Monday, December 31, 2007

Tennis - Italy's Garbin Shocks Petrova

GOLD COAST, Australia -- Italy's Tathiana Garbin shocked second seed Nadia Petrova of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the Australian women's hardcourt tennis tournament here Monday.

Amelie Mauresmo of France plays a forehand return against Ukraine's Olga Savchuk during their tennis match at the Australian Women's Hardcourt Championships on the Gold Coast, Australia, Monday, Dec. 31, 2007.

Garbin reached the semi-finals of this event last year only to withdraw with breathing difficulties when leading Martina Hingis 4-3 in the first set.

But she had no such problem against Petrova as she chased down almost every shot and used her court coverage to overcome the powerful Russian.

It was her first win over Petrova in five encounters.

"I feel like I didn't finish the tournament last year," Garbin said.

"To come back here and win this first round match was very tough because Nadia is one of the best players in the world. I'm proud of myself today."

After two hard-fought sets, Garbin looked to be cruising to victory when she led 5-0 in the decider, but she began to suffer from nerves and allowed Petrova to claw her way back to 3-5.

But the Italian regained her composure and when the powerful Russian hit a forehand into the net, Garbin was through to the second round.

"The key was to give her back every ball," Garbin said. "I ran so much today -- three hours almost -- I ran for everything."

Eighth-seeded Hungarian Agnes Szavay was also a first-round loser, bowing out to qualifying "lucky loser" Yuliana Fedak of Ukraine.

Fedak only made the main draw when countrywoman Julia Vakulenko withdrew injured at the last minute, but came back from losing the first set to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Defending champion and third seed Dinara Safina of Russia struggled past Australian-based Slovakian Jarmila Gajdosova 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

In other matches played on a rain-affected second day, fourth seed Patty Schnyder of Switzerland cruised past Russian qualifier Alisa Kleybanova 6-1, 6-3 and two-time Grand Slam winner Amelie Mauresmo crushed Ukraine's Olga Savchuk 6-1, 6-1 in a little under an hour.

Mauresmo now plays compatriot Nathalie Dechy in the second round.

In a late match, Italian Francesca Schiavone unexpectedly progressed to the second round when Meghann Shaughnessy was forced to withdraw despite the American leading 6-0, 1-0 at the time.

Source: AFP

A New Year Of More Confrontation

WASHINGTON, DC -- A new critical year in East-West relations is fast approaching. It promises to be a year of decision and confrontation. 2008 will present an important challenge for European Union unity, trans-Atlantic cohesion and the determination of the West to stand up to an increasingly assertive and expansive Russia.

The world is waiting for final decisions on the status of Kosovo. Without Russia’s involvement during the past year, Kosovo would already be a state, since Serbia by itself could not have resisted Western objectives to legitimize Kosovo’s de facto independence. Moscow’s calculation to use the disputed territory as a pawn in its “great game” against U.S. interests has made the process of statehood more tense and unpredictable.

Washington continues to demonstrate resolve over Kosovo’s final status despite the difficulties in forging an EU consensus and the hesitation evident among some European states in bypassing the UN Security Council, whose decisions are blocked by the Kremlin. The process of independence will most probably be completed by the time of the NATO summit in Bucharest in April. But the recognition of Kosovo’s statehood will generate fresh regional and international tensions that need to be competently handled by the trans-Atlantic powers.

The stabilization of the Western Balkans is manageable if NATO, the EU, and the United States work in tandem to prevent Belgrade and Moscow from exploiting latent tensions and militant expectations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. Although Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica may act irrationally in response to Kosovo’s independence, Belgrade no longer has the capabilities to export war to neighboring states. A display of diplomatic and military force may be necessary by NATO and the EU to convince local actors that the West is serious.

Containing Russian reactions outside of the Balkans, however, may prove more problematic. Some analysts say the Kremlin has drawn a red line across Kosovo’s independence. If the West recognizes the new state, the Kremlin may pursue its “national interests” more vigorously in several neighboring regions and intensify its anti-U.S. alliances. Washington and Brussels need to be prepared for all eventualities.

Moscow has already signaled that it will fortify its economic and political ties with Iran. In addition, it will seek a closer relationship with China to counter “U.S. expansionism,” and it will develop the Collective Security Treaty Organization into a competitor with NATO in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Moreover, Russia will increase pressure on all former Soviet colonies that seek inclusion in Western institutions.

Georgia has become the most vulnerable outpost of Western interests in the Caucasus, a region that Russia is determined to dominate both for reasons of geostrategy and energy politics. Moscow’s military commanders are prepared to assist the Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatist movements and confront the Georgian military if Tbilisi attempts to regain the two enclaves. Indeed, the Kremlin may seek to draw Georgia into a military confrontation to justify an already planned intervention.

The Russian authorities may also seek to apply pressure on Moldova by raising the specter of recognizing the breakaway Transdnestr region once Kosovo becomes independent. They are certain to fortify their military presence in Belarus and Kaliningrad, and they will lean heavily on the new Ukrainian government led by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to undermine the process of democratic reform and Western integration. In recent days, President Vladimir Putin has warned against Western influences in Ukraine and again raised the prospect of instability and disintegration.

The presidential election in March will not change official policy. Putin’s selected successor, Dmitry Medvedev will remain beholden to the KGB clique that controls the Kremlin. Moscow’s policy will remain assertive and aggressive toward the West.

The list of conflict points between Russia and the West expands almost every week. It now includes such contentious questions as the missile defense shield, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, ballistic missile accords, the role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO enlargement, energy security and even the ownership rights to the Arctic. Tensions also persist over Kremlin pressures on the three Baltic states and its escalating confrontation with London. It is not surprising that the EU and Russia have been unable to arrange a new partnership agreement.

The Putin leadership has deliberately created a sense of danger through its anti-Western rhetoric. It claims that the United States and its closest NATO allies, such as Britain and Poland, are seeking to encircle Russia and prevent the country from regaining its rightful position as a major global player. The expansion of Western alliances and the promotion of liberal democracies are depicted as direct threats to Russia’s interests.

In these testing circumstances, the U.S. presidential election in November will be a good time to decide which direction the United States is heading.

Among the priority items for the United States will be dealing with an expansionist Kremlin that is once again seeking to divide the Western alliance and diminish U.S. influence. The decision on Kosovo’s statehood will be an early indication of whether Washington is determined to stand by its principles and is capable of ensuring trans-Atlantic cohesion — even at the cost of exacerbating the inevitable confrontation with Russia.

Source: The St. Petersburg Times

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ukraine President Hails New Government's First Budget

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Sunday signed off on Ukraine's 2008 budget, which he hailed as proof that the country's razor-tight parliamentary majority was functioning effectively.

Viktor Yushchenko toasts Yulia Tymoshenko.

"This is the first serious result of cooperation between the president of Ukraine, the democratic parliamentary coalition and the new government," Yushchenko said in comments published on his website.

Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko secured passage of the budget through parliament on Friday, 10 days after being elected prime minister with one vote to spare in parliament.

Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc together secured a narrow majority of seats in September elections to unseat their Russia-backed rival Viktor Yanukovych from the prime minister's office.

Tymoshenko said a 2008 budget deficit of 18.5 billion hryvnias (3.66 billion dollars, 2.5 billion euros) would be financed in part by privatisations, the Interfax news agency reported.

The budget envisages income of 215.36 billion hryvnias (42.6 billion dollars, 29 billion euros) and expenses of 235.43 billion hryvnias (46.6 billion dollars, 31.7 billion euros), the news agency reported.

The budget is based on GDP growth of 6.8 percent and inflation of 9.6 percent, Interfax said.

Source: AFP

Viktor Yushchenko Shows Arresting Recovery As Poison Scars Fade

LONDON, United Kingdom -- Enduring Viktor Yushchenko is looking fresh-faced and recovered after the poison scandal that surrounded his gruelling election battle three years ago.

Road to recovery: Victor Yushchenko shows an arresting improvement after the haggering poison scandal that surrounded his election.

The President of Ukraine's face showed an impressive recovery from the disfigurement and scarring caused by dioxin poisoning in 2004.

Yuschenko long alleged he was poisoned as part of a plot to kill him.

But doctors only confirmed the suspicions after he lost the rigged November election when they found levels of dioxin 1,000 times higher than the norm.

The illness, which left Yuschenko's face bloated and pock-marked, kept him out of the early stages of the first election, which international observers said was marred with vote fraud.

But two months of massive protests and legal challenges saw Yuschenko sworn in as president of the Ukraine in January 2005.

Source: Evening Standard

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ukraine President Orders Speedy Closure Of Chernobyl Reactor

KIEV, Ukraine -- The president of Ukraine ordered Thursday the country's Emergency Situations Ministry to present him with a plan for the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant within 20 days.

The crumbling Chernobyl sarcophagus

In September Ukraine signed a contract with France's Novarka to build a cover over the damaged Chernobyl reactor, which exploded in 1986 in the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The country also signed a deal to build a "dry storage" facility for spent nuclear fuel on the site of the plant with U.S. company Holtec International.

"I must have a concrete plan for decommissioning the Chernobyl NPP within 20 days," Viktor Yushchenko said as he introduced new minister Volodymyr Shandru.

The president also said that the construction of the cover for NPP should be started in the first quarter of next year to avoid anymore delays.

The plant's reactor No. 4 has been protected by a concrete Soviet-designed "sarcophagus" since the disaster occurred 21 years ago.

The replacement of the crumbling structure, now long overdue, has been repeatedly put off due to funding difficulties.

On July 17 the Assembly of Chernobyl Shelter Fund Donors gave its approval for the deal with Novarka to build a steel cover over the reactor at a preliminary cost of 490 million euros (about $680 million).

The decision came after numerous delays since the organization, which comprises 28 countries including the G8 nations and is run by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), pledged in 2005 to allocate only $200 million for a new vault to contain the radioactive material still inside reactor No. 4.

In August EBRD signed a contract with the Ukrainian Ministry for Emergency Situations and a state company overseeing the plant, granting Ukraine 330 million euros (about $460 mln) to secure the damaged reactor.

The project is fraught with engineering difficulties, due to the high radiation threat. A huge steel vault, which will be constructed away from the reactor site, will then be slid into place on rails sealing the plant for 100 years, and further measures are expected to reduce the threat or remove the radioactive material from the plant.

Estimates by international bodies of the number of deaths caused by the world's worst nuclear disaster vary dramatically. Fifty-six people were reported to have been killed directly and another 4,000 to have died of thyroid cancer shortly after the accident.

Several million more are believed to have been exposed to different degrees of radiation.

Vast areas, mainly in the three ex-Soviet states, were contaminated by the fallout of the explosion. More than 300,000 people were relocated after the accident.

But 5 million people still live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine classified as "contaminated" with radioactive elements. An 18-mile zone around the reactor remains largely deserted to this day.

The amount of international aid to the affected territories is still to be calculated, but UN experts put the figure at hundreds of billions of dollars, some of which has been misappropriated.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev Played So Badly, Change Is Possible

KIEV, Ukraine -- The year 2007 was the season Ihor Surkis, the long- suffering president of the Dymnamo Kiev football side, finally got fed up. "I am sick and tired of spending money, and then more money, and not getting results," Surkis told News 24 in an interview. "Things are going to change ... and this time there will be no sacred cows."

Kiev Dynamo owner Ihor Surkis

An irate owner out for blood after having poured buckets of cash into his inept losing side may be unextraordinary in European football, but Surkis' open anger is revolutionary for Dynamo, an organization in many ways unchanged little since the glory days of the Soviet Union.

Once one of Europe's top sides, and the winningest team in Soviet history, Dynamo has hit on hard times of late, dropping game after game to domestic league outsiders, and, as of early December, on track to finish dead last in Champions League Group F.

During the 2006-7 Champions League campaign, Dynamo failed to win a single game in its group, managed only two draws, and allowed 16 goals to five netted. The last time Dynamo won a Champions League match was in 2004.

Domestically Dynamo's season start this year was the worst in the side's 80-year history.

Perenially in first or second place in the league table, as of the Ukrainian Professional League's winter break the club stood in a shameful third place, seven points adrift of the cross-country rival Donetsk Shakhtar.

Painfully, the league losses have come against sides with budgets one-fifth, and less, of Dyanmo's estimated 30-million-dollar a year price tab.

New player recruitment over the years has has been unimpressive, a mix of Latin Americans and Balkan legionnaires mostly, and few able to hold down an unchallenged starting position.

Management has even failed to get all the players to speak Russian - the Serbs and the Croats are willing but the Brazilians aren't.

Ukrainian sports media has had a field day this season reporting about a Dynamo divided into two camps: the Russian-speaking Slavs, and the Portuguese-speaking Brazilians.

"We need to look facts in the face, we are regressing," Surkis said. "And we have no other choice but to take radical steps."

The traditional solution to a side's woes - blame the coach - has not worked for Dynamo.

Since September 2007, Surkis has employed three head coaches; sacking one after a pair of Champions League defeats, only to see the November replacement bow out due to a heart problem.

Hiring a high-profile international head coach is theoretically possible, but difficult due to "chaos and confusion" within the Dynamo organization, making a top foreign coach cagey about taking over such a side, Surkis said in a Dynamomania interview.

This is why, Surkis has declared in recent weeks in television and newspapers, Dynamo players and management soon can expect nothing less than a Soviet-style purge.

"No-one is going to stay on because of what he did for the team in the past," Surkis told the GOL! Television programme. "I have not played football, but I have been the president for years and I have poured my heart and a lot of money into Dynamo ... the thing to ask now is, what can you do for the team in the future?"

Surkis and his energy tycoon brother Hryhory have financed Dynamo at a massive loss since 1994.

Their motivation, both have repeatedly declared, stems from respect of Dynamo's achievements in the 70s and 80s; when the side was a force in Europe, the Surkis brothers were proud Dynamo fans, and legendary Soviet coach Valery Lobanovsky was their hero.

Ukraine's leading Kommanda newspaper has reported frequently on resistance by Lobanovsky associates - assistant coaches, medical specialists, and even groundskeepers still on the Dynamo staff - to reforms suggested by Surkis.

"We need to move beyond Lobanovsky," Surkis was quoted by the authoritative Dynamomania web site as saying. "We can no longer live in the past, and keep wasting money ... and I will not tolerate people who do."

Already two AC Milan front office veterans have joined Dynamo: Revaz Chokhonelidze as the Ukrainian side's new general manager and Vincenzo Pincolini as sporting director.

The hires are unprecedented for Dynamo, which routinely employs foreign players, but up to now never has had on salary a foreign coach or staff member.

"Some (of my employees) may not like the changes that are coming," Surkis said. "But like it or not, they are coming."

Source: DPA

Ukraine Parliament Approves 2008 Budget

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's sharply-divided parliament overcame a critical financial and political hurdle on Friday to pass into law the 2008 government budget.

The polarised house voted 235 out of 450 in favour of increased government assistance to low-income families, reduced tax load on small business, and additional collections from big business.

Ukrainian pro-reform forces won a razor-thin 228-member majority in September elections. The budget vote was a critical test for the two-party coalition's ability to hold a key parliament vote without defections.

The bill obtained out-of-coalition support from eight Communist deputies who deserted party ranks to support the Europe-oriented funding package.

The budget calls for some 42 billion dollars of government collections during 2008, some 46 billion dollars of expenditures, and a deficit of some 4 billion dollars.

All three figures are increases, by between 18 and 36 per cent, over an earlier version of the 2008 budget passed by the previous parliament. The new ruling majority castigated the old budget as promoting the interests of big business at the expense of average Ukrainians.

The present opposition has criticised the new budget bill for its free-spending and wild optimism about Ukraine's 2008 economic performance, given 14-15 per cent inflation during 2007, and the budget's planned 9 per cent inflation figure.

The biggest-ticket spending item is a programme to return to Ukrainian bank depositors some 4 billion dollars in savings lost when the Soviet Union broke up. Critics have questioned whether money can be found to fund the project.

Overall planned GDP growth may also be pitched too high, with the budget projecting a healthy 6.8 per cent expansion, as the country's steel and chemical sectors face record high energy bills and flattening world markets.

A key concession to the Communists, and defeat for reformers, was a delay to President Viktor Yushchenko's plan to make land a legally-traded commodity in the former Soviet republic.

The budget bill, now law, placed Ukrainian land reform on hold until further legislation is passed creating a national land register and legal codes regulating land sales - conditions believed by observers to add years of practical delay to actual land sales.

Most land in Ukraine may not be bought or sold, a situation popular with villagers worried about losing their livelihood, and with Ukrainian businessmen lucky enough to own some of the land that is traded.

The budget bill in addition delayed the imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) to agricultural businesses - a vote-getting move popular in Ukraine's provinces, but at odds with Yushchenko's announced intention to put Ukraine's economy on line with European Union and World Trade Organization (WTO) standards.

The farmer tax break will remain in effect until such time Ukraine joins the World Trade Organization (WTO). Ukraine has repeatedly announced its readiness to join the WTO, only to stumble because of failure to remove blocks which are popular at home, most often with farmers or big business.

Source: DPA

Open Border Worse For Non-EU Citizens

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The expansion on 21 December of the Schengen border-free zone is great news for the citizens and residents of the European Union's new member states.

The Schengen town on the borders of Luxembourg, Germany and France. The three borders cross each other in the middle of the central square of the town.

For other Europeans, however, it means that the wall dividing them from their lucky EU neighbors will become even higher and more difficult to climb.

Despite some efforts to soften the impact of the new rules, the changes will make EU visas even more expensive and complicated to obtain for the vast majority of people from Eastern Europe, the western Balkans, and Central Asia.

Of the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004, all but divided Cyprus are now incorporated fully into the Schengen area, which abolishes systematic border controls between participating countries and includes provisions for the harmonization of external border controls and a common "Schengen visa."

Ordinary citizens of the new Schengen members will no longer have to queue to have their passports examined at border checkpoints when traveling within the area. The change will improve the shipment of goods within the EU significantly, as lorry drivers will no longer face long delays.

Last but not least, the expansion of Schengen is a politically salient step toward the completion of the EU enlargement process. It will abolish the tacit division between "first class" and "second class" membership.

Schengen expansion, just like the signing of the Lisbon Treaty earlier in December, shows that the EU is emerging from the doldrums following the French and Dutch referenda on the EU constitutional treaty in 2005.

Likewise, the results of the recent Polish elections, in which the voters swept away an EU skeptic and his populist ruling coalition and replaced it with a pro-EU government, suggest that contrary to the "enlargement fatigue" lingering in old member states, the enlarged EU does work.


Unfortunately, things do not look so bright from the other side of the newly beefed-up EU borders. Citizens of countries outside the new Schengen zone must now meet more stringent criteria to travel to neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic republics. And they will pay more to boot, because last year the EU raised the price of a standard Schengen visa from 35 to 60 euros.

This decision was justified by the costs of the updated Schengen database of criminal records. In short, non-EU citizens have been forced to contribute to the maintenance of a system the purpose of which is to weed out undesirable visa applicants from among them.

To make the changes more palatable, the EU has negotiated special agreements with Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and western Balkan countries. These agreements provide for similar visa procedures among Schengen members' embassies, simplified application procedures, and lower visa fees.

In some countries, the fee is waived for certain groups. Even then, for ordinary Ukrainians traveling to Poland, Slovakia, or the Czech Republic, who until now have obtained visas free of charge, this will be a change for the worse.

The citizens of other countries will have to bear the full visa costs. For example, the hapless citizens of Belarus will have to pay about one-third of their average monthly salaries in order to visit neighboring Poland or Lithuania, doubtless to the delight of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a tyrant who thrives on his people's isolation.


What can be done? EU policy-makers are careful to draw a line between visa facilitation and visa liberalization -- namely, visa-free travel. Until now, Brussels has been willing to discuss only the former.

The EU should adopt and make public a set of common standards for visa applicants, as has been proposed by the European Commission. The new standards should ensure that visa procedures are not humiliating to applicants. Nowadays, even the people who obtain visas often feel shamed by the arbitrary decisions of clerks asking personal questions and assuming "evil intentions" on the part of the applicants.

Research has shown that a number of EU consulates apply discriminatory criteria toward certain groups of applicants, such as young women, who in some consulates in Ukraine have visa-refusal rates in excess of 80 percent.

Common standards should define clearly the situations in which a visa can be refused and provide for a right of appeal. The standards' application, along with the implementation of the visa-facilitation agreements, should be monitored regularly by the Commission and by independent watchdog organizations.

Consular services should be more accessible to applicants. Part of the solution should be to expand the use of the Internet for making appointments and submitting application documents online.

No one should be obliged to pay more than one visit to a consulate, nor to pay supplementary fees to the new sub-contracted agencies now mandated to process Schengen visa applications in Ukraine.

A big step toward visa facilitation could be achieved through consular cooperation among EU member states, whereby a country with consular departments on the ground could undertake to service applicants wishing to travel to any other Schengen member.

One such initiative is already underway: the Hungarian consulate in Moldova will be empowered to issue visas for Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Estonia, and Slovenia.

A single EU visa-issuing center is also planned for Serbia, and this solution should be emulated elsewhere. It would make a vast difference, filling the gaps in national consular networks and setting high service standards.

Yet making visas easier to obtain is not enough. It is high time to put the question of lifting visa requirements on the agenda of the "enhanced" European Neighborhood Policy for Eastern Europe, which was launched by the German EU presidency in the first half of 2007.

Roadmaps should be drawn in partnership with interested "neighbors" and the western Balkans, setting out clear conditions that the countries have to meet in order to have visas abolished.

It is worth remembering that the Central European countries that overthrew communism in 1989 had to wait no more than two years before their citizens were free to travel to Western Europe without visas. Surely the EU in 2008 could extend similar generosity to its current neighbors in Eastern Europe and the western Balkans.

The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty should provide an ideal opportunity to end the period of EU "navel gazing" and allow EU policy-makers to review their visa policies systematically, giving more emphasis to external relations considerations than to internal security obsessions, and sending a clear welcoming signal towards the Schengen neighbors.

Source: Business Week

Friday, December 28, 2007

Yushchenko Against Making Russian The 2nd State Language

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko opposes assigning the state language status to the Russian language. Yushchenko made the respective statement during the news conference held in Kiev on Thursday.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Kiev December 27, 2007.

Asked by reporter how he would vote on the referendum for making Russian the second state language, the president said: “I would vote ‘no’ of course, as I refer myself to the citizens that respect provisions of the current Constitution, which spells out that there is a single state language in Ukraine and this language is Ukrainian.”

“Every state and every nation acts accordingly,” Yushchenko pointed out.

At the same time, Yushchenko emphasized that, in Ukraine, they respect the rights of all national minorities, the principles of the European Charter for regional languages and for languages of national minorities.

The country pursues a liberal language policy that corresponds to Europe’s standards, the president assured.

Source: Kommersant

Putin’s Soft Spot

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a letter to President Viktor Yushchenko just as Putin was being unveiled as Time magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year.

Basking in the glory of international recognition, Putin reminded Yushchenko that the Kremlin is upset with the way Ukraine is treating its common history with Russia.

In the Time magazine interview, Putin foretold Ukraine’s destruction because Washington categorizes Ukraine’s elites as either “pro-American” or “pro-Russian.”

Putin called this a mistake, claiming “all of them have to be Ukrainian nationalists in the positive sense of the term.” “Everything that took place” since the Orange Revolution was in violation of the Constitution, Putin said.

Putin said 17 million Ukrainian citizens are ethnic Russians, when the reality is that 7.8 million, not the 38 percent that he alleged, claim Russian heritage.

Revealing chauvinism, he said “almost 100 percent” of Ukrainians consider Russian their native language. He might as well have declared Ukrainian a dead language.

However, in his letter to Yushchenko, Putin betrayed a significant soft spot in the Kremlin’s quest to keep Ukraine obedient. He left out an issue that the Kremlin has consistently hammered at earlier; namely, referring to the Holodomor as genocide against Ukrainians.

Apparently, Putin preferred not to mention the issue in his letter as one belonging to a “common history.”

Rather than lecturing Ukrainians, Putin might lead Russians by taking Kyiv’s example and declassifying Soviet archives. Russia claims that famine was forced upon its people as well. But how?

The outside world, and more importantly, the Russian people, will not know until the archives are open.

Western policymakers, like Time magazine, should call upon Putin to open up the archives of the Soviet secret police that he served and headed.

This should be a condition of Russia’s G-8 membership. In doing so in 2008, Putin has every chance of retaining his most important person status, and this time, for all the right reasons.

Source: Kyiv Post

Regions Boss Gets Security Post

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko surprised critics and allies this week when he appointed opposition leader Raisa Bohatyryova to a top government post in what is widely viewed as an attempt to stabilize the post-election environment in Ukraine.

President Viktor Yushchenko delivered a double blow against his political rivals by appointing Party of Regions leader Raisa Bohatyryova to the post of National Security and Defense Council.

Appointing Bohatyryova, a leader of the Party of Regions of Ukraine (PRU), to secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) will help foster stable relations between the president and Rinat Akhmetov, Bohatyryova’s close ally and Ukraine’s biggest industrial magnate, observers said.

“This is the president’s team drawing closer to the constructive, moderate wing of the PRU led by Akhemtov and Bohatyryova,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, chairman of the Kyiv-based Penta Center for Applied Political Research.

The Dec. 24 presidential decree appointing Bohatyryova as NSDC secretary, which coordinates key security organs, caught the PRU’s leadership off guard and resulted in the first time an internal PRU conflict spilled into the public eye, he said.

Regional differences

The following day, the presidium of the PRU’s political council opposed Bohatyryova’s appointment and told her to choose between the party and the post.

“She can make this decision as an individual undoubtedly, but I believe her activity as a politician will cease,” PRU leader and former prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych said.

Bohatyryova did not make an official statement explaining why she accepted the job, but was present at the Dec. 26 Cabinet of Ministers meeting where the president officially presented her.

The appointment was likely coordinated by Presidential Secretariat Head Viktor Baloha and PRU member Borys Kolesnikov, the right-hand men of the president and Akhmetov respectively, Fesenko said.

The political insider said Kolesnikov was initially considered for the post, but the presidential secretariat determined his presence would be too controversial.

Today a member of parliament, Kolesnikov was arrested in 2005, when he was Donetsk Region Council Chair, and accused of crimes in Donetsk while acquiring his enormous wealth, estimated at more than $500 million. The charges were subsequently dropped.

The Bohatyryova appointment took Kyiv by surprise, causing various theories to circulate why she was offered the post and why she accepted it.

Her close contact with the presidential secretariat will provide Akhmetov with access to the president’s policymaking, Fesenko said, to defend his massive business interests.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko re-privatized the Kryvorizhstal steel mill, partly owned by Akhmetov, in her first term as prime minister in 2005 and said she would review Akhmetov’s late August purchase of a controlling stake in Dniproenergo, Ukraine’s largest electricity producer, according to Fesenko.

“This is insurance against possible raids by Tymoshenko’s government on Akhemetov’s business,” he said.

Akhmetov and Bohatyryova are also flexing their muscles within the PRU, demonstrating to Yanukovych’s team that their wing’s concerns must be taken into account, observers said.

Bohatyryova grew tired of looming in the shadows of other PRU leaders without being offered any government posts with influence, other observers said.

Her last major post was as Minister of Health in the late 1990s during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma.

Born in the Russian Federation and educated as a gynecologist in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Bohatyryova is a veteran of eastern Ukrainian politics and among the PRU’s most popular figures.

In her rise to success, she perfected her Ukrainian language, lost weight and adopted a telegenic image. On one occasion, she told journalists that she regained youthful good lucks by quitting smoking, coffee and alcohol.

Counterweight to Tymoshenko

From the president’s point of view, appointing Bohatyryova is a way to ensure stability following political crisis, Fesenko said.

Not everyone agrees.

Andriy Yermolayev, a Kyiv political analyst affiliated with the PRU, accused Yushchenko of inflaming political intrigues by making a political decision regarding what is largely a bureaucratic post.

Yushchenko has used the NSDC post as a means to check the prime minister’s influence in the past, observers said.

During Tymoshenko’s first term, Yushchenko appointed his close advisor Petro Poroshenko to the post, which set the stage for a vicious power struggle that ultimately caused the demise of the first Orange government.

The president may be looking to create a buffer once again, observers said.

“The president is practically creating a certain counterbalance against Yulia Tymoshenko and will try to weaken the Tymoshenko government by introducing Donetsk players into the game,” said Kost Bondarenko of the Kyiv-based Gorshenin Institute of Management.

Tymoshenko told reporters it’s solely the president’s prerogative to appoint the NSDC secretary and she looked forward to working with any appointments.

The NSDC chair is not an exceptionally stable post, with six politicians having served during Yushchenko’s three years as president. None have served longer than nine months.

When created, the NSDC was tailored as the Ukrainian government’s version of the US government’s National Security Council.

NSDC members include ministers and heads of the so-called power ministries and agencies. Yushchenko expanded the council to include the heads of regional state administrations – the so-called “oblast governors” that are appointed by the head of state.

Appointments continue

Other key government posts were filled this week.

Mega-millionaire banker and Tymoshenko ally Serhiy Buryak will lead the State Tax Administration, while media magnate Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy will chair the State Customs Service.

Presidential ally and former Zaporizhya Region administration head Yevhen Chervonenko said Dec. 24 he was offered a deputy prime minister post in Tymoshenko’s cabinet to oversee preparations for Euro2012. His nomination needs the parliament’s approval.

Other key posts remain to be filled at the state committee level, including the State Committee for Radio and Television Broadcasting.

“Society will have to monitor not only Yanukovych’s oligarchs, but those of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko as well,” Fesenko said.

Source: Kyiv Post

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ukraine Parliament Holds Minute Silence At Bhutto Killing

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday opened its afternoon session with a minute of silence to condemn the killing of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Yulia Tymoshenko (L) and Benazir Bhutto (R).

The former Soviet republic's legislature "wished to extend its condolences to the family of the deceased (Bhutto), and to the Pakistani people for their loss," said Arseny Yatseniuk, parliament speaker.

The Kiev reaction coming less than an hour after Bhutto's death was remarkably rapid by the normal standards of Ukrainian officialdom, which traditionally waits a day or more to issue regrets over the death of a foreign leaders.

Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's newly-elected Prime Minister, has been seen by many observers as similar to Bhutto for coming to political prominence as a woman criticising corrupt government.

Source: DPA

Yulia Rated ‘07 Person Of The Year

KIEV, Ukraine -- Newly elected Premier Yulia Tymoshenko was selected “Personality of the Year” by Korrespondent magazine. The fiery 47-year-old won the rating for the second time for “impacting events the most in Ukraine” said Vitaliy Sych, the magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Premier Yulia Tymoshenko was ranked Person of the Year by Korrespondent magazine for the impact she made on the country in 2007.

The Post’s sister publication printed its sixth annual rating in its Dec. 22 issue.

“She convinced the president, for the first time in independent Ukraine’s history, to dismiss the parliament and hold early elections,” according to the magazine.

Korrespondent’s editors and journalists named 10 people who “astonished or shocked Ukraine” in the past year. Ten non-Ukrainians were also selected, with Russian President Vladimir Putin earning the “Tsar of the Year” designation.

“I think Yulia is probably the most charismatic female politician in the world right now,” said Ilko Kucheriv, director of the Democratic Initiatives think tank based in Kyiv.

“She’s also an excellent organizer. Two months prior to the most recent parliamentary elections, her party Byut and [the pro-presidential] Our Ukraine were head-to-head with 17-18 percent ratings. Tymoshenko nearly doubled those figures on election day.”

Superhuman powers

The magazine attributed its choice to Tymoshenko’s “superhuman persistence in achieving goals” and her ability “to combine things others are incapable of doing.”

One example the weekly cited is Tymoshenko’s extraordinary ability to live in a $4 million dollar residence in an elite Kyiv suburb and satisfy her penchant for Louis Vuitton apparel and accessories on a modest income.

According to her income statement, she earned only $30,000 last year and does not actually own the high-end property where she resides. At the same time, she promises to adamantly fight corruption.

“When publications name persons of the year, they don’t necessarily conduct them as popularity contests and they are not positive figures all the time,” explained Mykhailo Mischenko, deputy director of sociological services at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center.

Previous winners

Selection criteria for “Personality of the Year” have remained the same from the outset: editorial staff takes into consideration the quantity and magnitude of events surrounding certain politicians, officials, businessmen and cultural figures.

Tymoshenko first won the nomination in 2005, shortly after her government was dismissed. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz was deemed the most influential personality in 2006 after he joined the Communist Party and Party of the Regions to form the anti-Orange “Anti-crisis Coalition.”

President Viktor Yushchenko was named in 2004, the year the Orange Revolution swept him into the presidency. In 2003 the honor went to two Viktors: Medvedchuk (then head of the Presidential Administration) and Yushchenko.

In 2002, the first year Korrespondent conducted the rating, President Leonid Kuchma was deemed to have the greatest impact on the country.

A close second

“This was the first year we truly wanted to name somebody other than a politician. Hryhoriy Surkis, the president of the Football Federation of Ukraine, came in a close second for single-handedly bringing the 2012 UEFA European Soccer Championship to Ukraine,” Sych said.

“But Tymoshenko tipped the scales because of her role in turning the political situation in the country head over heels within the course of a few months,” Sych added. Instead, Surkis was named “Winner of the Year.”

The good, the bad and the ugly

Korrespondent also awarded laurels and darts to Presidential Secretariat Head Viktor Baloha, Kyiv city council secretary Oles Dovhiy, Byut billionaire Konstantin Zhevago, former parliament ary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, footballer Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, recently elected Rada speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk, Ukraine’s 2007 entry for the Eurovision Song Contest Andriy Danylko (known better by his female stage name of Virka Serdiuchka), Kharkiv Mayor Mykhailo Dobkin and rich kid Serhiy Kalynovskiy, whose mother recently divorced billionaire Dmytri Firtash, a co-owner of the Rosukrenergo natural gas trader.

Kalynovskiy was included in the rating as the “Lawbreaker of the Year” because he disappeared from Ukraine after two people died in a car crash he allegedly caused. Interpol is still looking for him.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kyiv Mayor: Yushchenko Supports Me

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskiy appeared happy and nervous when he threw the switch to light “the tallest Christmas tree in the CIS” on the Maidan last weekend.

Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskiy.

Happy, because he believes he will ring in the New Year enjoying support from President Viktor Yushchenko, but nervous because his ouster is on next year’s political agenda of Premier Yulia Tymoshenko, her Byut and other political parties.

The forces seeking an early end to Chernovetskiy’s term in office include parties and politicians that formed the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc for the last elections.

But some Our Ukraine members on the Kyiv City Council have sided with the pro-Chernovetskiy majority on voting through land deals over the course of the year.

Opposition politicians charge that under “Lyonya Cosmos” more that 4,000 hectares of real estate was doled during 2007. (“Lyonya” is the diminutive form of Leonid and “cosmos” refers to the mayor’s often glassy-eyed gaze.)

300,000 signatures

Byut began a signature collection campaign at the end of November to hold a referendum on early mayoral and Kyiv city council elections. Kyiv city officials were elected for a four-year term more than a year-and-a-half ago in March 2006.

Four weeks on, organizers claim to have collected more than 300,000 signatures through a network of 70 canopy tents set up around the capital. Meanwhile, city officials have resorted to force to remove tents from in front of city hall.

On Nov. 29, activists from the Kyiv Byut and Civic Pora organizations attempted to erect the pole-assembled tents in front of city hall.

But four of the temporary structures, a diesel generator and sound equipment worth Hr 20,000 ($4,000), were forcefully disassembled and whisked away in a van by a dozen men in black leather coats while police stood by watching, said Ihor Kozik, a leader of Civic Pora, also known as “Raspberry Pora.”

“Kyiv police have not responded to our criminal complaint and we’ve been told to not expect to get our property back,” he said.

Four weeks later, protesters were subject to violence of the audio kind. On Dec. 20, city officials cordoned the steps to city hall with militia and blocked the broad sidewalk on Kyiv’s central street, Khreshchatyk, with diesel-fuming snow-removal trucks.

Another truck mounted with four giant speakers was positioned to assault demonstrators and passersby with hundreds of decibels of eardrum-busting Ukrainian pop music about how beautiful Kyiv is as a city. The gathered crowd quickly dispersed.

Oleksandr Tarasiuk, a Pora leader, had to wait for breaks in the music to shout, “Chernovetskiy should be sitting in trial!” and “President Yushchenko does not support you!”

He crossed onto the other side of Khreshchatyk to continue yelling epitaphs at the mayor via cordless microphone. “This is democracy and freedom of speech Chernovetskiy-style” Tarasiuk complained.

Mayoral revote?

A poll conducted from late October to the first week of November found that 46 percent of the capital’s residents support the idea of early mayoral election.

The joint Democratic Initiatives-Ukrainian Sociology Service survey of 1,500 adult Kyivans showed 31 percent are opposed to the idea, while 25 percent were undecided about the prospect of cutting Chernovetskiy’s term off.

In the poll, more than half (53 percent) gave Chernovetskiy a negative and “primarily negative” grade.

Poll results presented last month by the Gorshenin Institute of Management confirmed that the majority of Kyivans did not feel the mayor was doing a good job.

Institute director Kost Bondarenko said that more than 60 percent disapproved of the mayor. Chernovetskiy topped the list of eight national politicians who evoked negative responses from the golden-domed city’s residents.

Only 3 percent felt that Chernovetskiy was doing an excellent job and only 4.3 percent said their financial status had improved over the course of the last year.

“Those are probably all workers of Kyiv city hall and administration,” quipped Bondarenko at a Dec. 3 press conference.

Yet the same poll showed that Chernovetskiy would benefit from a vote split among his political opponents and come out on top in a mayoral race, with 18.8 percent of support.

He would have beat out former sexagenarian Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, who placed well within the 3.2 percent margin of error with 17.3 percent.

Bondarenko described the “the Chernovestkiy phenomenon:” Despite the lowest approval rating, the mayor would win a first-past-the-post mayoral race by garnering more votes than the number split among four candidates, including Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, Omelchenko and Vitaliy Klitschko.

“If there were two rounds of elections, then Chernovetskiy would lose,” Bondarenko said.

The greatest number of voters – more than 30 percent – were undecided in last month’s poll.

Fate in president’s hands

“I don’t believe in pre-term Kyiv elections. The soonest they can happen is one to one-and-a-half years,” said Bondarenko.

He said that according to law, Chernovestkiy must himself agree to a referendum on pre-term elections.

Bondarenko confirmed that Chernovestkiy’s relationship with the president had improved.

“All pretensions fell [in late November], but it’s situational and depends on Yushchenko’s mood. He dismissed the Rada, why not the mayor? It all depends on what leg President Viktor Yushchenko gets up on,” said Bondarenko.

Meanwhile, the anti-Chernovetskiy protesters were upset by the mayor’s repeated claims that he enjoys the president’s full support.

They demonstrated before the presidential secretariat on Dec. 19, demanding Yushchenko either confirm or deny his support of Chernovetskiy.

But the mayor remains the main object of their protest.

“We’ll be here every Thursday until the job is done,” Kozik said before echoing Our Ukraine’s recent campaign slogan, “If the law should truly to be one for all.”

Source: Kyiv Post

Former Ukraine Coach Blokhin Offers Shevchenko FC Moscow Lifeboat

LONDON, England -- Oleg Blokhin is bidding to end Andriy Shevchenko's woe at Chelsea and take him to Russia. The former Ukrainian coach is now in charge at FC Moscow.

Shevchenko celebrates a rare Chelsea goal.

And he wants Sheva, despite the £30 million ($59.5 million) striker scoring just six Premier League goals in 18 months at Stamford Bridge.

Blokhin told the Sun: "We need at least one pacy forward. I'd love to see Andriy Shevchenko here.

"We worked together successfully with the Ukrainian national team.

"Not everything is going right for him in England but a player of his class would strengthen any team."

Sheva's £130,000 ($257,714) a week wage could be a problem.

Source: Evening Standard

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ukreximbank Debuts New York Office; First Ukraine Bank To Open In U.S.

NEW YORK, USA -- Ukreximbank, the State Export-Import Bank of Ukraine, is opening a representative trade office in New York.

Ukreximbank headquarters in Kiev

One of the most profitable operators in the Ukrainian banking market, Ukreximbank is the country’s leader in trade finance, servicing a large proportion of Ukraine’s export-import activities. Its debut marks the first Ukrainian bank to open its doors for business in the U.S.

Ukraine has experienced impressive economic growth since the Orange Revolution in 2004 largely due to efficiency increases in its economy, a skilled labor force, and an increased foreign investment.

Much of that investment has focused on Ukraine’s rapidly growing banking sector, in which shares of foreign assets have nearly doubled in the past three years alone.

Ukreximbank is a multi-purpose crediting financial institution established with 100% state capital. It is one of the largest banks in Ukraine, with branches in all regions and all major cities of the country.

Ukreximbank holds one of the highest ratings from Fitch Ratings and Moody’s among Ukrainian banks. Earlier this year, Standard & Poor’s named it ‘most transparent bank in Ukraine’ for the second year in a row.

This recognition, along with an impressive list of partner institutions including The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, The World Bank, the Ukrainian government, and Mastercard International INC., contributed to Ukreximbank receiving official approval from the US Federal Reserve to establish a representative office in New York.

“Ukreximbank’s New York office will focus on strengthening the bank’s position in the US market, promoting the interests of Ukrainian companies that export to the U.S. and world markets, and will contribute to the strengthening of Ukraine-US cooperation,” said Ukreximbank Chairman of the Board Viktor Kapustin.

Mr. Kapustin added that the U.S. opening signified a new level of global recognition of the progress made by Ukrainian finance and banking institutions generally.

Source: PR-USA Net

Christmas 1948: Lessons In Freedom, Poverty And `The Bigger World'

KALAMAZOO, USA -- In 1948, when Ben Ciuffa was a third-grader in Herkimer, N.Y., he joined his classmates in teasing and laughing at three new kids from the Ukraine, especially one named Zenon Bagan.

But over time, the taunting lessened, and during a visit to Zenon's home before the approaching Christmas holidays, Ciuffa began to appreciate the years-long journey the boy and his family had made and the few possessions they had.

``The Salvation Army gave them a Christmas tree. It was 2-foot, all twig, with an ornament, and I felt so bad'' for Zenon and his family, the 67-year-old Ciuffa, who now lives in Kalamazoo Township, said via telephone last week from his travels in El Salvador.

After seeing that tree, the younger Ciuffa told his mother, ``I don't care what I get for Christmas.''

But while young Ben was feeling sorry for the Bagans, they were apparently feeling anything but sadness -- they were finally able to put down roots after spending most of Zenon's young life living under repressive Communist rule in their native Ukraine and then trying to escape the invading Nazi army.

The Nazis had targeted Ukrainians for killing, and Zenon's father was a Cossack, a horse soldier, and would likely have been a prime target.

In a letter to the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette that was published Dec. 17, Ciuffa wrote about how, as a result of meeting Bagan and his family, he learned that ``the world was bigger than my small town and how lucky we were to have the freedom to enjoy the magic of Christmas.''

Lasting Influence

In an interview last week, Ciuffa said that was he saw and learned about the Bagans - a Greek Orthodoc family - influences how he lives his life today and how he views Christmas.

"Absolutely - and I am not a religious person that way," Ciuffa said. "What happened was I realized that (certain Christians) are very, very joyous with Christmas. It's the joy of Christmas and not the toys."

And it was understanding what the Bagans were fleeing and their appreciation for life's smaller things that led Ciuffa to empathize with current-day El Salvadorans and the issues they face as well as the immigration issues facing many Hispanics.

Ciuffa made his first trip to El Salvador in 1999 with a group from St. Thomas More Church and is now there taking photographs to generate interest in raising funds for some of the area's young people to attend school. He also visited the country in 2003 and 2004.

Ciuffa and Bagan last saw each other about 10 years ago at the wedding of one of Bagan's daughters. They had remained good friends throughout their school years and graduated together from high school in Herkimer in 1958.

Ciuffa moved to the Kalamazoo area in 1982 after his 11-year-old son died in a bicycle accident. Bagan moved to the Detroit area and spent 35 years teaching before retiring in 1999.

A Five-Year Journey

In a phone interview last week, Bagan recounted some of his family's early struggles that made such an impression on Ciuffa.

He said that it was after about five years of crossing Europe by foot, train and horse-and-buggy that he, his two sisters and their parents finally found a safe haven in the late 1940s in Herkimer, N.Y., a city halfway between Syracuse and Albany.

Bagan said he remembers arriving with his parents and two sisters in Vienna, Austria, one Christmas , although he acknowledges his memory isn't entirely clear because of his young age at the time.

As in another well-known story, the family was not able to find a place to rest. Then a Viennese farmer offered the family a barn or cottage where animals were housed.

Bagan's sisters went door-to-door, knocking and begging for food for the family.

``(They) kept asking people for bread because we didn't have anything to eat,'' Bagan said. ``World War II was still raging, and the Allies wanted to end the war, so they bombed day and night. They didn't know who was below them, whether they were Russian, Ukrainian, Polish. ... We had no home, actually. We were just wandering around Europe.''

The family made its way to one of Europe's many displaced-persons camps, this one in Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany, and eventually they traveled with hundreds of other Eastern European refugees aboard a U.S. military ship to the United States.

Bagan figures they were on the ship for about nine days as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. They were expecting to go work for five years for a Pennsylvania farmer, but while disembarking from the ship at New York's Ellis Island, they were recognized by relatives already living in the United States and taken in by them.

``America to us was like a paradise,'' Bagan said. ``We couldn't believe how people lived and the rights they had and the food, my goodness.''

Touched By Friendship

Bagan said he is touched that Ciuffa remembers their 1948 Christmas and his family's struggles and that he shared the story with Gazette readers. He also said he is thankful for the friendship and understanding that Ciuffa extended to him in those early years.

``Ben was interested in people, and I felt he was interested in what I had to say and what I did.''

And, as Ciuffa recalls, the impact of what he learned from his interest in Bagan has lasted for nearly 60 years.

Source: The Kalamazoo Gazette

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ukraine Says Foreign Films Must Be Dubbed In Ukrainian

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian court Monday banned the screening or distribution of any foreign films which are not dubbed or sub-titled in the national language, following a campaign against movies translated into Russian.

Ukrainian movie star Milla Jovovich

The constitutional court said foreign films would not be aired or distributed if "they are not dubbed or post-synchronized or do not have the captioning data in the state language."

The move follows a campaign by the Ukrainian public movement Varto! calling for a boycott of foreign films dubbed in Russian or carrying Russian sub-titles.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with 47 million inhabitants, is split over the language issue.

Almost 42 percent of 1,800 people questioned in a poll say Ukrainian should be the only state language, whereas 30 percent want Russian to be also declared an official language, according to a poll released Monday.

Source: AFP

Yulia Tymoshenko Takes Ukraine In Her Iron Hands

MOSCOW, Russia -- Yulia Tymoshenko, the new Prime Minister of Ukraine, has launched her large-scale activities from the very first day of her stay in the office. It is obvious that everything that the lady is doing now is connected with the pre-election campaign, which is set to start in Ukraine in at the end of 2009.

The "Iron Lady" Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the “iron lady of Ukraine” is determined to become Ukraine’s next president. The biography of the prime minister and the first steps that she takes of the position which she takes for the second time show that the president’s office is her primary goal.

To begin with, Tymoshenko decided to clear the power of corruption. “We start the power-cleansing process. I will do everything not to let dirty shadow money become the key factor of the Ukrainian politics, so that it could no longer buy deputies like cattle on a marketplace, so that no other politician would be eager to easily earn tens of millions,” Tymoshenko stated during her televised address to the nation.

In just several days Tymoshenko has managed to shake the Ministry of Finance and replace more than a half of ministerial deputies there. Ukraine’s national oil and gas corporation – Naftogaz - will be the lady’s next goal. She has already specified her stance on the energy matter: there should be no mediators between Ukraine and Russia on the natural gas market.

“My position remains unchanged: there should be no mediators on the gas market. There is Nftogaz of Ukraine, which we will return to its normal financial state,” Tymoshenko said.

It is worthy of note that Ukraine’s Naftogaz is rumoured to be on the edge of bankruptcy.

Tymoshenko’s predecessor on the position of the Ukrainian prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, who enjoys highest popularity ratings in the country, stated that his opposition party, the Party of Regions, will not let resignations be based on political motives. The party, Yanukovich added, will continue to cooperate with the power.

It is worthy of note that over 18,000 officials were fired from their positions in Ukraine in the beginning of 2005, when Viktor Yushchenko became elected president of the country. Viktor Yanukovich threatens to organize massive riots in the country not to let history repeat itself.

Yulia Tymoshenko decided to make her first visit as the new prime minister to the Donetsk region of Ukraine, where Yanukovich once took the position of the governor and where he still enjoys high popularity. In Donetsk, Tymoshenko met with families of miners who had been killed in Ukraine’s recent coal mine explosion. She promised to set up a new governmental committee to investigate Ukraine’s worst mine disaster in decades.

Tymoshenko has already managed to meet with Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and have phone conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney.

At the same time, the iron lady has taken a variety of other issues under her personal control. One of them is connected with the investigation of Yuri Tashenko’s death (a private of the Ukrainian Armed Forces). The issue of army hazing is another trump card for Tymoshenko in her initiative to introduce the contractual basis in the Ukrainian army.

Source: Pravda

European Border-Controls Cause Traffic Jams

KIEV, Ukraine -- Nine, mainly Eastern European EU member states, have loosened some border controls, but the measures have caused remaining border posts to be inundated with cars.

Ukraine border with Poland.

Most of the bottleneck has occured at the Ukrainian border.

Cars travelling through the passport-free Schengen zone are able to reach Ukraine far more quickly now, as they do not have to stop at other border control posts.

The passport-free zone means that vehicles arrive at the Ukrainian border en masse.

Passport controls and inspections at all the new Schengen borders have been significantly tightened and rigorous searches for people smugglers have been taking place.

This process has led to traffic jams of several kilometres at the border crossing between Ukraine and new Schengen countries of Poland and Hungary.

At one stage, the waiting time at the Polish-Ukrainian border lengthened to 30 hours.

Most of the vehicles waiting to cross the border have been cargo laden trucks.

Source: Calcutta News

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ukraine PM Has Goodwill

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia Tymoshenko, the newly appointed prime minister of Ukraine, has pledged that her pro-western governing coalition will seek to "harmonise" relations with Moscow.

Dmitri Medvedev, the presidential favourite backed by Vladimir Putin.

Many observers expected the charismatic 47-year old, who was appointed last week, to shake up bilateral relations between Kiev and Moscow. Relations between the countries have been strained since the Orange Revolution of 2004.

The trigger, many thought, would be her plans to cut intermediaries out of the multi-billion-dollar natural gas trade between Ukraine, Russia and central Asian suppliers.

However, in a Financial Times interview, Ms Tymoshenko expressed confidence that the Kremlin was ready to adopt a more transparent gas supply arrangement with Kiev, whose vast pipeline system pumps the majority of Russian supplies to Europe.

As proof, she pointed to public comments made on the issue in recent months by Dmitri Medvedev, the presidential favourite backed by Vladimir Putin, Russia's outgoing president.

"The leading presidential candidate in Russia, Mr Medvedev, publicly said that the Russian side is not set on any shadowy intermediaries. He said that they are ready to do away with these intermediaries," she said.

At stake is the position of Swiss-registered company RosUkrEnergo, which controls the supply of central Asian gas to Ukraine and significant sales to European markets. The company is owned equally by Russian gas group Gazprom and two Ukrainian businessmen, Dmytro Firtash and Ivan Fursin.

Ms Tymoshenko has called for direct gas supply agreements between Gazprom and Ukraine's state energy group, Naftogaz. US officials have backed her in criticising the role of intermediaries such as RosUkrEnergo, insisting they pose an energy security risk to Ukraine and Europe, which is itself dependent on Russia for more than a quarter of its gas needs.

While reasserting her resolve on the issue, Ms Tymoshenko pledged to seek pragmatic talks with Moscow to avoid a repeat of the 2006 gas price stand-off that disturbed supplies to Europe.

"I have not returned as premier to strain relations with Russia - this is not my intention. I will strive to establish a relationship of equal partnership," she said.

Ms Tymoshenko regained her position as the premier after a strong showing in snap elections held in September. A previous 2005 stint as prime minister was cut short after a falling out with Viktor Yushchenko, whose presidential candidacy she backed during the 2004 elections.

The premier said her new governing coalition would strive to seek compromise with a strong opposition to consign to the past years of paralysis that have plagued Kiev's politics.

She said her priorities would be to fight corruption and to adopt concrete reforms that would bring Kiev closer to its long-term goals of joining the European Union and the Nato military alliance.

Ms Tymoshenko's cabinet is working ahead of the new year to address an array of pressing problems. Topping the list is sky-high inflation, expected to finish the year at more than 15 per cent.

Ms Tymoshenko is rushing to pass a budget for 2008 before the end of the year as well as attempting to prevent a technical default on Eurobonds issued to investors by Naftogaz.

"It is very difficult to bring in a completely new government just a week before the new year, evermore so considering that so many problems have piled up. We will probably break the Guinness World Records by adopting a new budget within several days," she said.

Ms Tymoshenko was quick to assign the blame for the problems her cabinet will face on the previous governing coalition led by Viktor Yanukovich.

She said she aimed to have the budget passed this week as well as the swift adoption of state guarantees on debt obligations in order to reassure increasingly edgy investors with debt interests in Naftogaz.

However, with her coalition controlling only a hairline majority in parliament, the opposition, led by Mr Yanukovich, is a formidable force that could complicate such plans.

Source: Financial Times

Mikhaylo Zubkov's Lifetime Coaching Ban Cut

MELBOURNE, Australia -- A Ukrainian swimming coach, whose Melbourne brawl with his daughter became world news after it was videotaped, will be free to coach again for the Beijing Olympics.

Mikhaylo Zubkov with daughter, Kateryna.

Mikhaylo Zubkov will be back poolside with his daughter, Kateryna, from this Thursday after an international court ruled his lifetime coaching ban was too harsh.

"It's a huge relief," Zubkov, 39, told the Herald Sun yesterday. "I feel my name has been cleared."

Speaking from Ukraine yesterday, Kateryna, 19, said she was delighted with the news and excited her father could resume training and supporting her at competitions.

"I am very happy," said Kateryna who recently returned from the US, where she swims and studies. "I can now concentrate on the Olympics."

The pair clashed at the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships in Melbourne last March over Kateryna's choice of boyfriends.

Zubkov was accused of bringing swimming into disrepute after video of the coach and swimmer violently quarrelling at Rod Laver Arena was beamed across the world.

An exclusive series of Herald Sun articles revealed the story behind the heated exchange, their regrets about the incident and their hopes of being reunited.

The severe life ban imposed by a FINA disciplinary panel was appealed by a Melbourne legal team led by Paul Hayes and Paul Horvath, who travelled to Switzerland and represented Zubkov.

In a backflip at the weekend the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ban and replaced it with an eight-month suspension, which expires on December 27.

The Swiss court accepted submissions from Zubkov's Melbourne legal team that he had not hit or otherwise assaulted his daughter.

It found that although Zubkov's conduct was "aggressive, violent and unbecoming an accredited team official", he did not bring the sport of swimming into disrepute.

The court ruled that his lifetime expulsion from coaching or any future FINA activities by the FINA disciplinary panel was too severe and disproportionate to their findings.

"We are of the view that the appropriate sanction is that of suspension rather than expulsion," said the hearing panel before president Dr Kaj Hober.

"Given the special nature and unusual circumstances of (Zubkov's) conduct, we find that a suspension for a period of eight months from 27 April to 27 December constitutes an appropriate and proportionate sanction."

Zubkov and his daughter were the subject of close media attention on their return to Ukraine, which placed great stress on their family and caused the coach's business to suffer.

Kateryna also had to find another coach.

Zubkov said although he did not think he deserved the penalty, he believed justice had been served. "I am very relieved that it's finished now," he said. "This has been a constant cloud hanging over my head."

Zubkov also profusely thanked his Melbourne legal team and the help and support of Australia's Ukrainian community members, in particular Mike Tkaczuk.

"They believed in me and in getting a fair hearing for me. Without their help I would not have been able to return to coaching," he said.

Sports law specialist Mr Horvath said the court's landmark ruling sent a strong message to sporting disciplinary bodies.

"Imposing tough penalties because the world media is watching . . . is not delivering justice or fairness," he said.

Source: Herald Sun

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Netto Heads For Ukraine

LONDON, United Kingdom -- Danish-owned supermarket giant Netto, which has 181 UK stores, has announced plans to open in Ukraine. Netto says it will be the first discount retailer from western Europe to have operations in the country.

The Dansk Supermarked-owned chain believes it could open more than 1,000 stores in Ukraine.

Richard Lancaster, Netto’s UK managing director, said: "We see big potential and many opportunities in Ukraine. The country has a population of almost 50 million, all of whom have increasingly substantial purchasing power.”

Development pace would be faster than in the other European countries in which Netto has a presence, the company said.

It hopes to have up to 30 stores ready to open before the business becomes fully operational in 2009.

These will be followed by a further 25 a year, on average.

Netto is set to open a minimum of 25 more stores a year in the UK in 2008 with similar plans in place for Germany and Sweden.

Poland will get another 50 stores per year.

Said Lancaster: “This year we opened 20 new UK Netto stores. With research showing us that our shoppers’ purchasing is on the increase, as is the amount they spend with us when they visit, we are very confident in the future of our business at home and abroad.”

Source: Talking Retail

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ukraine: Ani Lorak For Eurovision

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's national broadcaster, NTU have confirmed via their website this afternoon that Ani Lorak will represent the 2007 runner-up at the Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade.

Double click to play video.

The former two time Ukrainian national finalist will represent the country with her third attempt.

The 29 year old singer was the runner-up in the 2005 national final in Ukraine, after qualifying from the semi finals only to be beaten by Greenjolly who were parachuted into the final as a wildcard entry.

She shot to fame on Russian tv show 'Morning Star' before going to the USA where she won the Big Apple Music Festival in 1996.

She returned to Ukraine where she has become one of the most popular pop stars in the country.

She is also a United Nations good will ambassador in Ukraine helping to fight HIV and AIDS.

Source: Esctoday

Ukraine: Tymoshenko Vows New Anti-Corruption Drive

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Thursday declared a crusade against corruption in Ukraine and promised „no amnesty” to those found guilty of embezzlement or illegal transactions that had benefited them.

Tymoshenko, in her first televised address to the nation since her appointment as premier on Tuesday, pledged to deliver on all her campaign promises - from canceling Ukraine’s military draft to paying out billions of hryvnias in failed Soviet bank debts.

„I want you to mark today’s date on the calendar,” Tymoshenko said in the address aired by Inter, Ukraine’s most popular television channel. „This is the day when the government is turning its face towards the people. We begin the process of cleaning the country and I will make sure that dirty money will not be a factor in Ukrainian politics. Lawmakers will not be purchased as cattle on the marketplace,” she said.

„Besides, those who paid up to $30 million to lawmakers [to switch sides in her approval vote], will not have these shadow millions,” Tymoshenko said.

The carefully staged address and Tymoshenko’s strong remarks were reminiscent of her first arrival as prime minister in early 2005, when she declared a number of initiatives that had later failed.

Two years ago Tymoshenko pledged to redo the privatizations of up to 3,000 companies that she claimed had been illegally sold off by the government in the 1990s.

Her government also canceled tax breaks in some regions originally intended for foreign investors. Both measures then tarnished Ukraine’s investment reputation and forced many to postpone their investments, while domestic businessmen refused to re-invest their profits.

Coupled with weak steel prices on world markets, which reduced Ukraine’s main exports, this led to a major slowdown of the economy, which had registered negative growth seven months after Tymoshenko’s appointment.

This time around, Tymoshenko said her anti-corruption drive would identify - and punish - officials that had embezzled or illegally spent money in the past. „This does not mean we will announce amnesty to all violators of the law,” Tymoshenko said. „This will not be so.”

„I guarantee that we will check every penny spent, every tender, every license sold and every illegal act,” Tymoshenko said. „Let everybody have no doubt that they will be responsible for all their dark and illegal deeds.”

But Tymoshenko also admitted that her government will probably face major opposition in the anti-corruption campaign. „I am not na├»ve and I know that real order in the country is not needed for anybody, except for the people. We realize what colossal opposition we will face from corrupt structures, oligarch groups, sabotaging middle-level bureaucrats, hired experts and political scientists,” she said.

„If they spent millions of dollars to prevent democratic coalition, they will now throw billions to stop our government, to destroy the democratic coalition,” Tymoshenko said. „That’s because they are neither going to clean themselves nor to live in an honest way.”

Source: Budapest Business Journal

Ohryzko Confirms Ukraine Determined To Join NATO

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko has said that Kiev wants to join the NATO's (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Membership Action Plan as soon as possible.

"I would like to stress our desire to join the NATO's Membership Action Plan as soon as possible," he said at a meeting with ambassadors accredited in Ukraine in Kiev on Friday.

Ukraine's possible neutral and non-NATO member status 'makes no sense' in a situation where other nations are forming a single global security zone, Ohryzko said.

"Ukraine is aware of the advantages of the common European architecture of collective security," he said.

At the same time he said that it would be early and premature at this stage to talk of Ukraine's possible accession to NATO. All necessary stages of annual NATO-Ukraine action plans must be completed first, he said.

"I am pleased to state that recently there has been more support from the Ukrainian public in favor of our EuroAtlantic course," Ohryzko said.

"We continue to develop a strategic partnership with the United States and a dialogue at the highest level. We must approach with pragmatism a number of complex bilateral issues," the minister said.

It is important to agree upon the road map of bilateral U.S.-Ukrainian relations, which must 'renew and strengthen' the political and economic dialogue between the countries, he said.

Ukraine is determined to strengthen strategic partnerships with Poland and Georgia, Ohryzko said.

With regards to EU-Ukraine relations, the signing of a new enhanced agreement is the priority, he said. "The new document must be long-term and innovative and reflect the new quality of our relations with the European Union," the minister said.

Ohryzko also pointed to the importance of forming a free trade zone between Ukraine and the EU, Ukraine's integration into European energy space, integration between Ukrainian and EU electrical grids and further creation of a single electricity market, combining both parties' efforts to increase security and stability in Europe.

Source: Interfax

Ukraine's Second Chance

KIEV, Ukraine -- Travel south from Kiev along the arbored R-12 highway and you will see perhaps the most public symbols of Ukraine's rampant corruption: a wide array of luxurious estates that have sprung up in Koncha-Zaspa, a leafy suburb of the capital.

An unfinished property in Koncha-Zaspa selling for just €1,367,000 ($1,968,000).

Many of these multimillion-dollar homes belong to senior state officials with only modest salaries. Investigative journalists have compiled evidence suggesting quite a few of these mansions were bought with ill-gotten gains.

This prompted President Viktor Yushchenko to demand in August that the public servants explain how they came to possess such lavish accommodations. But at the time his political opponents from the Party of Regions still ran the government, and they responded to his call for accountability with stony silence.

Ukraine's graft problems are hardly of recent vintage, though. It was the massive corruption during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma that helped spark the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Public anger at large-scale vote buying and voter fraud swept Mr. Yushchenko and his camp, who promised to rid Ukraine of sleaze, to power. But political infighting brought down the Orange government under Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in September 2005 and prevented any real progress on corruption.

Now she has a second chance, after Ukraine's Orange reformers re-elected her Tuesday to lead a new government. If the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko team fails again, the Orange coalition's hold on power will prove tenuous. More importantly, corruption could reverse Ukraine's record of recent economic growth and even threaten its national security.

Transparency International's Global Corruption Perception Index ranks Ukraine 118th out of 180 states. A recent World Bank study on corruption and good governance shows that after the Orange Revolution, the country actually slipped from its lower-middle position and now has a worse record than nearly three-quarters of the countries surveyed.

Practically all sectors of Ukraine's government, business and civic life are affected by widespread corruption. Bribery and extortion are particularly common in Ukraine's judiciary, where favoritism rather than merit determines the appointment of judges. Evidence is routinely "lost" at Ukraine's courts and bribes can facilitate almost any desired ruling.

In a famous case involving the 2000 murder of journalist and anti-corruption crusader Heorhiy Gongadze, police destroyed evidence related to the case, including some that may have implicated a police unit that had been tailing Gongadze.

In 2004, a judge summarily closed the case against a police general who had ordered the evidence destroyed in what press freedom groups and the International Union of Journalists denounced as a cover-up.

Similarly, corruption among politicians is rampant. Alleged vote buying of parliamentarians, who can hide behind extensive immunity rules, has in part been responsible for the political paralysis plaguing the country over the past two years.

Corruption has also serious consequences for Ukraine's national security, as much of the graft is concentrated in the energy sector. Ukrainian analysts and investigative reporters assert that massive bribery has played a key role in perpetuating Ukraine's overreliance on Russian gas.

Such corruption, experts say, has halted or impaired Ukraine's efforts to promote internal energy exploration and diversification. The net effect has been to expose Ukraine to Russia's authoritarian influence.

These views are corroborated by Western officials, including U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer who at a talk earlier this month at Harvard University called on Ukraine to get rid of all "Middlemen companies" which he said "thrive on non-transparent arrangements ....[,]...fester in a corrupt environment...[and] serve no useful purpose."

He specifically cited RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered company that plays a dominant role in gas imports to Ukraine.

There are a number of key steps Ukraine's reunited Yushchenko-Tymoshenko tandem should take in the first 100 days of the new government:

• Strengthen weak and contradictory anticorruption legislation and update government ethics codes that are currently ambiguous or absent altogether.

• Establish a new judicial chamber, staffed by a new generation of judges untainted by sleaze.

• Create an independent national investigative bureau to uncover and root out grand corruption.

• Eliminate or reduce the scope of parliamentary immunity, which lawmakers have used to escape prosecution.

• Increase transparency by obliging senior public officials and politicians to publish annual statements of assets and incomes.

Anticorruption campaigns must not become mechanisms of political retribution. Thus, prosecutions cannot only focus on the activities of members of the opposition. They must target officials from across the political spectrum, wherever the evidence leads.

But Ukraine is unlikely to win the battle alone. The U.S. and the EU need to step up their assistance in helping Ukraine face this challenge by quickly deploying teams of anti-corruption advisors to Kiev to work with the new government.

If they do, the hopes and aspirations of the Orange Revolution will be realized and will contribute to the emergence of a mature and prosperous democracy.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Thursday, December 20, 2007

EU Expands Border-Free Zone Farther East

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Border controls along the old Iron Curtain from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic cease to exist from midnight Thursday as most of the European Union's former communist new members join the bloc's passport-free travel zone.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

It's a major step in their transition from Soviet satellites to full-fledged EU members, but has also triggered fears of a flood of illegal immigrants that could stick Europe with a crisis similar to America's along its border with Mexico.

The entry of nine nations into the EU's so-called Schengen area means citizens can travel by land or sea between 24 European nations from Portugal to Poland, Iceland to Estonia without facing border checks. The move has also forced the EU to tighten up controls on its new eastern borders to prevent infiltration by criminal gangs, illegal immigrants, and even terrorists.

"Together we have overcome border controls as man-made obstacles to peace, freedom and unity in Europe," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. He said the expansion of the open-border zone will boost trade and tourism, inject new life into border-region economies and end the hassle of frontier delays.

As a condition for joining, the new members have strengthened security on their borders with non-EU nations such as Ukraine, Belarus and Serbia. They have also linked into an information exchange system for police and border guards around the EU.

Such measures are needed because any illegal migrants from the less prosperous nations to the east would be able to roam as far as Paris or Madrid without any additional checks if they breach the EU's easternmost border.

"It would have been better to wait a year or two longer to abolish the border controls," said Joachim Herrmann, the interior minister of the German state of Bavaria. "It's all a matter of how well protected the border is from Belarus to Poland, from Ukraine to Slovakia."

The EU's former communist members have been introducing tighter controls on the eastern border since they joined the EU in 2004, with funding from their richer neighbors.

So far, it seems to have paid off. Michal Parzyszek, the spokesman for Frontex, a Warsaw-based EU agency that coordinates border management, says the number of illegal immigrants getting through has declined in recent years, although it's impossible to know for sure.

Poland's Border Guards say the number of people arrested trying to enter Poland illegally fell more than 20 percent over the past year, from 3,763 in 2006 to 2,973 in 2007. Poland bears the burden of protecting the longest external border among new Schengen countries — 736 miles facing Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Meanwhile, the EU's front line in the fight against illegal immigration remains to the south where thousands of poor Africans make the hazardous sea journey to the coasts of Spain, Italy, Malta and Greece, while would-be migrants from the Middle East and Asia take the overland route through Turkey and the Balkans.

Austria's Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer dismissed concerns the expansion would aid criminals or illegal immigrants as he symbolically joined Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico to saw through a barrier the countries' border.

"Schengen is not crime, not insecurity, not fear," Gusenbauer said. "Schengen stands for freedom, security and stability."

From the other side of the EU's external border, Ukrainians fear the tightened controls will cut them off from the West.

"I certainly don't greet this news with happiness," said Alexander Voitenko, 54, a Ukrainian scientist doing research in Warsaw. He complained that it's already more difficult to travel west since Poland joined the EU.

The Schengen agreement is named after the village in Luxembourg where it was signed in 1985 by France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands to allow citizens to travel freely between them. Since then they have been joined by Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, as well as non-EU nations Norway and Iceland.

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta joined the EU in 2004, but have had to wait before gaining access to the frontier-free zone pending reforms to bring standards of their police and border guards in line with EU norms.

Source: AP