Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Differences Within Ukrainian Coalition Escalate

KIEV, Ukraine -- A coalition consisting of President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) is showing cracks long before the newly elected parliament even has its first meeting, which is expected in late November.

Yushchenko (L) and Tymoshenko may be all smiles for the media, but all is not well in their coalition.

There is no unity of opinion among the NUNS ranks on the coalition agreement, which was initialed on October 15. Yushchenko also has rejected several provisions in the accord, mostly those contributed by the BYuT.

This means that the chances that the majority in parliament will support Tymoshenko’s nomination for prime minister are dwindling by the day.

On October 17, NUNS and BYuT made the conditions of the October 15 accord public. It provides for passing a package of 12 bills after the new parliament convenes and before it approves Tymoshenko as prime minister. The proposed bills include:

- abolishing MP immunity from prosecution;
- canceling MP privileges;
- increasing the president’s control over the Cabinet;
- banning MPs from switching parliamentary caucuses;
- an early election for Kyiv mayor;
- boosting the authority of local governments;
- outlawing the use of the interior troops for political purposes;
- streamlining state procurement;
- approving the statute of GUAM, a regional alliance of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova; and
- clarifying the rights of the opposition.

If the laws are not passed, Yushchenko’s team does not guarantee that the prime minister’s chair will go to Tymoshenko. At this point, however, parliament seems unlikely to pass this package.

Volodymyr Lytvyn, who was parliament speaker before 2006, told Korrespondent magazine that passing those laws simultaneously would be tantamount to violating the constitution and parliamentary procedures.

Several of them provide for amending the constitution, which cannot be done by a simple majority. Also, the Party of Regions (PRU), which will control the biggest caucus in parliament, has made it clear that it would block the bills until parliament approves a new prime minister and the Cabinet.

Apart from procedural difficulties, there are serious differences among the factions inside NUNS. It has emerged that several of the smaller parties comprising NUNS did not give their consent to provisions of the October 15 accord.

Several of them hinted that they had not been even asked for consent. “A dictatorship is being established in our bloc,” Maksym Strykha, a deputy chairman of the Sobor party, complained to Kommersant. “Three people who conduct talks with Tymoshenko sign everything that she offers to them.”

Sobor issued a statement warning against attempts to push “a huge package of poorly drafted laws” through parliament. Sobor is unhappy, in particular, with the bill providing for increasing the powers of the regional authorities.

Yuriy Kostenko, the leader of the Popular Party, another member of NUNS, said that he would not vote for the ban on switching parliamentary caucuses. Vladyslav Kaskiv, the leader of the Pora party, shares Kostenko’s point of view.

Kaskiv also opposes several key points of the program Tymoshenko that she has pledged to implement if she becomes prime minister. These include extending the moratorium on agricultural land privatization beyond 2008, dropping the military draft next year, and paying back to the population within two years the value of the deposits lost in the defunct Soviet Union’s Savings Bank.

Kaskiv is not the only one to have reservations about the deal. President Yushchenko has made it clear that the transition of the Ukrainian army to a professional basis will be completed no earlier than 2010, so Ukrainian youths will definitely be called up to the army in 2008.

Yushchenko also opposes the land privatization moratorium, which was backed by Tymoshenko and the PRU.

As to the lost deposits, Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of NUNS, confessed to Channel 5 that he does not know how to return that money. He said that he wants to trust Tymoshenko that her calculations were correct.

Viktor Baloha, the chief of Yushchenko’s secretariat, was less diplomatic in his statement released on October 18. He said that it would be impossible to pay back the Savings Bank’s $23 billion debt without unleashing inflation. Baloha joked that Tymoshenko’s team may need “to recruit magician [David] Copperfield” for that.

On October 22 Yuriy Yekhanurov, a former prime minister, threatened to quit NUNS if the bloc and BYuT fail to discuss their differences over land privatization, state procurement, and changes to the law on the Cabinet before parliament convenes.

It is widely believed that Yekhanurov is not alone, and that he speaks on behalf of a large group of NUNS members who are unhappy with Tymoshenko’s leadership in the alliance.

Yekhanurov was a critic of Tymoshenko’s economic policies when she was prime minister, and he replaced her in that position in 2005; Viktor Yanukovych replaced him in 2006.

Source: Eurasian Daily Monitor

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Russian Nationalists Claim Responsibility For Attack On Yushchenko's Web Site

KIEV, Ukraine -- Hackers from several countries launched a massive attack and temporarily disabled the Web site of Ukraine's Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko, his office said Tuesday. A Russian nationalist group claimed responsibility.

Alexander Dugin, leader of Russian Eurasian Youth Movement

The attacks from servers in Russia, Britain, Kazakhstan, the United States, Israel and Ukraine began Sunday night and continued through Tuesday afternoon, the presidential press service told The Associated Press.

Over 18,000 attacks have been carried out, temporarily blocking access to the site. The Web page could not be accessed Tuesday night.

A radical Russian nationalist youth group, the Eurasian Youth Movement, claimed responsibility for the attacks in their blog, saying it was their retaliation for Yushchenko's office's alleged attack of their on Web site, which had been disabled.

The group called Yushchenko's government a "fascist regime" and accused it of attacking the organization's Moscow office. Yushchenko's office denied the claims.

The Eurasian Youth Movement is strongly critical of the West and opposes what it calls a U.S. encroachment on Russia's traditional sphere of influence.

The group has opposed Yushchenko's campaign to bring Ukraine into the European Union and NATO, considering the former Soviet republic part of Russia's area of influence. Its leader, Alexander Dugin, has been barred from entering Ukraine.

Earlier this month, the group claimed responsibility for desecrating a monument to Ukraine's independence erected on top of the country's highest mountain — an act that drew condemnation from Ukrainians.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ukraine's Yushchenko Strips 2 Key Figures In His Poisoning Case Of Honorary Rank

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko stripped two key figures in his nearly lethal dioxin poisoning of honorary rank Monday, taking way away their benefits and prestigious titles, the presidential office said.

Ihor Smeshko (L) and Volodymyr Satsyuk

Yushchenko, who was an opposition leader at the time, fell severely ill during the fiercely contested 2004 presidential election campaign after having dinner with top security officials Ihor Smeshko and Volodymyr Satsyuk.

The illness left his face pockmarked and discolored and he was later diagnosed as having suffered massive dioxin poisoning.

No arrests have been made and the probe is still under way. But many observers point the finger at Russia — both because Yushchenko was running against a Kremlin-backed candidate and because Russia is one of four countries that produces the specific formula of dioxin used to poison him.

On Monday, Yushchenko annulled a January 2004 decree issued by his predecessor Leonid Kuchma which elevated Smeshko, then Ukraine's Security Service chief, to the rank of an extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador.

He also canceled Kuchma's August 2004 decree which gave Satsyuk, Smeshko's deputy at the time, a general's rank, dismissing both decrees as "groundless," according to the presidential Web site.

Yushchenko has complained that Russia was hampering the investigation by refusing to provide dioxin samples and hand over key suspects.

Ukrainian authorities have not named any suspects, but Yushchenko has said several of them are hiding out in Russia.

The Kremlin backed Yushchenko's rival, Viktor Yanukovych, in the 2004 presidential election, which deepened rifts between Moscow and the West.

Yanukovych was initially declared the winner. Massive street protests — dubbed the Orange Revolution — broke out, and the Supreme Court threw out the results on grounds of fraud. Yushchenko won a court-ordered repeat vote.

Yushchenko has hinted that he knows those responsible for the poisoning. While refraining from naming the alleged culprits until the investigation is over, he has intimated that the poisoning could have been masterminded from outside the country.

Source: International Herald Tribune

NATO Chief Says Ukrainians Will Rule On Membership

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Ukraine's decision on whether to join NATO and the European Union rests with its people, the military alliance's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said Monday during a trip to Bucharest.

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

"The Ukrainian people will decide what course Ukraine will follow vis-a-vis NATO and vis-a-vis the EU," the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) said during a press conference.

Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko, who will visit Bucharest on Tuesday, suggested last week that the question of NATO membership would be put to a national referendum.

Yushchenko, whose rule has been bolstered by the victory of a pro-Western coalition in last month's parliamentary election, has regularly advocated joining the NATO alliance.

Scheffer said that no decision had been made on the issue of inviting new members during the next military alliance summit next April in Bucharest, but that applications made by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia would be examined.

"No tickets are punched as we speak, there's no certainty about invitations, because the nations aspiring to become a NATO member will have to perform properly before invitations can be issued," he said.

In responding to a question on Romania's fears of being left unprotected by a planned US anti-missile radar programme, Scheffer said: "Romania is a member of NATO. In NATO we do not have class A and class B members. All members of NATO, all allies are equal."

"If we discuss missile defence, this means that every single NATO ally will have to enjoy the same protection as every other ally," he added.

Source: EU Business

Legendary Soviet Spy Feklisov Is Dead At 93

MOSCOW, Russia -- A KGB master agent who oversaw some of Moscow's most damaging Cold War spies in the West -- Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs -- died Friday after a lifetime of espionage that helped the Soviet Union acquire the nuclear bomb.

Feklisov (L) and the Rosenbergs (R)

Alexander Feklisov, who also played a key role as a mediator in the Cuban missile crisis, was 93.

Feklisov arrived in New York in 1941 and began overseeing Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple who supplied the Soviet Union with top secret information on the U.S. Manhattan project to develop the nuclear bomb.

Feklisov later called the Rosenberg network one of the greatest in the history of Soviet espionage. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953. "Feklisov made an important contribution to the activity of Russia's foreign intelligence network in New York on nuclear issues," said a spokesman for the Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR. "He conducted serious missions related to the procurement of secret scientific and technical information, including in the area of electronics, radiolocation and jet aircraft technology," he said, Interfax reported.

In his autobiography, "The Man Behind the Rosenbergs," Feklisov recounted how he had played Le Carre-style espionage games to throw off U.S. minders in New York. He said he oversaw a total of 17 foreign agents.

After working with the Rosenbergs, Feklisov returned as a silent hero to Moscow. But he was quickly dispatched to London in 1947 as deputy chief of intelligence operations for science and technology. He soon made contact -- in a London pub -- with Fuchs, a German-born scientist who worked at the U.S. nuclear bomb project in Los Alamos and at Britain's Harwell nuclear research laboratory.

Fuchs passed on secrets that helped speed Moscow's race for the nuclear bomb by at least 18 months, intelligence officials said later when the extent of Fuchs' treason was examined.

"Feklisov was in contact with Klaus Fuchs, who provided important nuclear information, including on the structure of the hydrogen bomb," the SVR spokesman said.

Fuchs served a 14-year sentence for treason after admitting to passing nuclear secrets to Moscow.

Feklisov later called him the most important spy the Soviet Union ever had in its race for the bomb and said the information he gleaned from Fuchs was translated specially for Stalin.

The Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear bomb in 1949, striking fear into the world and surprising Western intelligence, who believed they were at least five years away.

Feklisov returned to the United States to head Soviet intelligence operations in Washington from 1960 to 1964.

As the KGB resident, Feklisov played a key role as a behind-the-scenes intermediary between the Kremlin and Washington in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, widely seen as the closest the world ever came to nuclear war.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

Source: The Moscow Times

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Eight Miners Trapped In Coalmine In East Ukraine

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Eight miners are believed to be trapped beneath the rock that collapsed in a coalmine in eastern Ukraine, the regional rescue service said on Sunday.

Ukraine is among the deadliest places in the world to be a coal-miner, with 75% of its pits being officially classified as dangerous. Outdated equipment, high concentrations of methane gas and lax safety rules make them a death trap, and many miners are so poverty-stricken they disable their methane gas detectors so they will not have to stop work for safety checks.

The incident at the mine named after 50 years of the USSR in the Lugansk Region occurred late on October 28.

There has been no information about the miners' fate, the Donetsk rescue service said.

In another incident on October 28, 555 miners were urgently evacuated from a mine, also in the Lugansk Region, which had caught fire.

There were no victims in the incident, the rescue service said.

Source: RIA Novosti

Russian Statue Sparks Clashes In Ukraine

ODESSA, Ukraine -- Ukrainian nationalists and police have clashed in the city of Odessa at the unveiling of a monument to the city's founder - Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

Catherine the Great monument, Odessa (L) and police cordon off area around the statue (R).

Hundreds of supporters of patriotic groups across Ukraine descended on the city to protest against the re-erection of a statue that was removed eighty years ago.

The nationalists describe themselves as heirs of Cossacks. They accuse Catherine the Great of colonising Ukraine, and say her monument is an affront and a threat to Urkainian independence.

Nationalist leader Ihor Vardanets says "honouring a woman who enslaved Ukrainian people" isn't right.

"She made our country a minor part of Russia, and turned Ukrainians into serfs," he said.

Many residents of Odessa, however, have welcomed the statue as a step towards reviving the city’s historic past.

Lieutenant General Sergey Elistratov, the leader of another group describing itself as Cossack, described the protests as hooliganism.

“They broke fences, washed their shoes in the fountain at the Pushkin monument. They are vandals," he said.

"Today we are here to defend law and order, to defend our city”.

Odessa was officially founded in 1794 as a Russian naval fortress.

The first monument to Catherine was removed from the city by Soviet authorities in the 1920s.

As part of a project to revamp the city centre, Odessa Council returned the statue of the Russian Empress back to the square that bears her name.

Source: RussiaToday

Ukraine Reburies Stalin's Victims

BYKOVNYA, Ukraine -- Ukrainian authorities have reburied near the capital, Kiev, the bodies of some 2,000 people killed by the Soviet secret police more than 60 years ago.

Soldiers carry coffins during a reburial ceremony outside the small village of Bykovnya near the capital Kiev October 27, 2007. The remains of 1998 people, including 474 Poles, were reburied today in a forest where more than 30 thousand Ukrainians were shot and buried between 1937 and 1941, during the period of late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's repressions.

Relatives of the victims watched as red coffins were lowered into graves and blessed by a priest at the ceremony.

The bodies, including 474 Poles, were dug up this year in Bykovnya, where tens of thousands are thought to have been dumped during the 1930s and 1940s.

Under Communist rule, the existence of the mass graves in Ukraine was denied.

It was only in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, that the mass graves were acknowledged and memorials built.

Memories

About 100 people including relatives of the victims attended the sombre ceremony in a forest outside of Kiev on Saturday.

One of those attending, Maria Marzhetska, said her father had been seized in 1937. She only discovered his fate 60 years later.

"I was eight years old. There were just three of us - father, mother and me - and they took him," Ms Marzhetska told the Reuters news agency.

"Every morning, every evening we were at the police station," she said.

Andrzej Przewoznik, the general secretary of Poland's Council for the Protection of Monuments to Struggle and Martyrdom, said the site was a very important place for Poles.

"This is a place where we would like the Polish [Catholic] cross and Polish memories of those people resting in the Bykovnya forest to be," he said.

Those buried on Saturday were tortured and later killed by the much-feared Soviet secret police, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs or NKVD.

According to various estimates, more than 100,000 people were killed by the NKVD between 1936 and 1941 during Joseph Stalin's rule.

Source: BBC News

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Official Parliamentary Election Results Published In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The official results of Ukraine's snap parliamentary elections were published in government media Saturday, the final formality before a new legislature can convene.

Yulia Tymoshenko is slated to become the next PM of Ukraine

According to the results, the pro-West Orange Revolution parties of President Viktor Yushchenko and the charismatic Yulia Tymoshenko together mustered a slim majority of 228 seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada.

The two parties have pledged to form a government with Tymoshenko returning as prime minister.

The rival Party of Regions, led by the more Moscow-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, finished first in the Sept. 30 ballot and will control 175 seats.

Publication of the results became possible after the High Administrative Court on Thursday threw out a suit filed by five parties seeking to contest the results based on alleged violations.

The legislature now has about a month to convene after the official publication of the election results, though no date has yet been set for the first Rada session.

In an interview with the Weekly Mirror newspaper published Saturday, Yanukovych called for forming a broad coalition that would encompass three parties and bridge the divide in Ukrainian society.

"I want everyone to understand that, irrespective of distribution of forces in Verkhovna Rada, not a single important decision as for domestic and foreign policy will be taken without considering the Party of Regions," Yanukovych said.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Fashion Model Anna Sinkovska: Ukraine, Czech Republic, Paris Top Model

PARIS, France -- Almost everybody who visited Ukraine and particularly Kiev can easily confirm that Ukrainian women are beautiful, but even on this background Anna Sinkovska, now a Fashion Model based in Paris, is far from being just average looking.

Young Fashion Model Anna Sinkovska

Anna Sinkovska is a beautiful young fashion model from the Czech Republic, now living and working in Paris. Originally from Ukraine, her family emigrated to the Czech Republic during Anna's early teenage years.

It was there, in Prague, that she signed her first contract with a modeling agency at the age of nineteen. Shortly after that, she was sent to Paris to begin her career.

This is an exciting experience to study the developments of the career of a wonderful, beautiful young woman whom is destined to be a great star and one of the most successful young models in the fashion world.

Born in Ukraine on 22 August, 1983, she currently makes Paris, France her home.

Source: FashionGates

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ukrainian Court Validates Election Results, Opens Way For Government Formation

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian court on Thursday validated the results of parliamentary elections, opening the way for the formation of a government in this ex-Soviet republic that is struggling to emerge from prolonged political turmoil.

Team Orange, Yushchenko (L) and Tymoshenko (R), has been given a second chance to fix what ails Ukraine.

The move was likely to be welcomed by the two pro-Western Orange Revolution parties led by President Viktor Yushchenko and the charismatic opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

The two forces have garnered enough seats in the Sep. 30 election to form a parliamentary majority and have pledged to jointly form the Cabinet with Tymoshenko returning as prime minister.

Their main rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych emerged as the top vote winner, but fell short of their combined total.

Ukraine's High Administrative Court threw out a law suit filed by five parties seeking to contest the vote based on alleged violations, allowing the official publication of the election results and enabling the new parliament to convene. A judge was shown reading out a statement on Channel 5 television.

Court officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's parties won 228 seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, two seats more than a bare majority.

The Party of Regions, led by the more Moscow-friendly Yanukovych, had only 175 seats.

An informal agreement concluded by Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's parties last week and endorsed by the president stipulates that Tymoshenko would be prime minister while Yushchenko's bloc would pick the parliament speaker.

A majority coalition can be officially formed once parliament convenes. The legislature has about a month to convene after the official publication of the election results.

The Interfax news agency quoted Central Election Commission member Zhanna Usenko-Chernaya as saying that the final results will be published Saturday.

No date has been set yet for the first Rada session.

Tymoshenko's return as premier would resurrect the Orange Revolution alliance that was the driving force of the peaceful 2004 protests that ushered Yushchenko into the presidency but which collapsed when Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko after just seven months as his premier.

This time around, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have promised to work closely together to bring the country on a solid pro-Western course, conduct anti-corruption reform and raise living standards.

Ukrainian politics have been riven by a bitter power struggle between Yushchenko and Yanukovych since the tumultuous 2004 presidential race.

Yanukovych was initially declared the winner, but courts later judged that vote fraudulent and Yushchenko won a repeat election. Their standoff reached its peak earlier this year, when Yushchenko ordered parliament dissolved and called a new vote.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Kyiv’s Central Bank Mulls Currency Appreciation To Curb High Inflation

KIEV, Ukraine -- As the US Dollar continues its slide, Ukraine’s central bank is likely to strengthen the country’s national currency, a move that would boost the purchasing power of average Ukrainians while taking a bite out of the margins of export-oriented big business tycoons.

Currently $10.00 = 50 Hryvnia

On Oct. 18, National Bank of Ukraine Chairman Volodymyr Stelmakh gave every indication that the Hryvnia would soon be liberalized by giving the national currency more breadth within its current tight corridor. The NBU is likely to appreciate the national currency, a move that would help curb the pinch of high inflationary pressures.

Should Stelmakh’s announcement bear fruit, the average consumer paid in hryvnias would benefit from having slightly better purchasing power, and people receiving state pensions or salaries, like teachers and doctors, would feel pressure on their pocket books ease a bit.

But Ukrainians still receiving envelop salaries in dollars under the table would take a hit, depending on how much the US currency falls. Those paid in euros or other strong foreign currencies, such as the British pound, will not be noticeably affected.

Ukraine’s large financial industrial groups, the country’s largest source of foreign currency thanks to steel, chemical and grain exports, would feel the brunt of currency appreciation. Meanwhile, small and medium-sized businesses would benefit, since they target domestic consumers or import goods.

The official Hr 5.05/US$1 exchange rate could appreciate to 4.90, according to Stelmakh. The national currency has been trading consistently in a band of Hr 5.00-5.06 to the US Dollar, but could loosen up at a more reasonable range of Hr 4.90-5.1, predicted Oleksandr Klymchuk, an analyst at Kyiv-based investment bank Concorde Capital.

Other analysts predicted the Hryvnia could strengthen further, to a rate of Hr 4.5-4.8 to the dollar.

For example, Oleksandr Zholud, of the International Center for Policy Studies think tank, said that should the Hryvnia appreciate to Hr 4.5 to the dollar, exporting companies that make resource-intensive products with low profitability percentages, such as in the machine building sector, would suffer the most.

Domestic consumers, on the other hand, would benefit directly, but only somewhat, as finished goods in Ukraine have too many middlemen and durable goods that are imported only make up a fraction (10 percent) of the Consumer Price Index, Zholud said. Consumers would mostly benefit indirectly, as the cost of transportation, prices on gas and other factors would eventually translate into more affordable prices.

The IMF has for years urged the Ukrainian government to liberalize its regulation of the Hryvnia.

Currency appreciation is one of the few tools at a national bank’s disposal to bite at inflation, which is expected to finish the year at 12.8 percent year-on-year, according to official statistics, and even higher when examining other indicators, such as the Producer Price Index, which is up to 19 percent year-on-year since October 2006.

However, the NBU won’t intervene by buying currency unless it has to, allowing the market to take its course instead.

“There have been several months in the last year where the NBU has not intervened in the [foreign exchange] market at all. These prices are set by normal market mechanisms,” Stelmakh said back in May. In the last four months, the NBU purchased $5 billion on the forex market to keep the Hryvnia at its present level.

Still, Klymchuk believes the Hryvnia is significantly undervalued, especially when looking at the purchasing power parity between Ukraine and other countries.

“Many locally produced goods are [still] unjustifiably cheap because the government heavily regulates prices, and because of state monopolies that should instead be privatized,” Klymchuk said.

Macroeconomic indicators paint a conflicting picture, said Balazs Horvath, an IMF representative in Ukraine. According to Horvath, Ukraine’s current account has deteriorated – which in itself would signal a need for real exchange rate depreciation – whereas very strong capital inflows into the country have supported real appreciation. More foreign money flowing into the country is also increasing the money supply.

“Over time, the capital and current accounts should rebalance. The labor and capital markets should be flexible to achieve smooth resource allocation, which would raise overall efficiency. In addition, the NBU should use all available instruments to help the process, which calls for exchange rate flexibility,” Horvath added.

Oleksandr Shkurpat of Foyil Securities believes the main issue is inflation, largely due to immense pressure from cash inflows into the country.

“Ukrainian companies are taking on foreign debt, FDI continues to pour in and repatriated money is flooding the currency market,” Shkurpat said.

This is creating lots of demand, especially for non-tradable goods, such as housing, which can’t be satisfied overnight by supply, or other things, like infrastructure, roads, even a simple haircut. This, coupled with monetary aggregates and energy import prices (originating in Central Asia), are other factors fueling inflation.

The upside, said Horvath, is that more investment is coming to Ukraine. Investors can diversify, share risk, and there is increased competition, all of which are good for the continued strengthening of the economy. Indeed, the IMF recently readjusted Ukraine’s 2007 GDP forecast to 6.7 percent.

“The NBU cannot stop massive capital inflows. As any other central bank, it can only manage it, aiming to lower vulnerabilities and establish buffers by tightening macro-policies,” Horvath said.

“The private sector’s dis-saving should in part be offset by increased public sector saving by minimizing the fiscal deficit.”

“Expect gradual revaluation. Stelmakh won’t make any moves without conducting a thorough economic forecast,” Shkurpat predicted.

“It’s difficult to say at present what to do [whether to buy Hryvnia or make investments in the Hryvnia]. Timing is important, but expect appreciation in 2008.”

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Leftists, Pro-Russia Extremists Defy Yushchenko Over History

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko’s recent efforts to commemorate World War II nationalist fighters have provoked a wave of pro-Russian and leftist extremism in Ukraine.

Roman Shukhevych (L) and Stepan Bandera

Radical leftists disrupted commemorations of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) across Ukraine on October 14, and the Russian radical nationalist organization Eurasian Youth Union (ESM) claimed responsibility for vandalizing national symbols on Ukraine’s highest mountain.

On October 12 Yushchenko posthumously proclaimed Roman Shukhevych, the UPA commander in the 1940s, a Hero of Ukraine, and two days later he decreed that the 65th anniversary of the UPA should be commemorated.

On October 14, a monument was unveiled in the western town of Lviv to one of the main ideologists of 20th century Ukrainian nationalism, Stepan Bandera.

The leftist and pro-Russian forces have made it clear that they will not put up with “the president’s attempts to impose pro-fascist, neo-Nazi policy on society,” as one of the leaders of the Communist Party (CPU), Oleksandr Holub, put it.

The CPU issued a statement saying that Yushchenko had “voiced support at the state level for an ideology that was condemned internationally and by the Nuremberg trial.”

The UPA has always been respected in western Ukraine, which the Soviet Union annexed from Poland in 1939, as freedom fighters. Official historiography maintains that the UPA fought both the Nazis and the Red Army.

Most right-of-center parties, the far-right groups, and President Yushchenko share this point of view. Pro-Russian parties and leftists, most of whom are nostalgic for the Soviet past, say that the UPA collaborated with the Nazis, so it does not deserve commemoration.

This negative view of the UPA dominates in the Russian-speaking regions, and it is apparently shared by the majority of the Party of Regions of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

UPA veterans and several thousand supporters of the far-right parties Freedom, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Ukrainian National Assembly organized a march in Kyiv on October 14 to commemorate the UPA.

They were confronted by supporters of the CPU and the radical left Progressive Socialist Party, who behaved aggressively. Police prevented scuffles between supporters of the rival camps, briefly detaining 24 of them.

Similar events happened in several other cities across Ukraine, including the second biggest city, Kharkiv. In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, where pro-Russian and leftist radicals by far outnumber the nationalists, police had to work especially hard to prevent serious confrontations.

Yushchenko’s calls for UPA commemoration were largely ignored by the local authorities beyond western Ukraine. “Not everybody would understand this. We have to first conduct serious explanatory work,” said the governor of the central Ukrainian Poltava Region, Valery Asadchev, who is a member of Yushchenko’s team.

The council of Ukraine’s easternmost region, Luhansk, voted 73–2 to approve an appeal for Yushchenko to revoke his decree on proclaiming Shukhevych a hero. Luhansk voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Party of Regions in the September 30 parliamentary election.

On October 18, the ESM, a Russian radical youth group, said that its activists had demolished Ukrainian national symbols that had been erected on Ukraine’s highest mountain, the Hoverla.

The mountain, located in western Ukraine, is a symbol by itself. Yushchenko, when he was opposition leader, would ascend it ceremoniously each year accompanied by crowds of his political supporters.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed that the ESM’s activists had vandalized the symbols but said that the ESM had exaggerated the damage. The SBU said that this was committed by three young men, two of whom had arrived from Russia for the purpose.

One of the leaders of the ESM, Pavel Zarifullin, commenting on the SBU’s statement, said the three young men in question reside in western Ukraine, rather than Russia.

Zarifullin mocked the SBU, saying that it only pretended to have full information on the ESM activists in question. The Ukrainian version of the Russian daily Kommersant quoted the ESM’s main ideologist, Aleksandr Dugin, as saying that the “action on the Hoverla” had been prompted by Yushchenko’s commemoration of Shukhevych. Dugin and Zarifullin were declared personae non gratae in Ukraine in 2006 for their participation in anti-NATO and anti-U.S. protests in Crimea.

Ukraine’s main parties displayed very different reactions to the incident on the Hoverla. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense condemned it as “a criminal act committed by anti-Ukrainian forces.” Yushchenko’s allies from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc urged immediate reaction from the Prosecutor-General’s Office.

The Party of Regions kept silent. The CPU’s Holub said that the Hoverla incident was Ukrainian society’s “emotional” reaction to Yushchenko’s “neo-Nazi policy.”

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Ukraine Deputy PM Says Kremenchug Head Illegal

KIEV, Ukraine -- The current management of Ukraine's largest refiner, Kremenchug, acted illegally last week when it ousted the head of the company running the plant and took over, a deputy prime minister said on Wednesday.

Kremenchug refiner

Russian company Tatneft cut oil supplies to Kremenchug after a former manager of Ukrtatnafta, Pavel Ovcharenko, used armed police to expel the head of the company last Friday. The refinery is now running on reduced capacity.

"This was a raider's hit. A man who has not worked there for three years tried to capture the plant with an illegal court decision and return illegally to work," Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuev, in charge of energy, told Reuters.

Ovcharenko had fought against his own dismissal in several courts for three years and said a Kremenchug court had finally ruled in August to reinstate him. He accuses the management he expelled of incurring debts of some $500 million.

The ousted company chief, Sergei Glushko, is appealing against the court decision, Ovcharenko's lawyer told Reuters.

Interfax Ukraine news agency reported on Wednesday that "unknown people in camouflage" had blocked Ukrtatnafta headquarters in Kremenchug and that Glushko had appeared at the scene.

Ukrtatnafta was not available for comment.

TATNEFT WANTS CLARITY

Tatneft, Kremenchug's chief supplier, has said it wants the management situation clarified before resuming deliveries.

A Kremenchug official said on Wednesday the refinery had bought 170,390 tonnes of oil for October-November. Ovcharenko said on Tuesday it had enough stocks to run for 12 days on reduced capacity.

The official did not say how much Kremenchug paid for the oil. Local media reported that the average price at an auction on Tuesday jumped 10 percent to 3,012 hryvnias per tonne against the last auction a month ago.

Tatneft, controlled by Tatarstan, owns 8.6 percent of Ukrtatnafta, while the Russian republic itself owns a further 28.8 percent. Ukrainian state energy firm Naftogas owns another 43.1 percent, while two western companies own the rest.

Tatneft has accused Ukraine of diluting its stake in Ukrtatnafta, while Ukrainian officials have questioned the way the refiner was sold. Tatneft backed Glushko as the legitimate head, via a statement on the Tatarstan government Web site.

Russia and Ukraine have had repeated disputes over energy supplies in recent years. These included a halt in Russian gas supplies in January 2006, which led to disruptions in gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine.

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who has had good relations with Moscow over energy issues, is likely to be replaced after ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko and her allies gained a slim majority in parliamentary elections on Sept. 30.

Tymoshenko was appointed premier by President Viktor Yushchenko, who defeated the Moscow-backed Yanukovich in the 2004 "Orange Revolution" that followed a rigged poll. Relations with Russia plunged during her eight-month tenure.

Source: Singapore News

UKRAINE: Westwards, But Not Much More

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Ukraine's opposition forces have reached a coalition agreement that will give the populist Yuliya Timoshenko the post of Prime Minister. Foreign policy might change, but realism will prevail.

Yulia Tymoshenko at the European People's Party Summit in Portugal.

The Party of the Regions won the Sep. 30 election with 34 percent of the vote but the 'orange' opposition -- the Yuliya Timoshenko bloc with 31 percent and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self Defence bloc with 14 percent -- reached an agreement last week to form a new cabinet.

Ideas of a grand coalition have been rejected, and the governing Party of the Regions, often described as favourable to close ties with Russia, is headed for four years in opposition.

There are concerns over what implications the complete exclusion from governance of the Party of the Regions led by Viktor Yanukovich could have. Ukraine's most powerful business circles back Yanukovich's party, as does the overwhelming majority of the population in the South and East, Ukraine's industrial heartland.

President Viktor Yushchenko, albeit somewhat ambiguously, had tried to show initiative in forming a grand coalition. "Both the forces that represent western Ukraine and those that stand for the eastern part of our country must be wise and far-sighted -- and they must communicate," he had recently told the German press. But his calls were not entirely heeded.

The first steps of the fresh and purely 'orange' alliance will be to abolish MPs' immunity and privileges, to work on a new constitution, and to ban deputies from changing factions, which was at the root of the controversy that spurred the early election.

Yushchenko issued a decree calling for early elections Apr. 2 after a group of parliamentarians switched to the governing coalition in what the President termed as a "usurpation of power."

Yet even the relationship between the two pro-Western leaders, Yushchenko and Timoshenko, has been nothing short of turbulent: President Yushchenko fired Timoshenko from the post of prime minister in 2005 after a period of power infighting that culminated in mutual accusations of corruption.

But supporters of the 'orange' forces hope the fear instilled by the powerful and well-organised opposition will hold the coalition together.

Orange supporters also expect the state to function more smoothly with both President and Prime Minister belonging to the same 'camp', though small disagreements could cause the cabinet's collapse as the orange forces have collected only a thin majority in parliament.

No one in Ukraine doubts that the alliance is fragile, and personal ambitions strong. Only a few days after the coalition agreement was announced, pro-presidential forces were accusing Timoshenko's bloc of unrealistic goals and of interfering with the exclusive prerogatives of the president.

Timoshenko demands the end of conscription from 2008, but the proposal is opposed by men loyal to the president.

Moreover, Yushchenko's loyal men fear that Timoshenko will cause disarray in the country's budget, as she has vowed to strengthen the state's hand in the economy, increase social spending and even revise past privatisation deals which in her opinion were unfair.

Yushchenko leans towards a liberal approach to economics -- with the state interfering only when absolutely necessary.

Some of the policies expected from Timoshenko could have repercussions beyond borders, as the orange leader has made the revision of gas price deals with Russia's giant gas monopoly Gazprom one of her main campaign mottos.

The repercussion could be felt immediately after the elections. In a clinically timed statement, Gazprom warned Kiev it owed 1.3 billion dollars in gas. The gas giant later corrected the statement, and clarified that the debt had been incurred by intermediary companies based in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials recognised that an intermediary Ukrainian gas company had accumulated gas in its storage facilities without paying Gazprom. An agreement has been reached, and gas is being returned to Russian territory from Ukrainian storage facilities.

The new coalition, which is suspicious of the existing gas scheme and the men behind it, has announced it will strive for a transparent gas market without intermediaries. But the government's concrete measures and their possible implications will have to be well measured.

"Gas deals might be revised, but once this happens it will be the result of a mutual compromise," Natalya Shapovalova, foreign policy analyst at the Kiev-based International Centre for Policy Studies told IPS.

The analyst believes the controversy is more of an economic than political nature. "Russia tries to put pressure through energy issues but it's mostly a question of business," she says. "Tensions with Russia don't depend on the composition of the Ukrainian government."

On the opposite front, the new coalition announced it intends to bring Ukraine closer to membership in the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) based on the results of referenda.

But the shift should not be overestimated, as even the nominally pro-Russian Party of the Regions had made membership of the EU, and cooperation with NATO its goals.

Analysts have pointed out that it is precisely the party's recent shift to a more pro-Western approach, abandoning the anti-NATO stances of their electorate, that cost them an election they expected to win.

"The previous cabinet was more careful with expressing such wishes due to coalition partners," Shapovalova says. "But now nothing will happen quickly, integration with NATO will continue, and maybe Ukraine could join the NATO membership action plan. But public opinion is negative and more consensus will be needed."

Source: IPS

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yushchenko Reaffirms Ukraine’s NATO Stance

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko reaffirmed yesterday his stance that Ukraine should join NATO, despite divisions in the ex-Soviet country over the issue and a mute stance from the probable post-election government.

Viktor Yushchenko at a NATO Summit

Ukraine has grown cooler to NATO membership under Moscow-leaning Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich while ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko, poised to form a government after parliamentary polls, has not made her view on the issue clear.

“Ukraine confirms and fixes its strategic direction towards the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” Yushchenko told defense ministers of several east European countries and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Yushchenko, swept to power by the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, made NATO and European Union membership a key long-term priority and Ukraine moved towards closer co-operation with NATO.

But that trend has been put on hold since Yanukovich, long at odds with Yushchenko, said in September 2006 that Ukraine’s public was opposed to the defense alliance.

But the president appeared to revive such ambitions yesterday.

“I ask all European partners to help us in our intention to join this Membership Action Plan,” he told the ministers, referring to a NATO programme that entails closer co-operation with the alliance but not automatic membership.

He hoped a NATO summit in April would look into the issue.

Gates was in Kiev attending the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) group, a US initiative aiming to encourage non-NATO countries to integrate into Euro-Atlantic partnerships.

In Brussels, where NATO is based, officials have said the alliance is waiting for a clear line from Kiev before any significant moves could be made.

Tymoshenko, whose party and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine Party scored a slight majority over Yanukovich allies, has never said whether she is for or against NATO membership.

Russia is strongly opposed to any such moves by Kiev, as are many Ukrainians living in the Russian-speaking east and south.

Source: Gulf Times

Tymoshenko The Real Winner Of Ukraine's 2007 Election

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine officially announced its parliamentary election results on October 15. Unlike the 2006 elections, no political force has contested the results.

The always popular Yulia Tymoshenko

The Party of Regions closed its makeshift camp in downtown Kyiv on October 18 after declaring that they would take their 175 seats, despite rumors to the contrary. Had they refused, they would have triggered another political crisis, as the constitutions requires dissolution if 150 deputies or more resign.

The elections again showed that Ukraine’s regional diversity, which is routinely disparaged as a source of instability by Russian and Western commentators, is in reality a source of its democratic strength. Regional diversity thwarted former President Leonid Kuchma’s attempts to establish autocratic parties of power in the 1998 and 2002 elections.

Since the Kuchma era, regional diversity has prevented any political force from establishing a monopoly of power, which makes it impossible to establish a one-party autocracy.

The major victor of the elections is unquestionably the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), which finished second overall. BYuT is on a steady trajectory upward from 7% in 2002, to 23% in 2006, and 31% in September. BYuT received 1.5 million votes more than in 2006 and increased its seats from 129 to 156. Three-quarters of the new votes were from western-central Ukraine and the remaining quarter in eastern-southern Ukraine.

Of the additional 302,000 votes for BYuT in eastern-southern Ukraine, only one-sixth were from Party of Regions strongholds in the two Donbas oblasts, the Crimean autonomous republic, and the port of Sevastopol.

BYuT has proven itself capable of winning votes in eastern and southern Ukraine for seven reasons.

First, BYuT is by far Ukraine’s best-organized election campaign machine. As the BBC wrote, BYuT is “one of the slickest image-making machines in Europe.”

Second, Our Ukraine personnel on the ground in eastern Ukraine campaigned for BYuT rather than their own political force, because they had little hope that eastern Ukrainian voters would back Our Ukraine

Third, disillusioned Our Ukraine and some Party of Regions voters defected to BYuT.

Fourth, alone among the three original orange political forces, BYuT has a consistent position that attracts voters. President Viktor Yushchenko and Our Ukraine have wavered constantly between aligning with BYuT or with pro-Kuchma centrists (prior to 2004) or with the Party of Regions.

Fifth, BYuT’s voters like its anti-elitist campaign rhetoric.

Sixth, BYuT’s territorial nationalism can win votes in Russophone eastern Ukraine, unlike the ethno-cultural nationalism of Yushchenko and Our Ukraine. BYuT is not associated with promoting the Ukrainian language.

Seventh, BYuT is not associated with promoting NATO membership. BYuT has shied away from discussing NATO, which is unpopular in eastern Ukraine. Tymoshenko’s May-June Foreign Affairs article “Containing Russia,” on Ukraine’s place in European security, never mentions NATO.

The only other political force that gained votes in this year’s elections was the Communist Party (KPU), which jumped from 3.5% to 5.3%. Other left-wing forces collapsed in their support, notably the national Bolshevik Progressive Socialist Party and the Socialist Party.

The newly elected parliament will be the least left wing of any Ukrainian parliament since the disintegration of the USSR. During the 1990s the left controlled upwards of 40% of parliamentary seats and chairmanships.

Our Ukraine’s vote decreased by 250,000 and its results were similar to 2006. A 14% result is only 4% less than Rukh obtained in 1998 and 10% less than Our Ukraine obtained in 2002.

Since the elections, senior Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defense (NUNS) officials have declared that the president was mistaken in openly campaigning for Our Ukraine, unlike in 2006 when he remained neutral. Our Ukraine’s poor results suggest that voter disillusionment with Yushchenko transferred to low voter support for his political force.

As the Economist wrote after the 2007 elections, “That Mr. Yushchenko’s support is now relatively weak reflects not a change of mood but his failure to live up to the orange revolution’s promise.”

NUNS’s poor showing means it cannot act alone as party machine in Yushchenko’s upcoming presidential campaign. NUNS needs to become a more united force.

Compared to 2006, NUNS lost the three Galician oblasts to BYuT. NUNS only won Trans-Carpathia oblast (in contrast to four oblasts in 2006).

The 2007 elections also showed a return to “normality,” following two years of mass mobilization by orange and anti-orange political forces in 2004-2006. Turnout traditionally is lower in Ukraine’s elections in eastern Ukraine, where civil society is weaker. The 2007 elections showed higher turnout in western than eastern Ukraine, which worked in favor of BYuT but against the Party of Regions.

The Party of Regions increased its vote by 2% but it lost eleven seats and obtained fewer votes overall. The Party of Regions was stunned by its near loss of first place in the election, as BYuT closed the gap from 10% last year to only 2% this year.

The subsequent panic that struck Party of Regions could be seen in two ways. First, rumors circulated that the U.S. public relations company Paul Manafort was sacked because of disagreements over how to run the Party of Regions campaign.

Second, during times of political panic the Party of Regions has traditionally resorted to raising the status of the Russian language and NATO membership in an attempt to mobilize eastern Ukrainian voters.

The 2007 elections showed that Ukraine has two political machines: BYuT and the Party of Regions. Yushchenko can only win a second term in 2009 in an alliance with one of these machines.

The 2007 elections will be seen as a democratic watershed for Ukraine, returning to power an orange coalition and a Tymoshenko government. Democratic backsliding is unlikely, but the question remains will Ukraine now walk or run with reform.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Ukraine Set For Gas Hikes And Inflation

NEW YORK, NY -- Ukraine is bracing for a larger-than-expected increase in the price of natural gas charged by Russia, which is likely to fuel inflation and curb economic growth, Ukrainian Economy Minister Anatoly Kinakh said Friday.

Ukrainian Economy Minister Anatoly Kinakh

Russia may increase the price of natural gas next year by 15 percent, Kinakh said in an interview in Washington.

That’s more than Ukraine’s initial estimate of a 10 percent increase to $143 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Higher gas prices will make it harder for Ukraine to hold its inflation rate to the 6.8 percent government forecast for next year, he said. Ukrainian industries, including chemicals, need time to adjust to increases in gas prices, which remain far below European levels of $270 per 1,000 cubic meters, he said.

“At a gas price of $180 per 1,000 cubic meters, our chemicals-making industry, one of the major exporters, would become loss-making,” he said. “We need time to modernize our economy, to implement new technologies and cut energy consumption.”

Gazprom cut supplies to Ukraine in January 2006 in a dispute over prices that interrupted shipments to Europe. Russia later doubled what it charged Ukraine for gas, and it raised the price by another 37 percent in 2007.

The European Union depends on Russia for about a quarter of its oil and gas imports. The incident cast doubt over Russia’s reliability as a supplier of energy.

“There is a very serious political component here,” Kinakh said of Russia’s gas-pricing policies.

“It’s very important for us not only to agree on the price for next year but also to have a medium-term strategy,” he said. “It won’t be possible to keep the price” below the average European level “longer than two or three more years.”

“We managed to withstand these prices because of high prices for our major exports, such as metals and chemicals,” Kinakh said. Metals and chemicals, such as fertilizers, make up 52 percent of Ukraine’s exports, he said.

Ukraine’s economy will probably grow about 7 percent this year, compared with the government’s initial forecast of 6.5 percent and the central bank’s estimate of 7.5 percent, Kinakh said. Next year, growth may slow to less than 6.5 percent, he said.

“Ukraine’s consumer prices may rise as much as 13 percent by some estimates, but the government must make every effort to restrict it to 11 percent” this year, Kinakh said. It initially planned to cut inflation to 7.5 percent in 2007.

Ukraine will attract at least $5 billion in foreign direct investment this year, Kinakh said. “This is still not much, given Ukraine’s economic potential.”

Foreign direct investment rose 50 percent in the first half of the year from the same period a year earlier, to $2.55 billion, he said.

Source: St. Petersburg Times

Ukraine Weighs Up Afghanistan Role

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is among several countries under pressure from the U.S to send troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. American Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked 10 countries in south-east Europe to provide 3,000 troops.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks during a meeting in Kiev October 21, 2007.

Robert Gates made the appeal during a meeting of South-East European Defence Ministers in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev:

“I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan”.

NATO Membership

Ukraine is keen to join NATO, and helping America in Afghanistan would bolster its standing among Washington’s elites.

Some experts say Ukraine will keep its army on stand-by unless it gets some political and economic incentives.

”This defence council is like an incubator for NATO members. But it doesn’t require sending troops anywhere. Before doing so, Ukraine will consider political and human risks. A very small percent of Ukrainians support their membership in NATO,” said Nikolay Syngyrovsky, Director of Military Programmes of the Razumkov Center.

Bitter Memories

As a part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine lost more than 3,000 people in the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. So any indication that its men will go to war there again opens up old wounds.

If Ukraine commits troops to the conflict, for some people this could seem a repeat of the Soviet-Afghan war, but now on the side of the enemy.

To refute this theory, Ukraine’s Defence Minister promised that member states are not obliged to fight and will only do so after consulting the President and parliament.

Source: Russia Today

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pentagon Chief In Ukraine, Seeks Help In Afghanistan

KIEV, Ukraine -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will ask Ukraine and other eastern European countries this week to send troops to Afghanistan to cover a shortfall in trainers for the Afghan army, a senior U.S. defence official said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (R) and Ukraine's Defence Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko shake hands before talks in Kiev October 21, 2007.

Gates, who landed in Kiev on Sunday to meet Ukraine's government and attend the Southeast Europe Defence Ministerial, has grown increasingly frustrated by the failure of NATO allies to fulfil promises made to Afghanistan, his aides say.

He is particularly worried about a shortfall of more than 3,000 trainers for Afghan security forces -- a need that military commanders voiced a year ago.

A senior defence official travelling with the Pentagon chief said one of Gates's main goals was to press members of the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial to send troops to Afghanistan to fill the gap.

The 11-member group sent a 100-troop brigade, called Southeast Europe Brigade or SEEBRIG, to the war zone in 2006.

"It's to have a discussion about SEEBRIG and how SEEBRIG can potentially help in Afghanistan again possibly by undertaking a training mission," the official said when asked about Gates's priorities in Kiev.

"Given the need for trainers in Afghanistan, could SEEBRIG undertake or consider doing such a mission there?" the official said.

The six-year-old war in Afghanistan, overshadowed in the United States by Iraq, tops Gates's agenda this week. After meetings in Kiev, the secretary stops in Prague on his way to a meeting of NATO defence ministers in the Netherlands.

There, he will argue yet again that progress in Afghanistan could be lost if NATO members do not dedicate more combat troops, trainers and equipment to the fight. Already, violence has soared in 2007 and military officers say the Taliban is trying to import the deadly roadside bomb technology that has been used in Iraq.

While in Kiev, Gates will meet with Ukraine's president, prime minister and defence minister and ask about their security priorities and defence reforms. Ukraine is considered a strong U.S. partner in Iraq and the Pentagon thinks Kiev might send troops to Afghanistan as well.

Ukraine receives U.S. military assistance with equipment and training. In 2007, it received $10 million in U.S. military equipment and $1.7 million in training funds.

Gates also will discuss the pace of defence reforms among members of the Southeast Europe Defence Ministerial and what more is needed for NATO integration, U.S. officials said.

Source: AlertNet

US Defense Chief Heads For Europe

WASHINGTON, DC -- US Defense Secretary Robert Gates left for Europe late Saturday for a series of high-stakes meetings on sensitive issues such as Washington's planned anti-missile installations and US ties to Turkey, AFP reported.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Gates is to spend Sunday and Monday in Ukraine, a senior Pentagon official said. He will meet its Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko and seek his backing for the missile shield plans in the face of fierce opposition from neighboring Russia.

Yushchenko, who has struggled with challenges from political rivals more sympathetic to Moscow than to his pro-Western stance, has ruled out allowing parts of the US missile shield in Ukraine, but has not condemned the plan.

On Tuesday Gates will visit the Czech Republic, where the United States aims to put a radar station as part of its Europe-based shield against possible missile attacks from countries such as Iran and North Korea.

On Wednesday and Thursday Gates will be in the Netherlands for an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers. He is expected to ask countries to send more troops to patrol Afghanistan, where international forces are battling an insurgency by extremists of the ousted Taliban regime.

Gates' tour wraps up on Friday with a visit to Heidelberg in Germany, where the US Army has its European headquarters.

Source: FOCUS Information

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Russia's Tatneft Suspends Oil To Ukraine Refinery

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian oil firm Tatneft has suspended oil supplies to Ukraine's Kremenchug refinery pending a resolution of a dispute between different management groups, sources close to the firm said on Friday.

Russian Tatneft oil well

"The conflict around the plant's ownership has been going on for some years. As of today we are suspending supplies and will wait until the situation with the plant's management becomes more clear," the source said.

Ukraine has a total of seven refineries, but only three of them are getting regular supplies of Russian crude and one from Kazakhstan.

The plant processes 180,000 barrels per day of Russian crude which is supplied by different Russian companies. But all supplies are coordinated by Tatneft, a 500,000 barrels per day producer.

"No one from Russia is supplying crude to Kremenchug without a clearance from Tatneft. So if they suspend supplies, I assume all other companies will have to do the same," said a trading source with a major Russian oil firm.

Tatneft bought a stake of over 30 percent in the refiner in the 1990s and agreed to jointly manage the firm with Ukraine's state company Naftogas.

Tatneft has since then repeatedly accused Ukraine of diluting its stake in the plant's managing company, UkrTatNafta, while Ukraine's officials have questionned the way the refiner was privatised.

On Friday, Interfax news agency reported that UkrTatNafta's former managers led by ex-chief executive Pavel Ovcharenko ousted the current management team, led by chief executive Sergei Glushko, from the refinery with the help of police.

The refinery was not immediately available for comment.

Source: Singapore News

Gazprom Might Eject Middlemen

KIEV, Ukraine -- Gas giant Gazprom announced that it might agree to direct natural gas sales to Ukraine in the near future, doing away with the chain of controversial middleman companies that currently make hundreds of millions of dollars a year supplying Kyiv and exporting gas to Europe.

Chairman of Gazprom’s Board of Directors, Dmitry Medvedev

The Chairman of Gazprom’s Board of Directors Dmitry Medvedev told the German ARD television channel on Oct. 15, “We will probably revise the scheme of our relations and give up any intermediary structures that are not clearly understandable, at least those structures whose existence is not quite clear to us and which were proposed by our partners in a certain historical context.”

Kremlin-controlled Gazprom directs the flow of Central Asian gas to Ukrainian consumers and a portion of its Russian gas for European consumers through Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo, in which it owns a 50 percent stake. The other 50 percent of the RosUkrEnergo middleman-company is controlled by Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash. Ukraine-registered UkrGaz-Energo, half-owned by RosUkrEnergo and half by Ukraine’s state oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy, supplies gas to Ukrainian industry.

These intermediaries have reaped huge profits, with RosUkrEnergo making around $70 million in profits in the first quarter of this year, Gazprom reported earlier this month. UkrGaz-Energo’s profits for the first half of 2007 were about $100 million, according to the Ukrainian newspaper Delo.

Over the years, Moscow and Kyiv have blamed each other for the existence of intermediary companies such as RosUkrEnergo, the monopoly supplier of gas to Ukraine, and UkrGaz-Energo. Each side has said the private owners represent the interests of the other party.

Medvedev’s statement comes as a surprise and in the wake of Gazprom’s latest threat to shut off gas supplies to Ukraine over disagreements about payments by these very intermediaries. Faced with what Gazprom called a $1.3-billion overdue bill, Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych flew to Moscow last week to settle accounts.

“Perhaps, this will simplify our relations and help them [Ukrainians] make payments on time and not accumulate such big debts,” Medvedev said.

The fact that the state-owned gas giant announced the payment glitch during Ukrainian coalition talks raised accusations that Moscow was using its control over gas supplies as a tool of foreign policy.

Medvedev repeated denials made numerous times by representatives of his company and Russian officials that Gazprom uses pricing to put pressure on neighboring countries insensitive to the Kremlin’s needs.

In January 2006, Gazprom shut off gas supplies to Ukraine, and thus partly to Europe, until a pricing agreement was signed making RosUkrEnergo the monopoly importer of Russian and Central Asian gas to Ukraine. As part of the same deal, Ukraine’s gas import bill doubled. This year the price was raised by another third.

The Tymoshenko factor

Yulia Tymoshenko, who is set to take over the government in Ukraine, has consistently criticized the current gas agreements with Russia, particularly the use of middleman companies. Her repeated pledges to oust the allegedly opaque intermediaries have raised fears that Moscow could retaliate with stiff price hikes once again.

During the 2006 gas price crisis, Gazprom offered Kyiv direct gas sales with a price of more than $200 per 1,000 cubic meters while enticing Ukraine to accept a more competitive rate of $95 through RosUkrEnergo.

In response to Medvedev’s recent statement, Tymoshenko said her government would work to establish direct gas sales between Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukrainy at an affordable price.

“I am convinced that the price of gas will be absolutely balanced and reasonable. We will reach a compromise with the Russian Federation regarding gas deliveries next year.”

Outgoing First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov warned the same day that changes to the current middleman system, namely the prospect of radical reshuffling by Tymoshenko, could jeopardize Ukraine’s energy security.

“If one raises the issue of canceling the existing scheme and buying gas at any price, then we will end up in the same serious situation we were in back in 2006,” he told journalists.

“For our government, the most important thing is stable supplies and the price,” he added.

Shadowy intermediaries

Both Moscow and Kyiv have been unable to clearly explain the role intermediaries such as RosUkrEnergo play in the gas trade between their countries and Central Asian producers. Tymoshenko and other high-ranking officials have claimed these intermediaries act as parasites, feeding on state-owned enterprises and fueling corruption at the highest echelons.

Volodymyr Saprykin, an energy analyst at Ukraine’s Razumkov Center, said the prices set by Gazprom for gas deliveries to Ukraine have nothing to do with economics.

“There are no economic laws at work here, only political ones,” he said.

Saprykin called Medvedev’s recent statement to the German media “soothing words” meant to allay Western fears of further disruptions and a continuing lack of transparency in the supply of Russian and Central Asia gas to Europe.

Russia supplies the EU with about a quarter of its gas needs with the lion’s share passing through Ukraine’s vast gas transit system. Insiders said Ukraine could once again try to raise transit fees if gas import prices are raised.

EU policymakers have recently sought to decrease the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy imports, while simultaneously restricting Russian investment in Europe’s energy sector. Brussels and Moscow are currently in the midst of negotiations on reforming the EU energy market, including a controversial set of restrictions on foreign energy bidders known as the “Gazprom clause.”

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine Gas Explosion Toll Rises

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine -- Authorities in Ukraine have said 23 people were killed by a gas explosion in a block of flats in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk last Saturday.

President Viktor Yushchenko (C) inspects gas explosion site in Dnipropetrovsk.

Deputy PM Andriy Klyuyev said the initial toll had risen after rescue workers found a further six bodies in the remains of the 10-storey building.

Seven children died in the blast, while another 16 people were hospitalised.

Prosecutors believe the explosion happened because valves regulating pressure in the gas pipes had worn out.

Three employees of the local Dniprohaz gas company have been detained by the authorities pending potential negligence charges.

However, Gazex, a Russian company which controls Dniprohaz, has protested its employees' innocence.

"The guilty party should be determined once the results of the expert assessment have been released," a representative told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency.

Correspondents say domestic gas explosions occur regularly in Ukraine, often caused by improper use or poorly maintained infrastructure.

Source: BBC News

Friday, October 19, 2007

Utahns Open Arms To Ukraine Orphans

SALT LAKE CITY, USA -- Like the dozens of other Utahns standing in the baggage claim area of the Delta terminal at Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday night — with their banners and balloons and eager smiles — Williams was waiting the arrival of 45 orphans from Ukraine.

Andre Garrett (C), who was a Ukrainian orphan adopted by a family in Salt Lake City, waves to 45 orphans Thursday at airport.

The children, from three orphanages, are the latest guests of Utah-based Save A Child Foundation, started three years ago by Vern and Nannette Garrett of Salt Lake City. The purpose of the foundation, Vern explained amid the chaos of arriving passengers, is to be advocates for orphans ages 6 to 15, the children who are "largely overlooked," he says. The children will be in Utah until Nov. 5, staying with volunteer families.

"You want to see something really sad?" asked Save a Child Foundation vice president Craig Sorensen. "Come back here in three weeks."

The Ukrainian government allows the children to come to Utah, but the agreement is that they can't stay. On the other hand, most of the families end up adopting the children they host. In the fall of 2005, the first year of the program, Sorensen says he figured maybe one of the children would be adopted, two tops; in the end 24 of the 26 eligible children were eventually adopted by the Utah families.

The families must find their own adoption agency, come up with the $20,000 to $25,000 in adoption fees and generally wait about eight months for the adoption to be final. The Garretts have now adopted two girls and a boy, who have joined their own eight children.
The next three weeks will be a whirlwind of trips and parties and family time. In an odd twist of fate and logistics, however, most of the orphans will wake up tomorrow and be immediately whisked to the dentist for a donated teeth cleaning.

"We're going to explain it to them," Vern told the parents, "so they don't think they're coming to America to be tortured."

Margery and Kent Jorgensen of Provo, and their four children plan to take Misha, 15, and Maxim, 9, to a high school football game, as an antidote to the dentist trip. That may or may not be successful; according to Sorensen, other Ukrainian orphans in the past have been bored by American football.

All 45 orphans will go to a Halloween party, the zoo, a ranch, a swimming pool and Bouncin' Off the Walls while they're here.

Among the families waiting at the bottom of the arrivals escalator were Ukrainian orphans who came on a similar three-week trip either in 2005 or 2006. Inna Morgan came last October and was adopted in June by Lorraine and Alan Morgan of Sandy. Hannah and Abbie Olsen — who asked for American names — also arrived last summer.

Their new mother, Carla, went to Ukraine last March to help the Garretts choose the 45 children for this year's program.

"If you ask them what their one wish is," Olsen said about all the orphans she met, "they say 'to come to America."'

The 45 orphans finally arrived a little after 8:30 p.m. For a few minutes they just stood in a clump at the top of the escalator. Then, two by two, here they came, dressed in winter coats, each carrying a backpack. A big cheer went up in the crowd, and then there was the chaos of families trying to find Misha and Maxim, Artem and Roman.

Pretty soon they'd all be going home, to strange beds and refrigerators full of odd food.

Source: Deseret Morning News

Ukraine: The Power Of A Second Chance

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Now that President Viktor Yushchenko has confirmed that he wants the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (NUNS) bloc to form a ruling coalition, the two Orange Revolution allies may have a second chance to deliver on the promises they solemnly made in 2004 and disappointingly failed to meet.

Party leaders Yulia Tymoshenko and Vyacheslav Kyrylenko are set to form a ruling coalition.

But while Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko have already shown some public signs of unity -- most recently in Lisbon on October 18, where each espoused the virtues of European values during a congress of the European People's Party -- the question remains as to whether they have overcome their past differences sufficiently to run a new government.

After Yushchenko backed the pairing on October 17, Tymoshenko and Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, a leader of the pro-Yushchenko NUNS, presented the coalition deal they initialed on October 15. The entire 105-page document was subsequently published on the Internet.

The most important provisions of the deal state that Tymoshenko is to be proposed as prime minister, while the NUNS bloc will nominate a candidate for the post of parliamentary speaker. Cabinet portfolios are to be distributed on a 50-50 basis between the two blocs.

The deal makes room for a third "democratically oriented" participant in the coalition, although it does not mention it by name. It does, however, clearly stipulate that neither the Party of Regions nor the Communist Party can be considered as a potential coalition partner, thus narrowing the field to only the Lytvyn Bloc, which has 20 lawmakers in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.

Orange Sequel

The overwhelming feeling of deja vu that Ukraine observers may experience upon hearing such news is quite understandable.

A similar, if somewhat shorter, coalition document was preliminarily signed by the BYuT and Our Ukraine immediately after the March 2006 elections. At that time, the desired third coalition partner was the Socialist Party, which failed to win parliamentary seats this year.

After four months of futile coalition talks in 2006, the Socialists switched sides and formed a ruling majority with the Party of Regions and the Communists. President Yushchenko had no choice in August 2006 but to designate Viktor Yanukovych, his bitter political rival, as prime minister.

Could such a situation repeat itself this year? Could the NUNS bloc eventually abandon Tymoshenko and form a "broad" coalition with the Party of Regions, thus uniting the west and the east of Ukraine politically, if not ideologically or emotionally? Such a turn of events cannot be ruled out.

Tymoshenko, for whom the regained post of prime minister could be a much-coveted springboard for launching a presidential bid in 2009, has already made many compromises in order to ensure President Yushchenko's support for her attempt to lead the government once again.

To begin with, she agreed to give the NUNS bloc half of the cabinet portfolios, although her party won 156 parliamentary mandates versus NUNS's 72.

Furthermore, she agreed to endorse a package of 12 bills ahead of the expected vote on her approval as prime minister in the newly elected parliament. Some of the proposed bills, including one on the Cabinet of Ministers, significantly reinforce presidential powers at the expense of those of the prime minister.

An Uncertain Majority

But not even such concessions can guarantee that Tymoshenko will be vested with the powers she craves. BYuT and NUNS together have 228 votes, just two more than the majority required to pass most legislation in the Verkhovna Rada, including the approval of a new cabinet.

Tymoshenko can expect voting discipline within the BYuT ranks, but the NUNS bloc is a motley collection of nine political groups. What if the interests of one of these groups are not duly taken into account in the distribution of post-election spoils? In such a situation, it would not appear to be difficult to persuade just three lawmakers from a dissatisfied NUNS component to skip or abstain from a crucial vote.

It also seems unlikely that the Party of Regions will allow the Orange Revolution allies to adopt the 12 bills Tymoshenko has promised to endorse, which are sine qua non for starting the new government.

The Party of Regions will almost certainly demand separate votes on each of the proposed bills in order to exhaust the combat spirit of the Orange allies and nip their coalition-building effort in the bud. Attempts to block the parliamentary rostrum and even fistfights among lawmakers are not out of the question -- and are even likely -- at the inauguration of a new Verkhovna Rada.

But even if the Orange coalition manages to pass the 12 bills to please Yushchenko, approves Tymoshenko as prime minister, and appeases the hunger of all the NUNS constituents for political jobs, the problem of how to mobilize 226 votes for each individual piece of legislation in the future will remain an issue.

The Lytvyn Bloc, which could stabilize the slim Orange majority, is not eager to reveal its political preferences or appetites. Perhaps it is just waiting for a worthy piece of post-election pie in exchange for its role of kingmaker. But what if the Lytvyn Bloc has decided not to meddle in what seems to be an unavoidable exchange of blows between the BYuT and the Party of Regions, and has chosen an observer role? In that case, the Orange allies will need a political miracle or two to get their ruling partnership going.

On the other hand, a restored Orange coalition appears to be the only way for Yushchenko to perpetuate hopes for launching his presidential bid in 2009. If the president were to again nominate Yanukovych as prime minister, he would stand to lose even the dramatically dwindled support he currently enjoys in western Ukraine.

Eyes On The Next Goal

Tymoshenko has unequivocally declared that she will immediately starts working on her presidential bid if she fails to get the post of prime minister.

It is easy to predict that, given the current distribution of political sympathies in Ukraine, Yushchenko has no chance of qualifying for the second round in the next presidential polls. But keeping Tymoshenko in the government would provide Yushchenko a glimmer of hope -- either by satisfying her political appetite, or by tarnishing her image as a competent and efficient politician who can deliver on her promises.

Tymoshenko has made a lot of unworkable election promises during the campaign, including one on returning lost Soviet-era savings to Ukrainians within the next two years-- an endeavor that would require a sum equal to Ukraine's annual budget.

Another apparently unrealistic pledge, which was written down in the coalition deal, is to abolish the military draft in Ukraine as of the beginning of 2008 and switch to a fully professional army in 2009.

When asked about the plan on the sidelines of the October 18 congress in Lisbon, President Yushchenko told reporters that "I'd like to tell my political friends and colleagues: They may develop certain visions at their level or they may not, but today I'd advise them to follow the National Program for the Development of the Ukrainian Armed Forces."

And Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, bewildered after reading the coalition-deal passage pertaining to the military draft, compared it with abolishing Newton's three laws of motion.

Thus, the birth of a new government in Ukraine is taking place on shaky ground and amid heightened expectations of economic and political wonders. Ukraine already has its fairy-tale heroine with a fetching blonde braid -- now comes the time for her to work her magic.

Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Court Delays Validation Of Ukraine Vote

KIEV, Ukraine -- A court has postponed the validation of parliamentary election results, officials said Wednesday, threatening to delay the formation of a government in Ukraine, which is struggling to emerge from prolonged political turmoil.

The Communists are delaying Yulia Tymoshenko's appointment as Prime Minister

The move came as President Viktor Yushchenko endorsed a parliamentary coalition made up of two pro-Western parties that were allies in the peaceful 2004 upheaval that ushered him to power. He vowed to support their choice for premier, bringing the charismatic Orange Revolution heroine Yulia Tymoshenko closer to returning to the job.

Ukraine's High Administrative Court has postponed the official publication of the results of the Sep. 30 vote pending a lawsuit filed by the Communist Party, said spokesman Zoya Sharikova. The Communists are seeking to contest the election results due to alleged violations concerning voting abroad.

The final tallies were to be published in government media Thursday, officially validating the vote. Sharikova said the results would be published as soon as the court rules on the Communists' appeal.

Court officials were not available for comment late Wednesday.

The decision could lead to a protracted battle over the validity of the parliamentary election results, causing new turmoil in the ex-Soviet republic.

Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's parties won 228 seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, two seats more than a bare majority. The rival Party of Regions, led by their main opponent, the more Moscow-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, won more votes than any other party but only 175 seats.

An informal agreement concluded by the two parties earlier this week stipulates that Tymoshenko would be prime minister while Yushchenko's bloc would pick the parliament speaker.

A majority coalition can be officially formed once parliament convenes. The legislature has about a month to convene after publication of the results.

But while Yushchenko's statement moved the two parties closer to restoring their alliance and forming a government, Tymoshenko's victory was still not a done deal, given past friction in the Orange camp, the razor-thin majority in parliament, and the unclear position of Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko's return to the premiership would resurrect the Orange Revolution alliance that ushered Yushchenko into the presidency. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have campaigned on promises to follow a solid pro-Western course, conduct anti-corruption reform and raise living standards.

While Yushchenko's statement was a clear sign that his party would support Tymoshenko's candidacy, there were concerns that it could take only three dissenting votes to block her from the post.

Tymoshenko vowed Wednesday that that would not happen. "We are absolutely ready to work as one strong team," she told reporters.

Yushchenko has urged his party and Tymoshenko's party to share power with the opposition as a way to unite the polarized country. Many have interpreted this an attempt to weaken Tymoshenko, his potential rival in the 2009 presidential race.

Tymoshenko's and Yushchenko's parties have offered to grant Yanukovych's party deputy ministerial posts, as well as the position of deputy prime minister and chairs of some key parliamentary committees. Yanukovych has not yet given a firm answer to that proposal.

"What the coalition will be like we will see at the first session of the Verkhovna Rada," he said Wednesday in televised comments.

Yushchenko has been locked in a power struggle with Yanukovych since the tumultuous 2004 presidential race. Yanukovych was initially declared the winner, but courts later judged that vote fraudulent, and Yushchenko won a repeat election. Their standoff reached its peak earlier this year, when Yushchenko ordered parliament dissolved and called a new vote.

Source: AP

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our APCs Are Modern And Good: Ukraine Embassy

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Ukraine Embassy in Bangkok has finally broke its silence and hit back at critics over a procurement plan of Thai army's armored personnel carrier (APC), saying the vehicles are absolutely new and up-to-date.

Ukrainian armored personnel carrier

It accused the media of "distorted facts and groundless allegations".

"There is strong feeling that those publications have been inspired by those companies from some countries, which participated in the bidding but did not succeed, with the aim to hamper the progress in collaboration between the Government of Ukraine and the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand and mislead the public opinion," the embassy said through a statement dated October 18, 2007.

The embassy said the 96 BTR3E1 model to be delivered to Thailand are "absolutely new and uptodate" and has already become "wellknown as one of the world's most well equipped APC"

"Only latest technological solutions have been used for design and production of this APC that do not yield to any world's analogues, and, in some aspects, like dynamic and fire characteristics, as well as armor strength and tire bulletproof capacity, even exceed them," the statement said.

The embassy said from the Thai Army and the Thai Defence Ministry have verified "the quality of the Ukrainian production line and APCs during their recent visits to the manufacturing facilities and viewing of the live demonstrations in Ukraine last May."

Dispute over the planned procurement surfaced weeks ago when the then deputy permanent secretary at the Defence Ministry, Admiral Banawit Kengrien, created a drift among the defence circle when he refused to endorse the plan and delayed the approval process.

Leading security expert Chulalongkorn University's Associated Professor Panitan Wattanayagorn also voiced his opinion against the deal, saying the armed forces would be better off purchasing a higher quality APC that has proven record.

The Office of Auditor General also raised several questions over this procurement project, especially over the aftersale agreements, as well as the bidding procedures.

Source: Bangkok's The Nation