Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wyndham Hotel Group Introduces Ramada Encore Hotels To Ukraine

PARSIPPANY, NJ -- Wyndham Hotel Group today announced an exclusive development agreement with Ukrainian Hotels LLC to build 15 Ramada Encore® hotels over the next 10 years throughout Ukraine.

Ukrainian Hotels LLC will franchise and manage the properties under an agreement with Wyndham Hotel Group.

Initial development targets include the capital, Kiev, and cities with populations of more than 200,000.

Ramada Encore hotels feature contemporary design, innovative multifunction areas and a bright, colorful d├ęcor with glass and wood throughout.

All rooms feature power showers, Internet access, work areas, direct-dial telephones, tea and coffee facilities and flat-screen TVs with satellite service. Family rooms accommodate up to two adults and two children.

Olivier Dupont, Wyndham Hotel Group International senior vice president, international development, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, said Wyndham Hotel Group seeks to make Ramada Encore hotels the midscale lodging leader in Ukraine's key secondary cities within the next five to seven years.

Sergii Kozhukhalov, executive coordinator of Ukrainian Hotels LLC, a subdivision of Astron-Ukraine Corporation, said his company elected to develop Ramada Encore hotels because the "boutique design and flexible, operational efficiencies are unique for the midscale segment and will allow us to exceed the expectations of our clientele at a competitive price."

Wyndham Hotel Group, one of three principal components of Wyndham Worldwide, encompasses nearly 6,500 hotels and 541,000 hotel rooms on six continents.

All hotels either are independently owned franchises or managed by a Wyndham Hotel Group subsidiary. Wyndham Hotel Group is based in Parsippany, N.J.

Source: CNN Money

Ukrainian Minister , Mayor Trade Accusations Of Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- When Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky publicly accused Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko of corruption, Lutsenko denied that allegation and punched Chernovetsky in the face.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko

Chernovetsky sued him, and Kyiv prosecutors launched a criminal case against Lutsenko. In return, police, whose boss is Lutsenko, re-opened an old case against Chernovetsky.

Neither of the two is going to step down, and both have been openly using the legal system to settle scores, which raises questions about moral standards in Ukrainian politics.

Chernovetsky was the first to break the news of a brawl with Lutsenko on January 18. He issued a statement saying that Lutsenko had “barbarously assaulted” him “in the presence of high-ranking officials” at a meeting of the presidential National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) earlier that day.

Chernovetsky said he received first aid and had to take sick leave.

Lutsenko did not deny that he had punched Chernovetsky in the face, but he said that he was not going to apologize, either.

Lutsenko explained that Chernovetsky had “lied” to President Viktor Yushchenko at the meeting, saying that Lutsenko had asked him to allocate a land plot in Kyiv, otherwise his son would be jailed.

Lutsenko said he had never threatened Chernovetsky’s son, a banker, with jail, and that he had asked for land not for himself, but to build affordable housing for policemen. Lutsenko claimed that Chernovetsky also hit him in the knee under the table.

When Yushchenko left, Lutsenko said, he approached Chernovetsky and slapped him in the face “like a man.”

Reactions from politicians were mixed. Opposition leader and former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych said that Lutsenko “committed an emotional act not worthy of a cabinet member.” President Yushchenko instructed prosecutors to thoroughly investigate the case, and he said that the behavior of both Lutsenko and Chernovetsky “discredits the state.”

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko expressed support for Lutsenko.

On January 24, Lutsenko announced that he had uncovered serious corruption involving land distribution by Chernovetsky, and he urged the Prosecutor-General’s Office to investigate immediately.

Late on the same day, a deputy prosecutor in Kyiv launched a criminal case against Lutsenko for assaulting Chernovetsky. If he is found guilty, Lutsenko could face up to two years in prison.

Lutsenko reacted by claiming that Chernovetsky had bribed Kyiv city prosecutors by illegally allocating land plots near Kyiv to them.

On January 25, the Interior Ministry re-launched a probe into a car accident dating from 2003, in which Chernovetsky’s car killed a man.

The case was closed several years ago as officially no evidence of Chernovetsky’s guilt was found, but now the Interior Ministry “believes that the case was closed too early.”

Chernovetsky said this was Lutsenko’s revenge for criticism at the NSDC meeting.

Lutsenko was one of the main figures in the Orange Revolution protests in 2004 that brought Yushchenko to power. A grateful Yushchenko appointed him interior minister in the first government of Prime Minister Tymoshenko in 2005.

Lutsenko served in this position until December 2006, when he had to go amid accusations of corruption and a lack of professionalism leveled against him by Yanukovych’s coalition – the accusations he denied.

Lutsenko returned to the post of interior minister this past December, when Tymoshenko became prime minister again.

In 2007 Lutsenko was widely viewed as the main rival of Chernovetsky in a possible early mayoral election in Kyiv; hence, their personal enmity. Lutsenko on many occasions accused Chernovetsky of abusing land resources in Kyiv, buying votes in the 2006 mayoral election, and drug abuse.

Chernovetsky denied all the accusations. Lutsenko was not the only individual to make those accusations, but no official charges were brought against Chernovetsky.

Lutsenko has had problems with the law himself. He was accused of illegally giving pistols as presents to “Orange Revolution heroes” when interior minister, and of holding an Israeli passport (dual citizenship is forbidden in Ukraine).

Lutsenko won these respective court cases. He was also accused by his rivals of using government aircraft for private purposes, and of lobbying to secure a contract for his wife’s employer to sell communication services to the police. Lutsenko denied those accusations.

Ukrainians expect higher moral standards from their politicians, according to a popular opinion poll conducted among Kyiv residents by the Razumkov Center.

The opinions of 15% of them about Lutsenko changed for the better after the scandal, but 23% were bitterly disappointed.

Chernovetsky’s popularity suffered even more: 4% said they now think better of Chernovetsky, and 33% think worse.

The same poll showed that 70% of Kyiv residents believe that Chernovetsky is involved in illegal operations with public land resources.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Platini Warns Poland, Ukraine On Euro 2012 Delays

ZAGREB, Croatia -- UEFA president Michel Platini warned Poland and Ukraine on Wednesday to avoid "critical slippages" in their preparations for co-hosting the 2012 European Championship.

UEFA president Michel Platini announcing the hosts for the 2012 European Championship.

After a year of political instability in both countries, Platini said the next few months would be vital for getting things on track for Europe's showcase tournament.

"I have the distinct feeling that the next four to six months will be crucial in order to avoid any critical slippage in sports and public infrastructure projects and to protect the global credibility of the Euro project itself," Platini said at the close of a two-day UEFA executive committee meeting.

His stern comments came amid recent speculation that UEFA could move the championship out of Poland and Ukraine because of organizational delays.

"UEFA is totally committed to do everything possible, in the next few months to assist and support the two associations ... in order to guarantee the success of the project," Platini said, adding that there are problems with "all infrastructure" in the two countries.

UEFA general secretary David Taylor said it is imperative that action is taken now.

"Political instability and infrastructure deficit are too big at this moment," Taylor said. "It is too late to wait - we need action."

UEFA said it had taken a "momentous decision" last April to award the championship to the two Eastern European countries, ahead of bids from Italy and a joint candidacy from Croatia and Hungary.

"It is clear that there has been a certain degree of political instability in both countries in 2007," UEFA said in a statement. "However, this instability now seems to be over with newly established governments in each country, but there can be no doubt that the launch of investment-intensive projects, such as stadiums, airports and motorways has suffered from the instability."

Platini urged the governments to be "aware of the crucial need to set up a governance and management structure to lead all the projects related to UEFA Euro 2012."

Taylor also said that the prospect of possibly increasing the number of teams at UEFA tournaments to 24 will be discussed at Thursday's UEFA congress in Zagreb.

"We will present a general project of enlarging UEFA tournaments from 16 to 24 teams," he said. "This is not an easy decision. Right now, we don't have an answer because we have to study it well."

Source: FOX Sports

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Clan Politics

KIEV, Ukraine -- The nepotism of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine political clan reached new depths when Viktor Yushchenko named his oldest daughter Vitalina to lead the “Warm a Child With Love” charity.

Viktor Yushchenko (L) with daughter Vitalina.

Just what a 26-year-old knows about running a multi-million-dollar charity and dealing with Ukraine’s most powerful (and in some cases, corrupt) businessmen is beyond most people.

Our Ukraine presents itself as a political force that best exemplifies European values. Certainly, nepotism permeates all societies to some degree. But among the pillars of modern Western civilization is the notion that the most qualified woman or man gets the job, regardless of family, ethnicity or race.

Vitalina might be bright, but appointing his daughter to such a position only casts a shadow on Yushchenko’s self-declared commitment to transparency and honest politics.

Her appointment is the latest chapter in a series of nepotism jokingly referred to by Ukrainians as “kumivstvo,” referring to Yushchenko’s tendency to appoint family and relatives to government posts.

In Ukrainian culture, kums and kumas are not only the parents of godchildren, but close members of the family who may expect preferences and favors.

Among Yushchenko’s family currently in top positions are fellow kum and Minister of Youth, Family and Sport Yuriy Pavlenko, brother and parliamentary deputy Petro Yushchenko, and kum and National Bank of Ukraine Council Chair Petro Poroshenko.

If Ukraine is to prove itself a European culture, its leader should abandon their Byzantine traditions and recognize the value in appointing people based on their skills and talents, not bloodlines. A competitive application process for positions such as Vitalina’s would be a good start.

Source: Kyiv Post

Yushchenko Bristles At Tymoshenko Threat

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko’s office on Tuesday responded strongly to a warning by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that she may compete with the incumbent for the presidency next year.

Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Baloha

In a sharply worded statement, Viktor Baloha, chief of staff at the Yushchenko office, said Tymoshenko’s warning was unfounded, opinionated and an attempt to “gain political weight.”

“Two years before the election somebody wants to play on election strings,” Baloha said. “This is not the best overture for the future election campaign. A real statesman cares about the interests of the country, while a politician is concerned only about the election.”

The comment is a response to Tymoshenko’s warning on Monday that she will run for the presidency at the end of 2009 if disagreements between Yushchenko and her government continue to persist.

Baloha’s statement shows that mutual distrust between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko has been growing rapidly, and at some point may even threatening the existence of the governing coalition.

The coalition, created by Yushchenko’s and Tymoshenko’s groups, controls a slim majority of 227 seats in the 450-seat Parliament. The withdrawal of two lawmakers from the coalition would effectively undermine the government.

Tymoshenko has long been suspected by her opponents of seeking to run for the presidency, pointing to the largely populist rhetoric she has been using while running the government.

Tymoshenko pledged to return within the next two years failed Soviet-era bank deposits, lost due to hyperinflation in 1990s, estimated by analysts to cost the government at least 132 billion hryvnias ($26.4 billion).

Tymoshenko has also refused to allow an increase in natural gas prices for households on the domestic market, a move that is expected to cost dearly for Naftogaz Ukrayiny, the national oil and gas company.

The developments come amid mounting speculations that should disagreements with Yushchenko continue, Tymoshenko’s group would join forces with the Regions Party, the largest opposition group, to try to impeach the president.

Tymoshenko has already joined forces with the Regions Party a year ago to overrun a veto from the president, which had eventually triggered a chain of events that had led to the snap election in September 2007.

Baloha said the speculations were caused by Yushchenko’s recent warning that the government has been seeking to sell power assets non-transparently to increase legislative support for its initiatives.

“Yushchenko’s insistence to prevent the attempts to reanimate political corruption face tough opposition from those whose corporate interests” are affected, Baloha said.

“It can’t be ruled out that in confronting the course of the president, the most unexpected political alliances are possible,” Baloha said. “That’s why an idea of the impeachment has been pulled out."

Source: Ukrainian Journal

UKRAINE: The Poison Is In The Politics

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- The investigation into the 2004 alleged poisoning of President Viktor Yushchenko when he was a candidate for the presidency remains unsolved, but there is no lack of chilling theories, some of which stain the President himself.

Viktor Yushchenko before (L) and after poisoning.

The poisoning supposedly occurred Sep. 5, 2004, when Yushchenko was running for presidency as leader of the pro-Western opposition against the incumbent pro-Russian authorities. The poisoning is believed to have drawn sympathy for Yushchenko and helped him win.

Following a dinner with Ihor Smeshko, then head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) at the summer house of his deputy Volodymyr Satsyuk, the presidential candidate fell unwell and said later he noticed a metallic taste in his mouth. The SBU is successor to the KGB of the Soviet days.

Yushchenko claimed he was poisoned, and blood tests carried out shortly after confirmed the presence of a dioxin in the President's blood and tissues, leaving his face disfigured.

"The Yushchenko poisoning is among the biggest Ukrainian mysteries of the decade," Zenon Zawada, chief editor of the English language Ukrainian weekly Kyiv Post told IPS. "There is really a lack of consensus about what happened.

"Among Ukrainians the most common theories are that the one responsible is either the SBU, or that Russia was somehow involved, though those who do not support Yushchenko say he had an allergic reaction or food or medication poisoning."

Yushchenko claims to know who poisoned him, and hinted in September last year at the involvement of Ukrainian politicians. He says the three main suspects are in Russia.

Just a few days after the statement the Kommersant-Ukraina daily tracked down the names of three individuals Yushchenko was allegedly referring to, citing unnamed sources at the Prosecutor-General's office.

The daily named Satsyuk, the infamous host, Taras Zaleskyy, an aide to Satsyuk who was also present at the dinner, and Oleksiy Poletukha, also a former aide to Satsyuk who could have played a role in transporting the dioxin from Russia.

But the President refuses to go public with his information in order not to hamper the investigation that he claims is being "stalled."

After mercury vapour was found in the office of the Prosecutor-General's deputy Mykola Holomsha last December, some interpreted the attempt on his life as a warning to prosecutors to slow down the inquiry.

Holomsha, who is a potential candidate to replace the contested Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvenko, is also in charge of other high profile cases, such as the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000.

The criminal case on Yushchenko's poisoning was instituted by the Prosecutor-General's Office three weeks after the poisoning occurred, but changes in personnel have had a role in delaying the inquiry.

Stefan Schocher, an Austrian journalist who investigated the case in its early stage and was in Austria when Yushchenko received treatment in Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus clinic, told IPS he cannot be sure the poisoning occurred at all.

"Everything seemed to be a game," Schocher told IPS from Kiev. "It was completely unclear who was playing what, different agencies were organising press conferences at the clinic, and depending on who was organising it they said something different."

The uncertainty of the case was confirmed to Schocher following a conversation with a doctor from the Austrian hospital who treated Yushchenko.

"He told me the dioxin doses were given over a longer period of time and not at once, like Yushchenko claims. Strangely, the doctor later denied it, but he definitely told me this."

The Austrian journalist says that "if it was a dose given over a longer period, it must have been someone from Yushchenko's team."

Other international media outlets, such as the Telegraph, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or Le Figaro reported on an atmosphere of intimidation at the clinic, especially against those who questioned Yushchenko's poisoning.

Medical director at the clinic Dr. Lothar Wicke received death threats after casting a shadow on the poisoning thesis, and resigned his job just one day after Yushchenko was to receive another round of tests.

Dr. Wicke told the Telegraph in 2005 that the death threats came from Yuschchenko's entourage because he had cast doubt on the poisoning diagnosis. He said his resignation was forced upon him after 25 years of working for the clinic.

The medical director, who has received the Cross of Honour First Class for Science and Art from late Austrian president Thomas Klestil, accused Yushchenko's entourage of putting heavy pressure on the clinic to publicly support the poisoning thesis, which it eventually did.

"The first two times Mr Yushchenko was examined, there was no evidence of poisoning whatsoever," Dr. Wicke told the Telegraph. "I was directly involved, and I can tell you that the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Vienna did not find any traces of poisonous agents in his blood. If there is no poison, there cannot be poisoning, and there was no trace of it whatsoever."

But the latest developments in the case show that the prosecution is focusing on the Russia-based suspects.

Yushchenko, who claimed to have personally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to assist with the case, complained in September of silence from the Russian side, and implied that Moscow was hindering the investigation.

Russian media reacted with contempt at the insinuation, noting that Yushchenko's statements came only a couple of weeks ahead of the crucial Sep. 30 parliamentary vote. Russian media accused him of trying to boost his ratings by playing the 'anti-Russian card'.

But shortly after the President's complaints Russia promised to facilitate the inquiry, and a joint commission was set up.

By November Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvenko said the inquiry was focusing on individuals living in Russia, but praised Moscow's "active cooperation".

Medvenko says the dioxin in question was produced in Russia before 2004 but says it was never exported. The Prosecutor-General promises to solve the matter this year.

The dioxin which was allegedly used to poison the President is only produced in the U.S., U.K. and Russia, but the Ukrainian prosecution established that the dioxin had been manufactured in Russia.

Investigators in Ukraine are still awaiting samples of the Russian dioxin, and have put further questions to their Russian colleagues.

The Russian side invited Ukrainian investigators to attend tests in Russia, but the Ukrainian prosecution insists on a test held in Ukraine in compliance with its legislation.

Ukrainian officials say that with a test in Russia, the evidence could not be used in court. They have invited Russian experts to attend the test in Ukraine.

The Russian side says its legislation only allows the test to be carried out in its territory. But such a stand will do little to improve the big neighbour's image in Ukraine. "The less helpful Russia is, the more people suspect there was some involvement from Russia," Zawada told IPS.

Source: IPS

Who Lost Ukraine?

WASHINGTON, DC -- If Western capitals are not bothered, one of the nations that has to worry about Russia is its neighboring former republic, Ukraine.

Russia's Vladimir Putin

Russia has done its best to try and keep Ukraine from spinning out of Moscow's orbit and has a long history of engaging in dirty tricks in order to make sure the now-independent nation remains a vassal state.

Under Putin some rather extreme measures were taken to keep the current pro-western Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, from coming to power.

This included an attempt to kill him during the 2004 election campaign with a highly concentrated (and normally fatal) dose of dioxin poisoning--a case that has yet to be solved.

Some questions remain as to who was the actual culprit -- a Ukrainian agent acting on behalf of Moscow or the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) itself.

In any event the fact that the attempt failed is probably why the Russian secret services moved on to the much more lethal and radioactive material Polonium 210 when it came time to eliminate the London-based Putin critic Aleksandr Litvinenko.

What is Moscow's defense for murdering political candidates and its critics abroad? At the Davos forum First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, heir-apparent to Russian President Putin, told the assembled delegates that "We are not trying to push anyone to love Russia. But we will not allow anyone to hurt Russia."

If actions as of late are any indicator, "hurting" Russia means anything that diminishes its influence in the post-Soviet space. This includes making sure that Russian troops remain on the soil of former republics even though they are now independent nations.

In 1999 President Boris Yeltsin promised at an OSCE summit in Istanbul that all Russian troops would be withdrawn from their two bases in the Republic of Georgia by January 2004.

When this 2004 deadline finally arrived, the then-Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, was offered by the Georgians another three years beyond the deadline to complete the withdrawal.

Ivanov responded with the traditional spirit of accommodation and generosity Russia has historically demonstrated in these matters and stated he needed not three more years but 11.

The reason for Ivanov having demanded more than a decade to move was a complete mystery. The total number of troops at these two bases was just 4,500 men, and most were local contract soldiers who would have no reason to leave their homes in Georgia to relocate to Russia.

The non-Georgian contingent that would actually have to move back to Mother Russia totaled no more than 200. In the meantime, Moscow was doing its best to try and move military equipment on those bases back to Russia even though by the terms of the treaty dissolving the USSR most of the equipment belonged to the Georgians.

The last Russian troops were finally removed in November 2007, but Russian peacekeeping troops still remain on the ground in the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russian Air Force aircraft also continue to violate Georgian air space and one occasion even dropped an unexploded Raduga Kh-58 (AS-11 Kilter) missile that landed near a village some 60km northwest of the capital Tbilisi.

The perils of Ukraine are even greater than in Georgia, but more subtle. The stakes have now become higher with the accession to the Prime Minister's job of the controversial politician Yulia Tymoshenko.

When Yushchenko first took office in Kiev in January 2005, Tymoshenko was his choice as PM. It seemed a logical choice at the time since she and her party had been his stalwart partners in the Orange Revolution that brought him to power.

Seven months later she was dismissed after a mixed record in the position that included some dubious economic measures, the most famous of which was an overnight change in the exchange rates in Ukraine that raised the value of the local currency, the Hyrvna, against all foreign currencies by 15 percent.

This was a great "gift" for the population, which now had more buying power, but a disaster for the country's ability to attract foreign investment. If you were a multinational preparing to invest $5 million in a business project you now needed $6.5 million.

This and other ill-advised decisions sent prices for most commodities in Ukraine--especially real estate--soaring. No one wanted to use the "h" word (hyperinflation), but in 2006--according to the world cities cost of living index compiled by Mercer Consulting--Kiev jumped 33 positions from 54th most expensive city in the world in 2005 to the 21st--one of the largest one-year increases in the scale's history.

Now Tymoshenko is back in the PM's job with a slim two-vote majority in the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada. In the interim period, continuous creeping inflation made Kiev one of the most expensive cities in all of Europe.

This, combined with a carnivorous Customs Service that makes some African kleptocracies appear tame by comparison, has made prices in Kiev for a bottle of imported red wine, a jar of Barilla pasta sauce, or most other foreign commodities, equivalent to "robbery without a gun."

This is all about to get worse as Tymoshenko has just decided to do her best to discourage foreign business and tourism by telling the customs service and tax police that they need to triple their income in the next 6 months.

This is like telling these two institutions that they now have a green light to steal, rob and otherwise make off with whatever they can from those trying to import goods into the country or run a business inside of its borders.

But there is more. Earlier this month the new PM began a program to compensate Ukrainian citizens for the losses they incurred when the USSR dissolved and the fall in the value of their Soviet-era ruble-denominated bank accounts evaporated.

Many people had bank balances of 10,000 roubles or more (which had about the same value as $10,000 in the economy of that day) and saw these life savings wiped out in the 1990's.

Now many Ukrainians will receive payments from the central government to supposedly recoup some of these losses, but the amounts are little more than symbolic. The maximum that Ukrainians can receive is 1000 Hyrvna (about $200), but the program will pay out $26 billion over the next several years, with $1.2 billion being distributed this year.

Anton Struchenevsky, an economic analyst from Troika Dialog, criticised this as a populist move that "can destabilise the economy and lead to hyperinflation." Official Ukrainian state budget estimates (which are known to downplay any negative forecasts) have projected that 2008 inflation will be 9.6 percent, but independent analysts state that 15 percent or more is far more realistic.

At a time when most of the rest of the world is trying to stimulate its economies and keep a lid on inflation, Ukraine seems to be doing the complete opposite.

The real fear is that if prices rise much higher beyond their already stratospheric levels, support for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko's pro-western policies could evaporate.

If so, when the presidential election in Ukraine takes place in early 2009 the candidate favored by Moscow in the 2004 election, Party of the Regions leader Viktor Yanukovich, can waltz into the president's job and Russia will have achieved complete proxy control neighbor.

Some would argue that this takeover may already be under way. On January 17, Aleksandr Galaka, the head of the Ukraine Military Intelligence Service, was removed from his position without so much as a by-your-leave.

Galaka was one of the real heroes of the Orange Revolution and was instrumental in making sure the popular revolt did not turn into a Tiananmen Square-type massacre.

Removing Galaka, a pro-western military official who has done more than perhaps any one of his colleagues to move Ukraine closer to NATO cooperation and keep Russian influences from turning his country into a puppet state, seems ill-advised in the extreme given the situation at present.

About this time next year people may very well be asking "who lost Ukraine," by which time the train will have left the station a long time back, so to speak.

American and EU officials need to be spending time worrying about--and acting on--this issue now, rather than listening to the happy talk of the Russian delegation from Davos.

Source: The Daily Standard

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Senator Hillary Clinton Welcomes Ukraine`s Joining NATO Membership Action Plan

WASHINGTON, DC -- Senator Hillary Clinton has issued a statement on the Ukrainian Membership in NATO, according to a press release from Hillary Clinton campaign.

US Senator Hillary Clinton

The statement reads as follows:

"I enthusiastically welcome the January 11 letter from Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Verkhovna Rada Chairman Arsenii Yatsenyuk to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, which outlines Ukraine`s desire for a closer relationship with NATO, including a Membership Action Plan.

Like Ukraine`s leaders, I hope that important steps toward reaching these goals will be made at the NATO summit in Bucharest in early April.

I applaud the fact that Ukraine aspires to anchor itself firmly in the trans-Atlantic community through membership in NATO and look forward to working with Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans to reach that goal.

Since the earliest days of Ukrainian independence, the strategy of the United States has always been to respect and support the Ukrainian people`s democratic choices in shaping their future.

Ukraine has been and remains an extremely important partner for the United States, and I take great pride in Ukraine`s contributions to our common goal of building a Europe that is whole and free, peaceful and prosperous.

When I traveled to Ukraine in 1997, I visited a memorial to the victims of Communist repression in Lviv, and made a commitment to the Ukrainian people on behalf of the United States: "In your fight for freedom, your fight for democracy, the American people will stand with you."

In recalling that commitment more than ten years later I applaud the immense contributions that Ukrainian-Americans have made to our country and the indispensable role they have played in broadening and deepening the bonds between the United States and Ukraine.

I have been greatly impressed by the courage of the Ukrainian people as they emerged from decades of Soviet oppression and as they have experienced both victories and struggles on the path to democracy and freedom.

I have worked for more than 15 years to strengthen the U.S.-Ukraine relationship and help improve the lives of Ukrainians. Even before my first visit to Kyiv in 1995, I supported health care programs for Ukraine, including partnerships between hospitals in the United States and Ukraine and airlifts of critical pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies.

After hearing pleas from Ukrainian women in 1997 to help combat human trafficking, which had become a growing problem in Ukraine, I helped initiate an international effort to combat trafficking, including several programs specifically to help Ukraine.

In 1996, I organized a 10th anniversary White House commemoration of the Chornobyl disaster and, as honorary chair of Chornobyl Challenge `96, committed to continuing support for humanitarian efforts on behalf of those who suffer severe health consequences from the tragedy. I was honored to receive the Children of Chornobyl`s Relief Fund Lifetime Humanitarian Achievement Award in 1999 for my work in helping to improve the health of women and children in Ukraine.

As Senator I traveled to Ukraine in 2005 and met with President Yushchenko and offered the U.S. government`s support for reform efforts to strengthen Ukraine`s democracy.

The United States has always favored the closest possible ties between NATO and Ukraine, including the creation of the NATO-Ukraine Council. We have always insisted on an open door policy for European democracies that want to join the Alliance.

The enlargement of NATO is not directed against any state; NATO does not see any nation as its enemy. I pledge to support Ukraine`s efforts to meet the criteria for MAP and eventual membership. The United States should actively encourage our NATO Allies to deepen their own ties with Ukraine, a country that has broken with an authoritarian past and pursues good relations with all its neighbors.

Ukraine deserves a chance to pursue its aspirations for a wider role in the Euro-Atlantic community. In the same spirit, I call on the Bush Administration to give Ukraine all the support it needs to complete its accession to the World Trade Organization.

As President, I will ensure that the United States does everything necessary to help Ukraine realize these important and achievable goals."

Source: UNIAN

Tymoshenko Sees New Transparency

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Monday linked the recent arrest of suspected crime boss Semyon Mogilevich to the need to rid the gas trade between the two countries of murky middlemen.

Yulia Tymoshenko

The arrest comes ahead of planned talks between Tymoshenko and Russian officials in Moscow next month, in which she is expected to demand a better price for Ukraine's gas imports that arrive through a chain of intermediaries.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko will also hold talks in Moscow on Feb. 12.

"We don't need any shadowy intermediaries," Tymoshenko told reporters after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels when asked about Mogilevich's arrest in Moscow last week. "There will be transparency in our government and society. It also concerns energy policy," she said.

Ukraine imports Central Asian gas via Russia through RosUkrEnergo, a joint company between Gazprom and Ukrainian businessmen Dmytro Firtash and Ivan Kursin.

Tymoshenko has been advocating a removal of the gas trader from the supply chain, saying Ukraine should buy gas directly from Gazprom.

The Ukrainian Security Service, or SBU, in 2005 investigated RosUkrEnergo and its possible links to Mogilevich but was unable to complete the probe after Tymoshenko was fired as prime minister later that year.

Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchinov, who headed the SBU at the time, on Monday stopped short of linking Mogilevich to RosUkrEnergo but said the company copied its "opaque" business style from the gas trader that it replaced as intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, Eural Trans Gas.

Asked if Mogilevich could have been arrested because of his possible links with RosUkrEnergo, Turchinov said in e-mailed comments sent by his spokeswoman that Ukraine sought transparency in energy relations with Russia but that he did not think the arrest was politically motivated.

"I am confident that the Russian special services have just done their duty," Turchinov said.

RosUkrEnergo last week strongly denied that it had anything to do with Mogilevich, who was arrested on charges of tax evasion with the owner of the Arbat Prestige cosmetics chain, Vladimir Nekrasov.

Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the SBU, said Monday that the agency had never filed a criminal case against Mogilevich.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said the company had no information about Mogilevich's possible involvement in RosUkrEnergo.

Gazprom's contracts with RosUkrEnergo, including the prices, were fixed for this year, Kupriyanov said. Ukraine has not formally sought any changes in the contracts, he said.

Tymoshenko has said she wants to scrap an agreement reached two weeks before she became prime minister in December, which set the gas price at $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters. She is also seeking to raise transit fees for Gazprom exports through Ukraine.

Yushchenko, however, has opposed higher transit fees.

Tymoshenko first planned to come to Moscow on Wednesday, but delayed her visit on instructions from Yushchenko, who is hoping to hammer out a road map with Russia first for both governments to follow, Yushchenko's press service said last week.

Tymoshenko told a Kiev news conference last week that she had yet to talk to Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov to fix a date for her Moscow visit next month.

Yushchenko sent the chief of his National Security Council, Raisa Bogatyryova, to Moscow on Monday through Wednesday to prepare his trip.

RosUkrEnergo and Ukraine's state oil and gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, on Monday resumed talks on Naftogaz's gas debts, after halting them Friday.

Ukraine owes $598 million for fuel deliveries, RosUkrEnergo spokesman Andrei Knutov said Friday. He accused Naftogaz of unwillingness to conduct a "civilized dialogue," but Naftogaz said it considered the gas trader's demands "energy blackmail designed to discredit Ukraine's oil and gas policy."

Source: The Moscow Times

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ukraine's PM Wants Direct Gas Purchases

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine is seeking to buy natural gas supplies directly rather than going through an intermediary company partially owned by Russia, the country's prime minister said Monday, citing corruption concerns.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko attends the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee in Brussels January 28, 2008.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on a two-day visit to Brussels, was meeting with EU officials about energy and economy issues.

She said her government planned to eliminate the middlemen from Ukraine's energy contracts, saying "the presence of such intermediaries is the first indication of some corrupt actions."

"Ukraine does not need any additional shadowy middlemen for its gas contracts with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan," she said.

Nearly all of Ukraine's gas imports come through Russia from the energy-rich central Asian nation of Turkmenistan. The gas is imported through the Swiss-based trading company RosUkrEnergo, half of which is owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen.

The deal has been in place since 2004. Losing influence over gas imports to Ukraine would likely anger Russia, which is already unhappy with Ukraine's pro-Western policies.

Ukraine and Russia have clashed over gas imports in the past. Moscow temporarily cut off gas supplies to Ukraine two years ago - a shutdown also felt in Western Europe - in a move widely seen as punishment for Ukraine's pro-Western course.

Tymoshenko's talks with officials at the EU headquarters were dominated by trade and energy issues. She got a pledge from the EU to begin negotiations for a comprehensive free trade agreement with Kiev within weeks.

"It's now just a technical matter. When our experts on both sides are ready, we'll start ... it's just a question of weeks," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

The talks on establishing a free trade agreement with Ukraine would offer the ex-Soviet republic better access to the EU internal market, but are contingent on Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization.

The EU cleared the way for Kiev to join the WTO earlier this month, after Ukraine guaranteed it would cut export duties on some raw materials.

Barroso urged Tymoshenko to carry out political and economic reforms, saying Ukraine's political stability was key to its forging better ties with the EU. The 27-nation bloc has so far rebuffed Ukrainian requests for EU membership talks.

Tymoshenko said that, if Ukraine did get a chance to open accession talks, "it will do its homework." Her government has promised to end years of political turmoil and turn Ukraine into a law-abiding European nation.

The EU is Ukraine's largest trading partner and its largest market. In 2006, it absorbed 25 percent of Ukraine's exports, worth 8.7 billion euros, and accounted for 42 percent of Ukrainian imports, worth 17.8 billion euros.

Ukraine is also an important transit route for western Europe's oil and gas supplies from Russia and the Caspian Sea region.

In Brussels, Tymoshenko also planned to discuss energy issues with the EU energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, and the coordinator for the Nabucco gas pipeline project, Jozias van Aartsen.

The Nabucco pipeline, backed by both the EU and the United States, is designed to ease Europe's reliance on Russia by carrying gas from the Middle East and Caspian countries other than Russia via Turkey.

"There will be more pathways ... for greater diversification of energy supplies and energy security," Tymoshenko said.

Source: AP

EU Urges Stability In Ukraine For Closer Ties

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine needs a period of political stability and to reform its economy if the former Soviet republic is to improve ties with the European Union, the EU said on Monday.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (L) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso address a joint news conference after a meeting in Brussels January 28, 2008.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko chose Brussels, not Moscow, for her first foreign visit since her cabinet was approved in December after months of political turbulence, underlining her pro-Western credentials.

"After ... the creation of a new government, we have now have a sense of unity as far as our wish for European integration is concerned," Tymoshenko said.

"The time has come for our relations to take on an entirely new dimension," she told a joint news conference after meeting European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Politics in Ukraine have remained turbulent since the 2004 "Orange Revolution" brought President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

"To achieve progress we need political stability, we need a Ukraine that is really committed to political and economic reforms," Barroso said after the meeting.

Tymoshenko has settled her differences with Yushchenko, who also strongly backs Ukraine's drive to join the EU one day.

But the wafer-thin majority she received in parliament for her cabinet augurs ill for reform, analysts say.

The EU has so far not offered Ukraine the prospect of full membership, opting for close political cooperation and a future free trade zone with the country that is a major transit route for energy to the West.

Barroso pledged the EU would soon start talks with Ukraine on a free trade pact after Brussels this month cleared the way for the country to join the World Trade Organisation.

During her two-day trip, Tymoshenko was to meet NATO officials. She favours NATO membership for her country, but Ukrainians are deeply divided on joining the military pact, a move strongly opposed by neighbour Russia.

Tymoshenko reiterated promises to make Ukrainian politics honest and transparent after international watchdogs repeatedly said the country has been plagued by corruption.

Transparency would apply to energy policy, she added.


Prez: PM Using Power Co Shares To Buy MPs

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko alleged Sunday that Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been seeking to sell state power assets to her opponents through non-transparent arrangements to win greater legislative support for her government.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko

Yushchenko, who cited undisclosed sources for the intelligence, warned the government against any plans for the privatizations and pledged to take immediate action to stop them.

“I’ve got the signals that the privatization may appear to be simply a transfer of power distribution assets to certain [lawmakers] to make sure they vote in line with somebody’s wishes,” Yushchenko said in an interview with Studio 1+1 late Sunday.

“Unfortunately, the signals are there, and when time comes my reaction will be immediate,” Yushchenko said. “For now I am simply warning that I’ve been informed, I’ve got mail, and I will press firmly for conducting a reasonable privatization of assets, not the sell-off of Ukraine.”

The comment is an attack on the government of Tymoshenko, underscoring complicated relations between the president and the prime minister, despite the fact that both supposed to be united in a pro-Western coalition.

This is the second warning issued by the president to the Tymoshenko government over the past two weeks. Yushchenko demanded the government must not revise gas transit fees that Ukraine charges Russia for shipments of gas to the EU, but Tymoshenko had insisted the fees must be increased.

The pro-Western coalition commands a slim majority of 227 votes in the 450-seat Parliament, which makes the government vulnerable. By selling the power assets to undisclosed members of the opposition, the government could technically increase legislative support for some of its controversial initiatives that otherwise may not have been approved.

One such initiative might be the nomination of Serhiy Portnov, Tymoshenko’s lawyer, to the post of chairman of the State Property Fund, the government’s privatization agency, analysts said.

Portnov is thought to be one of the strongest lawyers focusing on privatization issues, and critics said Tymoshenko may be planning to use his skills to re-privatize some of the assets that had been earlier sold to some of her foes.

Portnov’s nomination is apparently not favored by some lawmakers within Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense, Tymoshenko’s coalition partner, but the attraction of some votes from the opposition groups may help Portov’s approval.

“Now, of course, I believe that Parliament will approve decision to appoint Portnov as the new chairman of the SPF,” Tymoshenko said in an interview with ICTV television Sunday. “His candidacy has been nominated: we’re talking about Serhiy Portnov.”

Tymoshenko defended the nomination, which she said is aimed at eliminating corruption at the SPF, which is currently led by Valentyna Semeniuk, a member of the Socialist Party.

“Under Semeniuk, the SPF has been operating at the most corrupt schemes,” Tymoshenko said. “We will prove this on tens of enterprises that had been transferred to well-connected people for unrealistic prices lowered by thousands times.”

Tymoshenko pledged to go ahead with her commitment to return what she claims illegally sold assets to the state by winning court rulings.

“If the court stipulates that there was something illegal, the state will be selling those enterprises legally in a clean and transparent way,” Tymoshenko said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mogilevich Arrested (Update)

MOSCOW, Russia -- Semyon Mogilevich, a suspected organized-crime boss who is wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations for alleged fraud and racketeering, has been arrested along with Arbat Prestige owner Vladimir Nekrasov.

A screen grab from Russia's "Vesti" news program showing Mogilevich's detention.

A posse of about 50 armed police commandos detained Nekrasov and Ukrainian-born Mogilevich near the city's World Trade Center, the Interior Ministry said Friday.

The Ukrainian security service, the SBU, has investigated the purported involvement of Mogilevich with RosUkrEnergo, the controversial gas trader that acts as a middleman in Russian gas exports to Ukraine.

Mogilevich, 61, was using the name Sergei Shnaider when detained.

Mogilevich's lawyer, Alexander Pogonchenkov, confirmed in a Friday interview that his client was born in Ukraine as Semyon Mogilevich, but has changed his name to Sergei Shnaider.

The Ostankinsky District Court placed Mogilevich and Nekrasov under arrest on suspicion of large-scale tax fraud late Thursday, Moscow City Court spokeswoman Marina Malygina said.

Mogilevich, has been wanted by the FBI on racketeering, fraud and money-laundering charges since 2003. He is believed to have been living in Moscow for several years.

State television showed footage Friday of Mogilevich as police held him and some bodyguards up against a car. It also showed footage of the seldom-photographed Mogilevich in custody wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a cap.

Both Pogonchenkov and Nekrasov's lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, said they would appeal the arrests Monday.

Pogonchenkov said his client had no relation whatsoever to Arbat Prestige.

The two suspects "are not business partners, just good acquaintances," Pogonchenkov said.

The arrest of Mogilevich comes as newly appointed Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is stepping up calls for Gazprom and Ukraine to cut out RosUkrEnergo from its role as middleman in Russian gas exports.

The SBU in 2005 investigated the trader over possible ties to Mogilevich. The probe was dropped, however, following a change of leadership at the SBU.

Tymoshenko is scheduled to visit Moscow next month for talks with Russian officials, and is expected to push for the contract with RosUkrEnergo to be canceled, a December pricing agreement to be ditched and transit fees for Russian gas to be raised.

In Davos last week, however, President Viktor Yushchenko opposed calls for higher tariffs.

The Ukrainian investigation into RosUkrEnergo, during Tymoshenko's previous term as prime minister, was closed after she was fired by Yushchenko in September 2005.

The head of the SBU under Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Turchynov, later claimed in an interview that the order to close the investigation had come directly from Yushchenko.

No one at Tymoshenko's press office answered calls Sunday.

In January 2006, RosUkrEnergo, jointly owned by Gazprom and billionaire Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, emerged as the major beneficiary of the bitter gas-price dispute between Russia and Ukraine, winning control over the flow of Russian and cheaper Central Asian gas to Ukraine.

Robert Shetler-Jones, chief executive of Firtash's holding company, Group DF, on Friday denied any business links between Mogilevich and companies connected to RosUkrEnergo.

Since RosUkrEnergo was handed the export monopoly in 2006, Tymoshenko has repeatedly vowed to end RosUkrEnergo's role in the Russian-Ukrainian gas trade, which she has dubbed "criminal," and pledged to start buying gas directly from Gazprom.

In October, Dmitry Medvedev, first deputy prime minister and Gazprom chairman, seemed to back the demands, when he said Gazprom could move to "give up" the opaque intermediary structures involved in gas exports to Ukraine.

On Friday, state energy firm Naftogaz Ukrainy abruptly pulled out of talks with RosUkrEnergo and Gazprom over gas prices and debt, a RosUkrEnergo spokesman said, Bloomberg reported.

Zeev Gordon, an Israeli lawyer who has represented Mogilevich in the past, said by telephone Sunday from Tel Aviv that Mogilevich had always denied any links to RosUkrEnergo and Firtash.

Gordon confirmed that he had personally worked previously for Firtash in 2003, when he acted as a trustee for several months to help him set up RosUkrEnergo's predecessor as middleman in Russian-Ukrainian gas supplies, Eural Trans Gas, in Hungary.

Gordon insisted that this coincidence in no way meant that there were any ties between Mogilevich and Firtash.

Firtash's representative, Shetler-Jones, also denied reports in the Russian and Ukrainian media that identified Firtash as a major stakeholder in Arbat Prestige.

"Neither Group DF nor Mr. Dmitry Firtash personally has any interest in or affiliation with Arbat Prestige. Dmitry Firtash also does not directly or indirectly own shares in this company," Shetler-Jones said in a statement.

Dobrovinsky, the lawyer for Arbat Prestige owner Nekrasov, also denied that Firtash had any stake in the cosmetics firm.

The U.S. indictment against Mogilevich dates back to a 2003 case in Philadelphia in which he and two associates were accused of manipulating stock of the Pennsylvania-based company YBM Magnex.

The FBI notice on Mogilevich says he set up a "complex network of corporations" to "create the illusion that YBM was engaged in a profitable international business, primarily the industrial magnet market."

He and the two other suspects were charged with 45 counts of racketeering, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, according to the FBI web site, which states that Mogilevich "should be considered armed and dangerous."

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the United States was "not involved in the recent investigations and arrests in Russia." The two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

The embassy spokeswoman referred all questions to the U.S. Justice Department, which did not return calls for comment Friday.

Pogonchenkov, Mogilevich's lawyer, said Friday that Mogilevich changed his name to Sergei Shnaider after getting married.

Malygina, the Moscow City Court spokeswoman, said the suspect was born in 1946 and officially worked as a consultant in a company called Evergate Ltd. Mogilevich and Nekrasov have been placed under arrest for two months, Malygina said.

Mogilevich has used 17 different names and holds passports from several countries, Itar-Tass reported, citing a law enforcement source.

Pogonchenkov said his client had only a Russian passport. "He does not have any other citizenships," Pogonchenkov said.

Mogilevich has been based in Moscow for seven or eight years and has not left the country for the past few years "for obvious reasons," said Gordon, the Israeli lawyer.

Mogilevich's former wife, Olga Shnaider, a 33-year-old lawyer linked in the Russian media to Arbat Prestige, was also questioned by investigators Friday, Interfax reported, citing law enforcement sources.

But Yevgeny Shedlov, a lawyer for Shnaider, said Sunday that investigators had denied that they had detained her and that her whereabouts were a mystery. Shnaider had not been in contact with her relatives or lawyers since Friday evening, Shedlov said.

"We have not heard anything from her," he said.

Asked whether Shnaider worked with Arbat Prestige, Shedlov said that as a lawyer she had the right to choose her clients. "Lawyers can work with whomever they want, including Arbat Prestige. It doesn't mean that they necessarily commit crimes," he said.

Source: The Moscow Times

Ukrainian President Asks Prosecutors To Investigate Fatal Railway Accident

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko has demanded that the Prosecutor-General's Office investigate the tragedy in Rivne Region, in which six young people were fatally injured by a passing passenger train.

Viktor Yushchenko tells Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate train tragedy that caused the death of six youth.

"I request that you urgently take exhaustive measures to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident and to hold those responsible liable," its says in a letter addressed to Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko, the president's press service reported on Sunday.

Yushchenko instructed the head of Rivne regional state administration, Viktor Matchuk, "to take urgent organizational measures for providing all-round aid to the families of the victims".

As reported, six people were fatally injured on Saturday night by the passing Kiev-Ivano-Frankivsk passenger train No 43. The young people aged 17-20 were returning home to the village of Zdovbytsa along the railway line from a club in the neighbouring village.

At 10:23 GMT on 27 January, Interfax-Ukraine quoted the state railway administration Ukrzaliznytsya as saying the railway was not responsible for the incident.

"When he noticed people on the tracks, the driver of train No 43 sounded a warning signal and applied the brakes. But in line with the timetable, the train was travelling at 90 kilometres (56 miles) an hour and the braking distance was about 900 metres (2,950 feet), so it was not possible to avoid hitting the people," it said in a statement.

Source: BBC Monitoring

Suspected Crime Boss Mogilevich Arrested With Arbat Prestige Owner

MOSCOW, Russia -- Police have arrested Semyon Mogilevich, a suspected organized crime boss wanted by the FBI, officials and his lawyer said Friday.

The Ukrainian-born Mogilevich, who has changed his name to Sergei Schneider, was detained late Wednesday together with Arbat Prestige owner Vladimir Nekrasov in central Moscow, Mogilevich's lawyer, Alexander Pogonchenkov, said Friday.

The Ostankinsky District Court placed the two men under arrest on suspicion of large-scale tax fraud late Thursday, Moscow City Court spokeswoman Marina Malygina said.

Mogilevich is wanted by the FBI in connection with a 2003 indictment in Philadelphia in which he and two associates were accused of manipulating stock of the Pennsylvania-based company YBM Magnex.

The FBI notice on Mogilevich says he set up a "complex network of corporations" to "create the illusion that YBM was engaged in a profitable international business, primarily the industrial magnet market."

He and the two other suspects were charged with 45 counts of racketeering, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, according to the FBI web site, which states that Mogilevich "should be considered armed and dangerous."

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the United States was "not involved in the recent investigations and arrests in Russia."

The two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

The embassy spokeswoman referred all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which did not return calls for comment Friday.

Around 50 police commandos rounded up Mogilevich and Nekrasov as they were leaving the parking lot of the World Trade Center at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Pogonchenkov said.

State-run television Friday showed footage of Mogilevich as police held him and some bodyguards up against a car. It also showed footage of the seldom-photographed Mogilevich in custody wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a cap.

Both Pogonchenkov and Nekrasov's lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, said they would appeal the arrests Monday.

Pogonchenkov said his client had no relation whatsoever to Arbat Prestige."
The two suspects "are not business partners, just good acquaintances," Pogonchenkov said.

Mogilevich changed his name to Sergei Schneider after getting married, Pogonchenkov said. Malygina, the Moscow City Court spokeswoman, said the suspect was born in 1946 and officially worked as a consultant in a company called Evergate LTD. Both he had Nekrasov have been placed under arrest for two months, Malygina said.

Citing a law enforcement source, Itar-Tass reported Mogilevich has used 17 different names and holds passports from several countries. Pogonchenkov said his client had only a Russian passport. "He does not have any other citizenships," Pogonchenkov said.

Mogilevich has been based in Moscow for seven or eight years and has not left the country for the past few years "for obvious reasons," Zeev Gordon, an Israeli lawyer who has represented Mogilevich in the past, said by telephone from Tel Aviv.

Source: Moscow Times

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Russia Reiterates Concern Over Ukraine's Bid For NATO Membership

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia is concerned over Ukraine's bid to join NATO which may seriously harm the former Soviet republic's relations with Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

"The desire to accelerate (Ukraine's) accession to this military-political bloc, expressed by the Ukrainian leadership, will entail serious consequences for the development of Russian-Ukrainian relations and will harm European security in general," the ministry said.

The statement was issued one day after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin held talks with Ukrainian Ambassador to Russia Oleh Dyomin on prospects of Russian-Ukrainian relations in light of Ukraine's future entry into NATO.

Last week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko formally requested NATO to admit Ukraine to its Membership Action Plan, which is a necessary step on the path to eventual full membership the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko stated earlier that Ukraine would make its decision on whether to accept NATO's future membership offer after holding a national referendum on the issue.

A recent poll carried out by Ukraine's Democratic Initiatives foundation showed that over 50 percent of Ukrainians would vote against joining NATO.

In the survey, 51.9 percent of respondents said they viewed NATO as an "aggressive imperialist bloc that would draw Ukraine into military conflicts."

Source: Xinhua

Ukraine Opposition Prevents Assembly Meeting Over NATO

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian opposition members prevented parliament from meeting yesterday, blocking access to the chamber with chairs to protest steps by the pro-Western government to join NATO.

Members of the pro-Russia Regions Party block the parliament tribune in Kiev. Ukrainian opposition members prevented parliament from meeting on Friday, blocking access to the chamber with chairs to protest steps by the pro-Western government to join NATO. The banner, in Russian, reads: NATO will not pass.

The ex-Soviet state’s leaders, linked to the 2004 “Orange Revolution” aimed at moving Ukraine closer to the West, last week asked NATO to grant Ukraine a “Membership Action Plan”, the first stage of a long-term process of seeking membership.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko say membership depends on approval in a referendum, but polls show most Ukrainians are opposed to joining NATO.

Up to two dozen opposition members from the Regions Party of ex-prime minister Viktor Yanukovich and their communist allies gathered around the speaker’s seat and placed chairs at entrances to prevent access to the chamber.

They also placed posters, in Russian, on walls reading “No To NATO!” “NATO-Never!” or “NATO away from the Black Sea.”

Yushchenko made NATO and European Union membership a priority after coming to power in the aftermath of mass “Orange” protests in 2004.

Ukraine is divided over the issue, which has also prompted warnings from Moscow that joining NATO would have serious implications for relations between the two ex-Soviet neighbours.

Outside parliament, hundreds of protesters held noisy rallies in support and against the moves to join NATO.

Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk said deputies were working in committees to restart parliamentary debates, including when and how to hold a referendum. “For now, there are no grounds for holding a referendum.”

Preventing parliament from meeting has been used as a tactic by both sides in a variety of debates that roughly bisect Ukraine into a nationalist western half that looks westward and a Russian-speaking eastern half that feels closer to Moscow.

Similar tactics, also linked to the NATO debate, prevented a sitting last week.

Russia has denounced proposals to extend NATO membership to Ukraine and ex-Soviet Georgia, saying that it would have to take “relevant measures”.

Yushchenko said on Thursday that his administration would take no steps to anger Moscow.

NATO ambassadors are to study Ukraine’s request before a summit in Romania in April.

But NATO officials, uneasy after three years of political instability in Ukraine, have suggested the summit might not approve the Action Plan at that meeting.

Source: Gulf Times

Probe: Negligence In Ukraine Mine Blast

KIEV, Ukraine -- Negligence by coal mine managers eager to ratchet up output led to a methane blast that killed 101 workers in Ukraine's deadliest mining disaster since the Soviet breakup, the head of an investigative commission told The Associated Press Friday.

Rescue workers at Zasyadko coalmine.

The explosion ripped through the massive Zasyadko mine in the eastern city of Donetsk on Nov. 18. In addition to the colossal toll of the blast and its immediate aftermath, five cleanup workers were killed and dozens were injured in two explosions at the mine over the following two weeks.

First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchinov, who heads the government commission investigating the tragedy, said the push by mine managers for greater output led them to ignore safety rules.

"The main problem was that the mine's work load was colossal," Turchinov told the AP in an interview. "The volumes of production were such that it was very difficult to observe all the safety norms. As result we had this horrifying death toll."

Turchinov said the methane blast occurred at a depth of some 4,000 feet and was probably caused by a spark from faulty electronic equipment.

Experts say Ukraine's mines are dangerous largely because they are so deep. Further west in Europe, most coal beds are around 1,800 feet.

Methane is a natural byproduct of mining, and its concentration increases with depth. More than 75 percent of Ukraine's some 200 coal mines are classified as dangerous due to high methane concentrations.

Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, more than 4,800 miners in Ukraine have been killed.

Experts say the sector badly needs reform to battle widespread corruption and inefficiency, which leads to frequent accidents. Eugene Cherviachenko, a mining analyst with the investment bank Concorde Capital, said increasing oversight of the sector and privatizing dozens of mines that are still state-owned would help tackle the problem.

"I think privatization is a solution," Cherviachenko said. "Private owners are more efficient in this case and will at least finance modernization programs."

Despite the dangers, there is growing appetite for Ukraine's rich coal reserves, particularly amid rising natural gas prices.

Turchinov said the government will now drastically increase oversight of mines, especially of Zasyadko, but that Ukraine cannot afford to give up coal production.

"Unfortunately, because of the conditions our state is in, in terms of energy security of the country, today we have no alternative to coal," Turchinov said.

Source: AP

Friday, January 25, 2008

WTO Takes In Ukraine As New Partner

DAVOS, Switzerland -- The World Trade Organization agreed Friday to accept Ukraine as a member, giving President Viktor Yushchenko a new sales pitch as he sought out more foreign investment while at the World Economic Forum.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko attends a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

Membership will open new market opportunities for Ukraine's industrial exports, and comes amid growing worries about the world that the current economic uncertainty could lead to increased protectionism.

WTO membership will require the former Soviet republic to continue economic reforms aimed at bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union, which it has aims of ultimately joining. Yushchenko also has hopes of steering the country into the European Union and NATO.

Yushchenko said joining the trade body might help improve Ukraine's troubled trade relations with Russia, which also aspires to WTO membership but still has numerous issues to resolve.

"I think we will soon begin consultations with the goal of optimizing our relations in the context of the rules, traditions and position of the WTO," he said.

Yushchenko, who travels to Moscow on Feb. 12 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said it was important for Russia to join the Geneva-based group that sets the rules for global trade.

"This will harmonize our relations," he told international investors during a lunchtime speech.

In making the case for investing in Ukraine, he cited its 7.3 percent growth last year and commitment to democracy, which he called the key to economic and political stability.

The WTO's 151-member general council will formally invite Ukraine to join Feb. 5, after which the country would have to sign a membership treaty. It would officially become the body's 152nd member a month later.

By joining first, Ukraine effectively will get a veto over Russian membership since all WTO decisions are made by consensus. But, as Yushchenko's remarks indicated, Ukraine may have an interest in seeing Russia bound by the same trade rules.

Russia, the only major economy still outside the WTO, has been trying to enter since 1993.

Source: AP

There's Something Rotten In Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Orange Revolution gave Ukraine a new, pro-Western president - if not always an Orange prime minister.

President Victor Yushchenko (L) and Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko

But the Prosecutor-General's Office, which decides who gets put in jail, has remained steadily in the hands of Yanukovych's Blue, Donetsk clan since the days of President Leonid Kuchma.

Why this is so remains a matter of speculation.

If anyone knows the answer, however, it surely must be Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who rose to power during the heady days of late 2004 on a bandwagon of promises to clean the criminals out of power. It's the president who appoints the prosecutor-general in Ukraine.

In his campaign for the presidency, Yushchenko was opposed by outgoing President Kuchma and Kuchma’s chosen successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The prosecutor-general at the time was a man called Genadiy Vasylyev from Donetsk.

Vasylyev arrived in Kyiv together with clan leader Yanukovych in 2003, signaling to Ukrainians and the world that the corruption-ridden regime of Kuchma was passing the baton eastward - to the country's Russian-speaking industrial barons.

Vasylyev's predecessor, Svyatoslav Piskun, was a creation of Kuchma, but the fact that he later ended up aligning himself with Yanukovych's Regions party points to a remarkably closed circle of men in charge of prosecution.

Ukraine's current prosecutor-general, Oleksandr Medvedko, is also from Donetsk. He first came to power in 2005, when Yushchenko & Co. was in control of the presidency as well as the government.

Yushchenko didn't just win the 2004 presidential race on promises to fight corruption, as many a politician in sundry democratic countries has done. He, together with Orange icon Yulia Tymoshenko and other members of the opposition, had ridden a wave of national indignation toward Kuchma and his cronies, which was set off by the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

Gonzadze's headless body was found in a wood outside Kyiv back in the fall of 2000. One of a string of 'unsolved' murders of journalists who dared to criticize the authorities in Kyiv, it soon led to national protests that helped make Kuchma into an international pariah.

Kuchma himself was implicated in the murders in a series of tapes released by the opposition.

Criticism of the way the murder investigations were conducted ended the career of Kuchma's long-standing, Sovietesque chief prosecutor Mikhaylo Potebenko, who was replaced by the equally ineffectual Piskun in 2002.

To this day, the Gongadze murder and other high-profile grisly crimes remain unsolved by an unbroken chain of prosecutor-generals loyal to Kuchma and/or Donetsk.

Yushchenko's rallying call during the Orange Revolution was: Put the bandits in jail. Instead, he kept Piskun in office for another year.

The order of Yushchenko's prosecutor-general's goes like this: Piskun, Mevedko, again Piskun and now Medvedko once more.

Observers have speculated that Yushchenko prevented any meaningful change in the Prosecutor-General's Office as a condition to receiving the presidency, thus guaranteeing the old guard that they wouldn't be prosecuted.

Others have suggested that Yushchenko has his own skeletons in the closet to hide.

Whatever his reasons, the fact remains that the Orange president has prevented a cleanup of the nation's top law-enforcement body, thereby making a mockery of justice.

Some of the prosecutor swapping under Yushchenko can be attributed to the president's struggle to restrain the power grab by Yanukovych, who returned as premier following the 2006 parliamentary election.

But even this upset in Orange rule is largely the fault of Yushchenko, who mistrusts the political ambitions of his Orange Revolution ally Yulia Tymoshenko.

It is Tymoshenko, returned as prime minister after early elections held last fall, who has finally raised the issue of ending the Donetsk clan's control over criminal prosecution in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko, who clearly has an eye on the presidency in 2009, publicly challenged Mr. Yushchenko to fire Medvedko.

Besides her unwavering stance against corruption in all spheres of government, Tymoshenko has personally been the victim of unbridled law enforcement. In 2001, after attempting to clean up the country's shady energy business, Kuchma had her jailed for a short time.

The fiery female politician has more than once bumped heads with Piskun, who holds the record for comebacks as top prosecutor.

And Tymoshenko isn't alone among Ukrainian politicians in her criticism of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

The Orange parties' other anti-corruption crusader, Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko, who is also a recent returnee to his job, says he keeps sending prosecutors cases but nothing is done with them.

In Ukraine, anyone unfortunate enough to get picked up by the police could be subject to torture or, more likely, a lengthy if not terminal stay in a remand center without trial.

But the so-called elite can easily avoid punishment due to their lawmaker immunity or ability to bribe judges.

In a travesty of justice, many check into hospitals, where they are protected under Ukrainian law, only to check out on the sly and flee the country with suitcases full of illegally earned cash.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has continually reiterated that Ukraine must reform its constitution, judiciary and criminal code.

Even more than Tymoshenko, President Yushchenko has been a staunch advocate of further integration with Europe through reforms.

Yet it's the president, or more recently his dwindling number of supporters in parliament, who are resisting Tymoshenko's latest assault on the Donetsk prosecutors.

Oles Dony, a lawmaker who openly opposed Tymoshenko's confirmation as premier even though the pro-presidential party he belongs to campaigned under a united Orange banner, announced on January 24 that the Orange majority in parliament was still divided on whether to vote Medvedko out of office.

Yushchenko himself is trying to find a legal loophole to avoid yet another embarrassment before his shrinking voter base.

"For now, the issue (of firing Medvedko) is a matter of procedure. You know that the president nominates and appoints the prosecutor, but the Ukrainian parliament decides dismissals," the president said.

This may be true, but Yushchenko has not even nominated a new top prosecutor, and everything about the way the president has acted on this issue over the past three years shows that he has no intention of breaking the Donetsk clan's hold over the Prosecutor-Generals' Office.

As for Medvedko, like many of his well-connected colleagues before him, he has checked into a hospital just to be on the safe side.

Maybe he suddenly fell ill? But something is definitely rotten in Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office, all the same.

Source: Eurasian Home

Russian Parliament Annuls Deal With Ukraine On Using Radars

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia's lower house of parliament on Friday voted to stop using Soviet-built military radars in Ukraine because of Kiev's bid to join NATO.

Russian State Duma

At the same time, lawmakers extended another deal which calls on Ukraine to help maintain Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles - a move reflecting strong military industrial ties between the two ex-Soviet neighbors.

The State Duma voted 388-58 with one abstension to scrap the 1997 agreement with Ukraine which allowed Russia to use data from the radars located near the western town of Mukachevo and the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula.

The huge facilities were part of a Soviet system of early warning radars intended to spot missile launches.

Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said the Ukrainian leadership's push for NATO membership had prompted the military to reconsider the agreement. "This is our response to the Ukrainian government's to quickly join NATO," he said.

Source: Jerusalem Post

Kiev’s Time Has Come, Says Yushchenko

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Ukraine’s Orange Revolution is Victor Yushchenko’s proudest accomplishment. But the turbulent weeks that saw him emerge as president exacted a physical toll – a near fatal poisoning that left him scarred.

Viktor A. Yushchenko, President of Ukraine, gestures during a panel meeting on human rights the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland.

Three years later Mr Yushchenko is back. He says that Ukraine is back too, and ready to become a democratic member of a democratic Europe.

That was Mr Yushchenko’s ambition when he first came into office and, as the world briefly marvelled at the protesters in snowy Kiev, it seemed astonishing but just about credible.

These expectations were thwarted in the subsequent three years as Ukraine descended into bitter political squabbling, culminating in a pre-term parliamentary vote last year.

After weeks of jockeying, the election finally delivered a government led by Yulia Tymoshenko, the president’s sometime ally and sometime rival, as prime minister. Now, Mr Yushchenko says, Ukraine is again on course.

“The Ukrainian authorities for the first time are in a situation where the president, the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament are all openly proposing a pro-west path and Euro-Atlantic co-ordination,” Mr Yushchenko says in an interview with the Financial Times. “I believe that today the government is united.”

The president is using this consensus to push on several fronts. He has called on western countries to support Kiev’s bid to join Nato’s membership action plan, a step towards accession, and hopes Ukraine will be admitted to the World Trade Organisation next month.

After that, Mr Yushchenko wants to speed discussions with the EU about entering its associated free trade zone.

He does not disguise his ambition of eventual EU membership. In time, he believes, “Europe will find itself asking: why isn’t Ukraine a member?”

Kiev’s trump card is its democracy, which Mr Yushchenko believes has been bolstered rather than undermined by the recent domestic conflicts. “Over the past 2½ years we have demonstrated to the whole world that we are able to resolve any internal disputes, even those with polar political views, in a democratic way.”

Other communist, or post-communist, countries such as China and Russia have been promoting the view that, in states with weak social and market infrastructure, authoritarianism can be a surer – and more prosperous – path to development than democracy. But Mr Yushchenko is unconvinced. “Democracy works, it is worth it,” he says, citing Ukraine’s 7.3 per cent growth last year.

“You couldn’t put Ukrainian society back into bondage ... this is a society which has enlightened itself.”

For a US administration that has made democracy-building a centrepiece of its foreign policy – without much success – these are welcome declarations. Indeed, after Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, met Mr Yushchenko earlier this week in Davos, US officials took care to say she had supported Kiev’s Nato ambitions.

But other countries may not be so delighted by Ukraine’s renewed claims.

Russia’s petro-fuelled economic rise, and the political aggression that has come with it, may have made backing Ukraine seem riskier. And while the EU’s eastern enlargement has brought an economic boost, it has also provoked populist concerns about a flood of migrants.

Russia is the most ambivalent of all. The political muddle that followed Ukraine’s Orange Revolution was a gift for Moscow’s leaders, worried about a copy-cat revolt at home.

As Moscow flexes its geopolitical muscle, it has also spoken out against Ukrainian moves towards Nato, accusing Kiev of seeing links “as an alternative to good-neighbourly ties with Russia”.

Mr Yushchenko says that is not so and believes he can persuade the Russians to see things his way.

“A good-neighbourly dialogue will, step by step, establish the understanding which is necessary for Russia, in particular the Russian foreign ministry, to accept this step.”

He is a believer in the power of time. Time, he says, has helped Ukraine to jettison the Soviet past and become more democratic and united.

Time, he thinks, will also help Russia to accept Kiev’s new geopolitical stance, just as it has come to accept Nato membership of the eastern European states that were once part of the Warsaw pact.

But changes over time do not always run in a single direction – and at the moment Russia seems keener on turning back the clock.

Source: The Financial Times

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It's Time For Ukraine To Get Started

WASHINGTON, DC -- At NATO headquarters last Friday, the Ukrainian foreign minister presented a request from his government for a membership action plan for Ukraine, which Kiev hopes will be approved when the alliance's 26 leaders meet in Bucharest in April.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko presented a request from his government for a NATO membership action plan.

NATO should say yes.

The goal of NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s has been to achieve a broader, more secure Europe. This has driven alliance decisions to take in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in 1999, and seven additional Baltic and Central European states in 2004.

Those decisions have produced a more stable and integrated Europe, and underpin the dramatic democratic and economic transformations made by the new member states.

The "open door" policy adopted by NATO in 1997 allows that any European country that meets alliance standards and can contribute to Euro-Atlantic security can be considered for membership.

A membership action plan - or MAP - offers no guarantee of membership, but it would provide a guide for Ukraine's further integration in Europe and internal reform efforts.

A MAP is not a request for membership; Ukrainian leaders have said their electorate will have a chance to express its view on NATO membership in a referendum before Kiev formally decides to make such a request.

Granting Ukraine a MAP at the Bucharest summit meeting would be fully consistent with alliance policy. It would enhance European security and stability.

It would encourage the large and growing number of Ukrainians who want greater integration with Europe. Moreover, none of the arguments against the measure stand up to scrutiny.

Some might assert that Kiev is not ready to prepare for NATO membership. Not true. Ukraine has made as much progress on democratic, economic and military reform as Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Albania when they received MAPs in 1999.

Moreover, in late 2005, in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, many in NATO considered a MAP for Ukraine a strong possibility ahead of an Alliance summit meeting in November 2006. But the Ukrainian prime minister at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, derailed that prospect.

Today, however, a unified Ukrainian executive branch, backed by a majority coalition in Parliament, desires a MAP. And, over the past two years, Ukraine has further burnished its democratic credentials, deepening military reform and conducting two free parliamentary elections and a peaceful changeover of power.

Others might argue that Ukraine's population does not support NATO membership. Perhaps. While polls show that only about one-third of Ukrainians currently favor membership, popular support for joining NATO in countries such as Slovakia and Slovenia was likewise weak in 1999.

Those two countries, use their MAPs to broaden popular support. Ukraine's leaders have indicated that they will do the same.

Skeptics might assert that Ukraine would bring little to the alliance other than an additional security burden. Wrong. Kiev has demonstrated that it has serious military capabilities and the political will to use them.

In recent years, the Ukrainian military has provided the alliance with strategic airlifts; participated, often side-by-side with NATO troops, in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and elsewhere; and made a significant contribution to coalition ground forces in Iraq during 2004-05.

Ukraine would be a net contributor to Euro-Atlantic security.

Finally, some might fear that preparing Ukraine for NATO membership would provoke new difficulties with Russia. Let's be clear. The Kremlin would not welcome the move, now or at any time in the foreseeable future.

But there is nothing to suggest that holding off would prompt Moscow to take more accommodating positions on other issues, such as Kosovo.

Indeed, allowing the Russia factor to block a MAP would only reward Russia's petulant behavior. In the past year Moscow has suspended the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, threatened to recognize the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and blustered about targeting nuclear missiles on Central Europe.

NATO poses no threat to Russia. Unfortunately, the Russian foreign policy elite choose to regard it as an adversary. While NATO should engage Moscow by offering new, cooperative programs, it is up to the Russians themselves to decide not to portray NATO as a threat.

NATO leaders should thus welcome Ukraine's request and give a positive answer in Bucharest. Anything less would be a reversal of 10 years of alliance policy, would discourage those in Kiev who want to modernize Ukraine, and would waste an opportunity to advance the process of shaping a broader, more secure Europe.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Ukraine Court Prohibits Construction Of Shopping Mall Near Euro 2012 Stadium

KIEV, Ukraine -- A court has prohibited the construction of a shopping centre which had delayed the upgrading of the stadium where the 2012 European Championship final is scheduled to be held.

The modernization of the Olympic Stadium has been delayed due to a nearby shopping centre being built. UEFA had warned that the centre could make the stadium unsuitable by blocking some exit routes and compromising security.

Ukraine is co-hosting Euro 2012 with neighbouring Poland, and both countries face the challenge of building stadiums and upgrading dilapidated infrastructure.

Kyiv's economic court ruled Monday that construction of the mall must be stopped and the two floors that have already been built torn down, according to a statement from the Prosecutor General's Office.

The government says it is looking for ways to compensate the mall's investors.

UEFA last year awarded the prestigious event to the former eastern bloc for the first time since Yugoslavia hosted it in 1976.

Source: The Canadian Press

NATO MAP Will Improve Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The joint letter written to NATO by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko marked a significant stage in the ongoing process of Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

A positive response to Ukraine joining the Membership Action Plan (MAP) will not only enhance Ukraine’s prestige on the world arena and raise the fighting efficiency of its armed forces, but also irreversibly inject systemic reforms in the country directed at building an effective democratic state, further judicial and economic reforms, create a competitive economy, bolster the rule of law, ensure human rights protection and form an open society.

Foremost, the MAP is not for NATO, it is for Ukraine. Hence it contains a list of reforms which our citizens need.

In Ukraine’s desired course of development, politicians and statesmen alike follow the example of Western democracies and embrace European values and achievements.

When we speak of a developed economy, we name Germany and Holland as models; when discussing higher education, we look to Great Britain and the US. Analyzing the tourist industry, we use Spain and Italy as standards. But when these countries formed a security alliance, they immediately were branded an “aggressive enemy bloc” by certain reactionaries.

Obviously this is not the case since NATO membership, and cooperation with it, allows a country to mold itself in its own image and, most importantly, to develop internally.

Thus not only does the MAP cover defense and military issues, but in a broader spectrum it embraces political and economic issues, the effective allocation of state budget resources, as well as social and legal issues, environmental protection, and the issue of security in the broadest sense.

The issue of security does not exclusively mean the absence of military action. It also extends to personal security: housing, job security, ecology, and finally, an overall secure living environment.

In addition, cooperation with NATO brings Ukraine and the Ukrainian state closer to European poli-economic structures – first and foremost the EU.

At first glance, NATO and the EU are two different organizations and membership to one does not necessitate joining the other. This is our viewpoint. The countries who ascended into the EU in the most recent expansion round were already members of NATO. The reason being, in the European political consciousness, the EU and NATO are pillars on which the entire European design rests. And if the letter that the president, premier, and speaker wrote expresses that the state sees itself as part of the Euro-Atlantic security space, then it is clear Ukrainians also wish to see and realize it as part of the European political and economic expanse.

At the same time, it is necessary to implement a systemic and consistent plan in Ukraine to meet the standards and benchmarks we are setting before us. In fact, irrespective of whether we have a MAP, we should change as a country for the better. This involves strengthening democratic institutions, and the welfare and security of the Ukrainian nation. This is the main goal. And the presence of corresponding agreements, letters, and documents do not substitute our steadfast work and activity. Although a MAP in Ukraine will certainly shake up and discipline government officials, and Yushchenko understands this.

Concerning Ukraine’s international position, it is first worth mentioning that Ukraine participates in practically every international peacekeeping mission under the auspices of the UN, NATO, and OSCE. At times, these are whole sub-units and technical groups. At other times, individual officers serve at international posts.

Today, close to 1,000 Ukrainian military personnel are serving in international peacekeeping missions. Ukraine’s peacekeepers once numbered 3,000 and Ukraine is a top 10 world peacekeeping contributor. But is there a proportionately equal political and economic return for this important international contribution for Ukraine?

Aside from simply participating in activities, the opportunity to take part in forming solutions, decision-making and influencing them to secure the ideal international and economic effect for the state is optimal. The right to influence decision-making is common in full-fledged member organizations, which applies to the Alliance itself. Ukraine’s NATO membership gives it the possibility to influence decisions allowing it to defend its views and national interests.

Evidently, the countries that don’t want these opportunities to exist are those that have a “casual” attitude towards Ukraine’s potential NATO membership.

Commentary emanating from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Information and Print on Ukraine’s rapprochement to NATO clearly is unfavorable. The Russian foreign ministry said Ukraine has the right to determine NATO membership, but simultaneously declared that membership could complicate relations between the two countries. Incidentally on Jan. 25, 2008, 11 NATO countries and Russia will conduct joint training exercises in Germany on the use of an anti-rocket defense system. Indeed, this is happening under the aegis of the Russia-NATO Council’s (RNC) special working group on issues of anti-rocket defense systems.

Moreover, Ukraine can only dream of reaching the same level of cooperation with NATO as Russia has. It seems they are exclusive friends without us, and this suits Moscow. Let’s be friends together with our participation.

It is quite clear to me that Russia has the desire to have all of Kyiv’s relations with Brussels resolved in Moscow. Yet we live in the XXI century, the world is open and more just today. European countries and structures respect Ukraine’s right to its own position, own policy, own national interests … and for the right to exist.

Equally important is for the Ukrainian government to work for the Ukrainian people, not for anyone else’s. It should understand the responsibility it has before Ukrainian citizens, their welfare, and the formation of national security for the state.

Source: Kyiv Post