Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ukraine Leader Suggests New Poll

KIEV, Ukraine -- Tens of thousands of Ukrainians backing the country's opposition thronged Kiev's main square on Saturday to urge President Viktor Yushchenko to call a new parliamentary election to end protracted political deadlock.

Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko speaks to supporters during a rally in Kiev March 31, 2007.

Before the mass rally, the largest since "Orange Revolution" protests engulfed Ukraine in 2004, Yushchenko issued a new threat to dissolve parliament and call just such an election.

His arch rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, back in power after being humiliated in that upheaval, told a rally of his own supporters he would ignore the president's "ultimatums".

Yushchenko, his powers cut by constitutional change, has sniped for months with his rival. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has led an opposition drive for a new election to bolster the president's policy of moving closer to the West.

"It is not just the president's right to dissolve parliament," Tymoshenko told a cheering crowd in Independence Square, where she rallied supporters in the 2004 protests.

"It is his duty to dismiss this corrupt, treacherous assembly and go ahead with an open, honest early election in which there can be no doubt democratic forces will win."

Sporting her trademark peasant braid, she told supporters the liberal leaders of the 2004 revolution had been naive to believe they would achieve their aims painlessly.

"Above all else, we need an early election to show our people again that we are capable," she told the crowd.

Tymoshenko was the president's first prime minister after he swept to victory in the re-run of a rigged election. But she was fired within eight months after her government split into two camps, each accusing the other of corruption.

Yushchenko reluctantly appointed Yanukovich prime minister last year after his own allies scored badly in a parliamentary election and failed to form a government.

PRESIDENT ACCUSES PRIME MINISTER

The president accused the prime minister this week of illegally trying to expand the parliamentary coalition supporting him. He told supporters he could dissolve the chamber and hold a new poll.

"If the actions of the majority in parliament do not return to a constitutional basis, I will sign a decree dissolving parliament," he told a congress of his Our Ukraine party.

He issued a series of demands to parliament, including a call to approve a law barring deputies from switching parties.

Yanukovich, friendlier to Moscow, says the president has no grounds to dissolve parliament. He told supporters massed scant metres from the opposition he would tolerate no such demands.

"We will never accept ultimatums that are outside the realm of law and the constitution," he told a 10,000-strong crowd.

Yanukovich agreed last year to leave intact the president's policies of seeking European Union and NATO membership. But his government has since chipped away at Yushchenko's authority.

Yanukovich can count on about 250 votes in the 450-seat assembly and has vowed to expand his coalition to 300, a figure that could allow him to engineer further constitutional change.

The president has summoned party leaders for talks on Monday as required by the ex-Soviet state's constitution for any decision to dissolve parliament and proceed with an election.

A poll published this week put Yanukovich's Regions Party in the lead with 18 percent support. Tymoshenko's bloc was second with 15 percent and Our Ukraine lay third with 7 percent.

Source: Scotsman News

Rival Rallies In Ukraine Political Fight

KIEV, Ukraine -- Tens of thousands of demonstrators called on Ukraine's president Saturday to defeat a challenge from the rival prime minister by dissolving parliament and calling new elections, a move that could throw the ex-Soviet republic into crisis.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko greets her supporters during a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, March 31, 2007. Tens of thousands of demonstrators called on Ukraine's president Saturday to defeat a challenge from the rival prime minister by dissolving parliament and calling new elections, a move that could throw the ex-Soviet republic into crisis.

A smaller rally supported the prime minister.

President Viktor Yushchenko accused Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych of trying to usurp power by recruiting lawmakers allied with the president. Yushchenko told a party conference that if the situation did not change, "I will sign the decree to dissolve parliament."

The party passed a resolution appealing to the president to dissolve parliament, and more than 70,000 supporters waving flags and banners rallied on Kiev's Independence Square, the heart of the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests that ushered Yushchenko into power. Some 20,000 supporters of Yanukovych protested in a nearby square.

Dissolving parliament could spark a crisis, particularly if Yanukovych's coalition — which denies Yushchenko's allegations and argues there is no constitutional basis to dissolve parliament — refuses to abide by the president's decision.

But if Yushchenko backs down, he could find himself politically weakened and isolated.

"It is not the right of the president (to dissolve parliament), it is his obligation," said former Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who called the demonstrators to Independence Square to press for the dissolution of parliament.

The crowd chanted: "Together we will win!"

The standoff arose after 11 lawmakers allied with the president defected to Yanukovych's coalition, in violation of a new law that compels lawmakers to remain with the party they belonged to during the election.

Yanukovych now has the support 260 lawmakers in the 450-seat house, and his party has suggested they will soon reach 300 — enough to overturn presidential vetoes and make changes to the constitution.

Police in bullet-resistant vests manned barricades separating the rival rallies, and asked people passing from one square to another to put away political flags and scarves.

"I'm here to support Yanukovych. He's a true patriot and we've seen success," said retiree Valentine Ivanenko, 69. "Pensions have gone up. Industry is working. Investments have been made in agriculture. We need our government to keep working not to be thrown back into elections."

Yushchenko accused Yanukovych's parliamentary majority of violating the constitution by taking away presidential powers and failing to fulfill a unity agreement that Yanukovych signed before Yushchenko agreed to accept him as premier. Yushchenko also accused the coalition of politicizing the country's police force, carrying out murky privatizations, and failing to act on his proposals.

"It shows that there is no political will and desire to support stability," Yushchenko said.

Viktor Tykhonov, a lawmaker from Yanukovych's party, accused Yushchenko of trying to dictate his will to lawmakers, and defended the movement of lawmakers between factions "as a natural process," Ukraine's Interfax news agency reported.

Yushchenko came to power after hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians flooded onto Independence Square to protest Yanukovych's fraud-marred presidential victory in 2004.

The Supreme Court overturned Yanukovych's victory and called new elections, which Yushchenko won.

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

Yanukovych rebounded in last year's parliamentary elections, capitalizing on widespread disappointment in the slow pace of reforms and divisions between the Orange Revolution team.

Yanukovych's party put together a majority coalition, and Yanukovych returned as premier. The two rivals started feuding almost immediately, and Yanukovych has increasingly moved to sideline the president.

Source: AP

Friday, March 30, 2007

Who’s Next In Gangster Paradise?

KIEV, Ukraine -- Anyone living in modern-day Ukraine probably has a laugh when he sees the country portrayed as a gangster paradise in some low-budget Hollywood film.


Those days are long gone – right? Following this week’s murder of reputed Russian mobster Maksim Kurochkin, the jury may still be out.

The jury was in fact in session, or at least a trial was in session on the afternoon of March 27, when Kurochkin, who is known to have rubbed elbows in top Ukrainian and Russian political circles, was shot dead outside a courthouse in police custody. Not long before, two of his close associates were murdered just outside the Ukrainian capital.

Kurochkin, who supported Viktor Yanukovych’s fraud-marred bid for the presidency in 2004, had been locked up in a Kyiv remand center since being picked up on extortion charges last fall. Just before being killed by a sniper rifle, he was seen on Ukrainian TV pleading for protection.

Unfortunately the Ukrainian police were less protective than one might expect. The Russian national wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest and the killers got away clean.

Ukrainian officials were equally incompetent and/or corrupt in their attempts to explain how they could have let such a thing happen. One excuse put forward by a top police official is that Kurochkin had not asked in writing for extra security. The 38-year-old’s alleged connections to organized crime and dirty politics have been widely reported by Ukrainian media, so suffice it to say that nobody is particularly shocked by his murder, but we really should be.

Kurochkin was uncomfortably close to Ukraine’s and Russia’s political elite. Moreover, his murder follows on the poorly explained deaths of undisputed Ukrainian politicians, such as Yevhen Kushnaryov, a top member of Prime Minister Yanukovych’s party of power. Years earlier, we witnessed the strange suicides of Transport Minister Heorhy Kirpa and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko. Kushnaryov was killed in a hunting accident, while the other two supposedly committed suicide. Yanukovych himself has yet to satisfactorily explain serious allegations of a criminal past. But that’s all in the past – or so many thought.

Following the Orange Revolution, which swept President Viktor Yushchenko to power, the country started being seen as a place to invest and a future member of Europe. Prior to the street demonstrations that put Ukraine on the map, the country was known as ground zero for the Chornobyl disaster or, by the turn of the century, a dangerous place for journalists who criticize the authorities. Has anyone forgotten Georgiy Gongadze, whose headless body was found in a wood outside Kyiv in late 2000?

A memorial to the ill-fated journalist was erected in the center of Kyiv just last week. Normally this would be considered a sign of respect, that is, if it weren’t for the fact that the people who ordered his murder have still not been brought to justice.

Murders take place in the most democratic countries of the world, and sometimes they are connected to people of power who never face justice, but their frequency in Ukraine – seemingly more frequent again – combined with the unprofessional and murky response to them by police is not something that should be taken lightly. Often the victims’ families, as in the case of Gongadze, suffer a thousand more indignities and abuses by the authorities. The question is how long such blatant disrespect for law will continue? If influential and famous people can be knocked off with impunity, then what can the rest of us expect?

The problem does not lie solely with one political party or another, as many of Ukraine’s lawmakers change factions frequently. The problem is the authorities’ attitude toward the rule of law.

Moral foundations are under attack in politics and on the streets. Yanukovych became the country’s top executive again thanks to the combination of fair elections and political betrayal by the Socialist Party. Increasingly corrupt courts are also causing headaches for investors.

Ukraine needs a fresh jolt of moral fiber. The country’s leaders should lead the way. If they fail, it will be anyone’s guess as to know who will be next and how deep their grave will be.

Source: Kyiv Post

Russian Warship Shells Ukraine Town By Accident

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A Russian warship fired a high explosive shell at a Ukrainian town in an apparent accidental firing, the Interfax news agency reported Wednesday.

Russian warship "Tsesar Kunikov" docked in Sevastopol, Ukraine

The incident took place in the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea fleet rents a military base from the Ukrainian government.

A sailor aboard the Russian warship Tsesar Kunikov, an assault landing ship, fired a 57-millimetre artillery round in the direction of the town, for unknown reasons.

The shell landed near the village Sakharna, a suburb of Sevastopol, without causing injuries or damage.

Russian and Ukrainian authorities were investigating the incident, and Ukraine's Foreign Ministry had asked the Russian government for an explanation, said Oleksander Chaly, a Ukraine government spokesman.

Conflict between Russian navy elements in Crimea and local inhabitants is closely monitored in both Moscow and Kiev, because of tension between ethnic Russians living in the Black Sea peninsula, and other Ukrainians.

Many ethnic Russians living in Crimea see themselves as an oppressed minority, and the Russian fleet as a protector of their interests.

Ukrainian nationalists on the other hand consider the presence of Russia's Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and a first step in a Kremlin plan to reclaim Crimea.

Source: Europe News

Ukraine's Premier Rallies Supporters

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych rallied thousands of supporters in the capital Kyiv Friday in a bid to make Ukraine's president back down from his threat to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (R) greets his supporters during a rally in Kiev, March 30, 2007. Several thousand people rallied to support Yanukovich in his battle for power with President Viktor Yushchenko.

Meanwhile, politicians who supported President Viktor Yushchenko during the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests demanded he call new elections and vowed to rally their own supporters on Saturday.

The escalating tensions threatened to throw this country into political chaos once again, and exposed the difficulties that Yushchenko and Yanukovych have faced in governing jointly.

Yushchenko on Thursday accused the prime minister of violating the Constitution by poaching lawmakers from pro-presidential factions to expand his power base.

He challenged Yanukovych to join him in appealing to the Constitutional Court to uphold a law that prevents lawmakers from switching parties once in office.

Yanukovych did not respond publicly to the challenge, but said Friday that he talked with Yushchenko and the president was seeking a resolution to the crisis.

"It is a pity when small groups of politicians are unhappy that they aren't in power now and are trying at any price to hold early parliamentary elections, in violation of the Constitution," Yanukovych told about 5,000 supporters gathered on a Kyiv square.

Nearby, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko met with top members of Yushchenko's party and other figures.

Speaking to reporters, she warned that if he does not "he will lose what remains of the people's trust."

If Yushchenko "loves Ukraine and respects its people ... he will dissolve the parliament," Tymoshenko told reporters.

Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, who heads Yushchenko's faction in parliament, accused Yanukovych's Cabinet and coalition of usurping power and said opponents have "a recipe against it - to dissolve the parliament."

But Raisa Bohatiryova, head of Yanukovych's parliamentary faction, vowed to fight such a move. "We must defend the president from pressure and the effort to use him for unconstitutional activity," she said.

Yushchenko has been locked in an escalating battle for power with Yanukovych, with whom he faced off during the 2004 presidential campaign and the mass protests of the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych's party put together a ruling coalition after winning the most votes in last year's parliamentary elections, and it has increasingly sidelined the president.

The simmering conflict burst into the open anew after numerous lawmakers from Yushchenko's party defected to join Yanukovych's parliamentary majority, giving it 260 votes in the 450-seat parliament.

Yanukovych's party has suggested it could soon reach 300 - enough to override presidential vetoes and make Yushchenko politically powerless.

"We want to see Yanukovych become president, he's the only one who is doing anything for Ukraine," said Sasha Pomanenko, 25, who carried a Yanukovych party flag.

The rally was full of university students; many said they had been paid to attend but refused to give their names.

Source: Kyiv Post

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ukraine President Hints At New Election

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Thursday accused parliament, allied to his arch rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, of acting illegally and suggested he might be ready to call a new election to the assembly.

Ukraine's odd couple is at it again!

But Yanukovich, back in power after being defeated by the president after pro-Western "Orange Revolution" protests, said the president had no grounds to dissolve the assembly in order to hold a new parliamentary poll.

Politics in Ukraine, in a stalemate since the president reluctantly appointed Yanukovich prime minister last August, has suddenly become highly charged by the defection to cabinet ranks last week of one his most prominent "orange" supporters.

The president said parliament had "usurped power and betrayed the constitutional order". He singled out the prime minister's suggestion that his coalition could soon marshal 300 of 450 votes in parliament, enough for further constitutional change.

"If some political forces say out loud that they can get 300 votes in a parliamentary coalition, let us then make a political decision, please," he told a news conference in eastern Ukraine.

"Let's hold a parliamentary election so you can appeal to the country. If they indeed love and trust you and give you those 300 votes, then you can speak about such a majority in Ukraine's parliament."

In a statement issued earlier in the day, the president said parliament in the past year had done nothing in the interest of Ukrainians and "again produced empty promises and declarations".

Yushchenko was making his second attack in two days on institutions underpinning the prime minister. On Wednesday, he described the government as illegitimate.

Yanukovich, friendlier to Moscow than the president, ruled out any dissolution of parliament.

"First of all, I don't believe the president will do this," he told reporters. "Secondly, I believe he cannot do so as the constitutional court will never agree this is within the framework of the constitution."

The prime minister's backers are to rally in Kiev on Friday.

The opposition, led by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the president's revolution-era ally sacked after eight months in office, have long called for a new election. Its supporters are to hold a demonstration of their own on Saturday.

The president appointed Yanukovich prime minister last year after his own allies scored badly in a parliamentary election and were unable to form a government.

Yanukovich initially promised to leave the president's policies intact, including long-term membership of Nato and the European Union, but the two have sniped endlessly over powers.

The president's powers, reduced by constitutional change approved at the height of the 2004 mass protests, were further curbed by legislation approved by parliament late last year. The prime minister can now count on about 250 seats in parliament.

Source: Independent Online

The Odd Couple Trying To Set Ukraine On Road To Europe

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The billionaire oligarch and the former President of Poland make an unlikely campaign team to persuade the people of Ukraine that their future lies with Europe and not Russia.

Aleksander Kwasniewski

Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former President of Poland, had a simple message to sell as he toured Ukraine this week: that the road to prosperity and freedom lies in completing the journey from Soviet Union to European Union.

Accompanied by Viktor Pinchuk, the second-richest man in Ukraine, Mr Kwasniewski followed a route from Lviv, in the west, to Donetsk, in the east, which exposed the fault lines running through this country of 50 million people.

While the West spies a chance to rejoin its European kin, the pro-Russian East holds firmly to family ties with Moscow.

The European future seemed easy to imagine in Lviv, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Mr Kwasniewski addressed civic leaders in a palace built for a Polish prince.

Lviv was part of Poland until the Soviet Union invaded in 1939, and its elegant boulevards and historic squares ooze Central European charm.

It was a different story in Donetsk, where the Kwasniewski roadshow was greeted by protesters with banners declaring “Nato is worse than the Gestapo”. Most people here make no distinction between the Nato military alliance and the EU.

Mr Kwasniewski, President for a decade until 2005, spoke Polish in Lviv, to the evident pleasure of his audience as he argued for Ukraine to emulate his success in getting Poland into the EU and Nato.

Support was a given in Lviv, where people were far more exercised about the hostility of their fellow Ukrainians in Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk, the second stop on Mr Kwasniewski’s tour. He was reduced to telling them that he would make his message more palatable by delivering it in Russian.

Dnipropetrovsk, Mr Pinchuk’s home city, used to make the SS20 nuclear missiles that the Soviet Union pointed towards Europe in the 1980s. The 500-strong crowd at the National University listened with sceptical interest, doubtful that the EU even wants Ukraine.

In Donetsk, the heartland of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister, Mr Kwasniewski was heckled repeatedly by pro-Communist sympathisers.

Donetsk was the focus of opposition to the Orange Revolution that swept the pro-European Viktor Yuschenko to power in 2004. Mr Kwasniewski was a prominent opponent against Mr Yanukovych, who is now taking his revenge by draining Mr Yuschenko’s authority as President.

The Polish statesman believes that the EU has a moral duty to admit Ukraine as part of unfinished business from the end of the Cold War. He admitted, though: “Western Europe regards Ukraine as a problem first of all in the context of its relationship with Russia.

We in Poland think that Ukraine must be integrated into the EU, and not Russia. It doesn’t mean any conflict — we just have a different view of the future.”

Mr Pinchuk, 46, is worth an estimated £1.5 billion and is the son-in-law of Leonid Kuchma, the former Ukrainian President. He played a key role behind the scenes in mediating a peaceful outcome to the Orange Revolution.

He established the Yalta European Strategy (YES) organisation to mobilise support for EU entry by 2020. Mr Kwasnieswki’s visit is the first of a series of public forums to involve prominent figures that YES plans to hold in Ukraine every six months.

It hopes that Tony Blair will be next — Stephen Byers, the Blair-ite former Cabinet minister, is chairman of the board of YES.

Mr Pinchuk told The Times: “The goal of membership of the European Union is a driving force to implement critical reforms in market economics, democracy and rule of law in Ukraine. Then we will see.”

If Ukraine is encouraged to apply, it would be the largest new member since Britain, in 1973, provided that Turkey does not get there first. For now, the EU is offering only a free trade agreement with Ukraine.

Mr Kwasniewski said: “Europe needs Ukraine and Ukraine needs Europe. That’s my historic project and I would like to achieve it.”

Source: Times Online

Ukraine's Yushchenko: Cabinet And Parliamentary Majority Violate Constitution

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president on Thursday made his strongest criticism yet of the Cabinet led by his former rival, accusing ministers of violating the constitution and being illegitimate.

Embattled President Viktor Yushchenko

He called for urgent talks with Premier Viktor Yanukovych and other party leaders.

Viktor Yushchenko's attack came amid mounting pressure on him to dissolve parliament and call new elections. A big rally of many of the former Orange Revolution forces is planned for Kiev on Saturday to press the president to dissolve parliament.

With tension increasing, lawmakers from Yanukovych's coalition gathered in parliament to discuss the situation and Yanukovych called the president's comments "irresponsible and mistaken," according to Ukraine's Unian news agency.

Yushchenko has been locked in an escalating battle for power with his former Orange Revolution rival Yanukovych, whose party won the most votes in last year's parliamentary election and put together a ruling coalition.

Initially, Yushchenko sought to form a partnership with Yanukovych. But their relationship deteriorated into disagreements over policy and the division of power, with Yushchenko mostly on the losing side.

In recent weeks, the danger of Yushchenko being entirely sidelined increased as some lawmakers defected from Yushchenko's side to join the coalition. Yanukovych claims to have the support of 260 lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament, and his party has predicted it will reach the critical number of 300 — enough to override presidential vetoes — in the next few months.

"It is ... a barefaced revision of the will of Ukrainian voters, breaches in the Constitution of Ukraine and a direct path to lawlessness," Yushchenko said in his address timed to mark the anniversary of last year's parliamentary election.

He said Yanukovych's actions in attracting defecting lawmakers was anti-constitutional and that therefore the government's activity was illegitimate.

"The process (in forming the parliamentary majority) is profoundly unconstitutional and undemocratic," Yushchenko told a news conference in the eastern city of Luhansk later Thursday. "It borders on the usurpation of power and a change of the constitutional order in Ukraine."

Yushchenko said that under the constitution, a coalition must be formed within one month of parliament's opening session and it can only be made up of parliamentary factions — not by individual or small groups of lawmakers.

He also complained about parliament's adoption of a law regulating the powers of the Cabinet, which curtailed some presidential powers. Yushchenko has challenged that law in Ukraine's Constitutional Court.

"In the past year, Ukraine has faced many cynical examples of political intrigue and betrayal, but the tendency to usurp power has become the most dangerous," Yushchenko said.

Yushchenko's representative in parliament, Roman Zvarych, said the president would hold consultations with Yanukovych and parliamentary faction leaders on Monday. But Yushchenko suggested that such talks could begin immediately Friday.

Source: International Herald Tribune

An Orphaned Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- The news from Ukraine continues to depress. The power struggles between the president, the parliament, the cabinet, and the opposition gets worse by the day.


Reading the headlines from Ukraine is like reading the Phillies’ box scores – one depressing defeat after the next.

It’s all too familiar – sackings of opposition figures, police investigations of questionable motivation, outright banditry on international investors, mysterious deaths, powerless protests, and judicial impotence. Ukraine’s Constitution looks as insecure as New Orleans’ levees.

Beyond the problems described above, there’s one major issue with democracy’s decline in Ukraine – nobody seems to care.

After marching in the millions during the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians have quickly adjusted to the complacency and apathy common among more mature democracies.

Like Americans’ disdain for anything originating from within the beltway, Ukrainians have already stopped watching the soap opera of Ukrainian politics.

Polling suggests that if early elections were to take place, about 50 percent of the voters would bother showing up (off the usual mark of 70-80 percent).

Meanwhile, Western policymakers seem distracted and sometimes contradict themselves.

While the US government welcomed the once ostracized Party of Regions’ parliamentary victory and peaceful transfer of power as a victory for democracy, it remains strangely silent as democratic institutions have eroded afterwards.

Even more confusing, some US leaders still seem to be basking in the glow of the long extinguished Orange Revolution, as if they stopped paying attention after December 2004.

On the other side of the ocean, Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies helps mute any response to continued allegations of the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukrainian politics.

In the US, when one party grabs too much power and starts making bad decisions, people get upset enough to throw them out.

The media, the political parties, the courts, and the blogosphere have kept the government in check. Ukrainians might consider our level of accountability something out of a fairytale.

Even with one party in charge here in the US, a well-connected lobbyist gets jail time, ruling party officials are indicted for corruption, and a top advisor to the vice president is eventually found guilty of a federal crime.

Americans were so upset that the ruling party was thrashed in the next general election.

However, in Ukraine, the very institutions that prevent one party from controlling everything – and for people to control the parties – are under threat.

The press – although relatively free from state interference – is still subject to the whims of well-connected masters.

Advocacy organizations can’t get traction on even the most basic of issues.

The courts provide decisions a la carte to the highest bidder.

Political parties can even kick out sitting legislators who won’t toe the party line.

It’s up to the Ukrainians to decide how the saga will continue, but I urge them to act before it’s too late.

If they care about their rights to participate in a democratic country, they should hurry to find the right catalysis – issues of common concern and people to help push those issues.

If the institutions of democracy deteriorate beyond recognition, then even if people do start caring, very little could be done.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Russian Businessman's Assassination In Ukraine Fuels Fears Over Contract Killings

KIEV, Ukraine – A sniper's brazen, daylight assassination of a Russian businessman outside a courthouse fueled fears Wednesday that contract killings are again on the rise in this former Soviet republic.

Kurochkin (C) stands in the defendants cage during a court hearing in Kiev March 27, 2007. Kurochkin, who was wanted by Ukraine for alleged links to organised crime, was shot dead on Tuesday by an unknown assailant as he left a court in Kiev

Premier Viktor Yanukovych demanded answers from Ukraine's top police chief about the slaying of Maxim Kurochkin, as opponents seized on the killing and a series of other slayings to criticize Yanukovych's government.

Kurochkin, known as “Mad Max,” was shot in the heart Tuesday evening as he stepped out of a Kiev courthouse where he was on trial for extortion.

The shot apparently came from an attic window of a nearby building and seriously injured one of the officers escorting him. Witnesses said two men wearing black masks fled the scene.

The killing was not only shocking for its bold character – Kurochkin had repeatedly pleaded with the court to free him on bail, saying his life was in danger – it was also the latest in a string of assassinations and attacks against business leaders in the country.

Earlier this month, three other businessmen connected to Kurochkin were gunned down as they rode in a car, and another associate was shot dead last October.

Separately, two businessmen were killed in the eastern city of Donetsk and one in central Ukraine last year. And four other business leaders were attacked in the western city of Lviv.

Ukraine, like other ex-Soviet republics, saw a series of violent business disputes as property was divided up after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

But those disagreements have been largely resolved, leading some observers to suggest the new high-profile killings are linked to political instability following the 2004 Orange Revolution and last year's parliamentary elections.

Kurochkin ran an organization that supported the pro-Russian Yanukovych during the bitter 2004 presidential campaign and subsequent Orange Revolution protests that swept his pro-Western rival, Viktor Yushchenko, to the presidency.

Discontent among Ukrainians over the slow pace of change led to divisions among the Orange Revolution partners, causing them to lose parliamentary elections a year ago.

Yanukovych's party won the most votes, and he returned to the position of prime minister.

Yanukovych's opponents said the recent slayings showed the ineffectiveness of his government.

“There must only be two ways out from the session court: to go free or to go to jail, but not to go the cemetery,” said Viktor Baloha, Yushchenko's chief of staff.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko's party said in a statement that “Ukraine has returned to the early '90s when a majority of conflicts in business were solved with the help of guns.”

Authorities denied that Kurochkin's killing reflected an increase in violence – and insisted police were doing better at solving high-profile cases.

Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Kupyansky said there were 56 contract murders in Ukraine last year, 29 of which were solved.

In 2002, there were 54, with 15 solved. In the first three months of this year, there have been 11 contract killings, four of which have been solved.

Taras Chornovil, a lawmaker allied with Yanukovych, said it was absurd to blame the prime minister. “It's the same as blaming (President) Bush when a student opens fire” in a school in the United States, he said.

Kurochkin, a millionaire who owned vast properties in Ukraine, was arrested in November on charges of extortion after he allegedly demanded $10,000, a one-room apartment and a plasma TV from an acquaintance, according to Ukrainian media.

Kurochkin denied the accusations and said the case against him was fabricated.

The businessman claimed he had survived 18 assassination attempts, including a 2004 car bombing that seriously wounded his bodyguards.

Hours before Tuesday's shooting, he again asked the court to release him, but the court refused.

Police insisted they worked to protect Kurochkin, noting that 18 policemen were in the courthouse to provide security instead of the usual three.

Kupyansky said Kurochkin had not asked for special protection.

Source: AP

Ukraine Swim Official Banned From Contact With Swimmer Daughter After Assault Footage Aired

MELBOURNE, Australia -- A Ukraine team official was banned from making any contact with his daughter after a television network aired footage of him assaulting the swimmer at the world championships.

Mikhail Zubkov (L) and daughter, swimmer Kateryna Zubkova (R)

The intervention order prevents the 38-year-old man, who has already been stripped of his accreditation, from coming within 200 meters of his daughter, Victoria state police said Wednesday.

The pair were identified by local media as 20-year-old backstroker Kateryna Zubkov and her father Mihail Zubkov, 38, who is also her coach.

Police spokeswoman Stacey Mair the intervention order is issued under Australia's Family Law, which prevents police from publicly naming either the offender or victim.

The footage, captured by host broadcaster the Nine Network on Tuesday, clearly showed a physical altercation between the two in a room at the Rod Laver Arena swimming venue.

The man was seen swinging and trying to aggressively grab his daughter against her will, and the footage concluded with the father attempting to comfort the swimmer by embracing her on the floor. The altercation ended when Nine Network staff alerted police.

The pair were identified by police and questioned Tuesday night. The woman did not require any medical treatment.

The father will appear at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on Thursday, where police will seek to extend his intervention order until he leaves Australia at the end of the week. Mair added that a criminal investigation into the matter is continuing and police have not determined whether criminal charges will be laid.

World swimming governing body FINA is conducting its own investigation into the matter and will hold a disciplinary hearing.

"FINA, the international federation, was convening a disciplinary hearing today and they will announce the outcome of that hopefully sometime today," Michael Scott, chief executive of meet organizers the Melbourne 2007 World Swimming Championship Corporation, told a Melbourne radio station Wednesday.

Kateryna Zubkova won her 50-meter backstroke heat Wednesday, but did not qualify for the semifinals.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

EU Offers To Negotiate Free Trade Pact With Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union is offering to negotiate a free trade pact with Ukraine, as it seeks to build closer political and economic ties with the country without offering it the prospect of full membership in the bloc.

Jose Manuel Barroso

The president of the EU's executive office, Jose Manuel Barroso, met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday to discuss a possible trade deal and closer energy and political ties.

"We are willing to be as ambitious as possible with a free trade area with a country that we want as close as possible with the European Union," Barroso told reporters.

Negotiations on a free trade pact as part of a broad so-called enhanced agreement between Brussels and Kyiv is conditional on Ukraine joining the World Trade Organization. The enhanced agreement does not offer the prospect of future EU membership.

Yanukovych, who was making his second visit to EU headquarters since taking office last year, said his government placed "great importance" on closer ties with the 27-nation bloc.

"A free trade area established after Ukraine's accession to the WTO; this is the nearest task that we should implement," Yanukovych said. "Only consistent steps both by Ukraine and the European Union will bring us closer in the future to our strategic goal of joining the European Union."

The EU and Ukraine began negotiations on an enhanced agreement this month despite disagreements among Ukraine's top political figures over the country's course.

Yanukovych is locked in a power struggle with his main political rival, pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, who made a one-day visit to Brussels earlier this month.

Almost a dozen opposition lawmakers defected to the ruling parliamentary coalition of Yanukovych last week, dealing a major blow to Yushchenko.

Yanukovych's coalition has trimmed back Yushchenko's authority and sought to counter the president's strongly pro-Western push in foreign policy.

The prime minister has put Ukraine's move toward NATO membership on hold and forced the ouster of one of Yushchenko's allies who was serving as foreign minister.

The political rivalry has caused concern in the EU over the stability of a neighbor that is becoming increasingly important as a transit route for western Europe's oil and gas supplies from Russia and the Caspian region.

Source: Kyiv Post

Yushchenko's Party Threatened By Defections

KIEV, Ukraine -- On March 21 Anatoliy Kinakh accepted an offer from Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s government to become minister of economics. The government is allied to the National Unity coalition composed of the Party of Regions, Communist, and Socialist parties.

Anatoliy Kinakh

Kinakh’s appointment marks a key shift in the political allegiances of Ukraine’s business sector and revealed another fault line within the Our Ukraine bloc.

President Viktor Yushchenko described Kinakh as a “morally shameful Ukrainian politician” and removed him from the National Security and Defense Council.

Our Ukraine called for the expulsion of Kinakh’s Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (PPPU) from its faction, which would leave only 71 deputies. Four deputies from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc also defected.

Kinakh and his party are part of Ukraine’s small centrist faction. In 2001-2002, Kinakh served as interim prime minister between Viktor Yushchenko and the first Yanukovych government.

The PPPU traces its origins to the “red director” Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and was a member of the pro-Leonid Kuchma “For a United Ukraine” bloc in the 2002 elections.

Kinakh led one of two parties that defected to the Yushchenko camp in the second round of the 2004 presidential elections (the other being the Socialists). Both the PPPU and the Socialists have since switched allegiance back to the Yanukovych camp.

Yushchenko and Our Ukraine have poor records of attracting and maintaining centrist parties affiliated with former president Leonid Kuchma. Their strategy has been twofold: to attract financial and other resources for national democratic parties and to win votes in Eastern Ukraine.

During the 2002 elections, Our Ukraine reached out to Donetsk by including the marginalized Liberals. The decision to include the Liberals in Our Ukraine in the 2002 elections aimed to compensate for the collapse of the Poroshenko Solidarity Party project to build an alliance with the emerging Party of Regions.

The Liberals were the failed party of power in the 1990s but disintegrated following the November 3, 1996, assassination of the Yevhen Shcherban, the alleged “boss of the Donetsk clan.” The Liberals position in the Donbas was taken over by the Party of Regions in 2000-2002.

Following the elections, most Liberal Party members of Our Ukraine defected to Kuchma’s pro-presidential majority, reducing Our Ukraine from 118 to 102 deputies. The Liberals claimed they had agreed to join Our Ukraine because it had not declared itself as an “opposition” force. The Liberals’ defection has echoes of the current defection of the PPPU.

Liberal Party leader Volodymyr Shcherban’s governorship of Sumy oblast from 1999-2005 is a case of asset stripping of an oblast by a Donetsk clan representative.

His governorship of Sumy may have directly contributed to Yushchenko’s landslide result in the oblast, where he obtained 79.45% of the vote in the 2004 presidential election, a result similar to those Yushchenko obtained in central Ukraine.

In spring 2005 Shcherban fled Ukraine for the United States, but he was extradited to Ukraine in autumn 2006. Criminal charges against him have been dropped with the assistance of the Yanukovych government.

In the 2006 parliamentary elections the PPPU was one of five parties that aligned within the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine. The presence of the PPPU and the refusal of many national democrats who had aligned with Our Ukraine in 2002 to do so again in 2006 increased the prominence business groups inside Our Ukraine.

Kinakh’s defection from Our Ukraine back to Yanukovych reflects three factors common to Ukraine and other post-Soviet states.

First, a lack of any ideology within pro-business and centrist parties. Between 2002-2007 the PPPU moved from the Kuchma camp to the Yushchenko camp and back to the former Kuchma camp.

Second, a reluctance of businessmen to be in opposition to the authorities, even in countries such as Ukraine where the separation of business and politics was a demand of the Orange Revolution.

Third, the relative ease with which the authorities buy off businessmen through positions, money, and state largesse or, in the Kuchma era, through threats and intimidation.

Thirty out of 79 Our Ukraine deputies voted for Yanukovych’s nomination as prime minister on August 4, 2006 (including Kinakh). This clearly showed a divide running through Our Ukraine that has now come out into the open.

The PPPU’s defection is also a response to the February 24 unification of Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc. Such a reunification of Orange forces was a demand raised by the national democratic wing of Our Ukraine that had supported the Orange Coalition after the 2006 elections.

The PPPU and business groups in Our Ukraine have poor relations with Tymoshenko and preferred a grand coalition with the Party of Regions.

The demand from within Our Ukraine that the 30 deputies who voted for Yanukovych’s candidacy be expelled was never fulfilled. Instead, Our Ukraine has now expelled PPPU members from its faction.

This has placed the MPs in an unclear legal position, as the “imperial mandate” in the election law does not permit deputies to change factions. The constitution also forbids individual deputies from joining coalitions (as opposed to factions). Yushchenko described the defection as a “revision of the political results of the 2006 elections.”

The defection of the PPPU to the National Unity coalition points to three conclusions. First, little has changed in regime-party-business relations in post-Orange Revolution Ukraine.

Second, Ukraine has a vacuum on the center-right where a pro-reform and pro-Euro-Atlantic integration force would be traditionally based.

Third, the National Unity coalition’s goal is to obtain a constitutional majority, abolish directly elected presidents, and rule without recourse to the opposition.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

"Gangster-Link" Businessman Shot On Steps Of Ukraine Court House

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Russian businessman accused of extensive underworld links was shot and wounded on the steps of a Ukrainian court house, the Channel Five television channel reported on Tuesday.

Maxim Kurochkin, Russian businessman and alleged criminal boss, also known as Max Besheny ('wild'), is seen during a court hearing on charges of extortion in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 27, 2007. After this photo was taken, an unidentified man shot Kurochkin dead during a break in the court proceedings in the courtyard of the court.

Maxim Kurochkin, reportedly one of Ukraine's wealthiest tycoons with wide interests in real estate and the hospitality industry, was hit by a single bullet as he exited a court house in the Sviatoshin district of the Ukrainian capital.

A security officer escoring Kurochkin towards an automobile was also hit. The assailant escaped, and Kiev police were engaged in a city-wide manhunt by early evening.

Separate ambulances delivered both Kurochkin and the bodyguard to Kiev city hospitals. Police cordoned off the crime scene and were not commenting on the severity of either victim's injuries.

Mob attacks and even killings are not unheard of in the Ukrainian capital, but hitmen almost always ambush their targets near homes or in parking lots, rather than in public view.

Ukrainian border police arrested Kurochkin, 37, in November after he arrived in the country by aircraft.

Ukrainian prosecutors subsequently accused the Moscow-born entrepreneur of using gangster tactics during the 1990s to acquire control of many of Ukraine's higher-end hotels, particularly in Kiev and along the Crimean peninsula's southern coast, a prime summer resort region.

Kurochkin's case has been closely followed in Ukraine, in part, because of possible ties between the Russian's hotel empire, and Ukrainian government officials who according to prosecutors handed over ownership of dozens of state-owned hotel in exchange for bribes.

Kurochkin through lawyers has denied the accusations, and claimed he is the victim of a political vendetta pursued by the Ukrainian government, because of his outspoken public support of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

Source: DPA

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ukraine Removes Stalin Billboards

KIEV, Ukraine -- An ad campaign featuring billboards and commercials with images of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin exhorting people to pay their bills was pulled on Monday after protests from rights groups and nationalists.

The evil dictator Stalin

The campaign in the eastern Ukraine town of Donetsk came after utility rates in Ukraine increased markedly last year and people stopped paying their bills.

Irina Taran, a spokeswoman for Donetsk governing council, said dozens of billboards featuring Stalin appeared in the city last week; commercials featuring old film clips of the Soviet leader also appeared.

Ukrainian media reported that the mayor's office initiated the ad campaign, then backed down in the face of protests.

One billboard shows Stalin holding a piece of paper and saying "Comrades! This isn't a film! This is life!"

In the television ad, Stalin is shown in grainy black-and-white footage being applauded by hundreds of party members as a dubbed-over voice says: "Those who don't pay for their heat should be punished!"

Critics said it was shameful for authorities to be using an image of a man whom many Ukrainians blame for killing one-third of the country's population during the famine in the 1930s.

"We were surprised by these billboards ourselves. We have nothing to do with it," Taran told The Associated Press.

Donetsk mayoral officials could not be reached for comment, but one utility official told Russia's NTV television that the company was struggling with a serious backlog of unpaid bills.

"Stalin is used here not as a historical personality, but more as a symbol of inevitable punishment. Failure to pay for one's (utility) services is a serious wrongdoing," said Alexander Semchenko, deputy chief of the Donetsk City Heating Network Company.

Source: Business Week

NATO To Help Ukraine With Security Reform

KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO member countries will assist Ukraine to reform its defense and security sector, John Colston, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning, told a news conference Monday.


On March 17, a U.S. Senate majority approved a bill providing support and funding for Ukraine and Georgia's membership to NATO.

The U.S. State Department said they were interested in working with Ukraine on the missile shield, although many in the country are opposed to any involvement.

Colston said that relations between Ukraine and NATO "were based on fundamental and deep trends", and that Ukraine contributed to NATO's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

He added that Ukraine's potential European and Euro-Atlantic integration was the country's sovereign affair.

Late last week, the national security and defense committee of Ukraine's parliament voted unanimously to allow foreign military units to participate in international exercises in the country.

Yuriy Samoilenko, deputy head of the committee, told a news conference Monday that the issue would soon be submitted for consideration to the Supreme Rada (Ukraine's parliament) and he was confident that the issue would be approved by a parliamentary majority.

This year's schedule provides for 14 military exercises involving the Ukrainian Army and Armed Force units from other countries. Five of the 14 exercises will be held in Ukraine.

Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's President, said that Ukraine's drive to join NATO was in line with the country's national interests and that it was free to choose any collective security system it preferred.

Yushchenko, who swept into power on the back of the 2004 "orange" revolution, is determined to take Ukraine into NATO and the European Union, but his efforts to forge closer ties with the West have been staunchly opposed by pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Mass anti-NATO protests rocked Ukraine's Crimean autonomous region in late May-early June, 2006 after a U.S. cargo ship delivered military equipment to a local port ahead of a NATO exercise. The cargo was removed following the protests.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko set 2008 as a target date for joining NATO. Ukraine is already a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

Source: RIA-Novosti

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More Western-Styled Ski Slopes In The Works

BUKOVEL, Ukraine -- Western Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains continue to attract more and more winter tourists, but most are still from the former Soviet Union.

Picturesque Bukovel ski resort

Some existing ski resorts are operating at well below full capacity, but investors are still lining up for land to develop new modern facilities, while existing resort owners add new lifts and runs.

Take for example Chornohora Ltd., a project between a married couple from Kyiv and a Cyprus company, which plans to invest almost $60 million into an Alpine skiing resort located on 200 hectares of forest in western Ivano-Frankivsk Region.

Local authorities gave Chornohora a permit on Feb. 20. Yuriy Romaniuk, deputy chairman of the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Council, said the proposed ski resort would be the second big investment of its kind in the poverty-stricken region since 2001, when the Bukovel ski resort was launched.

“Chornohora wants to rent this area for 50 years. The regional council allocated the land without any tender, but it still has to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers,” said Romaniuk.

Plans envision that the ski complex built by Chornohora Ltd. will be located near the legendary Ukrainian mountain village of Verkhovyna. The company hopes the facility will be functional within four years.

Chornohora has already purchased a 65-hectare plot near the planned site of the ski slopes, where a hotel to accommodate 2,000 people is to be built.

“On the flank of a hill there will be ski lifts and routes put in,” Romaniuk added.

Overall, there are around 10 ski resorts operating in western Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains, according to Bronislav Ometsynsky, tourism and recreation expert at the National Council of Culture and Morals under President Viktor Yushchenko.

“Total ski-lift capacity accommodates 25,000 to 30,000 people daily. For comparison, one average-size ski resort in Austria or Italy can serve the same amount of people,” Ometsynsky said.

Moreover, Western Ukraine’s slopes are not even fully utilized. Industry experts say the impoverished region could better capitalize on winter tourism if the local authorities would invest in infrastructure, allowing more tourists to visit the region in a timely and comfortable manner.

“Today these resorts are operating at 60 percent capacity,” he said, due to the poor quality of infrastructure and slopes. As a result, the region attracts large crowds, mostly Ukrainians, on weekends alone.

However, Ometsynsky said, within the last five years, winter tourism in Ukraine has grown by 12-16 percent. While exact estimates of how much earnings skiers bring to the region are hard to come by, Ometsynsky said higher prices charged by neighboring ski resorts in Poland, Slovakia and Romania are bringing many Ukrainian skiers back home.

And the future prospects of attracting yet more skiers from abroad have raised interest from Ukrainian investors eager to capitalize on new opportunities.

“A lot of private investors get together to form companies and start developing a hill, installing new lifts,” Ometsynsky said.

Rough estimates indicate that hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into development of new slopes and facilities within recent years. According to Ometsynsky, the lion’s share of investment comes from Ukrainian businessmen.

Despite the flurry of investment action, the biggest ski resort town in Ukraine is still Slavske, a large ski resort built in Soviet days in Lviv Region.

Its ski lifts can handle almost 12,000 people per day at several slopes.

The second largest is the newly built Bukovel resort in Ivano-Frankivsk Region, which can accommodate almost 3,000 skiers per day.

The third largest is Drahobrat in Transcarpathia Region.

A shortage of snow this year squeezed the pockets of many backward ski resorts in Ukraine as they still have not invested in snow machines.

The newly built Bukovel site, the only major slopes equipped with snow machines, was less affected.

Despite the largely snow-less winter season of 2006/2007, Bukovel expects to finish the year with almost 600,000 visitors, compared to only 350,000 last winter.

Bukovel spokesperson Nelya Marchenko said that this year 25 percent of their visitors are from abroad. And the lack of snow wasn’t a problem.

“This year’s snow-less winter delayed the normal beginning of the season in November. It started only in the middle of December,” said Marchenko.

The problem was partly solved by snow-making machines that cover all ski runs in Bukovel, she added. Bukovel imported about 500 snow cannons, each of which is estimated to cost some $25,000. Overall, Bukovel’s owners have invested almost $150 million into their ski resort, which now boast 50 kilometers of ski runs, 14 chairlifts, cottages and restaurants.

Romaniuk said the winter recreation business is the second largest source of income for locals in the Carpathian Mountains. Most residents have relatives working abroad for foreign currency.

“The local budget [of Ivano-Frankivsk Region] certainly gets a large share of income from the ski season. However, it is difficult to imagine the real amounts of income,” he said. “We can surely say that every tourist spends no less than $50-60 a day,” said Romaniuk.

However, according to Ometsynsky, the local government could be doing more to support the source of its revenues.

“State and local authorities have to provide more privileges for tourism investors, since it is good to revive the depressed area of the Ukrainian Carpathians,” said Ometsynsky.

“The process is slow due to failure of the local authorities to provide such basic things as infrastructure, roads and railway connections to the ski spots,” he added.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine's PM Invites More Opposition Forces To Join Governing Coalition

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Prime Minister boasted Friday that scores of opposition lawmakers had joined his governing coalition, and he invited more to become members, dealing yet another blow to the increasingly sidelined president.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (R), speaks with new Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (L), and new Economy Minister Anatoly Kinakh after both were endorsed by parliament in Kyiv on March 21

Speaking two days after a close ally of the president defected from his faction to be appointed economics minister, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said 11 other legislators officially switched to his side on Friday.

Yanukovych announced he was renaming his ruling Anti-Crisis coalition as National Unity and called on other lawmakers and political groups to join it.

"It is very important to start this process (of unification) all over our country," Yanukovych told reporters. "So that 2007 becomes a year of stable development of our country and a year when our society becomes united."

Pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko beat out Yanukovych for the presidency after leading 2004 mass protests, but was forced into a power-sharing arrangement last year after Yanukovych's Russian-leaning party won the most votes in parliamentary elections and put together a ruling coalition.

Last year Yushchenko's party, Our Ukraine, had to move into opposition.

In response to the statements, Yushchenko charged that Yanukovych's coalition was based not on democratic principles but on blackmail and bribery, according to a statement posted on the president's Web site.

On Wednesday, Yushchenko ally Anatoliy Kinakh defected from the presidential faction and was named economics minister in Yanukovych's cabinet, which left the president increasingly sidelined.

Source: Kyiv Post

Saturday, March 24, 2007

It’s A Circus

KIEV, Ukraine -- This week’s approval of a foreign minister following months of stalemate may initially appear to be a victory for political unity in Ukraine’s otherwise divided parliamentary arena.

Viktor Yanukovych

But don’t be fooled! Ukrainian politics continues to be conducted in backroom dealings. At best, the spectacle of bipartisan consensus can be characterized by outsiders as a circus act.

Without a doubt, Ukraine’s reputation has suffered due to the months-long tussle to control the Foreign Ministry.

In act one of this show, we witnessed how Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s governing coalition, viewed as pro-Moscow by many, ousted pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk.

Ukraine’s increasingly sidelined president, Viktor Yushchenko, cried foul, arguing that foreign policy was the president’s domain, including ministerial appointments.

Yet Yushchenko’s efforts to reverse or prevent the dismissal were fruitless, much like his poor record of implementing political reforms, the fate of which seems already written into a script.

Months of wrangling over the Foreign Ministry has left many diplomats in town wondering who is in charge and where they are taking Ukraine.

The unfortunate reality seems to be that nobody is in charge and there is no master plan.

It’s just a messy democracy, or more accurately, a cutthroat wrestling match over power, with national interests as one of the cards on the table.

This week’s approval as Foreign Minister of Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who beat out a clearly qualified career diplomat, Volodymyr Ohryzko, is perfect evidence backing this unfortunate, yet accurate analogy.

With more than 20 years of experience in diplomacy, Ohryzko was the obvious choice.

Yet for Yanukovych’s coalition, he wasn’t acceptable, as he was caught speaking Ukrainian, the state language, to Russian counterparts.

Their opposition to Ohryzko is ridiculous and likely nothing more than a symbolic show of force.

Ironically, Yanukovych’s coalition wasted little time this week endorsing the candidacy of Yatsenyuk, despite his lack of diplomatic experience.

Yatsenyuk, who until recently served as deputy head of the president’s Secretariat, is not a bad candidate. The 32-year-old is young, but has a lot of experience, mostly in banking and economics, not diplomacy.

His sharp English-language skills do not alone make him a diplomat more qualified than Ohryzko. Yanukovych’s coalition, which was initially stunned by Yatsenyuk’s nomination and questioned his experience, has little chance of explaining their logic, or lack thereof.

Such decision-making is more of what Ukraine has been getting lately – inconsistent, unprofessional and not good for the country.

One theory is that the coalition agreed to Yatsenyuk’s candidacy for fear that Yushchenko would dissolve parliament in retaliation for parliament’s inability to form a fully-seated Cabinet.

Yushchenko’s representative in parliament warned that the president would have this card at his disposal within days, yet we are inclined to doubt that Yanukovych fears repercussion, as it is the president who has shown himself the more hesitant, incapable of taking a stand.

His motto has been to maintain stability and rule of law, both of which are important and lacking in Ukraine.

In fact, however, Yushchenko has to take some of the blame for the lawless tendencies spreading through the country like a cancer.

In recent weeks, he has refused to abide by a Supreme Court ruling that cancelled his decision last year to replace the governor of Kyiv Region, putting a closer ally in place.

This is not a good example, unlike Yushchenko, and worrying. Maybe his candidate for Kyiv Region governor is the better choice, but Ukraine’s highest court clearly ruled that the firing of the previous one was illegal.

In case Yushchenko forgot, Ukraine’s Constitution requires him and all citizens to abide by court rulings, particularly Supreme Court decisions that can’t be appealed.

The decision-making in Ukraine’s echelons of power, particularly the appointment of top officials, is, indeed, more of a circus act.

The question is who is balancing themselves on the ropes, whether they will fall, and if there is a safety net this time around to catch them.

Moscow is watching, and possibly orchestrating this show, which is leaving Ukraine once again divided and susceptible to hegemony.

Ukraine’s divided politicians must get their act together soon, showing some consideration for their fans, for national interests. If not, the seats might end up empty, or the fans could steal the show as they did in the Orange Revolution.

Source: Kyiv Post

Friday, March 23, 2007

Former And Current Ukrainian Interior Ministers Ready To Confront Each Other

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies are not concealing their displeasure with the behavior of former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the key figures of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Yuriy Lutsenko

Lutsenko has set up the “People’s Self-Defense” movement and is touring the regions in order to find out if the current degree of popular discontent with the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is enough to organize a popular “March of Justice” in Kyiv sometime this spring.

Lutsenko was ousted from the post of interior minister last December.

Lutsenko’s opponents apparently fear a repeat of the Orange Revolution.

Reporting to parliament in February, Vasyl Tsushko, who replaced Lutsenko as interior minister, accused him of using the police to further his political goals.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office, meanwhile, has opened a criminal case against Lutsenko and declared that he is a foreign citizen.

On March 20, the Prosecutor-General's Office searched Lutsenko's apartment, seized his documents, and summoned him for interrogation.

Lutsenko began to tour the regions in early February. On weekends, he has been gathering several thousand people in the central squares of major Ukrainian cities for anti-government rallies.

He has already visited such big cities as Poltava, Lviv, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk.

He plans to soon go to Luhansk and Donetsk – both Yanukovych strongholds.

In response to the accusations of using “administrative resources” as an aide to President Viktor Yushchenko, Lutsenko has resigned from that post.

But he is being helped by several other people from Yushchenko’s entourage, including tycoon Davyd Zhvania, who is believed to have been one of the financiers of the Orange Revolution; Yushchenko’s aide Taras Stetskiv; and MP Mykola Katerynchuk, who was a key legal adviser to Yushchenko during the revolution.

While Lutsenko’s populist Self-Defense group targets mostly young people, Katerynchuk has organized “European Platform,” a less radical movement apparently designed to complement Self-Defense.

Lutsenko denies that Self-Defense is a party, and he says it will not be transformed into a party even if early elections are called.

Instead, one of the goals that People’s Self-Defense and European Platform share is the organization of a popular referendum in order to boost presidential powers, reversing the constitutional reform of 2004-2006, Katerynchuk told a meeting in Cherkasy on February 11.

In a recent interview with Glavred, Lutsenko listed the key three goals that his movement pursues.

These are: “to teach politicians to fulfill their election promises”; “a new social contract” in order to amend the constitution to prevent the possibility of usurpation of power; and “a search for new, young political personalities.”

Speaking at a press conference in Lviv on March 9, Lutsenko added a fourth goal: “protecting Ukraine’s political and economic independence” against “anti-Ukrainian forces.”

Speaking to Glavred, Lutsenko denied that he intends to oust the Yanukovych government by force. “We are organizing a constitutionally allowed form of protest against the inefficient authorities,” he said.

Lutsenko also pledged loyalty to Yushchenko, saying that he is the symbol of Ukraine’s independence and, as such, he has to be helped “irrespective of his personal qualities.”

Tsushko, speaking at his first press conference as interior minister on March 17, said that he is ready to counteract his predecessor.

What’s more, Tsushko hinted that the police may use force to repel Self-Defense’s March of Justice.

Tsushko alleged that the march’s organizers are offering $25 to high school students for participation. “Those children will be used as cannon fodder,” he warned.

Tsushko said that Yanukovych supporters are planning to take some 100,000 people to Kyiv streets to confront the March of Justice, and that the police would interfere so that “they should not kill each other.”

Deputy Prosecutor-General Renat Kuzmin, who is believed to be a faithful Yanukovych ally, told TV on March 13 that a criminal case had been opened against Lutsenko.

According to Kuzmin, he was charged with the illegal issue of small arms.

Kuzmin also said that he received a copy of a document signed by Israeli officials saying that Lutsenko was granted Israeli citizenship in the 1990s.

Lutsenko countered that he did not have any other citizenship but Ukrainian and insisted that the Israeli documents to which Kuzmin referred had been forged.

Lutsenko promised to turn to the Israeli Embassy to clarify the matter.

Commenting on the criminal case, Lutsenko said that it was launched in order to prevent him from touring Ukraine.

Dual citizenship is forbidden in Ukraine.

Even if the reports about Lutsenko’s Israeli citizenship are proven to be false, they are sure to make him less popular with Ukraine’s right-wing nationalists, whose support he apparently seeks.

And if Lutsenko is pronounced guilty on the illegal arms distribution charges, he may face up to 12 years in prison, Ukrayinska Pravda reported.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Rolling Stones Set To Rock Montenegro, Ukraine

LOS ANGELES, USA -- The Rolling Stones will help Montenegro celebrate its independence by performing a concert in the tiny Balkan nation as part of their newly announced European tour, the band said on Thursday.

Rolling Stones

The British rockers will also make their first ever appearances in Serbia, Romania and Ukraine and play in Russia for only the second time in their 45-year career.

In a teleconference with reporters, singer Mick Jagger said, "We've got a lot of places we haven't been before, which is exciting, and some old favorites and the gigs we did not do on the last tour."

Several cities on last year's Europe tour had to be canceled after guitarist Keith Richards suffered a head injury while on vacation in Fiji, forcing the trek to be delayed.

The tour begins on June 5 at the Werchter festival site in Belgium, and ends on Aug. 21 in London. The band will play only one other show in Britain, when it headlines the Isle of Wight festival on June 10, its first UK festival appearance in 31 years.

In Montenegro, the Stones will play on July 9 in the coastal resort of Budva, a town with a population of only 12,000. Montenegro broke away from Serbia last June, ending an alliance dating back to 1918.

But the band will also give Serbs some satisfaction by playing in Belgrade on July 14. Their first Romanian show will take place on July 17 in Bucharest, and they will stop in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on July 25, one day before Jagger turns 64.

They have scheduled a July 28 show for St. Petersburg. The Russian city was one of the canceled stops on the 2006 tour. Other cities that were scrapped last year -- Frankfurt, Barcelona, Madrid, El Ajido, Gothenburg and Brno -- will also get a second chance.

Source: Reuters

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What Went Wrong with Yushchenko's Visit

MOSCOW, Russia -- The visit of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to Russia, scheduled for March 21st, did not take place.

Yushchenko introduces new Foreign Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk

Kommersant has learned that it was cancelled at the last minute by Moscow, where it was suspected that the visit would do more to shore up Yushchenko's position against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich than to strengthen bilateral relations.

“What visit? There was no visit by the president of Ukraine planned for Wednesday,” the Kommersant correspondent was told in the Russian presidential administration in response to a question about the Ukrainian president's schedule in Moscow.

Sources who took part in preparations for that visit say, however, that everything was ready for it and it was to take place on March 21 and 22.

The initiative for the visit came from the Ukrainian side. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had insisted that his time in Moscow be filled with as many meetings as possible and on the highest levels.

Besides negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Ukrainian president had wanted to meet with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and editors-in-chief of the major Russian media, to speak at Moscow State University and to visit Solovetsky Monastery.

The arrangements were made for that expansive visit, although, sources say, only with great difficulty. The biggest problem was with the main document for the visit, the Russia-Ukraine 2007-2008 action plan.

The most serious disagreement over it concerned a settlement for Transdniestria, the Russian Black Sea Fleet's presence on Ukrainian territory and a number of economic issues.

After several months of wrangling, the countries had not come up with an acceptable formulation for the plan. The idea of building a natural gas pipeline from Bogorodchany to Uzhgorod, strongly favored by Kiev, was rejected.

But a draft plan being pushed by Russia to implement heating and power projects, which has previously elicited a strongly negative response from the Ukrainian, and an agreement to develop a plan for the study of the Russian language in Ukraine and of Ukrainian in Russia were included in the plan.

After the plan was already agreed upon, the Ukrainian delegation insisted that it be signed by the countries' foreign ministers.

That meant that it would be signed on the Ukrainian side by Acting Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko, whose candidacy for that office was rejected again by the Supreme Rada on Tuesday.

Ogryzko told Kommersant on Monday, “I am flying to Moscow. The president has included me in the delegation.”

Moscow would thus have indirectly supported Yushchenko's candidate, which it clearly did not want to do. Russian government sources told Kommersant that Moscow does not especially like Ogryzko and considers him anti-Russian in the main, as was his last boss, former Ukrainian foreign minister Boris Tarasyuk.

“In the course of one working consultation, Mr. Ogryzko ostentatiously demanded a Russian-Ukrainian translator, although he speaks perfect Russian,” one source recalled.

That and the expansive scale of the visit, without real content, led the Kremlin to suspect that the Ukrainian president's visit to Moscow was most necessary to him for domestic political reasons.

With tensions high between the president and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the president would earn important political points from a warm reception in Russia right now.

The Kremlin has no desire to give Yushchenko a boost in his struggle with Yanukovich, who is much closer to it. Therefore, the decision was made to cut back the Ukrainian president's trip to a strictly working visit.

At 5:30 p.m., Moscow time, on Monday, Kommersant was told in the administration of the Ukrainian president that “the plan for Viktor Yushchenko's trip to Moscow has been fully conciliated and the president's visit will take place on March 21 and 22.”

At around 7:00, however, according to information that Kommersant obtained from persons close to Yushchenko, the Ukrainian presidential administration received a call from the Kremlin in which it was suggested that the visit be delayed.

The suggestion was not only unexpected in Kiev, it was a shock. That was all the more true since the Ukrainian advance group was already in Moscow smoothing out the last details of the visit. The Ukrainian presidential administration called Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin at once.

The same sources say that the Ukrainian president and Russian ambassador spoke after 9:00 (Yushchenko was busy until then). Their conversation took place behind tightly closed doors and the only thing that is known about it is that the only thing hey agreed on was to hold off rescheduling the visit until Yushchenko spoke with Putin on Tuesday.

That information was confirmed by the Ukrainian presidential administration yesterday at 12:30 p.m. “A telephone conversation between President Yushchenko and Mr. Putin will take place at 2:00 and then everything will be clarified,” a spokesman said. Later, Kommersant was informed by the same office that the conversation between the president would take place at 5:00.

But it was already known by noon that Yushchenko's visit would not take place on March 21 and 22. A high-placed Russian source told Kommersant that the visit had been planned for those days, but “several events took place in recent days that made the Kremlin change its plans.”

A week before his scheduled trip to Moscow, Yushchenko showed ostentatious support for U.S. plans to locate elements of an antimissile system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

He also made an important statement on the role of NATO in Kiev's foreign policy, without saying a word about the role of Russia in it.

To lower tensions, Yushchenko promised to meet with large group of Russian and foreign journalists in Kiev and devote the entire session to relations with Russia.

According to information obtained by Kommersant, that press conference was supposed to take place yesterday morning, but it was cancelled the day before.

That was not the only agreement the Ukrainian president failed to implement. The same Russian source told Kommersant that Yushchenko had requested that a telephone conversation with Putin be arranged for him.

“The Kremlin agreed to it, they agreed on a time, and half an hour before that time, they called from the Mr. Yushchenko's administration and said that, unfortunately, Viktor Andreevich [Yushchenko] would be unable [to hold that conversation],” the source recalled.

They too was likely to push the Kremlin toward the conclusion that it would be expedient to change the date of the visit. Moscow is not making the decision into an issue. “Nothing terrible has happened,” one source said. “We'll call each other, come to an agreement and in two weeks or so the meeting can take place.”

The change of plans was confirmed for Kommersant by the Ukrainian presidential administration yesterday evening. When asked about the reason, a spokesman replied: “in connection with the tragedy in the mine in Kuzbass, Viktor Yushchenko suggested to Vladimir Putin that their meeting be delayed.”

That explanation is not very convincing and looks more like an attempt by the Ukrainian administration to save face.

By delaying Yushchenko's trip, the Kremlin has made it unambiguously clear that he will not strengthen his position at Moscow's expense; that privilege is reserved for politicians who take account of Moscow's interests.

Late last night, the telephone conversation between Yushchenko and Putin finally took place. Immediately afterward, the Ukrainian president's press service announced that Yushchenko would introduce a new candidate for foreign minister to the Rada on Wednesday.

That will be deputy head of the presidential secretariat Arseny Yatsenyuk. So Yushchenko has given up Ogryzko, who irritated Moscow.

But Yatsenyuk is also faithful to the president and a supporter of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration.

Source: Kommersant

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Report: Ukraine Rife With Human Rights Abuses Despite Improvements

KIEV, Ukraine -- A bleak portrait of violence and corruption emerges from a recent report describing human-rights abuses in Ukraine.

Ukrainian police detain a fan during the live broadcast of a soccer game, displayed onto a large screen in Kiev

Despite the country’s progress in freedom of speech since the Orange Revolution, human rights abuses remain a thorny issue that the country has not yet fully dealt with.

The 2006 report by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor blames Ukraine’s police and penal system for “some of the most serious human-rights concerns.”

The report also notes widespread corruption in the government and military, racism and anti-Semitism in society, and violence against women and children in the home as problem areas.

Released on March 6, the report accuses Ukraine of violating international laws meant to protect the rights of migrants and refugees by sending them back to their home countries, where they face persecution.

The bureau used data and facts obtained from Ukrainian government agencies and NGOs working on the ground.

Citing a Human Rights Watch report from October 2006, it said that Ukraine “falls substantially short of its international obligations towards migrants and refugees.”

Women and children are not only the victims of domestic violence but exploited in the workplace and by sex traffickers, too.

While the Constitution and other laws are in place to protect human rights, corruption at all levels of government, inefficiency and budgetary considerations seriously hinder the government’s ability to implement them, according to the report.

The result has been the resurgence of several high-profile killings of politicians and businessmen over the course of the year.

“…Business, government and criminal activities were intertwined to such an extent that it was often difficult to determine the motives,” reads the report, while deputy impunity remained a serious hindrance to persecution of criminals and corruption.

Volodymyr Yavorivsky, executive director at the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, blames the government under President Viktor Yushchenko for not carrying out the necessary judicial reforms.

“We consider all of these very serious problems,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s law-enforcement agencies have been functioning practically unchanged since Soviet times.

According to the US report, police were reported to frequently employ severe violence against those taken into custody, as well as conduct arbitrary arrests and detentions.

The Interior Ministry reported 385 cases of police violations of detainees’ rights, 23 torture cases, 152 cases of violence and bodily injury, and 57 cases of unlawful detention during the first 10 months of 2006.

The conditions of detention and prison facilities are also part of the problem, with poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding remaining major problems, as well as an insufficient response to the widespread cases of tuberculosis in prisoners, the report said.

Lengthy pretrial detention remains an issue, due in part to an “overburdened court system.” As a result, “the investigation process took four to five months on average,” even though “Ukrainian law provides that pretrial detention may not last more than two months.”

In addition to inefficiency and corruption, the judiciary also remained subject to various forms of pressure from the executive and legislative branches,” the report said.

Yavorivsky said that there has been discussion about adopting ideas for criminal justice reform that would pave the way to developing and adopting a new penal code, penal process code and central law-enforcement reform.

There has also been discussion of law projects about peaceful assembly, social organizations, personal information and religious organizations.

“Without these reforms, nothing will ever guarantee the protection of Ukraine’s citizenry or their property rights from the tyranny of the country’s government employees.”

“Most importantly, what needs to be done is to introduce judicial reforms … and to finish working on and implement them in law-enforcement agencies,” Yavorivsky said.

In a chilling reminder of the not-so-distant Soviet past, the US report said that Ukrainians are still wrongfully confined in psychiatric hospitals, while confiscated religious property is slow in being returned.

On the brighter side were stepped-up efforts by the authorities to expose police abuses, as well as more coverage of corruption by the media.

Media “continue to consolidate post-Orange Revolution gains in freedom of speech and expression,” the report states, adding that the authorities generally respected laws regarding freedom of speech and the press, while individuals and media publications freely criticized the government.

And the March 26 parliamentary elections were “the freest in the country’s 15 years of independence.”

“Pressure from state power has lessened, so there has been more freedom, more freedom of speech, for example. But the government has not carried out a single reform in the sphere of human rights, therefore the situation has stayed in pretty much the exact same place,” Yavorivsky said.

“It is impossible to say that the fundamental situation regarding human rights has gotten better here,” he added.

Source: Kyiv Post

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ukraine's Parliament Again Rejects Yushchenko's Nominee For Foreign Minister

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday again failed to approve President Viktor Yushchenko's nominee for the country's top diplomatic job, dealing another blow to the president's efforts to reach agreement with the parliamentary majority.

Acting Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko

Career diplomat Volodymyr Ohryzko received only 195 votes, all but one from parties allied with Yushchenko, far below the 226 needed to be approved in the job.

It was the second time that parliament, dominated by allies of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, refused to endorse him.

"The ruling coalition again is preventing the country from having a foreign minister," said Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, head of Yushchenko's parliamentary faction Our Ukraine.

He accused Yanukovych and his parliamentary majority of violating an agreement to approve Ohryzko.

Lawmakers in the majority countered that Ohryzko was too objectionable, citing his pro-Western views and support for NATO membership, and called on Yushchenko to propose someone else.

Yanukovych's party is considered Russian-leaning, and his coalition includes the pro-Russian Communists.

"The candidacy of Ohryzko raises too many questions," Socialist lawmaker Yevhen Filindash said. "He is a big supporter of Ukraine's membership in NATO, but the majority of population is against it."

Larisa Mudrak, the head of presidential press service, said Yushchenko still insisted that Ohryzko get the job, but she said she did not know whether the president would seek a third vote on his candidate.

Before the vote, Ohryzko asked the parliament support him, saying Ukraine needed to have a foreign minister.

"The issue is not regarding the vote on me, it is regarding the image of Ukraine in the world," Ohryzko said.

Yushchenko nominated Ohryzko to replace Borys Tarasyuk, whose ouster was orchestrated in January by Yanukovych.

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 governing coalition.

Since returning to power, Yanukovych has put Ukraine's move toward NATO membership on hold and championed a bill that trimmed back presidential powers.

Yushchenko is tentatively scheduled to go to Moscow on Wednesday, and he had said he planned to take Ohryzko with him as the acting foreign minister.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine Police Raid Home Of Opposition Leader For Weapons

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian police on Tuesday raided and searched the home of a top leader of the opposition for alleged weapons possession violations while serving as the country's top cop.


A former interior minister and activist of Ukraine's 2004 'Orange Revolution' Yuri Lutsenko (L) and his wife sit by the table in their apartment as investigators from the prosecutor general's office search it in central Kiev, March 20, 2007. Lutsenko, a fiery orator during the 2004 rallies against election fraud, was Interior Minister from February 2005 until he resigned last December under pressure from parliament.

Law enforcers armed with a warrant cordoned off and searched the apartment of Yury Lutsenko, a key figure in Ukraine's 2004/5 pro- democracy Orange Revolution, and currently one of the harshest critics of the country's pro-Russia government.

Local media was on the scene but neither Lutsenko nor police commented on the search.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Oleksander Medved'ko, told the Interfax news agency the search stemmed from an investigation by his office into allegations that Lutsenko had handed out fire arms without license to political friends, while serving as interior minister.

Lutsenko held the post, which also made him the head of the national police force, from March 2005 to December 2006, when a pro- Russia parliament majority ousted him from office.

Reduction of corruption among police and government officials had been the interior ministry's top priority while Lutsenko held the job.

Handgun ownership is illegal in Ukraine, with the exception of some law enforcement personnel.

Lutsenko, in past statements, had claimed the allegations against him and the investigation was a political vendetta by the country's pro-Russia government, which resented his efforts to reduce corruption.

"We have a warrant and we are following up the results of a legitimate investigation," Medved'ko said. "There are no political motivations in this case."

Vasyl Kisilev, a top member of the parliament majority and a frequent target of Lutsenko's charges of corrupt ties between government and big business, went even further, describing Lutsenko as "a nobody. His name means nothing."

Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, as taken an overtly neutral stance on the matter, saying he would not interfere with a criminal investigation and that he had not asked for details of the case against Lutsenko.

The search of Lutsenko's apartment marks the most obvious instance yet of Ukraine's current government attempting to settle accounts with the opposition, which held power from March to September 2006.

Yanukovich at the time said he was a frequent victim of political repression. In remarks to reporters on Tuesday, he denied his government was pursuing political vendettas.

Source: DPA