Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ukrainian President Yushchenko Declares Democratic Sovereignty

WASHINGTON, DC -- Amid domestic political turmoil and neighboring geopolitical conflict, speaking through a translator, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko addressed the country’s future plans for an independent and democratic Ukraine.

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko in Washington

Nearly two weeks ago, Ukraine’s ruling coalition collapsed, and last year at this time the parliamentary elections put in place an ‘orange’ coalition featuring an alliance between the Yushchenko’s party and the party of Prime Minister Julia Temeshinko.

The recent Russian-Georgian conflict has caused international tension between Ukraine and Russia over the fact that Ukraine hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet and the transportation of energy supplies between Russia and Europe.

In the context of the Russian-Georgian conflict and pro-Russian forces active in the Crimean area, Yushchenko said that he is ready to fight and protect his sovereign nation and determine it’s own defense and security policy.

He strongly confirmed that his territory would never be used for any country to deploy nuclear weapons. Addressing the fears of communist presence in the government, Yushchenko did not understand how Prime Minister Temeshinko made their top partnership with communists because, he said, “there are no Ukrainian communists.

These communists always represented interests of a different country.”

Yushchenko confirmed his support of NATO, saying it is “the best model to guarantee security in the (Ukraine’s) international coordinates”.

The President continued to declare his plan for a democratic Ukraine and integration into the European Union under the Association Agreement.

The Association Agreements would include a free trade area and a start to negotiations of visa free access between the EU and Ukraine.

Source: Talk Radio News

Monday, September 29, 2008

Yushchenko Plays Down Rift In Government

WASHINGTON, DC -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko played down the political rift in his country's Parliament, saying during a meeting with US President George W Bush that Ukrainian democracy is strong enough to survive the uncertainty.

U.S. President George Bush (R) and Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko at a press conference of Monday, Sep. 29.

"We also discussed the domestic political situation in Ukraine, which in my opinion is far away from being tragic, and not dramatic," Yushchenko said at the White House.

"Ukraine has enough democratic resources and tools to give sufficient response to any crisis that may occur in the Ukrainian Parliament."

The coalition between Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc came apart earlier this month, mainly over disagreements between the two leader over Russia's invasion of Georgia.

Yushchenko has advocated pro-Western policies, while Tymoshenko sees Russia as playing a more important role in Ukraine's future and is trying to build a new coalition with pro-Russian parties. Failure to form a new government could bring elections as early as December.

Bush and Yushchenko also discussed energy issues and Ukraine's desire to join the NATO alliance. NATO earlier this year agreed to put Ukraine on the path to membership.

Source: DPA

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Somali Pirates Surrounded

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- As a heavily armed US destroyer patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead yesterday, a Somali pirate spokesman told The Associated Press his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks.

A Somali gunman south of Mogadishu. Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter carrying military weapons defiantly demanded 20 million dollars in ransom despite being surrounded by three foreign warships on Sunday.

The spokesman also warned that the pirates would fight to the death if any country tried military action to regain the ship, and a man who said he was the ship’s captain reported that one crew member had died.

Pirates seized the Ukrainian-operated ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday as it headed to Kenya carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial amount of ammunition and spare parts. The ordnance was ordered by the Kenyan government.

The guided missile destroyer USS Howard was stationed off the Somali coast yesterday, making sure that the pirates did not remove the tanks, ammunition and other heavy weapons from the ship, which was anchored off the coast. A spokesman for the US 5th Fleet said the navy remained “deeply concerned” over the fate of the ship’s 21-member crew and cargo.

In a rare gesture of cooperation, the Americans appeared to be keeping an eye on the Faina until the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, reaches the area. The Russian ship was still in the Atlantic yesterday, the Russian Navy reported.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said he was speaking from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone — and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship’s captain, who also spoke with the AP. It was not possible to further confirm their identities.

“We want ransom, nothing else. We need $20 million for the safe release of the ship and the crew,” Ali said, adding that “if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves until the last one of us dies.”

Five nations have been sharing information to try to secure the swift release of the ship and its crew — Ukraine, Somalia, Russia, the United States and Britain.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua, however, insisted his country will not negotiate with pirates or terrorists. Ali said planes have been flying over the Faina. It was not known which country the planes belonged to.

Source: AP

Former U.S. Ambassador Pifer: Ukraine Has 'Zero' Chance To Advance In NATO If Snap Election Called

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer does not think that Ukraine will join the NATO Membership Action Plan in December if early parliamentary elections are called in the country.

Steven Pifer

"I must say that if the Verkhovna Rada gets dissolved in October and snap parliamentary elections are called, a chance that Ukraine will obtain the MAP in December equals to zero," Pifer, ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000, commented.

Pifer also thinks it is possible that Ukraine will join the MAP only formally in the event Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych becomes the prime minister.

Pfeiffer said that Yanukovych, as prime minister, did not support Ukraine's accession to the MAP but, nonetheless, concrete joint projects of Ukraine and NATO were moved forward.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, on April 3, the NATO summit in Bucharest (Romania) postponed consideration of Ukraine's and Georgia's accession to the MAP until December.

President Victor Yuschenko hopes that NATO member-countries will support a decision to invite Ukraine to join the MAP in December because of the conflict in Georgia.

Steven Pifer, the third U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Source: Kyiv Post

US Warship Now Shadowing Pirated Freighter

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A U.S. destroyer off the coast of Somalia closed in Saturday on a hijacked Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and ammunition, watching it to ensure the pirates who seized it do not try to remove any cargo or crew.

The USS Howard, a destroyer, was reported to be close by the hijacked Ukrainian ship, which is carrying war materiel.

As Russian and American ships pursued the hijackers of the Ukrainian-operated vessel, pirates seized another ship off Somalia's coast, an international anti-piracy group said.

The Greek tanker with a crew of 19 is carrying refined petroleum from Europe to the Middle East. It was ambushed Friday in the Gulf of Aden, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center based in Malaysia. He said pirates chased and fired at the ship before boarding it.

In Somalia, a man claiming to be spokesman of the pirates holding the Ukrainian ship said the hijackers want $35 million to release the vessel. But there was no way to immediately verify his claim that he represented the pirates.

On Thursday, pirates seized the Ukrainian ship Faina en route to Kenya with 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. Russia's navy said Friday that it had dispatched a warship to the area, and the United States said American naval ships were tracking the Ukrainian ship with special concern because of the weaponry on board.

The hijackings were the latest in a series of audacious maritime attacks off the coast of Somalia, a war-torn country that has been without a functioning government since 1991.

The destroyer USS Howard is pursuing the hijacked Ukrainian vessel and is now within a few thousand yards of it.

The USS Howard's Web site says it is equipped for combat operations at sea with surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, antisubmarine rockets, torpedoes and a five-inch rapid-fire deck gun.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the Faina had not yet docked at any port and was still at sea.

Kenya "is not aware of any credible (ransom) demand being made," Mutua said in statement on his Web site. He said Kenya "does not and will not negotiate with international criminals, pirates and terrorists."

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said the Kenyan Defense Department was using its contacts to try to resolve the problem. It said Kenyan authorities were sharing information with Somalia, Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and Britain in an effort to secure the swift release of the ship and its crew.

A man who spoke to the Associated Press in Somalia by telephone and claimed to be a spokesman for the pirates said they were seeking a ransom.
"We want the Kenyan government to negotiate with us about a $35 million ransom we want for the release of the ship and the cargo without any other intervention," said the man, who identified himself as Ali Yare Abdulkadir.

"If not, we will do what we can and offload the small arms and take them away."

Abdulkadir, who local residents in the northeastern Somali region of Puntland said represented the pirates, declined to reveal his whereabouts. He said the ship is somewhere along Somalia's northeastern coast and warned against any military action to liberate it.

"Anyone who tries it will be responsible for the consequences," Abdulkadir said.

A Russian Web site posted what it said was an audio recording of a telephone conversation with the Ukrainian ship's first mate. He said the hijackers are seeking a ransom and have anchored close to the Somali shore.

Source: Arizona Star

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ukraine-Russia Tensions Rise In Crimea

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Skimming the Black Sea aboard a military motorboat, Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo turned to an entourage of television cameras. "The dirty ones, those are the Ukrainian ships," he said with a light smirk. "The clean ones are Russian."

Russian sailor in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Against a backdrop of simmering tensions, Dygalo led journalists on an unusual wide-ranging visit to Russia's Black Sea Fleet this month, complete with unprecedented access to the flagship Moskva, a guided missile cruiser.

The public relations tour came just as the strategically crucial Russian base here finds itself at the epicenter of an escalating political clash.

Alarmed by Russia's recent war in Georgia, the Ukrainian government has imposed new restrictions on the Russian ships' movements, and suggested raising the rent for the fleet.

The Ukrainian president has called the surrounding Crimean Peninsula -- historically a part of Russia and still home to a majority Russian population -- the most dangerous spot in the country because of separatist sentiment.

Russia has responded with icy vows to beef up its military forces in the Black Sea, eagerly showing off to reporters the firepower aboard vessels that were used to blockade Georgia -- and to remind the world of the deep Russian roots in this restive Ukrainian region.

"The military budget will be revisited so that we can exploit these ships better and build new ships," said Dygalo, aboard the Moskva. "The attitude toward the international situation has changed, of course. We understand quite well that Russia came under pressure."

Tensions have been climbing in this sleepy port since the fighting in Georgia brought into sharp focus two clashing interests: Russia's determination to take on a greater role in the former Soviet states, and the Ukrainian government's determination to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The war in Georgia pitted a Western-friendly government against Moscow; meanwhile, Ukraine is painfully divided in loyalties to the West and Russia.

Crimea is Russian-friendly turf. Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to Ukraine back when the shared flag made the distinction between the two countries relatively unimportant.

Today, many residents of Crimea say they are Russian first, Ukrainian second. They vehemently oppose Ukraine's bid to join NATO, bristle over anti-Moscow rhetoric from national leaders and say they are embittered by government efforts to infuse Crimea with Ukrainian language and culture.

Because of Crimea's staunch pro-Russia sentiments, analysts warn that the country could break apart if politicians in Kiev continue their push toward NATO and the West.

"Most threats from Ukraine don't come from outside, but from inside," said Vladimir Kornilov, a political scientist in Kiev. "Ukraine is living on its own volcano."

Critics accuse the Black Sea Fleet of deliberately exacerbating the tension.

"All the anti-Ukrainian, pro-Russia blocs are closely tied to the Black Sea Fleet," said Miroslav Mamchak, the snowy-haired chief of a group called the Ukrainian Community of Sevastopol. "They struggle against the Ukrainian language. They support the separatists."

Mamchak is a rare voice of Ukrainian nationalism here. He says that he has received death threats, and that Russian loyalists plastered the town with his picture under the slogan, "I'm a traitor to Russia."

Black Sea Fleet officials deny any political tampering. But many Ukrainians worry that Moscow is stealthily working to stir up separatist sentiment. There have been reports that Russia has quietly begun to grant passports to some residents; Russian officials say it's not true.

Powerful Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov, who has been banned from Ukraine for his rhetoric on Crimea, has said the region "doesn't belong" to Ukraine.

Moscow and Sevastopol have long had close ties, and the Moscow city government has built schools and apartments in the Ukrainian city. One opulent school is decorated with stained glass depictions of Moscow, and a university is affiliated with Moscow State University.

Pro-Moscow residents regard Mamchak's political organization as part of a Kiev-backed effort at "ethnocide."

Many people here complain about the mandatory teaching of the Ukrainian language in schools and its use in the media and for government paperwork. Pro-Russia leaders also accuse the Ukrainian government of slowly moving people into the region from other parts of the country and installing pro-Kiev leaders in the city government.

"Faster, faster, faster to make everybody a Ukrainian," said Raisa Telyatnikova, head of the Russian Community of Sevastopol. "They want to completely distance us from our historical motherland, Russia, and turn it into an alien state. . . . They want to change the ethnic composition and break the spirit of Sevastopol."

With its clusters of war memorials and Soviet awards from Vladimir I. Lenin still adorning the walls of the town hall, today's Sevastopol has the feel of a living monument to the U.S.S.R., or at least to the power of Moscow. Russian flags flutter throughout the city, a statue of Catherine the Great looms on the main street and Russian is heard on most every corner. Bookstores stock a paltry number of Ukrainian titles. "It's only the language of state business," one bookseller said with a shrug.

Despite the fleet's warm ties with the locals, politicians in Kiev have made it plain that the Russian navy could be asked to leave after its lease expires in 2017.

Russia, however, has other ideas. The fleet's presence here is woven into history, Russian military officials say. The ships will stay put, and multiply, they have said repeatedly.

"Nothing prevents us from building up our forces here in Ukrainian territory," said Rear Adm. Andrei Baranov, the fleet's deputy chief of staff. "The fleet will be renovated. . . . New ships will be arriving here."

On the grounds of St. Nicholas the Sanctifier Church, the bones of an estimated 60,000 Russian fighters, casualties of the Crimean War in the 19th century and World War II, lie in a vast, quiet cemetery that rolls downhill toward the sea. On the steps of the sanctuary, priests spoke of their emotional ties to generations of sailors and of their unwillingness to hoist a Ukrainian flag.

In a scene that seemed cut from tsarist times, Russian navy officials and Orthodox priests sat at a long table, knocking back shots of vodka and proclaiming emotional toasts.

"The West shuddered 150 years ago when Russia showed its sword, and the Black Sea turned red with blood," said Igor Bebin, a pink-robed priest who rose to his feet, vodka glass held high.

"That was the supreme truth. And the truth is that now, for the first time, the sword of Russia is shining again. Be afraid of the sword."

The Russians cheered, and took a deep drink.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Pirates' Demand Now $5M For Weapons Vessel

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The ransom for the safe return of a Ukrainian vessel loaded with weapons and tanks that was seized by pirates is now at $5 million, an official says.

Somali pirates have lowered ransom demands from $35 million to $5 million for the release of a Ukrainian freighter carrying a shipment of tanks and grenade launchers.

Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya Seafarers Association said while pirates initially asked for $35 million for the vessel's safe return, they lowered their demand significantly due to the secondhand nature of the weapons and the fact the vessel's crew is not from the United States, CNN reported Saturday.

The Faina was seized by the pirates in the Gulf of Aden Thursday as the ship was traveling from Ukraine to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman says.

The ministry has confirmed the ship was carrying 33 tanks and tank artillery shells, along with small arms and grenade launchers.

The ransom demand comes as a growing number of ships in the gulf have been targeted by pirates.

The International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center in Malaysia told The Washington Post Saturday that 17 of the 61 reported pirate attacks in the region have happened in the first two weeks of September, compared to 13 pirate attacks in all of 2007.

Source: UPI

From Barrie To Kiev With Love

KIEV, Ukraine -- Mikhail Bulgakov's statue sits rather glumly, arms crossed, halfway down the Andriyivsky Descent, a winding cobblestone street that leads from the city's upper town to Podil, the vibrant district often described as "Kiev's Montmartre."

Mikhail Bulgakov

Bulgakov, the Kiev-born playwright, author and doctor best known for his novel The Master and the Margarita, had plenty of reason to be disconsolate during his lifetime when his satires were banned in the Soviet Union.

But the great writer's statue should no longer look so downcast. He sits outside his old home at No. 13, which is now the charming Bulgakov Museum, and across the street from him, behind street vendors selling traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts, matryoshka dolls and Soviet and Nazi memorabilia, is the celebrated Kiev Drama Theatre on Podil, home to the Bulgakov International Art Festival.

The seventh edition of the festival begins on Monday in Kiev - and, for the first time, a Canadian company is taking part.

Talk Is Free Theatre (TIFT) from Barrie, Ont., is the only North American participant in this year's Bulgakov love-in. The company will be presenting excerpts of their English-language production of Bulgakov's early 1930s play Molière, or League of Hypocrites, directed by Aleksandar Lukac. The seven-year-old company was invited by Kiev Drama Theatre on Podil's artistic director Vitaly Malakhov just a few months ago.

"I just got an e-mail out of the blue that I thought was a scam at first," says Arkady Spivak, TIFT's artistic producer. "They were wondering if our 2005 production was still running."

In continental Europe, theatre companies will often run the same shows in repertoire for years, or even decades, as opposed to weeks or months as in North America. "I remembered from my childhood days that this is how they do things there," says Spivak, who was born in Moscow and immigrated to Canada with his mother in 1990. "And it's all done at the last minute."

This year's festival's theme is "Poet and Government," a topic that Molière tackles head on.

The play imagines the relationship between France's most famous playwright and Louis XIV and the battle they found over Molière's religious satire Tartuffe. But Molière (sometimes performed under the title The Cabal of Hypocrites) is usually interpreted as really being about Bulgakov's complex relationship with Stalin.

Bulgakov had early success under Stalin. In 1928, he had three plays running in Moscow at three different theatres; one of them, The Day of the Turbins, his adaptation of his first novel The White Guard, was hailed as "a new Seagull" - a flattering reference to play by Anton Chekhov, another doctor-turned-writer from Ukraine.

At the time, Stalin was one of Bulgakov's biggest fans. The dictator supposedly saw Day of the Turbins at least 15 times.

But soon, Bulgakov was tagged as a subversive and his plays were censored, banned or, in the case of Molière, relegated to a peculiar type of Stalinist "development hell." The Moscow Art Theatre, under the directorship of the famed Constantin Stanislavski, rehearsed Molière for four years, but it was then performed in public only a handful of times.

"At least Tartuffe ran 300 performances before it was banned - but Bulgakov's play about Tartuffe only ran seven times," says Spivak.

While Bulgakov managed to escape the more gruesome fates of other writers deemed to be anti-Soviet in the Gulag, he descended into fits of paranoia while writing in secret and died in 1940. "He didn't perish in concentration camps," says Spivak, "but he was mortally wounded psychologically."

Born in Kiev to Russian parents in 1891, Bulgakov may be the city's most internationally famous literary son, but he is not universally loved in the independent Ukraine. He immortalized the streets and squares of the Ukrainian capital during the Russian civil war in his novel The White Guard, but he wrote in Russian and did not hold particularly sympathetic views towards the Ukrainian language or the idea of a Ukrainian republic.

Think of him as to Ukraine what Mordecai Richler is to Quebec and you get some idea of his iconoclastic status.

Malakhov, one of Ukraine's most famous directors and actors, created the festival dedicated to the writer seven years ago, modelling it after a festival in Seville, Spain, dedicated to Cervantes.

"Bulgakov is one of the world's most famous writers and he is a Kiev writer," says Malakhov, drinking tea in a café near the city's main drag, Kreschatik Street, his long grey hair pulled into a ponytail under a baseball cap. "I was surprised that no one had started the festival before us."

But is Bulgakhov, who spent most of his career in Moscow, to be celebrated as a Ukrainian writer or a Russian writer? It's a question that has re-emerged since Ukraine's independence, and one furiously debated among Malakhov's theatrical colleagues.

Many famous writers typically thought of as Russian were born in what is now Ukraine, including Gogol and Chekhov, and many Ukrainian nationalists are trying to reclaim them, especially in light of renewed tensions between Russia and its neighbours.

"The problem is that before 1990 we were all thought of as Russian," says Malakhov, who speaks the colloquial mix of Ukrainian and Russian heard throughout Kiev known as surzhik. (It's like the Chiac spoken in New Brunswick, or Frenglish spoken in Montreal.) In a recent poll of Russians, Bulgakov was named the country's second best writer, while in similar poll of Ukrainians, he was named the third greatest Ukrainian writer. For Malakhov, however, Bulgakov's identity is simple: "He is a Kievite."

Igor Volkov, an actor being directed by Malakhov in the festival, prefers to emphasize Bulgakov's universality over such disputes.

"Bulgakov's work unites people from different parts of the world and people with different political views," Volkov says.

Indeed, in addition to Canadians, Scandinavians and Brits, the three-day Bulgakov festival is bringing in artists from Georgia and Russia, two countries that just fought a war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. (In fact, there is even an actor from South Ossetia taking part in the festival.) The relationship between "the poet and the government" has changed a great deal since the Soviet days in Ukraine and since 2004's Orange Revolution. But are things really better for artists? "In principle, yes," says Malakhov, using a popular equivocal Ukrainian expression.

While Ukraine is now a country free of censorship, the arts are not funded as much as they were in Soviet days. "Ukrainian theatre is much more democratic than that in Russia or Belarus," explains Malakhov.

"But in Russia, the government gives much more to the theatre, because of the propaganda it espouses."

Malakhov can't complain too much about funding: The Ukrainian government is sponsoring his Bulgakov festival. And a brand-new theatre is being built in Podil to house his theatre company and allow for the festival to expand. It's the first new theatre to be built in Kiev in 100 years.

But Malakhov fears playwrights, directors and actors aren't as motivated as they were in Soviet times.

Would Bulgakov have written Molière without his battles with Stalin? The Master and the Margarita, a Soviet satire about Satan visiting Moscow that inspired the Rolling Stones song Sympathy for the Devil, likely wouldn't have been penned in a democratic country.

"Oppression gives the artists energy because usually artists like to fight for their integrity," Malahkov says.

Bulgakov's plays resonate differently in Canada, where the population hasn't experienced the same kind of censorship or oppression - which may account for why his satirical plays aren't as often produced as those by earlier Russian-language writers like Chekhov, Gogol or Turgenev. "We didn't have to live through any of the stuff that informed Molière [the play]," Spivak says.

Nonetheless, Spivak is looking forward to bringing his company's English-language Canadian spin on one of Bulgakov's plays to the author's place of birth. "It's kind of a daring act to take their own playwright to them," he says. "It's almost like I'm bringing them their own present. You know how sometimes you get a gift, forget who gave it to you, and then you re-gift it to them?"

Source: Globe and Mail

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poland And Ukraine Escape With A Telling Off

BORDEAUX, France -- The only surprising thing about the much-anticipated UEFA executive meeting in Bordeaux was that the press was kept waiting. Still there are worse places to hang around than the grand surroundings of the Regents Hotel in the Place de la Comedie.

UEFA chief Michel Platini

A press conference meant to start at 12:15 French time did not begin until 14:45, leading to much speculation that contrary to expectations, UEFA might have decided to move Euro 2012 from Poland and Ukraine, after all.

But in the end, the briefings proved accurate. As predicted. Ukraine and Poland were given a bit of a telling off, not even a yellow card.

It could be argued that UEFA has threatened the two countries with a possible red card in the future.

It said: "Host countries must continue to make the necessary efforts as any slackening could put in doubt the organisation of this tournament in these countries.'

But actually UEFA is unlikely to ever wave this red card. While giving a warning to Ukraine and Poland, it also reconfirms UEFA's commitment to organize the European Championship in 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

In the overall scale of potential tournament removals, the two Eastern European countries losing the Euros is less likely than South Africa losing the 2010 World Cup. And they are not as close as Athens was to losing the 2004 Olympics, when the then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch waved his famous yellow card for Athens tardy progress.

What is likely to happen is that UEFA may cut down the number of cities that will host the games and be very severe on the state and quality of the stadia. Central to its plans is that the two capital cities, Kiev and Warsaw, must host games.

Of course, UEFA is hoping that both the Polish and the Ukraine governments support the tournament and fulfil their commitments.

What they don't say, but fear, is that while Poland looks dependable, Ukraine does not. UEFA's unspoken fear is that Ukraine will fail to deliver and that event may force UEFA to reconsider its commitment to hold the Euros in that country. But that still looks a very, very long shot.

In awarding tournaments to bidding cities sports governing bodies put themselves at the mercy of the governments charged with delivering their tournament.

UEFA will be hoping, just as the IOC and FIFA have in the past, that they are not let down, and will certainly be keeping a close on eye on the progress of Ukraine and Poland.

Source: BBC Sport

Ukraine Far From Ready To Join NATO, Despite U.S. Support

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Bush White House has been pressing its European allies to accept Ukraine into NATO — over Russia's bitter opposition — but the continuing political crisis in Kiev raises serious questions about whether this country is ready to join.

Presidents George Bush (L) and Viktor Yushchenko (file photo).

Viktor Yushchenko , the U.S.-backed president, was in New York this week, ringing the bell on the New York Stock Exchange and exhorting the U.N. General Assembly to contain Russia . Back home, his ruling coalition remains fractured, raising the prospect of a third parliamentary election in as many years.

Approval ratings for the one-time hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution are consistently below 10 percent. Despite Yushchenko's strong condemnation of Russia's invasion of Georgia last month and his enthusiastic support for NATO , polls show that only some 22 percent of Ukrainians favor joining the alliance.

In the parliament, opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, considered by many to be close to Russia , has more than twice as many seats as Yushchenko's bloc, which is anchored by the Our Ukraine party.

The political bickering has significant implications for U.S. interests in the area, including the drive to admit Ukraine into NATO .

If Russia can capitalize on the instability and help shape Kiev's foreign policy, it could reassert some of the control it lost on Europe's edge after the collapse of the Soviet Union . That would be a major step forward for the Kremlin in what Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has referred to as "regions where ( Russia ) has privileged interests."

Yushchenko's supporters accuse Russia of engineering the political crisis by brokering a Faustian deal with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko , under which she split with the president and began cooperating with the opposition in return for backing in the 2010 presidential elections.

Earlier this month, Tymoshenko loyalists in parliament voted alongside Yanukovych's Party of Regions to limit the president's powers — a move Yushchenko said amounted to "a political and constitutional coup."

Officials from both Tymoshenko's and Yanukovych's parties say that the country can't afford to alienate Russia and aggressively pursue a divisive course toward NATO membership. They say Ukraine should focus instead on becoming part of the European Union and taking advantage of the country's location between Europe and Russia to raise its economic profile.

"The most positive answer for Ukraine is neutrality — neither joining NATO or any military union with Russia ," said Andriy Kozhemyakin, deputy head of the parliamentary contingent in Tymoshenko's eponymous political party. "Our political force is for Ukrainian integration into the EU as soon as possible."

Leonid Kozhara, deputy head of international relations for Yanukovych's party, said he also backs becoming a part of Europe and getting on more solid footing with Russia .

"It's not about Russian spheres or whatever; Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych understand that Ukraine cannot be a successful country without a relationship with Russia ," said Kozhara, a former Ukrainian ambassador to Sweden and congressional liaison in its Washington embassy.

Kozhara pointed out that for all of America's insistence about Ukraine's political future, it's a relatively unimportant trading partner.

Last year, the EU was the largest, at about 39 percent of the country's trade, and Russia was second at 24 percent. The U.S., on the other hand, was seventh at just 2.1 percent.

But many pro-western politicians and analysts say that drawing close to Russia risks a slow loss of Ukraine's independence until it became a de facto satellite state for the Kremlin.

" Russia is acting like an empire of gas and oil, it wants to harass Europe , to extend its territory to the post-Soviet region," said Taras Stetskiv, a parliament member from Yushchenko's political bloc, who has criticized the president's track record. "There's no need for war. Moscow has by its propaganda and its agents of influence made Ukrainian politicians fight each other — they are eating each other."

Olexiy Haran , an analyst in Kiev , said he worries that after Russia faced no real sanctions for its war with Georgia — in which it essentially annexed two large territories — the Kremlin is now more willing to deal aggressively with Ukraine . While he said he didn't think the Kremlin would try to take the peninsula of Crimea, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is docked — a frequently discussed scenario — Haran said that it's hard to predict what might happen.

"From the west, we heard a lot of nice words, strong words, brave rhetoric, but in reality nothing was done" following the Georgia war, said Haran, founding director of a school for policy analysis at a leading Kiev university. "The Russians now feel that OK, now we can do what we want."

For all the rancor about Russia , many analysts say the political turmoil in Ukraine mostly is due not to foreign meddling but squabbling politicians.

Both Yushchenko, with his face scarred by a 2004 poisoning that many blame on the Russians, and Tymoshenko, a nail-tough political fighter who wears her blonde hair in a wrap-around braid, have been darlings of the West since they led the ouster of the pro-Communist government during the Orange Revolution.

But after the thrill of that movement faded, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko quarreled often as they vied for support from Ukrainians in the west and center of the country who tend to be more western-leaning.

After Russian invaded Georgia last month, the pair appeared to take different paths to shore up political support, said Oleksandr Sushko , research director at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation , a NATO advocacy think tank.

Yushchenko unleashed harsh criticism of Russia both in Kiev and on a trip to Tbilisi , and singled out Tymoshenko for not speaking up more.

Tymoshenko was more pragmatic and argued for dealing with Russia calmly and as a partner, an apparent effort to pick up votes in the eastern and southern reaches of Ukraine where support for Russia is widespread, Sushko said.

"Playing the Russia card is part of the domestic political process," Sushko said. "The president uses the Russia card to accuse Tymoshenko of being a Russian puppet, and Tymoshenko accuses Yushchenko of destroying Ukraine's relationship with Russia ."

The question, say many in Kiev , is whether Russia will win at the end of the game.

Source: McClatchy Newspapers

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Great Giveaway Revisited

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is still paying a terrible price for the cheap ‘90s sell-off of the nation’s most valuable assets. “Behind every great fortune,” wrote Honore de Balzac, “there lies a great crime.”

Kryvorizhstal, the giant steel manufacturer, stands alone in the annals of Ukraine's shadowy privatizations.

If the 19th century French playwright’s observation is not an accurate description of how the Ukrainian government sold off the nation’s most valuable assets following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it sure seems that way to many people.

“Scam.” “Ripoff.” “Unfair.”

These are some of the other words people use when talking about the way Ukraine transferred so much of the nation’s wealth to a few insiders at such fire-sale prices. The opaque deals gave rise to a super-billionaire class while many in the nation suffered poverty.

While the transactions may have been technically legal from the standpoint of the corrupt 1990s, the nation paid a dear price. Many argue that the distortions and damage to the nation continue to this day, through lack of honest competition in the marketplace and the financial elite's co-opting of government.

Besides contributing to a profound sense of unfairness, Ukrainians missed out on considerable – but difficult to quantify – privatization revenues that would likely have come from open and competitive bids for state assets. Such a windfall might have lifted everyone’s standard of living and helped create a stronger middle class.

Instead, a dozen or so business groups – led by super-billionaires such as Rinat Akhmetov and Victor Pinchuk -- control Ukraine’s main industries of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, coal, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals and food processing.

Ukraine has more billionaires per capita than Russia, a nation that Forbes magazine ranked as having the third-highest number after the United States and Germany.

All of this concentration of wealth and political power is inherently unhealthy to a society, many say.

Economists call this kind of high-wealth concentration a “capture economy,” which the International Monetary Fund defines as “the efforts of firms to shape the laws, policies, and regulations of the state to their own advantage by providing illicit private gains to public officials.”

“When you have a huge disparity between the 10 percent richest and 10 percent poorest in a country, this is an indicator that a country is unstable from the standpoint that society doesn’t view those with money as being legitimate, that wealth was acquired dishonestly,” said Mykhailo Mishchenko of the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-­based think tank.

Balazs Horvath, resident representative of the International Monetary Fund in Ukraine, said the non-competitive privatizations of the 1990s created “a significant buildup of inequality in wealth and income.” Consequently, Horvath said, a large and strong middle class – considered the backbone of stable societies -- has yet to form.

'Almost always rigged'

Some 400 enterprises of strategic importance for the national economy and security, according to the State Property Fund, were among those privatized. They were sold at nominal prices via emissions of shares that were scooped up by private hands. Or they simply sold at below-market prices.

Other public-private ownership transfers included rigged auctions conducted unfairly and non-transparently or closed auctions with preconditions that favored a select few investors often excluding stronger competitors or strategic investors.

“These auctions were almost always rigged intentionally to create an uneven and inequitable playing field to keep out higher bidders and was done with approval from the top on the national and regional levels,” said Alex Frishberg, managing partner of Frishberg & Partners law firm, familiar with the privatization process in the 1990s.

Ownership rights to some state-owned enterprises were simply transferred to private hands. Land was leased to individuals who ran companies into the ground in order to later buy them at rock-bottom prices at the state’s expense.

Privatization was lauded by Western experts for two principal reasons. Politically, it was a way of swiftly breaking with the Soviet socialist past. Economically, it was a key step in the transition to a market economy, which should have boosted productivity and efficiency.

“Importantly, the transparency of the privatization process, and efforts to ensure competitive privatization that attracts strategic investors is a critical determinant of how much of these gains actually materialize,” Horvath said. The long-term gains should have led to increased employment and salaries, thus raising the overall standard of living, said Horvath. Only in the past five years has Ukraine reaped the benefits of rising domestic consumption.

But the results are mixed. Some owners became good owners by investing in their companies, others less so, Horvath added.

Ukraine did not initiate “shock therapy” to quickly privatize, unlike many of its central and eastern European neighbors who are now snugly in the European Union and NATO. Privatization was much more of a dragged-out and shadowy affair for Ukraine, as much of the population struggled with poverty. Capital flight became and remains rampant. The offshore haven of Cyprus is still Ukraine’s largest foreign direct investor.

Privatization, moreover, was never fully completed in Ukraine. It has now ground to a halt amid the current political chaos. And land privatization has not begun, due to Ukraine’s socialist leanings on the issue.

Kryvorizhstal example

The poster boy of sloppy privatization is the way Ukraine’s largest steel manufacturer, Kryvorizhstal, was first sold in June 2004, which critics at home and abroad cited as an example of corruption and state property mismanagement.

It was sold for a paltry $800 million to a consortium made up of companies belonging to Akhmetov, who has a net worth estimated at $31 billion, and Pinchuk, the son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma. Pinchuk is the second wealthiest Ukrainian, Korrespondent magazine says, with a fortune of $9 billion.

The sale was made even though Mittal Steel offered nearly twice the amount – $1.5 billion.

“Cash privatizations are always a little crooked and shady since the true value of assets is always difficult to ascertain and someone [the bidders] will always be dissatisfied,” said Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington D.C.

That deal was dismissed in court in June 2005 with the moral support of President Victor Yushchenko, who was still riding high after the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought him to power.

Then the steel giant was r-sold by the government, fetching more than Ukraine generated from privatization in the previous four years.

Mittal Steel acquired a 93 percent stake in Kryvorizhstal in October 2005 for a whopping $4.8 billion. The bidding was broadcast live on Ukrainian television.

“Once a serious strategic investor took over the plant and started investing heavily into it, this spurred others in Ukraine’s steel industry to do the same, which is what transparent, competitive privatizations are supposed to do,” said the International Monetary Fund’s Horvath.

Reprivatizations halted

But Kryvorizhstal stands by itself, in the opinion of many, as an injustice corrected. Other major reprivatizations never occurred, despite attempts by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in 2005 to regain and resell prized assets.

Tymoshenko said she received a list of 3,000 enterprises that prosecutors said were privatized illegally. She pledged to review dozens of sales. Her efforts went nowhere, as her government bowed to fierce criticism for shaking investor confidence. She was fired in late 2005, in part over her attempts to reprivatize Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant, then-controlled by Pinchuk.

The highly valuable Nikopol plant reportedly has 11.5 percent of the world’s manganese alloy market. The government sold a majority stake in the company to a Pinchuk-controlled group in the early 2000s for $80 million, spurning an offer of more than twice as much.

Attempts to renationalize Nikopol have failed, allowing Pinchuk to continue reaping the highly profitable exports -- estimated at some $30 million per month. At that rate, Pinchuk needed less than three months to recoup his initial purchase price.

The most recent glaring example of state collusion with oligarchs was the 2007 privatization of Luhanskteplovoz, Ukraine’s monopoly locomotive producer.

A 76 percent stake was sold in a last-minute auction to essentially a single bidder for $60 million, Russian Transmashholding, the largest producer of heavy machinery in Russia and controlled by oligarch Iskander Makhmudov.

Major European companies eyeing Luhanskteplovoz, included German electronics giant Siemens, with some analysts estimating at the time that the state could fetch as much as $200 million.

The state also expressed an interest in reprivatizing Ukraine’s largest iron-ore mines that once made up the Ukrrudprom state holding company. These include Southern, Northern, Central, Inguletsky and Kryvy Rih ore companies, which together produce 70 percent of this raw material for the country’s steel business and for export.

Their controlling stakes were sold in 2004 to Russian billionaire Vadim Novitsky, Akhmetov and Pinchuk.

The tender was deemed unfair since it was limited to buyers who had already existing stakes in ore companies.

The state’s coffers received $270 million after Ukrrudprom’s sale. In contrast, iron ore plants in Russia individually sold for much more ranging from $600 million (Stoilenskiy Iron Dresser Complex) to $1.7 billion (Ural Steel).

Other cases have been criticized for abuses.

Among them, the buyers of Chornomorsky shipyards and the Zaporizhya Aluminum Plant are accused of non-compliance with investment obligations, giving the state grounds for reprivatization.

One special case is the Mariupol-based Illich Metallurgical Plant. Its first brush with privatization came in 1996, when a 42 percent stake was transmitted through a privileged share transfer to the plant’s 39,000 workforce.

Later, in 2000, parliament and then-President Kuchma approved the privileged sale of a majority stake of the plant for roughly $82 million. Nominally, all the plant’s employees have shares in the enterprise worth billions. Rumors abound that the stakes are controlled by the plant’s top management, namely the plant’s director, Volodymyr Boiko. The plant has a market capitalization of $4.6 billion, according to Invest Gazeta.

Billions of dollars lost

It’s not clear how many billions of dollars the state missed out on because of slipshod or corrupt privatization. Also unknown is how much better off Ukrainians would be if the sales of their nation’s most valuable enterprises were conducted openly and competitively.

After Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia, he famously gathered the nation’s major oligarchs in 2000 and, in a warning to stay clear of politics, lectured them about the crony privatizations that took place under Boris Yeltsin’s rule.

“I only want to draw your attention straightaway to the fact that you have yourselves created this very state, to a large extent through political and quasi-political structures under your control. So perhaps what one should do least of all is blame the mirror,” Putin said.

Many believe the same was true about Ukraine in the 1990s – and is even more so today.

Source: Kyiv Post

Pirates Seize Ukrainian Ship Off Somalia Coast: Official

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Pirates on Thursday seized a Ukrainian cargo ship off the coast of Somalia, a Kenyan maritime official said, amid reports that it was carrying tanks and spare parts for armoured vehicles.

A suspected pirate looks over the edge of a skiff while off the coast of Somalia.

The hijackers commandeered the Belize-flagged Faina, which was on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, to a yet unknown location, said Andrew Mwngura who runs the Kenya chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Programme.

"It was sailing from the Baltics and was expected in Mombasa on September 27," he added. "As usual, the pirates were armed on a speedboat when they seized the ship, but we do not know where they have taken it."

Somali pirates often take ships to Eyl, a pirate den in the country's northern breakaway region of Puntland.

"The ship was transporting military hardware, including some 30 T-72 tanks and spare parts for armored vehicles," Russia's Interfax news agency said, quoting informed sources.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said: "Reports on the nature of this ship's cargo are being verified," adding that there were 21 people on board: 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and a Latvian.

"The captain reported that three cutter boats with armed people approached the Faina, and then communication was cut off," it said, quoting information provided by the ship's owners.

Dozens of ships, mainly merchant vessels, have been seized by gangs off Somalia's 3,700-kilometre (2,300-mile) coastline in recent years, despite the presence of Western navies deployed in the region to fight terrorism.

The pirates travel in speedboats and are armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. They sometimes hold ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.

In recent months, a multinational taskforce based in Djibouti has been patrolling parts of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, where a pirate mothership is believed to be operating.

Some pirates have justified their actions by claiming that, in the absence of a functional central authority in Somalia, they were battling illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping by foreign countries.

Last week, France circulated a draft resolution in the UN Security Council urging states to deploy naval vessels and military aircrafts to join in the fight against rampant piracy off Somalia.

The Security Council in June adopted a resolution empowering states to send warships into Somalia's territorial waters with the government's consent to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea.

French commandos recently freed sailing boat Carre d'As and its French crew and in June, they attacked pirates and freed the crew of a French-owned luxury cruise yacht, Le Ponant.

Somalia has been without an effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Bare set off a deadly power struggle that has defied more than a dozen peace initiatives.

Source: AFP

Bush To Host Ukraine President Sept 29

WASHINGTON, DC -- US President George W. Bush will welcome Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on September 29 for talks in the wake of Russia's war with Georgia, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday.

US President George Bush will welcome Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko on Monday, Sep. 29.

"The president and President Yushchenko will discuss how to reinforce democracy, security and national sovereignty in Ukraine and throughout the region and steps to advance Ukraine's efforts to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community," Perino told reporters.

Yushchenko on Wednesday rejected Russian pressure to prevent his country from joining NATO.

"It is essential to turn down blackmailing and threatening vocabulary," he told the UN General Assembly in New York.

Without ever naming Russia, Yushchenko also condemned "all acts of aggression and the use of force that occurred in the region."

He was apparently referring to both Georgia's recent offensive against separatists in its breakaway enclave of South Ossetia and the ensuing Russian military intervention there to dislodge Georgian troops.

"Ukraine vigorously denounces the violation of the territorial integrity and inviolability of the Georgian borders and armed annexation of its territory," the Ukrainian leader said.

"Ukraine does not recognize the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (and) condemns the endeavor of the illegitimate and separatist affirmation of the statehood of any territories," he added.

Russia has opposed NATO entry for Georgia and Ukraine, saying that NATO expansion and its support of a planned US anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland is a "strategic error."

Analysts have said Ukraine could be next in Moscow's sights should it decide to flex more than diplomatic muscles in its former Soviet sphere of influence, amid fears over the maintenance of stable gas supplies to the European Union.

Source: AFP

Yushchenko Plays The Anti-Russia Card

MOSCOW, Russia -- After more than 15 years, I still remember a fascinating conversation I had in 1992. I was visiting a Columbia University Sovietology professor at his country home 100 kilometers from Manhattan. I was introduced to an intellectual, elderly man who had been one of Czechoslovakia's leaders prior to World War II.

President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have made it clear that preventing Ukraine from joining NATO is one of Russia's top foreign policy priorities.

Among other things, he told me that Russia and Ukraine would go to war within 20 years. At the time, his prediction struck me as absurd, but I look at it very differently now.

If the relationship between Russia and Ukraine continues to deteriorate, a serious conflict between the two could easily break out.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have made it clear that preventing Ukraine from joining NATO is one of Russia's top foreign policy priorities.

In the words of one political analyst close to the Kremlin, the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO represents a threat so great that any means are justified in preventing it.

Many believe that the breaking point of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation will be in 2017, when the leasing agreement that gives Russia the right to use Sevastopol for its Black Sea Fleet base expires.

But I think it will happen before 2017. Even now, the increasing number of irritants between the two countries could provoke a rapid escalation of tensions.

Ukraine's political situation is highly unstable, and an increasing number of its politicians are trying to exploit that instability by playing the anti-Russia card. The person leading this campaign is President Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko's current popularity ratings are low -- a meager 10 percent. He therefore might try to alarm Ukrainians with the Russian threat to strengthen his position.

After all, Ukrainians are just as susceptible to the "besieged fortress" mentality as their Russian neighbors.

Russia's five-day war with Georgia presented Yushchenko with an excellent opportunity to exploit the anti-Russia card. After Georgia, Russia will attack Crimea, the argument goes.

To be sure, there are plenty of Russian politicians, including Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who give Yushchenko grist for his anti-Russian mill.

Not only do they suggest that Russia's fleet will stay in Sevastopol after 2017 but if Kiev doesn't extend the leasing agreement, they constantly question Ukraine's territorial integrity and its historical and legal legitimacy as a sovereign state.

Following the war in Georgia, Yushchenko issued a decree requiring that Black Sea Fleet commanders give Ukrainian authorities 72-hour advance notice of any plans to sail across Ukraine's borders, along with a list of the ships involved, their crew members and freight.

For now, Moscow's military command openly ignore the order, but what if the Ukrainian president were to demand that it be obeyed? That would conceivably create a de facto military standoff between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

There are many other similar "land mines" in Crimea, including the Crimean-Tatar minority that periodically wages land-grabbing raids, as well as the significant number of residents in Crimea and the eastern portion of the country who hold both Russian and Ukrainian citizenship.

The problem is that Ukraine is now considering a law that would impose five-year prison sentences on anybody holding dual citizenship.

At the same time, the Kremlin's fantasy is to oust Yushchenko from office and install a more pliable, pro-Moscow leader who will reverse the country's pro-West orientation.

But that is just another Kremlin delusion.

Source: The Moscow Times

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Major Parties Lose Support As Voters Want New Faces

KIEV, Ukraine -- Recent public opinion polls show that the heightened political crisis has dented the popularity of all major political parties and leaders. A demand for fresh new faces is on the rise.

Yatsenyuk announced plans to create a new party, but this month's polls showed it would barely make it over the three percent threshold to get to parliament, if elections were to be held soon.

With all the mayhem, it is no surprise that a growing number of Ukrainians want to see new parties and leaders in government, and less bickering between those in power.

“People are disillusioned with the monster parties” and want to see “fresh” parties as well as political leaders, said Iryna Bekeshkina, head of Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Kyiv-based think tank.

According to a mid-September poll by the Sofia Center for Sociological Studies, 77.5 percent of Ukrainians think that the country’s affairs are moving in the wrong direction.

Three recent polls show that the number of people who would vote “against all” if elections were to be held soon has increased since the 2007 parliamentary elections. Less than three percent voted against all political forces then, while now the figure is between five and 16 percent, depending on the poll.

The polls show that while Ukraine’s largest political forces still appeal to a combined majority of voters, the parties and blocs have lost many potential voters since last September.

In 2007 the Party of Regions snagged 34.4 percent, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc received 30.7 percent and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine grouping scored 14.2 percent.

According to an early September poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 24 percent of potential voters support Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc, another 23 percent will vote for the Regions and only 3.8 percent still have faith in President Victor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine.

Parties aside, key political figures have also lost public support. According to Sofia, 61 percent of voters are ready to vote “no confidence” in Yushchenko, while 56.5 percent negatively perceive the activities of Tymoshenko.

At the same time, the polls show a growing demand for new politicians and parties. For example, if parliamentary elections where held in September, a political force led by acting Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk would score 3.5 percent, according to a National Institute of Strategic Research poll.

That’s just enough for what would be a newly formed party led by Yatsenyuk to pass the three percent qualifying barrier for seats in parliament.

Yatsenyuk formally resigned as speaker after the BYuT-Our Ukraine grouping coalition collapsed, but continues to hold the post, as parliament has not voted for a new speaker.

After tendering his resignation, Yatsenyuk promptly announced he will lead a new political project.

“This is not the project of Arseniy Yatsenyuk alone, this is the project of an idea, the idea of a strong and democratic state,” Yatsenyuk told Inter channel on Sept. 21.

The acting speaker discounted rumors that the new political project will be financed by Ukraine’s richest individual, Rinat Akhmetov.

He also denied rumors that his party would be led jointly with National Security and Defense Council Secretary Raisa Bohatyryova, an Akhmetov ally who was expelled from the Regions for her pro-NATO position.

Yatsenyuk’s new political project is also rumored to include a former Yushchenko ally and defense minister, Anatoliy Hrytsenko. According to Sofia, 2.5 percent of voters would support a political force led by Hrytsenko.

The potential electorate of a Yatsenyuk party is middle class, and supports right-centrist ideology. It would grab voters from the traditional Tymoshenko bloc and Yushchenko electorate, Bekeshkina added.

Experts say any new political movement will only succeed if it is led by bright and popular leaders. “Our people won’t vote for a party program, they seek a leader,” Bekeshkina said.

“The danger to democracy [in this trend] is that disappointed people, who have spent a long time living in chaos, will support any authoritarian leader promising to restore order,” Bekeshkina added.

Further evidence of disappointment can be found in the popular support for a coalition between BYuT and the Regions, Bekeshkina said. Such sentiment is a sign that if a new strong leader doesn’t spring up, voters would at least seek constructive cooperation from the largest parties.

Some 31 percent of respondents support the BYuT-Regions coalition, according to the National Institute of Strategy Research. The Sofia poll indicates some 44.6 percent of voters support such an alliance.

Experts say there are other reasons that support for a union between two fierce political opponents – BYuT and Regions – is popular.

Firstly, voters simply don’t believe that Our Ukraine and BYuT can function as partners in a stable coalition due Tymoshenko's and Yushchenko's presidential ambitions.

Secondly, Ukrainians would prefer any coalition over the option of voting in a third parliamentary election in as many years.

Moreover, Sofia’s poll results indicate that half of Ukraine’s citizens feel that snap elections would not change the makeup of parliament.

Source: Kyiv Post

No Place To Go But The Polls

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s democratic coalition collapsed with a dull thud when parliament’s speaker, Arseniy Yatseniuk, announced on the morning of 16 September that talks to revive the coalition had failed.

Non-stop bickering between the 'Orange' team's Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko has created a political mess that is not helping Ukraine's image abroad or its aspirations to join the European Union and NATO.

The collapse was initiated on 4 September, when President Viktor Yushchenko’s parliamentary faction, Our Ukraine, announced its withdrawal from a coalition with BYuT, the bloc headed by his onetime Orange Revolution ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. A 10-day grace period, foreseen by parliamentary rules of procedure, yielded no noticeable movement and no chances of reviving the Our Ukraine-BYuT parliamentary majority.

The expected hand-wringing, within and outside of Ukraine, has followed. Ukraine’s chances of entering the European Union and NATO have been downgraded, its future as a developing democratic nation placed in doubt. But the collapse of the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko coalition was long overdue and was no more than a recognition of the reality on the ground.

The coalition, formed with a bare majority of 50-percent-plus-two-seats in parliament, has largely been a sham since its inception. Yulia Tymoshenko was appointed prime minister last December following early elections in September. From day one of her tenure, however, Yushchenko worked hard at undermining her.

NON-STOP BICKERING

As early as January, the president introduced a bill seeking to limit the powers of the cabinet headed by Tymoshenko.

One of Tymoshenko’s first acts as prime minister was to seek to revoke the license to supply natural gas granted to UkrGazEnergo, owned 50-50 by Ukraine’s state energy giant, Naftohaz, and the shadowy intermediary company RosUkrEnergo. Yushchenko conducted separate talks with Russia’s leaders, who back RosUkrEnergo, and even expressed tacit support for Russia’s position. Tymoshenko responded by trying to liquidate UkrGazEnergo, but this initiative has bogged down in the courts.

Later, in the spring, Tymoshenko repealed a license granted to the U.S. company Vanco to explore for fossil fuel deposits off Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and ignored Yushchenko’s demands that the license be reinstated.

Also early on, Tymoshenko attempted to push through an ambitious privatization program, including of Ukraine’s “last-mile” telephone line monopolist, Ukrtelecom, a major chemical plant and distributor in Odessa, and 24 other state-owned companies.

These initiatives were not greeted with enthusiasm in the president’s camp, to put it mildly. Yushchenko doubtless calculated that his rival would use the proceeds from her privatization program to pay back some of their lost Soviet-era savings to Ukrainian citizens and pursue other populist measures, thereby raising her own popularity. Yushchenko issued decrees halting the privatization of the Odessa Port Factory and several other enterprises. Tymoshenko responded by publicly calling Yushchenko’s decrees “empty” and saying she would go ahead with the planned privatizations regardless.

This tit-for-tat pattern then continued. Tymoshenko’s government adopted a decision to conduct public auctions of land, and Yushchenko rescinded it. Tymoshenko demanded the resignation of General Prosecutor Oleksandr Medvedko, and Yushchenko left him in place. Tymoshenko directed the head of Ukraine’s state savings bank, Oshchadbank, to manage the Soviet-era savings repayments, after which Yushchenko demanded his resignation.

Small wonder that in early February the journalist Viktor Chyvokunia wrote an article titled “Return of the Cold War Between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.”

On the issue of privatizations, the confrontation came to a dramatic head in May. Tymoshenko needed to change the director of the State Property Fund, the Socialist Valentyna Semeniuk, who is opposed to privatization on principle. Tymoshenko’s candidate was Andriy Portnov, a lawyer associated with the Privat Group headed by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and former President Leonid Kuchma’s chief-of-staff, Viktor Medvedchuk. Tymoshenko and Yushchenko then traded decisions and decrees, with the former appointing Portnov and the latter rescinding these decisions, until Tymoshenko established a parallel property fund in the building housing the cabinet itself. Mail to the fund was diverted here, Portnov produced a second official seal of the fund and the State Treasury was instructed to take orders only from Portnov. But Yushchenko responded forcefully by getting Medvedko to open criminal cases against officials adhering to Tymoshenko’s decisions, including against Portnov, and Tymoshenko’s group was forced to back down.

DAMN THE TORPEDOES

Tymoshenko has not been blameless herself, and her forceful style has provided fodder for the salvoes she has endured from the presidential camp. Although in mid-January Standard & Poor’s warned against Tymoshenko’s plan to return to Ukrainians part of their personal savings lost during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tymoshenko forged ahead anyway. The result was a spike in inflation of 30 percent in April.

Many of Yushchenko’s actions vis-à-vis Tymoshenko consisted of a reaction to her heavy-handed methods of governing. Tymoshenko is an adherent of the practice of ruchne upravlinia, or “hands-on governing,” whereby the prime minister herself attempts to run individual government ministries or agencies, at times in contravention of the law.

On 23 January, for instance, Tymoshenko’s government adopted a decision allowing government agencies to ignore court decisions that were made “consciously illegally.” She then proposed a bill, opposed by Yushchenko, that would have liquidated higher specialized courts. In July, Tymoshenko instructed the head of Ukraine’s energy transportation company, Ukrtransnafta, not to sign any documents and even not to participate in any meetings or consultations regarding the transportation of oil via the Odessa-Brody pipeline. Tymoshenko’s diktat was not surprisingly seen as subverting a presidential decree adopted in May that requires the pipeline to begin pumping oil to Europe.

During the course of their drawn-out conflict, Yushchenko left most of the criticism of Tymoshenko to his chief of staff, Viktor Baloha. During the past year, Baloha has publicly accused Tymoshenko of possessing a Napoleonic complex and of hypocrisy, and in August Baloha even accused Tymoshenko of cooperating with Islamic extremists and of plotting his murder.

Tymoshenko, for her part, consistently refused to be drawn into an exchange of public acrimony with Baloha, whom she views as a minor functionary. This summer, a BYuT member of parliament told this reporter privately that Tymoshenko had for months been quelling a rising tide of protest within her party, insisting on not publicly replying to accusations from Yushchenko’s camp. Tymoshenko had counted on taking the high road and waited to respond forcefully, apparently adopting Teddy Roosevelt’s maxim of “speaking softly, but carrying a big stick.”

TREASON AND INSANITY

But even Tymoshenko’s patience wore out after Yushchenko accused her of betraying her country. On 18 August Andriy Kyslynsky, deputy chairman of the presidential secretariat and Baloha’s direct subordinate, declared that Tymoshenko was cooperating with the Russian leadership by not declaring her support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in the South Ossetian conflict. In return, Kyslynsky claimed, Russian money and the government itself were preparing to support Tymoshenko in a bid for the presidency. The presidential secretariat asked the Secret Service to examine whether the prime minister had acted “to damage the country’s national interests.”

The brief, sharp war in August between Georgia and Russia served as a convenient fulcrum for Yushchenko in mobilizing support against Tymoshenko. Because the prime minister was noticeably reluctant in supporting Saakashvili, with whom Tymoshenko had hit it off when she visited Tbilisi in June 2005 during her earlier stint as premier, some deputies from Our Ukraine spoke openly of a “Kremlin plot” to “destroy Ukraine’s statehood,” assisted by BYuT. Such attitudes came to the fore when Our Ukraine’s political council voted on 4 September to dissolve their coalition with the Tymoshenko Bloc and accused BYuT of “creating a new, pro-Kremlin majority” in parliament, according to a party statement.

On 20 September Yushchenko himself said Tymoshenko’s actions were “aimed at destabilizing the situation” and called them “treason.”

Tymoshenko responded, “I believe that [Yushchenko’s accusation] is already insanity.”

Given the tone, it is hardly surprising that representatives of both sides have admitted they are not even conducting any talks on a new coalition.

In the meantime, his penchant for hyperbole is not winning Yushchenko any points. His abysmal poll ratings, consistently in the single digits, have not budged noticeably after he expressed support for Saakashvili and vilified Tymoshenko.

NO COALITIONS LEFT

Therein lies the crux of the matter. Yushchenko faces re-election in a year’s time with practically no chance of winning. He would like to try for a repeat of 2004, when he faced Viktor Yanukovych, head of the Party of Regions, and won, thanks to the Orange Revolution. But Yushchenko is unlikely to even make it into a second round, given that Tymoshenko is several times more popular than he. Thus Yushchenko has, through Baloha, done practically everything possible to stymie Tymoshenko in her tenure as prime minister, in order to try and lower her poll ratings.

Now that the differences between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have become irreconcilable, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is looking to make it back into government. Yanukovych headed a government with Yushchenko as president from August 2006 to December 2007. Their differences turned out to be irreconcilable as well, and Yushchenko was forced to call early elections by decree.

The only remaining workable combination of parliamentary factions that has not been tried is that of BYuT and the Party of Regions. These two forces have already cooperated in the past. On 2 September the two blocs voted together to pass changes to the laws on the cabinet, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the Secret Service. The point of the amendments passed was to decrease the president’s powers. In response, Yushchenko called the voting a “constitutional coup-d’état.”

Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have acknowledged they are in coalition talks. But the problem facing them is acute. Tymoshenko’s entire raison-d’etre in government is to head it. Yanukovych, for his part, yearning to erase his defeat in 2004, cannot do a climb-down and forgo the premiership with presidential elections only a year away.

If a new coalition is not created within a month after the previous coalition’s dissolution, by 4 October, Yushchenko will have the authority, though not the obligation, to call new, early parliamentary elections. There are good reasons for him to do so. In the past, Our Ukraine has not proven reliable in doing what Baloha wants and has at times sided with BYuT. In March, Baloha helped found a new political party, Single Center, as an additional pillar of support for Yushchenko. But Single Center’s real purpose is to provide Baloha with his own political organization. Baloha is rumored to harbor his own prime-ministerial ambitions.

In the meantime, the Party of Regions and the Tymoshenko Bloc say they have begun preparations for elections. Ukraine looks set to head for the polls once again, for the third time in as many years. The political forces involved seem determined to undergo repeat elections, until they “get it right.”

Source: Transitions Online

Yushchenko Pushes For NATO At United Nations

NEW YORK, NY -- Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko vowed on Sept. 24 his country would be undeterred in its bid for NATO membership despite Russian opposition.

Ukranian President Victor Yushchenko addresses the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008 at the United Nations.

Yushchenko reaffirmed his pro-Western government's NATO aspirations in a speech to the United Nations just weeks after Russia's military incursion in Georgia sparked international condemnation and stirred concerns in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

"Ukraine rejects pressure of any kind regarding ways to ensure its own security and to determine membership in collective security structures," he told the annual General Assembly gathering of world leaders. "Such attempts of infringement are short-sighted and counterproductive."

Yushchenko was referring to U.S.-backed efforts by Ukraine, along with Georgia, to join NATO, a drive that has incensed Moscow. He did not specifically name Russia.

NATO leaders at their April summit stopped short of putting Ukraine and Georgia immediately on the path to membership in the alliance but pledged the two ex-Soviet states would one day become members.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war last month after Tbilisi sent in troops to try to seize back the rebel region of South Ossetia, drawing massive retaliation by Moscow and sending U.S.-Russia relations to a post-Cold War low.

The Kremlin's decision to deploy forces in defense of pro-Moscow separatists in South Ossetia also rattled nerves in Ukraine, which accuses Russia of stoking tensions in Crimea, a region populated mainly by ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers.

Yushchenko reiterated Ukraine's support for Georgian "territorial integrity" and opposition to independence for South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, which Moscow has recognized.

"Ukraine ... condemns the endeavor of the illegitimate and separatist affirmation of the statehood of any territories," he said. "These processes create the potential threat both for the Ukrainian nationality and other countries of our region."

While the United States has supported both Georgia and Ukraine's membership bids, allies including Germany, France and smaller NATO states have opposed it for fear of further provoking Russia.

Divisions over policy toward Russia contributed to the collapse last week of Ukraine's governing coalition, raising the prospect of a third parliamentary election in as many years.

Source: AP

UPDATE: No Russian Fleet In Ukraine Beyond 2017 - Ukrainian PM

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko Wednesday ruled out Russia's Black Sea fleet staying in Ukraine after its lease ends in 2017, a day after Moscow voiced interest in keeping it there longer.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko

Asked whether Ukraine would consider extending the Russian fleet's lease on the port of Sevastopol, Tymoshenko said: "We need to maintain this agreement until 2017 and then we need to make Ukraine a zone free of any military bases."

Moscow has been angered by Ukrainian demands that it quickly relocate the historic fleet.

The dispute has been aggravated by Ukrainian moves to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, prompting some Western politicians to predict it could spark a new crisis in a region destabilized by Russia's incursion last month into Georgia.

Ukraine infuriated Moscow during that conflict by imposing restrictions on the use of the port after ships stationed there were used in combat against close Ukraine ally Georgia.

Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia "would like the Black Sea Fleet to remain in Sevastopol after the 2017 expiration" and hoped to negotiate new terms with Kiev, Interfax news agency reported.

Under a 20-year agreement signed in 1997, Moscow pays $98 million a year to maintain its naval base in Sevastopol, an amount which some Ukrainians say is much too small for its oil-rich neighbor.

Experts say it would cost Russia tens of billions of dollars to build comparable facilities at its own Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, which now serves as an auxiliary base

Source: AFP

UEFA To Rule On Ukraine, Poland As Euro Hosts

PARIS, France -- European football's governing body is expected to rule Friday on whether Ukraine and Poland can still host the 2012 European Championship, and whether to endorse a move to increase that competition from 16 to 24 teams.

UEFA President Michel Platini

The main item for UEFA's executive committee at the two-day meeting starting Thursday in Bordeaux will be for president Michel Platini and his committee members to review the hosting arrangements for Euro 2012.

They will go over a report showing whether Ukraine and Poland have made enough progress on infrastructure and planning, which was an area of concern after UEFA officials visited the countries earlier this year.

"We will receive an experts' report," UEFA spokesman William Gaillard said Wednesday. "It will be presented to the executive committee to see what has been done since the last reports three months ago, and what remains to be done."

Gaillard said he has not yet seen the report, which was written last month by UEFA inspectors. Ukraine and Poland have struggled to upgrade stadiums, transport and accommodation.

When Platini visited Poland and Ukraine in March, he was unhappy at the lack of progress and warned officials they could lose the right to host Euro 2012 if considerable improvements were not made.

UEFA awarded the tournament to Ukraine and Poland in April 2007, ahead of Italy and another co-host bid from Hungary and Croatia.

"In March, our president pointed out that there was a problem with the infrastructure and the management of the project," Gaillard said. "The executive committee will look at what has been done in that domain. We are not expecting stadiums to be finished by tomorrow, but that things are going the right way."

UEFA will also discuss whether to favor plans to expand the tournament to 24 teams by 2016, a proposal that is expected to be approved after being unanimously backed in June.

Source: Sports Illustrated

Foreign Briefing

GLASGOW, Scotland -- The resurgent Russian bear, carefully manicuring its recently sharpened claws, will no doubt be taking more than a passing interest in Ukraine at the moment.


The last, battered remnants of Kiev's Orange revolution, and with it the government, have just been laid to rest, both swept into the grave by a torrent of venomous spite flowing between Ukraine's president and prime minister.

In many ways "spite" fails to do justice to the relationship between president Viktor Yushchenko and the prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. The animosity between the two, who led Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, has been bubbling ever since they came to power, but recently it has boiled over.

During the Russia-Georgia conflict Mr Yushchenko labelled his prime minister a traitor for her failure to condemn Moscow's intervention.

Not to be outdone, last week Ms Tymoshenko savaged the president, saying that since 2004 he has "managed to destroy everything: faith in ideals of the revolution and faith in the president himself".

The vitriolic atmosphere between the two most important people in Ukraine has already contributed to the collapse of the coalition government.

Although it remains possible that Ms Tymoshenko could cobble together a new coalition, Ukraine is now in the midst of a political crisis that could have significant consequences not only for Ukrainians but also for both East and West.

Relations with Russia, already poor, have worsened over tensions stemming from disputes about the Russian navy's access to Ukraine's Black Sea ports in the Crimea, and analysts argue that Moscow might try to take advantage of Kiev's crisis and pressure Ukraine into adopting a more accommodating stance.

At the same time, the turmoil may well scupper any chance of Ukraine taking shelter under a comforting western wing. Kiev's continued infighting is damaging the moral and practical authority of its leaders, and undermining their credibility in western eyes.

And for Ukraine the maelstrom of political malice, internal and external pressures pulling the country both East and West at the same time have created an environment that is nothing but challenging.

Source: The Scotsman

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some Pig: Sow Nurses Tiger Cubs In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- It's not quite lions lying down with lambs but it's pretty close. A pig at a farm in eastern Ukraine is nursing three tiger cubs abandoned by their mother.

Tiger cubs join in with piglets at feeding time in Ukraine.

Noviy Channel TV says the tigers were born last week at a zoo in Dnipropetrovsk, but their mother refused to care for them.

Zookeepers took the animals to a nearby farm where a sow had recently given birth to about a dozen piglets.

The pig apparently had no objections when the tiger cubs were started nursing alongside the piglets.

Zoo director Yuriy Aksenych said in televised comments that the mother tiger appears to have lost its feral instincts after years in captivity.

Zoo officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Source: MSNBC

Ukraine President Yushchenko's Daughter Walks Milan Fashion Runway

KIEV, Ukraine -- The daughter of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko stepped up her career as a fashion model with runway work at a Milan show, Russia's Izvestia newspaper reported Tuesday.

Vitalina Yushchenko

Vitalina Yushchenko took part in the showing of the summer collection of the Ukrainian designer Aina Gase, according to the report.

Vitalina's portfolio also includes photographs posed for Russian Vogue.

Prior to taking up modelling, the 27-year-old mother-of-two had pursued a career as a pop singer.

Vitalina is Yushchenko's eldest child by a previous marriage.

Ukrainian media have accused Vitalina and her younger brother Andriy, 23, of trying to cash in on their father's position as president.

Both Yushchenko children lead high profile public lives, with Ukrainian society pages chronicling in detail their lifestyle, property, and celebrity friends.

Andriy, an unemployed student, came in for particularly sharp criticism recently for parking his 30,000-euro ($44,000) BMW SUV illegally in downtown Kiev.

Yushchenko has reacted strongly to such charges, claiming the media targets his children in order to sell newspaper and television advertising.

Source: DPA

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rice Gives Strong Backing For Ukraine NATO Bid

NEW YORK, NY -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday pledged Washington's firm support for Ukraine's bid to join the NATO military alliance despite strong Russian opposition to the move.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

In a meeting with Ukraine's foreign minister on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Rice said the United States stood by a commitment made at a summit in Bucharest last April for Kiev to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- a first step toward membership of the military alliance.

"We, of course, are, have been and will continue to be supportive of Ukraine's Transatlantic ambitions. And of course, the U.S. position on MAP was very clear," said Rice, with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko at her side.

"I should just say the Bucharest declaration is also very clear," she added.

At the April summit, NATO leaders stopped short of putting Ukraine and Georgia immediately on the path to membership of the alliance, but pledged the two ex-Soviet states would one day become members.

Russia strongly opposes Ukraine's proposed membership of NATO, as well as that of Georgia.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war last month after Tbilisi sent in troops to try to seize back the rebel region of South Ossetia, provoking massive retaliation by Moscow and a plummet in U.S.-Russia relations to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.

While the United States has strongly backed both Georgia and Ukraine's membership bids, allies including Germany, France and smaller NATO states have opposed it for fear of further provoking Russia.

The idea of membership has not been fully embraced in Ukraine either. Polls show a majority of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership and the leader of the country's biggest parliamentary party has said the issue should be decided by the Ukrainian people.

Source: Washington Post

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Palin To Meet With Presidents Of Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine, Pakistan

ORLANDO, FL -- According to a Palin campaign aide, this Wednesday in separate meetings Sarah Palin will meet with Iraqi President Talabani, Georgian President Saakashvelli, Ukrainian President Yuschenko, Pakistani President Zardari, and Indian Prime Minister Singh.

Sarah Palin

She will also meet with rock star and humanitarian, Bono on the same day.

As previously reported, her meetings with world leaders start Tuesday with separate meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and Dr. Kissinger.

The meetings will be in New York and coincide with the United Nations’ General Assembly, which meets this week and attracts leaders from all over the world.

The meetings are an effort by the campaign to boost Palin’s foreign policy credentials and show her ability to hob knob with foreign leaders.

Her lack of foreign policy experience has been widely criticized since John McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate.

Source: Fox News

Ukraine Between The West And The East

BUCHAREST, Romania -- The Georgian crisis, erupting on the international scene with the ‘five-day war’ between Russia and Georgia on August 7, 2008, has registered a new and one of the most significant episodes last week.


Yulia Timoshenko’s Government has been dismissed by President Viktor Yushchenko on September 16 on the backdrop of the latter’s accusations that the Prime Minister has an ambiguous – verging on treasonous – attitude towards the war that pitted Georgia against Russia last month, accusations amounting to no less than being in the pay of Moscow.

What is of course strange, to say the least, is the fact that Viktor Yushchenko and Timoshenko are the heroes of the 2004 ‘orange’ revolution in Ukraine, a revolution that led to the installation of a reformist power in Kiev, and that the current Government was formed in Parliament after the latest snap elections last year, through an agreement between the parties of the aforementioned politicians.

The crucial question in the case of the current Government crisis and that of the political crisis that subsequently erupted – the second crisis registered in the three years of the current Parliament, the previous one having to do with a conflict between them too and being resolved through snap elections – is the following: what is the main cause?

The answers that can be given to this question cannot rule out references to Russia, nor to the Ukrainian political system and to the conflict between the two politicians.

Could Russia be behind the current Government crisis? The answer is difficult. Moscow’s stance towards the complex problems of the former Soviet area is known.

President Dmitry Medvedev has shown very clearly that Russia has special interests in this area and even beyond it and that his country will defend the dignity of Russians living in adjacent states (over 10 million of them in Ukraine).

Likewise, he reiterated Russia’s unyielding opposition to NATO’s expansion towards the Russian borders, and Moscow’s behaviour vis-à-vis Georgia emphasizes that when it comes to this issue, Russia is ready to go up to the final consequences. As known, Ukraine is one of the countries that are due to undergo a NATO evaluation in December in order to receive the MAP statute that precedes the accession to the alliance.

Moreover, port facilities for the Russian fleet in the Black Sea have been rented in Ukraine’s Crimea until 2017, and the fleet’s ships have been used in the war against Georgia. In recent weeks embryos of separatist movement have made themselves felt in the Crimea - with most of the locals being ethnic Russian or Russophiles – and in Moscow one could hear voices asking for the reclaiming of the peninsula that Russia ceded to Ukraine as a ‘gift’ in 1954.

On the other hand, even President Viktor Yushcenko issues unveiled hints referring to Russia’s involvement in the current crisis. In a recent interview he did not exclude this possibility, pointing out that such a scenario certainly exists in Moscow. ‘Will they repeat the Georgian scenario?’ Yushchenko asked. ‘For sure, no. Ukraine is not Georgia’ he said. ‘I think that today to deal with a country like Ukraine in such an inconsiderate manner... is not a good idea for anyone.’

Hence, a true and complex political background that presents Russia as the beneficiary of the political crisis in Kiev, now that Moscow has shown simultaneously with the recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence that the political rearrangement of the former Soviet area has begun.

The more the crisis is prolonged, the more the chances of Ukraine’s positive evaluation for a MAP in December drop, the more it splits the country in two antagonist parts – anti and pro Russian, the more the country’s destabilization deepens and the more Ukraine’s orientation towards Russia could gain consistency.

And NATO would be unlikely to accept within its ranks o country that is in the midst of political crisis and that has tense relations with the Russian neighbour.

It’s just that standing to gain from it does not automatically mean you are the initiator of the crisis – whether through covert or a different kind of action – with Russia having the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

However one cannot ignore the accusations that President Viktor Yushchenko brought against the Prime Minister, accusations regarding the latter’s double dealing stance towards Russia, nor could one ignore Timoshenko’s statements.

Unlike Yushchenko, who openly condemned the Russian aggression and politically backed Georgia by restricting the movements of Russian ships from the Crimea, she said that although she does not support Moscow’s recognition of the separatist entities in Georgia, nevertheless she considers that Kiev needs good relations with its neighbour to the east.

Other recent developments come to give credence to the possible implications of the Russian action in escalating the crisis in Ukraine. Thus, Victor Yanukovich, the leader of the Party of Regions, Yushchenko’s former strong counter-candidate in the previous Presidential elections and the future candidate in the 2010 presidential elections and a politician known for his pro-Russian orientation, is considered to have chances of building a new Parliamentary majority along with Yulia Timoshenko.

When it comes to Russia, their stances are close to identical – the neighbor to the east should not be irked, there is a need of good relations with it – and their anti-Presidential position has recently become staunch. Recently he stated that ‘the Ukrainians feel no threat coming from Russia.

Speaking about such a threat, I think, are only those people that were cloned by the ‘orange’ revolution experiment. I don’t know how to call them – mutants, monsters. The rest normal people want to live in peace with their neighbours.’

If we refer to the servitudes of the Ukrainian political system and to the traits of the personalities involved in this crisis the picture is likewise complex. On the one hand, there is a strong current in support of amending the Constitution and limiting the President’s prerogatives was tried out (a move that has basically led to the current crisis, Timoshenko’s party voting alongside the opposition in support of limiting the Presidential prerogatives, in what Viktor Yushchenko called ‘a political coup’).

On the other hand, Yushchenko and Timoshenko are strong personalities whose will for exclusive power brings them into conflict. That is what happened almost a year ago when snap elections had to be called in order to end another political crisis.

An official stated that: ‘It’s not about being pro-Western or pro-Russian. It’s about who gets to sit on the pipe,’ referring to the state’s large revenues obtained from the transit of fossil fuels. ‘Timoshenko is only interested in what serves her. She wants a monopoly on power. She was pro-Western when she needed the West’s support. Now she is trying to be pro-Russian.’ Both Yushchenko and Timoshenko are emerging as opponents in the Presidential elections of 2010, and the current crisis could be the beginning of their split for that competition.

According to the Constitution, by mid-October the Parliament has to come up with a new Government based on a new majority. If it fails then early elections will be next.

Irrespective of how it comes about, most of the political analysts foresee a prolonged crisis and a deepening instability in Ukraine in the near future, since Moscow revealed its intentions in the former Soviet area after the war in Georgia.

Source: Nine o'Clock