Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yanukovych May Win Most Votes In Ukraine, Lose Power

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is favored to win the most votes in today's parliamentary election. That may not be enough to save his job.

Ukraine's Prime Minister and the leader of pro-Russian Regions Party, Viktor Yanukovich, waves as he arrives to vote in a polling station in Kiev.

His two main opponents, President Viktor Yushchenko and former premier Yulia Timoshenko, have renewed their alliance that denied Yanukovych the presidency in 2004 during the ``Orange Revolution'' and fell apart less than a year later.

Yanukovych's Party of the Regions ranked first in the most recent opinion poll ahead of Timoshenko's bloc and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party.

The prime minister may struggle to build a coalition with his Communist Party allies after Timoshenko and Our Ukraine agreed to try to form an administration led by Timoshenko.

The result ``will not give an answer to who will control the parliament'' at once, said Paul D'Anieri, professor of political science and associate dean of the University of Kansas, in a telephone interview. ``Timoshenko and Yushchenko are on the track of Yanukovych and this gives them good chances to form the government.''

Voting will end at 10 p.m., with first results from exit polls due soon after and the final result tomorrow. At 4 p.m., turnout was 43 percent, according to the Central Election Commission in Kiev.

More than 50 percent of the 37 million registered voters must cast their ballots for the elections to be valid and a party must win more than 3 percent of the vote to enter the parliament.

Orange Renewal

Yushchenko's accord with Timoshenko restores the alliance that swept to power in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was triggered by a rigged presidential election in which Yanukovych, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed victory.

The Orange allies, who aim to move closer to the European Union and NATO, fell out during Timoshenko's premiership, allowing Yanukovych to win elections last year and become prime minister.

Our Ukraine was third in the last opinion poll before the elections, with the backing of 13.1 percent of voters, according to a Sept. 1-10 survey of 2,004 voters by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies. Timoshenko's bloc had 23.5 percent support and Regions 33.9 percent.

Timoshenko and Yushchenko were shown embracing on television on Sept. 27, signaling their accord was restored. The reconstituted Orange bloc may gain enough seats to form a government because of rising support for Timoshenko, analysts said.

To stay in power, Yanukovych's party may have to continue its links with the Communist Party, which is supported by 5 percent of voters, according to the poll. Other smaller parties may garner enough seats to hold the balance of power. They haven't said which coalition they'll support.

OSCE Presence

``I am sure that we will win and form a coalition,'' Yanukovych said today, according to a statement on his Web site. ``The results of the elections will be not cheated and we will not have early elections in Ukraine in future.''

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the main human rights watchdog, has deployed 710 election monitors across the country, said Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The OSCE has expressed concern about possible irregularities, she said.

``There has been a lot of discussion and complaints about voter lists,'' said Gunnarsdottir, adding that the complaints include suggestions lists are inaccurate and people living abroad may be registered to vote.

Casting Ballot

After casting his ballot this morning, Yushchenko said in comments broadcast on TV that ``today's elections will be democratic, no one will dare to falsify them. The people's choice will bring stability and economic prosperity to the country. Please, come and vote.''

Kiev's main Independence Square, where hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters gathered to play out the revolution three years ago, was quiet today and filled only with families enjoying the sunshine.

There was no sign of an extra police presence or followers of any of the main parties in the city center.

Source: Bloomberg

Ukraine Votes To End Standoff

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians began voting Sunday in an early parliamentary election meant to bring an end to a months-long political standoff between the nation's two feuding leaders.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko and his wife Kateryna arrive at a Kiev polling station to vote.

President Viktor Yushchenko's party appeared set for a dismal showing, with polls predicting the bloc led by rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych would get the largest share of votes.

But Yushchenko is pinning his hopes on a last-minute alliance with former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko -- a partnership that could give their parties control of parliament if together they get more votes than Yanukovych's bloc.

Forging a coalition with Tymoshenko, however, could mean weeks of negotiation and Yanukovych has signaled that he would not give up power easily.

Polls predict Yanukovych's Party of Regions will receive the most votes, with Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko in second place. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-People's Self-defense, hampered by voter disappointment with his failure to fulfill reformist promises that brought him to power in 2005, is expected to wind up third. Ukraine has 37.5 million registered voters. Watch polls open in Ukraine

Yanukovych, an earthy 57-year-old former metal worker, has undergone a dramatic transformation since his humiliating defeat in the 2004 presidential race, when Ukrainians took to the streets in massive protests against election fraud dubbed the Orange Revolution, paving the way for Yushchenko's victory in a court-ordered rerun.

But Yanukovych made a stunning comeback in the March 2006 parliamentary elections when his party won the most votes, propelling him back into premiership. He sought to change his image, casting himself as a democrat and preaching compromise and stability.

Yanukovych, who draws his support from Ukraine's Russian-speaking east and south, fiercely resisted Yushchenko's April decision to dissolve parliament and call new elections after the president accused him of seeking to usurp power. Yanukovych grudgingly agreed to the Sunday vote, but has hinted he would accept only one outcome: his victory.

He has accused Yushchenko and Tymoshenko's parties of preparing widespread falsifications, and warned he could organize protests similar to those during the Orange Revolution. His supporters warned they would erect a giant stage and tent camp on the same central Kiev square that was the epicenter of the protests three years ago.

Raisa Bohatyryova, a leading member of Yanukovych's party, said Friday that if it judges the vote fraudulent, Ukraine could end up with dueling parliaments and Cabinets and a campaign for early presidential elections.

Yushchenko, 53, has struggled with voter disillusionment and a loss of support among many voters now backing Tymoshenko, the telegenic Orange Revolution heroine known here simply as Yulia.

He and the 46-year-old Tymoshenko parted ways after he fired her from a seven-month stint as prime minister in 2005. Their two parties lost a chance to form a coalition following last year's parliamentary elections, sowing even further disillusionment among liberal voters.

While Yushchenko has been weakened by Yanukovych, Tymoshenko has emerged as a fiery opposition crusader and has been able to woo many of his supporters.

"She's a woman, she's a mother -- just like Ukraine," Tamara Novikova, a 65-year-old retired music teacher said at a Kiev polling station after casting her ballot for Tymoshenko's bloc. "And, most importantly, men are afraid of her."

"She always gets her point across. She's always true to herself -- today she's the same as two or three years ago," said another enthusiastic Tymoshenko supporter, Pyotr Shekhvits, a 53-year-old medical worker.

In a last-minute move to consolidate the Orange camp, Yushchenko met with Tymoshenko earlier this week, kissing her hand and vowing that their parties would form a coalition.

Yushchenko made the same pledge in a televised speech to the nation late Saturday.

"I believe in the unity and the victory of the Ukrainian democracy," Yushchenko said. "The issue is very simple: either you will vote for changes or your vote will be claimed by the past, by those who are trying to split us."

Tymoshenko, who has long said that reuniting the Orange team was the only chance at implementing reforms and integrating with the West, hailed Yushchenko's move.

Source: CNN

Orange Revolution's Captains Battle Again In Ukraine Election

KIEV, Ukraine — With politicized concerts, fervent street rallies, a barrage of political advertising and allegations of rigged voter lists, the two sides that faced off in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" are at it again.

Today's elections are maily a faceoff between Viktor Yanukovich and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Today's parliamentary elections are largely a faceoff between Yulia Tymoshenko, the most fiery leader of the 2004 protests, and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the object of the protesters' wrath. Offering contrasting styles and foreign-policy goals, they are the main rivals to head the next government of this former Soviet state.

"I want us to go toward Europe rather than Russia," said Antonina Ledeneva, a businesswoman volunteering in Tymoshenko's campaign. "We don't want to have the same 'democracy' as [President Vladimir] Putin has in Russia now."

If this all conjures up a feeling of déjà vu, flash back to 2004. Tymoshenko was the key ally of Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western candidate who nearly died of dioxin poisoning in a plot that some have suggested had ties to Moscow. He went on to win the presidency when the Orange Revolution forced the rerun of rigged elections.

Yanukovich, 57, was the humiliated loser of that bitter race. Perceived then as the Moscow-backed candidate, he since has remade his image, looking and acting more like a Western European politician and less like a stuffy Soviet-era bureaucrat. He even mounted a comeback, becoming prime minister after his party did well in a parliamentary election last year.

Yanukovich's power base is the country's largely Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions. He still insists that closer ties with the West should not come at the expense of warm relations with Moscow, but his campaign emphasizes the claim that he is the more competent manager.

Tymoshenko, 46, has positioned herself as a fighter against corruption and an advocate of close ties with the West. She emphasizes her Ukrainian character by wearing her hair braided and wound around her head in a traditional peasant style.

The battle lines are essentially the same as in 2004. The Orange team, named after Yushchenko's campaign color in his presidential race, is represented by the Tymoshenko bloc and the Our Ukraine People's Self-Defense bloc. The latter group is closely linked to President Yushchenko. Against them stand Yanukovich's Party of Regions and the Communists.

Polls show the two sides in a virtual dead heat.

If Tymoshenko comes out on top, she could try to move this nation of 47 million much more rapidly toward European integration and close ties with the United States.

If Yanukovich prevails, Ukraine would remain more nearly balanced between East and West, although many observers predict that in the long run, the country inevitably will grow closer to the European Union.

Both sides have accused the other of planning to cheat in the election, largely through rigged voter lists said to include hundreds of thousands of "dead souls" and by falsification of the vote count in their respective regional strongholds.

But here's where things veer from a replay of the 2004 race.

Yanukovich's Party of Regions, despite its record of trying to rig the presidential vote in 2004, has been particularly vocal in accusing the Orange camp of planning to cheat this time. That, in turn, has prompted fears in Tymoshenko's circle that the prime minister might refuse to accept a defeat.

Yanukovich has indicated that if he loses in what his side believes was an unfair contest, he will seek to imitate the 2004 upheaval by bringing his supporters into the streets to challenge the results. Party of Regions activists took control of Kiev's central Independence Square last week and appear intent on holding on there until the ballot-counting is complete.

"We see that the Orange team ... will not be able to win the elections by fair means. They see that they are losing, and are preparing to rig the elections. We have enough strength not to allow this," Yanukovich said in televised remarks Tuesday.

Such threats have met with a contemptuous response from the rival camp, which believes Yanukovich does not command the same depth of loyalty from his voters as Yushchenko and Tymoshenko enjoyed when they challenged the rigged 2004 balloting.

The other key post-election factor will be coalition-building. Tymoshenko would be considered the strong favorite if the two Orange blocs win a majority of seats, but even then it would not be a sure thing.

That's because post-election talks between Tymoshenko's bloc and her allies, the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, conceivably could break down.

After the Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko served for seven months as prime minister, but Yushchenko dismissed her after they had a falling out. They patched up their alliance again earlier this year.

Observers do not rule out the possibility that voting results and subsequent negotiations could develop in such a way that the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, associated with Yushchenko, aligns with Yanukovich's Party of Regions.

Advocates of such a deal say it would ensure stability, lead to a more technocratic government and unite the country's disparate regions.

Critics say it would mark a betrayal by Yushchenko of the Orange Revolution itself.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Ukraine Votes In Tense Contest To End Turmoil

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians voted Sunday in a snap parliamentary election meant to end months of political chaos, with pro-Western forces hoping to push their Russian-backed rival from power.

Yulia Tymoshenko offering a prayer for Ukrainian elections.

Polling stations across the former Soviet republic of 47 million people, which is sandwiched between Russia and the European Union, opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and were due to close at 10:00 pm (1900 GMT).

On the eve of the election, Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko appealed for voters to end "chaos" and back reforms promised during the 2004 pro-democracy "Orange Revolution."

The election to the single-chamber parliament, the Rada, was called to resolve a power struggle between Yushchenko and his prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, who is closer to Ukraine's former ruler Moscow.

None of the leading three parties was expected to win an outright majority, meaning coalition talks were inevitable.

Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-People's Self Defence party is teaming up with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, headed by glamorous former prime minister Tymoshenko, another key leader in the "Orange Revolution."

They hope to win enough combined votes to form a new government, with Tymoshenko replacing Yanukovych as premier.

However, polls predict Yanukovych's Regions Party will come a close second to the combined "Orange" parties. The prime minister may still be able to form a majority coalition if any of the 17 smaller parties manage to win seats.

Washington, the European Union and an increasingly assertive Kremlin are watching closely for political shifts in the former Soviet republic, which has expressed interest in joining both the European Union and NATO.

The country straddles key Russian gas export routes to energy-hungry EU clients.

It is also a testing ground for Western-style economic and political reforms in the former Soviet Union, where many countries are now headed by authoritarian governments.

Yushchenko said in his address Saturday that "the choice, in my view, is very simple: either you vote for change in your life, or for the past and those who divide us."

In the 2004 "Orange Revolution," huge popular protests forced Yanukovych to agree to a rerun of a flawed presidential election in which he had defeated Yushchenko.

Yanukovych was beaten in the rerun, but returned as premier after his party won a parliamentary majority in March 2006 elections.

The upheaval of the "Orange Revolution" sent shockwaves through Russia's political establishment, which had closely backed Yanukovych.

Moscow has accused Western governments of fomenting revolutions in its backyard, but Washington and other Western capitals say they are helping post-Soviet societies develop democracy.

Since then, many Ukrainians have become turned off by seemingly endless political bickering. There are fears of further street demonstrations and court battles if Sunday's election prompts complaints of vote rigging.

A pre-election report by the European Network of Election Monitoring Organisations expressed concerns over voter registration and voting lists which "might lead to cases of multiple voting and ballot stuffing."

The report also criticised increased "abuse" of state resources in favour of certain parties.

Polls show 68 percent of voters will cast ballots. Political passions remain high in parts of the country, which is divided into the pro-Moscow, Russian-speaking east and south, and the more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking west.

Source: AFP

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ukraine's New Orange Alliance May Give Timoshenko Election Edge

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Orange Revolution allies, Yulia Timoshenko and President Viktor Yushchenko, said their renewed alliance after a two-year split will bring them victory in tomorrow's parliamentary elections.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (L) welcomes opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Timoshenko, the president's first prime minister when he took office in 2005, will regain her post, Yuriy Lutsenko, the leader of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, told several thousand supporters during an outdoor rally in the capital Kiev last night.

``We have signed an agreement with Timoshenko's bloc,'' said Lutsenko. ``We will form the cabinet the day after we know the results of the vote.''

Yushchenko's accord with Timoshenko restores the alliance swept to power in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was triggered by rigged presidential elections. The two, who aim to move closer to the European Union and NATO, fell out during Timoshenko's premiership, allowing Viktor Yanukovych, who seeks stronger ties with Russia, to win elections last year and become prime minister.

``Ukrainians, please cheer up,'' said Yushchenko yesterday on Ukrainian TV. ``Ukraine has a great chance on Sept. 30 and it must use it. There is no alternative to democracy in the country.''

The president's Our Ukraine party was third in the last opinion poll before the elections, with the backing of 13.1 percent of voters, according to a Sept. 1-10 survey of 2,004 voters by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies. Timoshenko had 23.5 percent support and Yanukovych 33.9 percent.

Timoshenko and Yushchenko were shown embracing on television on Sept. 27, signaling their pact was restored. The reconstituted Orange bloc may gain enough seats to form a government because of rising support for Timoshenko, analysts said.

Orange Campaign

``Yushchenko's party mainly has support in western Ukraine, while central Ukraine belongs to Yulia,'' said Walter Zarycky, executive director at the Center for U.S.-Ukrainian relations in New York, in a telephone interview. ``Timoshenko also campaigns heavily in eastern and southern Ukraine, the core of Yanukovych's support and she can do really well there.''

To stay in power, Yanukovych's Regions of Ukraine party may have to continue its links with the Communist Party, which is supported by 5 percent of voters, according to the poll. Other smaller parties may garner enough seats to hold the balance of power. They haven't said which coalition they'll support.

Yanukovych's final rally last night took place in the central Kiev square that had been dominated by Orange flags three years ago. After thousands of supporters watched a concert with Ukrainian pop stars, the premier asked voters to elect his party, ``which respects both Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers.''

His party was the only one that can ``bring stability to Ukraine and make our country a nice and reliable neighbor of Russia,'' he said.

Source: Bloomberg

Canadian Election Observers In Ukraine Face Harassment, Threats

TORONTO, Canada -- A group of Canadians in Ukraine to observe this weekend's national elections were harassed and threatened by local officials on Friday after questioning apparent irregularities in voting procedures.

Canadian Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy

Gerard Kennedy said his group of 18 observers was shouted at, threatened with arrest and denounced as provocateurs on local television by party officials at an election centre in Mariupol, a regional industrial centre in southeast Ukraine.

The former Ontario education minister and Liberal leadership candidate said officials who checked the observers' credentials also demanded to see their passports, which they seized. The documents were returned after 15-20 minutes.

Regional election centres are responsible for producing voters lists and distributing ballots to polling places.

The dispute erupted when election officials - who are party functionaries - refused to accept the Canadian observers' complaint that the centre's voters list contained 13,000 duplicate names and that the centre was distributing 30 per cent more ballots than needed.

"We did find some problems" with preparations for Sunday's vote, Kennedy said in a telephone interview. "We found what we think is evidence of potential fraud, and we suffered some degree of intimidation in our observer duties, we think as a result."

At one point, Kennedy said, two busloads of police arrived at the centre and several armed officers entered, in contravention of election rules.

A Ukrainian election expert accompanying the observer group was charged with interfering in an election, but not detained.

"We were followed, and people came in to intimidate us from talking to people at the polls and obtain the information," Kennedy said. "At one point local television showed up and we were denounced on TV."

Finally, Kennedy said, cooler heads prevailed and the group was permitted to do its work.

"The other parties decided that they wanted to work with the nice people from Canada, so we were able to head off any more reckless kind of folks."

But Kennedy noted that the irregularities the group saw raised concern that "there's some very severe falsification likely to occur in Mariupol on Sunday unless other interventions take place, and that's not for us to do."

Kennedy said his group had heard of problems being reported from other regions, including extra ballots being issued.

"This is the most extreme of what we saw, and at the same time there were numerous other stations that we visited that were in good working order," he said.

There are about 3,000 international observers monitoring Ukraine's hotly contested election, which pits prime minister Viktor Yanukovich's Party of Regions against President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and a bloc led by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

None of the parties is expected to win a majority, which has led to intense negotiations for the formation of a governing coalition in Parliament.

Source: The Canadian Press

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ukraine Braces For Election Showdown

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's main parties staged final rallies on Friday ahead of parliamentary elections Sunday pitting the victors of the "Orange Revolution" in a tight race against their pro-Russian rivals.

People attend a rally of President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party

The streets of central Kiev filled with the orange flags of supporters of Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko and his ally Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as the banners of their bitter rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

About 1,000 people attended a rally of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, releasing hundreds of orange balloons into sunny autumn skies on the last day of campaigning.

A couple of hundred metres (yards) away on Independence Square spread a sea of blue flags for Yanukovych's Regions Party, while the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc was due to gather at another public square.

Sunday's election to the single-chamber Rada is a snap poll meant to end a power struggle between Yushchenko and Yanukovych that has paralysed politics in the ex-Soviet republic of 47 million people.

However, no party is expected to gain a clear majority, meaning that all sides will have to enter into fresh coalition talks to try to form a government.

Yushchenko currently shares power with Yanukovych, a tortuous alliance that has led to endless wrangling and constitutional paralysis.

But a good showing by Tymoshenko's party could open the way to her becoming the new premier and resurrecting the team that led the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, before splitting up in acrimony.

"The president and I agreed that we must set up a coalition the day after the official results of the election are announced," she told journalists Friday.

Yanukovych, who was defeated in his presidential bid against Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution has proved a tough politician. He has backing from powerful industrial groups in the east of Ukraine and mounted a slick, well-funded campaign.

"We have done enough work to defend people's votes," he said Friday in his power base of Donetsk, news agency Interfax-Ukraine reported.

Campaigning has focused on day-to-day issues such as pensions and corruption, a far cry from the ideological passions of the Orange Revolution.

But Washington, the European Union and an increasingly assertive Kremlin are also watching closely for political shifts in the ex-Soviet republic, which is trying for both EU and NATO membership.

The country straddles key Russian gas export routes to energy-hungry EU clients.

Volodimir Fesenko, from the Penta analytical centre, warned that resurrecting the Orange coalition and forcing Yanukovych into opposition could trigger "a chilling of relations with Russia."

Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, fuelled those fears by saying this week that the make-up of the next government will influence what price Russia demands for its natural gas, Kommersant newspaper reported.

Many Ukrainians are turned off by seemingly endless political bickering and there are fears of further street demonstrations and court battles should Sunday's election prompt complaints of vote-rigging.

A report on Friday by the European Network of Election Monitoring Organisations expressed concerns over voter registration and voting lists which "might lead to cases of multiple voting and ballot stuffing."

The report also criticised increased "abuse" of state resources in favour of certain parties.

Polls show 68 percent of voters will take part and passions remain high in parts of the country, which is divided into the pro-Moscow, Russian-speaking east and south, and the more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking west.

Vera Gerasynenko, 56, who was attending the pro-Yushchenko rally with her daughter Maria, 21, said the choice on Sunday was between Ukraine's entry into Europe and being swallowed by giant neighbour Russia.

"Russia needs Ukraine as their colony. They're an empire," she said, describing Yanukovych as "a criminal, a sick man."

Just down the road, Mikhail Sukharkov, 60, claimed "the Orange side is finished," as he handed out Regions Party fliers.

"Tymoshenko has the character of a Nazi. Ukraine will turn into a second Yugoslavia if she takes power," he said.

Source: AFP

Ukraine's Sevastopol Braces For Exit Of Russian Fleet

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- For more than 200 years, Russia's Black Sea fleet has set sail from the Crimean port of Sevastopol to battle the motherland's adversaries -- Turkish, British, French and German.

Sight gunner of a Russian Black Sea Fleet warship

There's just one problem: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sevastopol has been a part of an independent Ukraine whose president, Viktor Yushchenko, wants to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The issue is central to parliamentary elections on Sept. 30.

The 2017 expiration of the fleet's lease on its Sevastopol base has implications for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been reasserting his nation's military might.

While Russia encourages support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is seeking closer ties with Moscow, it is also planning for a new warm-water home for the pride of its navy at Novorossiisk, an oil terminal.

Politicians aren't the only ones grappling with the reverberations. So are local residents. ``It would definitely be a tragedy'' if the fleet leaves, said Vladimir Klyuyev, a retired naval captain who runs the Black Sea Fleet's museum in Sevastopol. ``People have spent their whole lives here in the service of the motherland.'' Russia's national pride will suffer if the fleet goes, he said.

``We're Russians, the fleet's Russian, of course we feel badly,'' said Irina Vaskovskaya, who works at the museum and whose father served in naval bases across Russia before settling in Sevastopol.

Buffer Zone

Throughout the communist years, the Black Sea was a buffer between NATO and the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact. The politics of the countries bordering the sea have been transformed since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Romania and Bulgaria are members of NATO and the European Union; Georgia wants to join both; Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, is a candidate for EU membership.

With Ukraine and its Black Sea coast of 1,400 kilometers (875 miles) possibly off-limits too, Russia might be relegated to its own 400-kilometer coastline in a sea it once dominated.

The Russian presence is ``fundamental both to security and economic stability,'' said Andrei Krylov, the Russian Defense Ministry's spokesman for the Black Sea Fleet. There are about 5,000 Russian naval personnel in the port and Russia pays Ukraine $98 million a year in rent. ``Twenty percent of Sevastopol's budget comes from the fleet,'' he said.

Tourist Draw

The fleet is a tourist attraction: Owners of small boats vie to persuade visitors to cruise around the port, where more than 20 naval vessels including destroyers, hospital ships and submarines were moored on a recent visit.

A different bay houses the Ukrainian navy, which that day was hosting a U.S. vessel. NATO's presence in the Russian fleet's home port isn't a source of tension, said NATO spokesman James Appathurai. ``We cooperate just as well with the Russian navy as with the Ukrainian one,'' he said by telephone.

The fleet figures in the Ukrainian campaign. Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, loyal to Yushchenko, said Sept. 18 that the constitution bans foreign forces on Ukrainian territory. ``The exception is only for the Russian fleet, but only until 2017,'' he said.

Pro-Yanukovych Transport Minister Mykola Rudkovsky countered on Sept. 17 that ``if we have a new president after the 2009 elections, it will be possible to prolong the agreement.''

The fleet's military effectiveness won't be much affected by a move, said Jonathan Eyal, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London. ``The strength of the Russian navy should not be compromised,'' he said.

Military Clout

The same may not be true for issues of Russian prestige and influence. Putin, seeking to show Russia's economic success is matched by political and military clout, on Aug. 17 ordered the resumption of regular patrols by strategic bombers, a practice halted in 1992.

Russia this month also tested what it called the world's most powerful air-delivered vacuum bomb. The weapon is four times more powerful than the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb tested by the U.S. military and known as the ``Mother of All Bombs,'' according to a report by Russian state broadcaster Perviy Kanal. This prompted the Russian designers to call their device ``the Father of All Bombs,'' it said.

Russia's commitment to the Black Sea is evident at the ancient, nearby harbor of Balaklava. Here, in 1957, the Soviet Union built an underground terminal, carved into rock and all but invisible from outside, as the main base for the fleet's submarines.

Secret Project

A 600-meter long tunnel runs from inside the harbor, allowing submarines to sail straight in for maintenance and repairs. Seven submarines could be accommodated there. So secret was the project, Balaklava disappeared from official Soviet maps.

``In the case of a nuclear attack, the base could stand a direct hit by a nuclear bomb,'' reads a guide to the site. It's now the Balaklava Naval Museum Complex, for tourists who want to examine gigantic steel doors and bulkheads designed to protect against fallout.

If tourism is all that remains of the fleet's presence, neither the port nor the nation where it's located will be better off, museum director Klyuyev said.

``Practically all inhabitants of Sevastopol, and a very big proportion of Ukrainians, hope common sense will prevail,'' he said.

Source: Bloomberg

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Vote Fraud Fears Spread Ahead Of Poll

KIEV, Ukraine -- With so much at stake in terms of economic patronage and executive privilege, Ukraine’s snap elections were expected to be fierce. The fact that voters have more of the same to choose from has meant that the race will be close as well.

And tensions seem to be reaching a boiling point with recently-observed virtual acknowledgements of defeat by top contenders crying fraud before the votes have even been counted.

The Regions Party of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, represented by the color blue, has sent out signals as recently as this month that they might drop out of the race if they feel it’s unfair.

More recently, the Regions have predicted massive falsification by their opponents and are gearing up for large street-side protests to challenge what they claim will be an attempt to rob them of their likely victory in the decisive vote.

Orange President Viktor Yushchenko, represented by the Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense Bloc, struck back in the same vein from the campaign trail on Sept. 25.

“Why does Yanukovych speak of falsification at each of his rallies? The reason is that he is planning falsification. It will happen. What I’m talking about is how do we deal with this problem,” he said in Sumy Region.

But the president’s response, a warning to his nemesis from Orange Revolution days, was equally fatalistic.

“I’d like to tell Yanukovych personally and other colleagues as well that the government is personally responsible for holding a free, fair and democratic election,” Yushchenko said.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which is controlled by Yushchenko, backed the president’s claims with a report that an election council in the eastern city of Kharkiv had registered close to 100,000 non-existent persons on voter rolls.

The SBU has also in recent days launched probes into election fraud attempts in other eastern cities where Regions support is high, including Mariupol.

The Regions’ propaganda machine has not been idle. The industrialist-backed party has in recent days systematically disseminated warnings that the vote would be rigged against their favor in a would-be effort to legitimize their claim to victory, and trigger massive protests if votes don’t tally to their advantage.

“For the entire campaign, the Orange have tried to mislead the people. Truth to them is not important. Winning at any cost is all that matters,” reads a Regions party statement dated Sept. 25.

Also from the campaign trail, Yanukovych accused his opponents of buying votes. “We have information that they are paying for every vote,” he said in Poltava Region.

And like the president, Yanukovych has offered voters an additional interpretation of the alleged cheating.

“We see that the Orange team ... aren’t winning and they feel it. Their ratings are falling everywhere. They see that they are losing and therefore preparing falsifications,” he said on Poltava TV.

Recent polls suggest both the Orange and Blue camps are in a dead heat race where a single percentage point could claim victory. Yanukovych’s party could garner anywhere from 30-38 percent support; 10-14 percent of voter support could go to Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense, with 20-28 percent going to opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

The Communists and a few fringe parties could pass the 3 percent barrier, inheriting a kingmaker position in coalition talks. Other smaller parties could be key in stripping away valuable percentage points.

Despite Ukraine’s longstanding reputation as a country of dirty politics, corrupt officialdom and a feeble court system, last year’s parliamentary poll was dubbed the fairest ever.

This year, however, Yushchenko and Yanukovych are equally well-placed to influence events from a position of administrative power.

The ambitious opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is also fighting hard, but none of the leaders has full control of the situation and there is no referee.

This leaves nobody in charge in a dangerous tug of war for power. With so much at stake, the competing sides seem, once again as in Orange Revolution days, eager to take extreme measures to claim victory.

To make the choice more complicated for voters, Yanukovych’s team has learned to parrot the political program of the Orange parties.

Accused of Soviet-style authoritarianism and mass fraud during the 2004 presidential race, the premier has undergone an image makeover that attempts to steal the democratic wind from his opponents’ sails.

Yanukovych has also campaigned vigorously beyond his home territory in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where Tymoshenko continues to make some headway.

But the real battle appears to be centered on Kyiv, where the votes will be counted. The capital is where Yanukovych had his fraud-marred presidential victory overturned by the country’s Supreme Court.

This time around, the premier has taken precautions, gathering his supporters on Maidan to protest against rigged voting before it happens.

“We have the power to prevent this,” he said, “therefore, we will watch carefully and react if necessary,” Yanukovych told voters in Poltava.

Oles Dony, a Kyiv-based political analyst who is on the party list for Yushchenko’s bloc, said falsification in the Sept. 30 vote is likely by all sides, and not necessarily on orders from above.

“Election officials in small towns don’t need to be prodded to produce favorable results for their mentors in Kyiv,” he said.

Yury Yakymenko, a political analyst at Kyiv’s Razumkov Center, said all the hoopla about falsification is partly just campaign rhetoric that Ukrainians have become accustomed to.

But, he added, it also serves as “psychological preparation of the public to set the stage for the mobilization of protesters in the event of an election defeat.”

According to Yakymenko, the accusations of cheating from both sides indicate that coalition horse trading and backroom deals are likely to stretch on for a long time after election day, yielding the same kind of instability that caused President Yushchenko to call the snap elections last spring in the first place.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Beautiful But Tough: Yulia Tymoshenko Attacks The Tycoons

KIEV, Ukraine -- Her Luis Vuitton suits fit to a tee, her toilette is exquisite, she tears about the country in a convoy of limousines, and she campaigns as a defender of the poor and downtrodden.

The beautiful but tough Yulia Tymoshenko

Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's top opposition politician and by all accounts the country's best-dressed and most politically-powerful woman, is out to get the rich and influential. She is taking no prisoners.

Tymoshenko, 46, is criss-crossing the land in, arguably, the former Soviet republic's first-ever nationwide whistle-stop election campaign. Wearing pure white down to her designer shoes and pearl earrings, she says she is on nothing less than a crusade against corruption - a theme with considerable resonance in Ukraine, by many accounts Europe's most corrupt nation.

'Yulia,' as most Ukrainians call petite Tymoshenko, has spent the last 45 days on the campaign trail, mostly on the road, talking to voters, speaking at rallies, and sleeping at best five hours a day.

'I have travelled the country from end to end, and people are getting tired of getting lied to over and over again,' Tymoshenko told Fakty newspaper. 'And that is going to bring us support, far more than any one expects.'

Certainly her rallies are drawing them in. Since July the Tymoshenko campaign cavalcade has rolled into hundreds of town and city squares, and sometimes the crowds number in the tens of thousands.

Tymoshenko's ability to draw in listeners is unmatched by any other Ukrainian politician, who in any case as a group prefer buying TV ads and smear news reports, over active campaigning.

The Tymoshenko stump speech is, by the standards of modern electioneering, surprisingly simple. There is a stage with red-and-white bunting, a medium-power public address system, and booths with campaign workers handing out brochures.

During the warm-up party functionaries appeal to the crowd for volunteers and contributions, and - critically as Ukraine is a country where relatives count - remind listeners that whatever they heard today, please, please tell a family member.

Tymoshenko appears, as always her coiffure in a traditional, museum-perfect Ukrainian peasant braid. Her oratory perhaps mesmerises some, but mostly, Tymoshenko holds her listeners by saying out loud, what a substantial majority of Ukrainians think about their politicians and their government.

Often, she rubbishes conventional wisdom on Ukraine in the process. Throughout, she relentlessly hammers her thesis: Corrupt government must end.

The division of Ukraine into two supposedly incompatible ethnic halves, Russian-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking, get this treatment:

'Ukraine is not a country divided into Russians and Ukrainians, that is an artificial divide invented to frighten people ... Ukraine is divided into 47 million honest people, and a few hundred clans out to steal from the honest people.'

Her intention to become the next Prime Minister, touted by her opponents as unseemly ambition for a woman, received this broadside, recalling jail time stemming from 2001 tax evasion charges, which were subsequently dropped:

'If I had set myself the goal of being Prime Minister, I would have had that job years ago, and held it still. The thing is, the business clans gave me a choice, either stop making their life difficult, or go to prison. I went to prison, but at least my integrity stayed intact.'

The crowds have been friendly, supportive, and almost always either unwilling or too polite to bring up unpleasant issues like Tymoshenko's notoriously failed attempts to freeze petrol and food prices while she was Prime Minister in 2000, her fortune made in government natural gas imports during the 1990s, or the two dozen or so very wealthy businessmen on her own party list.

'We are all tired of the rich clans using government to steal from us, and making us poor,' her speeches often conclude. 'It needs to stop, and with your help we can stop it together. Glory to Ukraine!'

In town after town, village after village, that sentence has received standing ovations.

Ukrainian pollsters are a bit sceptical, usually predicting Tymoshenko's eponymous political party Block of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) stands to gather in 25 to 30 per cent of the popular vote, in a clear second place to the currently ruling Regions Ukraine party, currently on track to take between 32 and 40 per cent of the vote.

'Do not underestimate the Ukrainian people,' Tymoshenko countered in a recent interview. 'They have had enough.'

Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Ukraine Election: Are Voters Taking It Seriously?

MOSCOW, Russia -- Sunday's parliamentary election is supposed to get Ukraine out of a political crisis that has paralysed the country for two years. Yet, as political leaders talk up the importance of the poll, many voters seem to be regarding it as a bit of a joke.

Viktor Yanukovich's puppet in satirical TV show

And this mood has been captured by a host of satirical shows on national TV.

News programmes give way to political sitcoms

One of Ukraine’s TV stations is broadcasting a sitcom called “Domkom” (‘house committee’), which potrays the lives of ordinary Ukrainians in an ordinary flat. But the main characters of the series look very similar to the country's main political figures – President Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and Ukraine’s most famous lady, Yulia Timoshenko. The sitcom is already popular, and its ratings are growing every day.

Ukrainian people often say they feel like puppets on a string when it comes to politics. But in a new satirical show called ‘pupsnya’, it's the politicians who are portrayed as puppets.

And Yulia Timoshenko, Prime Minister Yanukovich, and President Yushchenko seem to be providing enough material to allow this Viktor Yanukovich's
show run for years. A special episode of 'Pupsnya' was dedicated to promises made by politicians in the run-up to the election. It used the idea of bubbles. Each time a promise is made, bubbles of different shapes and sizes blow from the mouths of the characters.

Who blows the biggest bubble?

The biggest bubble of this election campaign is the social programme. Each partiy is trying to woo voters with promises of higher pensions and salaries.

The presidential Our Ukraine party is pledging $US 3,000 to families for the birth of a second child. But the Party of Regions, loyal to the Prime Minister, has promised $US 2,000 more if they win the election.

Meanwhile the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc is hoping for the votes of Ukrainian women by pledging to stop military conscription from 2008.

”We found that the country only pays for 28 days of military training out of one year service in the army. And the rest of the time conscripts are cleaning, guarding derelict objects or building summer houses for their generals. That’s not the army we need,” Yulia Timoshenko said.

The presidential Our Ukraine Party slammed her idea as inadequate and concentrated instead on building closer ties to Europe, visa-free travel, attracting émigrés back home and strengthening the Ukrainian identity.

“Speaking about Ukraine’s future, I am sure it is connected with the European Union, with the preparation of the whole country in economic, social, political and religious spheres. Everything we do should be aimed at our entering the EU. It will not happen soon, but we all understand that we should build Europe ourselves, here in Ukraine,” Yury Lutsenko from the Our Ukraine Party said.

The Party of Regions is also focusing on fighting poverty and corruption. Watching Timoshenko’s Bloc toying with the idea of a referendum to restore the President’s powers, they suggested one too.

“No to membership in NATO, Ukraine needs to be a neutral state. Russian should be the second official language in Ukraine. More power to the regions,” said Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich at a political rally.

Tent city

There are worries there could be confrontation in central Kiev in the wake of the election. A stage is being mounted in Independence Square for an ‘orange’ bloc concert.

Their opponents are also there, with tents and blue flags According to some forecasts up to 300,000 people are likely to gather on Sunday, September 30, the day of the election.

Activists say that they will take to the streets if they consider the results of the election rigged.

The previous parliament was dismissed by President Yushchenko in April. The move led to a storm of demonstrations and ended with an emergency election.

Source: Russia Today

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The EU's Invisible Helping Hand In Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- It has long been argued that Ukraine is a country at the crossroads. Over the past three years, a rollercoaster of internal developments, Russia's increasing assertiveness and, most importantly, the EU's continued ambivalence have arguably made this assessment justified.

EU flag

Over the past year, however, Brussels' position on Ukraine has achieved a reasonable, if understated, level of consistency. As Ukraine approaches crucial polls on 30 September, it may then be useful to spell out what Ukrainians can realistically expect from it.

Many in Kiev rightly feel that the EU owes it to Ukraine. The EU's Neighbourhood Policy was originally conceived for Europe's Eastern flank and seemed an enticing offer. But by the time it came to being in 2004, the Policy had expanded to include the Mediterranean basin, thus considerably watering down its strategic significance for Ukraine.

After the Orange Revolution spectacularly toppled the powerful, Russia-friendly elite in 2005, Brussels response was also somewhat bland. Then came the failed referenda on the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands, and the subsequent inward-looking mood in Europe, which further hampered Ukraine's aspirations.

Surely, with a shaky constitutional balance, an opaque system of economic governance, and the old establishment partly back in power, Ukraine's domestic situation remains highly volatile. Moreover, Russia's influence on the country is cultural and societal as much as it is political and economic, a factor that has to be reckoned with regardless of the level of EU support.

Even so, Ukraine is a far more pluralistic country than most post-Soviet states. It has -at least in its Western part - a consistently pro-European population, and is placed in a strategically crucial position: all of which has warranted a more substantial stand from the EU.

Starting with economic integration

Economic integration is an obvious place to start. The EU - Ukraine's first trading partner - has put forward the idea of a 'deep' free trade agreement. In Eurospeak, this implies that Ukraine will gradually adopt the EU economic standards and regulatory norms.

It remains to be seen to what extent the Ukrainian leadership will be able to implement costly and complicated EU-styled reforms. But this is in itself a largely welcome proposal, because it will set concrete benchmarks to anchor Ukraine to the EU's internal market.

Connected to this is Ukraine's role in the EU's fledgling common energy policy. The infamous row between Ukraine and Russia over gas supplies in early 2006 made Ukraine's position as a key transit country only more apparent.

Ukraine will be encouraged to integrate its energy market, particularly gas and electricity, to the European one. This is precisely what the Energy Community Treaty between the EU and the Western Balkans is for, and should be extended to Ukraine.

The movement of people is just as crucial to foster exchanges and a sense of inclusion. On 18 June, the EU and Ukraine signed a deal on visa facilitation and, crucially, readmission (which means that Kiev agrees to take back illegal migrants entering the EU from Ukraine, even if these are not Ukrainian nationals).

Admittedly, the new system will make a tangible difference only for certain groups of people (like students, journalists and businessmen) and, judging by the difficulties of the current regime, is bound to present serious challenges of implementation. Yet, given the levels of border control in Ukraine and the sensitivities on this matter inside the EU, Kiev cannot realistically aspire for more for the time being.

Foreign policy

The EU also suggests that Ukraine aligns its position to EU foreign policy declarations and enhances its participation in crisis management operations carried out under the EU flag. The outlook here is quite promising: Ukraine already subscribes to the vast majority of EU declarations and has contributed substantially to some EU operations, most notably in Transdniestria, Moldova's breakaway statelet, which Ukraine borders.

Moreover, after enlarging to Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, the EU has become a fully-fledged actor in the Black Sea and has launched a regional ‘Synergy'. Ukraine is a heavyweight here, not only as one of the largest littoral countries, but also as the promoter of a number of regional initiatives.

Brussels' strategy in this context should be aimed at bringing its Black Sea Synergy closer to Ukraine's foreign policy priorities, particularly in the field of democracy promotion at the regional level. Not incidentally, the first ministerial meeting of the new Synergy will take place in Kiev next January.

EU membership prospects

Lastly, there is the elusive question of Ukraine's EU membership aspirations. Last March, the EU and Ukraine opened negotiations on a new 'Enhanced Agreement' which will bind legally many of the issues mentioned above. The new agreement will not answer the membership question and, given the continuing introspection inside the EU over enlargement, Ukraine might as well refrain from asking it.

At the same time, the items characterising Brussels' Ukraine agenda are geared to tie Ukraine firmly to Europe. They may not make the EU position visible or particularly bold. But depending also on the conduct and the outcome of next week's election, they could in due course do the next best thing: make the membership question an elephant in the room.

Source: EU Observer

Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" Duo Fight Disillusion

TERNOPIL, Ukraine -- The leaders of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" have set aside their differences but face a battle to win back voters disenchanted with progress since the mass protests of 2004.

Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" duo, President Viktor Yushchenko and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko

President Viktor Yushchenko and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko have been touring strongholds in western Ukraine urging voters to forget the disunity that toppled their first government and back their parties in Sunday's parliamentary election.

"Some of you may have given up the fight or have come with heads bowed, weary of quarrels. I understand how you feel," Yushchenko told 20,000 supporters at a weekend music festival in the tidy provincial town of Ternopil.

"Mistakes were made, humiliating, immoral actions committed. But our time has come. If we want the Ukrainian nation to win here we must overcome our own egoism. We must be united."

The pro-Western Yushchenko defeated his rival Viktor Yanukovich in the rerun of a rigged 2004 election after weeks of mass protests against vote rigging.

Tymoshenko, whose fiery speeches roused crowds during the "orange" protests, became prime minister. But infighting led to her dismissal and undermined plans to move Ukraine closer to the West and eventually join NATO and the European Union.

Defections among "orange" allies torpedoed a bid to form another liberal government after a parliamentary poll last year, allowing a resurgent Yanukovich to become prime minister.

Yushchenko blamed Tymoshenko for the debacle, but the two have since formed a tactical alliance. Both urge voters to elect enough "orange" members to enable them to form a government.

Yanukovich, backed by Moscow in 2004, now describes himself as pro-European and his Regions Party tops polls.

But the combined tally of the president's Our Ukraine party and Tymoshenko's bloc is close behind and tough post-election talks to form a coalition are certain.

Both back liberal ideals and market economics and promotion of Ukraine's language and national identity, though the campaign is dominated by talk of better living standards and benefits.


Residents of the region - dotted by imposing eastern-rite Catholic churches - spent much of the weekend harvesting potatoes, many using a horse and plough. But hundreds boarded convoys of buses to attend the rallies in provincial towns.

Tymoshenko was more forthright in urging voters, who earn considerably less than the national average monthly pay of $250, to head to polling stations.

"No one who has Ukraine's interests at heart has the right to be disillusioned. We were simply too naive after the Orange Revolution," Tymoshenko, impeccably dressed and sporting her trademark braid, said in the brightly painted town of Kolomyia.

"Could we truly have expected to see results and a different country the morning after the revolution?" Of course not!"

Unlike Yanukovich, who uses blunt, homespun language in short addresses in his Russian-speaking industrial eastern strongholds, both "orange" leaders speak in Ukrainian for 40 minutes and more, referring frequently to Ukraine's history.

Crowds received them warmly, but without much of the fire of the 2004 rallies. And friction between the two leaders has yet to abate completely.

Yushchenko rarely refers to Tymoshenko by name and refuses to rule out a post-election "grand coalition" between his party and Yanukovich's Regions Party -- said by some to be a way of bridging the traditional gap between Ukraine's east and west.

Tymoshenko said she was disturbed by any notion that the president might agree to a deal with the man he beat in the turbulent 2004 presidential poll.

"You must never think that a broad coalition will unite east and west," she told supporters. "It is a betrayal of east and west. When you enter such a coalition the compromises imposed on you are incompatible with change."

Source: Reuters

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ukraine Defense Minister Rapped For Seeking NATO Membership

KIEV, Ukraine -- Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk on Monday condemned efforts by Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko to have Ukraine join NATO and accused him of ignoring the Ukrainian people's interests in seeking Ukraine's membership in the North Atlantic alliance.

Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko

"It is via the president that Hrytsenko seeks approval of the Cabinet of Ministers for the Defense Ministry budget. If he considers this normal, he either needs to ask his financiers for help or ask his doctors for tablets for his excessive pursuit of fame," Tabachnyk told reporters.

For the past 14 months, Hrytsenko has not been working as part of the Cabinet team and has constantly been blocking various initiatives, Tabachnyk said.

The amount of proposed defense allocations in the 2008 draft budget is twice that in, say, the 2005 budget, the deputy premier said.

Tabachnyk also accused Hrytsenko of initiating Cabinet debates on matters that fall outside his authority.

The defense minister also pursues the wrong policy by seeking NATO membership for Ukraine, Tabachnyk argued.

"What is the purpose of increasing the terrorist threat for Ukraine several times over by integrating with the alliance? What is the purpose of making Ukrainian young men or officers cannon fodder for the United States in any spot on the planet? What is the purpose of deceiving the Ukrainian people that membership in the alliance offers Ukraine guarantees of security?" Tabachnyk said.

The deputy prime minister also complained that after Hrytsenko took over the defense portfolio, the Defense Ministry slashed military housing construction and closed down an army officer training facility in Odesa.

"I think he will only work until the elections [of September 30]," Tabachnyk said.

Source: Interfax

Ukraine Democracy Needs U.S. Help

BALTIMORE, USA -- Next Sunday, with Ukraine's once-hopeful Orange Revolution in disarray, that wonderful but beleaguered country will hold a national parliament election that is shaping up to be another political storm - one where an ill wind blows through to steal the vote.

The Bush administration, so focused on forcing change in Iraq, has turned its back on the survival of Ukraine's fragile new democracy.

The United States must join Europe's leading democracies and closely watch the parliament, or Rada, election. If we don't, freedom-loving Ukrainians may be robbed again.

I first met courageous refugees from Ukraine as a young soldier in Europe after World War II. I was struck by their indomitable spirit and appreciation of our democratic institutions.

Ukrainian identity, which predates Russia, was never successfully suppressed under the Romanov czars or Stalin's dictatorship.

In November 2005, while I was an election monitor in Ukraine, I witnessed a stolen election that was later reversed by thousands of young Ukrainians, gathered under orange flags in Kiev's Maidan Square.

They wouldn't stand for election fraud.

As large as Texas and with almost 50 million people, Ukraine was the cradle of Slavic civilization. It was starved by Stalin and devastated by Hitler.

Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was ruled by Communist successors with Soviet corruption, exploitation and incompetence.

Nevertheless, Ukraine is the most educated and enlightened of the nations of the former Soviet Union, and is a beacon of hope for all.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians have continued to aspire to a better life, and to vote in huge numbers.

Today, with Kremlin-influenced oligarchs bankrolling two of the top three parties, Russia is trying to bring Ukraine back into its orbit.

A stolen election would be just what the Russians ordered.

Igor Popov thinks so. The head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, he believes Sunday's elections will be "dirtier" than those in 2006, when the world was watching.

"In 2006, President Viktor Yushchenko was very interested in showing the world that we are capable of conducting honest elections," he wrote in a recent report. This time, he fears leading parties will again try to manipulate the elections.

Today, our country, the world's leading democracy, has forgotten Ukraine and the need for effective election monitoring. In 2005, USAID funded a monitoring mission of more than 30 former U.S. and European legislators; I was among them.

Since then, the organizing group, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, has been forced to completely close shop in Ukraine for lack of Bush administration support.

In contrast, the European Parliament's largest political group recently urged member states to send observers to Ukraine.

Joseph Daul, leader of the European People's Party and European Democrats, sees the elections as a test of the country's readiness to emerge from its recent political turmoil.

In an interview earlier this month, he said that fair results are important for "strengthening Ukraine's democracy" and its "European future."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will observe. A smattering of other international nonprofit groups, including a few Americans, are signed up too. But unless the number of registered international observers - just 400 so far - increases drastically, a tree could fall in an empty forest and no one will hear.

What will happen next in Ukraine if another election is stolen? Perhaps Ukrainian poet-laureate Taras Shevchenko said it best in his poem, "My Friendly Epistle" in 1845:

[I will] grieve like one accursed, Through all the hours both last and first, Sad at the crossroads, day and night, With no one there to see my plight.

Across a century since his death, Shevchenko's beloved poems evoked heartfelt sympathy for oppressed people everywhere and evolved into an indictment of rulers who abuse their power.

Today, it is imperative the United States heed his words and join the international community to watch the Rada elections closely.

Source: Baltimore Sun

Ukraine Poll Could End Orange Revolution

MOSCOW, Russia -- It was, at least in the eyes of the Russian president, the scene of Vladimir Putin's greatest humiliation. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians massed in central Kiev in late 2004 to protest against a presidential election victory rigged in favour of the pro-Kremlin candidate Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko

After weeks of noisy but peaceful protest, they succeeded. Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western reformer, was swept to power amid scenes of unprecedented euphoria.

Almost three years after those heady days, Ukrainians return to the polls next weekend to vote in a parliamentary election.

At stake, their leaders say, is a simple choice: to revive the stalled ideals of the Orange Revolution or to kill it off altogether.

Both Moscow and Washington will be watching closely in a country that remains an important battleground in the growing power clash between the West and a resurgent Russia.

For Ukrainians, however, the optimism engendered by the Orange Revolution has largely been replaced by disillusionment and indifference.

The result of Sunday's poll is likely to be little different to the outcome of the last parliamentary election held 18 months ago.

And again the bitter divisions of Ukraine will be on inglorious display.

Ukrainians in the Russian-speaking industrial heartlands of the east as well as in Crimea in the south will largely vote for the pro-Kremlin Party of the Regions headed by Mr Yanukovych.

His party is expected to become the single largest one in parliament, but will fall short of the overall majority needed to form a government.

This means it will have to enter coalition talks with the two parties in the Orange camp led by the president and his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Mr Yushchenko will then have to appoint either Mr Yanukovych or Mrs Tymoshenko as his prime minister.

He has tried both before. Mrs Tymoshenko served as prime minister for nine acrimonious months in 2005 before the president sacked her amid charges of corruption and divisions over economic policy.

After the last election he turned to his erstwhile rival Mr Yanukovych, whose supporters were accused of slipping dioxin into the president's soup in 2004, leaving his face badly scarred.

Most analysts expect that the president will now turn back to Mrs Tymoshenko, whose bloc is the only party likely to increase its representation in parliament and who this time will be in a stronger position to dictate terms.

She will also be able to use the premiership as a platform to challenge Mr Yushchenko for the presidency in 2009.

Indeed, the glamorous 46-year-old already seems to have the aura of a presidential rather than a prime-ministerial candidate — something demonstrated when she flew to London on Friday for talks with Margaret Thatcher.

A Tymoshenko premiership is also likely to upset Russia. She supports Ukraine's membership of the European Union and NATO and has also been vitriolic in her condemnation of Moscow's interference in Ukraine.

When Mrs Tymoshenko was prime minister in 2005, the Kremlin severed gas supplies to Ukraine, the main energy conduit between Russia and Europe, causing both interruptions and panic in the EU.

Relations improved when Mr Yanukovych was prime minister but some analysts warn of a new gas dispute if Mrs Tymoshenko returns.

Source: The Telegraph

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tymoshenko Wants To Be Ukrainian PM Again

IVANO-FRANKIVSK, Ukraine -- Fiery Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko urged President Viktor Yushchenko to forget past differences and back her for prime minister if "Orange Revolution" forces win next week's election.

Yulia Tymoshenko (pictured) said Yushchenko should unambiguously rule out any broad coalition with his rival, Prime Minister Yanukovich.

In an interview, Tymoshenko, whose highly-charged speeches made her the heroine of street protests that swept Yushchenko to power in 2004, said he should unambiguously rule out any broad coalition with his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

"This is what I want the president to say. I am uneasy about what I hear him saying in interviews," she said during a tour of western Ukraine, a stronghold of the "Orange" vote.

"Now is the time to tell people who are going to vote just what sort of coalition they can expect by voting for this or that political party," said Tymoshenko, wearing her hair in her trademark Ukrainian peasant braids.

Tymoshenko was a natural choice for Yushchenko's first prime minister after the 2004 "Orange" victory that set Ukraine on a new, openly pro-Western path.

But her government was riddled by infighting and she was sacked eight months later amid open antagonism with Yushchenko who blamed her for all the troubles of the post-orange period.

She hoped to head a new "Orange" team after a parliamentary election last year, but was thwarted by Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed loser in the 2004 upheaval, who bounced back and became prime minister instead after long negotiations.

But the power struggle between Yushchenko and Yanukovich has continued and led to next week's parliamentary poll.

Tymoshenko said the president had to clearly back a new "Orange" government and not consider a "broad coalition" with Yanukovich on the premise of bridging Ukraine's longstanding divisions.

The pro-Western Yushchenko said last week he believed "Orange" forces would win the election and he could foresee Tymoshenko as prime minister again. But though he said a coalition with Yanukovich was unlikely because of political and ideological differences, he did not rule it out entirely.

Source: Gulf News

Thatcher Blesses Ukraine Iron Lady

LONDON, England -- Ukraine’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, flew into London last week to meet Baroness Thatcher, vowing to drag her country kicking and screaming away from the Russian bear and into the European fold if she returns to office after elections next weekend.

Yulia Tymoshenko (L), saying goodbye to Baroness Thatcher

“Real women don’t do U-turns,” she said after the meeting, referring to Thatcher’s famous declaration that “the lady’s not for turning”.

Tymoshenko curled into the back seat of a car, dressed in a sleek cream wool shift matched with 4in high heels. “I think I can be an iron lady and inside still a human,” she said. “It’s about the ability to preserve the human touch.”

Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko, her party, is tipped to do well in the elections and she is the favour-ite to be the next prime minister. With her trademark braid curled around her head, hers is one of the two faces of the orange revolution, a striking contrast to that of Viktor Yushchenko, the president, who was disfigured by an attempt to poison him with dioxin, an act he blames on the Russians.

She admits the braid is a “pin on”. “I found the style simple,” she said. “It saves time, and it’s very traditional.”

Tymoshenko is pro-western and pro-free market, hence the meeting with Thatcher, who was so taken with her that she told her she would have liked to campaign on her behalf.

A billionairess who made her fortune in the free-for-all chaos of the mid 1990s in Ukraine’s gas business, she is brimming with confidence that her party will win at the polls.

Tymoshenko, 46, was supposedly betrayed by Yushchenko when he went back on a deal that saw her agree not to run for president if she could serve as prime minister. He dismissed her after seven months.

He then suffered the ignominy of being forced to replace her with a candidate approved by his arch-rival, the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko is passionate in her convictions and has no fear of Ukraine’s macho political style. “Women are stronger. Like Thatcher, I’m committed to changing my country for the better,” she said. She was delighted with a gift of Thatcher’s memoirs, inscribed “To Julia, Fighter for Freedom”.

Her mission is “first, to preserve our hard-won independence and to get rid of postSoviet bureaucracy”. She promised to fight corruption, the single most difficult issue and one that polls show is people’s biggest concern. Even Moscow does not scare her. “If the independence of the Ukraine is at stake, then I will call people on to the streets.”

It will be a tough fight. In parliamentary elections last year the single largest share of the vote went to the Party of the Regions, led by Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko flew back in a private jet to campaign in these very regions where Ukraine’s 17% ethnic Russian minority, many of whom pine for closer ties with Moscow, are concentrated. A heady mix of beauty and brains, a whirlwind of energy, like Thatcher she may change her country for ever.

Source: The Sunday Times

Saturday, September 22, 2007

East European Immigrants Fuel Return Of Servant Class

LONDON, England -- There was a time when the flustered British housewife of a certain rank would look disdainfully at the dirty marks on her cutlery and despairingly exclaim: "You just can't get the staff."

British socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson in her Lamborghini

The good news for the overworked middle classes who are looking for help with the chores is that now they can.

Migration from eastern Europe, Africa and Asia is creating a ready supply of willing downstairs staff, with more and more being employed to watch the kids and clean the bathroom in a kind of international class system, according to a new report.

Just this week, the socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson revealed that she had a "massive staff", mainly from Ukraine. "As I don't have a husband, I rather look forward to having people around me. I have half the Ukraine here every day. It's like the Russian army coming in to clean. I want to come back at night and feel like I'm in a five-star hotel," she said.

The bad news for the migrants, however, is that high-powered executives and business people are increasingly picky about who they employ, with white women being the preferred home help, the study, by Bridget Anderson of Oxford University, says.

Men are considered too much of a risk to be looking after young children, especially girls, and black people are unpopular as au pairs.

While race was described by one agency as "the unmentionable", there are also more complex reasons for the choosiness. The British middle classes are looking for domestic help who can't easily pack up and leave, which means employing people from war-torn countries or from non-EU countries whose presence in Britain is dependent on their employment.

The top five sources for maids and butlers are the Philippines, Ukraine, Latvia, Malaysia and Zimbabwe.

"It is legal for a private householder to refuse to employ someone on the grounds of their colour, their nationality or their religion, and from our interviews with employers, it is clear that they do," say the researchers, whose work is to be published in the European Journal of Women's Studies.

"Employers are not only looking for generic 'foreignness', however, but typically also seek particular nationalities or ethnicities of worker, which can raise difficulties for agencies who are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of 'race'."

Half of British households employ some form of domestic staff in an industry now thought to be worth around £20bn a year.

On average, each household spends around £1,924 on chauffeurs, dog walkers, babysitters, nannies and cooks.

Relations with domestic staff do not always run smoothly, however. Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, was sued by her cook, Jane Martin, earlier this year.

Ms Martin claimed sexual discrimination after being forced to work 14-hour days while pregnant. The tribunal heard how Ms Styler, 52, abused her domestic staff to make her "feel royal".

Where do they get their staff?

Philippines - Main provider of cleaning staff in domestic households. Described by President Gloria Arroyo as a nation that provides "supermaids".

Ukraine - Female domestic workers from the Ukraine are very popular with UK working mothers looking for au pairs.

Zimbabwe - Zimbabweans mainly work as cleaners in schools and hospitals.

Latvia - Many Latvians work as butlers due to the comparatively good salaries compared with other domestic work.

Malaysia - Malaysians gravitate towards domestic work – many work as household maids in the UK.

Source: The Independent on Sunday

Ukraine ‘Enraged’ By EU Visa Comments

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine's EU ambassador Roman Shpek has criticised comments made by external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner over the issue of visas.

External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner

In an interview given earlier this week to Ukrainian newspaper Delo, Ferrero-Waldner said that the EU would not ratify its visa facilitation agreement with Kiev until Ukraine abolished visas for Romania and Bulgaria.

But Ukraine insists that this issue was already discussed during the annual EU-Ukraine summit earlier this month, during which Kiev announced that the visa-free regime for Bulgaria and Romania would only be extended and adopted following due internal procedures.

Shpek’s office told that Ukraine’s decision to establish a visa waiver scheme for EU citizens was done of its own volition in 2005, and that the EU therefore has “no grounds to demand … that such a regime be extended automatically to new member states”.

Furthermore, the ambassador voiced his displeasure over Ferrero-Waldner’s comments that Ukraine’s failure to extend the visa-free scheme would “affect the authority of the president, the prime minister and Ukraine itself”.

In a statement, the ambassador went on to criticise the EU over the practice of “groundless and humiliating” visa refusals to Ukrainian citizens in certain member states, as well as the activities of intermediary visa centres.

“Such a practice gravely contravenes the provisions of the visa facilitation agreement signed in June this year,” said the statement.

Ukraine remains confident however that the issue of establishing a visa-free regime for Bulgaria and Romania, and ensuring swift visa issuance for Ukrainian citizens, can be settled.

In addition, a joint summit statement issued last week reaffirmed both Ukraine and EU intentions “to embark upon negotiations on a comprehensive free trade area as a core element of the new enhanced agreement”.

The annual bilateral meetings between Ukraine and the EU were established by the partnership and cooperation agreement ratified in 1998.

Source: The Parliament

Friday, September 21, 2007

Margaret Thatcher Meets Ukraine's Tymoshenko

LONDON, England -- Lady Thatcher met another iron lady of politics yesterday, holding talks with Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to discuss topics close to both their hearts - economic reform and winning elections.

Two "iron ladies" - Yulia Tymoshenko (L) and Margaret Thatcher.

Mrs Tymoshenko, who became the Ukraine’s first female prime minister in 2005 before her government was dismissed amid scandal just seven months later, said she had long admired Lady Thatcher and thanked her for helping lift the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe.

Wearing the blonde, braided hair that is her trademark, Mrs Tymoshenko said Lady Thatcher had transformed Britain from the “sick man” of Europe into one of Europe’s strongest economies.

“She was firm in adversity and stood up to oppression when others remained seated,” Mrs Tymoshenko said. “Her words spoke for countless millions across Eastern Europe who had no voice. She helped write a new chapter for our nation and we remain indebted to her courage.”

Lady Thatcher responded by saying she hoped Ukraine’s election, due on September 30, would be free and fair and a “guiding light for democracy in Eastern Europe”.

“I wish for Ukraine to quickly complete its transformation and for its people to enjoy the benefits of a prosperous democratic nation at the heart of a modern Europe,” she said. “The Orange Revolution gave hope to freedom-loving people everywhere. Its spirit clearly lives on.”

Lady Thatcher gave Mrs Tymoshenko a signed copy of her memoirs and Mrs Tymoshenko presented Lady Thatcher with a boxed replica of a 2000 year-old Scythian artwork.

Source: Telegraph

Oligarchs Loom Over Ukraine Polls

KIEV, Ukraine -- At the recent convention of Ukraine's Regions party, the man at the centre of attention was not Viktor Yanukovich, prime minister and party leader, but Rinat Akhmetov, the country's richest man.

Billionaire Rinat Akhmetov

Sitting in the front row, two seats from Mr Yanukovich, he attracted the biggest crowds of journalists, politicians and cameramen.

Meanwhile, Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of the rival Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko, has been seen on the campaign trail riding in a helicopter with Kostyantin Zhevago, an iron ore billionaire.

And even President Viktor Yushchenko, who has often decried the political influence of Ukraine's oligarchs, has allowed himself to get close to leading businessmen, who have donated money to Yushchenko-backed charities.

With all parties campaigning hard for the September 30 parliamentary elections, politicians are taking all the support they can. And some – though not all – of the country's business oligarchs are ready to lend a hand.

But it is a delicate relationship. Mr Yushchenko has warned openly that the oligarchs are once again interfering in politics and gaining "the taste of power".

His remarks will strike a chord with those voters who believe businessmen have too big a say in politics. But his comments will be dismissed as electioneering by others, who claim the oligarchs' influence is exaggerated.

The oligarchs were formidable political players before the 2004 Orange Revolution, but they were generally obedient to ex-president Leonid Kuchma, currying favour to expand their businesses, often through privatisation deals.

When Mr Yushchenko came to power, supported by the firebrand Ms Tymoshenko, some businessmen feared the new leaders would seek to reverse a decade of privatisation.

But those concerns waned after Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko fell out in 2005 and the privatisation review ended with the cancellation of just one big deal – the Kryvorizhstal steel mill.

The president then said he wanted to move on and work with business. That message was reinforced once Mr Yanukovich, the president's arch-rival, returned to power as prime minister last year.

With the economy booming, the oligarchs recovered their poise – and enjoyed unprecedented increases in profits and asset values. Meanwhile, the political reforms that followed the Orange Revolution devolved power from the president to parliament – giving MPs, many of them millionaire business people, greater access to power.

With Mr Yushchenko and Mr Yanukovich at loggerheads, and both battling Ms Tymoshenko, the principal opposition leader, post-Orange Revolution politics has offered many openings for oligarchs. Mr Yushchenko called the elections early mainly because he was concerned about corruption in parliament.

The business oligarchs have broadly accepted the president's plans to balance Ukraine's longstanding ties with Russia with closer ties to the European Union. And with Europe becoming Ukraine's main trading partner in recent years, they have increasingly supported Kiev's EU-oriented policy.

"[They] understand the need to put their suits on before entering world markets and the need to clean up their act, push reforms in the country and in their companies," says Kost Bondarenko, a political analyst.

Another analyst, Andriy Yermolaev, sees a divide between pro-Yanukovich businessmen, led by Mr Akhmetov, whose companies are based in east Ukrainian heavy industry, and those oligarchs supporting the president and Ms Tymo-shenko, who tend to have more diversified financial and trading interests, such as Igor Kolomoisky, head of the Privat banking-based group.

The Yushchenko/Tymoshenko supporters favour rapid economic reform and liberalisation. The pro-Yanukovich businessmen are more conservative. "The rivalry between these two groups is quite damaging and ruthless," says Mr Yermolaev.

Mr Yushchenko is particularly worried about Mr Akhmetov, who stands out among oligarchs as the richest and most overt in his political involvement. An MP for the Regions party, the largest in parliament, he has long backed Mr Yanukovich and worked with him in managing rich, Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

The party recently infuriated the president by pushing for a referendum calling for official status for the Russian language and challenging Mr Yushchenko's hopes of closer ties to NATO.

Ms Tymoshenko claims Mr Akhmetov profits from his loyalty to Mr Yanukovich, citing his recent acquisition of a stake in a big state-controlled power generator, Dniproenergo. Mr Akhmetov has denied that he benefited from preferential treatment.

Mr Kolomoisky and Mr Akhmetov did not respond to requests for comment about their political interests. Among several other business leaders, only Serhiy Taruta, co-owner of the leading steel producer ISD Group, agreed to answer questions about politics. The business elite was generally "seeking to be apolitical, as playing in politics can unearth serious risks" for long-term business relations and reputations, he said.

That may be true for Mr Taruta, but clearly not for some of his big rivals.

The Oligarchs

Rinat Akhmetov, aged 41. Controls assets in steel, coal, energy, banking, hotels, telecoms, television and soccer. Estimated worth: $15.6bn (£7.7bn, €11.1bn). Backed Viktor Yanukovich in the 2004 presidential elections. A dedicated member of the premier's Regions party and, since March 2006, an MP, but has some discreet links with Viktor Yushchenko too. He backs the president's EU membership bid but opposes his plans for speedy NATO accession. Backs making Russian official language.

Viktor Pinchuk, aged 46. Controls assets in steel pipe production, railway wheels, media and banking. Estimated worth: $7bn. Son-in-law to former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma. Backed Mr Yanukovich in 2004 elections. Ex-MP, stepped down after the Orange Revolution. Some close associates from his past have recently joined Mr Yanukovich's Regions party as parliamentary candidates. Supports EU membership aspirations. Has not been vocal on Mr Yushchenko's NATO plans or the Russian language issue.

Igor Kolomoisky, aged 44. Controls assets in banking, ore mining, steel, energy, ferro alloys, hydrocarbons and media. Estimated worth: $3.5bn. Main co-owner of Ukraine's Privat business group with Gennady Bogolyubov, aged 45. Privat holds assets outside Ukraine, including factories in Russia, Romania, Poland and the US. Neither has served in parliament or government but according to analysts, both have backed various political parties. Neither has publicly expressed personal views on the EU, NATO or Russian language.

Sergey Taruta, aged 62. Assets in steel, machine building, hotels, gas production. Estimated worth: $2.3bn. Co-owns Ukraine's industrial ISD Group along with Vitali Gayduk, an ex-government official. Like Mr Akhmetov's empire, this group started in the industrial Donbass. ISD has invested outside Ukraine, including in steel mills in Hungary, Poland and the US. The group appears to try avoid intervening in politics but is viewed as pro-Yushchenko, even though it has not publicly support an EU membership bid.

Kostyantin Zhevago, aged 32. Assets in ore mining, banking, truck manufacturing, hydrocarbons and real estate. Estimated worth: $2bn. Has served as legislator, switching between parties since the late 1990s. Currently member of Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc. Supports EU integration, but has not expressed views on NATO or language.

Dmitry Firtash, aged 42. Assets in gas and electricity trading, chemicals, media and real estate. Estimated worth: $1.4bn. Not publicly active in politics since an unsuccessful bid for parliament in 2002. Viewed as a backer of various parties and political projects. Has strong relations in Moscow as a partner of Russia's Gazprom in Swiss-registered gas trader RosUkrEnergo. Has not expressed his views on EU membership, NATO or the Russian language issue.

Source: MSNBC

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Regions Prove They Cannot Change

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the last three years US political technologists and other US-based consultants have routinely argued that Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions have changed into a modern and democratic party. Little evidence has been shown to prove this argument but nevertheless the mantra has been chanted at every available opportunity.

PM Viktor Yanukovych

Two factors explain such dogged claims. This first is the ideological support for an oligarch-controlled economy and lack of scholarly objectivity.

The Yulia Tymoshenko government came under intense criticism by US think tank senior fellows in academic and media articles who used every speaking engagement to attack its record as “odious.”

At the same time, these senior fellows have never criticized the Yanukovych government for pursuing anti-market reform policies: oil price capping, banning grain exports and non-transparent insider privatizations.

They have never sought to criticize any aspect of the Party of Regions, which includes numerous senior deputies from the Kuchma era, such as energy mogul Yuri Boiko and former Central Election Commission Chairman Serhi Kivalov, as ‘odious’ in the same way as the criticism that they unleashed against the Tymoshenko government and BYuT.

Secondly, financial support. Ukrainian and Russian media have claimed that political technologist Paul Manafort’s contract with the Party of Regions is worth millions of dollars.

Ukrainian oligarchs have reportedly distributed largesse to at least two think tanks and one democracy promotion NGO in Washington DC. According to an April 17 article entitled “How Lobbyists Help Ex-Soviets Woo Washington” in The Wall Street Journal, “A company controlled by Mr. Akhmetov donated $300,000 in 2005 to a human-rights charity run by Mr. Jackson and his wife, an Internal Revenue Service document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal shows. Mr. Jackson said he was grateful for the support.” Bruce Jackson is head of the Washington-based Project on Transitional Democracies who supported the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Beyond wishful thinking there is no evidence to show that Prime Minister Yanukovych or the Party of Regions have fundamentally changed from the Kuchma era.

Five policy areas prove that the Regions and Yanukovych have changed only cosmetically since the Kuchma era.

Firstly, the Party of Regions pursues a Janus-face approach to politics, just as did former President Kuchma. The nice image cultivated by the Regions in the West is very different from the reality on the ground in eastern Ukraine where the Regions are entrenched.

This can be readily ascertained from a communication recently received from Kharkiv: “The expansion of Donetsk capital in the Kharkiv region is very great. The ‘Donetski’ are also expanding their Soviet political culture into the Kharkiv regon through the use of Soviet discourse, exploitation of the myths of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ and an aggressive stance towards Ukrainian nationalism and the 1933 artificial famine,” explained my colleague in Kharkiv. He said that in his city, the Regions have aligned themselves with former local organized crime boss Hennadiy Kernes.

Secondly, the Regions’ unwillingness to distance itself from discredited Kuchma-era officials. The Regions’ Rada faction and the Yanuovych government are full of such officials who, if President Viktor Yushchenko had implemented his election promises, would have faced criminal charges.

Thirdly, continued non-transparency and corruption in the energy sector, as evidenced by the return of Yuri Boiko as Minister for Fuel and Energy. Boiko’s links to the non-transparent, corrupt intermediary Rosukrenergo have never been in doubt.

In the 2007 elections Rosukrenergo majority shareholder Dmytro Firtash’s representatives are in the Regions’ list. Of the major parties likely to enter parliament this year only the Regions are in bed with Europe’s biggest money launderer, Rosukrernergo.

Fourthly, the return to non-transparent privatizations: Renat Akhmetov’s Donbas Fuel-Energy company, the energy arm of Systems Capital Management, was the only company effectively permitted to purchase shares in Dniproenergo, Ukraine’s largest thermoelectric generator.

The Odessa Portside Plant could be the next major strategic asset to be privatized by Regions’ oligarchs in such a brazenly corrupt manner.

The two Yanukovych governments in 2002-2004 and 2006-2007 have never undertaken any clean privatization tenders. Akhmetov’s and Viktor Pinchuk’s privatization of Dniproenergo resembles that of Kryvorizhstal in 2004.

As the Kyiv Post pointed out last month, BYuT is the only political force that has questioned Akhmetov’s takeover of Dniproenergo. The Tymoshenko government organized Ukraine’s only transparent privatization of Kryvorizhstal in fall 2004 when it obtained four times the value previously paid.

Fifthly, continued pursuit of undemocratic policies. The official reason for failing to initially register BYuT rested on a legally dubious claim of lack of full information provided by candidates in the BYuT list submitted to the CEC. BYuT retorted that the method of preparation of the list was exactly the same as that used for the March 2006 parliamentary elections.

The refusal to register BYuT throws into doubt the evolution of the Regions whose members on the CEC refused to register BYuT.

Since the 2004 elections Prime Minister Yanukovych and the Party of Regions have worked through political technologists and consultants towards changing their poor democratic image in the West by claiming their adherence to the international principles of Western democracy.

There is no evidence to show that the Yanukovych government and the Party of Regions are committed to four core principles: battling corruption, bringing transparency to the energy sector, holding clean privatizations and adhering to democratic norms and the constitutional balance of power.

Ukraine’s elections later this month give the country a chance to introduce policies that were demanded by the one in five Ukrainians who participated in the Orange Revolution three years ago.

These four core policies will never be implemented if the Yanukovych government and the Anti-Crisis coalition return to power after the elections. Ukraine needs real democrats and reformers in power who can only come from the orange camp.

Source: Kyiv Post