Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tymoshenko Bolsters Democratic Image In US

KIEV, Ukraine -- Firebrand female politician Yulia Tymoshenko traveled to the United States Feb. 28 for a several-day visit, hoping to confirm her unofficial title as the leader of Ukraine’s democratic movement and gain points at home and abroad against her lackluster political opponents: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and President Viktor Yushchenko.

Tymoshenko is a charismatic leader who has a strong chance to become Ukraine's next President

During her Washington trip, Tymoshenko was scheduled to meet with US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The high-ranking meetings mirror the level of diplomatic treatment granted to Yanukovych during a Washington trip last December.

Yanukovych also met with Cheney and Rice during that trip, intended to justify his government’s controversial policies, which include a cautious approach to NATO integration initiatives backed by the US leadership.

Yushchenko was accepted with highest honors by President George Bush during his last trip to the US in April 2005, following the Orange Revolution that brought him to power.

Since then, he has lost much of his authority on foreign and domestic policy to Yanukovych’s governing coalition, and his role as the country’s democratic messiah has been questioned.

Yanukovych’s trip was overshadowed by a dispute with Yushchenko over leadership at the country’s Foreign Ministry that left many diplomats wondering which leader was in charge of foreign policy.

Both Yushchenko and Yanukovych remain caught up in a wrestling match over authority on top government posts and policy. As confusion in diplomatic circles persists with respect to who is calling the shots in Kyiv, the ambitious Tymoshenko is scoring political points on the domestic front and hopes to convince powerbrokers abroad that she is a capable partner on the Ukrainian arena.

One of her goals will be to revamp her image as a radical and power-hungry populist politician. She is also trying to rub off the view of being a loose cannon on the economic front, a reputation that has stuck to her since her days spearheading the calls for re-privatization while prime minister in 2005.

“As an unwavering supporter of freedom and democracy in Ukraine, I look forward to returning to the birthplace of these historic principles,” Tymoshenko announced before her departure.

Tymoshenko, who played a major role in rallying protestors during the Orange Revolution, but was fired as prime minister in 2005 after a bitter falling out with Yushchenko, is also looking forward to the country’s 2009 presidential elections.

In the short term, the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (Byut) is pushing for early parliamentary elections, in which it would be expected to do even better than the 22 percent, or second place, that it got in the 2006 parliamentary vote.

Recent opinion polls have put Tymoshenko way ahead of Yushchenko. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc came in third during last year’s parliamentary poll.

Tymoshenko is currently running neck and neck in the polls with Yanukovych, the villain of the 2004 presidential elections, whom Yushchenko fatefully accepted as premier last summer.

“We believe that after the Orange Revolution and the comeback of the old political teams, the world stopped understanding Ukraine. I am going to the United States to make Ukraine more understandable to the outside world,” Tymoshenko said in Kyiv.

Tymoshenko’s US trip, her first as a major political figure, has been carefully timed, according to political analyst Andriy Yermolayev.

Byut and Yushchenko’s increasingly divided Our Ukraine party signed an opposition agreement on Feb. 24, thereby creating a counterweight to the aggressive parliamentary majority consisting of the Communists, the Socialists and the prime minister’s Regions party.

Yushchenko, who has had most of his powers snatched from him by Yanukovych, could only welcome the move by Tymoshenko, who continues to win over former Our Ukraine supporters.

“I approve and appreciate the unification of opposition forces in the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] as an important pre-requisite to withstand the systemic and open violation of Ukraine’s Constitution and current laws,” the president said in a letter made public by his press service.

“She is going to present herself as Ukraine’s new democratic leader to the world’s lead democracy,” said Yermolayev, who emphasized the symbolism behind Tymoshenko’s visit in her role in reuniting the pro-Western Orange political camp.

In a last-minute twist, Tymoshenko cancelled a scheduled appearance at Columbia University in New York on Feb. 26. Her press service belatedly attributed the cancelled appearance to illness.

But high-profile meetings with American politicians are still scheduled.

Taras Pastushenko, deputy head of Byut’s press service, said Tymoshenko will meet with top senators, including Republican leaders Richard Lugar and John McCain, a presidential candidate. A meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is also possible, he said.

Byut’s press service said the Ukrainian opposition leader would meet with members of the Ukrainian Diaspora, who overwhelmingly sided with Orange parties against Yanukovych in 2004. In contrast, Yanukovych shunned encounters with Ukrainian Diaspora during his US trip in December.

The Washington visit will also include speeches at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the National Press Club.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine Leader Says Rival Seeks Revenge

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday accused the Cabinet of Ukraine's prime minister, his bitter rival, of seeking revenge for the victory of the Orange Revolution almost two and a half years ago, and said some of its decisions seem aimed at satisfying Moscow.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko during an interview with The Associated Press in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007.

Yushchenko, an advocate of closer ties to the West, beat Viktor Yanukovych for the presidency in 2004 after leading mass protests, called the Orange Revolution.

But last year, Yushchenko was forced into a power-sharing arrangement with Yanukovych, whose pro-Russian party won the most votes in parliamentary elections and assembled a ruling coalition.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Yushchenko said decisions by his rival's Cabinet and governing coalition have been "taken with such insufficient consideration that they can be based only on emotions and the desire for some primitive revenge."

"I hope that ... the government will see the light," he said.

Yanukovych was in Germany on an official trip Wednesday and unavailable for comment. An ally of the prime minister, though, said Yushchenko was overreacting.

The Ukrainian president's face is still pockmarked from the mysterious case of dioxin poisoning he suffered during the 2004 presidential race.

During the 40-minute interview, he spoke quietly, leaving a cup of tea untouched on the table in front of him and fumbling with a pen.

Yushchenko said he hopes "the time will come" when the mystery of his poisoning is solved.

He refused, though, to be drawn into a discussion of a similar incident last year - the radiation poisoning death in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian KGB agent.

Since Yanukovych returned to power as prime minister, his coalition has reduced Yushchenko's authority and sought to counter the president's strongly pro-Western foreign policy.

Yanukovych has put Ukraine's move toward NATO membership on hold and forced the ouster of the government's pro-Western foreign minister.

Parliament, dominated by Yanukovych's party, refused last week to endorse the president's new nominee for the post.

Yanukovych's party has also supported regional movements to make Russian a second state language - an idea that Yushchenko has strongly opposed.

The president insists that promoting Ukrainian is key to protecting the country's sovereignty.

Yushchenko suggested that some Cabinet decisions seemed to be made with an eye on the Kremlin's interests, not Ukraine's.

Yanukovych, the president alleged, had failed to fulfill any of the pledges made when he signed a document aimed at promoting national unity last year.

Yushchenko also said some lawmakers still have a Soviet mind-set, 16 years after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

Some government officials, he said, make decisions "based on the ideology of the period when Ukraine was not free or independent."

Hanna Herman, a legislator and senior adviser to Yanukovych, insisted his Cabinet was only fulfilling promises made to voters, and accused Yushchenko of overreacting.

"If the president calls the choice of the people a revenge, then I have a big question: Isn't that an emotional reaction from the president?" Herman asked.

Yushchenko, meanwhile, has been criticized by his allies for nominating Yanukovych for the prime minister's post last year.

The decision, he said, was guided by electoral law, the results of the March parliamentary elections and the makeup of the majority coalition formed in parliament months after the vote.

"What legal choice did we have?" Yushchenko said. "I was guided exclusively by law, so I live very calmly."

Yushchenko said he would continue to push for dialogue with Yanukovych's Cabinet, but suggested that Ukrainians would eventually turn against the ruling coalition.

Source: AP

Ukraine Court Rejects Tycoon Appeal For TV Channel

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Supreme Court rejected an appeal on Wednesday from a Ukrainian businessman that he was entitled to a 70 percent stake in television channel Studio 1+1, local media reported.

Alexander Rodnyansky

Studio 1+1 is controlled by television broadcaster Central European Media Enterprises (CME), which in turn is controlled by U.S. cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder.

The channel has been plagued for more than a year by a legal battle between tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky and filmmaker Alexander Rodnyansky, who is effectively the custodian for CME of a 60 percent financial stake in Studio 1+1.

Kolomoisky, the owner of Privat financial and industrial group, said he had an oral agreement to buy a 70 percent stake in the studio.

The channel denied the deal had been agreed.

"I am very happy justice was done. This decision upholds the law and confirms our legal position," Boris Fuksman, a representative of Studio 1+1, told Telekritika Website.

Kolomoisky's representatives were not immediately available for comment. CME said it had a longstanding binding agreement that entitled it to a 60 percent stake in Studio 1+1.

Its partners own the remaining 40 percent. CME also owns 18 percent of a company that holds the broadcasting licence for Studio 1+1.

Lauder's CME owns TV operations in six central and eastern European countries.

Source: Reuters

Ukraine's Party Of Regions Calls For Early Presidential Election

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Party of Regions plans to register Friday with the Ukrainian parliament a draft law to hold early presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine on September 30, a deputy head of the faction said Wednesday.

Ukraine has been embroiled recently in an ongoing struggle between presidential and premier factions in the country, which over the past six months has seen several ministers appointed by President Viktor Yushchenko and then dismissed by the Supreme Rada, where the Party of Regions, led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, holds a majority.

Vasyl Kyselyov said that Yushchenko should support the initiative if he cares about his country.

"If he is a true president and wants order in the country, than he will support our initiative," Kyselyov said.

Last Saturday Yulia Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc (BYT) and Our Ukraine bloc in the Ukrainian parliament signed an opposition merger accord.

The united opposition stated that it will seek early parliamentary and local legislature elections, and will demand the imperative mandate for deputies of local legislative bodies, the abolishment of December 2004 amendments to the Ukrainian constitution and the adoption of a new draft of the country's fundamental political document.

Source: RIA Novosti

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ukrainian Leaders Give Mixed Views About U.S. Missile Defense Plans In Europe

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine gave mixed signals Tuesday about whether it will support U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in eastern Europe, with the prime minister warning it could hurt relations with neighboring countries while the president indicated tacit support for the plan.

The odd couple of Ukrainian politics - a pro-Western President Yushchenko (L) with his pro-Russian Prime Minister Yanukovych

"We believe that deploying a missile defense system in Poland and Czech Republic will not benefit relations between our countries," Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told the German newspaper, Handelsblatt, according to his press service.

President Viktor Yushchenko later called on politicians to remember their commitment to Europe's collective security when considering the plan. "We must consider our national interests" and the country's declared aim to participate in creating a unified security system for Europe, Yushchenko said, according to Ukrainian news agencies.

Ukraine has refrained from declaring its official view about Washington's plans to put a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor site in Poland, saying it needs to learn more. U.S. experts are due to visit Ukraine in early March to explain the plans, which have angered Russia.

The pro-Western Yushchenko has sought to earn Ukraine a place in NATO and turn Ukraine toward the West, ideas that have been met with skepticism among Yanukovych's more-Russian leaning party, which dominates in Ukraine's largely Russian-speaking east and south.

Washington says the installations are meant to deal with a potential threat from Iran, but Moscow has rejected the assurances, calling them an effort to strengthen U.S. military might in the region.

Some Ukrainian politicians have warned that the defense system could make Ukraine's neighbors targets, raising the risk of military action in Ukraine.

Source: Kyiv Post

Orange Revolution Leader Yulia Tymoshenko Announces Schedule Change For U.S. Visit

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former Ukrainian Prime Minister and Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko announced today that she has made changes to this week's scheduled visit to the United States, canceling the New York segment and refocusing on her Washington meetings.

The always charming Orange Revolution Leader Yulia Tymoshenko

She explained that her ongoing outreach to citizens in cities and towns across Ukraine, undertaken in the midst of harsh weather conditions, has resulted in her experiencing the flu.

The flu has spread across the country, closing schools; even the speaker of the parliament missed a week of plenary sessions.

Ms. Tymoshenko's decision to delay her departure to the United States, taken on the advice of her physician, has resulted in the cancellation of a robust schedule of events in New York.

"Ms. Tymoshenko understands that this schedule change will be a disappointment to many in New York," said Mr. Hryhoriy Nemyria, a Ukrainian Member of Parliament and senior foreign policy advisor to Ms. Tymoshenko. "Consequently, she is already discussing plans for a return trip to New York as part of her outreach to various diaspora, media, public policy, and business constituencies in the United States and elsewhere."

Ms. Tymoshenko's trip to the US follows a series of recent diplomatic outreaches, including trips to Brussels and Berlin in November and to Israel in January.

In Washington later this week, Ms. Tymoshenko will meet with government officials, lawmakers, policy experts and business leaders to discuss the important issues facing Ukraine.

She will address efforts to advance the country's path to democratic reform and be honored by policy organizations that support her passion and commitment to Ukraine.

She will also speak at some of the most prominent American think-tanks on topics of Ukrainian and American interest.

Source: U.S. Newswire

Ukraine Starts Production Of An-148 Aircraft

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kiev-based Aviant state aircraft factory has started serial production of the An-148 regional passenger airplane.

An-148 regional passenger airplane

The plane was certified on Monday.

Aviant intends to produce two An-148 airplanes in 2007: one for Kazakhstan and one for Ukraine.

Ukraine's state budget for 2007 allocates UAH 155 mln (EUR 23.6 mln) for leasing this airplane.

Ten An-148 airplanes are at various stages of readiness at the factory.

Aviant plans to produce 34 An-148 airplanes by the year 2010, out of which it plans to deliver seven to Kazakhstan.

Airplanes in the An-148 family, which are equipped with dual jet engines, are designed to carry passengers and cargoes on regional and near-long-haul routes.

The An-148 airplane has a cruising speed of 820-870 kilometers per hour.

The airplane costs about USD $20 million.

Source: Rynok Biz

Monday, February 26, 2007

U.S. Should Have Consulted On Missile Shield: Ukraine

BERLIN, Germany -- The United States should have consulted Ukraine and Russia over its plans to establish a missile defense system in eastern Europe, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich was quoted on Monday as saying.

Yanukovich is the Kremlin's mouth piece in Kiev

"The stationing issues should have been discussed with everyone in advance, including Ukraine and Russia," Yanukovich told German business daily Handelsblatt in an interview due to be published in the paper's Tuesday edition.

"Only once there has been a comprehensive European debate, a dialogue between Western and Eastern Europe can such a decision be made," he said in the German text of his comments. "Europe must not be split again like it was before the Iraq war."

The United States wants to set up a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile battery in Poland as part of a "shield" that would counter missiles fired by what Washington calls "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea.

The missile plans have angered Moscow, which sees the system as an encroachment on its former sphere of influence and an attempt to shift the post-Cold War balance of power.

Yanukovich, who is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, said Poland's support for the U.S. plan "did not help" bilateral ties between Warsaw and Kiev.

Stressing that Ukraine aimed to join the European Union, he said Europe needed to have good relations with Russia and that Kiev wanted to act as a bridge between the two sides.

Separately, Yanukovich added that recent domestic wrangles between the parliament, President Viktor Yushchenko and himself had caused serious problems for the political establishment.

"Up until now, politics in Ukraine have been paralyzed by the dispute about whether the president or the prime minister has a bigger say," he told the newspaper.

Yushchenko, who swept to power in the "Orange Revolution" in 2004, has all but lost control of the legislative agenda since he appointed rival Yanukovich prime minister last year.

Yanukovich added that Ukraine aimed to complete its planned accession to the World Trade Organization in mid-2007.

Source: Yahoo! News

iBasis Interconnects With Kyivstar For Global Voice Services

BURLINGTON, MA -- iBasis, Inc., the Global VoIP Company, today announced that Kyivstar, the leading mobile operator in Ukraine, has interconnected with The iBasis Network™ for international voice services.

The interconnection with iBasis enables Kyivstar to route international voice traffic over The iBasis Network, the leading global VoIP network, and expands iBasis’ ability to complete mobile calls to Ukraine.

iBasis delivers improved call completion rates and longer average call duration, which help to increase average revenue per user for its mobile operator customers.

Kyivstar is leveraging iBasis’ advanced international routing portfolio, including its PremiumCertified™ service, which certifies higher route quality and stability.

“The migration of international voice traffic to mobile networks is one of the major trends in global telecommunications today,” said Ofer Gneezy, president and CEO of iBasis. “We are very pleased to add Kyivstar to our growing mobile footprint and to have them utilizing our leading VoIP network for their international traffic. Our proven resources and expertise in VoIP are enhancing the growth, efficiency and profitability of leading mobile network operators such as Kyivstar.”

By interconnecting their mobile network with The iBasis Network, Kyivstar is able to enhance its margins and revenue growth from inbound and outbound international traffic associated with their rapidly growing national network.

Also, using the iBasis DirectVoIP™ service enables Kyivstar to add capacity and new destinations quickly and cost-efficiently.

“As the leading mobile network operator in Ukraine, serving more than half the citizens of Ukraine, it is important for us to focus on offering competitive prices, high quality, and reliability and to take advantage of the benefits that VoIP affords to connect to the rest of the world," said Zhanna Revnova, head of Corporate Affairs of Kyivstar. “The benefits of VoIP, including the instant scalable access to a high quality, low-cost international infrastructure, allow us to grow our international traffic with very competitive rates while continuing to offer high quality of service to our mobile subscribers.”

Like many telecommunications markets, growth in Ukraine is fuelled by mobile expansion and VoIP migration.

Ukraine’s mobile penetration at the end of 2006 was 104 % (by using sim-cards), up from 41% just one year earlier.

To continue growth and profitability, mobile operators are increasingly focusing on expanding lifetime revenue and profit per customer, and mastering a more competitive market situation.

Source: Business Wire

Liverpool Signs Ukraine Ace

LIVERPOOL, England -- Ukraine star Andriy Voronin has signed for English Premier League giant Liverpool on a four-year contract, the club announced overnight.

Andriy Voronin (R)

The 27 year old, capped 40 times as an international strike partner of Chelsea's Andriy Shevchenko, will cost nothing when he leaves German side Bayer Leverkusen at the end of the season as he will be a free agent.

Voronin, who has scored five goals for his country, has spent most of his career in Germany playing for Cologne, Mainz and Borussia Monchengladbach.

The signing of Voronin, who was part of the Ukraine team that reached the World Cup qurter-finals last year, puts pressure on former England international Robbie Fowler retaining his place in the squad despite scoring twice on Saturday in the victory over Sheffield United.

But with Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Peter Crouch also vying for places up front, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez refused to discuss a new deal for the 31-year-old Fowler.

"He's a really good finisher, still the best we have, and I sometimes think that if we could have Bellamy running at defenders and carrying the ball 20 yards, then turning into Fowler with the goal in sight, it would be perfect,'' the Spaniard said.

"If you create chances for him, you know you can rely on his finishing and that is a very important quality to have.

"We have four very good strikers, all with different skills. You can make the most of Peter Crouch's aerial ability, Dirk Kuyt works hard between the lines and Bellamy runs behind defences.

"We can talk about Robbie's future at a later date but, if he scores every time he plays over the next few months, you never know.''

Voronin's transfer is the first under the new regime of American tycoons George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who agreed a takeover of Liverpool earlier this month.

Source: The North Queensland Newspaper

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Another Episode Of Political Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the last few weeks Ukraine has experienced an episode of political reform as great and dramatic as anything seen during the Orange Revolution.

Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada or Parliament

The Verkhovna Rada voted overwhelmingly to further emasculate the beleaguered President Viktor Yushchenko, reducing the presidency to little more than a symbolic head of state well above the party political fray.

The Cabinet evicted Yushchenko’s pro-Western foreign minister, Borys Tarasyuk, and even proposed a law that would strip the presidency of any influence over foreign policy.

Perhaps not unrelated, some facts emerged of a long-term energy agreement, in which Ukraine would cede partial control over its gas transport system to Russia in exchange for participation in oil and gas extraction in Russia.

The failure of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc to either effectively govern with the ruling Anti-crisis Coalition or accede to Yulia Tymoshenko’s opposition Byut bloc’s call to dissolve parliament and stage new elections has allowed the Party of Regions to extend its grip over the country’s notoriously fragmented state bureaucracy.

On the face of it, the wrangling over the Constitution, the apparently contradictory alliances between the political parties and the confusion over who speaks for Ukraine internationally, has plunged the country into yet another episode of political crisis.

The former Socialist interior minister in the Orange Revolution interregnum, Yuriy Lutsenko, has toured the country to promote his new ‘People’s Self-defense Movement,’ warning that the democratic gains won in the Orange Revolution are under threat.

However, whilst some of the political maneuvering has been clumsy and the political parties, at last mindful of the need to maintain popular support, have struck contradictory positions, Ukraine has experienced a remarkable consolidation of its state machine and its political system.

The democratically elected government has extended its control over the state bureaucracy to facilitate clear and effective government.

Equally, an official opposition has begun to be institutionalized to scrutinize government. These developments will significantly strengthen the capacity of the state, a necessary precondition for further political and economic development.

This has occurred because, with the exception of parts of President Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, the country’s political and economic powerbrokers, of whatever political hue, business group and region, have finally learned the lesson of the Orange Revolution: Razom nas bahato, nas ne podolaty (Together we are many, we cannot be defeated).

They have concluded that the profound divisions that opened up during the Orange Revolution weakened them all and that they are individually and collectively stronger in the worlds of politics and business, united around a modus operandi for political and economic rivalry.

Their consent to abide by common rules stands to enhance the country’s bargaining power with its neighbors to both the east and the west.

It is no surprise that Regions has driven the process of consolidation.

You only have to drive a few kilometers south from Donetsk, the home of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, to the village of Kyrsha, aka, the ‘widows’ village,’ with its opulent detached houses protected by prison-sized walls and metal gates to match, to be reminded of the consequences of unfettered rivalry.

Yanukovych and the commercial figures behind Regions have all learned over the last 10 years that they mutually benefit when there is a balance of power and a modus operandi amongst the Donbas’s leading political and economic actors.

The Donetsk-based business groups, such as SCM and ISD, having outgrown the region, require effective national government and the prospect of stable transfers of political power from party to party to further develop as successful international companies

Since last year’s parliamentary elections, Regions has been practically groping around to identify a reliable partner to establish a new modus operandi on the national scale.

Our Ukraine, Regions’ desired partner, was hampered by its poor performance in the parliamentary elections and its apparent inability to act in a concerted manner.

Regions were forced to turn, first, to the ideologically antagonistic Socialists and Communists and then to reach an historic compromise with their bete noire, Tymoshenko.

The mutual antipathy dates back to Tymoshenko’s association with the Dnipropetrovsk ‘clan’ that waged war (entrepreneurial and violent) with the Donetsk ‘clan’ in the mid-1990s over the lucrative supply of gas in the Donbass.

Hostilities, this time political, resumed when Tymoshenko, then deputy prime minister in Yushschenko’s government, attempted to structurally reform the energy sector, culminating in her sacking and a string of criminal investigations into corruption allegations.

Despite this history, Tymoshenko has realized that Regions are in the box seat and that Yushchenko has no intention of dissolving parliament and calling fresh elections.

Byut and its financial backers have had little choice but to abandon their long-held opposition to the constitutional reform passed in late 2004 and embrace a parliamentary system in return for securing the role of official opposition.

Byut supported Regions’ law to transfer the power to appoint the prime minister from the president to parliament and the power to appoint the foreign and defense ministers from the president to the prime minister.

In return, Regions supported the election of Mykola Tomenko, a former deputy prime minister in Tymoshenko’s government, as second deputy parliamentary speaker and a bill that disqualifies local and regional council representatives who vote against their party line.

The latter will serve to shore-up Byut, whose caucuses in several councils across the country have recently crumbled.

More importantly, once the ‘Law on the opposition’ is passed, Byut will be granted the right to state funding, appoint a shadow cabinet and the heads of several key parliamentary committees, establish independent commissions of enquiry, and guaranteed access to television and radio.

Out of this historic compromise, a consolidated state machine and a parliamentary political system based on electoral competition between two centralized political parties is emerging.

However, the nature and extent of any further political reform will depend on how Regions’ and Byut’s popularity in the country develops over the coming months.

Source: Kyiv Post

AP Interview: Ukraine's Tymoshenko Warns That Russian Influence Increasing On Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's main opposition leader warned Saturday that the ex-Soviet republic is at risk of sliding back under Russia's influence, and is particularly vulnerable to energy pressure from its giant neighbor.

But Yulia Tymoshenko said that she heads to the United States on Sunday to reassure U.S. leaders that the Orange Revolution team that set Ukraine on its pro-Western path is reunited and ready to provide tough opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's more Russian-leaning government.

On Saturday, Tymoshenko's bloc signed an agreement to work as a united opposition force with the party of President Viktor Yushchenko, giving them more than 200 lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament.

Uniting will help them ensure that Yanukovych's parliamentary coalition does not have the 300 votes needed to override presidential vetoes of legislation. They also hope to push for early parliamentary elections.

"We came through many tests, through many mistakes ... our union today is not due to circumstances, it is not a spontaneous decision," Tymoshenko told The Associated Press after the signing ceremony in parliament. "It is a decision dictated by those Ukrainians who want to see Ukraine European."

Tymoshenko was one of the driving forces behind the 2004 Orange Revolution, which helped bring the pro-Western Yushchenko to power.

The Kremlin had openly backed Yushchenko's opponent — the man who is the current premier — and his defeat was seen as a major blow to Moscow's efforts to keep this nation of 47 million under its sway.

But Yushchenko's hesitant governing style has proved a disappointment for many Ukrainians who expected quick change and a strong embrace from Europe, and last year, Yanukovych's party triumphed in parliamentary elections.

Yanukovych put together a governing majority and returned to power as premier, governing jointly with Yushchenko.

But Yushchenko has become increasingly sidelined, and Tymoshenko said that under Yanukovych, Russia's influence was growing. "I don't want to be silent about this," she said, noting that pressure was particularly strong in the energy sector.

"Really, there is energy pressure on Ukraine which can be used and is used today for political control of the country," she said, recalling the bitter 2006 natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine and recent talks about transferring some control over Ukraine's pipelines to Russia.

Tymoshenko noted strong pressure for Ukraine to join a Moscow-dominated economic union, which she warned would mean surrendering some national control.

"All this forces us to confront a new challenge: to protect the independence of our country which is again on Ukraine's agenda today," Tymoshenko said.

She also expressed concern that Russian investors were being given priority over foreign investors.

Tymoshenko said that she wanted to use her visit to the United States to tell U.S. leaders what is happening in Ukraine, and reassure Washington that Ukraine is still on a democratic path.

She is scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

She comes to the United States in a position of strength, having achieved a rapprochement with Yushchenko.

Yushchenko had tapped Tymoshenko to be his premier after the Orange Revolution, but he fired her eight months later, accusing her of being too power hungry.

Now, Yushchenko — his authority under increasing attack — needs her, something that became very clear when she sided with Yanukovych's party to override a presidential veto last month.

"I think that the advice which I tried to give to the president during recent months is in principle coming to life today — and it is pleasant," Tymoshenko said.

Source: AP

Friday, February 23, 2007

Yushchenko Gives Medal To Disgraced Prosecutor

KIEV, Ukraine -- With so many “big” news stories in Ukraine—energy issues, the fight for political control, questions over foreign policy—it’s easy to miss the smaller items. But sometimes, these smaller items send very large signals.

Disgraced Former Prosecutor General Mykhailo Potebenko

For example, on 16 February, President Viktor Yushchenko awarded former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Mykhailo Potebenko the Order of (Kyivan) Prince Yaroslav the Wise.

Yaroslav introduced the first book of laws in what was then Kyivan Rus’ during the 11th century and is credited with expanding both the principality’s territory and culture. The medal was created in 1996 for “distinguished service to the state and people of Ukraine,” and it recognizes, among other things, “wisdom” and “honor.”

According to President Yushchenko’s decree, Potebenko was awarded the medal “for his great personal contribution to the creation of a law abiding state, the strengthening of legality and law and order, and his long-term work on the occasion of his 70th birthday.”

The decree probably would have been missed by most Ukraine-watchers in the West were it not for long-time Ukraine analyst Taras Kuzio, who found the three-line decree and publicized it on his blog. This is fortunate, since the small decree speaks volumes about President Viktor Yushchenko.

Kuzio termed the awarding of this medal to Potebenko “shameful,” and it is possible that others may find this an understatement.

Potebenko became well-known internationally in 2001 when he led two major high-profile investigations as Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General – the examination of the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze and the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko.

The Prosecutor-General’s “investigation” of the Gongadze case was roundly criticized by just about every international organization looking into the matter, leading eventually to calls from the Council of Europe, Reporters Without Borders and then US Ambassador Carlos Pasqual for him to resign.

Potebenko was accused of stymieing the investigation in order to protect state officials, including President Leonid Kuchma, who appeared to be implicated in Gongadze’s death.

In 2005, after months of evidence collection, the European Court of Human Rights satisfied a number of complaints from Georgiy’s widow, Myroslava Gongadze, including her charge of a “failure to investigate the case.”

The court found that the prosecutor’s office had ignored repeated requests for assistance from Georgiy Gongadze in the weeks before his death, when he reported being followed by state law enforcement officials. “The response of the GPO was not only formalistic,” the court wrote, “but also blatantly negligent.”

Moreover, following the recovery of Gongadze’s headless body, the court said, “The State authorities were more preoccupied with proving the lack of involvement of high-level State officials in the case than discovering the truth about the circumstances of the disappearance and death of the applicant’s husband.”

Mikhailo Potebenko was the Prosecutor General during these events. Not only did he apparently conduct little investigation, but he denied that the body recovered was Gongadze’s in spite of numerous DNA tests to the contrary and then refused to accept as evidence secretly recorded tapes of President Kuchma implicating him at least in Gongadze’s disappearance, and probably his murder.

The European Court of Human Rights wrote, “The fact that the alleged offenders, two of them active police officers, were identified and charged with the kidnap and murder of the journalist just a few days after the change in the country’s leadership, raised serious doubts as to the genuine wish of the authorities under the previous government to investigate the case thoroughly.”

As Potebenko and Kuchma were being criticized internationally, and facing increasing protests domestically, the Prosecutor-General announced that he was investigating then Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for a variety of offenses, including embezzlement during her time as head of the gas intermediary Unified Energy Systems.

Although Tymoshenko sat in government, her refusal to drop a number of anti-corruption measures that affected the president’s supporters had led to considerable tension between the two.

Eventually, she was fired, arrested, and held in prison for 40 days before being released by a court for lack of probable cause. Yushchenko, who was prime minister at the time, called the arrest “political persecution.” Persecution, then, by the same Potebenko recently awarded a medal by Yushchenko.

Despite years of attempts, Potebenko (and his successors) were never able to prove in court any of their charges against Tymoshenko, who then perhaps had the best revenge by being named the first prime minister after the Orange Revolution.

At the very least, Potebenko’s work on Tymoshenko’s case was shoddy and unprofessional. At the worst, it was designed to do nothing more than to persecute an opponent of the president. Or perhaps it was designed simply to take the attention away from the Gongadze case, which was creating such problems for him, Kuchma and the country.

This is the man, then, to whom President Yushchenko last week awarded a medal for “service to the country,” “wisdom,” and “honor.”

In 2004, during his presidential campaign and the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko vowed to prosecute those who had ordered the murder of Gongadze. It was, he said, “a matter of honor.” The organizers have not been arrested or prosecuted, however, and at this point—seven years after the murder and over two years after Yushchenko took office—it is unlikely that they ever will be.

In fact, many observers and politicians have suggested that Yushchenko struck a deal with Kuchma during the revolution – Yushchenko would ensure Kuchma’s freedom and Kuchma would not stand in the way of the rerun presidential election that brought Yushchenko to power.

While no one can ever truly know why the organizers of the Gongadze murder have not been arrested, the possibility of a compromise agreement fits well with Yushchenko’s nature of deliberation and conciliation.

Repeatedly throughout his political career, Yushchenko has chosen compromise over confrontation. In the last year, Yushchenko blessed the return of his defeated presidential opponent Viktor Yanukovych to the premiership, and then gave in to Yanukovych’s pressure to replace Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk instead of fighting for his longtime ally.

And now, the President has done his best to rehabilitate the career of Mykhailo Potebenko, a man Yushchenko himself once condemned, and a man who remains disgraced internationally.

One wonders what Yaroslav the Wise would have thought.

Source: UNIAN

Yulia Tymoshenko To Visit Washington, New York

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous political bloc and head of the Ukrainian opposition, arrives in the United States on Sunday, February 25, for a six-day visit that will take her to New York and Washington.

Yulia Tymoshenko

It is her first visit to the U.S. as a politician. Her visit follows that of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on December 4-6, 2006, and President Viktor Yushchenko in April 2005.

Tymoshenko’s visit has been organized differently from that of Yanukovych. His tour was highly choreographed by his Washington public relations firm in such a way that he refrained from open discussions and refused to meet the Ukrainian diaspora.

In this case, Tymoshenko’s team in the U.S. is taking a more open, inclusive position, ensuring that diaspora are included and that both sides of the aisle in American politics are being addressed in a more substantive manner.

In New York, Tymoshenko will speak at the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, and will be hosted at a luncheon by J.P. Morgan investment bank. In Washington, Tymoshenko is set to speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the National Press Club, as well as holding high-level meetings with the U.S. government and Congress.

She will meet with the diaspora in both locations and also will receive an award at the annual Ronald Reagan banquet. Press interviews are scheduled with the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Financial Times, Time, and Newsweek.

The Tymoshenko bloc finished second during the 2006 parliamentary elections with 22.2%, a three-fold increase over her 2002 results. Most national democratic parties, which had aligned with business centrists to create Our Ukraine in 2002, deserted Our Ukraine and Yushchenko in the 2006 elections.

Our Ukraine received 10% fewer votes in 2006 under Yushchenko than four years earlier under president Leonid Kuchma. Political parties, such as Reforms and Order, have moved from Our Ukraine to the Tymoshenko bloc. Rukh, led by ousted foreign minister Borys Tarasyuk, is reportedly holding negotiations to follow suit.

Two factors explain why a large proportion of orange voters defected to the Tymoshenko bloc. First, shock at her dismissal as prime minister in September 2005 only two weeks after Yushchenko had described the Tymoshenko government as the “best in Europe.”

Second, the bloc’s consistent opposition to any deals with the Party of Regions. Tymoshenko stated unequivocally, “We believe that establishing a coalition with the mafia is treason to Ukraine.” This opposition reflects the bloc’s long-standing position during the four years of anti-Kuchma protests that preceded the Orange Revolution when it refused to negotiate with the Kuchma regime and called for his impeachment.

Yushchenko and Our Ukraine never supported impeachment proceedings and defended Kuchma from allegations arising from the Mykola Melnychenko tapes, on which the president is overheard ordering the kidnapping of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Just last week Prosecutor Mykhailo Potebenko, who presided over the Gongadze cover up, was awarded a state medal for his “contribution to the building of a law-based state.”

Former Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski, who brokered the December 2004 roundtable negotiations, has confided that Kuchma was given immunity during the talks.

Yushchenko and Our Ukraine have always been noted for their flexibility. In 2002-2003 and in 2005-2006, they wavered between negotiating deals with the authorities and Party of Regions or working with Tymoshenko.

After the 2006 elections, Our Ukraine’s political council head Roman Bezsmertny negotiated an “orange coalition” of democratic forces, while Our Ukraine leader and prime minister Yuriy Yekhanurov negotiated a grand coalition with the Party of Regions. Both coalitions were sidelined by the Anti-Crisis coalition.

Yushchenko’s preference for broad roundtables could be seen in the Orange Revolution and in August 2006. The Tymoshenko bloc opposed both roundtables, and they were the only parliamentary force that refused to sign the Universal agreement.

Tymoshenko bloc deputy Hryhoriy Nemirya explained, “They saw no reason to sign a document where Our Ukraine’s participation is window dressing for the Party of Regions to run the government or be present at the birth of a Molotov cocktail coalition that could explode in the hands of the people trying to build it.”

The Tymoshenko bloc and the Pora party condemned the signing of the Universal agreement as a “betrayal” of the Orange Revolution.

A February poll by the Razumkov Center gave Tymoshenko 18.9% popular appeal with Yanukovych at 23.7%. Yushchenko’s support has plummeted to 11%. The Tymoshenko bloc and Party of Regions control 70% of deputies in parliament and both forces are likely to gain more seats in the event of elections ahead of 2011.

Based on polling trends in the last two years, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych are likely to be the frontrunner candidates in the 2009 presidential elections.

Tymoshenko has admitted, “And I want to say that from childhood I knew that I would be leader of this country. And I am not even joking here.”

In February, Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko bloc signed an agreement establishing a united opposition of 204 deputies. Our Ukraine leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko said it would “counteract the revenge of anti-democratic forces.”

Yushchenko, who has finally agreed to head Our Ukraine, has understood that the Tymoshenko bloc is the key to preventing the Yanukovych government from infringing on the democratic gains of the Orange Revolution.

The New York Times magazine wrote, “Tymoshenko is a compelling mixture of ruthless calculation, iron will, and sincere passion.”

Tymoshenko and her political bloc face four key issues in the coming months.

First, the opposition alliance is opposed by the business wing of Our Ukraine that harbors what has been described as a “Yuliaphobia.”

Second, establishing a more clearly defined ideological profile for the Tymoshenko bloc. Currently, “The charisma of Tymoshenko the leader will act as the bloc’s ideology and its program.”

The Tymoshenko bloc unites the liberal-center-left ground and the Fatherland Party has a social democratic profile giving it the ability to absorb disillusioned Socialist voters.

Third, in the 2006 elections the Tymoshenko bloc finished second place in six of eastern and southern Ukraine’s ten regions. This strength could grow and challenge the Party of Regions outside its strongholds of Donetsk and the Crimea.

Fourth, balancing between being head of the opposition and the 2009 Orange front-runner presidential candidate.

Tymoshenko’s visit to the United States follows her two successful visits to Western Europe in 2005 as prime minister and last year as opposition leader.

Her U.S. visit next week is set to change U.S. perceptions of Ukraine’s politics and reinforce her image as playing a central role in defending the democratic gains of the Orange Revolution.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ukrainian Lawmakers Approve Arrest Warrant For Judge Accused Of Bribe-Taking

KIEV, Ukraine -- Parliament on Thursday took the unprecedented step of issuing an arrest warrant for a judge accused of bribe-taking in southern Ukraine.

Judges in Ukraine are guaranteed immunity from prosecution and cannot be detained or arrested without the direct consent of the 450-member parliament.

Critics say the strict rules, intended to keep the courts independent, have allowed corruption to flourish.

Sergey Kivalov, who chairs Verkhovna Rada's judicial committee, asked lawmakers to approve the order to detain Arbuzysnk Court Judge Oleh Pampura.

He said it came at the direct request of state prosecutors who accused Pampura of demanding a $6,000 bribe to reduce a sentence.

"This is an unprecedented measure," he said.

Pampura, whose current whereabouts were unknown, is also suspected of receiving other bribes and pressuring witnesses to lie during his five years on the bench, Kivalov told lawmakers.

Lawmakers approved the request in a 292-1 vote.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine Parliament Deals Blow To Leader

KIEV, Ukraine - Parliament on Thursday rejected President Viktor Yushchenko's choice to be foreign minister, dealing another major blow to his efforts to maintain control over this ex-Soviet republic's foreign policy.

Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko answers deputies' questions before the vote in Ukraine's parliament in Kiev February 22, 2007. Parliament rejected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's proposed candidate as foreign minister on Thursday, casting new doubt on the increasingly isolated leader's pledges to seek entry to the European Union and NATO.

Career diplomat Volodymyr Ohryzko, nominated by Yushchenko to replace the ousted Borys Tarasyuk, won only 196 votes, far short of the 226 needed for approval.

Lawmakers also rejected Yushchenko's choice of Viktor Korol as Security Service chief, in a 190-4 vote.

Yushchenko said he was surprised that parliament didn't approve Ohryzko, who had served as Tarasyuk's deputy.

"I want to hear from parliament why they are not satisfied with the candidacy of Ohryzko - a person who during the last 10 to 15 years held a significant place in Ukrainian diplomacy, who worked in important diplomatic spheres, who has experience that not a lot of people in Ukraine have," said Yushchenko, according to the Unian news agency.

He said he would nominate both Korol and Ohryzko again.

Yushchenko, who won the presidency after the 2004 Orange Revolution, has sought to pull Ukraine out of Russia's shadow and win membership for this nation of 47 million in the European Union and NATO.

But he has fallen far short of his ambitions, and last year, his party was humbled by the Russian-leaning party of his political rival, Viktor Yanukovych, in parliamentary elections.

When Yanukovych put together a majority coalition, Yushchenko agreed to nominate his one-time foe as prime minister, and the two govern jointly in what has become a bruising battle for power with the president on the losing end.

Yanukovych forced out Tarasyuk last month after a dispute that resulted in the government temporarily cutting off funding to the Foreign Ministry.

Under the constitution, the president gets to nominate the foreign minister, but his choice requires parliamentary approval.

Yushchenko tapped Ohryzko to replace him, but the parliamentary majority immediately expressed its disappointment with the choice.

Ohryzko came under special criticism for his decision to speak Ukrainian - and have it translated into Russian - during a conference that included Russian and Ukrainian politicians and experts.

Some attendees complained that it slowed down the talks and Ohryzko, who is fluent in Russian, should have spoken Russian.

"He showed a total absence of professionalism. He showed that he is not a diplomat, but a person with an inferiority complex," said Yanukovych ally Yuriy Bondarev.

Yushchenko's party and the bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko supported Ohryzko, arguing that he was a career diplomat who had risen through the ranks of the Foreign Ministry.

Former Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko, a member of Yushchenko's party, said that Ohryzko could be counted on to stick up for Ukraine.

"Today he thinks about the national interests of Kiev, of Ukraine but not about the national interests of Moscow. He doesn't grovel at the feet of our big neighbor," Udovenko said, referring to Russia.

Later, in a sign of protest over parliament's actions, opposition lawmakers from Tymoshenko's bloc cut off lights in the parliamentary hall, forcing the evening session to be conducted in the dark.

Lawmakers used flashlights and lights from mobile phones to continue working.

Source: AP

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Separatist Card

KIEV, Ukraine -- Appearing on Ukrainian TV’s Svoboda Slova talk show last week, Communist Member of Parliament Leonid Hrach warned that the autonomous peninsula, Crimea, could split away from Ukraine if the country joins NATO.

Communist Member of Parliament Leonid Hrach

It’s no secret that Hrach, who once chaired Crimea’s legislature, would support such a drastic move.

What is worrisome, however, is that such a threat could become reality, mirroring other Moscow-backed separatist movements in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniester, or Georgia’s secessionist Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. And the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions should not be taken lightly in this regard.

Such separatist movements are clearly designed to spur instability and maintain Russian influence over former Soviet republics with European ambitions.

As the strategy goes, you first create a problem, then send your peacekeepers in with the purported intention of protecting ethnic Russians left over from Soviet days.

It’s a formula that could, in theory, be applied in Crimea, whose population is regarded as largely pro-Russian and anti-NATO. The strategy involves keeping Russian peacekeepers in the region for a long time.

It has worked in Transdniester, which fought a war with Moldova proper in the early 90s. Georgia, whose Western friendly president has continually bumped heads with the Kremlin, is also in a hard spot, with two regions bent on gaining independence from Tbilisi and aligning with Moscow.

The Kremlin’s divide-and-conquer strategy is clearly intended to complicate efforts by both newly independent states towards integrating into western structures, such as NATO and the European Union.

It is being done in Georgia and Moldova, why can’t it happen to Ukraine?

All Moscow and its agents in Ukraine, like the Communists, need to do is flare up ethnic tensions in Crimea and play up the anti-NATO card, warning residents that their sons and daughters could be sent to Iraq as combatants if Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko gets his way in joining the Western military alliance.

During past election campaigns, hard-pressed Ukrainian politicians have had no qualms about playing the Russian-nationalism card in various hands – the language issue, NATO, etc. – with Crimea often serving as the main game table.

Re-igniting already tense relations between ethnic Russians and Muslim Tartars, many of whom have returned to the peninsula as homeless refugees, following their exile to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin during World War II, will help catalyze this scenario.

Adding oil to the fire is the fact that Crimean Tatars have traditionally supported the camp of Ukraine’s pro-Western President Yushchenko. Another tactic the Russians have apparently employed includes efforts to hand out Russian citizenship to population pockets in former republics.

Rumor has it that more and more of Crimea’s population are accepting Russian passports. The practice has been going on for a long time in Transdniester, and it isn’t just practiced by the Russians.

The threat is real, but what should Ukraine’s leadership do?

First of all, they need to start informing the population effectively about the benefits of joining NATO. Efforts thus far have been poor, to say the least.

Ukrainian leaders also have to crack down hard on separatist movements in what Czarina Catherine the Great referred to as the pearl of the Russian Empire. Focusing on the military benefits of joining NATO, including security from an increasingly blustering Moscow, is not enough.

Ukraine’s leadership needs to point out the economic benefits of Western integration as well. For one, larger inflows of tourists who would arrive when Ukraine integrates more closely with Europe would benefit Crimea more than any other region in Ukraine.

NATO membership also equates to more sales, contracts and jobs in the military industrial complex, meaning aerospace and other hi-tech industries such as rocket building.

This should bolster support in the Russian-speaking eastern industrialized regions of Ukraine. Simply said, when you are a member of NATO, you have a solid chance of selling your products to most first, second and third world countries.

If you’re not part of the club, you are left competing with Russia for the scraps, namely third world contracts.

True, setting up joint ventures with Western aerospace and military contractors will leave Ukraine as the smaller partner in most ventures. But it should bring Ukraine’s producers the kind of experience and technology needed to step up into the major leagues.

Moreover, sales of Ukrainian produced hi-tech military hardware, such as tanks, airplanes and rockets, should exceed today’s levels many times over.

Source: Kyiv Post

Study Detects Decline In Ukraine’s Press Freedom

KIEV, Ukraine -- A recent study conducted by an international NGO indicates that press freedom in Ukraine has gotten worse over the last year, calling into question yet another of the reforms promised by President Viktor Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution, which swept him to power in late 2004.

France-based Reporters without Borders, which conducts an annual international study on press freedom, reviewed 98 countries this year.

The results of the study point to political instability due to continuing tension between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as the main factor negatively affecting the country’s independent journalism.

Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych’s fraud-marred presidential bid in 2004 with promises to promote European liberties, only to support his political nemesis’ return to power last summer as a stronger-than-ever head of government.

“We would have expected that since Yushchenko came to power … the situation and the climate towards the press would have been easier, but unfortunately … [he] has encountered political difficulties he is not responsible for, which have resulted in … a reduction in press freedom in Ukraine,” said Elsa Vidal, head of the European and Post-Soviet Bureau at Reporters without Borders.

The study said that the greater press freedom achieved by the Orange government in 2005 was offset last year by physical attacks against journalists and the court system’s inability to complete the murder trial of investigative reporter Georgiy Gongadze.

Gongadze’s decapitated body was found in a wood outside Kyiv in late 2000, setting off weeks of high-profile street protests that called for the dismissal of top officials, including then President Leonid Kuchma.

As a presidential candidate and hero of the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko had promised to bring the people who ordered Gongadze’s murder and other corrupt former officials to justice.

But so far, only those who actually carried out the murder have been brought to justice.

“Violence and pressure are the most worrying events we witnessed last year,” Vidal said.

Victoria Sjumar, director of the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Ukraine-based NGO that supports mass media and monitors press freedom in the country, also noted a decline in Ukraine’s press freedom due to violence against journalists.

“Press freedom … has unfortunately gotten worse, although, of course it is better than it was under Kuchma,” she said.

Sjumar cited a rise in journalist beatings and attacks throughout last year. According to IMI, there were 28 such attacks compared to only 16 in 2005.

“There has also been a rise in censorship, political and economic pressure and lawsuits against journalists,” she added.

Sjumar said, “there hasn’t been any kind of institutional changes … It practically depends on the authorities in each region.”

The recent Reporters without Borders study details several instances of violence and threats against journalists throughout Ukraine in 2006.

On March 1, the home of the editor of Simferopol newspaper Pervaya Krimskaya, Lilia Bujurova, was set aflame; and on April 8, the editor of Stolichnye Novosti, Vladimir Katsman, was beaten.

The study also mentioned questionable lawsuits brought against journalists as a result of their work.

Margarita Zakora, the editor of Dzerzhynets, a weekly publication in Dniprodzerzhynsk, Dnipropetrovsk Region, faced 19 nearly-identical lawsuits filed by regional officials after publishing articles about local official corruption.

Shots were fired at her apartment, and pornographic leaflets about her and her 20-year-old daughter were distributed after she published two articles critical of a local businessman.

Journalist Vladimir Lutiev was detained in June 2005 on charges of attempting to murder a Crimean MP, only to be convicted a year later for a different crime. Lutiev had accused the MP of corruption and election fraud in one of his articles.

“Criminals understand that in this country, attacks on journalists pass without acknowledgement,” Sjumar said.

Although Reporters without Borders’ 2007 study cites a decline in media freedom in Ukraine, a 2006 index compiled by the same organization showed Ukraine improving its press freedom rating in relation to other countries listed.

Vidal said the discrepancy is due to a decrease in world press freedom in general, rather than to an improvement in Ukraine.

In the 2006 index, which rated 168 countries, Ukraine rose seven slots to position 105 from its ranking in 2005 at 112th, tying with India.

According to the index, countries of the former Soviet Union are the worst offenders of press freedom in Europe.

While Moldova (85) and Georgia (89) scored markedly higher than Ukraine, Russia (138) and Belarus (151) neared the bottom of the index.

Central Asian countries in the CIS scored less than Ukraine, with Uzbekistan (158) and Turkmenistan (167) nearing the very bottom.

Reporters without Borders also noted a “steady erosion of press freedom” in several democratic countries, including France (35), Japan (51), and the U.S. (53), whose situations it characterized as “extremely alarming.”

According to the 2007 study, at least 110 journalists were killed worldwide in 2006, the most recorded work-related deaths in journalism since 1994.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine Opposition Plans To Oust Current Government

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's outspoken opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, said Wednesday her eponymous bloc and pro-presidential faction Our Ukraine will announce plans to sack the government led by Viktor Yanukovych.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko

Opposition in the Ukrainian parliament is consolidating efforts in the struggle between the pro-presidential and pro-premier factions which over the past six months has seen several ministers appointed by President Viktor Yushchenko and then dismissed by the Supreme Rada.

"I think we [Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine] will be able either on Thursday or Friday to propose a solid algorithm outlining the ways to oust those who are destroying our country every day," said Tymoshenko, a key figure in the 2004 'orange revolution' that brought to power the Western-leaning president.

Opposition factions demand an urgent discussion of draft laws on pension and salary increases and on controlled rise in tariffs for housing and communal services.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, deputies from the Yanukovych's Party of Regions blocked access to the podium at the Supreme Rada in order to prevent opposition members from interrupting the current session.

Source: RIA Novosti

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Angola: Ukraine To Contribute To Army's Development

LUANDA, Angola -- The Ukrainian government will upgrade, technically and scientifically, the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), as well as support the equipping of its three branches with new technology, said this Tuesday in Luanda the deputy General Staff Chief of that country's Armed Forces, vice-admiral Igor Kniaz.

Angolan government recruits learning the mechanics of an AK-47 assault rifle

Igor Kniaz, who heads a military delegation that arrived in Luanda this Tuesday, came for a four-day work visit to Angola.

Speaking to the press, In Luanda's 4 de Fevereiro International Aiport, the Ukrainian official said that the priority is directed to the Angolan National Air Forces (FANA), in the training of pilots.

"Ukraine will give priority to the development of FANA, in the areas of recovery and equipping of aircrafts and other techniques, as well as in training and upgrading pilots ".

He also announced that two technical cooperation agreements are to be signed between the Defence Ministries of both countries.

"During our stay in Angola we will analyse documents that will enable us to sign military partnership accords between the two states.", he said, announcing also that they intend to invite the Angolan Defence minister, Kundy Paihama, to visit Ukraine to formalise the agreements.

The visiting Ukrainian military delegation was welcomed at the airport by the FAA's deputy Chief of Staff for the administrative area, general Abreu Muengo Ukuachitembo "Kamorteiro".

Source: Angola Press Agency

Holocaust Monument, Hundreds Of Jewish Graves Defaced In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine — A monument to Holocaust victims and 240 Jewish graves have been defaced with swastikas in southern Ukraine, an activist with a local Jewish community said Tuesday.

Unidentified vandals desecrated the Holocaust Monument late Sunday with red swastikas and with the inscription "Congratulations on the Holocaust" and painted swastikas on 270 graves in a Jewish cemetery in the Black Sea port of Odessa, said Boleslav Kapulkin, a spokesman for Odessa's Jewish community.

"It is awful. They insulted all Ukrainians and hurt Ukraine's image," Kapulkin told The Associated Press.

The monument was erected at the site where thousands of Jews were killed and burned by the Nazis between 1941-1944.

Kapulkin said police launched a probe into the vandalism.

Ukraine is home to about 100,000 Jews.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews perished over the centuries in pogroms staged by Ukrainian nationalists, and millions died during the Holocaust.

Source: FOX News

Monday, February 19, 2007

Russian Gen. Warns On Missile Defense

MOSCOW, Russia -- In a statement reflecting the growing distrust between Moscow and the West, a top Russian general on Monday warned that Poland and the Czech Republic risk being targeted by Russian missiles if they agree to host U.S. missile defense bases.

Russian missile forces chief Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov speaks to the media, Moscow, Monday, Feb. 19, 2007. Speaking on U.S. proposal to base a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic he warned Monday that the plan could prompt Moscow to target the former allies with its own missiles

The stark threat, by missile forces chief Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, was one of the most bellicose comments yet by Russian officials on the issue, which 10 days ago led President Vladimir Putin to warn of a "new Cold War" in a speech in Munich that shocked Western governments.

"If the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic take such a step ... the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of targeting these facilities if a relevant decision is made," Solovtsov told reporters in Moscow, asserting the U.S. plan could upset strategic balance of power in the region.

Solovtsov spoke as Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and his Polish counterpart, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, both in Warsaw, suggested they were ready to move forward with a plan by Washington to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic.

Topolanek said both countries will probably agree to the basic U.S. proposal, though they must still work out the details. "I think it is in our joint interest to negotiate this initiative and to build ... the missile defense," he said.

U.S. officials say that the 10 proposed interceptors _ which they say are designed to stop a launch from the Middle East _ are not aimed at Russia.

Moscow, with its huge and sophisticated nuclear arsenal, could easily overwhelm such a small system simply by launching more than 10 missiles.

Putin has said he does not trust U.S. claims that the missile defense system was intended to counter threats from Iran. He has warned that Russia could take retaliatory action.

Solovtsov, speaking before the announcement in Warsaw, voiced concern that Washington could in the future expand and upgrade the anti-missile system.

That could, at least in theory, limit Russia's ability to retaliate to a nuclear missile strike against its territory.

Solovtsov also said Russia could easily make new, upgraded versions of Russian intermediate-range missiles scrapped under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

Kaczynski, the Polish prime minister, brushed aside Moscow's fears, saying "the missile defense is not directed against any normal state."

"Any statement suggesting that the missile defense would change the alignment of forces in Europe is a misunderstanding," he said. "This truth is being conveyed to our partners in the West and the East."

Analysts said the angry words reflect the growing climate of suspicion between Moscow and the West.

Slawomir Debski, at the Warsaw-based of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said Moscow's reaction "means that the Russian Federation see the U.S., Poland and the Czech Republic as enemy nations."

"The reaction shows that the rationale behind Poland's and Czech Republic's ties with the U.S. are correct," Debski said. "It proves this is the right alliance and that we need it because Russia is threatening us with nuclear weapons."

Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert at the German Council of Foreign Relations, said Russia is irritated because it feels that it is being ignored by Washington. "It shows there is a new Cold War, in their heads."

Washington should have tried harder to persuade Moscow to accept the new anti-missile system before proceeding with efforts to deploy it, he said. "We humiliate Russia on these issues. We could have proposed cooperation to Russia, and if they said no, then we do it," he said. "But we say first, you Russians ... don't matter."

Rahr said Russia sees the missile system as payback for its sales of air defense missiles to Iran and Syria.

Russia also views the move, he said, as an attempt to bind NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic, which Moscow dominated during the Soviet period, more tightly into the Western military alliance - whose expansion Russia has long opposed.

Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst at the Moscow-based Institute for World Economy and International Relations, said the missile defenses will have "a negative effect on the whole system of Russian-U.S. relations."

Because of their limited speed and range, the European anti-missile system could not stop Russia's strategic missiles, he said.

But Russian leaders are concerned that once the system is in place, it could be expanded and upgraded to create such a threat.

He said the move could prompt Moscow to question its commitment to arms control treaties _ something at which top Russia officials have already hinted.

He predicted Russia would escalate its efforts to block the expansion of NATO to the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine.

Last month, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic would be designed to intercept missiles being developed by Iran.

Two other bases _ at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California _ would protect the U.S. from threats from North Korea, Obering said.

Critics of the anti-missile system say it has not adequately been tested to prove it works. The interceptor missiles launch a small EKV, or exoatmospheric kill vehicle, designed to collide with an incoming warhead at high speed.

Obering has said that there was no way the limited number of interceptors could neutralize the hundreds of missiles at Russia's disposal.

Source: AP

Brazil To Enter Satellite Launching Market With Ukraine's Help

ALCÂNTARA, Brazil -- The Brazilian government has informed that a joint venture company for rockets and satellites, established by Brazil and Ukraine, should begin operating this year.

Alcântara Base in the state of Maranhāo, in the Brazilian Northeast

The information was disclosed by the Director for Space Policy and Strategic Investments at the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), Himilcon Carvalho, in an interview to the state-owned Rádio Nacional radio station.

The partnership is aimed at launching rockets and satellites from the Alcântara Base, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão.

The first launch should take place by 2009, according to the AEB, which completed 13 years of existence on February 10th, 2007.

Brazil will make available its launch area in Alcântara and the Ukrainians will provide the launching technology developed in Ukraine.

The company is expected to profit the equivalent of roughly 10% of the global satellite launching market, worth US$ 10 billion, over the next eight years, since countries that own satellites will be able to pay to use the base and the launching technology.

Carvalho also said that another goal of AEB is to launch the third satellite, built in partnership with China, which will provide images of the national territory, such as deforested areas in the Amazon, for instance.

"We are currently preparing our third satellite, to be launched in 2007. The satellite is being finished after a test assembly phase in the city of São José dos Campos (southeastern Brazilian state of São Paulo), at the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe)," he claimed.

Source: Brazil Magazine

Armies Boot Out Soviet Tradition

MOSCOW, Russia -- The post-Soviet armies of Ukraine and Belarus are set to part with one of their oldest traditions.

Canvas boots have been a fixture in the Russian army for centuries

Defence ministries in both countries are decommissioning traditional foot bindings and canvas boots.

For centuries they formed part of a soldier's standard uniform across the Russian empire.

Then the Soviet Union inherited the tradition and after its demise in 1991 many of its successor countries preserved this tradition.

Early service regulations of the Red Army even explained in great detail how to wear the boots and how to wind on the foot bindings.

For soldiers, the learning curve was steep. Alexander - who served as a tank gunner in the 1980s - says that in the first few weeks of the military service his feet were covered with bleeding wounds.

Sore feet

"You can't just stick your feet in and go off on a cross-country march" - he recalls.

"It takes a while to get used to the foot bindings and to the canvas, and then you grow enormous corns, and just don't care any longer. Your feet become so hard you can drive in nails with your toes".

A traditional foot binding is a rectangular piece of thick cloth 35 by 90 centimetres (13.6 by 35 inches) in size.

First worn with bast sandals by Russian peasants, they remained almost unchanged through the ages.

But, for all the blood, sweat and tears involved in wearing bindings, former soldiers say the thick cloth and the canvas boots were a perfect match.

Former infantryman Ian Leder described typical Soviet boots as "a tough piece of work".

"There were stitches in places where you'd least expect them. And measurements were rather vague. So the thicker the layer between your feet and your boots, the better", he says.

Cold climate

Some long-serving privates did try to switch to socks, but very soon they all went back to the foot bindings.

Advocates of the tradition say cheap and virtually indestructible boots and foot bindings suit the cold Russian climate better than the refined footwear of Western armies.

And in the marshland, there is almost no danger of water making its way inside.

So, while large parts of Russia remain off-limits to anyone but the toughest, generals in Moscow do not seem prepared to move on.

Russia's neighbours face a terrain which is, arguably, less challenging.

This could, perhaps, explain their post-Soviet change in footwear priorities.

Defence chiefs in Ukraine say there is a need to maintain hygiene in the army and to make soldiers' lives more bearable.

In Ukraine, the old tradition will be phased out within a few months.

Belarus is taking things slower. There, the last pair of canvas boots and matching bindings will only be laid to rest in 2010.

Source: BBC News

Silence of America

WASHINGTON, DC -- For decades, the Voice of America and its sister broadcasting organizations offered a remarkably balanced alternative to state-controlled media all over the world, buoying dissident movements and undermining anti-American dictatorships for a relatively small investment.

Voice of America radio studio

Soviet citizens even learned how to reconfigure their radios to break through the jamming signals their government used to interrupt VOA and British Broadcasting Corp. programming.

Now, with Russian President Vladimir Putin bullying his neighbors, manipulating the Russian media and throwing increasingly audacious anti-American tantrums, one would think U.S. policymakers would have the sense at least to maintain relatively modest VOA operations in and around the Russian Federation.

Yet President Bush's recently released 2008 budget proposal does just the opposite, cutting VOA programming for a range of post-Soviet states to finance programming expansion in other areas of the world.

The White House's proposed reprioritization of VOA broadcasting moves money out of operations aimed at the large and largely Muslim country of Uzbekistan.

Broadcasting into neighboring Kazakhstan is also being cut.

The citizens of both countries live under illiberal regimes, and Uzbekistan's brutal dictatorship is of the sort that incubates religious fundamentalism and anti-Americanism.

Voice of America's half-hour of radio and half-hour of television programming in Uzbek, says a VOA staff member, provide about the only direct contact Uzbeks have with the United States and the only unvarnished news in the region.

Meanwhile, the highly controlled Russian media beam their often misleading programming in with ease.

Mr. Bush's budget also proposes reductions in Ukrainian-language VOA programming to serve a country struggling to Westernize in the shadow of Mr. Putin's increasingly lawless regime.

Mr. Bush should be eager to encourage democratic forces in Ukraine, as well as in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, not further limit their sources of information about the United States.

The price of such programs is so low that federal financial constraints are hardly an excuse to kill them; a relatively tiny increase in the VOA's budget would make a world of difference.

Source: Washington Post

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ukraine Crash Due To Pilot Error

MOSCOW, Russia -- The official report into the crash of a Russian passenger jet over Ukraine last year has concluded that pilot error was to blame.

Russia says ageing Tupolev planes of this type will be phased out

All 170 people on board the Pulkovo Airlines Tupolev 154 were killed after it came down in bad weather in a field near Donetsk last August.

The report said a trainee pilot was at the controls at the time of the accident.

It said the more experienced pilot failed to assist him.

The Russian Interstate Aviation Committee blamed the crash on "a lack of control over flight speed and a failure to carry out instructions on preventing the plane from stalling".

It also said the pilots were inadequately prepared for flying in stormy conditions, and that the training instructions for the plane contained no appropriate guidance for flying in such a scenario.

The plane was flying in bad weather from the Russian resort of Anapa to St Petersburg on 22 August.

Russia's Transport Minister Igor Levitin said the ageing Tu-134 and Tu-154 aeroplanes are to be retired from civilian use over the next five years, according to reports.

Pilot training requirements are also to be increased.

"We will toughen procedures for testing pilots, increasing the number of training hours, especially for co-pilots," he was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti news agency.

In 2006 there were three major air disasters involving a Russian airline or airport.

Source: BBC News

Is Russia Trying To Start A New Cold War?

WASHINGTON, DC -- Vladimir Putin - Russia's president, although the more accurate title would be godfather - made headlines last week with a speech in Munich that set a new standard in anti-Americanism.

Russia's President and ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin

He charged the U.S. with the "hyper-use of force," "disdain for the basic principles of international law" and having "overstepped its national borders in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations."

He even blamed the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which the U.S. has been combating with few allies and against constant Russian resistance, on American "dominance" that "inevitably encourages" other countries to defensively acquire them.

There is something amusing about criticism of the use of force by the man who turned Chechnya into a smoldering ruin; about the invocation of international law by the man who will not allow Scotland Yard to interrogate the polonium-soaked thugs it suspects of murdering Alexander Litvinenko, yet another Putin opponent to meet an untimely and unprosecuted death; about the bullying of other countries decried by a man who cuts off energy supplies to Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus in brazen acts of political and economic extortion.

Less amusing is the greater meaning of Putin's Munich speech. It marks Russia's coming out. Flush with oil and gas revenues, the consolidation of dictatorial authority at home, and the capitulation of both domestic and Western companies to his seizure of their assets, Putin issued his boldest declaration yet that post-Soviet Russia is preparing to reassert itself on the world stage.

Perhaps the most important line in his speech was the least noted because it seemed so innocuous. "I very often hear appeals by our partners, including our European partners, to the effect that Russia should play an increasingly active role in world affairs," he said. "It is hardly necessary to incite us to do so."

Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko once boasted that no conflict anywhere on the globe could be settled without taking into account the attitude and interests of the Soviet Union. Gromyko's description of Soviet influence constitutes the best definition ever formulated of the term "super- power."

And we know how Putin, who has called the demise of the Soviet Union the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century, yearns for those superpower days. At Munich, he could not even disguise his Cold War nostalgia, asserting that "global security" in those days was ensured by the "strategic potential of two superpowers."

Putin's bitter complaint is that today there remains only one superpower, the behemoth that dominates a "unipolar world." He knows that Moscow lacks the economic, military, and even demographic means to challenge America as in Soviet days.

He speaks more modestly of coalitions of aggrieved have-not countries that Russia might lead in countering American power.

Hence his increasingly active foreign policy--military partnerships with China, nuclear cooperation with Iran, weapon supplies to Syria and Venezuela, diplomatic support as well as arms for a genocidal Sudan, friendly outreach to other potential partners of an anti-hegemonic (read: anti-American) alliance.

Is this a return to the Cold War?

It is true that the ex-KGB agent occasionally lets slip a classic Marxist anachronism such as "foreign capital" (referring to Western oil companies) or the otherwise weird adjective "vulgar" (describing the actions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which infuriated Putin by insisting upon a clean election in Ukraine).

He even intimated that he might undo one of the unequivocal achievements of the late Cold War era, the so-called "zero option" agreement of 1987, and restore a Soviet-style medium-range ballistic missile force.

Nonetheless, Putin's aggressiveness does not signal a return to the Cold War. He is too clever to be burdened by the absurdity of socialist economics or Marxist politics. He is blissfully free of ideology, political philosophy, and economic theory.

There is no existential dispute with the United States.

He is a more modest man: a mere Mafia don, seizing the economic resources and political power of a country for himself and his mostly KGB cronies. And promoting his vision of the Russian national interest--assertive and expansionist--by engaging in diplomacy that challenges the dominant power in order to boost his own.

He wants Gromyko's influence--or at least some international acknowledgment that Moscow must be reckoned with--without the ideological baggage. He does not want to bury us; he only wants to diminish us.

It is 19th-century power politics at its most crude and elemental.

Putin does not want us as an enemy. But at Munich he told the world that vis-à-vis America, his Russia has gone from partner to adversary.

Source: Washington Post

Ukraine Identities: Shevchenko Blundered Joining Chelsea

KIEV, Ukraine -- Dynamo Kiev president Ihor Surkis says moving to Chelsea was the worst decision Andriy Shevchenko has made in his career.

Andriy Shevchenko

Surkis struck a close relationship with Shevchenko when the Ukrainian ace was with Dynamo and he told the Independent on Sunday: "Moving to Chelsea was the biggest mistake in Andriy's career.

"I told him he wouldn't play his best there because they don't trust him. The coach has to trust him and stop nagging him. He's not an ordinary player; he's a player of the highest level.

"A change of team could give Andriy new impetus.

"Chelsea spent a huge amount on him and will try to recover their outlay, so he must struggle in London until the summer and then consider his position.

I really hope I'll be able to agree with Andriy the terms by which he'll return to Dynamo, just like I did with Rebrov."

Meanwhile, Viktor Leonenko, a centre-forward at Dynamo Kiev when Shevchenko first broke into the team, has described Chelsea's treatment of Sheva as "brainless".

Chelsea is just not his team," Leonenko went on. "To talk of a player of his level needing a period of adaptation is nonsense. He had no such problems going to Milan."

Another former Dynamo forward, Oleh Salenko, reasoned: "Andriy must decide what is more important for him - to play football or to indulge his wife.

"Returning to Dynamo would probably be the best thing for him now, but is his wife going to swap the capital of England for Kiev?"

Source: Tribal Football