Friday, November 30, 2007

Ukraine AIDS Epidemic "Most Severe" In Europe: UN

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's AIDS epidemic is the "most severe" in Europe, and is headed towards the general population, not only high-risk groups, UN officials said Friday in Kiev.

A woman lights a candle at a symbolic red ribbon for AIDS victims.

Twenty years after the debut of the epidemic in Ukraine, the situation was continuing to deteriorate, UN Special Envoy Lars Kallings said on the eve of World AIDS Day, December 1.

"If the spread of HIV is not stopped in the next three years, I fear that Ukraine will become the first generalised AIDS epidemic in Europe," he said.

During the first 10 months of the year, 14,480 new HIV cases were officially registered among Ukranians, said a statement from the UN.

Officially, 119,000 HIV cases have been registered to date, but the real number has been estimated at 377,600 since the end of 2005, the statement continued.

"That means that less than one-third of all people contaminated are aware that they have the disease," it added.

Nearly 22,000 Ukranians currently have AIDS and more than 12,000 have died, according to official statistics.

The transmission of HIV through the sharing of dirty needles between drugn users is the main cause of the epidemic in the former Soviet republic, the UN reported.

But heterosexual transmission is increasinly frequent, up 20 percent per year, which the UN fears is a sign the disease is making its way into the general population.

The UN noted that 7,000 HIV-positive people were receiving retro-viral treatment in Ukraine.

That had helped slow the rate of people developing full-blown AIDS, with 3,700 new AIDS patients registered during the first 10 months of 2007 against 3,900 during the same period last year.

The UN called on Ukraine to improve its control of treating the disease.

Source: AFP

Praise And Condemnation Of Stalin: Russia And Ukraine Go Their Separate Ways

KIEV, Ukraine -- On November 24-25 the Ukrainian authorities marked the 75th anniversary of the 1932-1933 famine. President Viktor Yushchenko, Acting Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, former President Leonid Kuchma, and other political leaders attended the ceremony.

Joseph V. Stalin, chief architect of the "Evil Empire".

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on November 26, Yushchenko said, “The Holodomor (Terror-Famine) was an act of genocide designed to suppress the Ukrainian nation.” Yushchenko described Stalin’s policy as aimed at destroying Ukrainian national identity by targeting the peasantry and Soviet Ukrainian institutions, including national communists: “It was a state-organized program of mass starvation that in 1932-33 killed an estimated seven million to 10 million Ukrainians, including up to a third of the nation's children.”

Yushchenko’s counterpart in Russia has a very different view of Stalin. In June President Vladimir Putin dismissed Stalinist crimes with the words: “Other countries have done even more terrible things.”

The differing regimes in Ukraine and Russia – democratic versus nationalist-autocratic – have taken different approaches toward what became known in the Gorbachev era as the “blank pages of history,” especially the Stalin era.

A similar rehabilitation of Stalin is also taking place in Belarus where Stalin is, like in Russia, routinely praised on television. There, Stalinist atrocities have been presented as committed by the Nazis, while Stalinist crimes, such as at the massacre at Kuropaty, have been ignored.

In contrast, Kuropaty’s equivalent in Ukraine, the Bykivnia forest outside Kyiv, the site of hundreds of thousands of Stalinist crimes, is officially commemorated.

Yushchenko has expanded the commemoration of the Ukrainian famine and Stalinist crimes, following a process that can be traced to the early 1980's.

First, the Ukrainian diaspora commemorated the famine on its 50th anniversary in 1983, followed by the release of the 1984 film “Harvest of Despair” and Robert Conquest’s book, Harvest of Sorrow.

Second, the national-democratic opposition uncovered “blank pages,” including the famine, during Gorbachev’s glasnost campaign. The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) was forced to admit the existence of the famine in a 1990 resolution.

Third, post-Soviet Presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma issued a decree on the 60th anniversary in 1993, and more commemorative decrees, resolutions, and appeals followed.

In 2002-2004, Kuchma sought international recognition of the famine as “genocide,” a policy that Yushchenko has followed. During his three-year presidency, Yushchenko has issued seven decrees on the famine and Stalinism. UNESCO picked up the theme and issued a resolution on November 1 on the famine, calling it a “national tragedy”.

In Ukraine, many political parties, the presidents, school textbooks, and the media have all negatively portrayed Stalinist crimes alongside Nazi crimes against humanity. But in Putin’s Russia, the crimes committed in the 1930s are ignored or marginalized while Stalin is praised for transforming the USSR into a “superpower.”

Russia’s rehabilitation of Stalin has been accompanied by a similar rehabilitation of the intelligence agencies. Last year, copying the KGB, the FSB introduced national prizes for art, cinema, and literature that created a “positive image” of the intelligence services. But works published in Russia extolling the virtues of the KGB and its bloody predecessors far outnumber books on Stalinist crimes.

In Ukraine the Security Service (SBU) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have supported the denunciation of Stalinist crimes. The SBU declassified 5,000 pages of relevant documents for the Declassified Memory exhibition in Kyiv.

In November all branches of the Ukrainian military lower the state flag in honor of the victims of the famine and Communist crimes. During that month, the military also helped repair monuments, organized lectures at military bases by writers and academics, showed films, and discussed books on the famine and Communist repression.

Each year the president presents state medals to Ukrainian scholars and activists working to document Stalinist crimes.

In contrast, Alexander Filippov’s new school textbook, A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006, describes Stalin as “one of the USSR’s most successful leaders” whose repression brought the USSR out of crisis. While Ukrainian textbooks denounce both Stalinism and Nazism; Filippov justifies Stalin as a necessary evil and backs his positive treatment by citing opinion polls giving him a positive approval rating among Russians of 47%.

In Ukraine the opposite tendency is taking place. Some 72.4% of Ukrainians blame the 1932-33 famine on the authorities, and 63% of Ukrainians support the recognition of the famine as “genocide”. These polls have both cross-party and cross-regional support: 75% of the centrist Volodymyr Lytvyn bloc and 43% of the Party of Regions supported the definition of the famine as “genocide,” while Donetsk’s annual commemorations of famine and Communist repression are attended by local officials, including the oblast governor and city mayor.

Even the left supports this step. Some 80% of the Socialist Party and 41% of the Communist Party backs the use of “genocide” to describe the famine.

How the “blank pages” of history, such as Stalinist crimes, are treated reflect the nature of the democratic and nationalist-autocratic regimes emerging in Ukraine and Russia. In both countries there is cross-party, parliamentary, and public support – but over polar opposite positions. Ukraine seeks a denunciation of Stalinist crimes, while Russia praises Stalin and ignores his crimes.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Alleged Nazi Death Camp Guard Appeals Latest Deportation Order From The US

CINCINNATI, USA -- A lawyer for an accused Nazi death camp guard on Thursday challenged the right of the United States' chief immigration judge to order his deportation.

John Demjanjuk

The federal government has been trying to deport accused guard John Demjanjuk, 87, for three decades. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Demjanjuk's challenge to a deportation order issued in 2005.

The three-judge panel did not say when it would rule, but it usually takes several months before the court issues a decision.

The arguments revolved around whether an immigration judge had the authority to order Demjanjuk's removal back to his native Ukraine — or Germany or Poland.

"The chief immigration judge is purely an administrative official," Demjanjuk's attorney, John Broadley, told the panel. "The attorney general did not specify that the chief immigration judge was entitled to hear removal cases."

Robert Thomson, for the U.S. Justice Department, told the court that contention was absurd.

"In plain language, the title chief immigration judge means he's a judge," Thomson said. "Why would that be the title if he wasn't to be a judge?"

Demjanjuk, who lives in Ohio, has steadfastly maintained that he served in the Soviet Army and was captured by Germany in 1942 and became a prisoner of war.

"You haven't heard the last from us," Demjanjuk's former son-in-law Ed Nishnic said after the hearing. He said that he — and his son and grandson, if necessary — would continue to fight the deportation.

"What has happened to this family is tragedy," said Nishnic, who remains loyal to the family.

He said the family is doing its best to shield Demjanjuk from the controversy.

"He is, in a way, oblivious to what's going on in the courtroom, and we kind of make it that way so he doesn't sit there and worry about this," Nishnic said.

The Justice Department first brought charges seeking to revoke Demjanjuk's citizenship — for allegedly falsifying information on his applications to enter the U.S. in 1952 and to become a citizen in 1958 — and to deport him in 1977.

Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1981, restored in 1998 and revoked again in 2002. The government initially claimed he was the notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka camp known as "Ivan the Terrible."

He was extradited to Israel in 1986 and was under a death sentence, until Israel's Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that he was not the same man as the guard known as Ivan.

Demjanjuk returned home and his U.S. citizenship was restored. The current deportation case is based on evidence uncovered by the Justice Department alleging he was a different guard. That evidence led courts to again strip Demjanjuk of his citizenship — on the basis of the original falsified information charge.

In the current case, Broadley and the government are arguing over whether a former chief immigration judge, Michael Creppy, had authority to rule in 2005 that Demjanjuk could be deported.

Broadley contends that Creppy was an administrator who should have appointed an immigration judge to hear the case, rather than handle it himself. He wants the deportation order tossed out and a new hearing held.

The Board of Immigration Appeals has refused to set aside Creppy's ruling, and Broadley wants the 6th Circuit to review that denial.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Three Arrested In Slovakia 'Had Enough Uranium For Dirty Bomb'

LONDON, England -- Three men arrested in Slovakia for allegedly trying to sell nuclear material had uranium enriched enough for use in a "dirty bomb", Slovak police said today.

Enriched uranium

According to police, the two Hungarians and a Ukrainian had just under half a kilogram (about a pound) of uranium in powder form that investigators believe came from an unspecified ex-Soviet republic.

"It was possible to use it in various ways for terrorist attacks," a senior police official, Michal Kopcik, said.

He said police had intelligence suggesting that the suspects - whose names were not released, but were aged 40, 49 and 51 - originally had planned to sell the material early this week.

One of the Hungarians had been living in Ukraine. Police moved in when the sale did not occur as expected, he said.

Kopcik said investigators were still working to determine who ultimately was trying to buy the uranium, which the trio allegedly was selling for $1m (£485,000).

Three other suspects - including a Slovak national identified only as Eugen K - were detained in the neighbouring Czech Republic in mid-October for allegedly trying to sell fake radioactive materials.

It was unclear to what degree, if any, they played a role in the thwarted uranium sale.

Police said a total of 481.4g of uranium had been stored in unspecified containers. Investigators concluded that the material consisted of 98.6% uranium-235. Uranium is considered weapons-grade if it contains at least 85% uranium-235.

"According to initial findings, the material originated in the former Soviet republics," Kopcik said.

Western officials have long harboured concerns over the risk of nuclear smuggling from the former Soviet Union, although US-funded safeguarding programmes have reduced the danger of nuclear trading.

Slovakia's border with Ukraine is the EU's easternmost frontier, and authorities have spent millions tightening security in the past few years, amid fears of nuclear smuggling into the EU .

In 2003, police in the Czech Republic, which borders Slovakia, arrested two Slovaks in a sting operation in the city of Brno after they allegedly sold undercover officers natural depleted uranium for $715,000.

Slovak and Hungarian police worked together on the new case for several months, said Martin Korch, a Slovak police spokesman. He would not say how long the suspects were under surveillance, or give details about the arrests and to whom they were trying to sell the material.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, said that last year alone there were 252 reported cases of radioactive materials that were stolen, missing, smuggled or in the possession of unauthorised individuals - a 385% increase since 2002.

But the IAEA cautioned that the jump was due at least in part to better reporting and improved law enforcement efforts. Of the 252 cases, about 85 involved thefts or losses, and not all the material was suitable for use in a weapon.

The US-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organisation dedicated to reducing the global threat from nuclear weapons, reported last year that Russia remains the principal country of concern for contraband nuclear material, given the decline in security at nuclear-related industries after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In 2006, Georgian agents working with CIA officials set up a sting that led to the arrest of a Russian citizen who tried to sell a small amount of weapons-grade uranium that he had in a plastic bag in his jacket pocket.

In 1997, seven men who officials said planned to smuggle 5kg of enriched uranium to Pakistan or China were arrested in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. That uranium reportedly had been stolen from a plant in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

Roughly 25kg of highly enriched uranium or plutonium is needed in most instances to make a crude nuclear device. But a tiny fraction of that is enough for a dirty bomb - a weapon designed to sow fear and chaos, rather than inflict human casualties.

Source: Guardian Unlimited

Ukraine's Orange Revolution Parties Reach Coalition Deal

KIEV, Ukraine -- The two parties that led Ukraine's Orange Revolution on Thursday reached a coaliton deal, setting the stage for pro-Western Yulia Tymoshenko to return as prime minister.

Yulia Tymoshenko, expected to become Ukraine's new prime minister, smiles as she holds a bouquet of flowers depicting a map of Ukraine presented to her after announcing the formation of a coalition in the Parliament in Kiev November 29, 2007. Parties associated with the 2004 "Orange Revolution" created a majority coalition in Ukraine's parliament on Thursday, the first step towards forming a government.

The party of President Viktor Yushchenko and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc signed an agreement on forming the new government, interim speaker Roman Zvarych told parliament.

Applause broke out in the parliament chamber and some deputies presented Tymoshenko with a large bouquet of blue and yellow flowers representing Ukraine's national colours.

"I believe that we will succeed in forming an effective government and provide hope for systematic and deep reforms in the country," said Tymoshenko, wearing her characteristic blonde braids.

Tymoshenko was Yushchenko's ally in the Orange Revolution, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets in November 2004 for 17 days to protest rigged elections that handed victory to a pro-Moscow candidate.

But relations between them broke down just months after Yushchenko come to power in 2005, and critics took her to task as prime minister for a series of populist economic measures.

Tymoshenko became Ukraine's first female prime minister in February 2005 but was sacked in September amid bitter rivalry with Yushchenko.

A total of 227 deputies in the 450-seat Rada, or parliament, signed the coalition deal, paving the way for the appointment of a prime minister at a parliament session set for Tuesday.

But a key member of Yushchenko's party, Ivan Plyushch, refused to endorse the accord, underscoring the fragility of the deal that was backed by a slim majority in parliament.

Communist official Petro Tsybenko commented that the coalition endorsed by only 227 deputies "will not be viable. Every vote will be difficult."

The appointment of 47-year-old Tymoshenko as prime minister provides a first test for the coalition, with lawmakers close to Yushchenko reportedly reluctant to endorse her candidacy.

Ukrainian media have reported that Yushchenko's allies fear that Tymoshenko's return as prime minister could bolster her already strong popularity and turn her into a potential rival for the presidency.

Some pro-Yushchenko lawmakers have said that Tymoshenko should pledge not to stand in the 2010 presidential vote as a condition for her nomination as prime minister.

Since Yushchenko came to power in 2005, three governments have been in office, as the country's political elites are torn by infighting.

Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politican who was Yushchenko's rival in the Orange Revolution standoff, resigned as prime minister on Friday after 15 months in office.

The move followed elections in September that were called to resolve months of wrangling between Yushchenko, who supports Ukraine's full integration with the West, including the NATO military alliance, and Yanukovych.

Source: AFP

Power Fight Goes Public

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s pro-Western political forces accused their Russian-friendly rivals of stalling coalition-forming at the new parliament’s first session on Nov. 23, but the real enemy emerged from among their own ranks.

Yushchenko skiing in the Carpathian mountains.

A Nov. 27 part congress revealed the Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense (OUPSD) is split between a faction led by Presidential Secretariat Chair Viktor Baloha opposed to uniting with Yulia Tymoshenko and her eponymous bloc, and those who support the Democratic Forces Coalition, led by Vyacheslav Kyrylenko and Yuriy Lutsenko.

The conflict not only threatens the pro-Western coalition, but also the future of the pro-presidential OUPSD, Kyrylenko warned the council, which fell short of its quorum.

“It’s acceptable to lose the elections and go into opposition,” he said. “But our voters won’t forgive us for winning the elections and giving Ukraine away to the clans.”

The Baloha faction boycotted the council, widely viewed as its revenge for the Nov. 22 vote rejecting their proposal nominating Ivan Pliushch, a lawmaking veteran, as parliamentary chair. Pliushch’s candidacy was backed by the president at the time.

The agreement to form the Democratic Forces Coalition called for Kyrylenko’s nomination as parliamentary chair.

After the bloc voted to support Kyrylenko’s candidacy, President Viktor Yushchenko abandoned his support for Pliushch, stating he would support the vote.

Yushchenko’s indecisiveness and passivity in governing, particularly in dealing with his own political bloc, is largely to blame for the current crisis, political observers said.

“The president doesn’t seem to have any clear concept of where he’s headed with the parliament’s leadership, the government, and the country’s direction as a whole,” said Ivan Lozowy, a Kyiv political insider and lawyer.

The Ukrainian media criticized Yushchenko for skiing in the Carpathian Mountains on Nov. 26, instead of preparing his bloc for the next day’s political council that could have extinguished the conflict.

As a result of the vacuum in the bloc’s leadership, battling factions within Our Ukraine resurfaced throughout the past year between the centrist, business-oriented faction and its ideological wing, with the former repeatedly ignoring the president’s directives.

Ironically, Yushchenko appointed Baloha as the bloc’s leader last year to consolidate and establish order, but since then Baloha formed his own faction to vie for power.

“It’s widely practiced that Yushchenko’s directives are ignored, detoured, sabotaged and undermined, even extending to economic and cultural projects,” Lozowy said.

As the Kyiv Post went to print, Baloha announced the night of Nov. 28 the seven politicians who abstained from signing the agreement to form the Democratic Forces Coalition in fact did so that day, following a meeting with Yushchenko.

The president exhausted all arguments and efforts to remove the key doubts of the holdouts that prevented them from signing the agreement.

“The president is sure that as of now, no obstacles exist on the path to forming a democratic coalition and forming an active government,” Baloha said.

Presidential ally Yuriy Yekhanurov offered a hint at what they discussed.

“We are engaged in our beloved Ukrainian matter: distributing posts,” he said during a Nov. 28 telephone conference.

The coalition agreement, however, doesn’t provide for Kyrylenko becoming parliamentary chair, said Mykola Onyshchuk, another holdout deputy.

He named Minister of Foreign Affairs Arseniy Yatsenyuk as a possible candidate.

Addressing the Nov. 27 council, Kyrylenko warned the bloc could become politically irrelevant and undermine efforts to form a national-democrat mega-party, paving the way for two parties to dominate Ukrainian politics: the Russian-oriented Party of Regions and the pro-Western Tymoshenko Bloc (Byut).

“We are supposed to create a coalition,” Kyrylenko said. “And it’s not so important how many votes it will gain. It’s important what laws it will pass and how the government will operate. It will give us the possibility to form a pro-presidential party, which will support Viktor Yushchenko at the next elections.”

After the first session of the sixth parliamentary convocation on Nov. 23, OUPSD confirmed seven of its members refused to sign an agreement to form the Democratic Forces Coalition.

Of them, Yekhanurov, Ivan Pliushch and Viktor Topolov have close ties to Yushchenko. Ihor Kril and Vasyl Petiovka are linked to Baloha.

Stanislav Dovhiy is the father of Oles Dovhiy, the right-hand man of controversial Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskiy, who may face pre-term elections if the Tymoshenko bloc gains control of the government. The senior Dovhiy was overseas this week.

Another holdout, Onyshchuk, maintains close ties to Party of Regions member Anatoliy Kinakh, who abandoned Our Ukraine this spring, triggering the crisis that led Yushchenko to dismiss parliament and call for new elections.

As his reasons for not signing, Yekhanurov said the original coalition-forming pact signed in February is significantly different from the current agreement, which includes Tymoshenko bloc campaign promises, which he described as “dangerous.”

Among them is her proposal to return the estimated $120 billion in bank deposits destroyed by hyperinflation in 1991-1995 within two years, as well as eliminating the value-added tax.

“Theories on returning the Oshchadbank debt are proposed by Byut’s political technologists, not professional economists,” Yekhanurov said.

Following the Nov. 23 session, OUPSD deputy David Zhvanya suggested the holdouts surrender their mandates.

Yekhanurov already said he would consider doing so, and so did Kril.

In his defense, Kril said he acted against OUPSD submitting itself to Tymoshenko’s will. Tymoshenko, the leading candidate for prime minister in a coalition comprised by her bloc and OUPSD, is expected to challenge Yushchenko for the presidency in a campaign that kicks off in 2009.

Yushchenko vowed to meet with the seven holdouts, listen to their concerns and resolve the conflict by Nov. 29, a date several political observers viewed as unrealistic, despite promises made by presidential ally Oleksandr Tretyakov.

If the president takes a decisive stance, he could demand the holdouts surrender their mandates, said Pavlo Bulgak, a political scientist at the Kyiv-based Stratehema Center for Practical Politics, which is financed by Western and Ukrainian sources.

“If these people undermine the president, then it doesn’t make sense to keep them close to him,” Bulgak said. “They need to be put in their place or dismissed.”

Among the more dramatic moments at the first session occurred when the outgoing parliamentary chair, Oleksandr Moroz, was offered the chance to speak.

It was Moroz who led the effort in parliament to form the constitutional majority to override all presidential vetoes, causing the president to decide to dismiss parliament on April 2 to protect his authority.

Moroz’s Socialist Party of Ukraine failed to gain re-election in September.

In his curtain call, Moroz said Ukraine will return to lawful, democratic development only if Yushchenko is removed from the Ukrainian presidency.

“The organizers of this escapade, primarily Viktor Yushchenko, convinced voters that pre-term elections are the key to resolving all of Ukraine’s problems,” Moroz said. “They promised the coalition would be formed in two hours. Almost two months have passed since elections.”

To demonstrate their disdain with his remarks, Orange politicians walked out of the session hall in the middle of Moroz’s remarks to get a head start on a lunch buffet.

Earlier in the session, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych announced the Cabinet of Ministers would resign its posts, becoming the acting government until a new coalition is formed.

That drew applause from the Orange politicians, which was quickly rebuffed by Yanukovych ally Raisa Bohatyryova, who led the first session as the temporary presidium’s chair.

“Understood emotions!,” she said sarcastically, prompting her Party of Regions to their own round of applause. “Good work, government, for supporting our country being perceived as democratic and economically developed in the world!”

At the session’s conclusion, Bohatyryova announced the next session would be Nov. 29, instead of Nov. 27 as anticipated by the Orange politicians.

Tymoshenko bloc deputies said she announced the date without consulting them and accused her of stalling coalition-formation efforts.

“The decision was made without discussion by the temporary presidium, without an announcement during the working group and without a vote,” said Oleksandr Turchynov, Tymoshenko’s right-hand man. “It’s a simple, clear provocation.”

The events of the next several days proved Tymoshenko has enemies other than the Party of Region, observers said.

“It’s Yushchenko and Baloha that are delaying,” Lozowy said. “The Party of Regions is merely responding to their efforts to undermine Tymoshenko.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Differences In Our Ukraine Hinder Coalition Formation

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s new parliament opened on November 23 only to adjourn until November 29, as the absence of a more or less stable majority left it incapacitated, making it impossible to elect parliamentary leaders and form standing committees.

Viktor Yushchenko

This deadlock is due to serious differences within President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) over electing the speaker of parliament and the coalition accord with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT).

After the September 30 snap parliamentary election, NUNS and BYuT agreed that the post of prime minister in their coalition would go to BYuT and the less important position of parliament speaker would be filled by a representative of NUNS, because it scored fewer votes in the election.

It was agreed that the leader of Our Ukraine – the larger component of NUNS – Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, would become speaker.

It emerged later that many people in Our Ukraine have serious reservations about Kyrylenko.

He is seen by one group of Yushchenko supporters, which apparently includes the head of Yushchenko’s office, Viktor Baloha, as an individual prone to make more concessions to Tymoshenko than necessary.

Kyrylenko’s strengthening, they fear, may weaken Yushchenko vis-à-vis Tymoshenko if she decides to challenge him in the 2009 presidential election campaign.

On the other hand, there are several members of NUNS who support a coalition with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), rather than with BYuT.

Some of them, such as National Security and Defense Council (SNBO) Secretary Ivan Plyushch, who served as speaker twice in the past, and Yuriy Yekhanurov, who was prime minister in 2005-2006, reportedly would not mind being elected speaker themselves.

The situation is complicated by Yushchenko’s failure to clearly articulate his position.

Initially he seemed to back Kyrylenko’s bid, but at a meeting with NUNS leaders on November 22 Yushchenko reportedly proposed reserving for Kyrylenko the position of deputy prime minister in the future cabinet.

He suggested that NUNS should consider four candidates for speaker, including Plyushch and Yekhanurov, but not Kyrylenko.

Yushchenko advice, however, was rejected by the majority of those present, who voted to back Kyrylenko’s bid.

Plyushch later told journalists that Yushchenko wanted him to be chosen for speaker.

Plyushch sounded patronizing when asked to comment on Kyrylenko: “I think he does not understand that the speaker should organize the work of parliament, rather than defending the interests of his coalition.”

Plyushch could either take his seat in parliament or remain in his current position, but Yushchenko left him no choice, dismissing him from SNBO.

This means that Plyushch goes to parliament, quite probably to challenge Kyrylenko.

NUNS member Ihor Kril, who is close to Baloha, publicly called on Kyrylenko to drop his bid. Kril claimed that there was no transparent competition for the position of speaker and he called the NUNS-BYuT coalition accord “a conspiracy for the sake of posts.” He also accused Kyrylenko of transforming NUNS into “a branch of BYuT.”

Kril was one of the first three NUNS parliamentarians who refused to sign the accord with BYuT.

The number of dissenters grew to at least seven. By November 26, Kril, Plyushch, and Vasyl Petyovka were joined by another four, including Yekhanurov, despite Tymoshenko’s concessions, such as omitting from the accord the promise to cancel military conscription from 2008.

The dissenters argue that several provisions included in the coalition accord by Tymoshenko are unrealistic.

Yekhanurov has demanded deleting seven points from the accord and amending at least 25.

These include Tymoshenko’s promises to reimburse Ukrainians within two years for the deposits lost in the Soviet Union’s Savings Bank, to cancel the value-added tax, and to change the parliamentary election system to make it more transparent.

The promises to cancel conscription and return the Soviet-era savings were among the key points of Tymoshenko’s election program.

Now a coalition and her premiership are impossible without consent from the seven opponents of the original version of the NUNS-BYuT accord, as without their votes Tymoshenko’s bid will be backed by fewer MPs than the required 226.

Kyrylenko scheduled a meeting of Our Ukraine’s top body, the political council, for November 27 to try to persuade the dissenters to change their mind.

More than half of the council, however, ignored the meeting, so dissent within the party is apparently growing.

The BYuT will not vote for a speaker candidate offered by NUNS as long as there is no formal coalition, Mykola Tomenko, one of the BYuT’s leaders, told Channel 5.

Earlier, the other three caucuses in parliament – the PRU, Lytvyn’s Bloc, and the Communists – had made it clear that they will not help the NUNS-BYuT coalition elect the speaker because they were not invited to join the coalition.

If NUNS and BYuT fail to settle their differences quickly, the process of electing the speaker may take weeks. In that case, Ukraine will hardly have a new prime minister by the end of 2007.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Ukraine's Parliament To Elect Speaker November 29

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Supreme Rada, Ukraine's parliament, will elect a speaker on November 29 even if a majority coalition has not been formed, the acting prime minister said on Wednesday.

Ukraine's Supreme Rada (Parliament)

Two Western-leaning parties, pro-presidential bloc Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko's eponymous party, which gained 72 and 156 seats respectively, were expected to form a majority coalition and government during its first session on November 23, but eight members from the Our Ukraine party refused to sign a coalition deal.

"If no coalition deal, signed at least by 226 members of parliament, is submitted [by November 29], then we will have to put the issue of electing a speaker for the 450-seat Supreme Rada on the agenda," Viktor Yanukovych said at a government session.

The Constitution stipulates that a government must be formed within 60 days following elections, but persisting differences within the parliamentary factions, including over Cabinet portfolios, threaten to spark further political wrangling.

Following early polls on September 30 the rival Party of Regions, led by the more Moscow-friendly Yanukovych, was the largest faction with 175 seats in the Supreme Rada. A union with its longtime allies, the Communists, who have 27 seats in parliament, would not be enough for a majority.

Both groups have sought an alliance with Volodymyr Lytvyn, whose faction comprises 20 lawmakers.

However, the former parliamentary speaker has so far declined alliance proposals from both of them.

Source: RIA Novosti

EU Border Moves To Ukraine

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- From December 21, the citizens of Slovakia will be able to cross the borders with all neighbouring countries except for Ukraine at any place and without any checks.

Jozef Buček, Schengen commissioner

This is the result of an informal agreement reached two weeks ago by the EU Council of ministers, assessing the evaluation report on the preparedness of candidate countries for accession to the Schengen area.

Though the final decision will be taken early in December, Slovakia is certain to become a member of the enlarged Schengen area before Christmas, along with Slovenia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Malta.

However, last year there was no reason for celebrations.

Then, the European Commission announced that the enlargement of the pan-European border-free zone might be postponed to 2009 due to the insufficient preparedness of candidate countries and Slovakia was stated as the worst example.

In response to this criticism, the Slovak government established a team headed by Smer-SD nominee, Jozef Buček, Schengen commissioner and the State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior.

This team prepared a crisis action plan for the solving of 169 problems, which was approved by Schengen member states early this year.

The change over the year in the evaluation of Slovakia’s preparedness for Schengen indicates that the efforts of the crisis team were successful.

It should also be mentioned that the efforts would have had no effect if the old member states of the Schengen zone had not prepared for their new colleagues, as one year ago it was not only Slovakia and the Czech Republic that were behind in their preparations.

The preparation for the accession to the Schengen zone cost almost 64 million EUR, which represents two billion Slovak crowns at the current exchange rate.

Four-fifths of the costs were covered by the Schengen Transition Fund and the reminder was paid from the state budget of the Slovak Republic.

Source: eTrend

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

EU Slows Ukraine's Entry Into WTO

GENEVA, Switzerland -- The European Union has thrown a last-minute hurdle in Ukraine's path to enter the World Trade Organization, trade officials said Tuesday, but the former Soviet republic was still expected to join before neighboring Russia.

WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ukraine seemed to have succeeded in introducing reforms needed to become the group's 152nd member, according to a WTO draft report obtained by The Associated Press -- but the EU has held firm on a demand that the nation scrap export taxes designed to make Ukrainian-made goods cheaper if they stay inside the country.

"We are in very regular contact with Ukraine to resolve the remaining bilateral issue of export duties," said Peter Power, a spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. "This is a very important issue for us and must be resolved before the process can be concluded."

The Ukrainian economy, once the Soviet Union's breadbasket, shrank significantly after the fall of the Iron Curtain but has rebounded strongly since 2000. WTO membership could mean valuable new market opportunities for industrial exporters from the country of 47 million people, the third most-populous nation still outside the organization behind Russia and Iran.

Ukraine's pro-Western leader has made joining the WTO and attracted greater foreign investment top priorities. The nation is expected to see its economy grow by 7.6 percent this year and President Viktor Yushchenko hopes to steer the nation into NATO and the European Union as part of a platform that has caused friction with Russia.

A working party of diplomats involved in Kiev's negotiations with the WTO has "reviewed the economic policies and the foreign trade regime of Ukraine" and decided that the "Republic of Ukraine may accede to the WTO agreement," it said in a 290-page draft report.

Dated Oct. 11, it included just a couple of unresolved points, including the EU's complaint over export fees. Other issues relate to certain sanitary and technical standards, but are not believed to be difficult to resolve.

The EU has made WTO membership a condition for opening talks with Ukraine on free trade -- a step seen as essential to Ukraine's hopes of drawing closer to the 27-nation bloc.

The working group was expected to conclude its final meeting next month. But trade officials now believe it might have to wait until next year before recommending that the WTO's 151-member general council formally invite Ukraine to join.

The Ukrainian parliament would then have to ratify the agreement, which would initiate a 30-day waiting period before the country would wrap up its 14-year accession process.

Ukraine's acceptance into the trade body would effectively give it a veto over Russian membership as all WTO decisions are made by consensus. Georgia -- another West-leaning former Soviet republic that has battled Russia over gas surcharges and alleged meddling in internal affairs -- has used its power as a WTO member to block meetings aimed at easing Russia's entrance into the organization.

Ukraine and Russia had been locked in a race to join the Geneva-based organization setting the rules for global trade, with both wary about having the other join first. Yushchenko rejected a suggestion from Russia last year that Kiev "synchronize" its WTO accession process with Moscow's, which remains years from completion.

The neighbors have had chilly relations since 2004, when Moscow gave strong support to Yushchenko's rival Viktor Yanukovych in his fraud-riddled run for the presidency, which set off the massive "Orange Revolution" demonstrations.

Russia, the only major economy outside the WTO, has been claiming for over a decade that it is close to entering but has been frustrated by the slow pace of its negotiation, which like Ukraine's began in 1993. Putin has criticized the body as "archaic," but many negotiators say the fault is Russia's for failing to bring its trade rules in line with global standards.

Source: AP

Fitch Forecasts Inflation At 12% In Ukraine This Year

NEW YORK, United States -- New York based Fitch Ratings forecasts the inflation in Ukraine at the level of 12% this year, and 10% - next year.

According to an UNIAN correspondent, these data were distributed today at a conference, devoted to assessing risks of Ukrainian ratings after the parliamentary election.

The agency also forecasts that in 2008 the National Bank will not change the hryvnia exchange rate against US dollar, and will keep it at the level of 5.05 hryvnias for $1.00 dollar.

Source: Unian

Yushchenko Partisans Balking At Coalition

KIEV, Ukraine -- Tensions rose sharply within Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense, President Viktor Yushchenko’s group, on Monday after five of its lawmakers refused to sign an agreement aimed at creating the pro-Western government coalition.

Pliushch and Yekhanurov stated repeatedly that they would rather favor the creation of the grand coalition that would include Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions Party.

Each of the five lawmakers, including Ivan Pliushch, Yushchenko’s former top security advisor, and Yuri Yekhanurov, a former prime minister, slapped different reasoning behind their decisions.

But all came under fire from their fellow Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense lawmakers, who had been persistently calling for the creation of the coalition.

The tensions will probably further escalate on Tuesday when Our Ukraine, which controls a majority of seats in the Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense grouping, is due to hold an important political conference.

“I can’t get rid of the feeling that those who have refused to sign the agreement talk about one thing, but in fact mean something else,” Roman Zvarych, a senior Our Ukraine member, said.

Pliushch and Yekhanurov stated repeatedly that they would rather favor the creation of the grand coalition that would include Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions Party, the largest single group in Parliament.

Zvarych argued that if Pliushch, Yekhanurov and other lawmakers refuse to join the coalition with the group led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, they should voluntarily quit Parliament.

“This would be an honest and courageous move,” Zvarych said.

The pro-Western coalition would control the slim majority of 228 seats in the 450-seat Parliament, so the refusal of the five to sign the agreement makes the coalition impossible.

The developments come days after all 72 lawmakers from Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense, at a meeting with Yushchenko, pledged to support the pro-Western coalition.

Yekhanurov said Monday that he wanted to amend the coalition agreement with the Tymoshenko group.

Yekhanurov, who a liberal economist, said he was concerned about some of Tymoshenko’s controversial and populist initiatives, such as the plan to pay out quickly billions of hryvnias in debts owed on Soviet-time bank deposits. He also objects to the plans for canceling the value added tax in Ukraine.

Yekhanurov argued that both measures may spur inflation and undermine state finances in the country.

Ihor Kril, a close ally of Viktor Baloha, the chief of staff at the Yushchenko office, and an Our Ukraine member, also refused to sign the coalition agreement with the Tymoshenko group.

Kril argued that Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense’s nomination of Viacheslav Kyrylenko for the speaker of Parliament, was not transparent. He urged Kyrylenko, who he accused of seeking to post at any cost, to withdraw his nomination.

“Let Kyrylenko withdraw from the nomination,” Kril said. “I am not against the democratic coalition, but I am against ripping out the posts.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

MTS Ukraine Using Alcatel-Lucent's CDMA/EV-DO Revision A Solution

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has launched its commercial wireless broadband network using third-generation (3G) CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Revision A (Rev. A) equipment supplied by Alcatel-Lucent.

A CDMA/EV-DO capable mobile phone.

The new network, deployed in the 450 MHz spectrum band, will provide MTS Ukraine's subscribers in major Ukrainian cities with an extensive range of 3G mobile data services such as enhanced multimedia messaging, and audio and video streaming.

"We launched our high-speed wireless Internet service offerings using 3G technology because it is convenient, easy-to-use and offers an exceptionally high-quality experience for the end user," said Pavel Pavlovsky, general director of MTS Ukraine, in a press release. "Project management support provided by Alcatel-Lucent has enabled us to launch our network to satisfy growing demand for data services in the Ukrainian market. We plan to expand our network coverage and will soon be providing wireless Internet access in all of the largest Ukrainian cities."

As part of the agreement, Alcatel-Lucent supplied its CDMA Modular Cell 4.0 Compact base stations for the 450 MHz spectrum band, CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Radio Network Controllers (RNC), a base station operation controller and a network element management system as well as packet core network equipment.

In addition, Alcatel-Lucent has provided network design, planning, deployment, operation, personnel training, and maintenance services, including remote technical support, repair, and local spares provisioning.

Alcatel-Lucent has partnered with Kvazar-Micro, an international IT company that provides products, solutions and services in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), managed the overall network integration.

Both the companies facilitate the seamless integration of the solution with MTS Ukraine's existing infrastructure and operations support systems.

"With this deployment MTS Ukraine is now able to introduce very high-speed 3G mobile data services to complement the 2G services offered by its existing GSM/GPRS network, enabling the operator to deliver a wide range of mobile data capabilities to address a variety of customer expectations," said Johan Vanderplaetse, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent for the CIS. "Our Rev. A solution provides a flexible and reliable platform that MTS Ukraine can use to quickly introduce new services and expand its business."

EV-DO Rev. A is an enhanced version of CDMA2000 1xEV-DO that increases the efficiency, data speeds and capacity of existing CDMA2000 1X and 1xEV-DO networks. EV-DO Rev. A enables users to receive data (forward link) at speeds up to 3.1 Megabits per second (Mbps) and send data (reverse link) at speeds of up to 1.8 Mbps.

Source: TMCnet

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quick Deal In Ukraine Unlikely

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's newly elected parliament abruptly ended its first session Friday, dimming hopes for the quick formation of a government and an end to two months of post-election turmoil.

Yulia Tymoshenko at opening of Parliament.

The session exposed cracks in the alliance of the two pro-Western parties, as several lawmakers from President Viktor Yushchenko's bloc failed to sign a highly advertised coalition agreement.

Yushchenko's party and that of his Orange Revolution ally Yulia Tymoshenko mustered a slim parliamentary majority from the Sept. 30 election and had pledged to quickly form a Cabinet together.

However, eight members of Yushchenko's group did not show up for the signing Friday afternoon, according to the party.

"We hope a coalition will be democratic and that it will be formed quickly," said Tymoshenko, who hopes to return as prime minister in a government comprising her party and Yushchenko's.

But in a sign that complicated coalition talks lie ahead, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who formally surrendered his powers Friday, said he hoped his party would be part of the coalition. Tymoshenko has signaled she would not accept that.

Yanukovych's and Tymoshenko's parties continued bickering, failing to agree on the date of the parliament's next session.

Lawmakers have 30 days to agree on a parliamentary majority and another 30 days to form a government.

Source: Moscow Times

Shell Abandons Deal For Ukrainian Oil Sites

LONDON, UK -- Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it won't proceed with an agreement reached days ago to acquire the Ukraine assets of United Kingdom-listed Regal Petroleum PLC, following Regal's surprise move to appoint a new chairman and chief executive.

Shell spokeswoman Eurwen Thomas said the management change at Regal "wasn't expected by Shell, and we see from the new management's comments that they may have changed their thinking on this transaction."

She said that Regal, a U.K. oil-and-gas company, "indicated that they would like to review options. Therefore we have decided not to proceed" with the memorandum of understanding.

On Wednesday, Shell signed a memorandum of understanding with the previous Regal management. The Anglo-Dutch oil company agreed to pay $50 million to Regal upfront for a 51% stake in the company's Ukranian gas and condensate field licenses.

Shell also agreed to invest $360 million to develop the fields as part of the purchase.

On Thursday, Regal said Chairman Francesco Scolaro and CEO Neil Ritson had resigned and that David Greer -- until recently a senior Shell employee -- would take on both roles.

Mr. Greer was most recently deputy CEO of Sakhalin Energy Investment Co., controlled by a Shell until March of this year.

He resigned after one of its motivational memos was leaked to the media.

Oil analyst Tony Alves of brokerage house KBC Peel Hunt in London said Shell's decision to walk away from the decision doesn't bode well for Regal Petroleum.

The oil-and-gas company now has "no way of financing the drilling of the fields" in Ukraine.

No one was available for comment at Regal.

Regal shares dropped sharply in London after news the memorandum of understanding had been canceled, closing down 14% to £1.40 ($2.89).

Source: Wall Street Journal

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ukrainian Pres Calls For Removing All Soviet-Era Monuments

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko on Saturday urged his nation to remove all the monuments commemorating the totalitarian regime.

Lenin statue at the head of Taras Shevchenko Boulevard - typical Communist propaganda.

As he addressed a meeting on Kiev’s Mikhailovsky Square that had gathered in connection with 75 years since the outbreak of famine of 1932 and 1933, Yushchenko condemned the Communist era and said his country “should put on a clean shirt, removing the symbols of totalitarianism from its body.”

At the same time, he called for installing national memorials and monuments.

Saturday, Yushchenko signed a decree declared 2008 the Year of Memory of the Victims of Famine.

The reported goal of the document is to “reveal truth about the genocide of the Ukrainian people to broad public quarters in Ukraine and to the international community in connection with the 75th anniversary of the tragedy”.

The decree demands that the government analyze the steps taken in connection with the Law on Famine in Ukraine in 1932 and 1933, as well as the legislative acts in connection with the anniversary of famine and pass the necessary decisions on financing the steps they specify.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the World Congress of Ukrainians are expected to produce within a month a plan of commemorative and special events that Ukraine’s diplomatic missions will carry out abroad with the aid of Ukrainian communities living in foreign countries.

Ukrainian officials claim that the famine of 1932 and 1933, which was caused by Joseph Stalin’s police of sweeping collectivization of private farms, was a purposeful act of genocide of the Ukrainian people.

In the meantime, historians, public personalities and politicians in Russia have indicated on many occasions that the famine embraced a territory much broader than the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and had a telling impact on many other regions and ethnic groups of the former USSR, including the Russians and Kazakhs.


Norwegians Accuse Russians Of Dirty Tricks In Telecoms Venture

LONDON, England -- International court rulings are ignored in the struggle for a Ukrainian mobile firm. It began as a partnership. It became poisoned by rancour. And now it has descended into farce.

A dispute between two international telecoms companies, Norway’s Telenor and Altimo, part of Russia’s Alfa Group, has taken a new, surreal twist and is threatening to spill over into the British courts.

The two groups have been involved in a bitter argument over control of a Ukrainian mobile-phone company, Kyvistar, jointly owned by the Russian and Norwegian groups since 2002.

Telenor has accused Altimo whose parent, Alfa Group, is headed by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman of using underhand tactics to try to gain control of Kyvistar.

The dispute went to the International Panel of Arbitration in New York. In August the panel ruled that Altimo’s Ukrainian offshoot had broken its shareholders’ agreement with Telenor and had wrongly tried to wriggle out of an agreement under which disputes would be resolved by arbitration in New York.

But Altimo’s Ukrainian subsidiary, Storm, responded by saying that “according to Ukrainian law, it is impossible to recognise and enforce the arbitration award in Ukraine”. The Altimo-controlled company is refusing to comply with the New York panel ruling.

And now, the focus of the increasingly bizarre tale has been shifted back to Ukraine.

The Pechersk district court of Kiev ruled last month that enforcing the arbitration award “would contradict the public policy of Ukraine”.

That sounds straightforward enough except that Telenor had not even been informed that the US ruling was being challenged in the Kiev court. The first it knew about the case was when it was told of the result by a Russian journalist.

Storm, the Altimo offshoot contesting the US ruling, told the Ukrainian court that Telenor had been served notice that the case was coming up.

But it later transpired that the papers informing Telenor of the hearing had been sent to an office that the Norwegian company had not occupied for months although its present address is well advertised.

The papers were apparently signed for at the former Telenor offices by someone simply calling himself or herself “Kovalenko”. Telenor has never had an employee called Kovalenko.

Nothing about the impending court case had been sent to Telenor’s present Ukraine office, its Norwegian head office, or to its lawyers.

By the time that Telenor was told of the outcome of the case, the company had missed the deadline for appealing against the decision. The ruling by the judge, a Ms Grymych, contained the assertion that “Telenor Communications AS has failed to appear, though it was duly summoned and noticed of the time and place of the consideration of the motion”.

However, as is now clear, Telenor did not have a clue that the case was even taking place.

Sources within the Altimo camp maintain that it was the court that was responsible for handling the paperwork, not Storm.

And in a further strange twist, the judge disappeared apparently abroad on extended maternity leave the day after giving her decision.

Even within Ukraine, a country not renowned for the consistency and rigour of its legal system, the Pechersk court chosen by Altimo’s offshoot as the arena for the battle with Telenor has a reputation for making some strange decisions.

Earlier this year, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko said: “There are legends about the Pechersk court . . . We’ve already got used to such a court system where, I am sure, even Jesus Christ could lose a good case . . . He would not win in the Pechersk court.”

There is a further strange sub-plot to the dispute. In the argument over Kyvistar, Telenor’s direct legal opponent has been Storm, the company through which Altimo holds its stake in the Ukrainian telecoms business.

Storm is owned by two offshore companies, based in Cyprus, which in turn are owned by Altimo. In late August after the New York arbitration ruling the two companies in Cyprus held a shareholders’ meeting at which its Russian owners said that Storm should indeed comply with the New York panel’s decision.

But Storm says it is bound by the Ukrainian court’s ruling that the New York arbitration decision is unenforceable. Storm says it is banned from attending meetings of its Kyvistar joint-venture partner Telenor although Storm’s parent, Altimo, wants it to do so.

Hence now, on the surface at least, Altimo is at loggerheads with a company that it owns. The Russian company can claim that it is trying to comply with an internationally recognised panel’s ruling, while its subsidiary continues to defy it.

Storm and Telenor each signed a shareholders’ agreement covering their Ukrainian joint venture: this explicitly stated that any dispute should be referred to arbitrators in New York.

But Storm subsequently argued that the company’s director who signed the agreement didn’t have the authority to do so. The argument was rejected by courts in America.

Altimo said this weekend: “Altimo has always complied with every court ruling in every jurisdiction. We fully respect the laws of every country in which we operate.” Earlier this month an American judge, Gerard Lynch of the southern district of New York, gave his judgment on Storm’s efforts to avoid complying with the arbitration award.

He said Storm had made “repeated efforts to renege on its agreement and to torpedo the proceedings by collusive and vexatious litigation”.

The affair further calls into question the role of Altimo’s six-man “advisory board” that includes Lord Hurd, the former Conservative foreign secretary Douglas Hurd; Sir Roderick Lyne, who was British ambassador to Russia; and Sir Julian Horn-Smith, who was the deputy chief executive of Vodafone until the summer of last year.

Telenor executive vice-president Jan Edvard Thygesen has said that the Norwegian group “will seek to enforce this [New York arbitration] award wherever Alfa has assets”. And sources within Telenor indicate that this could involve action to seize assets in the US and UK.

Alfa has a business, Alfa Capital Holdings (Cyprus), that is regulated by the Financial Services Authority in London. Altimo Holdings is domiciled in the British Virgin Islands, but the company lists its international headquarters as being in London. Peter Aven, head of a private bank within the Alfa empire, has a mansion in Surrey that was bought for £8.5m.

Source: Times OnLine

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Final Toll In Ukraine Mine Accident At 100 Dead

KIEV, Ukraine -- One hundred people died in the worst mining accident in Ukraine's post-Soviet history last week, Interfax news agency said on Saturday giving what it said was the final toll of the disaster.

People and relatives of the miners mourn at a funeral for miners killed in Post-Soviet Ukraine's worst mining disaster.

The accident on Nov 18 took place some 1,000 metres underground at the Zasyadko pit, one of Ukraine's three biggest mines.

Ukraine's coal mines are considered among the most perilous in the world, with many poorly financed and employing outdated Soviet-era equipment.

Most of the country's mine disasters are caused by build-ups of methane gas, which can occur suddenly.

Previously, the worst mining disaster in post-Soviet Ukraine had been at the Barakov mine in 2000, when 80 people were killed in a similar gas explosion.

The Zasyadko mine employs some 10,000 people and produces up to 10,000 tonnes of coal every day.

In 1999 an explosion there claimed 50 lives, while in 2001 another blast left 55 people dead.

A gas leak in September 2006 killed 13 miners.

Source: The Straits Times

Can't Stand D.C. Traffic? You Should See Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine -- There's a certain fascination in watching a city destroy itself more or less overnight. Kiev last imposed itself on the West's consciousness when it exploded into mass protests during Ukraine's so-called Orange Revolution in 2004.

A typical day on main street Khreschatyk.

But looking around this still beautiful capital on Europe's edge today, you wonder how much strain an urban fabric can take before it rips.

Kiev's problem is cars. The city's increasingly well-off post-Soviet population has taken to automobiles with the intensity of the long-deprived.

Ukraine's booming economy is blast-forging the country's first mass middle class, and by many locals' count, perhaps 10 times more vehicles are now rumbling through this ancient city's hilly streets than there were when the Soviet Union expired in 1991.

In 2006, according to the Kiev Post, Ukraine climbed from 12th place to ninth place in Europe in terms of new car sales, which a leading Ukrainian newsmagazine reports grew 52 percent here from last September to this.

About 60,000 new cars were registered in Kiev this October alone, according to the Unian news agency, bloating a total that Ukraine's Emergency Ministry puts at 1.5 million -- and the number is expected to grow by a million more by 2011.

This has meant something catastrophic for life in Kiev. Streets that in 1991 were almost empty and that five years ago remained passable thoroughfares are now gridlocked for most of each business day.

In Kiev, cars are what water must be to Venetians or snow to Eskimos: the fundamental shaper of daily experience. Given Ukraine's distinctly Soviet approach to emissions controls, Kiev's air reeks in a way that residents of even the filthiest downtowns of Western capitals can't imagine.

You don't want to open your windows by day if you live downtown; better to wait until well into the evening, after the dissipation of the apocalyptic traffic jams that have become the city's conversation pieces in much the same way that politics were during the Orange Revolution.

All of this is a function of what one Kiev magazine earlier this year dubbed the "Cult of the Automobile" -- the status, unimaginable to Westerners, that comes with car ownership in a society conditioned by Soviet-era scarcity.

It was the great Western-looking dream of the Soviet citizen to own a set of wheels, and those dreams are now coming true -- with the help of easy credit, which is everywhere in a country where speculation was a crime just 20 years ago.

Many of the late-model KIAs and Skodas in Kiev are wholly owned by local banks, which is only one of the peculiarities of a car culture so seductive that I've heard anecdotes about people who have sold elegant apartments to get cash to buy cars. Another peculiarity: Cars are really unnecessary here because Kiev's Soviet-built subway system is excellent.

And all of this is a shame, given that Kiev has historically been considered the most pleasant of the former Soviet Union's capitals -- a walkable alternative to Moscow.

In his book "Imperium," about his travels through the declining Soviet Union, the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski described Kiev as "the only large city of the former USSR whose streets serve not merely for hurrying home but for walking, for strolling." Kiev's main boulevard, Khreschatyk, he wrote, is something like a local Champs-Elys¿es, and he was impressed by Kiev's downtown "crowds of people" out "to get some fresh air."

A decade and a half later, the city that Kapuscinski liked no longer exists. Walking here can be dangerous because the sidewalks are covered with cars, both parked and moving.

That ritual of city life -- the promenade -- has become an adventure in the sort of defensive, serpentine ambulation with which the pedestrian makes his way through a strip mall parking lot.

And it doesn't help that Ukrainian traffic cops know better than to stop expensive vehicles: It can be bad for their careers. Drive a Hummer or a Bentley here (Bentleys are common), and you can barrel through any red light and over any lawn or sidewalk.

The situation is exacerbated by Kiev's geography. The city is composed of a compact downtown core that would seem better in a smaller city -- Oakland, say, not a growing population cluster of perhaps 5 million.

An increasing number of Kiev's residents live in bedroom communities outside the city, endless developments of high-rise towers that each month radiate farther across the plains.

Because these futuristic tower blocks don't include office space, the city's circumscribed downtown is overloaded. It's as though all of New York's economic activity were restricted to an area the size of Greenwich Village and SoHo combined.

Kiev's preponderance of wide boulevards and vast plazas -- communist showcases for an era before the automobile reigned -- exacerbate the situation, too.

What 10 years ago were pleasant poplar-lined boulevards are now clogged eight-lane highways that scream and honk and pound through the city's heart. Looking at central Kiev's Victory Square is like looking down at a gridlocked Los Angeles freeway, except that many of the cars are going in opposite directions, there's more toxic haze and tens of thousands of people have to live within yards of it.

Where all this will end up, it's hard to tell. Kiev's transformation -- from a charmingly shabby stroller's city of dusty squares and streets in which there might be more stray dogs than SUVs into an increasingly charmless automotive dystopia -- has happened mostly during the past five years of economic growth.

Like survivors of a flash flood, residents (especially those who don't own cars) are just coming to terms with the sudden change in their physical reality.

Their neighbors in Europe have started dealing with the antisocial effects of urban car use and are banning, restricting or taxing driving in many downtown cores.

But Ukraine, despite the aspirational rhetoric of some of its Western-looking politicians, isn't Europe. In a macho culture that has embraced conspicuous consumption, the idea of people taking to bicycles like the burghers of Amsterdam is inconceivable.

Just a little less so is the idea that, in a nondemocratic culture defined by elite prerogative, the newly affluent will use public transportation like wealthy Westerners. And a culture with an almost totally corrupt public life, no functioning justice system and a tendency toward political murder seems unlikely to make "green" choices when it comes to urban planning.

Barring some unexpected development, Kiev seems fated to become less and less the "European" city that the westward-looking Orange Revolution declared it to be and more and more a hub of Third World-style chaos.

Certainly the pollution situation is disturbing. Ukraine was an ecological basket case even before the car culture, and unlike car-mad America or similarly polluted Russia, it doesn't have excess space to destroy.

There is a geopolitical irony to all this: Ukraine, a poor and weak country with no oil of its own, is giving itself over to a car- and oil-based culture at a moment when that culture is approaching its limits. The global cheap-oil party is approaching its end even as Ukraine shoves its way into the rubbish-strewn foyer near midnight.

And while Ukraine may be spared $100 barrels of oil on the world market, that's only because it has a potentially bigger problem: It gets all its oil from or through Russia, an assertive power whose leadership resents seeing its old vassal persist in its delusions of independence.

Russia has also proved willing to use the "energy weapon" against Ukraine, as seen in the 2006 European gas crisis, when Russia briefly shut off gas supplies to its southerly "little brother." And so every time a patriotic Ukrainian proudly fills up his new Prado, he's pushing his vulnerable country further into the arms of the hegemon to the north.

It's yet another bleak historical irony for Ukraine that its giddy embrace of Western automotive culture may someday seal its ultimate submission to Russia -- and sever it from the West.

Source: Washington Post

Great Famine Anniversary In Ukraine

KRASYLIVKA, Ukraine -- After authorities broke into Yakiv Atamanenko's home in autumn of 1932 and confiscated the family's food, his mother and two brothers died of starvation and their bloated bodies were tossed among others in a freshly dug grave on the outskirts of this farming village.

Atamanenko and other survivors here said one of their neighbors, Oleksandra Korytnyk and her husband, ate their two children. "They cut their children into pieces and ate them," recalled Atamanenko, now a frail, gray-haired 95-year-old.

In the end, he and others said, the Korytnyks died as well.

On Saturday, Ukraine marks the 75th anniversary of the terrible famine of 1932-33, engineered by Soviet authorities to force peasants across the former U.S.S.R. to give up their privately held plots of land and join collective farms. Millions perished.

Now President Viktor Yushchenko is leading an effort to gain international recognition of Holodomor - or death by hunger, as it is known here - as a crime rather than merely a disaster, by labeling it an act of genocide.

Long kept secret by Soviet authorities, accounts of the Great Famine still divide historians and politicians, not just in this nation of 47 million but throughout the former Soviet Union.

Some are convinced that the famine targeted Ukrainians as an ethnic group. Others argue authorities set out to eradicate all private land owners as a social class, and that the Soviets sought to pay for the U.S.S.R.'s industrialization with grain exports at the expense of starving millions of its own people.

The dictator Josef Stalin's collectivization drive affected the entire U.S.S.R, but was particularly calamitous for Ukraine, which had some of the former Soviet Union's richest agricultural land. The campaign coincided, as well, with the Kremlin's efforts to root out a growing Ukrainian nationalist movement.

Estimates of the number of people who perished in Holodomor differ, but there is no doubt the death toll was horrific. Yushchenko estimates 10 million Ukrainians died, while Stanislav Kulchitsky, a Ukrainian historian, believes the number is closer to 3.5 million.

Authorities set production quotas for each village. But these quotas generally exceeded crop yields and in village after village, when farmers failed to meet their targets, all their food was confiscated.

Residents were prohibited to leave their homes - effectively condemning them to starvation.

In Krasylivka as many as 1,017 people - roughly the village's present day population - died in the course of that terrible year, according to a list of the victims compiled by village authorities. Elders say the famine nearly wiped out the village.

Villagers tell stories of their neighbors collapsing in the street and dying. Driven to despair, people ate whatever they could scrounge: leaves, dirt, birds, dogs, rats and - several witnesses said - even each other.

Olena Yaroshchuk, 94, her wrinkled face framed by a green kerchief, said she filled her aching stomach with grass. "Those who could survived, those who couldn't - that was the end of it, one house after another - almost all died," she said.

Kulchitsky, a leading famine researcher, argues the famine was a genocide aimed at Ukrainians who resisted Soviet rule. "The conditions authorities created for the Ukrainian peasantry were incompatible with life," he wrote in a recent article.

But Heorhiy Kasyanov, a top historian with the National Academy of Sciences, says the issue is more subtle. "There is no hard evidence that there were concrete statements or actions aimed at destroying ethnic Ukrainians by someone else. I don't have a clear answer whether or not it was genocide."

The Ukrainian parliament has already labeled the famine genocide. So has the United States, and some other countries. But Russia, the legal successor to the Soviet state, resists the label.

Under international law, genocide is defined as deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial or ethnic group. Moscow insists the famine also targeted other groups, including Russians and Kazakhs.

"There are no grounds to talk about genocide. We can talk about 'sociocide' - the extermination of peasants, a political crime on the part of Soviet leadership," said Andrei Petrov, a historian with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

But another Russian historian said Holodomor was one of many acts of genocide by Stalin against the peoples of the former Soviet Union. "It was genocide in the direct sense of this word - it is the killing of people, the killing of the Ukrainian people," he said. "The same must be done for the Kazakhs, the Russians and peoples of other territories."

Ukrainian politicians are themselves divided on the topic. The genocide vote in parliament last year was boycotted by the party of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who draws his support from Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, as well as the Communists.

Even in Krasylivka, people say the issue is complicated. Many survivors blame the Soviet government for the famine. But many also say that the cruelty of the local authorities compounded the tragedy.

Source: DailyComet

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ukraine PM Resigns As Parties Jostle For Power

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych submitted his resignation on Friday as a new parliament was sworn in and rival parties jostled to form a government after September elections.

Yulia Tymoshenko at opening of Parliament on November 23, 2007.

Yanukovych formally gave up his powers at an inaugural parliament session in which all 450 new members of parliament were solemnly sworn in.

"I announce the renunciation of the powers of the Ukrainian government," Yanukovych said at the ceremony in which he embraced his possible replacement, Yulia Tymoshenko. She was dressed like her supporters in her party's uniform: a red blouse and white v-necked jumper.

Parliament's inauguration means that talks to form a government reach a decisive stage in this former Soviet republic that lies sandwiched between giant neighbour Russia and the countries of the European Union.

A spokeswoman for the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc predicted that a coalition deal could be reached as early as Friday following behind-the-scenes talks.

"The coalition agreement could in principle be signed on Friday," the spokeswoman told AFP, requesting anonymity.

A leader of President Viktor Yushchenko's party Our Ukraine-Self Defence, Vyacheslav Kirilenko, also said a coalition agreement could be signed on Friday in comments reported by Interfax.

Ukraine held snap elections on September 30 in an effort to resolve months of wrangling between Yushchenko, who supports full integration with the West, including the NATO military alliance, and the more pro-Russian Yanukovych.

Pro-Western political forces took a narrow lead in the election, although Yanukovych's Regions Party took the most votes overall.

Analysts say the most likely outcome of coalition talks is an "orange" coalition of Yushchenko's party and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, which together spearheaded a peaceful uprising known as the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Together the two have 228 seats out of the total 450.

If such a coalition were to be formed Tymoshenko, a former prime minister under Yushchenko, would probably return to the post.

However it is not certain that this is what Yushchenko would want. Earlier he called for Yanukovych's Regions party to be included.

Relations between the president and Tymoshenko broke down within months of him coming to power in 2005, while critics took her to task as prime minister for a series of populist economic measures.

On Friday Yanukovych again voiced hopes that his party would be included in the next government.

"I am confident" of the possibility of such an alliance, Yanukovych was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Source: AFP

Newly Eelected Ukrainian Prliament Convenes For 1st Session

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian lawmakers elected in a September vote aimed at ending persistent political turmoil convened for their first parliamentary session Friday, opening the way for a Cabinet to be formed in the country.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (R, front row) and other government officials applaud during the new parliamentary session in Kiev, November 23, 2007. Ukraine's new post-election parliament opens on Friday, with uncertainty lingering over virtually all key decisions, including formation of a majority coalition and government after three years of instability.

The two pro-Western parties that were central to the 2004 Orange Revolution won enough votes to muster a slim majority of 228 seats in the Verkhovna Rada, the 450-member parliament, and have pledged to form a governing coalition.

Their main rival, led by Moscow-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, has the biggest faction in parliament with 175 seats. His Party of Regions lacks a coalition partner strong enough to forge a majority, but deep divisions in the Rada point to further wrangling in a nation long mired in political conflict.

The session began with lawmakers rising from their seats to listen to a legislator's oath, read out by the new parliament's senior member, and to a choir in traditional Ukrainian costumes singing a popular folk song. Each lawmaker was to sign the oath.

Ukrainian politics have been driven by a power struggle pitting President Viktor Yushchenko, swept to power in the Orange Revolution street protests against election fraud, and Yanukovych, his bitter rival in the 2004 presidential vote that sparked the demonstrations.

Yanukovych was initially declared the winner, but the Supreme Court threw out the result and Yushchenko won a new vote.

Yanukovych rebounded and became Prime Minister after his party received the biggest share of vote in March 2006 parliamentary elections, capitalizing on widespread disappointment in the slow pace of reforms and what critics said was Yushchenko's failure to deliver on his Orange Revolution promises.

The struggle reached its peak earlier this year, when Yushchenko accused Yanukovych of an illegal power grab and called the new parliamentary election, held Sept. 30.

The Rada has 30 days to form a parliamentary majority and another 30 days to form a government.

Source: Kyiv Post

Coalition Doubtful Ahead Of Rada Opening

KIEV, Ukraine -- Leading politicians don’t expect a coalition agreement to emerge as they prepare for the new parliament’s first session on Nov. 23, noting that the likelihood of an Orange parliamentary majority has grown fairly faint.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the leading candidate for prime minister.

“I am not a pessimist, but a well-informed person,” Yuriy Yekhanurov, former prime minister and close ally of President Viktor Yushchenko, told reporters on Nov. 20. He has been critical of the prospect of Yulia Tymoshenko’s return to the post of prime minister.

“I think we have serious work ahead of us. The main matter is that Ukrainians very poorly listen to one another.”

The Ukrainian Constitution requires that a coalition agreement is signed by all its participants within 30 days of the parliament’s first session.

Given that three Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense (OUPSD) deputies have yet to support the agreement to form the Democratic Forces Coalition, it’s highly unlikely a coalition will emerge during the first session, politicians and analysts have said.

“Everyone will sing the Ukrainian anthem with inspiration, and then break for writing their statements on forming factions and officially select faction leaders,” Yekhanurov said. “I think we won’t be able to do more than that.”

According to the Constitution, coalition formation takes place in three stages: The first parliamentary session is held within 30 days of official publication of election results (Oct. 27), a coalition agreement is signed within 30 days of the first session and a prime minister is nominated within 30 days after the agreement is signed.

Numerous formalities are scheduled for the Nov. 23 session, which are expected to be well-attended by Ukraine’s current and past leaders. President Viktor Yushchenko’s press service said Nov. 21 that the head of state was so far not planning to attend the Rada’s opening ceremonies.

The outgoing Cabinet of Ministers led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych must officially resign their posts at the session, becoming acting ministers until a new government is elected by parliament.

A rotating temporary presidium with representatives of the parliament’s five factions will lead the sessions until a new chairman is elected, explained Yuriy Syrotiuk, a political analyst with the Kyiv-based Open Society Foundation, funded by American, British and Polish donors.

The number of parliamentary committees will have to be determined – there were 26 in the Rada’s fifth convocation and 24 in the fourth, he said.

Each deputy must also submit a statement declaring faction membership.

After these procedures, the national deputies could theoretically form the new parliamentary coalition by signing an agreement, which should occur before a new chairman is elected.

However, the Democratic Forces Coalition – declared by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, Byut, and the pro-presidential OUPSD – doesn’t have support from at least three OUPSD politicians: National Security and Defense Council secretary Ivan Pliushch, Ihor Kril and Vasyl Petiovka. The latter two are considered to be closely aligned with Presidential Secretariat Chair Viktor Baloha.

Most political observers expect a repeat of last year, when drafting and signing a coalition agreement was dragged out to the last minute of the month-long deadline.

The pro-Western coalition revealed further instability when several OUPSD politicians stated this week they would not support Tymoshenko for prime minister or Viacheslav Kyrylenko for parliament chair.

After a coalition agreement emerges, the voting for the next parliamentary speaker should occur within a month.

The Presidential Secretariat now supports Pliushch, who has headed the Rada twice in the past, for the Rada chair over Kyrylenko, a younger and fiercely pro-Western politician.

For weeks, Tymoshenko and Kyrylenko assured the public they would gain support to form their coalition.

But while Kyrylenko was allowed to make such statements, he never truly enjoyed the support of the party’s hierarchy, particularly Baloha, said Ivan Lozowy, president of the Kyiv-based Institute of Statehood and Democracy, financed by Ukrainian businessmen.

“Knowing the public’s expectations, Tymoshenko and Kyrylenko tried to cut off the Baloha camp, which was the natural thing to do,” he said.

“Without an economic base, though, people ignore Kyrylenko because everyone knows who holds the real power – Baloha. Kyrylenko was never a real threat to him, and served as a useful pawn during the elections.”

Yushchenko has trusted Baloha with much of the decision-making surrounding the coalition-forming, Lozowy said.

Meanwhile, the Party of Regions has insisted no parliamentary chair or prime minister can be selected without its approval. The party flexed its political might throughout the week, demonstrating its indifference to being shut out of the potential Democratic Forces Coalition.

Region’s Raisa Bohatyriova said on Nov. 20 that her party and its allies could support Pliushch’s candidacy, suggesting they hold the trump card.

They are against Kyrylenko because of his strong advocacy of Ukrainian cultural and historical issues, and consistently pro-Western positions, including support for NATO membership.

Kyrylenko’s candidacy is further threatened by the secret ballot vote for the parliamentary chair, which will make undermining his candidacy quite easy, Syrotiuk said.

Meanwhile, Volodymyr Lytvyn, leader of the eponymous bloc, said his faction won’t support any candidate for parliamentary speaker.

“We don’t need to assume responsibility for the work of political forces, which divided posts among themselves and want someone to support their positions with their votes,” Lytvyn said.

Meanwhile, opposition to Tymoshenko’s candidacy for premier has gained momentum among OUPSD politicians.

Anatoliy Matvienko said he opposes any candidate for prime minister who will compete for the Ukrainian presidency in the 2010 elections, a direct reference to Tymoshenko.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hollywood Cartoon To Be Made In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- In an unexpected move, some of Hollywood moviemakers seem to view Ukraine as the Promised Land for realizing their projects.

Billy Frolick's acclaimed cartoon “Madagascar”.

Just last Friday American screenwriter Billy Frolick, whose biggest project so far was the script for the acclaimed cartoon “Madagascar,” is having the next animation based on his screenplay made in Ukraine.

The film, whose working title is “Paws and Wires,” will be co-produced by Ukrainian 3D animation studio Umbrella Vision and made by Ukrainian animators, at the request of Umbrella Animation Works Inc. based in the US.

“Paws and Wires” will be created to resemble the aforementioned “Madagascar,” as well as “Ice Age,” “Finding Nemo,” “Over The Hedge” and similar 3D animations.

The producers refused to reveal any plot details so far, but claimed that extracts of the film will be shown at Cannes Film Festival 2008.

The characters of the cartoon will be voiced by Hollywood stars and the recording will naturally be conducted in the States, as Ukraine so far lacks a suitable technology base for it.

On the other hand, the music for the film will be written by Ukrainian composers and the background symphonic parts will be recorded in Kyiv.

According to the producer of the project, Mikhail Dudko, the financing of “Paws and Wires” will be provided by Ukrainian sponsors and the budget will resemble that of similar American films.

The film, set to be released in 2009, will be first distributed in the US, though there is a possibility that the world premiere will take place simultaneously in Ukraine.

Frolick, whose future projects include the movie “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (based on the famous novel by Richard Matheson), explained that work in the American studio system is difficult, as it’s hard for authors to retain their vision, and he sees more possibilities for him to avoid this by working in Ukraine.

Somehow his words bring to memory the times when the pioneers of American cinema fled from New York to California, to have more freedom doing what they want.

So is Ukraine becoming New Gollywood? Just joking…

Source: Kyiv Post

Yushchenko: Ukraine's Roads Are Europe's Most Corrupt And Dangerous

KIEV, Ukraine -- Europe's most dangerous roads and greediest traffic cops are in the same place - the former Soviet republic Ukraine, said President Viktor Yushchenko during a televised meeting with law enforcers.

Some 7,500 people lost their lives in Ukrainian road accidents in 2006, a 20 per cent increase over 2005. The year 2007 is on track (nearly 7,000 by mid-November) to be even deadlier, making a car trip in Ukraine four times riskier than in France or Belgium, and eight times more dangerous than in Germany, an indignant Yushchenko claimed.

"What kind of statistic is that? It is a direct reflection of the way you work!" the Orange Revolution leader told a glum auditorium filled with the leadership of the country's DAI traffic police force. "You are doing your jobs badly, and unprofessionally ... you should be ashamed."

The Ukrainian president's last visit to DAI headquarters, in July 2005, ended with a furious Yushchenko, a supporter of European politics and standards in Ukraine, declaring the organization dissolved.

Yushchenko's decision to wipe the DAI off the bureaucratic books (it never really worked) came after a notorious June 2005 road trip with Yushchenko at the wheel of an unmarked government sedan. Traffic cops looking to cash in on invented traffic violations halted Yushchenko eight times over a 600-kilometre route.

"The assembled DAI leadership received the president's Monday comments in silence," Ukrainska Pravda reported. A few colonels busily scribbled notes.

Yushchenko during the tirade ticked off several nasty DAI tactics long familiar to most Ukrainian drivers. Police place traffic signs not for public safety, but where they will snare the most unwary motorists.

Speeding law is ignored, but advertising signs are scrupulously controlled by DAI officers, the better to bring ad sign registration fees into the DAI budget.

Extortion of bribes from motorists is not just tolerated, but expected by mid-level police managers as they get a cut.

Korrespondent magazine in an article entitled "The situation on Ukrainian roads is becoming a national disaster" singled out "a total absence of punishment" as one reason Ukraine's traffic police seem so uninterested in enforcing traffic law properly.

A typical fine for a simple traffic violation in Ukraine - for instance running a stop sign or driving with a broken tail light - averages between $2 and $4 dollars.

A drunk driving conviction carries a license suspension averaging six months, but only after a court trial, and if the vehicle is needed for the driver to work, then most judges will throw out the suspension. The fine if assessed averages between $40 and $80 dollars.

"In fact, traffic police have very few tools with which they can influence driver behaviour," argued Evhen Kravets, a traffic police spokesman, in Fakty newspaper. "How can we tell if a particular citizen happens to be doing what a court told him?"

Even avoiding a manslaughter rap after running down a hapless pedestrian has, in Ukraine, its unofficial price. Provided the victim had no important friends or his family money, as little as $5,000 dollars split between the judge and state prosecutor will usually get the case thrown out, according to the Ukrainska Kriminala web site.

Another contributing factor to DAI inefficiency is officer salaries equivalent to $300 dollars a month, producing a 70 per cent annual turnover in DAI personnel, Fakty reported.

"With that kind of salary and retention rate it is naive to expect honest enforcement of the law," Korrespondent noted.

Danger levels on Ukrainian roads are heightened, Yushchenko said, because police corruption extends off the roads.

A driver's license without having to take the test - or indeed knowing how to drive - costs in Ukraine's black market from $200 to $500 dollars.

A vehicle inspection without the inspector runs around $50 dollars, depending on the make and age of the auto not being inspected.

The Ukrainian leader at the end of the meeting gave police bosses "six months or else" to show substantial improvement.

The DAI colonels and generals "showed no particular reaction to that demand either," Ukrainska Pravda reported.

Source: Earth Times