Sunday, December 31, 2006

Record For Operation Christmas Child

WARWICK, England -- Children who live in poverty will celebrate Christmas with a gift this year thanks to the generosity of people in Warwickshire.

Sharon Hedges

Residents have collected more shoeboxes than ever before for the Operation Christmas Child appeal.

People from Warwick, Leamington and other towns in the county donated 21,000 boxes filled with items such as hats, scarfs and crayons, beating last year's total.

The UK has set a new record by donating 1.22 million shoeboxes to this year's appeal, with gifts being sent to children in eastern Europe and Africa.

The presents collected in Warwickshire will be taken to Ukraine on Thursday, where the convoy will stop in the cities of Simferopol and Odessa, delivering gifts to underprivileged children.

The area co-ordinator for Operation Christmas Child and mother of three Sharon Hedges is pleased with the response to the appeal.

She said: "It's great. We have more this year but each box is individual and makes a child very happy."

On January 4, Mrs Hedges will be joining 12 people from throughout the UK on a trip to Ukraine to deliver the gifts, which she thinks will be challenging but rewarding.

She said: "The children don't tend to have a lot of expression or emotion on their faces and when they open the boxes you get a big smile."

Schools, churches and businesses have been busy preparing the packages, with some people knitting scarves throughout the year as extras for the children.

About 60 volunteers joined together to process 9,400 boxes in Leamington, which were then stored at a warehouse donated by the Royal Aggricultural Society at Stoneleigh Park.

The project, run by the Samaritan's Purse, brings happiness to children who have nothing. Last year's trip to Ukraine visited a group of teenage boys who live on the streets of Odessa and sleep in the sewers in the winter to keep warm.

Other help can also follow as a result of the appeal, for example revisiting and refurbishing orphanages or fitting double glazing to help children throughout the year.

Source: The Courier

Kiev Parking Lot 'Swallows' Three Cars

KIEV, Ukraine -- A massive sink hole in the Ukrainian capital Kiev swallowed three automobiles, Sehodnia newspaper reported on Friday.

The four-metre-wide pit opened up at around 4am in a parking lot on Volkova street, in a working class neighbourhood.

A Zhiguli four-door, a Volkswagen minibus, and a BMW sedan sank to depth of two metres below the pavement, and were covered by water.

"I got up in the morning and looked out at the parking lot for my car, and all I saw was its antenna," said the Zhiguli's owner, who identified himself as Vitaly.

A crane hoisted the vehicles out of the hole later in the day.

City inspectors arriving on the scene blamed the pavement failure on a broken water main.

All three vehicle owners told reporters they intended to sue the Kiev city water administration damages received by their vehicles, as a result of poor maintenance of the city water supply system.

A statement made public by the Kiev city water utility, Kievvodakanal, blamed the incident on the parking lot operator, who according to Kievvodakanal had broken a city code by running a parking lot directly over a water main.

"We issued no permit to operate a parking lot on ground directly over the water main," a Kievvodakanal official said. "The drivers can try to sue the parking lot owner, but not us."

Privately-run parking lots on questionable territory are ubiquitous in Kiev, which has seen a massive influx of automobiles in recent years, but almost no construction of parking lots.

Hapless drivers searching for a spot often park in places usually forbidden to autos elsewhere in Europe - including sidewalks, traffic circles, and "private" parking lots run by entrepreneurs controlling a bit of city pavement.

Source: DPA

A Night In Hollywood, A Day In Ukraine

LOS ANGELES, CA -- At the Palm Springs International Film Festival next week Paul Mazursky, a past master of the American film industry, will offer the American premiere of his first documentary, “Yippee,” about an annual Rosh Hashanah convocation of 25,000 Hasidic Jews in the Ukrainian town of Uman.

Paul Mazursky, second from right, in his documentary, “Yippee,” which explores an annual Rosh Hashanah convocation in Uman, Ukraine

The somewhat unlikely film does not yet have a distributor. But Mr. Mazursky — four times nominated for Oscars in his career as a writer and director, and the subject of a planned tribute at Lincoln Center next spring — is happy to have had the work.

“I sort of have a migraine headache even thinking about all my scripts that haven’t been made,” the 76-year-old Mr. Mazursky said during a recent interview that began in his Beverly Hills office and continued at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

Speaking openly of his frustration at not having made a feature film since “Faithful” in 1996, he added, “It could be ageism.”

Robert Altman, who died in November at 81, was one of the few directors who kept working up to the end of their lives. His last film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” was released in June. Other old masters — including Billy Wilder, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and David Lean — spent their last years scrambling unsuccessfully for financing.

But Mr. Mazursky, whose best-known work includes “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1969), “Harry and Tonto” (1974), “An Unmarried Woman” (1978), “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986) and “Enemies: A Love Story” (1989), chose to stay in action in one way or another, even while laboring on half a dozen scripts that no studio would finance.

In recent years he has directed two movies for cable television and acted in television series like “Once and Again” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” That he should go as far afield as Ukraine in search of his first feature in a decade resulted from a trip to the optician.

Mr. Mazursky said he first heard about the gathering in Uman when he went to have a pair of eyeglasses made by David Miretsky. “I told him his glasses would not be ready right away because I was going on a pilgrimage,” Mr. Miretsky recalled. “He said, ‘Jews don’t go on pilgrimages.’ I told him, ‘Well, we do.’ He was skeptical at first. Jews are skeptical by nature.”

But Mr. Mazursky was itching to make a movie, and Hollywood was not cooperating. He said, “On the spur of the moment I said, ‘I’m going to Uman.’ ”

He put up about $40,000 for the movie himself. The experience was sometimes difficult for a director in his 70s. Mr. Mazursky had broken his arm before traveling to Ukraine, and filmmaking conditions were a far cry from the comforts of a Hollywood studio. Mr. Mazursky and his small crew shared a cramped apartment. And they observed traces of the anti-Semitism that had caused many Jews, including Mr. Mazursky’s grandfather, to flee Ukraine a century earlier.

“I filmed some encounters with the Ukrainians,” Mr. Mazursky said. “They’re very open about the fact that they think Jews are strange people. But they make a lot of money from the visitors, so they’re very happy to have them every Rosh Hashanah.”

Mr. Mazursky appears in the film as a genial tour guide, and he shares the screen with a diverse array of pilgrims, including Mr. Miretsky; a Hasidic rock ’n’ roll musician; a comedian known as the Jay Leno of Tel Aviv; and a neurosurgeon who offers a concise history of Jews in Ukraine.

“One of the things I learned from the movie is tolerance,” Mr. Mazursky said. “I see Hasidim walking down the streets here in Los Angeles, with outfits from the 17th or 18th century, and I think, ‘Aren’t they hot?’ But when I spent time with them, I learned they’re all individuals. They surprised me.”

Bill Megalos, the director of photography on the film, said: “I think hanging out with people like David and watching their belief moved Paul. I guess it would have been a good story if he had had a religious conversion while making the movie. But he told me that wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t.”

Mr. Mazursky said, “I’ve always felt very Jewish but very ambivalent about being Jewish. I’m an atheist. Yet wherever I travel I always find a synagogue. I’ve been to synagogues in Spain, Morocco, China, Sweden, Germany, Cuba, Brazil. When I was making this film, I felt like a reporter who goes to report on something but finds that he’s still emotionally involved.”

Mr. Miretsky offered a different perspective: “In my personal opinion Paul is an older gentleman reaching his ripe age, and he wanted to find his roots. Uman is three hours from Kiev, where his grandfather grew up. I think the film affected him in a profound way, more than even he realizes.”

In his early films Mr. Mazursky studiously avoided Jewish subject matter, but Judaism began to come to the forefront in his 1976 autobiographical film “Next Stop, Greenwich Village,” in which Shelley Winters played a woman modeled on his own mother. A decade later he and Roger L. Simon adapted Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Enemies: A Love Story.”

“I went to meet Singer in Miami,” Mr. Mazursky recalled. “He was 81 or 82. His wife took me out to the pool and said, ‘Isaac, this is Paul Mazursky, the boy who’s going to make a movie from “Enemies.” ’ He looks up with very powerful eyes, takes my hand very firmly and says, ‘I didn’t like what Barbra Streisand did with ‘Yentl.’ ”

It is the humorous side of Judaism that Mr. Mazursky embraces most enthusiastically. That antic spirit courses through “Yippee.”

If Mr. Mazursky has faced his career disappointments with wry humor, some who admire his work would nonetheless like to see more of it.

“The studios feel that to talk to the core audience, you have to be the same age as that audience,” said Jeff Kanew, the editor and co-producer of “Yippee,” who also directed “Revenge of the Nerds” and other films, and who acknowledges having experienced a similar shut-down as he aged. “It’s frustrating for me as an admirer of Paul’s to see the difficulties he’s faced. I’ve read his scripts, and I know that several of them could make viable movies.”

Mr. Mazursky, for his part, refused to surrender to bitterness. “You can’t have any self-pity,” he said. “When you do succeed in Hollywood, you make a great deal of money, more than anyone is worth. And I had this fabulous period from 1969 to about 1990, where I got to do whatever I wanted. I got to make a modern-day version of ‘The Tempest.’ So I have nothing to complain about.”

Source: The New York Times

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gas War Looms As Belarus, Russia Talks Falter

MOSCOW, Russia -- Belarus and Russia are set to renew last-ditch talks on resolving a gas price dispute that risks disrupting energy supplies to the European Union from New Year's day.

Intense negotiations in Moscow ended Friday without result, amid mutual accusations of blackmail.

Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom says it will cut off Belarus' natural gas supply at 0700 GMT Monday if the ex-Soviet republic refuses to accept a steep price increase, prompting fears that 2007 will start in freezing conditions for many of Belarus' 10 million people.

The government in Minsk warns that in retaliation it could refuse transit of Russian gas across its territory to western Europe, potentially causing shortfalls in EU members such as Germany, Lithuania and Poland.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said meetings with Belarussian energy officials were to restart Saturday. "Of course we'd like to reach a deal," he told AFP.

But the talks ended in bad spirit late Friday after Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Gazprom of blackmail.

"If this blackmail continues, we will take shelter in bunkers, but we will not give in," he said, barely 60 hours ahead of the Monday deadline.

Gazprom wants to end Soviet-era subsidies to Belarus, as well as to a string of other ex-Soviet republics, and argues that more than doubling the current price for gas paid by Belarus would simply bring fees in line with market export rates.

Lukashenko repeated the argument that Belarus, which is joined to Russia in a loose economic union, should pay no more than a normal Russian region.

"We want the prices to be the same for us and for them. Whether it is 200, 300 or 500 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres, the conditions should be the same," he said, arguing that a gas price rise would make Belarussian exports to Russia uneconomic.

Currently, Belarus pays 46.68 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters of gas.

Gazprom originally demanded an increase to 200 dollars, which is closer to western European prices, unless Belarus agreed to sell 50 percent of its domestic pipeline operator Beltransgaz.

Gazprom is now offering a contract charging 105 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters -- 75 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters in cash payments, plus the equivalent of another 30 dollars in shares of Beltransgaz. Under the deal, Gazprom would become joint owner of Beltransgaz.

Belarus says it will hit back by blocking transit of Russian gas to Europe, arguing that without a contract for its own supplies, there can be no contract on transit. About five percent of gas consumed in the EU is imported via Belarus.

Gazprom vice-president Alexander Medvedev was quoted Friday in the French newspaper Le Figaro accusing Minsk of "grotesque blackmail."

The conflict echoes last years's winter price war between Russia and Ukraine over the supply and cost of gas which led to shortages in western Europe.

However, only 20 percent of Russia's gas exports transit via Belarus, compared to 80 percent through Ukraine. Demand was also higher 12 months ago when Europe was in the grip of one of the coldest winters on record, compared to the unusually mild season so far this year.

Western governments gave strong diplomatic backing to Ukraine's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, but Lukashenko is a political pariah in Europe and the United States.

The EU has limited itself to calling on the two parties to reach a deal that does not threaten European supplies, while the authorities in France and Germany say they are not worried by the prospect of shortages.

Ukraine announced on Thursday its readiness to increase the transit of Russian gas through its territory in case of possible disruptions on the Belarus route.

Source: AFP

Friday, December 29, 2006

Analysts Dub Gov’t Bond Deals As Non-Transparent

KIEV, Ukraine -- For the fifth year in a row, the government has carried out foreign bond issues to cover shortfalls in budget revenues, but some analysts and politicians question the transparency of the latest issues under Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych’s government has increased foreign bond issues dramatically to fill budget holes in the light of pale privatization receipts.

On Dec. 15, the Cabinet approved a four-year issue for 35.1 billion Japanese yen ($297 million) with an interest rate of 3.2 percent. This was the third foreign bond issue by the government this year – all three being conducted since Yanukovych was appointed premier for the second time last summer.

December and September witnessed two tranches of a 12-year bond for 768 million Swiss Francs ($638 million) with an annual interest rate of 3.5 percent.

While in November, the government issued a 10-year $1 billion bond yielding a 6.58 percent annual interest rate.

Oleksandr Zholud, an economist for the International Centre for Policy Studies, said the government’s issuing of bonds is not unusual, but the way they were issued is.

“Issuing external bonds is not anything extraordinary. The problem is how they do it,” Zholud told the Post.

Zholud said two of the government’s bond emissions, those in Japanese yen and Swiss Francs, were conducted non-transparently. The government announced the issues just three days before they took place, he added.

“It is possible that these bonds were placed even before the issues were announced,” Zholud said.

According to Zholud, Ukraine’s National Bank does not even have enough Swiss Francs in its accounts to make payments on the bonds, so it will have to buy them at an obscure exchange rate.

“Switzerland is known for its banking secrecy. So it is possible that these bonds are being sold to Ukrainians who would prefer to remain anonymous,” he said.

Moreover, considering expected fluctuations in the yen, the interest rate on the last bond issue was too high, Zholud added.

“The rate could have been lower than 3 percent, even without a discount,” he said.

Yanukovych served as prime minister under former President Leonid Kuchma from late 2002 to 2004, before being appointed a second time by the parliament under current President Viktor Yushchenko. In 2003 and 2004, government borrowing through foreign bond issues increased dramatically from around $350 million to well over $1 billion during the following two years. This year, Ukraine raised about $2 billion.

Former Ukrainian Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk, a member of the Orange coalition, believes that the current government doesn’t need to borrow at all, as there is enough money in the treasury from taxes and other revenues.

“The government is consciously putting the country in debt,” Pynzenyk said.

Under Pynzenyk, the government issued only $550 million in foreign bonds. However, 2005 was also the year that Ukraine privatized the Kryvorizhstal steel mill for a record $4.8 billion.

This year’s privatization receipts have not met expectations, earning less than $20 million out of some $400 million planned, according to the State Property Fund.

Yuriy Oleksiyenko, an equity analyst at Millennium Capital, a Kyiv-based financial services provider, blamed the government’s poor privatization record for the increased foreign borrowing.

“It’s a way to finance current state programs by transferring responsibility to the next government,” he said, as most bond issues come due after 2011.

Oleksiyenko believes that the Orange government in which Pynzenyk worked was working to reduce Ukraine’s external debt and compensate the budget through privatization.

Yanukovych’s government has been accused of holding up planned state privatizations.
“We can see it in such examples as the canceled privatization of a 76 percent stake in Luhanskteplovoz and further hold-up in the sale of [state fixed-line monopoly] Ukrtelecom,” Oleksiyenko added.

Source: Kyiv Post

New Skyscraper Planned For Capital

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Russian real estate developer has launched construction of Kyiv’s next tallest building, a 44-floor office center flanked by a luxury residential annex, which will cost an estimated $300 million.

Planned Mirax Plaza

Mirax Construction, the flagship company of Mirax Group, which traces its roots to St. Petersburg, broke ground in the capital’s Podil district Dec. 22 and plans to complete all 170 meters of the office center, as part of its Mirax-Plaza by the end of 2009.

Mirax-Plaza will include a business center, a residential complex of 381 apartments, underground and ground-level parking, a recreation zone and a park. The residential annex will feature 24-hour reception service, while the sky-scraping business center will be topped off with a helicopter pad and a restaurant with a panoramic view.

Mirax Group didn’t disclose at what price it would sell space in the new center, saying only that it would return its investment five years after the real estate is commissioned.

With demand for office and living space continuing to increase in the Ukrainian capital, market specialists say the smart thing to do is build up.

“The price of land in Kyiv is growing with each day. The construction of skyscrapers, which take up less land but offer more living and working space, is profitable because of the lower price per square meter,” according to Olena Nehuliayeva, the head of the commercial real-estate department of Planeta-Obolon real estate agency.

Nehuliayeva said class-A space is particularly expensive and thus in high demand, so Mirax stands to make a nice profit building high in the relatively less expensive Podil district.

Russian companies have more experience in building skyscrapers, she added, which made it easier for Mirax to enter the Ukrainian market.

Mirax Construction, which describes itself as one of the Russian capital’s leading builders and developers, claims to have put up over 2 million square meters of business and premium class real estate.

In addition to five edifices that it has erected in Moscow, Mirax is currently building what it has billed as the tallest skyscraper in Europe: the Federation, with a planned height of 354 meters.

Having only registered its Ukrainian subsidiary, Mirax-Invest, last April, the Russian company is launching its first Ukrainian project on a three-hectare plot of land in Podil. Mirax-Plaza will total over 204 square meters of space.

Andriy Kharyv, director of Mirax’s Ukrainian subsidiary, said the time and place for the new building project were right.

“At the moment, there is a serious shortage of Class-A office space in Kyiv,” he said.

Kharyv said his company is also considering other land plots in Kyiv for the construction of residential and office space.

Mirax’s partner in Kyiv is a company called El-Invest, which will act as the project’s general contractor and co-developer, according to Kharyv.

Kyiv’s tallest skyscraper was, until recently, the 28-storey Transport and Communications Ministry, a glass tower on Peremohy Prospekt. A 33-floor business center under construction on Mechnykova Street is currently Kyiv’s loftiest building.

Heorhiy Dukhovichnyi, a vice president of the National Architects’ Union of Ukraine, has his doubts about how high Mirax will be able to build.

According to him, the tallest possible building that Podil district can accommodate is 12-13 floors due to geological conditions. In addition, Dukhovichnyi said, the skyscraper will look strange against Podil’s current low-lying skyline.

Mirax’s Kharyv dismissed such concerns saying “the building site is complicated, but the soil is suitable for the building of such a complicated structure.”

“The price of land in Kyiv is growing with each day. The construction of skyscrapers, which take up less land but offer more living and working space, is profitable because of the lower price per square meter,” according to Olena Nehuliayeva, the head of the commercial real estate department of Planeta-Obolon real estate agency.

Nehuliayeva said Class-A space is particularly expensive and thus in high demand, so Mirax stands to make a nice profit building high in the relatively less expensive Podil district.

Russian companies have more experience in building skyscrapers, she added, which made it easier for Mirax to enter the Ukrainian market.

Mirax Construction, which describes itself as one of the Russian capital’s leading builders and developers, claims to have put up over 2 million square meters of business and premium class real estate.

In addition to five edifices that it has erected in Moscow, Mirax is currently building what it has billed as the tallest skyscraper in Europe: the Federation, with a planned height of 354 meters.

Having only registered its Ukrainian subsidiary, Mirax-Invest, last April, the Russian company is launching its first Ukrainian project on a three-hectare plot of land in Podil. Mirax-Plaza will total over 204 square meters of space.

Andriy Kharyv, director of Mirax’s Ukrainian subsidiary, said the time and place for the new building project were right.

“At the moment, there is a serious shortage of Class-A office space in Kyiv,” he said.

Kharyv said his company is also considering other land plots in Kyiv for the construction of residential and office space. Mirax’s partner in Kyiv is a company called El-Invest, which will act as the project’s general contractor and co-developer, according to Kharyv.

Kyiv’s tallest skyscraper was, until recently, the 28-storey Transport and Communications Ministry, a glass tower on Peremohy Prospekt. A 33-floor business center still under construction on Mechnykova Street is currently Kyiv’s loftiest building.

Heorhiy Dukhovichniy, a vice president of the National Architects’ Union of Ukraine, has his doubts about how high Mirax will be able to build. According to him, the tallest possible building that Podil district can accommodate is 12-13 floors due to geological conditions. In addition, Dukhovichniy said, the skyscraper will look strange against Podil’s current low-lying skyline.

Mirax’s Kharyv dismissed such concerns, saying “the building site is complicated, but the soil is suitable for the building of such a complicated structure.”

Source: Kyiv Post

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ukraine’s President, Parliament At Odds Over Government

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko vetoed for the eighth time the law on the national government passed by parliament and offered to set up a conciliatory commission to resolve the dispute.

Viktor Yanukovych with parliament in the background

First deputy head of the presidential secretariat Arseny Yatsenyuk said 86 presidential amendments had not been taken into consideration and blamed the Supreme Rada for taking over two many presidential powers.

“There are key differences in the ideology of the variants of the president and the Supreme Rada. The law should bring stability to state authority and service in general.

A primitive re-writing of constitutional norms and appropriating powers is not an adequate approach,” he told a briefing.

The law specified, in particular, that if the president fails to nominate candidates for the posts of the defense and foreign ministers in a fixed time, the ruling coalition would do the job.

That gives parliament a possibility to appoint a new foreign minister after it sacked Boris Tarasyuk on December 1 upon a request of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

However on December 5 the president ordered Tarasyuk to stay.

Since then Tarasyuk has been twice barred from government meetings, and did not come to the third one himself.

The Justice ministry said the president abused his powers by keeping Tarasyuk in office. It said Supreme Rada enjoyed the right to dismiss the foreign minister.

However, the head of the presidential secretariat Viktor Baloga snubbed the prime minister and parliament again by saying Tarasyuk would remain the foreign minister.

“Mr. Tarasyuk is so staunchly fulfilling the instructions of the president of Ukraine that I fear Viktor Fedorovich (Yanukovich) may get tired of waiting for his resignation,” he told a briefing commenting on Yanukovich’s statement that Tarasyuk was ready to resign shortly.

Source: Itar-Tass

Yushchenko Vetoes Privatization List

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko on Thursday vetoed a parliament-approved list of businesses to be privatized next year, a move reflecting the growing tension between the president and the governing coalition.

Viktor Yushchenko

Lawmakers earlier this month approved a list of more than 1,000 companies to be auctioned off, giving a green light to the long-awaited privatization of the country's largest telecommunications company, Ukrtelecom.

However, Yushchenko said in a statement Thursday that it was not up to lawmakers, but to the government, to select companies to be privatized.

He said that according to Ukrainian law, parliament could identify enterprises that are not subject to privatization, but could not decide which companies are up for sale.

Yushchenko shares power with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian politician who won this year's parliamentary election and formed the governing coalition and the Cabinet.

The two have frequently clashed over foreign policy, Cabinet appointments and other government business.

Source: Business Week

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ukraine – The View From The Kremlin

KIEV, Ukraine -- Vladimir Putin’s Orange nightmare is over. The Russian leader can now sleep soundly. Premier Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions are clearly in charge in Ukraine and, in their own words, are cleaning house and restoring order.

Viktor Yanukovych (L) and his mentor Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Dec. 22 visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was an opportunity to observe firsthand the situation on the ground, and to quietly revel in the defeat of the Orange Revolution and its once worshipped hero.

Putin’s visit to Kyiv has received increasing attention from Ukrainian and Western political observers. Prediction, in a highly dynamic political environment such as Ukraine’s, is always hazardous.

Consequently, it is not surprising that much of the available commentary offers sweeping generalizations and often idle speculation about the possible results of this meeting.

Rather than add to this growing mountain of largely trivial speculation, it may be more instructive simply to highlight several key but generally inadequately grasped facts – essential background about recent Ukrainian-Russian relations.

Doing so may shed light on Putin’s true intentions in visiting Kyiv and on his preferred vision for Ukraine.

Fact 1: President Putin has been and continues to be Viktor Yanukovych’s most loyal foreign benefactor. He has never hidden his support for the fraud-marred premier.

His public expressions of support have been deftly adjusted since Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election to meet the country’s changing political landscape, but his allegiance to Yanukovych and his Party of Regions remains unswerving.

Amazingly, after blatantly fraudulent rounds of that election, Putin, like a brash schoolboy, rushed not once but twice to prematurely congratulate Yanukovych on victory.

Learning from experience, he subsequently adopted a more circumspect but no less active role in supporting Yanukovych and his Party of Regions in the 2006 parliamentary election.

Significantly, in the short period since becoming premier, Yanukovych has already met with Putin on several occasions, in Moscow and Sochi, to discuss bilateral cooperation.

Fact 2: Yanukovych and the Regions-led majority in parliament have unabashedly rushed to demonstrate their profound gratitude to Putin for his faithful support in shaping the Ukrainian political scene.

Their conspicuous haste to deliver major political dividends to their Kremlin sponsor, although tactically imprudent because it diminishes their already low credibility at home and in the West, tellingly reflects their steely determination to quickly and steadily repay their enormous political debt to Putin.

In just over 100 days, they have begun to synchronize important Ukrainian security policies with those of their northern neighbor.

And in the words of ordinary citizens here in Ukraine: “They are firing Orange-leaning Cabinet ministers and delivering their heads on a platter to Vladimir Putin.”

Fact 3: In Brussels last September, Yanukovych did much more than close the door on a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2006.

Although only dimly perceived in the West, he also effectively placed a cross on any future Ukrainian membership in NATO.

To the great delight of the Kremlin and members of Ukraine’s so-called Anti-Crisis coalition in parliament, he rested the issue squarely on a future national referendum.

It is no secret that Yanukovych’s Regions party adamantly opposes Ukrainian membership in NATO and relishes today’s harsh realities: Ukrainian public support for NATO today is low and declining, anti-NATO activities have increased over the past year, and the Ukrainian government’s support for a NATO information campaign remains scant.

Moreover, Moscow, as in the past, stands ready to resort to active measures in Ukraine to support anti-NATO forces, should the need arise.

To believe that this decidedly negative trend line on Ukrainian membership in NATO can be easily reversed is, indeed, a pernicious myth.

Fact 4: Vladimir Putin waged economic wars – gas, meat, and dairy notably, in 2005 and 2006 with the clear intention of destabilizing Ukraine’s economy and Yushchenko’s Orange government.

These “man-made crises,” unquestionably, harmed Ukraine’s economy and measurably influenced the political scene.

With his man, Viktor Yanukovych, now in power, Putin no longer needs to wage economic wars.

Putin, strictly speaking, only seeks good partner relations with Yanukovych and other Moscow-loyal members of the Regions-led parliamentary coalition.

Putin’s aversion to color revolutions and their leaders remains categorical.

His ongoing economic war with Georgia, home of the Rose Revolution and reportedly 70 percent support for NATO membership, is compelling evidence of this fact and a stark daily reminder.

At first glance, Putin’s decision to end economic wars with Ukraine and help stabilize its economy, if only to benefit Viktor Yanukovych, is welcome news.

The crucial question, however, is at what price to the nation?

Putin’s preferred vision for Ukraine is a mirror image of what he has accomplished in Russia during his presidency.

Translated, this means total control of the “commanding heights” by a Moscow-loyal Party of Regions with the virtual monopolization of parliament by pro-Regions forces, the consignment of any democratic opposition in parliament to the political wilderness, and judicial attacks upon any uncooperative big business.

It also means that the future of Ukraine’s budding NGOs and any genuine security sector reform will be in grave jeopardy.

It must be said that in Putin’s Russia a distinction is made between acceptable (government affiliated) and unacceptable (state adversaries) NGOs, while security services unarguably function as a political instrument.

To what extent do Yanukovych and Party of Regions leaders share such a vision?

Disturbingly, in just over 100 days in government, they have provided much cogent evidence of their preference for Putin’s authoritarian style of leadership and model of government.

Furthermore, their intent to gravitate toward a Moscow-Donetsk vector in domestic and foreign policymaking is evident almost daily.

Vladimir Putin will continue to view Ukraine through the prism of velvet revolutions and their clear and present danger to Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space.

He will struggle unceasingly to ensure the demise of the Orange Revolution and a Ukraine outside of NATO.

Moreover, Putin and Party of Regions leaders will likely remain loyal partners in this struggle.

Source: Kyiv Post

A Wary Belarus Braces For Natural Gas Cutoff

MINSK, Belarus -- Residents of Belarus's capital stocked up on warm clothes and electric heaters as fears rose yesterday that Russia is about to cut off the natural gas on which the country depends.

Belarusian Yevgenia Lukshits puts wood into a stove to warm her house in the village Gaina, 45 km (28 miles) north of Minsk, Belarus

Russia says Belarus must pay more than twice as much for gas next year -- and even more later -- and turn over a half-share in its pipeline system, a major transit route to Europe, if it wants to avoid a New Year's gas shut-off.

The dispute bears loud echoes of last year's crisis between Russia and Ukraine, which caused ripples of concern in Western Europe, whose supplies of Russian gas were briefly disrupted.

But in that case, Russia's price demand was seen as political pressure against a Western-leaning government; this time it is against a country whose longtime leader has close ties to Moscow.

Alexander Milinkevich, a Belarussian opposition leader, suggested the demands of Russia's natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, are aimed at forcing President Alexander Lukashenko to cede control over the pipeline network and other attributes of sovereignty in exchange for continued Russian support for his authoritarian regime.

"Through energy pressure, the Kremlin is trying to force Lukashenko to integrate according to the Russian scenario, which is extremely dangerous for Belarus," Milinkevich said.

Anna Kuprilko, a 48-year-old tractor factory worker whose sister lives in Ukraine, was among those shopping for a heater yesterday. "My sister told me about Ukraine's experience, and I want to keep myself secure," she said.

Talks yesterday between Belarus and Russia failed to resolve the issue, and a senior official of Gazprom said a cutoff was certain without an agreement.

"In the absence of a contract, there is not and cannot be a basis for the delivery of gas to any country or any consumer in the world," said Gazprom's export division chief, Alexander Medvedev .

Lukashenko said the talks on Russian supplies were "very difficult," and he urged energy saving. "In the conditions of pressure on Belarus one must know how to live within one's means and economize, especially on energy," he said.

Medvedev said a shut-off would not affect the 30 percent of Russian gas deliveries to Europe that go through Belarus. Russian gas provides a quarter of Europe's consumption.

Much of the Russian gas destined for Poland and Germany, among other countries, goes through a pipeline that is already owned by Gazprom but is under the day-to-day control of the Belarussian pipeline network, Beltransgaz.

"The issues of transit and supplies are not linked and will not be linked," Medvedev said. But he also raised the possibility that Belarus would seek to siphon gas meant for European customers, saying that gas "will be delivered to the Russia-Belarus border. How the Belarussians will conduct themselves I don't want to guess, but I hope it won't come to that."

The price dispute with Ukraine in early 2006 resulted in temporary supply reductions to European customers, raising doubts about Russia's reliability.

Medvedev said Gazprom had scrapped its initial demand that Belarus begin paying $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in 2007. Under what he called a final offer, Belarus would pay $105 next year -- well below world market prices, but more than twice the $47 it now pays.

The increasing price would be a severe blow to Belarus's Soviet-style state-run industries, whose financial health -- and, in turn, a portion of Lukashenko's popularity -- depends on inexpensive gas.

Russia had supplied gas to former Soviet states at below-market prices for years after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but now wants to sell all its gas at world prices.

Belarus, under the authoritarian Lukashenko, has been one of Russia's closest allies in the region. The countries signed a loose union treaty in the mid-1990s, and no visas are needed for land travel between them.

Russia has supported Lukashenko in the face of severe Western criticism, but it has appeared uneasy over his heavy-handed suppression of opposition and irritated at his insistence that small and poor Belarus can be unified with Russia only on an equal basis.

Relations have been tense under Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, who angered Lukashenko by floating an integration plan under which Belarus would essentially become a Russian province.

Source: Boston Globe

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ukrainian Groups To Seek NATO, CES Referendums In 2007

MOSCOW, Russia -- Members of initiative groups gathering signatures in support of a Ukrainian referendum on membership in NATO and the Common Economic Space (CES) have appealed to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for help in ensuring the referendums are held in 2007.

The Ukrainian Central Election Commission (CEC) registered 109 initiative groups from November 2005 to February 2006, Volodymyr Golub, a representatives of the Poltava region initiative group, said at a press conference at the Interfax press center in Kyiv on Monday.

One hundred and four of them submitted documents proving that over 4.6 million signatures in support of the NATO and CES membership referendum had been gathered by March 5, 2006, he said.

However, the CEC's official report certifying the signature count, which was due one month after the signature sheets were submitted, has not been completed, Golub said.

"This is being deliberately dragged out," he said.

Press conference participants called on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and the CEC to observe the Constitution and to guarantee the right of the people to express their will.

Members of initiative groups have sent an open letter to the OSCE and the PACE with proposals for ending the violations.

"We are convinced that the authority and influence of the OSCE and PACE will force the Ukrainian authorities to fulfill their international obligations and the demands of national law, and to hold an all-Ukrainian referendum on the aforementioned issues in 2007," the letter says.

Source: Interfax

Monday, December 25, 2006

More Foreigners Touring Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Since the beginning of this year, nearly 15 million foreigners have visited Ukraine, an 8 percent increase over 2006, the government has announced.

St. Michael's a favourite tourist attraction

For the second year in a row, the country has seen a rise in travelers from Europe, many now coming for pleasure.

Compared to 2005, Ukraine has witnessed a 50 percent hike in the number of tourists coming from Austria, while the flow of visitors from Latvia and the Czech Republic went up by 43 percent and from Lithuania by 24 percent.

There has also been a rise in the number of Western Europeans visiting Ukraine since 2005, including travelers from Great Britain (41 percent), Italy (30 percent) and France (24 percent).

The growth in the number of visitors coincides with Ukraine’s easing of visa restrictions, allowing many citizens of Europe to enter the country with just their passports for a limited period of time.

Ukraine has traditionally seen most of its tourism coming from its immediate neighbors: Russia (30 percent), Poland (28 percent) and Moldova (18 percent), according to the government’s website portal.

Countries like Germany (1 percent), the United States (0.5 percent) and Turkey (0.4 percent) have accounted for much smaller tourist inflows.

Ukrainian travel agencies have also noticed a rise in the number of foreign visitors.

“Over the past year, our department has seen an increase in business activity from abroad by about 20-25 percent,” estimates Dmytro Tantsyura, a senior manager in the incoming department of New Logic travel agency. Kyiv-based New Logic specializes in arranging travel, tours and accommodations for foreign visitors to Ukraine.

Tantsyura said that the majority of his clients come from Russia, Germany, France, Israel and Poland. The main change of late is the reason for their visits.

“I think that even one or two years ago … business was the main reason for clients to be here, but month by month I now see that the situation has changed, and now we have clients here for business and leisure in almost equal parts,” he said.

Tantsyura thinks the trend will continue in the near future, and the government appears to be helping things along.

Ukrainian Minister for Culture and Tourism Yuriy Bohutsky recently met with the President of the European Travel Commission to discuss the possibility of bringing Ukraine closer to the European tourism community.

Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers has been working on drafting agreements on cooperation in tourism with over 20 countries this year.

Source: Kyiv Post

More Companies Preparing For IPOs

KIEV, Ukraine -- A growing number of Ukrainian companies are planning to raise badly needed capital to fuel sustained growth by listing their stock on exchanges in Europe.

Frankfurt DAX Stock Exchange

A handful of companies have floated their stock abroad through initial public offerings, or IPOs.

About 20 small to medium-sized Ukrainian firms have raised cash by floating their shares abroad as depository receipts since the Orange Revolution slapped Ukraine onto the radar screens of investors two years ago.

Last month, several Ukrainian companies announced they were considering a stock floatation on Germany’s Frankfurt Stock Exchange through an IPO.

These include oil and petrol trader Galnaftogaz, chemical and textile producer Chernihiv Khimvolokno, TMM Real Estate, and dairy group Milkiland.

Myronivsky Khlibproduct, a Ukrainian agriculture and food holding, announced last week that it planned to tap into Western capital markets through an IPO next year.

Yuriy Kosyuk, the company’s chairman of the board, said Myronivsky Khlibproduct would place around 20 percent of its shares on the main section of the London Stock Exchange next spring.

Some industry experts estimate the 20-percent stake at $150 million. Myronivsky Khlibproduct, best known for its Nasha Riaba poultry brand, was given a global rating of B2/Stable by Moody’s Investors service.

The company is listed as being almost 99 percent owned by Kosyuk.

Another major Ukrainian company looking for investment abroad is the Lutsk Automobile Plan (LUAZ), which assembles automobiles and buses.

LUAZ, a part of the Bohdan Corporation, which is controlled by pro-presidential parliamentarian Petro Poroshenko, plans to hold an IPO in 2009-10.

Earlier this year Bohdan President Oleg Svinarchuk said the company would offer a 10-20 percent stake to foreign investors.

The fourth biggest automobile producer in Ukraine, LUAZ reported an income of over $200 million last year.

Serhiy Oleksiyenko, vice-president of the Kyiv-based investment fund Renaissance Capital, said Ukrainian companies increasingly see foreign stock markets as the best places to satiate their growing investment appetites.

“They need an access to significant financial resources, which are lacking in Ukraine,” said Oleksiyenko.

According to him, neither Ukrainian banks, nor the country’s stock market can meet the investment needs of rapidly growing domestic companies.

“If a company wants to attract around $100 million or more, it can do so only through an IPO on a foreign stock market or a bank loan,” he added.

Still, only large industrial holdings are able to get huge loans from big foreign banks, unlike middle-sized companies, according to Oleksiyenko.

“An IPO is an alternative for midsized companies to obtain financial assets,” said Oleksiyenko.

Earlier this year, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest tycoons, Viktor Pinchuk, announced plans to do an IPO abroad for the country’s largest pipe producer, Interpipe, in 2008-2009.

Donetsk billionaire Rinat Akhmetov’s holding company, System Capital Management, has also bridged the subject publicly.

However company representatives say no firm decision has been made yet.

The planned placements follow a small flurry of activity over the last two years.

In 2005, several companies conducted IPOs on London’s Alternative Investment Market.

Ukrproduct, a milk producer, fetched more than $9 million; Hydrocarbon exploration & production company Cardinal Resources took in $20 million; and real estate firm XXI Century raised $140 million.

One of the biggest Ukrainian sugar producers, Astarta-Kyiv, attracted $30 million, placing a 20-percent stake on the Warsaw stock market.

Serhiy Oleksiyenko said foreign investors are showing more interest in Ukrainian companies than ever, but most are still hesitant to enter the country’s stock exchanges, because it doesn’t guarantee “fair rules of the game.”

“Ukrainian stock exchanges don’t demand full disclosure from listed companies as foreign ones do, providing investors with confidence,” he added.

Source: Kyiv Post

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Chinese To Supply 3G Equipment To Ukrtelecom

KIEV, Ukraine -- State-owned fixed line monopoly Ukrtelecom continues to attract international interest in its plans to offer the country its first taste of third-generation mobile communications.

Chinese producer of telecommunications equipment Huawei Technologies has announced that it is about to sign a deal to supply 3G mobile technology to Ukrtelecom, which currently only offers fixed-line telephone and data communication services.

If signed, the agreement would make Huawei the second foreign firm to get a contract to help the state telecom company set up a 3G mobile network.

In October, Ukrtelecom inked a three-year deal with Finnish Nokia to supply 3G telecommunications equipment for Kyiv and Kyiv Region. Huawei hopes to facilitate the development of a network in Odessa and southern Ukraine.

Wang Chunsheng, director of Huawei Technologies’ recently opened representative office in Kyiv, announced Dec 13 that a contract with Ukrtelecom would be signed before the end of this year.

According to Ukrtelecom’s press-service, the company plans to start providing mobile communications services in March 2007 on the basis of its wholly owned long-distance subsidiary, Utel, servicing its corporate clients.

Third-generation technology allows faster and higher quality communications, including voice and high resolution video feed.

Industry insiders have said that building a 3G network in Ukraine from scratch could cost over $1 billion.

Ukrtelecom has announced plans to invest around $700 million into the 3G network by 2010. The company acknowledged to the Post that a deal with Huawei is in the works, but it has not disclosed any details.

Ukrtelecom has been equally taciturn about its arrangements with Nokia. It’s not clear, for example, whether other telecom equipment makers will also be invited to help the state-owned company set up a 3G mobile communications network.

Ukrtelecom first announced that it would hold its tender in search of support in setting up its 3G system at the beginning of this year.

Five global telecom equipment providers took part, including France’s Alcatel, Sweden’s Ericsson, Germany’s Siemens, China’s Huawei and Finland’s Nokia.

Ericsson was chosen earlier this year to provide Ukrtelecom with equipment and services for testing 3G technology free of charge, but it has yet to announce a paying contract.

Ukrtelecom is currently the only Ukrainian telecommunications company with a 15-year license to provide 3G-based mobile communications in Ukraine. The license was issued by the country’s Telecommunications Commission in December 2005.

Industry insiders and the country’s mobile services providers cried foul, accusing the state of trying to beef up Ukrtelecom’s value ahead of it’s much anticipated privatization, which has been postponed for years.

On the Dec. 6, parliament included Ukrtelecom on its privatization list for next year. The state fixed-line monopoly is 92.86 percent owned by the state.

Source: Kyiv Post

Yushchenko And Putin Signal Break With Tense Past

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia's President Vladimir Putin assured Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko that Moscow wants good relations, in a meeting that both leaders presented as a break from the strained relationship of the past.

President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko (L) welcomes his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during the ceremony of a meeting in Kiev

Putin's visit on Friday to Kiev was his first since pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych returned to power in August, promising to improve Ukraine's chilly relations with Moscow that had been troubled by Yushchenko's pro-Western policies.

Russia had given strong support to Yanukovych in his fraud-riddled run for the presidency in 2004, the election that set off the massive "Orange Revolution" demonstrations.

"Today, there weren't any emotional problems," Putin told reporters after his talks with Yushchenko. "We had a very constructive, good, friendly dialogue.

Everything was very pragmatic and business-like." Putin and Yushchenko oversaw the signing of numerous bilateral accords.

Power struggle

Yanukovych, who was to meet later with Putin, attended the signing, but when it came time for a champagne toast, he and Yushchenko ignored each other a further sign of the increasingly tense power struggle between the men.

Yushchenko's and Putin's meeting was in sharp contrast to relations a year ago when the two countries were engaged in a bitter dispute over gas prices.

Moscow temporarily cut off supplies to Ukraine, a shutdown that was also felt in Western Europe.

The shutoff was widely seen as punishment for Ukraine's pro-Western policies.

Source: Gulf News

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Death Of Turkmen Leader Opens Era Of Uncertainty For Ukraine - Experts

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian experts believe that Death of Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov will have an effect on Ukraine which is hard to predict.

Viktor Yushchenko (L) with Saparmurat Niyazov (R) in 2005

“[Niyazov's death] will certainly have consequences for Ukraine, but the nature of these consequences is hard to predict,” said a source at Ukrsotsbank. “It’s no secret that large share of gas supplied to Ukraine is of Turkmen origin and the price of that gas has always been a voluntary decision of Turkmen leader.”

“If the transition of powers goes smoothly we expect more formalized relationships between Ukraine, Russian and Turkmenistan, which in longer term will have a positive effect on Ukraine,” Ukrsotsbank source said.

Meanwhile Ukrainian premier Viktor Yanukovych expressed hopes today that with Niyazov’s death relationships between Ukraine and Turkmenistan will remain stable.

"It is obvious, this issue [of Turkmen gas supplies] worries us much, but we hope that the worst is already in the past, the person, great friend of Ukraine Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who had made much for our country, is gone," Yanukovych said.

He said that the issue of Turkmen gas supplies worried not only Ukraine but also other countries receiving Turkmen gas.

The premier said that on Sunday, December 24, Ukrainian delegation headed by the president will be present at Niyazov funerals.

Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov died on December 21.

Source: Rynok Biz

Friday, December 22, 2006

Movie Theater Business Sees Growth Amid Rising Demand

KIEV, Ukraine -- Following a period of post-Soviet stagnation, movie theaters in Ukraine have been undergoing rapid development in response to increasing demand from a growing middle class looking to spend its disposable income on entertainment.

Lobby of Ukraina movie theater

Although many new, well-equipped movie theaters, including multiplex cinema complexes, have appeared in retail shopping and entertainment centers throughout Ukraine over the last several years, demand for new movie theaters still exceeds supply.

But the further development of multiplexes across the country looks more likely to be done by Ukrainian and Russian networks already in place, according to industry insiders.

Iryna Kostyuk, CEO and co-founder of Kyiv-based Media Resources Management (MRM), a provider of consultancy and research services for media market players, said that Ukraine’s movie theater market has entered a stage of reconstruction and rapid development following a decade or so of stagnation that began in the mid-80s, several years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“For a 10-year period, attendance at cinemas in the CIS fell 60-fold,” Kostyuk said. “In the mid-90s, the number of people spending their free time at movie theaters reached its bottom level.”

According to Kostyuk, the growth of the Ukrainian movie theater industry is the result of positive economic trends in the country.

“The population’s incomes are growing, and spending for entertainment is increasing respectively,” she said.

Kostyuk said that the improving investment climate, the arrival of more international film distributors and the current construction boom in the country are all contributing to the development of the movie theater industry in Ukraine.

“The construction of retail shopping and entertainment centers with cinemas is undergoing a real boom today … At present, most cinema networks in Ukraine prefer establishing their new premises in shopping centers,” she said.

According to Kostyuk, there were 112 well-equipped modern movie theaters with a total of 168 screens in Ukraine in 2005, an increase of 10 theaters and 14 screens compared to the year before. Kostyuk said she expects a total of 135 movie theaters with 262 screens by the end of this year.

She said that in 2005, 56 percent of all cinema screens in Ukraine belonged to movie theater networks, adding that there are around 10 such networks operating in the country that were created from Ukrainian or Russian investments.

Due to the small number of cinema screens in the country, Ukrainian movie theaters still largely avoid the niche film market, screening the more commercial movie selections meant to attract a wider audience and bring in bigger box office returns, Kostyuk said.

“There is such a practice [screening niche films] in Europe, but it has still not been adopted in Ukraine. These are so-called niche cinemas that show, for example, only art-house movies,” she said.

“But some Ukrainian movie theaters are trying to attract a narrow audience and organize thematic weeks, for example,” she added.

According to MRM’s research, around 18 million Ukrainians out of a population of around 47 million can afford going to the movies. Of these, 12.5 million live in large cities.

Ticket prices for movies currently range from Hr 10 [$2] to Hr 55 [$11].

Box office receipts in 2004 totaled around $18 million, with that figure growing to $26 million last year.

Multiplex expansion

Tetyana Smirnova, the executive director for the Association to Promote the Ukrainian Film Industry, said Ukraine’s movie theater business is currently undergoing an expansion by cinema networks.

“Following the reconstruction of the Ukrainian movie theater sector, the next step is the expansion of networks,” said Smirnova, whose association unites around 70 percent of the players on the Ukrainian movie market.

But the sector’s further development depends on overall market conditions in the country, she added.

“The services provided by the movie market are not a prime necessity,” Smirnova said. “If the entire economic level [of Ukraine] should drop, people would not stop buying food, but they would reduce their spending on leisure and entertainment.”

According to Smirnova, growth on the movie theater market is currently characterized by more multiplex theaters (which contain at least four screens) being developed within shopping and entertainment centers, following a larger, global trend.

She said that multiplexes are not only being constructed in the capital, Kyiv, but in other large Ukrainian cities with populations of over 1 million people.

Kateryna Kholomoytseva, project manager for Multiplex Holding, a Kyiv-based company that invests in the construction of high-end multi-screen movie theaters at retail trade centers throughout the country, said that multi-screen cinemas attract more visitors with their greater variety and more diverse schedule of movies, resulting in higher box-office returns.

“Multiplexes allow planning [movie] schedules in a more convenient way, so that they cover a whole repertoire of movies available for view in Ukraine,” Kholomoytseva said.

Multiplex Holding was established in 2003 by Anton Pugach, former director of one of Ukraine’s largest movie theater networks, Kinopalats.

At present, the company operates two cinemas - one in Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine and one in the eastern city of Donetsk – and is currently constructing its first movie theater complex in Kyiv, which is scheduled to open in March 2007. Another complex is under construction in Kryviy Rih.

Kholomoytseva said that Multiplex Holding also plans to implement movie theater projects in Vinnytsya, Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk.

According to Kholomoytseva, the Multiplex network attracts a largely middle class audience.

She said that moviegoers in Ukraine still lack high-level cinemas to go to, including in Kyiv, resulting in low competition on the country’s movie theater market. She believes that this will likely begin changing in about two years, when the number of cinemas in Ukraine reaches a level that will force them to fight for customers.

Kholomoytseva said she doesn’t expect any more network players to enter the market, not even from abroad. Instead, she added, the sector would more likely take place within existing networks.

“They [foreign networks] can enter Ukraine only by buying one of the existing functioning networks,” Kholomoytseva said. “It is too late to start a new large-scale cinema network. It’s almost impossible to begin from the ground up.”

She said that the Ukrainian movie theater market will likely be divided up among several larger cinema network players that will force smaller companies, which cannot provide a full range of services available at the higher-level cinemas, out of the market.

“This is what is happening in Russia and the West,” she said.

Alisa Sheremetyeva, commercial director for the Odessa Kino cinema network, said that the appearance of about five new movie theaters a year in major cities is the best indicator of the industry’s growth.

She said that with the number of cinema screens increasing, competition will also increase, while the ticket price falls. Sheremetyeva said that, at present, the number of people wanting to go to the movies is increasing faster than the number of new movie theaters being constructed to accommodate them.

According to Sheremetyeva, Odessa Kino’s first modern cinema was reconstructed from a Soviet-era movie theater in Odessa and opened its doors in 1999. She said that the company presently operates a network of six cinemas in Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk and Kyiv.

According to Sheremetyeva, the average visitor to an Odessa Kino cinema is aged 18 to 34 and earns a high income.

Among the main factors holding up the development of the movie theater industry in Ukraine, she said, is the lack of control over the proliferation of pirated movie videos before the movies premiere on the big screen, which cuts substantially into a movie’s box office draws.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Making It Clear To Putin

KIEV, Ukraine -- Vladimir Putin is in Kyiv this week to meet his counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, as part of the first session of the Russian-Ukrainian interstate commission. There should be a lot to talk about.

Vladimir Putin

Relations between the two countries have been delicate ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union, but this year has created particular strains.

It started out with price dispute over over natural gas that threatened to leave Ukrainians as well as Europeans short on fuel.

Since then, there have been the usual arguments over the rental rights of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, based in Crimea. Several Russian citizens have also been banned from entering Ukraine, even including controversial deputy speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky – at least temporarily.

A visit to Kyiv in October by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov should have improved relations, especially as he was met by Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych, recently re-elected and largely seen as pro-Russian.

Indeed, the Kremlin unapologetically supported Yanukovych’s fraud-marred bid for the presidency in 2004, which led to the West-endorsed Orange Revolution.

But instead, Fradkov was lambasted for suggesting that Russia would “shield” Ukraine from outside interference.

Considering the Kremlin’s heavy-handed policy under Putin, a healthy dose of caution is in order. Hundreds of Georgian citizens were deported from Russia after the authorities in Tbilisi detained a couple of Russian citizens on spy charges.

Western-leaning Georgia has also had its wine and mineral water exports to Russia banned. But Russia’s main weapon of intimidation seems to be gas, which Ukraine and, increasingly, Europe are frightfully dependent on.

It would be naive for anyone to believe that Russia, feeling particularly vulnerable itself, will not continue to try and cow Ukraine and its other neighbors. The now distant chance of Ukraine joining NATO particularly annoys the Kremlin, as does the more likely possibility that Kyiv may join the WTO first.

Ukraine should try to have the best relations with Russia as possible, and Putin’s visit can lay the groundwork for this. But conceding on issues of strategic security (i.e. NATO) or international trade relations (i.e. WTO entry) won’t help. More importantly, the country has to come up with an intelligible foreign policy.

A good start would be to decide who’s in charge of the Foreign Ministry. Ukraine’s Constitution says the president, so Yanukovych should back off. It doesn’t matter whether pro-Western Borys Tarasyuk’s recent dismissal by the Yanukovych-controlled parliament holds or not.

If Ukraine cannot define a clear foreign policy, how can it expect to be understood internationally? The confusion just makes Russian hegemony easier.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukrainian Lawmakers Bar Minister From Cabinet Session

KIEV, Ukraine -- Lawmakers blocked the foreign minister from a Cabinet session Wednesday for the second time in as many weeks, signaling growing tensions between Ukraine’s pro-Western president and the Kremlin-leaning prime minister.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk

The status of Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk has been uncertain since he was dismissed by parliament earlier this month.

President Viktor Yushchenko ordered him to stay on, arguing that firing Tarasyuk was his prerogative, since he nominated him.

But Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s allies in parliament stopped Tarasyuk from entering Wednesday’s Cabinet session, and a scuffle ensued.

Last week, Cabinet members barred Tarasyuk from attending the session in a similar manner.

Tarasyuk said he would lodge a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s office.

“They are violating the law. ... I have all legal grounds to fulfill my official duties,” he said.

Tarasyuk’s dismissal was initiated by Yanukovych, who complained he was working in opposition to the Cabinet. Tarasyuk appealed the dismissal in a Kiev court and the court suspended the parliament’s decision.

Tarasyuk heads a political party that has declared itself in opposition to Yanukovych’s government, and his pro-Western views are in sharp contrast with Yanukovych’s more Russian-leaning political party.

The pro-Western Yushchenko and 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.

Yanukovych later urged Yushchenko to appoint Tarasyuk’s first deputy as acting foreign minister.

“It would be better if the president decides who it will be,” Yanukovych said. “If the president does not make up his mind parliament will make this decision.”

Yanukovych left politics in disgrace after Ukraine’s Supreme Court threw out his presidential win in 2004.

Yushchenko, his face deeply pockmarked and bloated from a still-unsolved toxin-poisoning, took power after rallying his supporters in what came to be known as the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych’s support base lies in the former Soviet republic’s Russian-speaking east and south, and many of the president’s allies is based in the more nationalistic west and south.

Source: AP

Telethon Raises US$50 Million For Children With Cancer In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- A telethon in Ukraine has raised nearly US$50 million for building a hospital for treatment of children with cancer, its organizers said Monday.

Sunday's four-hour show broadcast by Ukraine's 12 main TV stations featured the nation's top politicians and businessmen in an effort to help provide funds for the construction of the hospital in Kiev.

The hospital's cost is estimated at 600 million hryvna (US$118.8 million; €90.7 million).

The show, which was organized by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's wife, Kateryna, raised some 242 million hryvna (US$47.9 million; €36.7 million), the organizers said.

Many kinds of cancer cannot be treated in Ukraine and children with these diseases currently need special treatment abroad.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ukraine's PM Criticizes Presidential Decrees

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on Monday criticized President Viktor Yushchenko's decrees as unpredictable in a statement that signaled growing tensions between the two Orange Revolution foes.

Viktor Yanukovych

After pro-Russian Yanukovych was accused of vote-rigging in the 2004 presidential election, massive "Orange Revolution" protests helped pave the way to pro-Western Yushchenko's election victory.

But the two men now share power after Yanukovych won this year's parliamentary election and was named prime minister with broad powers.

"Regarding the president's decrees, we do not know how they are prepared. We do not expect them and we do not know what is the aim of them," Yanukovych said Monday. "A number of decrees are adopted unpredictably."

Yanukovych and Yushchenko have frequently clashed over foreign policy, Cabinet appointments and other government business.

Under constitutional reforms that took effect this year, Yushchenko cannot fire Yanukovych and Yanukovych cannot ignore the president.

The law provides little guidance over how power should be divided.

In many ways, Yanukovych already holds the upper hand. As head of government, he controls the country's finances.

His party also has allied with other political groups, effectively giving it a majority in parliament.

On Monday Yanukovych said that defining the functions of the cabinet and of the president was "very difficult and very painful."

Yanukovych also said that representatives of Yushchenko's office had failed to take part in drafting next year's budget despite an earlier agreement.

Last week, the government and the president struggled over the budget as the president vetoed it and the governing coalition failed to override the veto.

Yushchenko said last Thursday that his relations with the premier were worsening, noting it was not his fault.

A day later the two men met and pledged to solve their differences.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Stem-Cell Prober Sacked: Came Too Close To Truth?

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the midst of growing interest in reports of a gruesome stem-cell and human-organ black market that traffics in newborn babies taken from their mothers, an investigator looking into the matter has been sacked "for political reasons," she says, because she was getting too close to the truth.

Stem cells

Several reports in British papers last week told the story of a video showing a post-mortem examination of infants of Ukrainian mothers who believe their babies were stolen from them at birth.

The video was given to reporters by a charity worker representing 300 families who believe their healthy babies were falsely declared dead by staff at a maternity hospital in the Ukraine's most easterly city of Kharkiv.

Due to pressure from families, authorities agreed in 2003 to exhume the babies' bodies for examination. A senior British forensic pathologist who has viewed the video says that what he's seen does not look like standard post-mortem practice, the BBC reported.

The video shows severed limbs and torsos with organs, including brains, stripped away.

The thorough dismemberment of the bodies has led some to believe that, if the grisly evidence points to the babies having been murdered, the hospital may be supplying harvested stem cells from bone marrow to an underground market.

The Ukraine has become the destination of last resort for many sufferers of incurable diseases – as well as those seeking cosmetic rejuvenation – who come from all over the world for stem-cell injection therapy. Treatments cost as much as $24,000 in Ukraine and much more in the West.

Critics not only question the value of stem cells to treat many of these disease but also the choice of treatment regimes and even how clinics there are able to acquire sufficient material to provide a commercial service.

Officially, the cells are taken from aborted fetuses with the mothers' consent, but, given the hundreds of Ukrainian women who have complained of newborns stolen and the recently surfaced post-mortem video, the government authorized an investigation into whether a trade in babies-killed-to-order exists.

One of those investigators was Irina Bogomolova, who worked in the chief prosecutor's office in the capital, Kiev.

But, she says, she's been removed from the case after demanding that the inquiry be expanded beyond Kharkiv's maternity hospital.

"I was sacked for political reasons," Bogomolova told the London Telegraph. "I demanded an investigation into all maternity wings in hospitals across Ukraine and I was relieved of duty after making that demand."

The Council of Europe is scheduled in February to investigate allegations that newborn babies have been killed to provide stem cells and internal organs.

Officials will focus on the role, if any, played by Ukranian research centers and maternity hospitals in the international trade in stem cells.

An earlier investigation in 2004 was dropped for lack of firm evidence, but the latest charges have caused the case to be reopened.

However, the sacked Irina Bogomolova won't be taking part.

"A trade in stem cells exists here ... I suspect there is a lot of bribery going on, right up to highest levels," she charged.

"Pregnant women, especially from rural areas, are very vulnerable targets as they will obviously believe whatever the doctors tell them. It's easy to take their babies from them and tell them they died or were born dead due to complications."

Source: World Net Daily

Council Of Europe Raps Ukraine On ‘Torture’

KIEV, Ukraine -- Incidents of police “torture” of detained suspects and hate crimes continue in Ukraine despite progress in protection of human rights, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner said here yesterday.

Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg

Speaking to reporters, Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg said that “violence in preliminary investigation and even some cases of torture” had been documented recently in Ukraine and said corruption and other problems persisted in the country’s judicial system.

“Ukraine today is not clean from torture,” Hammarberg said. He also slammed cases of hate speech and hate crime in the country, especially that directed at people of the Roma ethnic minority in the country, who frequently receive brutal treatment at the hands of the police.

“This country is not free from xenophobia,” the Swedish diplomat stated, also citing mistreatment of members of Ukraine’s Muslim religious minority.

He called on Ukrainian political leaders to protect minority rights and to work harder on eradicating xenophobia and improving tolerance.

The Council of Europe plans to publish a report on the human rights situation in Ukraine in April of 2007.

Source: AFP

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Ukraine's Leaders Battle

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said his conflict with the prime minister over domestic and foreign policy is worsening, and accused him of seeking "revenge" for the events of the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Viktor Yushchenko

"My conflict with the premier is intensifying, but I am not to blame for this," Yushchenko said at a press conference Thursday in Kiev. "We both hold top posts in the country, our relations must correspond to this. But someone seems to think he has all the power and wants revenge."

Yushchenko defeated Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in disputed presidential elections two years ago that triggered street protests and became known as the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych, who became prime minister in August after his Regions of Ukraine party won national elections in March, has clashed with Yushchenko over whether the country should move closer to the European Union and NATO or toward Russia.

In August, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party joined with Yanukovych's party to form a government after Yushchenko's efforts to form a coalition with other parties went nowhere.

Yushchenko was allowed to nominate some cabinet posts and continue his goal of winning membership in the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Our Ukraine left the coalition little more than a month later after Yanukovych, who favors closer ties to Russia instead of the EU, announced on a trip to Brussels that he was shelving the NATO membership drive because of a lack of public support.

Since then, relations between Yushchenko, 52, and Yanukovych, 56, have continued to deteriorate as the parliament then voted to fire the president's cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk.

"I do not accept the parliament's decision on Tarasyuk," Yushchenko said. "He is the minister, I am not going to defer to the government's pressure." Tarasyuk, who must be appointed by the president by law, supports NATO membership as soon as possible.

The Constitutional Court will rule on whether changes made to the constitution before the 2004 election are legal and whether the parliament has the right to fire the president's cabinet choices.

Yushchenko said the court ruling could lead to early elections. No date has been set for the court to rule.

"Ukraine has been living under elections for two and a half years, so I support political stability," Yushchenko said. "But it is up to the Constitutional Court to explain" whether Ukraine should have early parliamentary elections because some laws, "including the appointment and dismissal of some ministers and the budget for the next year" were broken.

After the cabinet and parliament gave final approval to the 2007 state budget, Yushchenko vetoed the spending plan on Dec. 12, saying social spending was too low. Yanukovych refused Thursday to redraft the budget, accusing the president of "undermining the current situation."

Yushchenko and Yanukovych also have battled over plans to limit grain exports to aid the domestic market.

Source: New York Daily

Spy Was Killed 'On Orders Of Kremlin Stalin'

LONDON, UK -- A feared Kremlin boss, who has been likened to Stalin, has emerged as the key suspect in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, according to the murdered spy's former business partner.

Ex-KGB agent Yuri Shvets

Yuri Shvets, a fellow ex-agent, has told British detectives that he believes Mr Litvinenko was killed after compiling a dossier on the official for a British firm considering a deal in Russia.

The file led to the firm cancelling the deal, worth tens of millions of pounds, with a company thought to be linked to the official.

Mr Shvets's claims are being investigated by Scotland Yard, which has a copy of the dossier. The suspect, according to a Radio Four documentary by the journalist Tom Mangold, which was aired yesterday, is a senior figure in the Russian government and close to President Vladimir Putin.

The claims came as around 2,500 members of Russia's fragmented opposition movement, including the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, demonstrated in Moscow against President Putin yesterday. More than 40 people were arrested and police were out in force.

The documentary did not name the man but said he was viewed in Russian political circles as "belonging more to the Stalin era".

Asked how certain he was that the dossier had cost Mr Litvinenko his life, Mr Shvets told the programme: "I cannot be 100 per cent sure, but I am pretty sure." Mr Shvets lives in the United States, vetting potential business partners for companies interested in investing in Russia.

He said that Mr Litvinenko, who did similar "due diligence" work as a sideline, became involved with him as a partner last year and was offered $100,000 to check five Russian individuals by a risk-management firm in London.

The programme said that material Mr Litvinenko gathered on one individual fell into the hands of Kremlin officials, who were outraged at its contents. Not only did it wreck the deal, it also indicated that Mr Litvinenko had access to secret files and, possibly, contacts with agencies such as MI5 and MI6.

Fearing that he might make further damaging revelations, it was decided to kill him. The poison isotope polonium-210 may have been used to ensure that his murder set an example to other ex-KGB agents tempted to sell state secrets for business purposes.

Mr Shvets said that he talked to Mr Litvinenko in hospital and was sure the poison had been administered at the Millennium Hotel, London, last month, where he met three Russians, Andrei Lugovoy, Dmitri Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolenko.

Mr Shvets said: "He drank tea which was not made in front of him. He was agonised by the understanding that he had failed as a professional. He was always saying, 'I can identify my enemy a mile away'. But when it came to his own life, he failed."

Mr Lugovoy, Mr Kovtun and Mr Sokolenko, who were all interviewed by Scotland Yard in Moscow last week, have all denied any involvement. Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun claim that traces of polonium-210 found on them were an attempt to frame them.

Asked whether Mr Putin knew about such killings or approved of them, an unnamed Russian security expert said: "I believe he knows and understands it but he cannot do anything about it."

Russia, he claimed, was in the grip of a cabal of FSB and ex-KGB security figures, who, allied with organised crime figures, had filled the power vacuum left by the communists bureaucrats. "I see it getting worse, and I see it getting more sophisticated. These type of individuals, who 10 years ago were considered criminals, are now becoming public figures."

Last night Scotland Yard declined to comment on the claims in the documentary. However, while Russian analysts believed it had credibility, others cast doubt on whether Mr Litvinenko — who was known for making exaggerated claims about Kremlin-sponsored crime — would have been considered credible to vet businesses.

One Moscow analyst said: "Poisoning Litvinenko would have been a totally inappropriate punishment for the crime [of writing a bad due diligence report]. Secondly, this scenario presumes Litvinenko had incredible access to information — better than anyone else."

Source: Telegraph UK

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hundreds Detained Ahead of Moscow Rally

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian authorities pulled hundreds of opposition activists off buses and trains and detained them along with scores of others on Saturday ahead of a rare anti-government rally in Moscow, organizers said.

Garry Kasparov, a former chess grandmaster turned Kremlin critic and leader of of the United Civil Front group speaks during a rally of several opposition groups in downtwon Moscow, Saturday, Dec.16, 2006. At right is former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. About 2,000 Russians on Saturday rallied in central Moscow to protest recent electoral law changes and what the demonstrators said is the Kremlin's growing authoritarianism.

The police action did not prevent more than 2,000 people from gathering in a central square, where leftist and liberal groups demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin stop what they called Russia's retreat from democracy.

"In 15 months political power will be changed," said Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister who is now an opposition leader, referring to the March 2008 presidential election.

"Next year everyone should make a personal decision about what to do with our country - whether we allow these people to continue their illegal undertakings ... or we finally make our main goal to build a democratic and socially oriented state," Kasyanov told demonstrators.

Garry Kasparov, the former chess grand master who has emerged as one of the Kremlin's most prominent critics, said the mere fact that the rally took place made it a success, given the efforts by authorities to stop it.

"We are protesting and it means that authorities are not as monolithic and powerful" as they believe, he said. "They are afraid that one day we will tell them 'enough.'"

Riot police officers ascended to roofs to detain demonstrators at the opposition rally in Moscow

The demonstrators chanted "Freedom" and held banners reading "No to Police State" and "Russia Without Putin."

Since he took office in 2000, Putin has taken steady, gradual steps to centralize power and eliminate democratic checks and balances.

He has created an obedient parliament, abolished direct gubernatorial elections, tightened restrictions on rights groups and presided over the elimination of most opposition voices from the media, especially the television networks.

The demonstration, organized by the Other Russia movement and other opposition groups, had originally planned to march down a main Moscow avenue. City authorities banned the march, allowing only the rally.

Organizers had vowed to conduct the march in defiance of the ban. But Natalya Morar, spokesman for Other Russia said police and defense troops had sealed off Triumfalnaya Square - the scene of the protest - and lined the avenue.

An AP photographer saw more than 1,000 law enforcement officers in full riot gear, some with police dogs, cordoning off the Triumfalnaya Square. Moscow residents complained the city was flooded with police and troops.

About 80 protesters, including Ivan Starikov, a senior member of the liberal Union of Right Forces, were detained in Moscow throughout the day, many of them without any explanation, Morar said.

About 320 other opposition activists were detained or taken off trains and buses on their way to Moscow, she said. Some were kept in detention cells, she said, while others were released after the rally was over.

Yevgeny Gildeyev, spokesman for the Moscow police said some 8,500 law enforcement officers were deployed in the city on Saturday. He said he did not know how many opposition activists were detained.

Russia's often fractious opposition has faced increased harassment in recent years, especially after protests led to the toppling of governments in the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine.

Authorities have banned meetings on dubious legal grounds, while party congresses have been broken up or canceled for no reason.

Source: AP

Yushchenko Threatens to Call Off Reforms

KIEV, Ukraine -- The battle between the president and prime minister of Ukraine continued on Friday.

Viktor Yanukovych in front of President's office

The Ukrainian parliament, where Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich's Party of the Regions has the majority, voted against dismissing Igor Dizhchany as head of the Ukrainian Security Service, even though he has been a appointed deputy secretary of the security council.

The president accused the parliament of contentiousness and, for the first time, spoke of the possibility of canceling the political reforms that were enacted two years ago. That move would cause a crisis in the country no less serious than the one it found itself in then.

Ukrainian President Yushchenko submitted Drizhchany's dismissal as security service head to the Rada on November 30, several days before he appointed him to the security council.

Since both personnel decisions fall within the president's competence, the vote by the Rada is mainly a formality. Nonetheless, it refused to free Drizhchany from the Ukrainian Security Service.

Leader of the Party of the Regions faction in the Rada Raisa Bogatyreva said openly that the move was revenge for Yushchenko's rejection of the 2007 federal budget.

At the traditional end of the year presidential press conference, Yushchenko showed that he was ready to take up the parliament's challenge, telling Ukrainian and foreign journalists that accession to NATO remains Ukraine's top foreign policy priority and that he does not recognize the Rada's “unlawful” dismissal of Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk.

Yushchenko blamed Yanukovich for the increasingly confrontational relations between the two leaders, saying that it was Yanukovich's “style.”

The greatest blow Yushchenko dealt Yanukovich was a statement on the possibility of canceling the changes made to the Constitution to expand the powers of the prime minister at the expense of presidential power.

He called those changes unfinished and “cosmetic.” “The changes have led to an unbalanced system of rule in Ukraine,” he concluded. He suggested that the reform be continued through a constitutional commission.

He warned that “if that option isn't developed, there will probably be a conflict option: first [the 2004 political reform] will have to be repealed, that is, return to what there was two years ago, and then begin a new long process of making changes.”

Thus, Yushchenko has given Yanukovich an ultimatum – either agree to serious corrections in political reform or the president will take it away.

Source: Kommersant

Ukraine's Chief Prosecutor Denies That President's Poisoning Has Been Solved

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's chief prosecutor denied Friday that the poisoning of President Viktor Yushchenko during the 2004 election campaign has been solved, one day after the president said prosecutors had enough evidence to arrest those involved.

Yushchenko before (L) and after poisoning

"This crime has not been solved ... At this moment I do not know who committed it," Oleksandr Medvedko told reporters.

Yushchenko became severely ill during the campaign, and after treatment in Austria was diagnosed as having suffered massive dioxin poisoning.

He said the symptoms began appearing after a dinner with senior security officials. The security officials who attended the dinner have denied all allegations of involvement.

The poisoning knocked Yushchenko off the campaign trail for weeks, and left his face severely pockmarked. The scars still remain.

Ukrainian authorities have concluded that it was an assassination attempt, but more than two years after the incident, no one has been charged and critics have accused prosecutors of dragging out the investigation.

Yushchenko said Thursday prosecutors had enough evidence to detain those who were involved, but asserted it would happen only if prosecutors "have the courage to do it."

Yushchenko also accused prosecutors of politicizing the investigation, though he gave no further details.

Source: International Herald Tribune