of inaction on ‘bandits to prison’ in and of itself (coupled with undertaking strategic mistakes that permitted the return of Viktor Yanukovych to government) will most probably cost Yushchenko a second term. Voters in 2009 will focus on these two issues (no ‘bandits to prison’ and Yanukovych’s return) rather than democratic gains during his first term in office.

Besides a fractured policy agenda, the Orange coalition was notoriously broad, ranging from Socialists, free market capitalists to nationalists. This enabled a large coalition to be formed that could protest election fraud. But, after the Orange Revolution it proved unable to remain united and disintegrated after only nine months in office. The Orange coalition is never likely to be re-united.

Yushchenko’s election was a victory for democratic forces but never became a knockout blow to the old regime, unlike in Georgya where Mikheil Sakashvili was elected president with 96 percent of the vote (compared to Yushchenko’s 8 percent victory over Yanukovych). Yanukovych and the Party of Regions obtained 44 and 32 percent in 2004 and 2006 respectively, showing that this political force had a popular base.

On the second anniversary of the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is at a crossroads and faces two strategic questions.

First, will the Party of Regions transform itself into a democratic, post-oligarch party. Answers to this question are either pessimistic (as best represented by the Tymoshenko bloc), agnostic (‘lets wait and see’) or optimistic (‘they are already evolving’, ‘they have already evolved’).

Precedents do indeed exist in Eastern Europe for the transition from oligarch to law-abiding businessmen, but those countries had an external stimulant, the offer of EU membership, which Ukraine does not. In addition, one struggles to find an analogy to the Party of Regions in other central-east European countries.

The difference between the Party of Regions’ senior oligarchs and other Ukrainian oligarchs lies in what they did to make their money. Other oligarchs used their insider connections in what could be called white collar crime /corrupt activities. Senior Regions’ oligarchs, on the other hand, extensively used violence as well as white collar crime activities. This background has produced a schizophrenic, multi-vector Party of Regions with whom you never know if they are seeking to shake your hand, steal your watch or physically harm you.

The question of the Party of Regions’ legitimacy is a timely issue coming on the eve of Yanukovych’s Washington visit. Scepticism remains widespread in the USA that there is anything deeper than a Potemkin Perestroika from turtleneck to shirt and tie under his jacket. The onus is on Prime Minister Yanukovych and the Party of Regions to prove to the West and Ukrainians that there is substance to the hitherto Potemkin Perestroika.

Second, is the Orange Revolution reversible following the return of Yanukovych to head the government. Here responses are more guardedly optimistic. The Party of Regions, while controlling the largest parliamentary faction and government, is not in a position of exercising monopoly power to be able to return Ukraine to the semi-authoritarian Kuchma era.

As U.S. scholars such as Paul D’Anieri and Lucan Way have shown, Ukraine’s regionalism mitigates against the dominance of one ruling party and the imposition of an authoritarian regime, making Ukraine different from Russia. Its 32 percent victory in the 2006 elections will not permit the Party of Regions to monopolize power or reverse the Orange Revolution. At the same time, this relative power and control of government could stagnate Ukraine’s reforms into a stable status quo.

Ukraine’s post-Soviet transition was marked by frequently changed governments which lasted on average only 12 months. The last government to be dismissed in such a manner was the Tymoshenko government in September 2005, the first of many strategic mistakes committed by President Yushchenko. Any military officer would tell you that dividing your forces on the eve of a major battle (the parliamentary elections) is a major mistake.

Following constitutional reforms in 2006, the president no longer has the right to dismiss the government, which is now responsible to the parliamentary coalition. The Yanukovych government could therefore remain in place until the October 2009 elections.

The 2009 presidential elections will be fought by three well-known candidates, Yanukovych, Tymoshenko and incumbent Yushchenko. Current polls point to the second round contest being fought by Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, Ukraine’s two most popular politicians. As of today, it is difficult to see how Yushchenko can reach the second round. Indeed, sadly, the aftereffects of his poisoning could well impair him from doing so.

In 2009, Ukraine may therefore face a repeat of the 2004 elections between Orange and Blue forces in two ways.

First, Yanukovych will again launch his candidacy from a position of prime minister. But, on this occasion, Yanukovych will have a stronger launching pad, since the position of prime minister has been enhanced following constitutional reforms.

Second, the 2009 elections could again be a contest between Blue and Orange forces. As prime minister for three years and with a popular base of support, Yanukovych will be guaranteed to enter the second round. The difference would be that Yanukovych’s second attempt to gain the presidency would pit him against Tymoshenko. The former Orange Revolution coalition, which will enter the 2009 elections divided between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, only one of whom will go through to round two.

Only two years into his presidency, Yushchenko increasingly looks isolated. He seemingly rarely listens to advice (or at least does not take heed of it), allows personal conflicts to unduly influence his views, has adopted a disastrous personnel policy and has not shown leadership or strategic vision.

Yushchenko’s greatest weaknesses have been his weak charisma, concomitant inability to stay in touch with core Orange voters, and an inability to exercise power. On going discussions over revising constitutional reforms, ignore the fact that Yushchenko has neither exercised power under the former constitution last year or the revised parliamentary constitution this year.

It is Yushchenko’s overarching perception of being weak, coupled with his inability to implement key Orange Revolution policies, that has drained support away from him to Tymoshenko. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine ignores the demands of its honorary chairman at its recent congress, oligarchs no longer fear him, while former ‘bandits’ return home no longer afraid of prosecution.

One enduring legacy of the Orange Revolution could well be that Ukraine holds free and fair presidential elections in 2009, as it did in March to parliament. The Party of Regions won this year’s elections and Yanukovych could well go on to win the presidency. The lure of this prize may force Yanukovych to modify his image to reach out beyond his Donetsk home base, even if it is only in a Potemkin Perestroika.

Tymoshenko, the head of the opposition, has the ability to block Yanukovych’s election in 2009. She will though have a formidable task of combining two positions, one of an aggressive opposition leader with another, that of a centrist presidential candidate. Tymoshenko needs to reach out beyond her core Orange voters in western-central Ukraine. One reason Yushchenko won in 2004 was that one section of the ruling elites was more afraid of Yanukovych than of him. Some of Ukraine’s elites may fear Tymoshenko, even though this fear may be misplaced.

The 2006 elections showed the Tymoshenko bloc as the only political force that possessed all-national support, as it came second to the Party of Regions throughout most of eastern and southern Ukraine. Yanukovych, on the other hand, will find it difficult to compete with Tymoshenko in central Ukraine while finding it impossible to penetrate western Ukraine. Tymoshenko will absorb the Socialist Party’s voter base in central Ukraine.

The narrowing of Ukraine’s political landscape to the Party of Regions and Tymoshenko bloc would also seem to be taking place inside parliament. Three of the five parliamentary forces are in deep crisis, although only the democratic force (Our Ukraine) admits to this. The Socialists and Communists are unlikely to enter the next parliament. Our Ukraine could be eclipsed by a new center-right political force led by Yuriy Lutsenko, Taras Stetskiv and Mykola Katerynchuk.

To sum up, the presidency is in crisis in its second year, a feature normally only associated with the latter stages of a president’s second term in office (not the first stages of his first term). In parliament’s first year in power, of the five political forces in parliament, three are in crisis and have little support outside.

On Ukraine’s second Orange anniversary, Ukraine is in danger of stagnation in its reforms and therefore an inability to pursue Euro-Atlantic integration. Status quo re-stabilization of the political system, punctuated by ongoing conflicts, in the domestic and foreign policy fields could again lead to Ukraine fatigue, both domestically and externally.

Source: Kyiv Post

A Hit Job Worthy Of The KGB

WASHINGTON, DC -- When the wolf at the door is big enough, the easiest way to deal with him is to invite him in for supper and hope he's content to eat just the wife and kids.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, is leading his country back into the dark ages of Soviet totalitarianism

This is the strategy much of the West, particularly Europe, has adopted for dealing with the threat of the Islamic fascists to put the world under Shariah law, and it may be the way the leaders of the West choose to deal with a resurgence of fascism in the remnants of the old Soviet Union.

Our English cousins are in justifiable dudgeon over the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the one-time colonel in the Russian secret police who fled Russia, landed in London and became an Englishman (sort of).

When Mr. Litvinenko started asking too many questions about the murder of a Russian journalist who was making trouble for the Kremlin, he was poisoned with radioactive polonium 210 and doomed to an agonizing death.

Nearly everybody assumes, rightly or wrongly, that the Russian government, probably with the assent if not the encouragement of Vladimir Putin, ordered the hit and assigned the hit man.

The hit has all the marks of a job by the KGB -- or the Federal Security Service, as the Russians now call the KGB -- even down to the sinister and esoteric choice of poison, polonium 210, which is familiar to nuclear scientists.

Swallowed, breathed and taken through a wound, polonium 210 destroys the internal organs, and death is slow, painful and sure. There is no antidote.

There's speculation that Mr. Litvinenko's death will change the relationship between Russia and the West, or at least between Russia and the leaders of the West who still have a pulse.

The incident recalls in dramatic fashion the bad old days of the Cold War, suggesting that the "new" Russia is not much different from the old one.

The Putin-controlled Russian television networks reported the death in the same surreal way that the old Communist commentators reported the sudden deaths of inconvenient critics of the state: Mr. Litvinenko did not die of poison, but of "intrigues" in the Russian exile community in London. Mr. Litvinenko was "a pawn in a game that he did not understand."

Murder becomes merely a bureaucratic exercise in Mr. Putin's "new" Russia. His secret police are known to take a close interest in critics of the "new" Russia.

Boris Berezovsky, once the deputy chief of the Russian security council but now an exile in Britain, befriended Mr. Litvinenko when he arrived in London.

He learned of the boast of the Russian security police that it "knows what he eats for breakfast, where he has lunch and where he buys his groceries."

Earlier this year, the Russian legislature enacted a law authorizing the Russian president to order the termination with extreme prejudice of "terrorists" in foreign countries.

Unnecessary, but bureaucrats everywhere like to have a piece of paper in hand, duly signed and decorated with the appropriate signatures, ribbons and seals.

Vladimir Putin is clearly not the man the West imagined it saw when he assumed power, nor is he any longer likely the man George W. Bush once described as "a man I can do business with."

Says David Satter, a Russian scholar at the Hoover Institution writing in the Wall Street Journal: "In the last six years, the makeup of the ruling elite in Russia has undergone a dramatic change.

Once in power, Mr. Putin filled the majority of important posts with veterans of the security services, many with ties to him dating back to his work in St. Petersburg. ... Russia was already highly corrupt under Boris Yeltsin, but according to IDEM, an independent Russian think tank, with the rise of oil prices, the level of corruption in Russia between 2002 and 2005 increased 900 percent.

The result of these developments was that Mr. Putin created [a state security apparatus] ruling class. As this class became rooted, the victims of contract killers began to include some of the most prominent political figures in the country."

Mr. Bush, like Tony Blair, may still regard Vladimir Putin as a man he can do business with. Presidents and prime ministers must have a certain polite tolerance for people they rightly loathe, however difficult civility may be.

It's a cost, you might say, of doing business. The rest of us must hope that that civility is all it is. Mr. Putin presides over what looks like "a mafia of peace," which is about as harmless as "the religion of peace."

Source: Washington Times

Conflict Erupts Among Cabinet Ministers Over Ukrainian Premier's Trip To U.S.

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's foreign minister clashed with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych Wednesday over the premier's planned visit to the United States, and called for the trip to be postponed.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (L) and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk (R)

Yanukovych, who would be making his first U.S. visit as prime minister, said in turn that Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk should be fired.

The visit was scheduled to start on Sunday.

Tarasyuk said that instructions for the trip were not approved properly or on time, and asked for the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine to postpone the trip. The U.S. Embassy had no comment.

The government has approved the trip instructions and sent them to President Viktor Yushchenko for approval, which his Cabinet representative said he would give.

"I understand that for these months we have failed to find possibilities to work jointly. The Foreign Ministry cannot run the government," Yanukovych said.

The Western-leaning and nationalist Tarasyuk has clashed frequently with the pro-Russian Yanukovych, as the two vie to influence foreign policy.

Tarasyuk is a strong advocate of NATO membership and of lessening Russia's influence over Ukraine. Yanukovych pledged to improve tense relations with Russia and put Ukraine's membership in NATO on hold.

Yushchenko and Yanukovych also share power in an awkward arrangement that was initially billed as an effort to unite Ukraine. Instead, it has turned into a tug-of-war for influence, with the president largely on the losing end.

Yushchenko repeatedly defended embattled Tarasyuk, and warned that firing him could put Ukraine's pro-Western course at risk.

Source: AP

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ukraine Adopts Famine-As-Genocide Bill

KIEV, Ukraine -- Parliament adopted a bill Tuesday recognizing the Soviet-era forced famine as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people in a vote seen as a victory for pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko.

Kiev monument to 1932-1933 Ukrainian genocide

The bill passed in a vote of 233-1, a small majority in the 450-seat legislature. Many lawmakers chose not to participate in the vote, choosing silence on a highly divisive issue.

The 1932-33 famine, known here as "Holodomor" or "Death by Hunger," was orchestrated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and killed 10 million Ukrainians, almost one-third of its population at the time.

"It is a belated move, but it is our obligation to remember," said lawmaker Borys Bespaliy, a Yushchenko ally. "Those who do not remember do not have a future."

The recognition opens the door to potential legal consequences including compensation for famine victims and recognition of the famine by the United Nations as genocide against Ukrainian people. Ten countries, including the United States, have recognized the famine as genocide. U.N. recognition would imply an international acceptance.

Moscow strongly opposed calling the famine genocide, contending that the famine did not specifically target Ukrainians and warning Ukraine not to "politicize" the issue.

Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's party proposed using the word "tragedy" instead of genocide, in what was seen as an effort to avoid spoiling ties with Russia. Only two lawmakers from the party's 186-member faction supported the bill.

A total of 200 lawmakers registered in the hall did not cast a ballot in what analysts described as an effort to avoid Russia's ire, while not disappointing their constituents. An independent poll released last week showed that around 70 percent of Ukrainians support recognizing the famine as genocide.

Yanukovych, the pro-Russian politician who ran against Yushchenko in the fraud-plagued 2004 election sparking the Orange Revolution, told a small group of foreign journalists that Ukrainians were not alone in their suffering.

"It happened on the territory of many countries (former Soviet republics), maybe in Ukraine it had a greater effect as Ukraine is a more agricultural country," Yanukovych said.

Due to the resistance in parliament, the bill proposed by Yushchenko underwent several changes, including referring to genocide against the Ukrainian people instead of the Ukrainian nation. Lawmakers also dropped an initiative that would have made it a legal violation to deny that the famine occurred.

During the height of the famine, 25,000 people died each day, devastating entire villages. Cases of cannibalism were widespread as desperation deepened. Those who resisted were shot or shipped off to Siberia.

The mass starvation remained a closely guarded state secret during the Soviet era, but information trickled out over the years. Ukraine marked the 73rd anniversary of the famine on Saturday by lighting candles across the country in memory of the victims, and holding a solemn, fog-shrouded procession through the capital.

Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group. It is a crime under international law.

Source: AP

Bush Says Door To NATO Membership Is Open To Georgia, Ukraine

RIGA, Latvia -- NATO remains receptive to the idea of Georgia and Ukraine eventually joining the western alliance, U.S. President George W. Bush said Tuesday.

U.S. President George W. Bush waves from Air Force 1, as he arrives for a NATO summit in Riga, Tuesday Nov. 28, 2006

"We will continue to support Georgia's desire to become a NATO" member, and membership also "will be open to the Ukrainian people if they choose it," Bush said in a speech before the start of a two-day NATO summit in the Latvian capital.

Bush also lashed out at oppression in Belarus, which he said "offends the conscience of Europe and the conscience of America."

He said he would not consider pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq until they accomplish their mission.

"There's one thing I won't do: I won't pull our troops from the battlefield before the mission is complete," he said in his speech at the University of Riga.

Defeating Taliban forces in Afghanistan "will require the full commitment of our alliance," Bush said, calling the mission NATO's No. 1 operation.

"The commander on the ground must have the resources and flexibility they need to do their jobs," he said.

Source: AP

Orange Revolution's Foe Transformed in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Orange Revolution, strangely, has been kindest to the man who played the villain to the waves of protesters who rolled onto the streets of this capital two years ago.

Viktor Yanukovych talking to reporters

Viktor Yanukovych, once cast as the bluff hack who tried to steal Ukraine's presidential election, is back in power as prime minister thanks to free and fair parliamentary elections in March that were made possible only by the street protests of late 2004.

As he prepares for his first official trip to Washington, a four-day visit beginning Sunday, Yanukovych is suddenly projecting himself as the voice of democratic reform. He also appears eager to assure his White House hosts that his popular image as a pro-Russian straw man is a gross distortion.

Now, he suggests that he, too, was a catalyst in the transformation of this once stagnating country into the most politically competitive of all the post-Soviet states, a nation where debate is dynamic and where power, ultimately, resides with the people.

"There were many mistakes made by the previous authorities and many injustices," he said in an interview in his office here Monday. "The authorities lost trust. One should recognize that there is more democracy, that there is freedom of speech -- and that is an achievement of these historic events, although I don't call it a revolution."

Yanukovych bears little resemblance to the figure who provoked tens of thousands of Ukrainians to demonstrate against electoral fraud in 2004, eventually sweeping his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, into the presidency. And some question the sincerity of what they see as his self-serving rhetoric.

"He talks like he was part of it," said David Zhvania, a member of parliament and financier of Yushchenko's campaign and the protests in Kiev's Independence Square. "It's a game. We showed Ukrainians why he was scary, but we also explained to Yanukovych why he was scary, and from his first day in power we saw that he was listening."

For others, however, the fundamental legacy of the Orange Revolution, named for the color adopted by those advocating democratic change, is that Yanukovych must now bow to the electorate and that Ukraine, a nation of 47 million, cannot return to autocratic rule.

"He is forced to play within the rules of a new political culture," said Vadim Karasev, director of the Institute for Global Strategies in Kiev. "He understands that a dictatorial style is no longer permissible in Ukraine. The Orange Revolution made him a politician."

The change in attitude is immediately apparent to visitors to his office. The first visible image is a portrait of Yushchenko, which was placed in a prominent position on Yanukovych's orders, according to his media aides.

The prime minister also regularly speaks Ukrainian, not Russian, in public now; his vastly improved fluency clearly reflects an attempt to project himself as something more than the representative of pro-Russian business clans from eastern Ukraine.

The bulk of Yushchenko's support came from the Ukrainian-speaking west, while Yanukovych's base is in the Russian-speaking east.

"There is more and more desire among the people to unite under the state flag," Yanukovych said. "They want to build a strong unified state, a united Ukraine."

The coalition that had backed Yushchenko collapsed following bitter infighting, but Yanukovych strikes an accommodating tone in discussing the president's goals -- integration with the West, including membership in NATO and the European Union, while maintaining respectful but independent relations with Russia, Ukraine's giant neighbor.

"My goal, first, is to develop a strategic relationship between Ukraine and the United States that is predictable, effective and has a good perspective," he said of his Washington visit, during which he will meet with Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

His aides are still hoping for a meeting with President Bush, however brief. According to protocol, he should meet only with the vice president, since he is not the head of state, but a presidential handshake would imply some acceptance of Yanukovych's new incarnation.

On NATO membership, a prospect that a majority of Ukrainians oppose, according to opinion polls, Yanukovych said his compatriots first need to be educated about the goals of the alliance and its benefits for Ukraine.

"You cannot put a boat to sail without first building it," he said. "For Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people, the priority is first to improve the standard of living, build up the legal system and create a just state with democratic values and freedom, and only then a security system. The population will support integration with NATO when they see positive changes in the country itself."

Asked about his personal view of NATO membership, Yanukovych said, "I think we will do everything that serves the national interest." And that, he added, includes "a normal and stable working relationship with Russia which is of mutual benefit. It is extremely important for us. Russia is a very important strategic, trade and economic partner."

But he also said he wanted to pursue policies that reduce Ukraine's dependence on its neighbor, particularly its almost total reliance on Russia for energy. "We want to develop a diversification of energy supplies," he said. "And Russia is not obstructing us in this process."

Source: Washington Post

Monday, November 27, 2006

Was Litvinenko The Latest Victim Of A Power Struggle?

WASHINGTON, DC -- The death of former Federal Security Service (FSB) lieutenant colonel Alexander Litvinenko in London on November 23, and the subsequent release of his statement blaming his poisoning on President Vladimir Putin, has morphed into a serious international scandal.

Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko

British Home Secretary John Reid said on November 26 that police, who were previously calling Litvinenko’s death “unexplained,” now regarded it as “suspicious”. This followed the revelation that Litvinenko had been poisoned with polonium 210, a radioactive substance.

Meanwhile, Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, said in a BBC interview that there have been “huge attacks on individual liberty and on democracy” under Putin, and pointed specifically to the “extremely murky murder of a senior Russian journalist” – an apparent reference to the October 7 killing of Anna Politkovskaya.

Putin, for his part, said on November 24 that Litvinenko’s deathbed accusation was a “political provocation” by Kremlin opponents. The Russian president, who was in Helsinki for the EU-Russia Summit, denied any involvement in the murder and offered condolences for Litvinenko’s death.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Putin’s aide for EU relations, said in Helsinki: “I am hardly someone who believes in conspiracy theories, but in this case I think that we are witnessing a well-rehearsed plan to discredit Russia and its leader.”

Meanwhile, Russian state media have highlighted speculation that Litvinenko’s ally and employer Boris Berezovsky was behind the murder. The government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta speculated that the London-based exiled tycoon “masked the crime to bring suspicion on the FSB” or that Berezovsky’s associates killed Litvinenko as a warning related to a commercial dispute.

Before Litvinenko died, Alexei Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information in Moscow, also said the poisoning could have been part of an “information war on the Kremlin” organized by Berezovsky and even suggested Litvinenko had poisoned himself.

Other observers, however, have suggested that Litvinenko was targeted as part of a power struggle between Kremlin factions. Some analysts said the same thing about Anna Politkovskaya’s murder.

During the November 26 broadcast of “Rossiiskaya Panorama,” a weekly political discussion program broadcast on RTVi (a satellite channel owned by the exiled oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky), Iosif Diskin, deputy chairman of the National Strategy Center, said he thought the murders of Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, and Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov (who was gunned down in Moscow on September 14) were linked, “coordinated,” and aimed at forcing Putin “to act in a certain way – namely, either to enter into negotiations with a certain group on the subject of the choice of a successor, or really to force him … to remain for a third term.”

Diskin added: “But, at the same time, I am deeply convinced that these are people, who now, [while] having maintained strong links to the special services, no longer belong to them formally.” This group, said Diskin, is bent on “changing the political course” because it “strongly fears for its future in a post-Putin era.”

Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow, told the BBC: “The death of Litvinenko -- and we already see this in the reaction of the British press – is a colossal blow to the reputation of Russia and the personal reputation of Putin, who can hardly be interested in that.

I am inclined to believe that not only the poisoning of Litvinenko, but also the whole series of recent events in Moscow, are part of an operation to destabilize the situation and completely discredit Putin in the West in order to persuade him to go for a third term, which is the goal of influential circles within his entourage”.

In a separate commentary, Piontkovsky speculated that Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, and Chechen special forces commander Movladi Baisarov, who was killed in Moscow on November 18, were murdered by a renegade “structure inside the special services that is conducting a deadly fight for power in the Kremlin”.

Similarly, Alexander Golts of Ezhednevny zhurnal wrote that it is “more than doubtful that Putin himself gave the order for Litvinenko’s liquidation,” given that “the harm this whole story has done to the Russian president’s reputation is too obvious.”

On the other hand, some of Putin’s close associates -- “officers of the special services” -- for whom Putin remaining for a third term is “a matter of life in death,” had a motive to kill Litvinenko, wrote Golts. “And for this it is necessary to create a situation that would completely exclude the possibility of Putin joining the informal club of retired leaders who cheerfully travel the world, give lectures, enjoy life,” Golts wrote. “For Putin to stay on, it is necessary to bind him with blood …

So it is necessary to leave as many obvious footprints leading to Russia as possible. For that, radioactive material is the most appropriate murder weapon”.

It should be noted that one leading analyst, erstwhile Kremlin insider Stanislav Belkovsky, put forward an alternative version -- that Litvinenko’s poisoning was, as the Moscow Times summarized Belkovsky’s theory, “an attempt by supporters of Dmitry Medvedev, the first deputy prime minister, to force Putin to push aside the siloviki by making it look like they were involved in an attack that had damaged Putin’s image in the West”.

Indeed, another newspaper quoted Belkovsky as saying the murder was “a deliberate provocation by the special services against its leadership with the intention of convincing Putin to fire the current heads of the federal power structures and as quickly as possible” determine who his successor will be.

Yet even Boris Berezovsky indicated he thought that those pushing Putin to remain in power were behind Litvinenko’s murder. On November 22, one day before Litvinenko died, Berezovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio that while the Kremlin “unquestionably” stood behind the poisoning, the idea that Putin participated in it “raises many questions” and the incident “undoubtedly hurts Putin’s reputation.”

Berezovsky added: “I have the impression that it is being done by people who are insisting that he [Putin] goes for a third term; people who are showing that he is not the only one who makes decisions of this kind in Russia.” The attempt on Litvinenko’s life and the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, said Berezovsky, were “links in the same chain”.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Lethal Polonium-210 Might Be Russian

MOSCOW, Russia -- The polonium-210 that doctors believe killed former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko could have come from Russia, but it will be difficult for investigators to pinpoint blame for the death even if the origin of the radioactive substance is determined, nuclear experts said.

A police van is parked outside the home of dead ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, in north London. Traces of deadly Polonium 210 were found at Litvinenko's home and at two other London locations he visited on the day he fell ill, a hotel where he met another ex-KGB spy visiting from Moscow, and a sushi restaurant where he met an Italian academic.

Coming after the mysterious poisoning of another prominent opponent of the Kremlin, Ukrainian politician Viktor Yushchenko, the death provoked accusations that Russia continues to use Cold War-style tactics to eliminate critics abroad.

London was the scene of the 1978 assassination of a Bulgarian dissident who was killed by a jab from an umbrella tip bearing the toxin ricin.

Polonium-210 is one of the world's rarest elements, first discovered in the 19th century by scientists Marie and Pierre Curie. The alpha rays emitted by polonium are extremely hard to detect, and a fatal dose of the element could have rapidly penetrated his bone marrow without raising immediate suspicion.

Polonium occurs naturally in very low concentrations in the Earth's crust, and small amounts -- but not enough to kill someone -- are used legitimately in Britain and elsewhere for industrial purposes.

Professor Dudley Goodhead, a radiation expert at the Medical Research Council, said that "to poison someone, much larger amounts are required, and this would have to be man-made, perhaps from a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor."

That means the polonium used to poison Litvinenko probably came from a country with a significant nuclear program, experts said. With several nuclear research facilities, Russia fits the bill -- and it also has a major space program, another sector in which the element has been used.

"There are many laboratories in Russia where it could be produced," said Vladimir Slivyak, a nuclear expert and co-chairman of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense.

Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst with the Moscow-based Institute for Global Economy and International Relations, said the polonium isotope would be "much easier" to acquire than weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium because it is not considered weapons-grade.

Pikayev said that if a Russian intelligence agency had wanted to kill Litvinenko, it would have been foolish to use polonium because its source could probably be traced.

Slivyak also said British authorities might have a good chance of determining where the polonium was produced. But he argued that the information would be far short of proof of a plot in the country of origin because the substance could have been acquired on the black market.

If the Federal Security Service, or FSB, wanted to use polonium to kill someone, "from the point of the view of the FSB it would be better not to bring it from Russia but to buy it on the black market in Europe" to avoid leaving a trail, Slivyak said.

Conversely, he said, a country of origin other than Russia would not rule out Russian involvement.

John Henry, a toxicologist who examined Litvinenko before his death, said the type of polonium involved was "only found in government-controlled institutions." Henry said polonium-210 was lethal in doses so small, "you can lose it on the point of a pin."

Henry, who took part in the investigation of the 2004 poisoning of Yushchenko, then opposition leader and now Ukraine's president, said that polonium-210 "kills cell by cell" and that once it is administered, there's "absolutely nothing" that can be done to save the exposed person.

Britain's Health Protection Agency said the high level of polonium-210 found in Litvinenko indicated that he "would either have to have eaten it, inhaled it or taken it in through a wound."

Source: The Moscow Times

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Poisoning Of Russian Joins History Of Spy Intrigue

LONDON, UK -- In the new James Bond movie, "Casino Royale," Agent 007 gives a master class in what to do if you are unexpectedly poisoned by your enemies in a public place (for one thing, when you stagger dramatically from the room, make sure to do it in a suave manner).

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in his hospital bed after he was poisoned.

But while the fictional Bond has an array of useful resources at his disposal - a car filled with potential antidotes that serves as a mobile emergency room; a hotline to trained poison-control experts at MI6 headquarters; and a personal defibrillator that comes in handy during heart attacks - the ordinary real-life poison victim has no such advantages.

Nor is the sequence of events surrounding nonfictional poisoning generally as clear-cut as when Bond, played by Daniel Craig, falls deathly ill within moments of taking the first sip of his spiked martini.

In the case of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who died in a London hospital Thursday night, the most confounding questions were also the most basic. Who gave it to him and when? And how did they get this particular poison?

Litvinenko, it emerged, had been given a substance even Bond would not have been prepared for: a highly toxic radioactive isotope, a cup of tea gone nuclear, so to speak.

The substance, polonium 210, "is not the kind of weapon that any kind of amateur could construct," said Andrea Sella, a lecturer in inorganic chemistry at London's University College.

By his and his friends' initial accounts, Litvinenko's illness seemed to have had all the hallmarks of the sort of attack favored, according to exiled critics of the Russian government, by the Russian security services in recent years.

His friends insisted that he had been poisoned on Nov. 1, perhaps during or after two meetings in London - one in a hotel, the other at a restaurant - and that he had been a target because of his vocal opposition to the government of President Vladimir Putin.

Before he became sick, Litvinenko said, he was investigating the death of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was highly critical of Russian policy in Chechnya and who was shot at her apartment building in Moscow on Oct. 7.

Poison, an effective murder weapon for centuries, in recent years has been used as a weapon of choice in the former Soviet bloc. Yuri Shchekochikin, a journalist who wrote about corruption in Russia, fell ill and died in July 2003, for example.

The Russian authorities said he had suffered an allergic reaction; his colleagues said it was poison.

A Russian banker, Ivan Kivelidi, and his secretary died in 1995 after using a telephone apparently dosed with poison.

The current president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned with dioxin in 2004 but survived and took office despite Putin's opposition. Politkovskaya herself became violently sick - poisoned, she insisted - after drinking a cup of tea on a plane while covering the hostage crisis in Beslan in 2004.

Shortly before he died, Litvinenko issued a statement saying he was certain he had been poisoned, and blaming Putin - who promptly dismissed the claim.

The Russians continued to deny responsibility, even as one British Foreign Office official said Moscow's ambassador had been called in and told "the situation was now more serious."

These days, political poisonings seem bizarre throwbacks, plucked from the pages of lurid spy thrillers or from movies like "Notorious." In that 1946 Hitchcock film, Ingrid Bergman, playing a spy infiltrating a group of former Nazis who are regrouping in Brazil after World War II, is slowly poisoned by her husband, played by Claude Rains. (Uranium ore secreted in wine bottles and meant to be used for bombs is a key element of the plot, but even Hollywood did not suggest that it might double as the poison itself.)

But there were real poisonings in the postwar era, too; the last well-known one in London took place in 1978, administered by a variation of the classic poisoned dart.

In that case, the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was jabbed sharply in the thigh by a stranger's umbrella as he waited for a bus on Waterloo Bridge. He died three days later, and a postmortem exam found a pellet with the deadly poison ricin in his leg.

London has in recent years become a refuge for Putin's Russian enemies, from men like Boris Berezovsky, the billionaire businessman, to Litvinenko, a former KGB officer. But even for the suspicious émigrés, as well as for Britons, Litvinenko's death was a shock, given the nature of the toxin that killed him."

Most poisonings in Britain are smaller-scale affairs, removed from the realm of international politics, in both real life and fiction.

Agatha Christie was fond of poison as a way to dispose of her victims. Poisons employed by her murderers include, among others, strychnine, morphine, cyanide, chloral hydrate, prussic acid, arsenic, ricin, poison gas, digitalin, digitoxin and snake venom.

Some of her victims survived, just as Yushchenko has. But none did so as unrealistically as James Bond does in "Casino Royale." After being restored to life by a quick jolt to the heart with his trusty defibrillator, Bond changes his shirt, returns to the casino, and wins the poker game.

No health threat expected

The British authorities do not expect a major threat to public health after the disclosure that a former Russian KGB officer and enemy of the Kremlin had been killed by radiation poisoning in London, The International Herald Tribune reported from London.

The Health Protection Agency, however, urged people who had been in the same places as the victim, Alexander Litvinenko, to contact the authorities for urine tests.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Russia Turns On NATO Hopefuls To Stop Eastward Spread: Analysts

MOSCOW, Russia -- Moscow, which has failed since the break-up of the Soviet Union to prevent NATO's dramatic eastward expansion, is now turning pressure on the next two applicants, Georgia and Ukraine, in hopes of nipping their plans in the bud, analysts say.

NATO flag

More than two years after the three Baltic ex-Soviet states joined NATO, Russia and the Western military alliance remain at loggerheads.

Not even the formal Russia-NATO Council, set up in 2002 in the framework of the international campaign against terrorism, following the attacks of September 11, 2001, has managed to allay mutual mistrust.

Now, as NATO's 26 member states prepare for a summit in Riga on Tuesday and Wednesday, analysts say the Kremlin has changed tactics -- switching the focus of its diplomatic counter-offensive from NATO headquarters in Brussels to the next would-be members of NATO.

"Russia understood that instead of trying to fight the enlargement Brussels has already decided upon, it is more useful to dissuade candidates from joining," Ivan Safranchuk of the Center for Defense Information explained.

Viktor Kremenyuk of the USA-Canada Institute said that although Moscow still seeks a working partnership with NATO, Russia wants to draw a red line under the possibility of expansion reaching Georgia, Ukraine, or Moldova.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned of "colossal geopolitical upheaval" if Georgia and Ukraine join NATO.

Like most ex-Soviet countries, these Western-leaning, would-be NATO members remain tied in a number of ways to Russia.

For example, in order to join NATO, Georgia would first have to quit the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of 12 former Soviet republics.

"Georgia's joining NATO would mean a complete re-working of bilateral ties between the two countries," Kremenyuk said.

Georgia also depends on Russia for its energy -- oil, gas and electricity -- while its products, particularly agricultural, are exported mostly to Russia.

Moscow was furious when the impoverished Caucasus nation began an "intensified dialogue" with NATO in September, an important, if limited step on the road toward membership.

After Georgia broke up an alleged Russian spy ring a short time later, Russia imposed punishing economic sanctions and closed its border to all traffic, sparking the worst crisis in Georgia-Russian relations since the Soviet collapse.

On Sunday, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov pinned the blame on Georgia and NATO.

"The general tension is due above all to the fact that the Georgian leadership, with the help of those one could call 'NATO's young converts' and potential NATO candidates, is actively re-arming Georgia."

Russia is equally opposed to Ukraine joining NATO, but knows the chances of this happening are less clear.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who led the pro-Western "orange revolution" two years ago, is still pushing for NATO membership. However, he has lost much of his influence to pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovich, now the country's prime minister.

During his September visit to Brussels, Yanukovich declared that Ukraine was not ready for rapid integration with NATO.

Source: AFP

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ukraine Marks 73rd Anniversary Of Famine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine held solemn commemorations Saturday to mark the 73rd anniversary of a man-made Soviet-era famine that killed one-third of the country's population, a tragedy that Ukraine's president wants recognized as an act of genocide.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his wife Kateryna hold candles during a commemoration ceremony for victims of the Great Famine in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2006.

At the height of the 1932-33 famine, 33,000 people died of hunger every day, devastating entire villages. Cases of cannibalism were widespread as desperation deepened.

Black ribbons were hung Saturday on the blue and yellow national flag, and in cities across the country, officials laid flowers at monuments to the estimated 10 million victims.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz unveiled the cornerstone of a planned memorial complex in the capital. Later Saturday, officials planned a procession and the lighting of thousands of candles on a centuries-old Kiev square.

"I would like for us never to tolerate the shame of having to hold discussions about what to call this," Yushchenko said at the ceremony. "This is one of the most horrible pages of our history, and for a long time now, it has had only one name."

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin provoked the famine in a campaign to force peasants to give up their private farms and join collectives. Authorities collectivized agriculture throughout the Soviet Union, but farmers in Ukraine known as the breadbasket of the U.S.S.R. fiercely resisted and bore the brunt of the man-made disaster.

Yushchenko has asked parliament to recognize the famine as genocide, but some lawmakers have resisted, and Moscow has warned Kiev against using that term.

Russia argues that the orchestrated famine did not specifically target Ukrainians but also other peoples in the Soviet agricultural belt, including Russians and Kazakhs, and this month said the issue should not be "politicized."

But historians say that the overwhelming majority of victims were Ukrainians, and the famine coincided with Stalin's effort to quash growing Ukrainian nationalism.

"Practically every family who lived in Ukraine at that time suffered deaths," opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said.

During the Soviet era, the mass starvation was a closely guarded state secret, but information trickled out over the years and Ukraine has since declassified thousands of files.

Ten nations, including the United States, have recognized the famine as an act of genocide, defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. Genocide is a crime under international law.

Moroz said he supports recognizing the mass starvation as genocide, and predicted that the president's bill, which has run into some trouble among lawmakers loyal to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, would come before parliament next week.

Some lawmakers from Yanukovych's Russia-leaning Party of Regions have suggested calling the famine a tragedy instead of genocide, but party member Taras Chornovil predicted the president's version would ultimately pass.

Under Stalin, each village was ordered to provide the state with a quota of grain, but the demands typically exceeded crop yields. As village after village failed to meet the requirements, they were put on a blacklist.

The government seized all food and residents were prohibited from leaving effectively condemning them to starvation.

Those who resisted were shot or sent to Siberia.

Source: AP

Ukrainian Prosecutors Say Cheap Gas Intended For Ukrainians Was Sold Instead To Businesses

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian prosecutors accused a state-controlled gas company of redirecting cheap Ukrainian gas intended for the Ukrainian population to commercial enterprises in a bid to make a higher profit, the prosecutor's office said Friday.

Ukrnafta logo

The latest allegations against state firms in Ukraine's natural gas sector were made amid an investigation that has already led to the opening of 58 criminal cases against Naftogaz and its daughter companies.

The probes are part of the growing tussle between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and President Viktor Yushchenko. Yanukovych has called for management changes at numerous state-controlled gas companies.

The General Prosecutor's Office accused Ukrnafta of selling Ukrainian gas to commercial enterprises at higher rates, forcing the government to buy more expensive Russian-supplied gas for the population. The deals cost the state about 1.3 billion hryvna ($258 million), prosecutors said.

No one from Ukrnafta could immediately be reached for comment. Naftogaz, the parent company, refused to comment.

Russia's Vedomosti newspaper reported that the latest investigation was seen as an effort to change the management at Ukrnafta. Analysts have predicted a battle for control of the gas company between the current minority shareholder, which is affiliated with oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, and tycoons linked to Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Earlier this month, prosecutors opened criminal cases against state gas companies, accusing them of issuing licenses illegally, illegally writing off debts, allowing some companies to carry out gas exploration work without licenses and renting state property at below-market prices.

Prosecutors have also launched probes into the former leadership for alleged financial breaches. Former Naftogaz head Oleksiy Ivchenko, a Yushchenko ally, has denied the allegations.

Ukraine produces about 20 billion cubic meters of its own gas, which is supposed to be directed to the population in a bid to keep prices low. But that covers only about 20 percent of its needs, forcing Ukraine to rely on more expensive Central Asian gas, which it pipes in via Russia.

Earlier this year, a bitter pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine led to the temporary shut-off of gas supplies and a sharp increase in prices.

Source: AP

About 3,000 Protest Imminent Rise In Maintenance And Utilities Rates In Ukraine Capital

KIEV, Ukraine -- About 3,000 people blocked traffic in Kiev on Thursday to protest against an imminent increase in housing maintenance and utilities rates in the Ukrainian capital.

Kiev Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky

As of Dec. 1, many Kiev residents will see their monthly payments for maintenance, electricity, gas, heat and other services increase more than threefold.

The protest was organized by the parties of President Viktor Yushchenko and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, and most of the anger was directed at Kiev Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky, a former businessman elected in March.

Lyubov Grabarenko, a retiree in the angry crowd outside the mayor's office, said she would have to pay 500 hryvna ($100) per month, more than her monthly pension of 382 hryvna ($75).

"How can it be? How will I survive?" she said. "Chernovetsky wants people to become beggars."

Chernovetsky said the rates have remained unchanged for years, and said the protest organizers "just want to make a chaos at the mayor's office."

Many city administrations across the whole of Ukraine have increased maintenance and utilities rates this season, sparking protests. The increases in Kiev are the sharpest.

The minimum monthly wage in Ukraine is 400 hryvna ($79) as minimum monthly pension is 366 hryvna ($72).

Source: AP

Legacy Of Famine Divides Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- A row of emaciated Ukrainian children stare out of a photograph. Their gaunt faces are full of despair and their bodies are little more than skeletons.

It is one of many images being shown on Ukrainian television in the run-up to Memorial Day, which is being held this weekend to mark the Soviet-era famine.

It was one of the bleakest moments in Ukraine's history. The famine which happened between 1932 and 1933 killed up to 10 million people.

It is widely believed to have been caused by the actions of the communist regime. The harvest was confiscated and people starved to death.

It was part of a brutal campaign by the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to force Ukrainian peasants to join collective farms.

Ukraine is now trying to get this mass starvation recognised by the United Nations as an act of genocide.

But the issue is highly controversial and Russia is strongly against the move.


Now in his eighties, Ivan Leschenko was a child during the famine. He remembers how some people resorted to cannibalism.

"Such things really did happen. I know that one of my relatives ate human flesh. Just imagine how bad the situation was that people were forced to do that."

On the eve of Memorial Day, Ivan visited the capital's monument to the victims of the man-made famine to pay his respects.

"I remember walking the streets and seeing dead, bloated bodies of children and adults all over the place. I went up to one boy, he was saying something and suddenly he started shaking and then passed away," Ivan says.

"I was so scared; it was the most frightening experience of my life."

'Dancing on graves'

The famine had a devastating impact on villages across Ukraine. It is thought that around a quarter of the population was wiped out.

At the KGB archive in Kiev, recently released files are piled up on an old-fashioned desk. These are said to demonstrate how the famine was artificially engineered.

One document is an order from Moscow to shoot people who steal food. It is signed by Stalin in red ink.

Now Ukraine's president wants what happened to be recognised as an act of genocide.

Russia admits this was an awful tragedy but is angry at claims that it was an attempt to destroy the Ukrainian nation. It says that other parts of the former USSR were affected.

This issue has also divided Ukraine's parliament. Last week MPs refused to vote on a law proposed by the president.

He wanted parliament to declare that the famine was an act of genocide.

The ruling coalition which includes the Communist Party is pro-Russian.

It is led by the president's rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych - the man who was defeated by mass protests in the 2004 "Orange Revolution".

"This is like dancing on the graves of the dead. Before it's been proved this was an act of genocide, the Orange authorities are doing their best to persuade everyone that it was," says Sergei Gmyrya, a historian for the Communist party.

"I am furious that this is being used by the politicians in their games," he says.

Fragile relations

For Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko this is personal. "In my family we remember my grandfather Ivan, a strong and hard-working man who died. In my local village alone 600 people died," he says.

"It is important to realise that politics were behind the genocide. It's terrifying to know that the only aim of that experiment was to exterminate Ukrainian people."

Last year the president initiated the first ever Memorial Day to honour the victims. This Saturday, Ukraine will once again pause to remember the tragedy.

Kiev is determined to push for a UN resolution on the issue. But this could put the president on a collision course with his pro-Russian opponents.

It also threatens to damage the country's fragile relations with Moscow.

Source: BBC News

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dying Russian Ex-Spy Implicated Putin

LONDON, UK -- A former Russian spy who died in an apparent poisoning signed a statement in the waning hours of his life blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin and accusing him of having "no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value," friends said Friday.

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko's last statement, before his death: "The bastards got me, but they won't get everybody."

Putin's government strongly denied involvement, calling the allegation "nothing but nonsense."

Alexander Litvinenko's statement [see full text at end of story], read to reporters outside the hospital where he died late Thursday, addressed the Russian leader directly.

"You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women," Litvinenko said in a statement read by his friend Alex Goldfarb.

"You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life."

Goldfarb said Litvinenko had dictated the statement before he lost consciousness on Tuesday, and signed it in the presence of his wife, Marina.

"It's so silly and unbelievable that it's not worth comment," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Helsinki, Finland, where Putin is attending a summit with European Union leaders.

"Now the case will be investigated by relevant British services and we hope that those who are standing behind this case will be brought to justice," he added.

Litvinenko, a former KGB agent and critic of the Russian government, suffered heart failure late Thursday after days in intensive care, London's University College Hospital said. Doctors said the cause of his illness remained a mystery.

Friends said Litvinenko had been on a quest to uncover corruption in Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, and unmask the killers of another trenchant critic of the Putin's government, the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

"He was completely convinced it was the FSB. There was no doubt in his mind who it was," Andrei Nekrasov told The Associated Press.

Nekrasov, who spoke to Litvinenko just before he lost consciousness, said Litvinenko had told him: "The bastards got me, but they won't get everybody."

Litvinenko told police that he believed he had been poisoned on Nov. 1, while investigating the slaying of Politkovskaya. His hair fell out, his throat swelled and his immune and nervous systems were severely damaged.

Doctors treating him said they could not explain his rapid decline, and they discounted earlier theories that the 43-year-old father of three had been poisoned with the toxic metal thallium or a radioactive substance.

Dr. Geoff Bellingan, University College Hospital's director of critical care, acknowledged he had no clue as to the cause of death.

London's Metropolitan Police said anti-terrorist officers were investigating the matter as "an unexplained death."

"It was an excruciating death and he was taking it as a real man," Litvinenko's father, Walter, said Friday.

"This regime is a mortal danger to the world," he added, his voice choked with emotion.

Nekrasov said the former spy had begun to lose consciousness on Tuesday.

"It was a darkened room, and he would open his eyes now and again. We were encouraging him, telling him that he would survive," Nekrasov said.

"It was so heart-rending. His son was just in a state of shock. He didn't know what to make of it. The family just huddled in a corner of the hospital _ it was terrible to look at."

Nekrasov said Litvinenko believed he had been targeted by the Kremlin because he had threatened to uncover embarrassing facts.

"He had a mission to uncover what he felt were crimes his former colleagues had committed," Nekrasov said.

Litvinenko worked for the KGB and its successor, the FSB. In 1998, he publicly accused his superiors of ordering him to kill tycoon Boris Berezovsky and spent nine months in jail from 1999 on charges of abuse of office. He was later acquitted and in 2000 sought asylum in Britain, where Berezovsky is now also living in exile.

On the day he first felt ill, Litvinenko said he had two meetings, the first with an unnamed Russian and Andrei Lugovoy, an-KGB colleague and bodyguard to former Russian Prime Minster Yegor Gaidar.

Later, he dined with Italian security expert Mario Scaramella to discuss the October murder of Politkovskaya.

Scaramella said he showed Litvinenko an e-mail he received from a source naming Politkovskaya's killers, and naming other targets including Litvinenko and himself.

Source: AP

Text of statement by Alexander Litvinenko

I would like to thank many people. My doctors, nurses and hospital staff who are doing all they can for me; the British Police who are pursuing my case with rigour and professionalism and are watching over me and my family. I would like to thank the British Government for taking me under their care. I am honoured to be a British citizen.

I would like to thank the British public for their messages of support and for the interest they have shown in my plight.

I thank my wife, Marina, who has stood by me. My love for her and our son knows no bounds.

But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death. I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like. I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.

You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value.

You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women.

You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.

Alexander Litvinenko

Russia's Putin To Visit Ukraine Next Month Amid Efforts To Mend Ties

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Ukraine next month amid efforts to mend strained relations between the former Soviet republics, Putin's Security Council chief said Thursday.

Putin plans to visit on Dec. 22, Russian Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov said during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Vitaliy Hayduk.

It would be Putin's second visit to Ukraine since the 2004 election of Westward-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko following a bitter campaign in which the Russian leader publicly backed Yushchenko's opponent, Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych returned to the prime minister's post this August after his party won the most votes in March parliamentary elections, and Ukraine is making a new push to improve ties with Moscow.

"The overwhelming majority of people in Ukraine and Russia are interested in improving relations," Ivanov said, expressing confidence the nations could "solve the problems that we mainly inherited after the collapse of the USSR."

Putin's visit should "open a new page in our relations," he said.

Yushchenko advocates membership in NATO and the European Union, but he now shares power with Yanukovych, whose support base is in the largely Russian-speaking east and has made good relations with Moscow a priority.

Russia is Ukraine's biggest trading partner, and Ukraine is heavily dependent on natural gas supplies from Russia. A dispute over gas prices earlier this year caused Moscow to temporarily cut off supplies to Ukraine, a shutdown that was also felt in western Europe, which receives much of its Russian gas via Ukrainian pipelines.

Since Yushchenko's elections, Russia and Ukraine have also sparred over issues including the presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory and the use of lighthouses on its Crimean peninsula.

Source: AP

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ukrainian Cop Swallows Bribe Money

UMAN, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian traffic police officer swallowed four $100 banknotes when he realized that he was being busted.

However, the marked banknotes were later taken out of his stomach.

Corrupt police have been a plague on the people of Uman, a town in the Ukraine, with their constant demands for bribes.

This corrupt policeman was arrested in a joint effort by internal security officers and local people.

The policeman was caught with the help of $400 - on each bill the word “bribe” was written in invisible ink - while counting a total sum of $12000 dollars in bribes he had extorted from locals.

According to a ProUA news agency report, the policeman swallowed the four $100 bills when he realized that he was caught red-handed after noticing the word “bribe” on the bills .

Since he managed to swallow the bribe money before he was handcuffed, he was hospitalized and the money was retrieved from his stomach, after which he was finally arrested.

Source: Cihan News Agency

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

PM Gets Poor Grades After First 100 Days

KIEV, Ukraine -- A report issued by a Kyiv-based think tank has given Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych low marks for his first 100 days in office, suggesting that the premier may be too caught up in a power struggle with President Viktor Yushchenko to steer the country properly.

Think tank gives low marks to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych

The report by the International Centre for Policy Studies (ICPS) highlights the failings of Yanukovych’s government since coming to power on Aug. 4, coinciding with similar criticism of the premier by Yushchenko and recent polls that suggest Yanukovych’s popularity is waning.

“Over its first 100 days, many of the government’s actions appear to have been motivated more by an ongoing struggle for power between [President Viktor Yushchenko] and the premier than by long-term strategic plans for the country’s development,” the report says.

Yanukovych, head of the so-called Anti-crisis Coalition comprised of his Regions Party, the Socialists and Communists, marked his 100th day in office on Nov. 12.

President Viktor Yushchenko agreed to accept Yanukovych as premier through a compromise agreement this August. Yanukovych returned to the premiership following a humiliating defeat to Yushchenko in the contested 2004 presidential elections.

Despite inheriting more authority than previous governments thanks to constitutional reforms that shifted powers from the presidency to a governing coalition set up by parliament, Yanukovych’s team has failed to make concrete progress, the reports says.

This could doom his cabinet to the fate of previous governments, dubbed by the report as “ineffective and unpopular.”

In particular, ICPS faults Yanukovych’s team for not outlining its plans for the future, not consulting with interest groups when developing policy and for a lack of transparency in its decision-making process.

The report also criticized the government’s closed-door negotiations with Russia on natural gas prices, which are to increase 40 percent to $130 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007 after having nearly doubled earlier this year.

“The government has done little to prepare the public for continued increases in the price of gas. The murky deal has thus created a situation where the price of natural gas will continue to be a politically divisive issue in Ukraine,” the report states.

On Nov. 8, Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party faulted Yanukovych’s government for not securing an increase in the price for the transit of gas through Ukrainian territory while negotiating an agreement on supplies from Russia and Central Asia.

The ICPS report also expresses concern over the lack of consensus on Ukraine’s relations with Russia.

“The lack of a clear government position on just how far economic and political cooperation with Russia will go and which forms it will take arouses suspicions that the cabinet is ready to sell out national interests on strategic issues,” it states.

In a televised Nov. 21 interview, President Yushchenko reiterated many of the concerns laid out in the ICPS report. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the first 100 days of Yanukovych’s premiership, citing the gas issue and usage of non-market methods, such as export quotas for keeping prices on grain low as deep concerns.

“We don’t understand the formula used in setting the price [for natural gas]. To this day, I have not viewed the protocol which sets this price. I’m still waiting for it,” Yushchenko said.

“Without a formula for this price we have no logical formula for prices in the future. If $130 is a political price, then this situation will repeat itself each year ahead of December,” Yushchenko added.

Meanwhile, recent polls indicate that public support for Yanukovych, whose party mustered the highest voter support (about one-third) in last March’s parliamentary elections, could be on the decline.

A survey conducted in late October by Kyiv’s Razumkov Ukrainian Center for Economic and Policy Studies suggests that only 11 percent of Ukrainians feel improvements under Yanukovych’s government.

A total of 34 percent of respondents taking part in the study feel the situation has not improved under Yanukovych’s government, while 46 percent feel the situation in the country has remained unchanged.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukrainians In Mourning For Deceased Orange Revolution

KIEV, Ukraine -- On the second anniversary of the Orange Revolution (Nov. 22), it can now be said categorically: Viktor Yushchenko betrayed the Revolution. He never planned to do this. However, his deliberate, self-promoting actions as president over the past two years have dealt it a fatal blow.

Viktor Yushchenko betrayed the Orange Revolution

Today the millions of citizens, who stood bravely and vigilantly on city squares across Ukraine to protest a very fraudulent presidential election, are its walking wounded.

Anyone who still believes that Yushchenko is not to blame, that he is a victim of political intrigues rather than the victimizer of once ardent followers, needs only to recall these pointers of betrayal.

He capitulated needlessly to President Kuchma in December 2004, paving the way for today’s weak presidential system which he greatly regrets; he repeatedly compromised core Orange principles (notably, opposition to corruption, deception, and blame-game politics) and broke his solemn promise to send political “bandits to prison” by embracing a blatant enemy of the Revolution, Viktor Yanukovych; in 2005, he stalled unnecessarily and selfishly for months in forming an Orange coalition until it was too late and it crumbled; and he masked his conspicuous abandonment of Maidan (Independence Square) ideals with sweet-sounding but unconvincing rhetoric about the need to unify the country by joining forces with former arch rival, Yanukovych.

He also refused to accept any responsibility for his many policy failures and strategic miscalculations, and instead unswervingly promoted the myth that a weak presidency was to blame. In fact, Yushchenko accomplished preciously little on the domestic scene even when he had full presidential powers.

Curiously, the betrayal of the Orange Revolution has received only scant critical attention from political observers here and abroad, despite its obvious importance for Ukraine’s political and social evolution. Even more disturbing is the fact that no attention whatsoever has been paid to how millions of Ukrainians – former fervent supporters of the Revolution – will ever recover from this deep wound.

How can we better understand the profound impact this betrayal has had on an enormous segment of a nation in transition? And what can be done to lead Ukraine’s walking wounded to recovery?

The relevant theoretical and practical literature on betrayal offers several important insights into these burning existential questions.

To begin with, there are some axioms of betrayal that are inadequately appreciated and can inform our analysis; namely: It is difficult to find any adult who has not personally experienced betrayal; some betrayals are more hurtful and have a greater impact than others; few individuals like to speak openly about betrayal, most prefer to suffer in silence; feelings of betrayal last a very long time, often a lifetime, and lead people to have serious problems trusting others; often victims are unsure and even doubtful that a betrayal has occurred because the victimizers are generally very deceitful and manipulative; the first step in recovering from any betrayal is acknowledging that it has occurred and was a deliberate and calculated violation of trust; and, lastly, a victimizer is often motivated by a lust for power and control.

Viewed in this context, several conclusions about the betrayal of the Orange Revolution are inescapable. With few exceptions, political observers have gravely underestimated the impact President Yushchenko’s betrayal of the Orange Revolution has had upon his once loyal supporters.

Typically, they describe them simply as disappointed and disillusioned and assume these feelings will soon pass. Time heals, they say. However, this facile assumption does not withstand close scrutiny.

Betrayal, as the relevant literature makes poignantly clear, is much more than disappointment and disillusionment. It is a deeply traumatic experience ,which shatters its victims to the core.

In the case of Ukraine’s walking wounded, it is doubly traumatic because Yushchenko was once a beloved icon who had the unconditional support of millions of citizens but deliberately chose to betray their trust.

This betrayal is especially hurtful because citizens not only gave their votes for Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential election, they also risked their lives. They stood bravely and vigilantly on freezing streets across the country for days, and even weeks, in a very precarious political situation because they wanted a better world for their children and grandchildren.

A year later, when it became painfully apparent that the president was compromising Maidan principles, millions of his supporters defected and voted for Yulia Tymoshenko, leading her to victory in last March’s parliamentary election – a determined public effort to renew the faltering Revolution.

However, adding insult to injury, Yushchenko tellingly refused to accept the will of his own people. He suppressed their voices by stubbornly stalling the formation of an Orange coalition until it was too late. Once again, he placed personal political ambition above the public interest and, once again, with disastrous results for the Orange Revolution.

His selfish act also left countless Ukrainians feeling politically powerless. Moreover, this national betrayal is compounded further by the historic memory that Ukraine’s tragic past is replete with cases where rulers have repeatedly betrayed their very own citizens.

It has to be said that Yushchenko never aggressively defended Maidan ideals once he became president. He rode into office trumpeting them but later, deliberately and frequently, abandoned them. During his two years in office, he has steadily drifted away from his loyal followers and today is separated from them by a growing sea of indifference and arrogance.

Much of his time has been spent atop his own private Mount Olympus gazing endlessly and wantonly upon an often uninterested Europe, while demonstrating uncommon lack of attention to matters at home.

It needs to be stressed that this deep wound of betrayal, contrary to conventional wisdom, will not heal on its own. Left alone, it will fester and breed deep public cynicism about future politicians who, in particular, proclaim democratic ideals and European standards and practices.

And it is also likely to retard the emergence of a new democratic political culture. Furthermore, the road to recovery will be singular and lonely. No thunderous Maidan will rise up to relieve this deep wound. No spirited, heroic political leader can deliver victory in this struggle.

Where do we begin the healing process?

In a culture where homegrown litanies and chants have for ages helped troubled Ukrainians cope with their personal and national tragedies, embracing and repeating the following words on this special anniversary, and often hereafter, may offer the country’s walking wounded a measure of comfort and lead them to the road to recovery:

We grieve for Viktor Yushchenko, our tortured and once beloved icon, who solemnly promised to lead a crusade against corruption and lies, but who lacked courage and political will and quickly fell by the wayside. We grieve for our president, who, driven by a lust for power and control, frequently compromised our core principles with Orange enemies, despite his many Maidan promises.

And we grieve for a man who, amazingly, repeatedly turned his back on his closest Maidan ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, an indomitable spirit who never betrayed Orange ideals and never embraced enemies of the Orange Revolution. We remember that she sustained the Revolution during its darkest hours in 2004 when a severely poisoned and disfigured Yushchenko lay at death’s door because of his injudicious wining and dining with loyal servants of corrupt President Kuchma’s security services – an indiscretion which, no doubt, will haunt him interminably.

But we also rejoice for the Orange Revolution on this seemingly grave and funereal occasion. We never embraced its enemies. We never turned our backs on its faithful allies. And we rejoice because we – not Viktor Yushchenko – gave birth to a civil society on the Maidan, a budding society which struggles daily to survive, and we also keep the Orange dream alive for our children and grandchildren.

And so, on this second anniversary of the Orange Revolution, we grieve and we rejoice, and we hold our heads high, for we never betrayed the Maidan and never will.

Source: Kyiv Post

Clouds Gather Over Yushchenko's Interior Minister

KIEV, Ukraine -- The team of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has mounted an offensive against Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, one of a handful of ministers loyal to President Viktor Yushchenko.

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko

Lutsenko spearheaded the anti-corruption campaign that was launched after Yushchenko came to power in 2005. Several Donetsk-based Yanukovych cronies were among the targets of that campaign.

Now Lutsenko is the target of several investigations himself. He and Yushchenko dismiss them as political persecution.

It is technically easier for Yanukovych to get rid of Lutsenko than the two other Yushchenko loyalists – Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko – although Yanukovych dislikes them as well.

Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko were appointed to Yanukovych’s cabinet on Yushchenko’s quota, and nobody but he can replace them, but Lutsenko’s appointment was the result of a separate agreement between Yushchenko and Yanukovych.

Parliament, in which Yanukovych controls a majority, can dismiss Lutsenko any time, according to the constitution.

Parliament started its attack with a warning shot. On November 2, a parliamentary commission was set up to investigate allegations of corruption against Lutsenko, which were published in the September 8 issue of the 2000 weekly.

The paper claimed that he or his family were involved in car ownership irregularities – an allegation flatly dismissed by Lutsenko. On the same day, parliament approved a recommendation to Yanukovych to suspend Lutsenko for the duration of the commission’s work.

However, Lutsenko has not been suspended. Yushchenko came to his rescue the same day. His spokeswoman said that Yushchenko did not understand parliament’s move and that the legality of it was doubtful.

Lutsenko told 1+1 TV on November 2 that parliament has the right to dismiss him, but there is no law allowing parliament to suspend him. Lutsenko dismissed the action against him as “revenge of those who have legal problems.”

He said Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU) and the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) were behind the controversial motion.

Lutsenko spoiled relations with the BYT last year when he publicly accused Tymoshenko’s right-hand man, Oleksandr Turchynov, of eavesdropping on top officials when Turchynov headed the Security Service (SBU) in February-September 2005.

Turchynov denied the accusation. On November 17, the BYT press service reported that a Kyiv district court had upheld Turchynov’s libel suit against Lutsenko, obliging Lutsenko to issue a denial.

The BYT has the second-largest faction in parliament, and if it backs the PRU on Lutsenko’s dismissal, nothing can save him.

Interviewed on the national TV on November 13, Yanukovych said Lutsenko must choose between his work in the cabinet and pursuing a party career. Yanukovych was probably reacting to Lutsenko’s fiery speech at the November 11 congress of Yushchenko’s People’s Union-Our Ukraine party, when he did not rule out becoming the leader of a new political force in spring 2007.

On November 14, Segodnya, a daily sympathetic to the PRU, quoted sources in parliament as saying that Lutsenko would be dismissed shortly. On the same day, Deputy Prosecutor-General Renat Kuzmin, a PRU loyalist, told a press conference that Lutsenko was suspected of “very serious corruption.”

He said that Lutsenko had given firearms to people who were not authorized to carry arms, and that he ad granted officer ranks illegally. Lutsenko did not deny the instances mentioned by Kuzmin, but said that those were his mistakes, rather than deliberate legal violations.

On November 20 the Pechersky district court in Kyiv – the same jurisdiction that had ruled in favor of Turchynov – ruled that Lutsenko was guilty of corruption and fined him the equivalent of $65. The size of punishment clearly demonstrated that Lutsenko’s “corruption” was probably not very “serious.”

Lutsenko promised to appeal anyway. The headlines about “the interior minister’s corruption,” however, have been conspicuous in newspapers, and the psychological pressure on Lutsenko is mounting.

The parliamentary investigative commission that was set up on November 2 to grill Lutsenko is scheduled to report on its findings in early December.

Yushchenko is prepared to strike back. The chief of his administration, Viktor Baloha, has accused Kuzmin of deliberately discrediting Lutsenko. Speaking in an interview with Zerkalo nedeli, Baloha also accused Kuzmin’s boss, Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko, of “destabilizing society,” and suggested that he should resign. The daily Delo quoted its sources as saying that Medvedko’s dismissal was only a question of time.

Yushchenko has been unhappy not only with the treatment of Lutsenko by the top prosecutors, but also with their recent decisions not to arrest a well-connected Crimean deputy who had been suspected of serious crime, and to release controversial former Sumy governor Volodymyr Shcherban, who returned from self-imposed exile in the United States.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor