Monday, June 30, 2008

Platini Heads To Ukraine And Poland With Worries About Euro 2012 Hosts

LONDON, UK -- The European Championship may be over but Michel Platini's work is not. The UEFA president tomorrow begins a two-day inspection tour of Poland and Ukraine, the joint-hosts for Euro 2012, which is expected to conclude in a final warning for Ukraine in particular.

Michel Platini: two-day inspection tour of Poland and Ukraine.

On Saturday he said that a final decision on whether Poland and Ukraine will host the tournament will be made in September.

The decision to award the finals to the former Soviet Bloc countries was a bold and surprising one, driven by a combination of realpolitik and evangelism.

The gamble is in danger of backfiring. Both countries have a huge amount of work to do on upgrading their infrastructure but progress has been slow.

In Ukraine the issue has become a political football with various factions using the situation to push their cause. There is plenty to blame to apportion.

Only last week Ukraine's sports ministry announced it was looking for a new contractor to renovate Kiev's Olympic Stadium, which is scheduled to host the final, after a long dispute with the original Taiwanese builders.

Four of the eight proposed venues need new stadia while the other four need significant refurbishment.

The sheer scale of the proposed competition is a problem. The 1,200-mile journey from Gdansk, one venue, to Donetsk, another, takes 43 hours by train, 22 hours plus border delays, by road – only 16 miles of which are on motorways.

There are no direct flights. Warsaw is the only Polish city with direct flights to Ukraine, and there are none to Donetsk.

Earlier this year, Igor Miroshnychenko, of the Ukrainian FA, admitted: "It's not a good situation here. We have no main stadium and there are problems with the roads. Can we host it? I really don't know."

If the September deadline is not met, then UEFA will begin talking to possible replacements.

Spain, which has excellent stadia and a working infrastructure, missed out in 2004 and are favourites. The country last hosted in 1964. Italy, who lost in the bidding process, are another contender.

The Scottish and Irish will pitch a reprise of their joint bid which is unlikely to succeed, and there is a possibility, if Poland show that they are making progress, that they could combine with Germany for a joint bid.

Source: The Independent

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Putin Says Central Asia Wants To Raise Gas Price For Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday told his Ukrainian counterpart that Central Asian countries were urging Moscow to increase gas prices for Ukraine.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko meet in Moscow for talks June 28, 2008.

Putin made the comments at the end of talks in Moscow with Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during which he also threatened to restrict military cooperation if the neighbouring country joined the NATO military alliance.

"We would like to move to European prices for Ukraine little by little, but our central Asian partners want to do so from January 1, 2009," Putin told journalists.

"We are negotiating on this question. But it is still too early to talk of results," he added.

The price Ukraine pays for gas imports from Russia could more than double to over 400 dollars (254 euros) per 1,000 cubic metres in 2009, Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller told reporters earlier this week.

Russia has a number of times reduced or cut altogether gas supplies to its neighbour Ukraine, raising concerns in European Union countries about Moscow's reliability as an energy supplier.

Meanwhile, on Ukraine's NATO ambitions, Putin said Russia remained opposed.

"We believe that the enlargement of NATO is counter productive from the point of view of international security," he said.

Despite appeals from US President George W. Bush, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, at its April Bucharest summit, refused to put Ukraine on a definite track for membership in the Western military alliance.

Wary of alienating a resurgent Russia, European leaders denied both Ukraine and Georgia access to the alliance's Membership Action Plan, or MAP, which grooms states for accession.

Source: AFP

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More Cheap Flights Coming To Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Weeks after Hungary’s Wizz Air revealed plans to launch the first low-cost airline service in Ukraine, news broke that other foreign airlines are also planning to enter the market.

German airline Germanwings

The arrival of low-cost airline services is expected to significantly cut the price of air travel and comes at an opportune time, just ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship to be jointly hosted by Ukraine and Poland.

“Three more foreign companies have set sights on the Ukrainian air transportation market,” said Oleksandr Davydov, head of Ukraine’s State Aviation Administration. Following not too far behind Hungary’s Wizz Air is Germany’s Germanwings and Air Arabia of the United Arab Emirates.

Wizz Air aims to start domestic flights this summer offering one-way tickets at just over $10, followed by one-way flights to European cities between $42-$63. Officials at Wizz Air said their company is currently awaiting final approvals by Ukrainian regulators, and hopes to launch its first domestic flight on July 11, a Kyiv-Lviv flight.

Germanwings is also awaiting approvals to offer Kyiv-Berlin and Kyiv-Koln flights starting at 19 Euro ($30). The company has already filed a request with Ukrainian regulators and will launch flights as soon as permissions are granted, said Heinz Joachim Schottes, a Germanwings spokesperson.

Davydov said a meeting with Germanwings, to consider giving them approval, was first planned for June 16, but has been postponed.

Schottes said Germanwings does not, at the moment, plan to launch domestic flights in Ukraine.

“We are for now just trying to get into Ukraine,” he said, adding that his company’s low-cost offers will be very competitive compared to current prices available for airline tickets from Ukraine to Germany. Current prices offered for such flights are double, or triple, what Germanwings will offer.

Next in line is Air Arabia which plans to launch a subsidiary offering services in Ukraine. Air Arabia hopes to launch domestic flights in Ukraine this year, but will first, by autumn, offer low­cost flights between Kyiv and Sharjah, an airport 20 minutes from Dubai. The cost of a one­way ticket is expected to be $200, three times less than current offers.

“[Air Arabia] is also interested in opening an affiliate in Ukraine that will operate five Airbus 320 passenger aircraft for domestic flights,” Davydov added.

Davydov said several other foreign airlines have expressed interest in launching operations to and within Ukraine, including Poland’s Central Wings and a Singaporean company which he would not identify.

Their arrival would come at an opportune time, as passenger traffic is expected to rise by some 40 percent this year, Davydov said, adding that some 2 million passengers could use low­cost airlines flying in and out of Ukraine, by 2009.

It remains uncertain by how much leading airlines operating in Ukraine today will drop prices, if at all.

Serhiy Kutsy, a spokesperson for Aerosvit, one of the two leading airlines in Ukraine along with Ukraine International Airlines, said his company is preparing for the “inevitable” arrival of competition.

Aerosvit claims to already offer some one­way domestic fairs between $10­-$50.

Davydov said that Ukraine’s airports, badly in need of expansion and overhauls, will be able to handle increased traffic in the near­term. But “new terminals would need to be built” soon to handle increased air traffic in the country.

Source: Kyiv Post

Platini Issues 2012 Warning To Poland And Ukraine

VIENNA, Austria -- UEFA president Michel Platini issued his strongest warning yet to Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland and Ukraine on Saturday, saying the tournament would not be staged there if stadiums in their capital cities were not ready.

Michel Platini issues strongest warning to Poland and Ukraine.

Platini, who did not give a deadline for the stadiums, will lead a 12-man delegation to the two countries next week to examine the progress being made.

Speaking to a packed news conference in Vienna on the eve of the Euro 2008 final between Spain and Germany, Platini said: "We will do everything we can to hold it in Poland and Ukraine.

"There is no back-up plan. We have not had any second thoughts, or other thoughts and we respect our decision to go to Poland and Ukraine.

"The only thing that will make me decide not to go is if there are no stadiums in the capitals of Warsaw and Kiev. If there are no stadiums, there will be no tournament."

UEFA warned Poland and Ukraine after January's executive committee meeting in Zagreb that the months to come would be decisive in determining whether the countries were in a position to host the finals.

Platini said on Saturday that UEFA would make its final decision at its executive meeting in Bordeaux on September 25-26.

Infrastructure problems including the modernisation of airports and road and rail networks, the construction of new hotels and the stadium plans have all plagued the project.

Building work at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, which is due to host the final in 2012, has been further complicated because of the planned demolition of a shopping centre near the stadium.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's sports minister Yuri Pavlenko said two companies were vying for the right to renovate the stadium in Kiev.

Eight venues are due to stage games, four in each country. As well as Warsaw, the Polish venues are Poznan, Wroclaw and Gdansk. Ukraine's four venues are Kiev, Donetsk, Lvov and Dnipropetrovsk.

UEFA awarded the tournament to Poland and Ukraine in April last year, ahead of rival bids from Italy and a joint bid from Croatia and Hungary.

Source: The Press Association

Taiwan Firm To Sue Ukraine Over Euro 2012 Stadium

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A Taiwan firm on Friday threatened to sue the Ukrainian government for breaking a contract allowing this firm to renovate a Kiev stadium for the Euro 2012 football championship.

Kiev Olympic stadium

Archasia Design Group (ADG), in a statement released to the Central News Agency, said it will take legal action to resolve the dispute regarding Ukraine's terminating the contract, but ADG will ask its subsidiary company in China to sign a new pact with Ukraine to renovate the stadium.

ADG blamed Ukraine for creating political obstacles to bar ADG from carrying out the contract, possibly due to Taiwan's lack of diplomatic ties with Kiev.

On April 16, ADG beat 18 contestants to win the bid to renovate the Olympisky Stadium in Kiev for Euro 2012, which will be co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland.

The 84,000-seat stadium, built in the 1920s, is due to host five Euro 2012 matches including the final.

The budget for the refurbishing is about 200 million euro (314 million US dollars).

ADG won the contract because it aimed to preserve the original style of the stadium.

However, on June 19, Ukraine's Ministry for Family, Youth and Sport notified ADG to provide Ukraine - before the afternoon of June 20 - legal verification of all ADG's documents related to the contract.

If the deadline was not met, Ukraine would annul the contract. ADG said the deadline was impossible to meet.

"This request is neither lawful nor reasonable because it takes many days to complete the verification due to our two countries' lack of diplomatic ties," ADG said in the statement.

ADG also blasted the Ukrainian sports ministry for creating obstacles in negotiating the contact, and condemned the Ukrainian government for refusing to provide background data and charts on the stadium.

"These are in violation of international construction norms and rules of the Union of European Football Association (UEFA)," the statement said.

Ukrainian Football Federation's vice president Boris Voskresensky said that if ADG was incapable of finishing the project on time, UEFA would revoke Ukraine's right to host Euro 2012.

Source: DPA

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ukraine Would Send The Russian Fleet To Syria

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Konstantin Rzhepishevsky, head the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry office is Odessa Region, stated on June 26 that the Russian Black Sea Fleet may be transferred from Sevastopol to Syria after 2017, the UNIAN information service reports.

A Russian sailor in Sevastopol.

Rzhepishevsky said that the Russian side has already spoken in favor of that idea and added that the Black Sea “will soon become a good zone of peace and economic cooperation.”

Under international agreement, the Black Sea Fleet is supposed to leave Ukraine by 2017.

Official Kiev has repeatedly stated that it will not extend the agreement on the Russian division’s location in Sevastopol.

Russian politicians have also repeatedly said that the fleet will stay in Ukraine forever.

The Russian Foreign Ministry declines to discuss the issue, saying that it is “not timely.”

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, commenting recently on a rent increase for the fleet at Sevastopol (it currently pays about $98 million per year), said that the withdrawal of the fleet in 2017 is non-negotiable.

Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Vysotsky stated recently that, after 2017, the fleet may be transferred to the Mediterranean Sea area.

Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, was quoted by RBC Daily as saying that the port of Tartus in Syria may be the new home for the fleet.

There is a Russian naval logistics facility in Tartus now.

Source: Kommersant

Russian Hackers Planning Attacks Against Baltic Countries And Ukraine

CHICAGO, USA -- Recent Tweets on Twitter are pointing to grumblings in the blogosphere around suspicion of a planned attack against Baltic countries and the Ukraine.

Russian hackers plan to replace the original content of the websites that they hack into with huge red stars and photographs of Soviet soldiers.

An article posted at The Baltic Course describes the planned attacks, as originally reported by Estonian television channel ETV24.

Recently, there have been multiple appeals in Russian Internet forums, calling for Russian hackers to unite and launch a large-scale attack on Internet websites of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian government institutions.

Russian hackers are dissatisfied with “the way Russian-speakers are treated in the Baltic countries”, and the ban on use of Soviet and Communist symbols.

Ukraine, on the other hand, has caused Russian hackers’ disapproval with its NATO aspirations.

“All the hackers of the country have decided to unite, to counter the impudent actions of Western superpowers. We are fed up with NATO’s encroachment on our motherland, we have had enough of Ukrainian politicians who have forgotten their nation and only think about their own interests. And we are fed up with Estonian government institutions that blatantly re-write history and support fascism,” says the appeal that is being circulated on Russian Internet forums.

Russian hackers plan to replace the original content of the websites that they hack into with huge red stars and photographs of Soviet soldiers.

This would not be the first politically motivated attack by Russian hackers against another country. Hopefully the advanced notice will help these governments prepare some.

Source: ZDNet

Thursday, June 26, 2008

When Bribes Are Fees

KIEV, Ukraine -- As articles in this week’s Kyiv Post point out, the practice of paying bribes is still common for many citizens, particularly when interacting with teachers, doctors and, ironically, law enforcement.


It is no secret that Ukraine’s education, medical and law enforcement systems are in shambles.

Simply put, the root of the problem is that teachers, doctors, judges, cops and other civil servants are grossly underpaid.

And so to fill the void of an ineffective government, a shadow market has blossomed.

To ensure that a student gains admission to the right institute, or that a doctor cures a sick patient, or to get out of a traffic violation, cash is paid.

The system is institutionalized and has become such a fixed custom that, for most citizens, it would be hard to imagine another way of getting things done.

And while these off-the-book payments are detrimental to any nation’s culture, a solution isn’t far away.

Many of these transactions could be eliminated if the bribes were simply brought out of the shadows and legalized as fees.

In medicine, a long-term solution is to privatize much of the health care system.

In education, private schools should be encouraged. They’d be more expensive, but also more transparent.

Boosting official salaries for all state-funded employees to realistic levels is also essential.

So why not legalize many of these shadow payments by introducing official payments for entrance exams, medical services and traffic violations?

Such legal payments have helped clean up the process of gaining approvals provided by various agencies that inspect such places as construction sites and restaurants.

It is time to expand these payments to other areas, as a way to more clearly distinguish an illicit bribe from a legitimate fee.

Source: Kyiv Post

One Shot And Out

KIEV, Ukraine -- With a population of 46 million, Ukraine has enough talented politicians with national interests at heart to make a two-term presidency unjustified.

Leonid Kuchma

Moreover, looking back at the history of Ukraine’s paralyzing politics, it becomes clear that the nation’s presidents, even those that showed glimmers of acting in the national interest, fell victim to paranoia and destructive rivalries with up-and-coming prime ministers plotting to take their spots.

First there was the standoff between Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk, and his prime minister, Leonid Kuchma.

Then, after Kuchma grabbed the presidency from Kravchuk in the 1994 election, he spent much of his time containing rivals, rather than developing the nation.

Kuchma clashed with his prime ministers, including Pavlo Lazarenko and Viktor Yushchenko.

And after the Orange Revolution finally rid Ukraine of Kuchma and his cronies, the new team succumbed to the same president-premier spats as their predecessors.

Rather than capitalizing on massive post-revolution support to push through much-needed changes, Yushchenko seems far too concerned with getting re-elected as president than getting something done.

His presidency descended into a series of standoffs with premiers viewed as challengers -- first Yulia Tymoshenko, then Viktor Yanukovych and now Tymoshenko again.

As a Kyiv Post article this week points out, Yushchenko’s chief of staff, Viktor Baloha, is blamed for fueling the rivalries to stage his own power grab.

True or not, the Baloha case is one more example of how personal ambitions trump national interests.

A cultural transformation may be needed to give birth to a new, more responsible Ukrainian elite.

But in the short term, there is a viable solution to removing much longstanding friction between presidents and prime ministers.

Ironically, the idea of limiting Ukraine’s presidency to a single term was recently floated by Viktor Pinchuk, made a billionaire during the cronyism presidency of father-in-law Kuchma.

Nevertheless, Pinchuk’s idea is a good one.

Had any of Ukraine’s three presidents known they were only in for one term, they would hopefully have focused attention on improving this nation’s prosperity and democracy, rather than elections and eliminating rivals.

Ukraine’s influential businessmen have exploited these rivalries for their own selfish ends.

One way to end this vicious cycle may be to constitutionally limit a presidency to a single term of no more than six years.

Maybe then the next president will be less fixated on destructive rivalries and more on helping this nation reach its potential.

Source: Kyiv Post

Rampant Inflation Haunts Ukraine

LONDON, UK -- Europe continues to suffer from increased inflation, but Ukraine is a story all its own as it gets strangled by record price increases. Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksandr Shlapak said inflation in the country would hit 20.0% in 2008, according to TradeTheNews.

Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksandr Shlapak.

This would normally be very alarming news for countries like Austria and Britain, that enjoy some of the lowest inflation levels (3.2% and 2.9%), but not for Ukraine; in May alone it reported inflation levels of 30.0%.

Indeed, Shlapak's statement is actually good news Ralf Wiegert, senior economist at Global Insight in Frankfurt, told Forbes.com.

"Sky-rocketing food prices last year contributed to levels of inflation that have reached nearly 33.0% in Ukraine," Wiegert said.

Inflation in Ukraine went from 11.0% in May last year to 31.0% in May in 2008, according to the state statistics office. Now inflation is expected to go back to 22.0% before hitting a low of 10.0% by the end of next year, according to economic estimates.

Wiegert says officials generally attribute the inflation problems to the global food crisis, but the Ukraine itself is also to blame.

"The government is ruled by members of the former Soviet era. They offer very little incentive to producers in a highly regulated market, creating an environment with high demand and very little supply," Wiegert added.

Food and beverage prices rose by 40.7% year on year in March, health and education costs each grew by more than 17% and restaurant and hotel charges increased by 25.2%, official figures show.

Although inflation is a problem worldwide, with Europe expecting inflation levels above 4.0%, Ukraine's problem is exacerbated by a particularly poor harvest last year.

The good news, Wiegert said, is that an expected good summer harvest in 2008, will help to the decline of food prices and the country will have some breathing space again. At least, that is, until the next inflation hike.

Source: Forbes

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another Summer Of Discontent In Ukrainian Politics

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ever since Ukraine’s Orange Revolution swept pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko into power, summer has been a time of particular discontent in the country’s political life.

President Viktor Yushchenko

The summer of 2005 saw infighting in the Orange camp escalate into Yushchenko’s firing of co-revolutionary Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

In 2006, the president alienated another Orange ally, Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz, who defected to join a coalition with Orange enemy Viktor Yanukovych.

By the summer of 2007, Yushchenko was forced to call early parliamentary elections to keep Yanukovych from muscling away his executive power.

Now, in 2008, the president is again faced with the prospect of dismissing the parliament, but this time to restrain the presidential ambitions of the resurgent second-time Prime Minister Tymoshenko.

Each of the last four political crises that hit Ukraine as the weather got warmer ended up being resolved, at least temporarily, by the following autumn.

Yushchenko ruled supreme by the end of 2005. The next year, Yanukovych exacted revenge for his humiliating defeat during the Orange Revolution by returning as premier at the close of summer. Tymoshenko's year was 2007, when she retook the government following the snap election held in September.

This year, analysts are also predicting a fall resolution, but it's still not clear which of Ukraine's three political heavyweights will come out on top and take the lead in advance of next year's presidential race.

The spark that set off this summer's political crisis was an announcement made this month by two lawmakers of their departure from the paper-thin Orange majority in parliament.

The coalition between the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) and the faction that was endorsed during the last parliamentary elections by President Yushchenko (Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense: OU-PSD) has shown cracks ever since it was formed.

Earlier this year, a handful of deputies from OU-PSD announced that they were forming their own party, United Center, but stopped short of leaving the coalition.

Responsibility for both of these political tactics, aimed at undermining the workability and credibility of the Orange coalition, has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the president's Secretariat.

Besides blaming Tymoshenko for the country's double -digit inflation, the president has already done everything in his power to sabotage her privatization plan, thus preventing the government from financing any populist programs that would increase the premier's voter support.

Mr. Yushchenko, it is said, not only wants to paralyze the Tymoshenko government's operability in the legislature but to replace the Orange coalition with a grand coalition in partnership with Yanukovych's opposition Regions party.

According to this theory, United Center is supposed to recruit enough lawmakers from the Orange coalition to compose a majority with Regions and the tiny Bloc of Volodymyr Lytvyn. BYuT and the parliament's fifth faction, the Communists, would effectively be sidelined on opposite ends of the playing field.

However, there are several complications with this scheme, most of which don't bode well for its supposed architect: President Yushchenko.

First, even if Yushchenko were able to form a grand coalition with the man he accused of trying to steal the presidency during the 2004 elections (Yanukovych), the president would only alienate the few Orange voters who still support him and thus be assured of not being re-elected next year.

Second, by all accounts, neither Yanukovych nor Lytvyn is interested in such a deal. Yanukovych would surely again demand the prime minister's seat, from which he would be just as much of a threat to Yushchenko as he was the last time. As for Lytvyn, whose faction barely made it over the hurdle during the last elections, his only chance for political survival is to present Ukrainian voters with an alternative to his incessantly quarreling colleagues.

Thirdly, Tymoshenko would feel quite comfortable back in opposition, where she couldn't be blamed for continuing inflation, especially after the Russians again raise the price of the gas they export to Ukraine, as is expected later this year.

On the other hand, the president could be toying with his former Orange ally, slowly building up the pressure on her while winning time to garner greater support among Orange lawmakers, the public and the international community.

If that is the case, Tymoshenko isn't sitting on her hands. Although no where near the extent of the president's, Tymoshenko's ratings have also dropped, as voters tire of the seemingly never-ending Orange infighting.

However, the fiery female politician has a knack for populist gestures, with or without adequate funding. Coming into next year's presidential campaign, she can still take credit for compensating Ukrainians for their Soviet savings lost to runaway inflation.

More recently, the premier visited Western Ukraine, which is still recovering from a particularly violent storm. In Lviv, Tymoshenko promised Hr 25 million in government aid.

On the international front, Tymoshenko has also been busy. Last week, she dropped in to Brussels for the quarterly meeting of the European People's Party, which is attended by Western heavyweights such as Javier Solana, Silvio Berlusconi and Angela Merkel.

Solana personally praised the Ukrainian government's economic performance, including its fight to control inflation. Guided by her foreign policy supremo Hryhory Nemiriya, Tymoshenko was photographed with all the right people.

The Brussels trip was particularly successful in light of Yushchenko's falling out there. Last week, the Ukrainian president made things worse by snubbing a delegation from the European People's Party during their visit to Kyiv.

Nevertheless, in parliament, the president may still have a few cards up his sleeve. The lawmakers in Tymoshenko's faction are loyal to their own interests, which depend on BYuT's success in elections.

During the recent Kyiv mayoral elections, Tymoshenko's candidate was beaten by the president's choice, damaging her image as an undefeatable political force.

In addition, Tymoshenko's former political benefactor, one-time Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko, who was jailed in the US on money laundering charges, is rumored to be getting out soon.

If he should return to Ukraine and start making accusations against Ms. Tymoshenko, her fellow faction members might bolt.

However, Yushchenko no longer has the "saintly" status he enjoyed immediately after the Orange Revolution. The Our Ukraine party, which Yushchenko led right up to becoming president in 2005, can now hardly be called his, especially after the president supported a rival in the Kyiv mayoral elections.

And despite claims by his Secretariat to the contrary, the president can hardly pretend before voters to be uninvolved in the chaos that is the current Orange coalition, that is the Ukraine's perennial summer of discontent.

Source: Eurasian Home

Will Parliamentary Crisis Lead To Tymoshenko's Dismissal?

WASHINGTON, DC -- The coalition of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) and President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine--People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) no longer has a majority in the Ukrainian parliament.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko

Two deputies quit the coalition, so it controls 225 seats in the 450-seat chamber, one seat short of a majority.

As a result, parliament has been paralyzed, and the fate of the Tymoshenko government is in the hands of Yushchenko and his team in parliament.

Should even a small group from NUNS back a no-confidence motion against Tymoshenko, her government will be doomed.

Two factors have led to this situation.

First is the confrontation between the Tymoshenko and Yushchenko teams, which view each other as rivals in the presidential election campaign, which will start next year.

Second is an imperfect constitutional reform of 2004-2006, which institutionally weakened the president but stopped short of transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary republic, thus making incessant conflicts between the president and the prime minister, who is elected by parliament, almost inevitable.

On June 6 Ihor Rybakov from the BYT and Yury But from NUNS declared that they were quitting the ruling coalition, although they stayed in their parties.

They explained their decision by saying that the Tymoshenko government was not doing enough to fight corruption and blamed her for the confrontations with Yushchenko.

The opposition expected parliament speaker Arseny Yatsenyuk, who belongs to NUNS, to announce that the coalition no longer existed, as it no longer controlled the majority.

Such an announcement would have given formal grounds to start talks on the formation of a new coalition, with or without the BYT. In the latter case, Tymoshenko would lose the post of prime minister.

Viktor Yanukovych, a former prime minister and the leader of the Party of Regions (PRU), the major opposition party, declared on the same day that the creation of a new coalition would be a better option than an early parliamentary election; and he signaled his readiness to return to the prime minister’s chair.

Yatsenyuk, however, refused to pronounce the coalition dead.

This is because BYT and NUNS insisted that the coalition still existed de jure. They pointed to a constitutional provision saying that the parliamentary coalition consisted of party caucuses rather than individual deputies.

Rybakov and But did not leave the respective caucuses of the BYT and NUNS de jure, so their de facto quitting the coalition had no legal consequences, according to BYT and NUNS representatives.

When the PRU officially demanded that Yatsenyuk clearly state whether the coalition still existed, he declared that it did exist since neither of the two constituent caucuses had left the coalition.

The PRU then requested the Constitutional Court (CC) to rule on the legitimacy of a ruling coalition that did not control a majority in parliament.

Now that the question is with the CC, much depends on Yushchenko, as it is widely believed that the court is loyal to him after he expelled several rebel judges from the CC in 2007.

Yushchenko is hesitating. If the existing coalition falls apart, a new one would be formed either by NUNS and the PRU or by the BYT and the PRU.

In the case of a BYT-PRU coalition, Yushchenko would lose all levers of influence on the government.

According to the well-informed weekly Zerkalo Nedeli, the PRU would be prepared to form a coalition with Yushchenko’s NUNS only if Yanukovych returns to the post of prime minister.

Prime Minister Yanukovych might be worse for Yushchenko than Prime Minister Tymoshenko.

First, Yanukovych, like Tymoshenko, is a potentially strong presidential candidate, and his return to the post of prime minister would only strengthen his chances for victory in the upcoming race.

Second, institutional rivalry between Yanukovych and Yushchenko was as bitter in 2006 and 2007, when Yanukovych was prime minister, as it is now between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko.

Third, Yushchenko’s electorate would not understand a union with Yanukovych, who was Yushchenko’s main rival in the 2004 presidential election.

While the CC and Yushchenko deliberate, the PRU acts. On June 20 it came up with a motion requesting Tymoshenko to report on her government’s performance to parliament.

The PRU expects her to report in mid-July. Serhy Lyovochkin, one of the PRU leaders, told Segodnya, a newspaper close to the PRU, that the report should be followed by a no-confidence motion against Tymoshenko “for incompetent and unprofessional actions leading to a destruction of the Ukrainian economy.”

The PRU hopes that the no-confidence motion would be supported by the two smaller of parliament’s five caucuses--the Lytvyn Bloc and the Communists--and people from the BYT and NUNS like But and Rybakov.

This should be enough to collect the 226 votes needed to oust Tymoshenko.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Baloha Blamed For Brouhaha

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko himself signaled that Viktor Baloha is no ordinary chief of staff when he once scolded supporters: “You should listen to what Viktor Baloha says. Baloha is me.”

Viktor Baloha

If that is true, then understanding Baloha is an essential part of understanding the paralysis, infighting and rivalries among Ukraine’s political elite.

Who is BalĂ®ha, and what is his end game? Destroying Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko politically? Ensuring his boss’ re­election in 2010? Bringing peace to all warring factions? Or simply mucking everything up in a selfish power grab?

Baloha, a long­time bureaucrat and former governor of Zakarpattya Oblast, wouldn’t talk to the Kyiv Post for this story. But allies of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and parties splintering away from the Yushchenko camp are not as reticent.

To many of them, Baloha is a demon.

They accuse the erstwhile ally of businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, the onetime chief of staff for former President Leonid Kuchma, of sabotaging Yushchenko’s chances for re-­election. They accuse him of plotting an alliance with Viktor Yanukovych, the Orange Revolution villain from Donetsk and former prime minister.

“Today there is a struggle for power that's key to deciding who Ukraine’s next president will be: Tymoshenko or Yushchenko. Baloha is right in the middle of this conflict, masterminding a scenario for a Yushchenko victory in the next presidential elections,” said Oles Doniy, a lawmaker from the People's Self ­Defense Party that has in recent months turned against the president, but formally remains within Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine political bloc.

Eager to establish a new base of support for Yushchenko, whose approval rating has sunk below 10 percent, Baloha has spear headed the formation of a new political party, Yedyny Tsentr, or United Center Party. Political pundits believe the goal of the party, which now claims allegiance from a half­ dozen lawmakers, is to unite politically disparate voters from the east and west in backing Yushchenko’s re-­election bid.

According to Doniy, the most likely scenario in this strategy would be for Yushchenko to team up with his Orange Revolution foe, the Moscow­ friendly Yanukovych, or at least gain the backing of the business elite from eastern Ukraine that supports Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

“This is an administrative ­oligarchial grouping that doesn’t have any program, any strategic plan except the desire to stay in power,” said Andriy Pavlovskiy, a lawmaker from the Tymoshenko bloc.

What Baloha’s critics and supporters agree on is his ability to successfully manage in times of crisis, sometimes using cut throat methods. Yushchenko’s resolve last year in pushing ahead with snap parliamentary elections and overcoming boycott threats by Yanukovych’s Regions Party has largely been attributed to Baloha’s Machiavellian maneuvering.

“He is a very responsible and high ­skilled manager,” said Vadym Karasyov, a political analyst who advises Baloha. Karasyov refuted claims that Baloha was plotting a coalition composed of Yushchenko and Yanukovych supporters. Instead, he, like Baloha, pointed the blame for the shaky status of the current coalition on Tymoshenko, accusing her of trying to monopolize power within the coalition rather than working in constructive tandem with the president.

According to Yushchenko, Baloha, as head of the Presidential Secretariat, is the main planner and manager of the president’s staff and support team. Yet most political insiders give this ex­emergency minister a much bigger role, suggesting he is the country’s shadow leader, pulling much of the presidential strings against political opponents. Yushchenko suggested as much on March 20 in response to calls from supporters for Baloha’s ouster, when he made his “Baloha is me” comment. Members of the increasingly anti ­Yushchenko People's Self ­Defense Party accuse Baloha of initiating, with a conspiring General Prosecutor official, criminal cases against two party leaders, Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko and businessman David Zhvania.

Serhiy Taran, director of Kyiv’s Sotsiovymir Center for Sociology and Political Research, said Baloha’s demonized reputation is largely deserved, adding that he is, indeed, a “grey cardinal” at the top. Baloha’s supporters say the only goal of the chief of staff is to defend Yushchenko’s interests.

But sometimes it is difficult to know whether Baloha’s chessboard political moves benefit the president, or Baloha’s own political career, said Kost Bondarenko, a political analyst. The newly formed United Center Party, formally led by Baloha’s close associates, Ihor Kril and Vasyl Petyovka, is still mostly unknown by the Ukrainian public. Yet if leading businessmen such as billionaire Rinat Akhmetov join its ranks, as some suspect Baloha wants, the party could establish itself as a united front against a popular Tymoshenko.

Whether such an alliance can muster enough popular support to re­elect Yushchenko is unclear, Bondarenko said, adding that the party’s success will depend on whether they will be able to find a bright party leader. Today the United Center Party is slowly, but gradually growing, and simultaneously eating away at the Our Ukraine bloc. It also set up party branch offices in 16 regions of the country and plans to establish offices country-wide by the end of June.

United Center’s aim is to get Yushchenko re-­elected and possibly to have early parliamentary elections, said Viktor Chumak, the political analyst at International Centre for Policy Studies.

Yet Yushchenko’s second presidential term isn’t the only goal of Baloha, some former colleagues say. They say he thinks mainly about advancing his personal interests. When Baloha needed a political force to support his business in Zakarpattya, he used the Social Democratic Party United (SDPU), Medvedchuk’s former party of power, to advance his interests.

Then he left the party when he understood that he couldn’t gain anything more from the alliance, said Ihor Shurma, a former Baloha ally. Yushchenko is indifferent to Baloha, Shurma said, adding that Baloha will betray the president as he betrayed the Social Democratic Party United and continue to build his own career.

“If you take into consideration Baloha’s conflict with Tymoshenko, he doesn’t care about Yushchenko, he stakes everything to fight the prime minister,” Shurma said. “He will struggle for the premier’s post.”

Baloha has purely selfish aims, said Oleh Podebriy, the press secretary of Serhiy Ratushnyak, Uzhgorod mayor and Baloha’s former ally. And with or without Yushchenko in power, Taran said the United Center Party could become the main platform for Baloha’s personal political interests.

If Yushchenko doesn’t win the next presidential elections, Baloha will become the United Center leader and will have “a small, but proud” faction, which could, at times, play the role as king-maker in a divided parliament, Taran added.

Source: Kyiv Post

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ukraine In Euro 2012 Stadium Blow

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is searching for a new firm to renovate the Euro 2012 final stadium in Kiev amid a row with the original bid winner.

UEFA president Michel Platini expressed concerns.

The country's deputy sports minister Rostyslav Karandeyev said negotiations had ended with the Taiwanese firm Archasia Design Group because of difficulties about the company's legal status in Ukraine.

But Archasia President Eric Hsu hit back, saying in an e-mailed response that "the decision it (the ministry) made is groundless" and that documents about the company's status had not been requested in April, when the company won the tender, nor in May.

He added that UEFA had asked the Government to provide a project outline and site survey of the stadium but that neither had been produced, delaying further work.

Dispute

The dispute comes just days before a visit by UEFA president Michel Platini, who complained in January that preparations have been too slow, so fuelling rumours that Ukraine and joint hosts Poland could lose the right to stage the competition, which the European Governing Body has denied.

Built in the 1920s, Kiev's 84,000-capacity Olympic Stadium is one of four stadiums in Ukraine to be used for the tournament

Deputy sports minister Karandeyev says a jury assessing competing projects would meet this week to find a replacement firm and present the new proposal to a UEFA executive board meeting in Vienna.

All 15 companies which took part in the original competition in April would be allowed to resubmit bids, except Archasia.

Source: Sky News

Portugal Supports Ukraine's Accession Bid To NATO, EU

LISBON, Portugal -- Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva said Monday that he supports Ukraine's accession bid to the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko (R) walks past the honour guard with his Portuguese counterpart Anibal Cavaco Silva at Belem Palace in Lisbon June 23, 2008.

After meeting with Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko in the Belen Palace, Cavaco Silva told the press that Ukraine has played an active role in maintaining peace and stability in Europe.

"President Victor Yushchenko is an example for all those who love liberty, democracy and law," Cavaco Silva said, adding that Portugal is a friend of Ukraine.

Cavaco Silva did not mention when the negotiations for Ukraine's accession to NATO would be concluded though Yushchenko said he was optimistic that the talks could be finished by the end of this year.

Yushchenko said Kiev always felt the support of Lisbon for Ukraine's future accession to NATO and the EU.

Ukraine became the 152nd country to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in May after a 14-year marathon negotiation.

Source: Xinhua

Monday, June 23, 2008

Restaurant Built Inside Coffin Opens In Ukraine

TRUSKAVETS, Ukraine -- Undertakers in Ukraine have built the world's first coffin restaurant, serving a range of death-related dinners.


This huge casket, which is 20 metres (66 feet) long, six metres (20 feet) wide and six metres (20 feet) high, is decorated with wreaths and dozens of normal-sized coffins.

Morbid diners can browse the funeral paraphernalia before ordering from a menu that includes "Nine Day" and "Forty Day" salads - named after local mourning rituals - and an ominous-sounding dish called "Let's meet in paradise".

Single candles on the tables contribute to the funereal mood.

Pictures of the bizarre eaterie have been posted on www.kava.lviv.ua, a local Ukrainian website.

The coffin restaurant, called Eternity, is the work of a funeral parlour in the town of Truskavets, in the west of the country near the Polish border.

The undertakers hope that their restaurant will be confirmed as the world’s biggest coffin, attracting tourists to a region best known for its mineral-rich bathing waters.

"Thirty cubic metres (1,060 cubic feet) of pine have been used for the construction,'' said Andri, one of those behind the new enterprise, ahead of its recent opening.

"It's our director Stepan Pyrianyk who had the idea. He loves his work and reckons the project will bring tourists to Truskavets.''

A spokeswoman for Guinness World Records said that the biggest coffin title was currently unclaimed, and that they had yet to receive an application from Ukraine.

Source: Telegraph UK

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Ukrainian 'Genocide By Starvation'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Grigori Garaschenko remembers seeing his classmates starve slowly to death in a famine that killed millions of people in Ukraine.

An orphan in Kiev in 1934. Her parents had died of starvation and she survived on charity from a neighbour.

A neighbour driven mad by hunger killed her six-year-old daughter and began to eat her, he said, after Soviet soldiers confiscated all the food in their village during house-to-house searches.

Mr Garaschenko, 89, is one of the few remaining survivors of the famine of 1932-33. Now, 75 years on, Ukraine wants the world to recognise that what it calls the Holodomor was a deliberate act of genocide by Stalin's Soviet Union.

It is a campaign that infuriates modern Russia. Moscow argues that there was no such crime because Russians and other nationalities also starved under Stalin's policy of turning peasant farms into large state-run collectives.

The Institute of National Memory, the Ukrainian body responsible for researching the Holodomor, calculates that three million people died in the months after Stalin punished the collective farms for failing to meet grain production targets in 1932. Soviet troops confiscated the harvest and all the food in villagers' homes.

Igor Yukhnovsky, the director of the institute, told The Times that as many as nine million may have died as a result of the famine and its aftermath. Stalin's intention, he said, was to break Ukraine's national identity.

“The land gives birth to the nation. During the Holodomor, the nation was destroyed, and this was the basic purpose,” Mr Yukhnovsky, 82, said. “Now that Ukraine has restored its statehood, the first thing we must do is restore our history.”

He said that preparations would begin next week for a judicial inquiry to establish who was guilty of implementing the Holodomor. He said the institute had received government approval to conduct the investigation, based in part on Soviet-era archives.

“We must know the names of the people in authority who were in charge of this criminal enterprise. They must be convicted. Of course, a lot of these people are already dead or too old, but they must have sentence passed so that their descendants can be freed from guilt,” Mr Yukhnovsky said.

The institute is also overseeing the construction of a memorial complex in Kiev as part of commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor in November.

Its campaign to name the guilty men is likely to exacerbate tensions with Russia, which does not deny that millions died, but insists that the famine was not a weapon aimed only at Ukrainians.

The Russian parliament, the Duma, passed a resolution in April rejecting claims that the famine “was organised along ethnic lines”, and warning Ukraine against using the tragedy as “a tool for modern political speculation”. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was equally vociferous, condemning the “provocateur's cry of ‘genocide'” in a newspaper article.

Discussion of the Holodomor was taboo in Soviet times. But the Ukrainian parliament backed a declaration put forward by President Yushchenko in 2006 that the famine was genocide, rejecting an attempt by pro-Russian deputies to characterise it simply as a “tragedy”.

Mr Garaschenko remembers helping to bury the dead and says that he survived only because a teacher managed to obtain tiny rations of bread for children who attended school. The teacher was later shot as an “enemy of the people”.

He adds that people over the border in Belarus, close to his village, did not starve. Mr Garaschenko said: “There were only Ukrainians in the villages. When they tell you it wasn't a genocide against the Ukrainian people, it's all lies. The Soviet soldiers went house to house taking away all our food. They left the people nothing to eat and left them to die.”

Katerina Kholivach, 80, another survivor, was only 4 when her family left her in an orphanage because she was too weak to travel as they fled the famine. When her mother returned to collect her later, Soviet officials told her that Katerina had died. Mrs Kholivach discovered that her brother and sister were alive only in 2002. She said: “The Holodomor was a huge crime and I was a victim of it. I have suffered the consequences all my life.”

The great hunger

At the height of the Ukrainian famine in 1933, an estimated 25,000 people died each day

By the end of 1933, almost 25 per cent of the Ukrainian population is thought to have perished

An estimated 80 per cent of Ukraine's population were small-scale farmers

By mid-1932 almost 75 per cent of farms had been seized by the state to force Ukrainian peasants into the Soviet system of land management

Grain exports were raised dramatically and agents were sent to villages to confiscate grain, bread and any other food they could find

The Soviet Union exported 1.7million tonnes of grain to the West during the famine. Nearly a fifth of a tonne of grain was exported for each person who died of starvation

Holodomor, the Ukrainian name for the famine, means murder by hunger

Source: Times On Line

European Bison To Inhabit In Ukraine's Nuke Disaster-Hit Chernobyl Area

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will introduce European bison to the Chernobyl area affected by a nuclear power disaster to establish a nature reserve, the country's Emergency Situations Minister Volodymyr Shandra announced Friday.

The European bison

"I think we will bring up to ten bison to the zone to raise the biological diversity of the territory," Shandra said at a press conference.

He also urged that tourists be encouraged to visit the Chernobyl area so that people can observe the "price of human error."

On April 26, 1986, the world's worst nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, causing widespread environmental pollution.

In recent years, the Chernobyl exclusion zone has become a haven for wildlife with lynx, eagles, and even bears that had disappeared from the area, reappearing.

In addition populations of badgers, deer, elk, otters, wolves, beavers and boars have thrived without human interference.

Source: Xinhua

Saturday, June 21, 2008

No Shortage Of Problems For World’s Tallest Man

KIEV, Ukraine -- Being the World's Tallest Man isn't all it's cracked up to be. Despite worldwide fame, Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik also has to cope with the problems his lofty height can bring.

Gentle giant Leonid Stadnik with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko.

And he has been speaking to the media about the daily grind of being 2.57 metres (8.43 feet).

His biggest growth spurt happened when he was fourteen after a brain operation caused the overproduction of a natural growth hormone.

And Leonid just keeps growing, beating a Chinese man to the record of the world's tallest man last year.

Now, he has to work hard to keep his height and weight in check. It's been made possible by a Russian engineer, who created an exercise machine specially geared for tall people.

It's important because Leonid's 200 kilo (442 lbs) weight puts an enormous strain on his joints, sometimes making it hard for him to get around.

But in spite of his troubles, he's made many friends all over the world and learned to look on the bright side.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko sent him two tracksuits and has even given him a specially adapted car.

And his friends have sent him many gifts, including the latest addition - an oversized bicycle.

Although he gave up working as a vet, he now keeps busy in his family's garden and looks after the animals with his mother and sister.

But the gentle giant still has dreams - he wants to find his soulmate, just like China's tallest man who got married last year.

Source: Russia Today

Friday, June 20, 2008

Moscow Ready For Major Confrontations With Pro-Western Georgia And Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- In the past Russia strongly protested the expansion of NATO to include Central European states that were Soviet clients and former Warsaw Pact members during the Cold War, as well as the Baltic republics that were part of the Soviet Union.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R), and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili smile and shake hands during the informal Commonwealth of Independent States ( CIS) summit in Strelna, outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

In the end, however, Russia backed down and accepted the inevitable shrinking of its effective sphere of influence.

Now the rulers in Moscow seem to be ready for a major confrontation that includes the threat of military force against the pro-Western governments in Georgia and Ukraine, which aspire to join the alliance.

After a recent meeting between Russian and Georgian Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Mikhail Saakashvili in St. Petersburg, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists, "We told the Georgians that their desire to join NATO will not help solve the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; it will lead to renewed bloodshed".

Later Lavrov added in a radio interview, "We will do anything not to allow Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO".

Speaking last week in Sevastopol in Crimea, the main base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov warned Ukraine that joining NATO would have serious consequences: "A complete disruption of military-industrial ties between Russia and Ukraine is inevitable, as well as the reduction of other trade and economic ties and an introduction of a visa regime."

Ivanov implied that NATO would "force Ukraine to introduce a visa regime." Ivanov added, "More than 30 million Russians live outside Russia, and we are morally responsible for them".

Russian officials connect the possible future Ukrainian NATO membership with the fate of the Black Sea Fleet.

Ivanov announced, "It is hard to imagine the Russian Black Sea Fleet without its main base; the fate of Sevastopol matters for all those who lived in the Soviet Union, it is our city."

Ukraine's call for the withdrawal of the fleet from Crimea was perilous, because "it is dangerous to play not only with fire but also with history".

Ivanov's rhetoric matches other recent official statements. Russia's permanent representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said in a TV interview: "The Black Sea Fleet simply does not have any other home; no Russian politician will agree for the fleet to leave Sevastopol, and this will not happen".

A rejection of Ukraine's NATO accession or the possible future withdrawal of the Russian fleet from Crimea after 2017, when the present lease of the Sevastopol base expires, are today part of Russia’s official foreign policy.

Western assurances that Sevastopol will not be used as a NATO naval base after the Russians withdraw are not taken seriously.

But there is a lot of time till 2017 and the Ukrainian NATO accession may not be swift, since today the majority of Ukrainians are against NATO membership and the government in Kyiv has promised a national referendum to decide on membership.

Russia does not at present have the infrastructure on its own Black Sea coast to house the Black Sea Fleet, and building the needed facilities will require lots of time and money.

What is worse, Russia does not have adequate military shipbuilding or ship-maintenance facilities on the Black Sea to keep a large fleet.

The flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, the cruiser Moskva, has been repaired and modernized in Mykolaiv in Ukraine at a naval shipyard where in Soviet times all the aircraft carriers were built.

Russia has managed to build several relatively small naval ships since 1991 (frigates and coastal patrol boats) in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, but not enough to replace its rapidly aging navy.

Without access to the Mykolaiv yard, there may not be much fleet left to withdraw from Sevastopol.

At present Moscow is using threats that Ukrainians will suffer if their nation joins NATO or if the Russian fleet is ousted from Sevastopol.

At the same time, Russia has been supporting pro-Russian separatist feelings in Crimea and making territorial claims on Sevastopol.

Moscow needs a pro-Moscow allied government in Kyiv or, if that is impossible, a separation of Crimea and Eastern and Southern Ukraine (with Mykolaiv), where millions of Russian speakers may either want to join Russia or form an allied protectorate.

The situation is different in Georgia, where a vast majority voted to join NATO in a referendum on January 5.

There is no hope in Moscow that any anti-NATO pro-Russian forces may come to power in Tbilisi, and military action in support of separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is being seriously contemplated.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has officially announced that Moscow refuses to discuss with Tbilisi the legality of the deployment of additional troops and armaments in Abkhazia, because the troops "prevented a Georgian blitzkrieg".

When substantial talks are essentially stopped while additional troops are deployed, it’s more than just a threat of the use of force.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Thursday, June 19, 2008

EU Presses Ukraine PM To Heal Rift With President

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- EU officials on Thursday urged Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to heal political rifts with her rivals to ward off further instability that would damage economic development in the former Soviet republic.

The European Union has urged Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (L), to iron out tensions with Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko. Here, Tymoshenko is seen with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.

A power struggle between Tymoshenko and Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko are threatening to delay much needed economic and political reforms. The two were allies during the 2004 Orange Revolution against voter fraud, but they have repeatedly clashed over various policy matters, mainly concerning oil and gas.

"We still have some preoccupation on our side on the political situation," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Tymoshenko after talks at EU headquarters. "We would like very much to see the political situation stabilize."

Tymoshenko told Solana she would work to heal political divisions.

"Ukraine has a very good potential and is developing positively and what we need is to get is the political unity between the president ... and my majority in the parliament, and from my side as head of the government, I will do my best to head in this direction," Tymoshenko said.

She said her government was working to lower inflation from 17% and said the economy would benefit from expected bumper crop harvests this year.

Tymoshenko was in Brussels before an EU leaders summit to bolster Ukraine's membership bid.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will host an EU-Ukraine summit in September, at which the EU could present Kiev with an offer of closer ties.

Poland and Sweden are pushing the EU to develop a new "eastern dimension" policy that would build ties with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and other former Soviet neighbors.

Ukraine hopes to join the EU by 2020, but the EU remains divided on giving it the prospect of eventual membership.

Source: USA Today

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Russian-Ukrainian Relations Reveal Deeper Problems

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko’s first meeting with newly elected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev failed to resolve the outstanding issues between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko at a meeting of ex-Soviet state leaders at the Konstantin Palace in Strelna outside St. Petersburg June 6, 2008.

Despite Yushchenko’s optimism that all of these issues would be resolved, “the negotiations taking everything into account became very heated.”

These issues cannot be easily dealt with, because the growing range of problem areas between Ukraine and Russia, Russia’s assertive nationalism and the divergent transition paths of both countries that began during Vladimir Putin’s first and Leonid Kuchma’s second terms in office and accelerated following the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Eleven areas bedevil Ukrainian-Russian relations showing a close interconnection between domestic and international affairs.

First, energy

Ukraine has absorbed Russian gas price increases from $50 to $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters over the last four years with a threat to double this price in 2009.

Nevertheless, annual negotiations over gas contracts continue to be over-shadowed by anger and accusations. The energy sector continues to be very corrupt, and this factor reduces the ability of Ukraine’s elites to act in unison toward Moscow.

Ukraine has three strategic advanatages over Russia: pipelines carrying 80 percent of Russian gas to Europe, storage facilities and World Trade Organization (WTO) membership.

The Yushchenko-Yulia Tymoshenko rivalry and corruption undermine Ukraine’s leverages and leads to angry exchanges inside Ukraine and between Russia and Ukraine.

Second, CIS

The orange administration has continued and deepened Ukraine’s lack of interest in CIS integration, including the Single Economic Space (SES).

Yushchenko does not follow Kuchma’s rhetorical lip service to the CIS SES and CIS integration. Interest in the CIS is overshadowed by a reorientation toward a Deep Free Trade Area with the EU. The Party of Regions proposes not CIS integration but “neutrality” as an alternative to NATO membership.

Third, Ukrainian exiles in Russia

High-level officials accused of abuse of office (Igor Bakaj, Ruslan Bodelan) or involvement in Yushchenko’s poisoning (Volodymyr Satsiuk) continue to remain in exile in Russia. Russia has a long record of harboring fugitives sought by countries such as Georgia.

Fourth, Russian oppositionists settling in Ukraine

Exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskiy not only gave financial assistance to the Orange Revolution but also financed the transcribing of the Mykola Melnychenko tapes.

Russians were convinced the Orange Revolution was part of a “Western conspiracy” and could never believe that Ukrainians were capable of undertaking a revolution without a “guiding hand.”

Fifth, the nature of the two countries’ relationship

The Russian-Ukrainian relationship has always been bedeviled by Russia’s unwillingness to treat Ukraine (like Belarus) as a partner rather than a vassal.

Russia’s unwillingness to treat Kuchma, elected in 1994 on a “pro-Russian platform,” with due respect turned him into an ardent supporter of NATO. Yushchenko’s demand for a change in the Russian-Ukrainian relationship to one between two independent states is even more demanding than that proposed by Kuchma.

As seen by Putin’s comments made during the NATO-Russia Council at the Bucharest NATO summit, Russia is unable to treat Ukraine as a foreign, serious and coherent entity.

Sixth, borders

The 2003 territorial claim on the island of Tuzla showed to what degree border issues continue to remain unresolved.

On June 3 the State Duma voted to seek the abrogation of the 1997 treaty if Ukraine got a NATO Membership Action Plan. The resolution followed Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov’s Crimean visit when he re-opened the Crimean-Sevastopol issue.

Ukraine has always had a cross-party consensus on protecting its territorial integrity, and Russia’s territorial demands merely push Ukraine toward NATO, whether under Kuchma or Yushchenko. Senior Party of Regions leader Andriy Kluyev warned, “Anti-Ukrainian statements by Russian politicians...are strategically very bad for the interests of both states,” because they pit both peoples against each other and give ammunition to “anti-Russian forces in Ukraine.”

Seventh, Black Sea Fleet

The Fleet pays a low rent of $100 million per annum, its personnel take part in anti-NATO and anti-American protests and the Fleet illegally occupies numerous buildings (lighthouses) and land that are commercially used.

The lack of respect for Ukraine is evidenced in recent naval troop exercises conducted on Crimean land without offering prior notification to the Ukrainian authorities.

Based on Russia’s unwillingness to withdraw from Moldova and Georgia and Russian officials’ statements, Ukraine’s major concern is whether the Fleet will withdraw from Sevastopol in 2017.

Eighth, Church and language

During the Yushchenko-Medvedev meeting the Russian side raised the perennial issues of alleged “discrimination” against the Russian language in Ukraine and attempts at uniting the Ukrainian Autocephalous and Russian Orthodox Churches.

Ninth, NATO enlargement

Because of Russia’s unreformed world view and historically unchanged attitude toward Ukraine, it is unable to discuss Ukraine’s drive to join NATO rationally but only in emotional and hysterical terms, using words such as “treason.”

Such language was evident during Putin’s speech to the NATO-Russia Council, where he challenged Ukraine’s territorial integrity and right to exist.

Tenth, frustration

Russia has long been frustrated by its inability to influence domestic affairs in Ukraine. Attempts to use energy pressure have always failed, notably in January 2006, when the entire West backed Ukraine in the gas dispute.

A February 2007 Ukrainian parliamentary vote to block privatization of the gas pipelines (i.e. transfer them to Russian or joint control) received 420 of 450 votes. Outside of Sevastopol Russian nationalist parties have never been able to establish Ukrainian bases of support.

Eleventh, history

Ukraine and Russia’s views of Soviet and pre-Soviet history radically changed under Kuchma, and this divergence has accelerated under Yushchenko.

Whereas Ukraine has moved to a Ukrainian national historiography, Russia has maintained a Soviet Russophile interpretation of history. School textbooks in both countries give radically different perspectives on every aspect of Russian-Ukrainian history over the last two millennia.

Yushchenko’s campaign to obtain domestic and international recognition of the 1933 artificial famine as an act of “genocide,” as seen during his May 25 to 28 visit to Canada, has been heavily criticized by Russia’s President, Foreign Ministry and State Duma.

A continuing exhibition in Kyiv of photographs from KGB files of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which fought Nazi and Soviet forces from 1942 to 1952, was countered by an anti-UPA exhibition in Russia and threats by Russian nationalists to attack the Kyiv exhibition. Russian nationalists destroyed a famine exhibition in Moscow last year.

In Kyiv there is a consensus among the elite and public alike that relations between Ukraine and Russia will likely continue to deteriorate.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Banned Mayor May Become Russia’s Man In Kiev

MOSCOW, Russia -- Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov is in contention to become Russia’s new ambassador in Kiev – despite being banned from entering Ukraine last month.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

His name is among several candidates being considered for the post, according to the Russian news agency Novi Region.

The news comes ahead of the expected resignation of present incumbent Viktor Chernomyrdin.

If Luzhkov is appointed, it would create a headache for Kiev. Luzhkov has repeatedly said he believed Crimea should be Russian territory rather then Ukrainian.

Ukraine’s Security Service banned him from entering the country in May due to his statements.

Chernomyrdin has been Russia’s top envoy to its western neighbour for seven years. Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that his resignation was imminent after the failure to get Kiev’s permission for a military parade during the anniversary celebrations of Sevastopol - the base of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

The newspaper also hinted Moscow was unnerved by Chernomyrdin’s ties with Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. Her relationship with President Viktor Yushchenko is now at a new low because she is regarded as his most powerful challenger for the upcoming presidential election.

It’s believed the apparent sympathy the Russian diplomat had towards Timoshenko hurt his ability to deal with Yushchenko.

The name of Chernomyrdin’s successor is still under discussion. Moscow wants an adequate response following the appointment of Ukraine’s new ambassador in Russia last week. He is Konstantin Grishchenko, a very experienced career diplomat, and Chernomyrdin called his appointment a very strong move.

Source: Russia Today
WASHINGTON, DC -- Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers is drafting a bill for submission to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) on preparations for terminating the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s deployment in Ukraine in 2017.


Concurrently with that draft law, the Cabinet is working on a comprehensive assessment of the economic, ecological, and other implications of the Russian fleet’s deployment in Ukraine.

President Viktor Yushchenko has instructed the cabinet to provide those documents by July 20, so as to initiate the process of withdrawal of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from Ukrainian territory as soon as possible.

Nine years ahead is none too soon for initiating the withdrawal process, if the deadline of 2017 is to be respected.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, with its 16,000-strong manpower and extensive land-based installations in Sevastopol and elsewhere in the Crimea, will require a long time to relocate to Russia and hand over its land-based fixed assets to Ukraine.

The Russian government, however, insists that any discussion about the withdrawal process is premature.

It also argues that Russia is entitled to avail itself of the basing agreements’ prolongation clause.

Such arguments indicate that Russia intends to stall any serious discussions about withdrawal until the deadline of 2017 draws near, then to demand prolongation on the grounds that any withdrawal requires lengthy preparations.

The agreements on the temporary deployment of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine were signed in May 1997 for a 20-year term.

They leave open the possibility of prolonging the deployment by subsequent periods of five years at a time, unless either side serves official notice of termination at least one year prior to the 2017 deadline or the subsequent five-year deadlines.

These provisions inescapably signify that Russia's naval presence in Ukraine would lose any legal basis in 2017, if Ukraine serves a termination notice one or more years ahead of the deadline.

The process of withdrawing the Fleet must start with sufficient lead time, if the withdrawal is to be completed by 2017.

Ukraine's presidency and government deem it necessary to begin talks as soon as possible on procedures and a time-table for the Russian Fleet's withdrawal.

In addition, Kyiv seeks to continue and accelerate the long-running talks with Moscow on drawing up an inventory of buildings, training installations, and land plots used, leased, or sublet by Russia's Fleet, often illicitly, in the Crimea; settling financial accounts in that regard; transferring lighthouses and other navigational installations from the control of the Russian Fleet into that of Ukraine; and the distribution and delimitation of radio communications frequencies used by the Russian Fleet and Ukrainian authorities, respectively.

The Ukrainian presidency and government take the position of “adhering to the basing agreements to the last letter” while negotiating “calmly and respectfully” to bring Russia into compliance with the agreements.

A gradual withdrawal of the Fleet, from an early starting date to completion by 2017, should be relatively painless for Russia, both militarily and politically.

Conversely, a precipitate withdrawal on a short-term Ukrainian legal notice could be painful for all concerned and fraught with risks for Ukraine.

If the latter scenario occurs, Moscow would probably orchestrate a domestic nationalist backlash and use it as an excuse for noncompliance with the deadline.

A quick start to talks about procedures and a time-table would help foster political expectations that the Fleet would indeed ultimately withdraw.

The prospect of withdrawal should stimulate Russia to prepare new bases, at Novorossiysk or elsewhere on Russia's Black Sea coast, for accommodating the ships and personnel ahead of their relocation from Sevastopol.

Conversely, if Russia doubts Ukraine's intentions in this regard, or if Moscow generates doubts about Ukraine's capacity to obtain compliance with the deadline, Russia would not seriously tackle the base construction at Novorossiysk.

It would then claim that the Russian Fleet had nowhere to go from Sevastopol and use that argument to pressure Ukraine for a prolongation of the basing agreement.

Ukraine's constitution prohibits the basing of foreign forces on the country's territory.

Transitional provisions of the constitution, however, exceptionally allow the temporary deployment of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet until 2017, reflecting the Ukraine-Russia agreements of 1997 on the basing of the Fleet in Sevastopol.

Russia, however, seems to have learned in Moldova that it can station military forces on a country's territory in defiance of that country's constitution, which in Moldova's case as in Ukraine's bans the stationing of foreign forces.

Neither country will be able to rid itself of Russian forces if it is left to handle the problem on its own, without serious Western backing.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Russia's Ivanov Warns Kiev Over NATO

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine would lose defense industry ties with Russia and suffer reduced trade cooperation if it joined NATO, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Saturday, news agencies reported.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov

Ivanov said visa regulations would also be tightened should Ukraine pursue its ambition to join NATO.

The comments, at a ceremony to mark the 225th anniversary of Sevastopol port on the Crimean Peninsula — the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet — came on the heels of a string of pronouncements by Russian officials on issues regarding the peninsula and relations with Kiev.

“I couldn’t say for whom such a breakup would be more painful — Russia or Ukraine. I think it would be painful for both nations,” Ivanov said, news agencies reported.

Russia is vehemently against bids by Ukraine and Georgia to join the military alliance, regarding NATO’s encroachment on its borders as a security threat. It has said it might take “military steps” if the former Soviet states join.

“I am sure, or almost sure, that visas will be introduced in the event that Ukraine joins NATO,” Ivanov said. “This will affect millions, even tens of millions of people in Russia and Ukraine, whose ties will become more difficult.”

Ukraine’s economy is export-driven, and Russia is the country’s second-largest trading partner after the European Union.

In April, NATO leaders rejected Ukrainian and Georgian bids to receive a Membership Action Plan, but promised the two countries could join one day. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is due in Kiev on Monday.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based on the Crimean Peninsula under a lease that runs out in 2017, and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has said Russia should end its presence there then.

But Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s NATO envoy, said Thursday that he did not expect his country’s leaders to pull the Russian Navy out of the base when the lease expires.

“I think that in Russia there are no politicians who would agree that in their lifetime, under their leadership, the Black Sea Fleet should leave Sev-astopol. That will not happen,” said Dmitry Rogozin, speaking on television.

Rogozin did not indicate President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by name.

“The Black Sea Fleet has no other home. So when President Yushchenko says that the Black Sea Fleet has to leave, that means the Black Sea Fleet is being thrown out of its home, put out onto the street,” Rogozin told the Vesti- 24 television station.

The Foreign Ministry was also keep- ing the pressure on Kiev last week.

On Friday, it demanded that Ukraine halt oil exploration in parts of the Black Sea because of a territorial dispute, Itar-Tass reported.

Last Tuesday, the ministry said the 1659 battle of Konotop, in which a Rus- sian invasion was repelled, was being distorted to fit the political agenda of Ukraine’s leaders and foment anti-Rus- sian feeling.

In the battle, a Russian force was de- feated when it tried to stop a Ukrainian leader from entering into an entente with Poland and Lithuania.

Yushchenko has ordered officials to mark the Battle of Konotop’s 350th anniversary in 2009 with a series of events starting this year.

Source: St. Petersburg Times

Monday, June 16, 2008

NATO Head: Russia Won't Decide For Ukraine On Atlantic Alliance

KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO members and Ukraine's populace, not Russia, will decide whether Ukraine should join the Atlantic Alliance, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer declared Monday during a visit to Kiev.

Ukrainian riot police on Monday blocking anti-NATO demonstrators rallying in Kiev against Ukraine's efforts to join NATO.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Scheffer did not mention Russia by name, but nonetheless both made clear that NATO rejected recent statements by Russian politicians arguing Ukrainian membership in NATO would threaten regional security, and that Moscow should oppose the idea.

"Nobody can make this decision (about joining NATO) for Ukraine," Scheffer said. "NATO is made up of 26 countries and only representatives of the alliance can take decisions about Ukraine's joining NATO."

Yushchenko claimed his government's efforts on fast-tracking a membership accession programme for Ukraine into NATO "are not aimed at Russia or any one else ... but are motivated by an essential quest for national security."

The meetings between Yushchenko and Scheffer according to participants focused on steps Ukraine's government must take to be offered a step-by-step procedure by NATO so as eventually to join the alliance, and on increased military cooperation between Kiev and Brussels.

Ukraine though not a member currently is contributing troops to all NATO peacekeeping operations worldwide - albeit marginally in the case of Afghanistan where only three Ukrainian service personnel are deployed.

The former Soviet republic with heavy cargo aircraft and air transit corridors nonetheless provides substantial assistance to the air supply effort to NATO's combat operations in Afghanistan.

Ukraine in addition intends to contribute fighting forces to a NATO quick reaction combat element intended to travel to world hot spots on short notice, Yushchenko said.

"This is critical proof of the seriousness of our intentions (eventually to join NATO)," Yushchenko said. "This fact shows that Ukraine is demonstrating its position not just as a consumer, but ... a perhaps unique contributor to world security."

Other recent expansions to Ukrainian cooperation with the alliance include a Ukraine air force helicopter modernisation programme, and flight crew training to NATO standards, in cooperation with Britian and France, according to a Yushchenko staff statement cited by Interfax.

A small anti-NATO demonstration of some 500 persons protested peacefully approximately a half-kilometre from the Scheffer- Yushchenko meeting venue in Kiev, as police cordons prevented marchers from approaching closer.

Yushchenko's pro-West government has in recent months intensified its efforts to obtain an offer from NATO to begin an accession programme, despite reservations by some of NATO's larger members, and lukewarm support by Ukraine's population.

Ukraine's goal is to receive the NATO offer "by the end of the present year," Yushchenko said.

Source: DPA

Russia Insists On Treating Sevastopol As An Open Question

WASHINGTON, DC -- President Dmitri Medvedev has tried to make a positive impression on every foreign partner he has encountered in his first month in office, building an image of an open-minded, polite and impeccably organized statesman, if perhaps not yet as a leader.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev

He has made few deviations from the line drawn by his senior co-ruler Vladimir Putin; and some of his own ideas, like the initiative on signing an all-European pact on non-use of force, are astonishingly irrelevant.

But still, his charm offensive has not been without success.

The only exception was the meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at the Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, where Medvedev delivered an ambitious but on balance remarkably liberal address.

The news about a double increase of export prices on gas for Ukraine was not that surprising even if announced with frosty pleasure.

Gazprom’s CEO Alexei Miller recently confirmed that the company underestimated the dynamics of prices, so European customers already now pay $410 for 1000 cubic meters, while the target figure was $400 by the end of the year.

The Central Asian producers stand to benefit from the agreement to deal on the basis of “European prices,” but Ukraine cannot avoid the pain.

These energy matters will be hotly debated in various formats in the months to come but what really signified a punch in Medvedev’s smooth performance was the accusation that Ukraine’s behavior was “inadequate”.

The cause for this sharp characterization was firm insistence, championed personally by Yushchenko, on the withdrawal of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol by 2017.

Medvedev, who is fond of presenting himself as a lawyer, understands perfectly well that this policy implies strict compliance with the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership signed with great fanfare in 1997.

In this particular case, however, he is ready to disregard the Pacta sund servanda principle and argues that the issue is open to negotiation and prolongation of the base has to be considered the priority option.

There is certainly a serious problem behind Medvedev’s heavy-handed diplomacy as the withdrawal of the fleet would constitute a hugely expensive and strategically dubious task.

There is a program for building a new base at Novorossiysk but this port has a large oil terminal and with the planned construction of the second trunk of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium the intensity of tanker traffic is set to increase further.

The construction industry in the Krasnodar Krai in the coming years will be overloaded beyond capacity with the ambitious projects around Sochi, which is preparing to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, so the Navy cannot expect priority attention.

Knowing that there is no way to move their heavy rear services, the admirals have taken a defiant stance, exemplified by the statement of Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, Commander of the Navy, who suggested increasing the strength of the Black Sea Fleet from 35 to 100 ships, as stipulated by the agreement with Ukraine.

The dismal state of Russia’s shipbuilding industry, now organized in a single state-owned holding company chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, guarantees that such muscle-building would in the foreseeable future belong to the category of wishful thinking.

There is certainly far more to the Sevastopol problem than just the physical difficulty of moving the fleet, and Russian politicians, from Dmitri Rogozin to Yuri Luzhkov to Sergei Ivanov, have been arguing passionately during the last couple of months that there is not only no place but also no need to abandon the base at Sevastopol.

The main context for this “patriotic” contest in scoring cheap points is the prospect of NATO enlargement that is portrayed as a grave threat to Russia’s security.

Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov visiting Sevastopol in May argued that the Russian-Ukrainian treaty should be scrapped; and the State Duma, always attuned to the moods in the Kremlin, has approved a declaration that suggests that if Ukraine secures a NATO membership plan, the treaty would become null and void.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, visiting Sevastopol last weekend for the celebration of its 225th anniversary, said that he did not feel like a guest in “our city” and suggested that NATO membership would inevitably involve a visa regime between Russia and Ukraine.

Another context to this problem is that it is not clear at all what sort of future Sevastopol would have after the withdrawal of the fleet, since developing a trade port there makes little sense due to a lack of land communications.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer confirmed that the Alliance had no plans for building a base in Sevastopol.

Russia has taken a more pro-active course and promises to increase its investments in the city infrastructure, which is closely linked with supporting the fleet.

Public opinion in the Crimea is generally pro-Russian, as confirmed by the 1,000,000 signatures gathered under the appeal to keep the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol indefinitely.

Even more telling is a recent Gallup poll, according to which 53 percent of Ukrainians approve the policy of Russian leadership and only 24 percent disapprove, which is a higher approval rating than in Belarus or Armenia.

Deep splits in Ukraine’s political elite and bitter animosity between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko give Medvedev space to play hardball and assert himself as a true “defender” of national interests.

At the same time, the Kremlin tends to underestimate the success of Ukrainian state-building, fantasizing about a break-up that might be triggered by Crimea, as Putin tried to insinuate at the NATO Bucharest summit.

The word “Sevastopol” resonates strongly with Russia’s still uncertain identity, but attempts at exploiting this effect covered by accusations about Ukraine’s inability to engage in a “civilized dialogue” are seriously irresponsible.

Instead of achieving a demonstrable success, Medvedev might find himself trapped on a dead-end track, where the losses could be far greater than the costs of moving a couple of dozen rusty ships to an unprepared anchorage.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor