Saturday, June 30, 2007

Russia/Ukraine: Pipeline Conflict Resurfaces

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- With the December deadline for signing a new gas-supply contract approaching, Ukrainian and Russian officials have been holding preliminary meetings to sound each other out.

Mikhail Fradkov no doubt knew that it would not require a great deal of effort to interest Gazprom in gaining some control over Ukraine's pipeline system.

As in past negotiations, the issue is not only the price Ukraine will pay for gas in 2008, or how much Russia will pay Ukraine in transit fees -- the major question is about who will control the vital Ukrainian gas-pipeline network to Europe, an asset that Russia's state-owned gas monopoly, Gazprom, has persistently sought to obtain.

Unfinished Business

Speaking at a press conference with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in Moscow on June 23, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov referred to the construction of the Bohorodchany-Uzhhorod pipeline, a partially completed 240-kilometer extension of the planned Novopskov-Uzhhorod main-trunk pipeline that would transit natural gas from eastern to western Ukraine.

The extension has a projected annual capacity of 19 billion cubic meters of gas and will cost about $560 million.

Ukraine views the completion of this extension as a strategically important project that would increase the throughput capacity of its gas-transportation system to Europe.

However, in April, the deputy chairman of the management committee of Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom, Valery Golubev, said that construction of the extension was unjustified because there is no demand in Europe for additional Russian gas.

And in a revealing statement made in May, Golubev said that "if politicians make a decision to establish closer economic ties between our countries, this will guarantee lower gas prices. However, if the politicians decide to separate these ties, then the price of gas for Ukraine will be same as for Germany. Does Ukraine really want this? I want to stress that Russia does not need this."

In his June 23 comments, Fradkov downplayed Golubev's threats. "The issue of the Bohorodchany-Uzhhorod pipeline is one of the links in the broader question of deeper cooperation between the countries in the gas sphere," he said. "In this context we are trying to generate interest in Russian companies, particularly Gazprom, to take part in the Ukrainian gas-transportation system."

Fradkov no doubt knew that it would not require a great deal of effort to interest Gazprom in gaining some control over Ukraine's pipeline system, but by linking the completion of Bohorodchany-Uzhhorod to that issue he pushed the Ukrainian side into a corner and set the stage for a new confrontation.

Stage Set

Yanukovych was noncommittal in his response. He said the project has very good prospects and that a decision would be reached this autumn, adding that Ukraine would take into consideration its own interests as well as those of Russia, Central Asian states, and European consumers.

The joint venture to build the Novopskov-Uzhhorod pipeline, at a cost of $2.2 billion-2.8 billion, was formed in 2004 between Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Gazprom. It was originally scheduled to be completed by 2009, but construction was postponed from 2005 to February 2006. Since then little, if anything, has been done.

The pipeline, if and when completed, would give Ukraine the capacity to increase by 25 percent its flow of Russian gas to Europe -- a significant money-making proposition for Kyiv.

Ukrainian planners also believe that Novopskov-Uzhhorod would insure the country against breakdowns of the aging Urengoi-Uzhhorod pipeline, parts of which have been in operation for 20-30 years.

Fradkov has not been the only one to set the stage for confrontation.

In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin stirred up a hornet's nest when he publicly announced that the Ukrainian government had approached Russia with the idea of unifying the countries' respective gas-pipeline networks.

Putin hailed the overture as a "revolutionary development" that was in the "interest of both countries."

In response to Putin's announcement, the Ukrainian parliament almost unanimously passed legislation forbidding the sale or transfer of ownership of Ukraine's trunk gas pipeline to another country. An investigation was also launched to determine just who may have been responsible for making such proposals.

Ukrainian leaders have not responded to Fradkov's latest offer, but it is becoming evident that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is willing to counter Russia's latest attempt to gain influence over Ukraine's gas pipelines by initiating an investigation into the operations of UkrHazEnergo, a joint venture between Ukraine's Naftohaz and RosUkrEnergo, the Swiss-based middleman which holds the monopoly for providing Ukraine with gas from Central Asia.

UkrHazEnergo's participation in the Ukrainian domestic gas-distribution system was essentially forced upon Ukraine by Gazprom during the January 2006 gas dispute with Russia.

Central Figure

Addressing a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council in June, Yushchenko complained about the role played by Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, whose company Centragas owns 50 percent of RosUkrEnergo, (the other 50 percent is owned by Gazprom) and thereby exerts substantial influence on UkrHazEnergo's activities.

According to a confidential memo summarizing this meeting, Yushchenko stated that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) believes that UkrHazEnergo's monopoly on gas distribution to industrial clients in Ukraine could be contributing to Firtash's growing presence in Ukraine's chemical industry.

Firtash owns two important chemical plants in Ukraine -- an industrial soda plant in the Crimea (Crimea Soda) and a fertilizer plant (Rivnoazot). In addition he controls Crimean Titan, a titanium plant.

Yushchenko also expressed alarm about a growing conflict between UkrHazEnergo and the Industrial Union of the Donbas (IUD) over the price UkrHazEnergo was charging the IUD for gas. The implication being that UkrHazEnergo was price gouging the IUD in order to enrich Firtash and Gazprom.

In 2006 Firtash received $365 million from RosUkrEnergo as his share of 2005 profits. Some in Kyiv believe this to be an extravagant sum for a principle of a company that does not own any gas fields, pipelines, or other assets.

By comparison, Gazprom Chairman Aleksei Miller receives a salary $1.4 million in addition to $1.4 million in stock options, according to the Russian website gazeta.ru.

Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Friday, June 29, 2007

Horton In Ukraine With Team USA

NORMAN, OK -- Oklahoma’s Jonathan Horton will be part of the six-member U.S. squad that will travel to Kiev, Ukraine, to compete against teams from Russia and the Ukraine on June 30.

Oklahoma’s Jonathan Horton

Horton will be joined by OU head coach Mark Williams who will serve as an assistant coach for the American team.

The format for the international meet will be the same as the World Championship finals and the Olympic Games. Three gymnasts from each team will compete on each apparatus and all three scores will count towards the team total.

“Jon hasn’t competed under these rules yet so it will be great experience for him,” Williams said.

Horton was a member of the 2006 U.S. World Championships team but did not advance to the team or individual finals. With his sights set on a return to Worlds in 2007 and a possible berth on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team, Horton says he knows the value of this competition.

“It’s really intense knowing that your score is going to count if they put you on the floor,” Horton said. “There are going to be a lot of nerves that I’m going to have to know how to control.

“Competing against the best in the world from Russia and Ukraine will be a great experience. It’s definitely a step towards the Olympics and I’m looking forward to figuring out how to deal with that pressure.”

The other members of the U.S. team include Horton’s 2006 World Championships teammates Alexander Artemev and Kevin Tan. Joseph Hagerty, Tim McNeill and Sean Townsend round out the American squad with David Durante as the alternate.

Horton finished second at the recent U.S. National Qualifier, June 7-9, in Colorado Spring, Colo.

The Houston, Texas, native tied for the top spot on the floor exercise and finished third on the still rings and fourth on both the vault and pommel horse.

In his most recent international competition, the Tyson American Cup on March 3, Horton earned an all-around score of 92.75 to earn his second consecutive Cup title.

He became the first male gymnast to win back-to-back Tyson American Cup titles since the USA’s Blaine Wilson won three straight from 1997-99.

Source: Sooner Sports

Constitutional Chaos

KIEV, Ukraine -- Eleven years ago on June 28 Rada members worked through the night to reach a compromise deal that resulted in the adoption of the fundamental law of the land, independent Ukraine’s Constitution.

Verkhovna Rada deputees sign the constitution on June 28, 1996.

Ukraine had reached a milestone in its development as a democratic state. The document was praised by international constitutional experts for the guarantees of individual rights it provided for Ukraine’s citizens.

Eleven years later, Constitution Day is celebrated as a national holiday, but the current state of the country’s charter leaves little to cheer.

The Constitution has been torn and tattered in the process of political reforms that were supposed to transform the country from a presidential-parliamentary republic into a parliamentary-presidential one.

Instead, the country has been thrown into legal chaos since former President Leonid Kuchma single-handedly announced the reforms five years ago.

More recently, the Constitutional Court was discredited as an institution by politicians looking to use the bench as a political instrument, and by its judges, who proved unable to serve as an independent check on the powers of the executive or legislative branches.

Problems with the Constitutional Court began in 2005, when a majority of judges ruled that any fundamental changes to Ukraine’s political system must be submitted to and approved by a national referendum.

Despite the ruling, the country’s politicians proceeded with the reforms. Last August, the Rada under speaker Oleksandr Moroz’s leadership even passed a bill prohibiting the Constitutional Court from ruling on the reforms – a clear violation of the democratic principle of a tripartite division of powers.

The preamble to the Constitution clearly states that the law of the land is guided by the 1991 Declaration of Independence that was confirmed by the Dec. 1 referendum that year.

The Rada formally declared Ukraine’s independence, but that decision was validated only after it was submitted to and approved by a national referendum.

Ukraine’s elite appears to have agreed that early Rada elections will resolve the political crisis. But the deeper issue of political reforms that spawned the crisis remains unaddressed.

The way of restoring Ukrainian’s faith in the institutions of government and in the very notion of democracy is clear: Let the people decide what political system suits the country best.

Source: Kyiv Post

Thursday, June 28, 2007

In Ukraine, Four Steps To Democracy

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Ukrainian parliament has wound up its life and set the stage for early parliamentary elections on Sept. 30, four years ahead of schedule.

Viktor Yushchenko (background) and Viktor Yanukovich (foreground).

The elections could give Ukraine's revolution -- recently mired in crisis -- new momentum and have an impact elsewhere in the post-Soviet space.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych agreed to hold early elections after a tense two month stand-off, caused by Prime Minister Yanukovych's attempt to diminish the powers of the president and reverse many of Yushchenko's pro-reform and pro-Western policies.

Yanukovych and his allies removed checks and balances by seeking a constitutional majority that threatened to sideline the president and create a powerful prime minister.

Yushchenko's decision to dissolve parliament and call for new elections demonstrated a resolve and decisiveness that had been often lacking in the past.

Yushchenko had little choice. He had to reshuffle the deck or watch his authority -- and Ukraine's hopes for democratic reform and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures -- become progressively emasculated and diminished by Yanukovych.

Four steps are crucial if the crisis is to contribute to democratic consolidation in Ukraine:

First, all sides need to adhere to the compromise agreements that have been reached. These compromises should ensure that the checks and balances of the reformed parliamentary constitution are not again threatened by the pro-government coalition attempting to forcefully usurp monopoly power by seeking to establish a constitutional majority.

Ukraine cannot continue to have periodic breakdowns and crises every six months. The nation's four crises since the Orange Revolution threaten to bring on Ukraine fatigue by Western governments giving up hope in Yushchenko's ability to promote democratic change in Ukraine.

Second, if Ukraine's 2007 elections are recognized as having been held in a "free and fair" manner by international organizations, as last year's elections were, the outcome should be accepted by all sides. Early elections will permit a new parliament to begin office with a democratic mandate built on a consensus on domestic and foreign policy goals enshrined in law.

Yushchenko needs to act decisively following the elections by ensuring a coalition and government is in place, thereby not repeating last year's six-month post-election crisis.

Third, all sides in Ukraine need to adhere to the June 2005 recommendations of the Council of Europe's legal advisory board, the Venice Commission, and to join the president's constitutional commission.

The Venice Commission recommended a range of improvements to the reforms in imperative mandates, inter-institutional relations, human rights and the constitutional court. These reforms, the Venice Commission said, would "improve the state of democracy and rule of law in their country."

Fourth, active Western support will be important. The crisis in Ukraine provides an opportunity to consolidate the democratic gains of the Orange Revolution through building democracy at home and integrating Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic community of democratic nations.

If fair and free elections are carried out, the European Union should quickly move to negotiate a free trade agreement with Ukraine following its entry into the World Trade Organization. NATO should continue to hold out the offer of a membership action plan that Ukraine may find appealing.

The West has a strong political stake in Ukraine's success. Ukraine's evolution will have a significant impact on the Western regions of the post-Soviet space.

If democracy can be consolidated in Ukraine, the pro-Western orientation of Georgia and Moldova will be strengthened, while Alyaksandr Lukashenko's autocratic rule in Belarus will be weakened.

But if Ukraine's democratic reforms fail, the prospects for reform and closer ties to Euro-Atlantic structures in all three countries will be set back, perhaps irrevocably.

Russia's political evolution could also be affected. If Ukraine's Orange Revolution gains new momentum, it will be harder for Russian President Vladimir Putin's successor to continue the progressive backsliding on democratic reform that has been a hallmark of Putin's rule.

Source: Washington Post

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

UEFA Play Down Kiev Stadium Concerns

BERNE, Switzerland -- European soccer's governing body UEFA has denied reports that it is concerned about the redevelopment of the Kiev stadium chosen to host the 2012 European championship final.


In a statement released on Monday, UEFA said reports that the organisation had cast doubt on Ukraine's ability to co-host Euro 2012 alongside Poland because of delayed progress at the Olympic Stadium were "well wide of the mark".

The statement added that UEFA was "not unduly concerned over the detailed issues surrounding the stadiums for UEFA Euro 2012".

Ukraine's soccer federation last week posted a report on its Web site that it said came from a meeting at UEFA's Swiss headquarters in Nyon in which UEFA officials expressed concern over failure to start renovation at the stadium.

UEFA said on Monday that the purpose of the Nyon meeting had been "to have a global review of the situation in all crucial operational areas" and had not been focused on the stadium issues in particular.

Source: Reuters UK

Jewish Writer Takes On Kiev Gangsters In Semi-Autobiographical Book On Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- When Alex Frishberg ditched his job as an attorney in Washington in 1991 and moved back to his native Kiev, he found that the quiet, cozy city of his childhood had transformed into a melting pot that belched out big-time racketeers and clueless bureaucrats. So he wrote about it.

Alex Frishberg, seated at center, poses with friends dressed as characters in his semi-autobiographical novel "The Steel Barons."

"The Steel Barons," released this spring in English and Russian, is Frishberg's semi-autobiographical novel. It tells of a young American lawyer who gets caught up with black marketeers and ex-KGB mercenaries in the maelstrom of a newly independent Ukraine, where the old rules no longer applied and new ones had yet to be invented.

Frishberg was 11 when his family left Ukraine for St. Louis during the first big wave of Soviet Jewish emigration. He returned at 28 during the second, much larger exodus of Jews from Ukraine. He became part of a small community of Jews born in the former Soviet Union and raised abroad who now were bucking the outgoing tide and returning "home" for fortune and adventure.

"I wrote the book from the perspective of a foreigner," Frishberg said at a recent party launching his book in Kiev. "I had landed in a place that was very different from Washington, D.C., and I started taking notes about what was going on around me."

The book, fast paced and brimming with dark humor, "describes the lives of ordinary people and the systematic corruption they face on nearly every level," Frishberg says in the author's notes.

Much of the book is true, Frishberg said, though he changed many of the names – per his grandmother’s advice – "so I could live a little longer."

"Sasha," the ex-KGB mercenary the American lawyer hires for protection, was based on an actual security man Frishberg met. The man made money on the side by offering protection and debt collection to rich businessmen, until a shootout blinded him in one eye.

And the novel's main female character is based on Frishberg's wife, Lena, whom he met 10 years ago. They live in Kiev with their 3-year-old son, Daniel.

Speaking to JTA after his book launch, Frishberg said his parents, both psychiatrists, wanted him to become a doctor. Instead he studied English at the University of Missouri and earned a law degree from the Washington University School of Law.

"By 1991, I was on the make at Hogan & Hartson, one of the largest law firms in Washington, D.C.," he said.

But he was sure his career would be more exciting in Ukraine, where, as he writes, the "economic revolution made overnight billionaires out of well-connected individuals" while making paupers out of the rest.

What he saw in Kiev was shocking, Frishberg said.

In "Life on the Outpost," one of a dozen short stories he penned since returning to Ukraine, he wrote: "These days few can afford to pay bribes to state doctors, and fewer still get medical supplies like antibiotics and disposable syringes. Each winter scores of pensioners die quietly in their apartments, completely unnoticed for lack of basic medical care. To make things worse, the authorities here do not bury people anymore; the land plots are too expensive and the caskets are out of [the] price range of most, if not all, pensioners."

"Life on the Outpost " won an English-language fiction prize from a Kiev-based agency.

"The Steel Barons " may win wider recognition for Frishberg, who freely acknowledges that he would be pleased to achieve fame as an author.

For now he spends his days at Frishberg & Partners, a corporate law firm he established upon his return to Kiev. He and his colleagues have spent 15 years dealing with the countless obstacles national and foreign companies face as they try to navigate the turbulent waters of local business practices.

Frishberg said that eradicating the racketeers was one of Ukraine's biggest achievements of the 1990s. Many were forced to leave for America or Israel, he said. One notable case he cited is that of Semyon Yufa, a former waiter who swindled thousands out of their money through a pyramid scheme and fled to Los Angeles in 1998, having failed in his bid to enter the Ukrainian Parliament and thus protect himself from criminal prosecution.

But like many other former gangsters, Yufa's troubles followed him: His offices in Los Angeles were bombed with Molotov cocktails.

"From what I heard, he's been in Israel ever since," Frishberg said.

Most of the racketeers who remained in Kiev eventually were imprisoned or killed. Many did not come out alive from prison. Those who did no longer could muscle people around, and times had changed.

Some of the lesser racketeers went into politics and, through their government connections, bought out state-owned enterprises ranging from soft drink plants to cement factories to regional power grids – anything they could get their hands on. The local media is full of their stories. Because steel mills are responsible for about a third of the nation's exports, many of them became true steel barons, much like their American counterparts of the early 1900s.

The 2004 Orange Revolution, when public demonstrations against electoral fraud brought President Viktor Yushchenko to office, gave hope for a better life to many people. But not all those hopes have been realized.

"Unfortunately, things have not changed much," Frishberg said. "To get the root of corruption, we have to understand its full extent."

"A normal life is all we ever wanted," he writes in "Life on the Outpost."

He writes: "Something to eat, sometimes to laugh. But the criminals have taken over the government. Billions of dollars are siphoned off per advice of the foreigners, only to end up in the pockets of the thieves who preside over us. Just look at their shiny new cars and those gold watches."

Source: JTA

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lake Monster Terrifies Villagers In Ukraine

LUKIV, Ukraine -- A huge monster with the head of a serpent and the body of a crocodile is rumored to lurk at the bottom of a lake in Western Ukraine.

The Loch Ness Monster Exhibition.

The monster has been frightening residents of a nearby village for more than one hundred years. Now and again the gruesome creature comes ashore and attacks domestic animals. At times it harms humans too. As a rule, locals steer clear of the lake. Researchers keep gathering information in an attempt to unravel the lake mystery.

Quite a few bloodcurdling stories about the monster of the lake circulate through the village. It is said to attack animals and humans. The hideous monster is also said to moan and wheeze at night. The local elderly say that the “lizard” was last seen on the lake shore some 30 years ago.

“The monster assaulted Stepan, a groom. He was tending horses near the lake on that day. Actually, Stepan had too much of a drink so he stretched himself out on the grass and fell asleep. A crocodile-like creature crept on to the bank out of the water, moved up to the guy, and sniffed at him. Mushroom pickers came from the wood at the very moment. They saw that thing and started shouting out loud to scare it off. The monster reportedly opened its month and there wasn’t a single tooth inside,” said the 84-year-old Ivan Kovalchuk, a resident of the village.

It is believed that the first stories about the monster hiding in Lake Somin near the village of Lukiv appeared at the turn of the 19th century. The reference to the monster can be found in a report sent by a village chairman to Warsaw. He wrote that the villagers had not paid a tax on fishing because of a “serpent” which lived in the lake, eating the fishes. The unknown predator also harassed the livestock and locals, said the letter. The authorities had plans to dispatch an expedition to the area to investigate the case. But those plans fell through due the outbreak of World War I.

The German military made an attempt to solve the mystery of Lake Somin during World War II. The Germans used diving equipment and nets for exploring the bottom of the lake. However, their efforts to capture the creature ended in failure, reports Gazeta Po-ukrainski.

Some researchers believe that the lake monster is a huge cat fish. Lots of cat fishes can be found in numerous lakes and ponds located in the area. “Cat fishes can use their big strong fins for dragging themselves ashore. Several cat fishes caught around here were really big. They weighed about 100 kilos each, measuring up to two meters in length,” said Valentin Lyupa, a researcher of “the Somin Monster.”

Other scientists claim that the creature could be a prehistoric freshwater shark which somehow survived the Ice Age. “The archeological finds discovered in the area can back up this version. There’re many reports on fossilized teeth and bones of ancient fishes dug out by locals in their gardens,” said Valentin Volontai, an adviser with the Institute of Archeology under the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

Lake Somin is located in Polessie lowlands, which formed at the bottom of an ancient freshwater sea. About 300 lakes scattered around the area are the remainders of the sea. Those karst lakes interconnect by means of underground passages and rives.

Lake Somin is 56 meters deep. A number of karst caves lie at its bottom. That is where the monster lies in wait, according to locals. The Polish researchers are reportedly going to give it another try and solve the lake mystery. A special research party is expected to commence work on location in the near future.

Source: Pravda

Lessons From The Orange And Silk Revolutions

KIEV, Ukraine -- Whatever has happened in the Ukraine since the Orange Revolution in November 2004 has a resonance in Thailand in the past two years, especially after the coup last September.

Tent city on main street Khreshchatyk during the Orange Revolution

After the euphoria of the Orange Revolution, harsh reality set in. After the leaders and allies took control of the country, they immediately broke their promises.

Instead, they spent time fighting for their own vested interests, easily forgetting why there were there in the first place. During the first six months, the government of Viktor Yushchenko could have proceeded quickly, if he had wished, with pledges to eradicate corruption and initiate economic and social reforms including tax and judicial reforms.

Most importantly, he failed to deal with the criminal clans and put them behind bars.

Instead, he chose to quarrel with his co-leader Yulia Tymoshenko. He dismissed her from the post of prime minister and later on gave rewards to his arch rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

So, for the past two and half years, Yushchenko has been too involved in maintaining his power, dealing with fractional and regional politics.

Now, it is too late, the momentum is past. "It would be tough for the government to regain such strong support," says Yevhen Bystrytsky, executive director of the International Renaissance Foundation.

Interviews with several leading journalists here in the Ukraine echo the sentiment.That is exactly what has been happening in Thailand.

Both the government and Council for National Security have been moving at a snail's pace, so much so that they have been labelled "old ginger" or "losers".

Apparently, the CNS knows only how to oust a dictator; it has failed to exercise power in meaningful ways. The coup leaders have been called incompetent and naive. Now as their one-year timeframe is coming to an end, they are rushing.

Rumours that the CNS and the government had made deals with Thaksin Shinawatra are not helping.

In the beginning, when Yushchenko was elected as president following the heavily-rigged polls, Ukrainians knew their country would never be the same again and they wanted results.

But somehow the new president has turned out to be a different person. Julia Mostova, deputy chief editor of Mirror of the Week said: "He is like other politicians who effectively are opportunists."

That helps explain why Yushchenko has done all imaginable political somersaults to either stay in power or undermine his own allies. An election has been scheduled for September.

It is hard to predict who will win and what kind of impact it will have on the Ukraine. One thing is clear though: politicians from all sides will try to manipulate the polls as much as possible.

Leading journalists lament that Yushchenko has completely ruined any chances of consideration for early EU and Nato memberships because of his own self-interest.

Foreign visitors can easily feel the residue of the Soviet-era mindset and attitude in Kiev these days. They also wish, unrealistically, that the Ukraine will become a democratic nation soon.

In the past two and half years under Yushchenko, the political situation in the Ukraine has become worse. It has become enmeshed with personal jealousies and rivalries and vested interests.

It is as if the same plot was being hatched in Thailand. After the coup, the CNS leaders were embattled. The latest episode at the Telephone Organisation of Thailand is a case in point.

Another similar feature of the Orange and Silk revolutions is the role of media. In both cases, the media played a crucial role in disseminating information and empowering the public.

During the third day of the Orange Revolution, a sign-language interpreter on TV told TV audiences that the news she was interpreting was lies and propaganda.

Her honest and timely comments won Ukrainian hearts and encouraged people to show up at Maidan Square to protest, which forced the government of Leonid Kuchma to reschedule a new election.

At that time, journalists both online and offline kept the public informed, including voting monitoring, which caught the government cheating red handed.

However, after a few months the government tried to assert control of the media. Yushchenko became less tolerant of his critics. The same was true in Thailand.

Some of the CNS leaders in the early months were angry when media outlets reported on Thaksin's movements abroad. Apart from the coup itself, Thaksin's fate was sealed long before by huge and prolonged demonstrations on the streets.

In the past two weeks, pro-Thaksin groups have taken to the streets with red banners, trying to repeat the success of the People's Alliance for Democracy and to pressure the CNS into resigning.

In Kiev, it was the same. The demonstrators loyal to Yanukovych have also staged rallies, with blue flags, trying to undermine the Yushchenko camp. Now, it is a battle between blue and orange.

In Thailand, it is the yellow and red.

In the finality, both revolutions suffer from the same lack of solidarity among allies.

Things change because vested interests change. Once they are in power, they focus on their own schemes to ensure their survival and in many cases to ensure that their immediate circle will benefit from their rise to power.

The moral lessons from these two revolutions are simple. First, the public has high expectations after a political triumph, so those who are in power must deliver on their promises fast and without any excuses.

Second, allies have to stay together a long time, otherwise solidarity fizzles out quickly and other political elements can interfere and cause realignments.

Also, do not stir up the crowd because if people feel they are being used, they can turn against their mentor.

Source: The Nation

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Yushchenko, Yanukovich Both Pursue European Integration

ATHENS, Greece -- Both Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich are pro-European and strive to intensify the former Soviet republic’s EU integration, Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ogrysko told New Europe in Athens on June 21.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko addresses a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana (not in picture) at the end of a meeting in Brussels.

Asked if both leaders are pro-European, Ogrysko said: “Yes, it is not only Mr Yushchenko and Mr Yanukovich; it is the Ukrainian people who are really pro-European oriented people. That is why it’s up to Ukrainian people to decide and they have already decided many, many years ago that they are Europeans and would like to be Europeans, not members of some structures with uncertain orientation.”

Ukraine has been rocked by a power struggle between Yushchenko and Yanukovich. The country plunged in a political crisis two months ago, after the president dismissed the parliament.

Both leaders agreed May 27 to hold elections in September in a bid to end a protracted political crisis.

Ogrysko said he is confident that the upcoming elections would mark the end of the country’s political crisis. “It is a very important period in our history and I would say, practically speaking, we have proved once again that Ukraine is really a democratic state,” Ogrysko said.

“It is period when Ukraine is not in the best internal position, but nevertheless we have shown once gain that instead of having tanks on our streets or casualties: we have roundtables; we have negotiations; we have other peaceful means, which can be used in democratic state. So I do hope that after these elections the situation in Ukraine will be much better internally.” He said he is confident there will be no room for political corruption.

Asked if the crisis has affected EU-Ukraine cooperation, Ogrysko said: “I wouldn’t say so because we have now broad range of consultations on all levels.”

He cited as an example the high-level meetings from both the EU and Ukraine in Brussels and Kiev. Most recently, Yushchenko visited Brussels on June 21 where he held talks with EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana.

“Now we begun this preparation of the new agreement between both sides so I do hope that it will be very important for our dialogue and I don’t think we can say about some slowdown in our cooperation,” Ogrysko said.

Even though the European Commission has repeatedly made it clear that EU membership for Ukraine is not on the agenda, the first deputy foreign minister said Ukraine wants more than cooperation within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

“We would like to have a very clear European prospective for Ukraine because we are a European nation,” Ogrysko said. “That is why it is obvious for us it is only the question of timing when Ukraine will be an EU member state. That is why we are trying to elaborate the new Ukrainian-EU agreement ... and after its fulfilment we can then immediately negotiate the process of joining the European Union.”

Ogrysko said he is familiar with the EU position on Ukraine. “No, for the time being membership is not on the agenda. But now we are trying to find very concrete areas of cooperation fulfilment of which can bring us much more closer and after that the question about membership will comeback to our agenda,” he said.

“Of course we are aware that we have to do our own homework,” Ogrysko said, adding that “for the time being we have on our agenda the WTO question. Until the end of this year, we would like to be a member of this organisation. After that we will immediately launch negotiations on the free-trade zone with the European Union. After that we hope that in early 2008, we will have this new agreement between two sides and step by step we will be closer to the European standards and at the end of this process we would like to have a clear signal that Ukraine will be welcomed as an EU member state.”

Ogrysko reiterated Ukraine’s strategic goal to integrate with NATO and the EU. “Only the combination of NATO guarantees and participation in the European Union gives Ukraine a chance to be a really independent and prosperous state,” he said.

Asked if EU membership or NATO is the bigger priority, the first deputy foreign minister said: “We have both European and Euro-Atlantic goal. They are not in any contradiction with each other. They can only be helpful in reaching each of these goals. If you look at the recent waves of accession to the European Union, you will see that many states of the former socialist bloc became NATO members first and only after they became EU members. NATO membership has not only military aspects but, first of all, political ones. That is why it is very important that Ukraine will reach the appropriate political and military levels and after that step by step the high economic standards provided by the European treaty.”

Source: New Europe

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Yushchenko Wants EU Observers At September Elections

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said June 21 he wants the European Union to send observers to parliamentary elections called for September to resolve a political crisis that had threatened to end in violence.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana

Speaking on a visit to EU headquarters, Yushchenko told reporters he had asked the foreign ministry to invite EU observers.

Yushchenko and his main political rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, agreed on the date of the vote last month in a bid to defuse a political crisis that had threatened to escalate into clashes between troops loyal to either leader.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who met both leaders this week, said he was hopeful that the electoral agreement would end the crisis and "open the door to normalized life" in Ukraine.

Ukrainian politics have been riven by a power struggle between Yushchenko, who has pledged to bring the former Soviet republic of 47 million closer to the West, and Yanukovych, who is seen as more friendly to Ukraine's giant neighbor, Russia.

Yushchenko was to attend a meeting of Europe's conservative leaders ahead of an EU summit.

Ukraine's political standoff has provoked mounting concern in the EU over the stability in a neighboring nation which is an important transit route for Western Europe's oil and gas supplies from Russia and the Caspian Sea region.

On Monday the EU eased visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens and in March the bloc approved a $663 million aid package for Ukraine over the next four years, a significant increase in funding.

However, although the EU has started negotiations on a deeper economic and political partnership with Ukraine, it has rebuffed its requests to be considered as a candidate for EU membership.

Source: Kyiv Post

Friday, June 22, 2007

Another Litmus Test

KIEV, Ukraine -- Last week the Post ran a story describing how a relative of one of Ukraine’s most controversial business tycoons is facing manslaughter charges for his alleged role in a May 30 traffic death of an off-duty policeman.

Ukraine’s governing institutions are a cesspool of corruption. Judges and politicians can be easily bought.

The officer, a warrant officer in an Interior Ministry unit that protects foreign embassies, was killed on the spot after a BMW, allegedly driven by 21-year-old Serhiy Kalynovsky, plowed into the officer’s car in downtown Kyiv. A 25-year-old female passenger in the BMW died a few days later in hospital.

Kalynovsky is the biological son of Zinoviy Kalynovsky, linked by media reports to the lucrative gas-trading business, and the former stepson of Dmytro Firtash, who owns a major stake in RosUkrEnergo, which controls the multi-billion-dollar business of supplying Ukraine with natural gas.

Based on precedent in this country – and there are many of them – the Post fears that any investigation into this case will come to nothing, and Kalynovsky will walk away free and with impunity.

Among the most glaring examples in Ukraine’s independent history of unsolved or partially solved high-profile cases and crimes include: two separate deadly road accidents in which current Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky, and a relative, was implicated (at the time, Chernovetsky was a parliament member enjoying immunity); the poisoning of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko; the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, and many others.

Each of these cases was a litmus test for the existence of fairness, justice and the rule of law in this country.

So far, Ukraine has failed them all.

The country’s governing institutions are a cesspool of corruption.

The president decrees parliament disbanded alleging it was corrupt, but it continues to hold sessions.

The court system is highly regarded as corrupt.

The Kalynovsky case now stands as the latest litmus test of justice in the country – justice that Ukraine’s untouchables rarely face.

Lives were lost, but based on Ukraine’s despicable precedents in cases such as his, the rich boy, Kalynovsky, is likely to go free.

In fact, he nearly fled to Israel recently on a private charter jet.

He was stopped by Ukrainian law enforcement, but the hush-hush nature of his case raises suspicion that he may ultimately elude justice.

The Post strongly urges Ukraine not to lose its umpteenth chance to show that it is making some progress toward establishing freedom, fairness and justice for all in this country.

Source: Kyiv Post

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ukraine At Half-Past Yushchenko

KIEV, Ukraine -- Sometime in June, President Viktor Yushchenko will mark two-and-a-half years (or about one-half) of his presidency. The anniversary is likely to be a quiet affair.

President Viktor Yushchenko

The ongoing political turmoil is just one reason that may dampen a celebratory mood. The other lies in the sad reality that Yushchenko’s tenure has so far failed to achieve a qualitative breakthrough in moving Ukraine from the post-Soviet era.

In foreign affairs the country’s standing is continuously declining. Consider the recent condescending remarks by Russia’s President Putin about the guys in Ukraine who screwed up.

Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic ambitions are in tatters. The prospect of NATO membership has turned into a specter that haunts Yushchenko, or anyone, for that matter, who dares to dream of it.

All the talk about the country’s EU aspirations remains a compilation of buzzwords with little substance and, at this point, with little potential. One can only imagine the thoughts of EU bureaucrats as they watched the burly lads of Berkut storming the general prosecutor’s office.

As a result, on the international arena, Ukraine finds itself once again in a strange place. Being neither a success nor a failure, it is reminiscent of a perennial teenager who, years after his high school graduation, still cannot figure out who he is or wishes to be and, more importantly, what he wants to do with his long-acquired independence.

On the domestic front, the president has failed to make the democratic gains of the Orange Revolution irreversible. His wobbly attitude toward the 2004 constitutional changes continues to keep the door half-open for future amendments.

This, in turn, generates the feeling of uncertainty sufficient to keep all the major players vigilant for a window of opportunity when the fundamental institutional arrangements can be redefined in a wholesale manner.

It also allows the political establishment to stay engaged in a futile debate on the theoretical merits of a particular model of government (a task better left to political scientists) at the expense of specific economic and social reforms.

The resultant institutional and political volatility retards progress in other areas. The fight against corruption, which Yushchenko promised to wage so vociferously, is now the source of acerbic jokes and sarcastic smiles.

Perhaps inadvertently, the presidential decree to dissolve the parliament delivered a lethal blow to the country’s already feeble judicial system. Put together to be a magic wand in the hands of a semi-authoritarian ruler, the Constitutional Court is inherently incapable of functioning in a democratic environment.

Unsurprisingly, the institution is collapsing slowly, yet spectacularly in its own impotency. To sum up, the president’s domestic agenda can be described as a failure, which in the end has further deepened the chasm between those in power (regardless of their political affiliation) and the “little Ukrainians.”

Against this depressing backdrop, there are unending rumors that in April Yushchenko was pushed to action in part because of the intention to revive his lackluster second-term chances.

Yet one should hope that his re-election bid extends far beyond a reshuffle of the parliament that is widely expected to produce the same electoral outcome.

Profound changes are in order if Yushchenko does not want his presidency (irrespective of how many times he will get elected) to become a footnote in Ukrainian history.

They need to begin with more sensible personnel decisions. Recent appointments look like a Brownian motion of molecules rather than a thought-out process with some logic and purpose.

Candidates’ competence should finally trump the president’s personal comfort with the individuals he appoints. This is the only way to ensure that a healthy amount of dissent and introspection are always present in his decision-making process.

The second step should involve taking a closer look at the 2004 presidential promises to see which ones can be watered down to concrete proposals with achievable and demonstrable results.

The revolutionary fatigue, which overwhelmed many Ukrainians, is partially a result of general slogans and hyped expectations that were initially impossible to fulfill.

The advantage of a clearly stated agenda lies in the ability to track down its fulfillment. It also helps avoid the perils of power that include squabbling among the allies (the relationship between the president and Yulia Tymoshenko is an obvious example) and distractions on currently peripheral, yet emotionally explosive ideas (like Yushchenko’s worthy, but untimely suggestion of building a museum of Soviet occupation).

Luckily, the president has no shortage of issues to solve. Ukraine’s dependency on Russian energy supplies and a non-existent diplomatic engagement on that matter with Central Asian states immediately come to mind.

Other areas encompass serious reforms in such sectors, for instance, as education and healthcare that would bring the country to EU standards in real, not rhetorical terms.

Implementing large-scale changes is, of course, not a one-man show, and Yushchenko will need all the help he can get. This brings us to the third point.

Because the elections in September are an attempt to remedy the utter mess, which the parliament has become as a result of irresponsible coalition-building efforts within the Orange lot, the president should forge a firm commitment on the future alignment of the pro-Orange forces, no matter whether they gain the majority or remain in opposition.

Otherwise, post-election developments will be a re-run of the travesty that we saw in April-August 2006.

It is clear that the next two-and-a-half years will be critical not only for Yushchenko’s political viability as a second-term presidential candidate, but also for the viability of democracy as a form of governance in Ukraine.

The skyrocketing levels of apathy and contempt by ordinary Ukrainians toward politicians of all colors may create a dangerous longing for ‘an iron fist’ and engrave the idea that a Western-type democracy is somehow not applicable for Ukraine.

To see what happens in a country where the public gets disenchanted with politics, one should look no further than neighboring Russia.

If Yushchenko fails to bring about a real change in the second half of his presidency, this may be the only legacy that he will hand down to his successor.

Source: Kyiv Post

Survey: Companies In Ukraine Paying More In Bribes Again

KIEV, Ukraine -- Companies operating in Ukraine are spending more money on bribes in order to sift through Ukraine’s murky business climate, according to the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting.

Bribes are a way of life in Ukraine and will be part of the Ukrainian landscape for many years to come.

A survey conducted by the institute in April-May suggests that the average amount of bribes this year compared to 2006 has “increased from 3.6 to 4.2 percent” of an enterprise’s annual sales volume.

In the study, officially called the Annual Assessment of Business Climate in Ukraine, 300 enterprises were surveyed on various issues critical to Ukraine’s economy and investment climate.

The companies were asked to respond to questions on bribes, corruption, tax evasion, security of property rights and difficulties in the regulatory environment.

Oksana Kuziakiv, executive director of the institute and head of the Business Tendency Survey, which included the survey on bribes, said the study results suggest that corruption is again on the rise in Ukraine, but still below the levels detected in 2004, before the pro-democracy Orange Revolution.

A significant increase in the amounts of bribes was detected in 2004, up to 6.5 percent of the annual sales volume of an enterprise, compared to 1.9 percent recorded in 2003.

The aggregate number of bribes started to decline in 2005, as the pro-Western administration of newly elected President Viktor Yushchenko took power, declaring its intention to fight corruption.

In that year the amount of bribes decreased from 6.5 percent to 1.4 percent of an enterprise’s annual sales volume.

In 2006, corruption started to increase again.

This year has seen an increase in bribery. Those surveyed, however, remain uncertain that bribes would help successfully cut corners or avoid red tape – a huge barrier to businesses’ operations in the country.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian businesses are often pressured by influential officials into paying bribes, often through would-be racketeering arrangements, as a way of keeping their businesses protected from various risk factors, including violations of the country’s vague and contradictory legislation.

In 2003, about 25 percent of Ukrainian enterprises felt that a bribe would deliver no effect.

From 2004 until 2005, this percentage increased from 29.6 percent to 65.8 percent. The year 2005 appeared to be the peak in this tendency.

In 2006 this percentage decreased by 2.3 percent, to 63.5 percent, and this year the tendency saw an 8.5 percent drop to 55 percent.

Over the period 2004 to 2007, businesses have considered it important to establish strong working relations with tax authorities and militia, allegedly common benefactors of bribes.

The importance of maintaining relations with local authorities in regions increased last year.

The Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, IER, is an independent research organization founded in 1999 by senior Ukrainian politicians and the German Advisory Group.

The main purpose of the institute is to promote the principles of a free and democratic market economy.

Source: Kyiv Post

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Yulia Tymoshenko Comes Out On Top In Ukraine's Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament closed on Friday, June 15, after a tense two-month crisis. This was a success for Yulia Tymoshenko and her eponymous bloc (BYuT), who were the only political forces consistently calling for early elections since the collapse of the Orange coalition last year.

Yulia Tymoshenko is a political force to be contended with.

On April 2 President Viktor Yushchenko followed suit, disbanding parliament and calling for early parliamentary elections later that same month.

BYuT has come out on top in Ukraine’s spring 2007 political crisis. Tymoshenko could again become prime minister if Orange forces win the September 30 parliamentary elections.

And if not this year, she could set her eye on the 2009 elections.

Recent developments suggest that Tymoshenko’s political fortunes are on the upswing. After only eight months Tymoshenko lost the prime minister’s post in September 2005 when corruption allegations surfaced against the president’s business entourage.

Yushchenko then dismissed the government, a right he had under the 1996 constitution but does not have under the 2006 version.

The move had two strategic consequences for his political allies.

First, the Orange camp fractured for 18 months. Our Ukraine and BYuT did not reunite until February 24, 2007. Oleksandr Moroz’s Socialists and Anatoliy Kinakh’s Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, both of whom had defected to Yushchenko in the second round of the 2004 presidential elections, had supported two Orange governments in 2005-2006/7 but moved to the Anti-Crisis coalition of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in 2006-2007.

Second, the Orange split permitted Yanukovych and his Party of Regions to revive their fortunes. In the seven months between the September 2005 cabinet crisis and the March 2006 parliamentary elections, the Party of Regions effectively doubled its popular support.

The Party of Regions placed first in the 2006 elections, and likely will do so again in September, but it cannot count on a landslide, especially in western-central Ukraine, where there is a greater degree of political competition with no dominant political force.

Tymoshenko is steadily gaining ground across the country.

BYuT is seeking to use the 2007 elections to dent the popularity of the Party of Regions in its eastern-southern Ukrainian stronghold.

Most members of the Party of Regions live in eastern (62%) and southern (21%) Ukraine, but in the 2006 elections BYuT placed second in every region of eastern-southern Ukraine except the two Donbas oblasts, the Crimean autonomous republic, and the city of Sevastopol.

Polls have consistently put BYuT in second place nationally, making it the leading Orange political force. Between the 2002 and 2006 elections BYuT tripled its support from 7.26% to 22.29%, while Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine declined from 23.57% to 13.95%.

Part of this growth is due to disillusionment with President Yushchenko, which led to a large defection of Orange voters from Our Ukraine to BYuT and changed the configuration of national democratic forces.

Our Ukraine has recovered some since 2006, and now includes the Yuriy Lutsenko People’s Self Defense group (focusing on the youth vote) and Ukrainian Rightists (based largely on the two wings of Rukh) among its members.

However, Our Ukraine’s expanded bloc still is unlikely to dent BYuT’s leadership of the Orange camp.

Since the 2002 and 2004 elections Tymoshenko has successfully improved her public image. Prior to the 2002 and 2004 elections, Tymoshenko’s ratings had been influenced by her time as president of United Energy Systems (1995-97) and political alliance with disgraced prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko’s Hromada (1998-99).

Both made Tymoshenko seem an ally of business.

But to become prime minister, Tymoshenko must first win the 2007 elections.

She and Yushchenko realize that the September election will be close. Polls suggest that neither the Blue (Party of Region) or Orange camp will score a landslide victory.

Instead, each faction is likely to win somewhere around 45-55%. Therefore, they need to fight for every percentage vote.

The number of votes wasted on parties that will fail to cross the 3 percent threshold will leave a large number to be distributed among the four leading political forces.

They must also tame the rivalry within the Orange camp. In the 2006 elections the Orange camp won, but it took three months to pick an acceptable prime minister and parliamentary speaker.

Yushchenko and Our Ukraine refused to adhere to the pre-election agreement that the Orange party that placed first would receive the prime minister’s position.

Our Ukraine also refused to back Moroz for speaker, causing the Socialist Party’s defection. This gave the Party of Regions and the Communists enough votes to establish the Anti-Crisis coalition and a parliamentary majority.

This split is less likely today. The national democratic wing of Our Ukraine now dominates its leadership.

Our Ukraine leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko and Lutsenko have ruled out a coalition with the Party of Regions. (In 2006 Our Ukraine, then controlled by its business wing, sought a grand coalition with the Party of Regions).

In an interview with Izvestiya in Ukraine, Tymoshenko repeated her stance that BYuT would either be in a “democratic coalition” with Our Ukraine or in opposition.

Yushchenko has also stated his support for a “democratic coalition.”

The 2007 elections will likely return Tymoshenko to head the government if the two remaining Orange forces win a majority of seats and, as is likely, BYuT comes first among the orange camp.

If the Party of Regions and Communists win a majority, Tymoshenko will head the opposition, giving her a launching pad for the 2009 elections. Either way, she is poised to again be a major force in Ukrainian politics.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Ukraine Marked By Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- As Ukraine's president and prime minister struggle for power, bringing the country close to violent clashes between opposing security forces, new elections tentatively scheduled for September are unlikely to change much.

Lately, Ukraine's two Viktors only smile for the cameras.

Ukraine has been wracked by political crises since the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. The political deals made to solve these crises have been short-term bandages on gaping wounds.

The power struggle between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych continues to simmer and could easily lead to violence, with new parliamentary elections, tentatively scheduled for 30 September, unlikely to bring about a resolution.

In 2004, Yushchenko, by most accounts a pro-Western leader bent on leading the country towards Euro-Atlantic integration, beat out Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician with close ties to Moscow.

But only two years later the Orange Revolution came nearly full circle as parliament voted to nominate Yanukovych to be the country's next prime minister. The two leaders' effort to share power would provoke the latest crisis.

Shortly before Yanukovych's nomination, the two rivals signed a declaration that would lay the foundation for a coalition government uniting Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Many observers at the time said the deal was essentially superficial and that, below the surface, powerful oligarchs were calling the shots, making every effort to ensure that former Yushchenko ally and Orange Revolutionary Yulia Tymoshenko – who had pledged to crack down on their activities – would not become prime minister.

Crisis enters a new phase

As the crisis enters a new phase, one that nearly turned violent in late May, both Yushchenko and Yanukovych are accusing each other of having exceeded their assigned powers.

In April, Yushchenko accused Yanukovych of illegally attempting to amass a majority in parliament through "bribery" and "pressure." His response was to order the parliament dissolved. Yanukovych responded that such a move was beyond the president's powers.

The crisis reached a dangerous climax in the last week of May when Yushchenko fired the prosecutor-general, in order to gain control over the security services, and deployed several thousands troops to protect the parliament, while Yanukovych directed the police to restore order.

On the brink of violent clashes, Yushchenko and Yanukovych agreed to set a date for new elections on 30 September, but the parliament, though dissolved, is still operating, as lawmakers loyal to Yanukovych refuse to leave.

Observers say the crisis is far from over and that both sides have showed in May how far they are willing to take the issue

Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz has refused to formally dissolve the parliament, citing technical reasons. The parliament must be dissolved 60 days before a new vote can be held.

In the meantime, the EU is urging Ukraine to resolve its political differences if there is to be any hope for future cooperation agreements.

During a high-level meeting between Ukrainian and EU officials on 18 June, EU Council President Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Ukrainian officials to uphold an earlier agreement to hold new parliamentary elections to resolve the political crisis.

Steinmeier stressed the importance of maintaining the pace of political and economic reform in Ukraine, saying that special attention should be given to ensuring justice and the fight against corruption.

He called for an independent judicial system and speedy reforms that would prepare the country for a future with the EU.

Still, there were some concrete steps taken. Two agreements on visa facilitation and readmission were signed in accordance with the official start of negotiations on a new Enhanced Agreement between the EU and Ukraine.

Crisis set to continue

According to Dr Ustina Markus, a Ukraine expert and associate professor at the KIMEP-Department of Political Science in Almaty, enough deputies have resigned to allow the parliament to dissolve itself.

However, Moroz maintains that it must be confirmed that there are no more candidates from the 2006 election lists of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine and Tymoshenko’s bloc that can replace those who have resigned.

If that is confirmed then parliament is indeed dissolved.

"There are clearly some deputies who are unhappy with the situation, most likely because they are concerned about being re-elected themselves, but there are also some concerns about the new composition of the parliament after new elections are held," Markus told ISA.

"Last year, when Yushchenko was unable to form a government and there was talk of having new elections, it did not look as if they would change much since the previous elections had just taken place. This time there is a larger likelihood that the composition would change, but it looks as if Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party would get fewer votes because people are disappointed in him. Many people voted for him less because of his own platform, than as a rejection of Kuchma’s old regime, and seeing Yanukovych as his prime minister was a betrayal in a way," she said.

Furthermore, Markus says, "the continual problems with parliament, forming a government, etc. have made him look weak and unable to govern. In that sense, elections may not change much at all, since Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is still likely to command the largest vote, since his support base is regionally located in the country’s most populous area.

If Moroz loses some votes - surveys show he has lost some support - and Yushchenko loses some votes, then the balance may well stay the same and elections will not resolve anything."

Still, since the heady days of the Orange Revolution, both Yushchenko and the public have lost much. Yushchenko's power base continues to dwindle as the public becomes increasingly disillusioned and disappointed.

While this is not likely to lead to any windfall victory for Yanukovych, it is very likely to spell defeat for Ukraine's EU ambitions, at least in the short term.

If new elections fail to change anything, violent clashes between opposing security forces could be the chosen catalyst for change, with dangerous and unpredictable results.

Source: ISA Portal

Monday, June 18, 2007

EU Says Hopes Ukraine Holds Elections As Planned

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union told Ukraine's prime minister on Monday that it had watched recent domestic upheaval in Ukraine with concern and hoped that elections would take place as planned on Sept. 30.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

"We are concerned to ensure that the instability that was seen in the spring will not be continued in the winter," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she hoped the EU would be able to send an observer mission to the polls and that they would be free and fair.

Steinmeier, who represented the German EU presidency, and Ferrero-Waldner spoke after signing an agreement with Ukraine that will make it easier for some of its citizens to obtain visas for the EU and increase the quantity of Ukrainian steel products allowed into the bloc.

The meeting also discussed progress in negotiations on an enhanced cooperation agreement between the EU and Ukraine, which became a neighbour of the bloc when Poland and Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004 and harbours entry ambitions itself.

Brussels has said entry is not currently a prospect.

The visa deal will make it easier for people such as business people, students, academics, journalists and truck drivers to obtain EU visas and simplify the documentation required.

As part of the agreement, Ukraine will agree to take back citizens of third countries who have entered the union illegally via its territory.

The deal on steel products will increase a quota for EU imports of flat and rolled steel to 1.32 million tonnes from just over 1 million tonnes.

It will be valid until Ukraine joins the World Trade Organisation, after which the trade will be totally liberalised.

Source: Javno

Ukraine Farmers Suffer In Worst Drought For Century

UROZHAINE, Ukraine -- Svitlana Nadich is almost beyond hoping that even a little rain will fall on her brittle, parched wheatfields in southern Ukraine.

The Nadich family gathers parched wheat plants to cut financial losses in the drought-hit Kherson region in southern Ukraine. Drought has hit 60 percent of Ukraine's grain crop and is a sensitive political issue ahead of a September parliamentary election.

The $20,000 (10,000 pound) investment made by four village families, the sowing and care in applying fertiliser, all appear to be in vain as the region endures its worst drought in more than a century.

"Some people from the city ask God not to send rain to keep things dry. We do the opposite. We keep asking: 'Give us rain!'" she said while collecting some withered shoots.

"If you don't want to have mercy on us, then have mercy on our children. We have had no more than 10 minutes of rain."

With a snap parliamentary election due in September, drought and the prospect of further, hugely unpopular rises in bread prices are high on the political agenda -- and surely the last thing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich wanted.

Bread prices have gone up in a number of regions. The increases are by no means uniform but in general prices have risen by up to 10 percent with the biggest increases in central and western ukraine.

Yanukovich, long at odds with pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, has threatened to sack top farm officials if further rises occur. One of the prime minister's deputies blamed the liberal opposition, aligned with Yushchenko, for the increases.

Kherson region near the Black Sea, in the heart of Ukraine's grain belt, is one of 10 areas hit by drought -- 60 percent of grainfields have felt the effects. The government on Monday reduced its crop forecast to 30 million tonnes from 38 million.

Walking through the stunted shoots in Nadich's field -- which rise to a man's calf rather than his waist -- produces no normal "swish" of passing through a thriving grain field.

Rather, an agonising crunching noise resounds. Dust clouds billow throughout the area around Urozhaine -- "bumper crop" in Ukrainian.

"Whatever we manage to save will be used as feed to keep our cattle alive," Nadich said, a straw hat shielding her from searing sunlight. "We just don't know how we're going to live."

STUNTED SEEDLINGS

Harvesters are rendered useless by seedlings about 15 cm (six inches) tall, each containing an alarming four seeds per ear, instead of the normal 17 to 18.

"We have invested so much and what will we get? Nothing. There will be nothing to sow next year," Oleksander Danylko said, stepping down from the wheel of his combine harvester.

"There won't even be money for fuel. From 10 hectares, we threshed 1.5 tonnes. That might be enough for the chickens in the yard."

Kherson routinely harvests a million tonnes of grain and sowed 500,000 hectares this year but forecasters say the region could lose at least 60 percent. Farmers say yields are about 0.15 tonnes per hectare compared with 3.5 in 2006.

The thermometer at the nearby weather station shows 32 degrees (90 Fahrenheit). Soil temperatures register 53 degrees (127 Fahrenheit).

"We haven't seen such a period of drought for more than 100 years, with our wheat and barley and rapeseed suffering so badly," said Anna Pashnyuk, the station's chief forecaster.

"Our sunflowers are also in a terrible state."

The din from the corner comes from the ageing telex machine dispatching a report on conditions to regional centres.

Drought and a poor harvest also stand to create havoc on international grain markets, with traders closely watching each day without rain.

Last season, the government slapped quotas on grain exports, enraging traders and Ukraine's trading partners. The U.S. ambassador told ministers that was no way to integrate Ukraine into world markets.

Ministers say they are ready to introduce restrictions again from next month -- to keep down those sensitive bread prices.

Stepan Melnychuk, head of the regional meteorological service, shakes his head as he tours farms and reflects on the knock-on effect drought will have on next year's crop.

"If we get no rain, the situation will truly become critical for next year's winter crops," he said.

"This could produce another bad harvest next year."

Source: Reuters

Ukraine Opposition Looks To Tymoshenko Bloc To Form New Coalition

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-presidential opposition party Our Ukraine will only form a coalition with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc in a new parliament, the party leader said Saturday.

Yulia Tymoshenko

"After the November 30 election, we will form a coalition, but only with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, not any of the forces that are today part of the 'anti-crisis' coalition," Vyacheslav Kyryllenko said.

Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko resigned Thursday as a member of her eponymous bloc in parliament.

Under an agreement reached previously between the Ukrainian president, prime minister and speaker, early parliamentary elections have been set for September 30, which requires that all MPs formally resign.

A total of 105 MPs have thus far announced they are quitting their factions, including 50 YTB and 29 pro-presidential opposition Our Ukraine members.

More than 150 MPs must quit the 450-member legislature for it to lose its legitimacy and to prevent the coalition, still reluctant to dissolve, from continuing its work.

Yushchenko and his archrival, Viktor Yanukovych, agreed May 27 to hold snap elections in a bid to end a protracted political crisis in Ukraine, which was threatening to turn violent as troops loyal to both leaders were being drawn into the power struggle.

The president suspended his April 2 order to dissolve the Supreme Rada for four days to give the legislature time to pass laws clearing the way for snap polls and to refresh the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Yushchenko has been pressing for parliament's dissolution and early elections following the defection by 11 opposition members to the ruling coalition, which the president said was an attempt to "usurp power."

Moscow-friendly Yanukovych, who was defeated by Yushchenko in the contested presidential elections in 2004, eventually agreed to early polls, ending two months of political infighting and street rallies.

Yanukovych returned to politics last year, when his party won the majority of seats in parliament and formed the ruling coalition.

Source: RIA Novosti

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Elton John Gives Kiev HIV Concert

KIEV, Ukraine -- Elton John has given a free concert in the main square of Ukraine's capital, Kiev, to promote HIV-Aids awareness. President Viktor Yushchenko and other leading politicians were among the 200,000 people attending the show.

British pop star Elton John performs at his concert in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, June 16, 2007. Sir Elton John, one of the most famous British pop artists, performed his free charity show in Ukraine's capital Kiev. The concert was aimed to support Ukrainian children suffering from HIV/AIDS. The show lasted for about 2.5 hours and took place on the central square of Kiev.

Ukraine has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Europe with a new case every 10 minutes, according to Ukraine's Anti-Aids Foundation.

The organisers said they hope the UK star's performance will help reduce ignorance surrounding the disease.

The free, open-air concert, which was broadcast live on Ukrainian TV, was the biggest ever seen in Ukraine.

The event's slogan was "Stop Aids before it stops us" and Elton John told the crowd that he would do all he could to help Ukraine in its battle against the disease.

His Aids foundation already funds 23 HIV-Aids projects in Ukraine and he said that the concert would allow them to do even more.

Before the show free condoms were handed out along with leaflets on HIV testing and counselling centres.

Boycott call

A religious group had urged Ukrainians to boycott the event, describing it as blasphemous and accusing Elton John of trying to promote a gay lifestyle.

Despite the Western outlook of Ukraine's leader, it is a conservative and predominantly Orthodox Christian country, the BBC's Helen Fawkes in Kiev says.

Even in the capital, very few men are openly gay, while lesbians are virtually invisible, our correspondent says.

An estimated 400,000 people are HIV-positive in Ukraine and it is believed that gay men make up only a small percentage of that figure.

Experts say that the disease, which was initially spread by drug-users, is now becoming widespread and that within the next decade one in 50 people in Ukraine could be HIV-positive.

Source: BBC News

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Elton John Gig Divides Ukrainians

KIEV, Ukraine -- It is being billed as the biggest social event of the year in Ukraine. Elton John is set to play a free concert in the capital Kiev to raise awareness about HIV/Aids.

British pop star, Sir Elton John walks during his visit to Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, June 15, 2007. Sir Elton John, one of the most famous British pop artists, will perform a free charity show in Ukraine's capital Kiev on June 16. The concert is aimed to support Ukrainian children suffering from HIV/AIDS. The show will last for about 2.5 hours and will take place on the central square of Kiev.

But his show has attracted some critics as there is widespread homophobia in Ukraine.

This former Soviet republic has one of the fastest growing infection rates in Europe.

There is a new case every 10 minutes, according to Ukraine's Anti-Aids Foundation.

Mega-stars do not often come to Kiev, so thousands are expected at the event on Saturday night.

'Religious hatred'

A religious group has urged Ukrainians to boycott the event, describing it as blasphemous.

"We believe that gay people are responsible for spreading Aids," says Svyatoslav Domalevsky from The Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine.

"Elton John is gay and we don't want him promoting that kind of lifestyle here."

Despite the Western outlook of Ukraine's leader, it is a conservative and predominantly Orthodox Christian country.

"Religion is responsible for a lot of the hatred people feel towards people like me," says Petro Polyantsev, an HIV-positive gay rights activist.

"We live with stigma, discrimination and homophobia. We constantly fear that we may be attacked just for being gay."

Soviet legacy

Petro became HIV-positive at the age of 19 when he was a student in southern Ukraine.

He moved to Kiev as it is relatively more tolerant.

But even in the capital, very few men are openly gay while lesbians are virtually invisible.

Many blame the legacy of the Soviet Union.

Back then being gay was a crime and those found guilty faced being sent to the Gulag.

Ukraine decriminalised homosexuality in 1991 but prejudices persist.

"Many of the older generation still think that homosexuals should be prosecuted," says Petro Polyantsev of the All Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/Aids.

An estimated 400,000 people are HIV-positive in Ukraine.

It is believed that gay men make up only a small percentage of that figure.

Disease spreading

Experts say that the disease was initially spread by drug-users but now that is changing.

"The situation is very bad - nobody really knows how many people are ill," says Oleg, a Kiev businessman who was diagnosed as being HIV-positive two years ago

"The virus hits ordinary Ukrainians now, it's not just the problem of drug-users anymore, and it's affecting everyone."

It is feared that within the next decade, one in 50 people in Ukraine could be HIV-positive.

Considering the scale of the problem, there is little funding on offer from the authorities. This year the government is reported to have allocated $20m (£10m).

Most of the money to tackle the disease comes from international donors and charities.

Elton John's Aids Foundation is spending more than $5m on projects in Ukraine.

This weekend's events were organised to try to change people attitudes.

An exhibition of photographs from Elton John's collection is on display at Kiev's modern art gallery.

As the sun goes down over Kiev, the British entertainer will perform an open-air concert in the city's main square.

"The spread of HIV and Aids is a huge problem for our country but people don't seem to talk about it much," says Mr Polyantsev.

"I hope that Elton's show will help to change things."

Source: BBC News

Friday, June 15, 2007

McDonald’s Expansion To Take Off

KIEV, Ukraine -- McDonald’s is stepping up the expansion of its already significant restaurant network in Ukraine in response to what market players say is a continually increasing demand for fast food.

One of the first Kiev McDonald's located in Independence Square.

And while homegrown chains follow in the fast-food giant’s wake, major international competition has been hesitant to enter the country due to franchising problems.

McDonald’s Ukraine Director Ihor Delov announced during a May 23 press conference to mark the company’s 10th anniversary that the fast-food giant would nearly double the number of its restaurants over the next several years.

“During the next five to seven years, we plan to increase the amount of McDonald’s in Ukraine to 100 restaurants, because the market is emerging in Ukraine,” McDonald’s spokesperson Anastasiya Zrazhevska confirmed to the Post.

McDonald’s currently boasts 57 restaurants in 16 Ukrainian cities.

“We have [recently] opened a new restaurant in Kryvy Rih, and we plan to open new McDonald’s in Odessa, Kyiv and Kharkiv this year, and about five new restaurants next year,” she said.

Of McDonald’s 57 current restaurants, 47 were opened in the first five years, with the rest trickling onto the market thereafter.

“In 2002-2004, McDonald’s corporation started a new strategy, the main tendency of which was not to open a big amount of new restaurants, but to increase the efficiency of existing restaurants. McDonald’s Ukraine was a part of this global strategy. That is why McDonald’s Ukraine didn’t open a lot of new restaurants in this period of time,” Zrazhevska explained.

But now the fast-food giant is making up for lost time. Its appetite for Ukraine’s budding economy, and the country’s double-digit growth in disposable household incomes, is growing.

“We see that the Ukrainian market is emergent and it is growing by 15-20 percent every year. Furthermore, McDonald’s Ukraine has good economic results. Therefore, European management sees great opportunities for McDonald’s Ukraine’s development.”

According to McDonald’s, the opening of a single restaurant costs from $1 million to $1.5 million.

In most of the more than 100 countries in which McDonald’s operates, the restaurants are owned by a franchise.

But “McDonald’s Ukraine doesn’t work with a franchise. From our point of view, Ukrainian legislation doesn’t have enough means of control for the franchise’s standards,” according to Zrazhevska.

As a result, since launching operations in Ukraine, McDonald’s has reported investment totaling $93 million.

“[Around] 70 percent of McDonald’s are owned by a franchise. But Ukraine is not the only country where McDonald’s doesn’t work with a franchise,” the company spokesperson said.

The multinational, which boasts 31,000 outlets in more than 100 countries, doesn’t release information on specific markets.

Worldwide, McDonald’s Corporation reported record-high revenues of $21.6 billion last year.

Ukraine, where 5,000 McDonald’s workers are employed, was the 102nd country to host the fast-food giant.

Since 1997, when McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Ukraine, other homegrown fast-food chains have followed in its footsteps, such as Dva Husya, Mak Smak and foreign-owned Mister Snak.

McDonald’s Ukraine says it enjoys 11 percent of visitors to fast-food eating establishments in Ukraine’s biggest cities.

Mister Snack co-owner Falk Nebiger told the Post that growth in Ukraine’s fast-food market is “huge. It’s growing in double digits.”

According to him, the main thing keeping out other international fast-food giants is Ukraine’s high rental costs.

One such likely international competitor for McDonald’s in Ukraine is Yum! Brands Inc., the world’s largest restaurant company in terms of system units, with approximately 34,000 restaurants.

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Yum! brands include Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

“We are strongly developing in Central and Eastern Europe. Our growth markets in the region are primarily Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary,” Yum! spokesman Christophe LeCureuil told the Post.

Of Yum!’s 34,000 restaurants, 2,500 are located in Europe.

However, according to LeCureuil, Yum! has no immediate plans to set up shop in Ukraine.

“When opening in new countries, we seek to partner with franchisees that have the expertise, culture and financial means to develop scale. We haven’t yet found this partner in Ukraine,” he said.

Working with franchises puts expenses like rental costs on the local operator.

LeCureuil said that Yum! has a presence in 120 countries with both wholly-owned and franchised restaurants and that 75 percent of its restaurants are franchised.

Last year, Yum!’s international division generated over $400 million in operating profits.

But fast-food operators in Ukraine say franchises are still getting on their feet.

“Franchising is difficult now in Ukraine, but it definitely has a future,” said Nebiger.

Source: Kyiv Post

NATO To Continue Assisting Ukraine In Defense Reforms, Pursuit Of Membership

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO reiterated Thursday its strong determination to sustain efforts to assist Ukraine in implementing defense and security reforms and in pursuing membership of the military bloc.

Ukraine's Defence Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko briefs the media after meeting NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (not pictured) at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels June 14, 2007.

NATO defense ministers made the pledge at a meeting of the NATO- Ukraine Commission, marking the 10th anniversary of the NATO- Ukraine Distinctive Partnership.

"NATO members are ready to assist Ukraine in the process" of aspiring for NATO membership, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko at a post-meeting press conference.

In a statement issued after the meeting, NATO ministers voiced strong determination to continue to develop the "strategically important" partnership with Ukraine including through reinforcing efforts to assist Ukraine in conducting public information campaigns about NATO and its roles.

"Ministers reiterated their strong commitment to and support for Euro-Atlantic values and agreed to continue to work together to strengthen the principles of the rule of law including through ensuring effective civil and democratic control of security and defense structures and supporting the development of democratic institutions," said the statement.

NATO defense ministers applauded Ukraine's contribution to common security, noting that Ukraine is the only NATO partner country that was involved in all current NATO operations and missions.

Meanwhile, the ministers stressed the need to continue to implement "wide-ranging reforms" particularly in Ukraine's intelligence and security services as part of the country's National Security Sector Review in its pursuit of Euro-Atlantic integration.

The NATO-Ukraine Commission session was part of the two-day NATO defense ministers' meeting, which opened Thursday morning at the bloc's headquarters.

Source: Xinhua

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bones Beneath A Ukraine Meadow Revive A Chapter Of Holocaust Horror

GVOZDAVKA-1, Ukraine -- As children watched in the hot sunshine, a dozen rabbis scoured a Ukrainian village meadow for bones — the fragmented remains of Jews systematically murdered here in the Holocaust.

A rabbi covers with earth remains of Jews slaughtered in Ukraine during World War II, in the village of Gvozdavka-1. Top Jewish experts from Israel and US came to the site to consider procedures of reburying and identification of the Holocaust victims.

People who live in Gvozdavka-1 know that thousands of Jews were killed in the area during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, but the evidence didn't surface until April, when workers laying gas pipes happened on the burial ground.

On Monday, the rabbis — including three Holocaust scholars from Israel and the United States — spent several hours hunting for bones, which they immediately shoveled back into the ground.

For 70 years, Gvozdavka-1's villagers planted vegetables and grazed cows on the meadow, and told their children horrific stories about thousands of Jews executed in the village, 110 miles (180 kilometers) northwest of Odessa.

"My grandmother frightened me with this story. What happened here is horrible," said Vika Bengul, 14, who often played in the meadow.

In November 1941, Romanian troops allied with the Nazis set up a concentration camp in Gvozdavka-1, where about 5,000 Jews perished, according to regional Jewish leaders. Jews were brought here from several regions of Ukraine, as well as from what is now Moldova, they said.

Each day several cartloads of Jews arrived, villagers say. Some Jews were executed, while others died of starvation or disease.

"They extended their hands through the camp fence begging for food," said 78-year old Olha Tomachenko. "We threw potatoes and bread to them."

Tomachenko recalled how the inmates lived in the open, drenched by rain, freezing in the winter. "They gave birth to their kids and died at the camp," she said.

Yakov Ruza, rabbinical representative at the Israeli government's L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine, said there are plans to fence off the site and put up a monument, but not to exhume the dead and try to identify them.

"We want to cover the place," he said. "These holy Jews will stay where they are."

The names of 93 of the Jews killed at the Gvozdavka-1 site have already been established, according to Ukraine's Jewish community, while the identities of the others are probably documented at archives in Moscow and Israel.

Villagers say the mass grave is only one of at least four in Gvozdavka-1.

"They buried them everywhere. It was impossible to remember the places," said 80-year-old Olha Korsya.

Parfeniy Bohopolsky, 85, remembered how Jews were tortured and killed, and their bodies then piled on carts for burial at sites scattered through the village. Bohopolsky said when he was 18, he drove one of the carts.

"Then I told my boss: 'You can kill me but I will never do it again,'" he said, his eyes filling with tears.

Tomachenko said a Jewish girl who escaped from the camp spent one night at her family's home. But in the morning, Tomachenko's grandmother told her to leave.

"Go anywhere God sends you, or the Romanians will kill you and me," the grandmother said, according to Tomachenko.

She doesn't know what became of her, but still keeps a small white towel the girl gave her.

Vera Kryzhanivska said the village council she heads would be helpful and soon discuss a request to hand control of the meadow to Jewish groups.

Some Jewish community leaders said villagers could have shown more respect for the dead.

"How could people just walk past the grave and do nothing?" said Ilia Levitas, the head of Ukraine's Jewish Council. "Where is their Christian mercy?"

Bones were discovered during earlier excavation work in 1974, according to some of the rabbis, but Ukraine was then part of the Soviet Union, which kept silent about it.

The destruction of Ukrainian Jewry is symbolized by Babi Yar, a ravine outside the capital, Kiev, where the Nazis killed about 34,000 Jews during just two days in September 1941.

Levitas said Ukraine has 726 Nazi-era mass graves. About 1.7 million Ukrainian Jews were killed, he said. But Yahad-In Unum, a Paris-based group documenting Jewish mass graves in Ukraine, has covered one fifth of the country and has already documented 600 mass graves.

Source: International Heral Tribune