Sunday, November 30, 2008

Claims Of Secret Arms Sales Rattle Ukraine’s Leaders

KIEV, Ukraine -- With the Ukrainian government reeling from a financial crisis and internal power struggles, the country’s pro-Russian opposition has been leveling potentially damaging accusations of improper arms sales to Georgia during that country’s brief war with Russia.

President Viktor A. Yushchenko of Ukraine at a ceremony in Kiev this month remembering victims of famine in the 1930s.

And Russia’s leaders, furious with Ukraine’s president over his pro-Western leanings and vocal support of Georgia, have personally weighed in, making accusations of their own.

It may not matter that the opposition has provided no conclusive evidence of the claims, despite weeks of pronouncements that the evidence — once released — will be explosive. The claims alone, which have made headlines, have nonetheless helped to further undermine the government’s authority at a time of heightened political instability, while also roiling Ukraine’s already tense relationship with neighboring Russia.

At issue are accusations that the government of President Viktor A. Yushchenko, who supported Georgia during the crisis, covertly supplied it with weapons before and soon after the fighting broke out in August, and sold tanks and an antiaircraft system to the Georgians at reduced prices.

A parliamentary commission set up by Ukraine’s opposition parties has been investigating the claims, which also include allegations that the president decommissioned equipment sorely needed by Ukraine’s military and gave it to Georgia.

President Yushchenko has flatly denied any wrongdoing, describing the investigation as nothing more than a political show. He has indicated that Ukraine has every right to sell weapons to any country, including Georgia, that is not under international sanctions.

The opposition lawmakers say the point is not whether Ukraine had a right to sell weapons to Georgia. They say the government secretly sent the arms, bypassing disclosure rules in order to avoid antagonizing Russia. They also say that some of the proceeds of the sales have gone not to the Treasury, but to people in Mr. Yushchenko’s circle, even as Ukraine’s military is in dire need of funding.

“We are on the verge of a huge political scandal that could have immense political repercussions,” said Vitaly I. Konovalyuk, a member of Parliament who leads the commission. Mr. Konovalyuk is from the leading opposition party, the Party of Regions, which seeks warmer ties with the Kremlin.

The charges come at a time of a deep economic downturn and political discord in Ukraine, with a seemingly intractable power struggle between President Yushchenko and his main pro-Western rival, Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko. The Parliament has often been stalemated, and President Yushchenko’s popularity has plunged.

Russia’s senior officials have been fueling the dispute. Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, called the alleged weapons sales a “crime against the Russian and Ukrainian people” in a meeting with Ms. Tymoshenko in October.

The Kremlin has long opposed Mr. Yushchenko because of his pro-Western bent and was infuriated by his vocal backing of Georgia during the crisis. The leadership of both Ukraine and Georgia took power in the so-called color revolutions and both want to join NATO. Russia has vociferously opposed such a step.

Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, last month accused countries that supplied Georgia with weapons of helping to provoke the August conflict. “Unfortunately, several countries close to us participated in this,” he said. “We will never forget this, and, for sure, we will consider this when formulating policy.”

Last week, Gazprom, the state-owned natural gas monopoly once headed by Mr. Medvedev, announced that it might double the price of gas for Ukraine if it failed to pay off $2.4 billion in debt by Jan. 1. Two years ago, in a similar dispute, Gazprom turned off the gas to Ukraine. (Gazprom has said it will try to refrain from doing so again this time.)

Ukraine was left with huge stockpiles of weapons and military equipment after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and has relied on arms exports as a major source of income.

In 2007, Ukraine sold Georgia 74 T-72 tanks, some armored combat vehicles, a BUK M1 surface-to-air missile system, two 2S7 self-propelled artillery guns, among other weapons, according to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms.

Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said in a statement that the country’s last shipment of military hardware arrived at the Georgian Black Sea port in Poti on Aug. 8, the day the war started, but that the cargo “did not include weaponry.” Rather, the statement said, “pyrotechnical equipment” for aircraft emergency and fire prevention systems were delivered.

Though Ukraine’s weapons export system has been criticized for lack of oversight, most analysts say controls over weapons sales have improved since the 1990s, when the country was a main source of weapons sent to conflict zones around the world.

President Yushchenko has said that Ukraine’s arms shipments did not violate any laws and has indicated that Ukraine will continue to sell weapons to Georgia. Ukraine also sells military hardware to Russia. “Ukraine conducts military-technical cooperation with countries that are not under international restrictions,” the president said this month. “We will trade with those whose relations with us correspond to our national interests.”

Though its inquiry began two months ago, the opposition’s parliamentary committee has not yet released a full report on its findings, despite regular statements in the Ukrainian news media from Mr. Konovalyuk about the explosiveness of the information.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who rarely hesitates to snipe at Mr. Yushchenko, has remained largely silent, and no representatives from her faction sit on Mr. Konovalyuk’s commission.

Source: The New York Times

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ukraine Libraries Cleared Of Soviet Books

KIEV, Ukraine -- Libraries throughout Ukraine are beginning to get rid of literary works written by Soviet authors as part of a government effort, an official says.

M. Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita'.

Luhansk City Council Deputy Arsen Klinchayev said books written by such noted Soviet authors as Mikhail Bulgakov and Vladimir Mayakovskiy had been removed from Ukrainian libraries, ForUm said Friday.

Minister of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine Vasyl Vovkun ordered to remove Soviet literature from all libraries as communist and chauvinistic works.

They started with Bulgakov and Mayakovskiy, Klinchayev said.

Bulgakov is known for such works as the novel, The Master and Margarita, while Mayakovskiy earned notoriety for his poems in the Russian Futurism genre.

Source: UPI

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ukraine's Stalled Revolution

WASHINGTON, DC -- The democratic "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine four years ago has turned rusty. The government is seized up over political infighting. The leader who inspired brightly dressed supporters in 2004 now has an approval rating of 5.4 percent as president. But a new development – economic crisis – may actually help unstick this large strategic country.

2004 Winter of discontent.

With reforms not made and promises not kept, the vast majority of Ukrainians say their country is headed in the wrong direction. An economic emergency can focus thinking and perhaps turn squabbling politicians into responsible adults who put Ukraine's potential ahead of their own.

And what potential Ukraine has. The size of France, this pivotal former Soviet republic could act as a stabilizing force in a new East-West divide – if it weren't so politically and culturally divided itself.

Blessed with a quarter of the earth's most fertile soil, Ukraine could hum as an agricultural powerhouse – if it worked out land rights. As a large market of 46 million people on the Black Sea, it could attract more foreign investment and trade – if rule of law ever took hold.

In part, Ukraine's leaders have had the luxury of putting personal politics first because a growing economy kept the pressure off. Not anymore. Lower global demand for steel (Ukraine's top export) pushed prices down and this fall caused a stunning 20 percent drop in production in just one month. The squeeze will tighten as Russia raises prices for its gas exports to Ukraine.

Like economies around the world, Ukraine enjoyed easy credit, turning Kiev into a glitzy metropolis where the living costs top that of any capital in Western Europe. But with credit dried up, the government has had to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $16.5 billion megabailout.

A funny thing happened on the way to the bailout. President Viktor Yushchenko called off a snap parliamentary election because the financial crisis took precedence (besides, the oligarchs who fund campaigns have lost a fortune). And the parliament got busy and passed banking reform for the IMF rescue. This shows country can come first, but Ukraine is too weak to travel the road to democracy alone.

The European Union must keep encouraging reforms, as it is by negotiating an "association agreement" with Kiev, which wants full membership. Foreign investors should look to the long term, and not run. And the idea of a formal path to eventual membership for Ukraine in NATO (known as "MAP") should be dropped. It provokes Moscow, and NATO itself is divided over this.

So are Ukrainians, a quarter of whom speak Russian and feel kinship with Russia. For decades, NATO was a four-letter word described in crossword puzzles as an "aggressive military bloc." Only 15 percent of Ukrainians see NATO as a protection. Better simply to advance NATO-Ukrainian military cooperation, as the US proposed this week, and leave the door open for membership without getting entangled in official designations.

It's been 17 years since the Soviet Union broke up and Ukraine became an independent country – but only four years since it committed itself to the democratic path. It's barely walking, and needs all the support it can get.

Source: Christian Science Monitor

Ukraine's Pro-Presidential Party Head Says PM 'Conspiring'

KIEV, Ukraine -- The head of a Ukrainian pro-presidential party said on Thursday he suspected the premier of conspiracy to set up a rival coalition after she called on the country's president to revive the democratic alliance.

Vyacheslav Kirilenko

The comment by Vyacheslav Kirilenko, who heads the People's Union Our Ukraine, a continuation of President Viktor Yushchenko's party, was made following Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's warning that her bloc reserved the right to hold talks with all parliamentary factions, including the opposition and communists, if the ruling coalition failed to resume its work later this week.

Tymoshenko said at a press conference on Wednesday, "I want to remind the president that we're serving the people, rather than our political ambitions," adding that it was the "last proposal" to Yushchenko.

"Tymoshenko's statements that she is ready to form a coalition with any parliamentary faction is proof of her intention to establish a coalition with Yanukovych [the leader of the Party of Regions] and the Communists," Kirilenko was quoted as saying.

He said that his pro-presidential party would not support Tymoshenko's "conspiracy" with the former premier Viktor Yanukovych.

"Yulia is not a member of Our Ukraine, so instead of instructing our party, she had better save the Ukrainian economy from the crisis, the scale of which Tymoshenko herself...is mostly to blame," Kirilenko said.

The premier and the Ukrainian president have been locked in a bitter power struggle which culminated in the collapse of the pro-Western ruling coalition in September, when Yushchenko dissolved parliament and threatened to call snap parliamentary elections.

The early elections were called off amid the global credit crunch, which has devastated Ukraine's economy forcing Kiev to turn to the IMF for an emergency $16.5 billion loan as prices for steel, the country's main export, plummeted and the national currency the hryvnia dropped to historic lows against the dollar.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukrainian Currency Slumps, Cbank Hopes Not Much More

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's hryvnia currency slumped to a new historic low on Thursday, but a senior central bank official said it was close to a balanced level based on economic fundamentals.

Ukrainian hryvnia currency.

The weak currency, coupled with lower fuel and moderate gas prices, should help bring the current account into balance or a "minor" deficit and there was little chance of a sovereign or corporate default, Deputy Chairman Oleksander Savchenko said.

The hryvnia weakened to 7.25-7.5 to the dollar on the interbank market after the central bank failed to meet demand for the dollar at Wednesday's auctions and in low volumes of trade because of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, dealers said. "The rate we saw today, yesterday and the day before, is somewhat shocking but it is a proper assessment by business not only of the balance of payments but of our political crisis," Savchenko told a conference organised by Fitch ratings agency.

"I hope the rate will be no more than 7 hryvnias per dollar, or somewhere in the region of 7 hryvnias. We feel that we are near a balanced rate."

The hryvnia has been falling as the chief suppliers of the dollar to the market, foreign investors and Ukrainian exporters, have felt the impact of the global financial crisis. A fast accelerating current account gap has accentuated that weakness.

Ukraine has already received the first tranche of a $16.4 billion IMF loan, whose conditions were greater currency flexibility, fiscal prudence and bank recapitalisation.

The central bank has intervened almost every day since October, and carried out two dollar auctions in the past week, to stop the hryvnia's descent from spiralling out of control.

POLITICAL RISK

Only half of the demand for the dollar, or about $150 million, was met by the central bank on Wednesday, dealers said, indicating that it is putting a brake on spending its reserves.

"If the central bank continues to spend its reserves, it will simply postpone the process of correction," Savchenko said.

He also said companies and banks had $5 billion of foreign debt to pay off by the end of this year and $30 billion in 2009. With reserves at about $32.5 billion, "Ukraine has no risk of default", he said.

Dealers said they expected further weakening on Friday.

"Because (banks) couldn't buy dollars yesterday, today demand is higher and most likely tomorrow the dollar will go even higher," one dealer said.

The top economic aide to President Viktor Yushchenko, himself a former central bank head, said the bank should scrap its auctions as they only pushed the hryvnia lower by accepting the highest bids.

The criticism reflects the latest political chaos that has pitted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko against the president.

The president called an early parliamentary election when a coalition in parliament collapsed, but has since postponed it. The lack of a majority leaves parliament unable to push through reforms needed for the IMF loan and to save the economy.

The IMF set fiscal and monetary targets that Ukraine must meet to receive quarterly tranches. Its Ukraine representative, Balazs Horvath, told the conference that political risk to achieving these goals was "considerable but not insurmountable". Fitch said a failure to implement the IMF programme could trigger a further downgrade after it cut Ukraine's rating to B+ in October.

"World Bank and IMF support for Ukraine are of course a positive factor," Fitch Director of Sovereigns, Andrew Colquhoun said. "But in our view there are execution risks to the policy package which lies behind the support and therefore the risks to Ukraine's outlook remain elevated."

Source: Guardian UK

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rice Concedes To European Demands On Georgia, Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conceded to European demands Wednesday by indicating she would not press for granting NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine at the alliance's ministerial meeting in Brussels next week.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

"Georgia and Ukraine are not ready for membership. That is very clear," Rice told a press conference.

"There does not need at this point in time to be any discussion" of the alliance membership action plan (MAP), she added.

The top US diplomat insisted the move did not signal a policy shift. "It really is just a question of how we would execute the Bucharest decision. It is not a change in policy," she said.

But this declaration represented a concession to European demands, as Washington had previously pushed for the two Eastern European nations to join the MAP, which provides de-facto membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Amid opposition from Russia, Germany and France, the United States has cooled its support for a formal path to help Georgia and Ukraine join NATO.

Paris and Berlin maintain that the August war between Georgia and Russia confirmed that allowing the two countries join NATO could exacerbate tensions in the Caucasus.

During an October 2 visit to St Petersburg, German chancellor Angela Merkel indicated it was too early for either Ukraine or Georgia to join the MAP.

With nine former Soviet bloc countries already NATO members, Russia fiercely opposes more Soviet-era Warsaw Pact neighbors like Georgia and the Ukraine even starting the process of joining the western military alliance.

On Tuesday, senior US diplomat Daniel Fried stressed that the controversy was over the MAP -- which is only a "way station" and "mechanism" to achieving full membership -- rather than over the long-term goal of having Georgia and Ukraine join.

"MAP is not the only way to get there," he said.

During an April summit meeting in Bucharest, the 26-member NATO postponed any decision on offering the two nations a MAP until the December foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

"We believe that the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Ukraine Commission can be the bodies with which we intensify our dialogue and our activities with Georgia and NATO," Rice said.

She noted that Poland and the Czech Republic never went through the MAP process before joining NATO, and said that Britain had proposed using bilateral commissions instead of the MAP.

On Monday, the Ukrainian presidency admitted Kiev faces challenges in becoming an official NATO member candidate by the December ministerial meeting due to the country's political instability and lack of reform.

"This is a key moment for Europe," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said last week, pressing European members of NATO to back his country's efforts to join the military alliance. "Attributing the status of candidate is not a technical question, it is a strategic choice."

NATO set up the MAP program in 1999 to support prospective members of the military alliance while they carry out the economic, legal, military and political reforms needed to join.

Source: AFP

'Prince Of Darkness' Returns

KIEV, Ukraine -- He was the “grey cardinal” of ex-President Leonid Kuchma’s court, dubbed Ukraine’s “prince of darkness” by his legions of critics. In many people’s eyes, he personified the cronyism and corruption that the Orange Revolution was directed against.

Viktor Medvedchuk

And now, on the fourth anniversary of the protests that overturned the rigged election results, Victor Medvedchuk is making his way back into Ukrainian politics.

After months of accusations from President Victor Yushchenko’s administration that Medvedchuk is advising Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Kuchma’s former chief of staff was reappointed to the Supreme Council of Justice, which oversees the nation’s judicial system. But in a reminder of the secrecy in which he used to operate, his work is shrouded in mystery.

“He has plans to return to public politics,” said Mykhailo Illarionov, head of Medvedchuk’s press service. “As head of the Independent Center of Legal Initiatives and Expertise, he advises a number of top politicians.”

Back to the future

Medvedchuk was the target of much of the opposition’s anger during the 2004 presidential elections. A leading oligarch, whose fortune Focus magazine this year placed at $460 million, he served as deputy speaker in parliament and is a former leader of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united). His reign as head of Kuchma’s administration from 2002 to 2004 saw increasingly authoritarian control from Bankova Street, which managed the media via Medvedchuk’s ownership or control of the three biggest television channels and temnyky, secret directives on how to spin the news.

Medvedchuk was allegedly the mastermind behind the failed attempt to fix the presidential election in favor of Victor Yanukovych, though no formal charges have ever been filed against him. After the election result was overturned, and Yushchenko became president, he faded away from frontline politics as his party lost deputies and support.

Vakhtang Kipiani, the journalist who exposed the temnyky system of media control, said Medvedchuk’s return means that Ukraine is undergoing a systemic crisis – not only in politics, but also in morality.

“Medvedchuk was one of the reasons people took to Maidan. He was the iron-fisted but effective architect of a system built on secrecy and prohibition. His return means that the current system still needs people like him,” Kipiani said, adding that Medvedchuk’s return to public politics will cause Ukrainians to grow even more cynical about the country’s government.

Prince of Darkness?

Medvedchuk’s name has cropped up increasingly this year in connection with Tymoshenko, who memorably asked him in 2002, “Why do you not love Ukraine?” and in 2004 accused him of “Stalinist repressions.” On March 27, the prime minister announced in televised comments that she was ready to shake hands with Medvedchuk if he could organize a natural gas agreement with Russia that was beneficial to Ukraine. Medvedchuk maintains very close relations with the Kremlin: His daughter’s godparents are Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana.

In an interview with Novynar magazine in April, Leonid Kravchuk, former president and leader of the SDPU(u), said the 2007 round of gas negotiations between Tymoshenko and Gazprom were aided by Medvedchuk.

The clearest sign yet that Medvedchuk is returning to a public role came on Nov. 5, when he was reinstated as a member of the High Council of Justice, after the Supreme Court rescinded his suspension.

The presidential administration accused the prime minster of secretly cooperating with Medvedchuk. “If working with Medvedchuk is so important to you, please take the decision to form a coalition with the Party of Regions and appoint Medvedchuk to any position. Just do it honestly, looking your voters in the eye,” Andriy Kyslynsky, deputy head of the president’s secretariat, told reporters on Nov. 6.

“Tymoshenko is helping to resurrect Medvedchuk,” said Dmytro Chobit, a former Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko deputy who has written books on Medvedchuk and Tymoshenko. He described how Medvedchuk had prepared a new constitution for Tymoshenko’s bloc – known by the BYuT acronym – and the Party of Regions that might have passed had Regions deputies not backed out in May.

For her part, Tymoshenko has carefully avoided comment on her relationship with Medvedchuk, pointing out that he has no official role. Her spokeswoman, Marina Soroka, told the Kyiv Post she does not know whether Medvedchuk is advising the prime minister.

In the shadows

It appears that Tymoshenko is not the only politician hoping to make use of the skills of Medvedchuk as a political fixer and legal expert, as well as his contacts at home and in Russia. “He meets politicians from all sides – including previous enemies,” said Taras Berezovets, director of the Kyiv-based Polittech political consulting firm. “He works with the Party of Regions, BYuT and Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense.”

In March, Nestor Shufrych, a close ally of Medvedchuk and his former deputy leader in the SDPU(u), now a deputy for the Party of Regions, claimed that Medvedchuk was working with the Party of Regions. Shufrych also said that Yushchenko had offered him the position of secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. At the time, both sides denied connections with Medvedchuk, saying that he was working with Tymoshenko.

But on Oct. 23, Party of Regions leader Yanukovych told reporters that his group was discussing mergers with a number of political parties, including the SDPU(u). Kommersant Ukraine reported that such a merger would guarantee former SDPU(u) leader Medvedchuk a spot on the upper part of the Regions’ election list, citing a source within the party. The source said the offer was on the condition that the SDPU(u) gave up its support of Tymoshenko.

Illarionov, the head of Medvedchuk’s press service, confirmed Medvedchuk’s involvement “as a lawyer and leading expert on state legal affairs” in preparing attempts led by Party of Regions deputies including Shufrych, to force a national referendum on NATO membership through the Constitutional Court. The idea of a referendum is Medvedchuk’s brainchild from 2005. The party then collected 4.5 million signatures for such a referendum that would also include questions whether Russian should be the second state language in Ukraine, and whether Ukraine should have a common economic space with Russia and Belarus. Local media reports that Medvedchuk’s Independent Center of Legal Initiatives and Expertise has recently filed several lawsuits against the compulsory dubbing of foreign films into Ukrainian, and the ban of some Russian TV channels from air that came into effect this month.

Having stepped down as leader of the SDPU(u) last year, it is unclear whether Medvedchuk is going to commit to a party, or continue his work behind the scenes. With most politicians denying connections with a man whose reputation took a beating in 2004, it remains as much a challenge as ever to find out what precise role he is playing and what his plans are. “He keeps a low profile,” said Berezovets, director of Polittech. “He prefers to do everything in the shadows.”

Illarionov said that Medvedchuk hadn’t spoken to the press for two years and would not comment for this article. Although he confirmed that Medvedchuk has contact with the Party of Regions and advises other politicians, he declined to “name names.” Igor Shurma, first deputy chairman of the SDPU(u) who was close to Medvedchuk, said he had no information about Medvedchuk’s future involvement in politics. “You will have to ask him about it,” he said. “All I will say is that it would be a good thing for the state.”

“As far as I know, Victor Vladimirovich [Medvedchuk] has political plans which do not presume membership in BYuT,” BYuT deputy and close Tymoshenko ally Andriy Portnov told Delo newspaper on Nov. 7. “Like it or not, there is no doubt that Medvedchuk’s role in the country’s development is considerable.”

Source: Kyiv Post

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ukraine Promises To Pay Russia Part Of Gas Debt By December

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian officials on Tuesday promised their government would pay part of a massive debt to Russia for natural gas, reducing chances of a cut off to Europe.

Aleksei Miller

Aleksei Miller, chairman of Russia's natural gas monopolist Gazprom, agreed on repayment terms for the multi-billion dollar debt after talks with Oleh Dubina, chairman of Ukraine's natural gas company Ukrnafta.

Ukraine will pay Gazprom in full for natural gas burned in September, and partially for gas used in October, Russian and Ukrainian news media reported.

Gazprom claims Ukraine owes in total some 2.4 billion dollars. Ukrainian officials concede they owe money but argue the debt is less, some 1.4 billion dollars.

Miller over the weekend threatened another switch off of supplies if Ukraine did not settle its entire debt by the end of December, when the current gas supply contract becomes null and void.

The Russo-Ukrainian dispute over natural gas payments is nearly two decades old. Arguments over future pricing led to a full cut-off of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine for two days in early 2006, leaving Europe, which receives most of its Russian natural gas through Ukrainian pipelines, also without the fuel stream.

Ukraine's cash-strapped government is locked in a fierce internal struggle over responsibility for the gas debt, with President Viktor Yushchenko accusing Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of failing to pay Gazprom so as to finance social programmes, and Tymoshenko accusing Yushchenko of undermining her government's negotiations with Gazprom.

A bone of contention between the Ukrainians and the Russians is the price of natural gas for 2009, with the Russians arguing Kiev should pay around 300 dollars per thousand cubic metres of gas, and the Ukrainians maintaining contract terms allow Russia to charge no more than 180 dollars.

Russia and Ukraine will agree on debt and 2008 pricing terms by the end of the year, and supplies to Europe will continue uninterrupted, Tymoshenko said at a Kiev press conference.

Tymoshenko's government must "resolve the gas crisis immediately ... or the President will step in to do it himself," Yushchenko's office declared in a statement.

Source: DPA

Monday, November 24, 2008

NATO Eyes Face-Saver For Ukraine, Georgia

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO is studying face-saving options for Ukraine and Georgia as prospects of the two ex-Soviet states securing membership plans dim ahead of Dec. 2-3 talks among alliance foreign ministers, diplomats said.


Washington has led a push for NATO to offer both countries a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a key step towards entry, at next week's meeting in Brussels.

Russia, a key energy supplier to Europe, is fiercely opposed to Ukraine or Georgia joining NATO. France and Germany blocked offers of MAPs to both at an alliance summit in April, which did however promise them eventual NATO membership and a review of their cases in December.

A five-day August war between Georgia and Russia, together with political instability in Ukraine, have since added to European doubts.

"The MAP is dead for Georgia," a senior European diplomat said in Washington.

"For the NATO ministerial, no one believes in it but we will try and find some kind of face-saving (solution)," the diplomat said. Options could include a new formula for ties that would stop short of a full MAP offer.

A MAP is a programme of advice and practical support covering political, economic, defence and security cooperation designed to help aspiring countries prepare for membership.

Some NATO states say offering a MAP is only a technical step and does not prejudge any final membership decision. Others say it is hard to refuse entry to a state once a MAP has been granted.

GAS WARNING

The diplomat said there was no appetite to anger the Russians further over the issue next month. A NATO diplomat said debate between the 26 NATO allies on the communique on Georgia and Ukraine could continue into the ministers' meeting.

European Union worries were underlined when Russian gas monopoly Gazprom warned at the weekend it would not continue deliveries to Ukraine until a new contract was signed, rekindling memories of 2006 when a pricing dispute led to a brief supply cut to Europe.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko urged NATO last week to put his country on a fast track to membership after Russia's new demands for payment of arrears for gas.

However his political adviser said it would not be a tragedy if NATO failed to offer Kiev a MAP next month, a remark that appeared to show Ukraine recognised its hopes were receding.

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have said they are looking at whether NATO could offer Georgia something short of a formal path to membership and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this month there was more than one way for aspiring countries to join the alliance. "Some have not gone through MAP at all," he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack predicted there would be a "healthy discussion" in Brussels, and added: "Our policy is unchanged."

The NATO ministers will also review a decision to suspend high-level meetings of the main NATO-Russia dialogue forum, the NATO-Russia Council, taken after the Georgia conflict.

Despite differences over the extent to which Russia has complied with a ceasefire accord in Georgia, European nations -- most of them NATO members -- have agreed to relaunch talks on an EU-Russia political and economic pact on Dec. 2.

However U.S. officials have raised doubts about prospects of a fast return to normal ties between NATO and Russia.

Source: The Star Online

Gazprom Ready To Appeal To International Court Over Ukraine's Bad Debt

LIMA, Peru -- Gazprom has drafted an appeal to the international court over Ukraine's bad debt, Gazprom First Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said.

Gazprom boss Alexander Medvedev.

He said Gazprom had relevant mechanisms and documents for applying to the international court and "would certainly use them if Kyiv continued to refuse to pay the debt."

"Unfortunately, we have a not so good tradition of celebrating New Year at negotiations with Ukrainian colleagues. Still we hope for the best," Medvedev said.

Source: Interfax

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pope Speaks To Ukrainian Pilgrims Of 1930s Famine

VATICAN CITY, Italy -- Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday prayed that no political ideology would ever again cost people their freedom and dignity, as he recalled the millions who died from famine in Ukraine and other Soviet regions under dictator Josef Stalin.

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his message during the Angelus prayers, from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's square at the Vatican Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008.

The pontiff spoke in Ukrainian to pilgrims from that country in St. Peter's Square, and noted that this month marks the anniversary of Holodomor, or Death by Hunger, as the famine is known in Ukraine.

The 1932-33 famine was orchestrated by Soviet authorities to force peasants to give up their land and join collective farms. Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, suffered the most.

"While strongly hoping that no political regime can ever again, in the name of an ideology, deny the rights, the dignity and freedom of the human person, I assure my prayers for all the innocent victims of that huge tragedy," Benedict said in remarks from his studio window overlooking the square.

The issue of the famine is an irritant in already tense Russian-Ukrainian relations.

Ukrainian lawmakers, along with counterparts from the United States and other countries, have already called the famine an act of genocide against Ukrainians. But the Kremlin objects to the label, saying other ethnic groups also suffered.

Benedict said he prayed that "nations go forward on the paths of reconciliation and build the present and the future in reciprocal respect and in the sincere search for peace."

In the autumn of 1932, authorities confiscated grain, livestock and other food in villages across the Soviet Union after peasants failed to meet grain quotas that exceeded crop yields.

The Soviet Union exported the grain to build factories and arm its military. Residents were prohibited from leaving their homes — effectively condemning them to starvation.

The famine was a closely guarded secret in Soviet times, and some have accused authorities in Russia of being unwilling to confront Soviet crimes.

Source: AP

Ukraine Remembers Victims Of Famine 75 Years Later

KIEV, Ukraine -- Leaders from around the world Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of the famine that the ripped through Ukraine in the early 1930s, as Ukrainian leaders seek to bring more attention to the plight of the millions who died from hunger.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, centre and his children place candles during a commemoration service for Holodomor victims in a cathedral in Kiev Ukraine, Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008. Ukraine is commemorating the start of the 1930s famine that was engineered by Soviet authorities and killed millions of people. President Viktor Yushchenko is trying to win international recognition of the 1932-33 tragedy as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation.

But conspicuously missing from the honoring of Holodomor , or "death by hunger," were leaders from Moscow, who have objected to recent calls for the deaths to be labeled as genocide. Emma Stickgold has this report for VOA in Moscow.

The anniversary of Holodomor is traditionally marked in late November, when the food shortages began resulting in the death of millions. It was orchestrated by dictator Josef Stalin to force peasants to give up their land and join collective farms. Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, suffered the most.

Only recently, at the encouragement of the Western-leaning Ukrainian politicians, have survivors' harrowing tales of cannibalism and other desperate attempts to stay alive come to light.

Ukrainians say collectivization carried out in their country was an attempt to break the back of Ukrainian nationhood, and stamp out opposition to Soviet rule.

At the opening of an 80-foot tall monument to mark the 75th anniversary, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko paid tribute to those who fell victim to the 1932 famine, which lasted until 1933.

"We bow our head in fraternal respect before all who suffered as we did from Stalin's regime - Russians, Belorusyns, Kazakhs, Crimean Tatars, Moldovans, Jews, and dozens and dozens of other nationalities," he said.

Moscow considers the intensified spotlight on the famine part of Ukraine's continued efforts to stick a wedge between Kyiv and Moscow. But Ukrainian officials say that Moscow is not being accused of engineering the famine.

Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, Ukrainian Ambassador to Russia, speaking Saturday evening at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Moscow, said that Ukrainians want to reflect on the past together to building a more just and more modern world together.

"We do not consider that Russia and the Russian people - who themselves suffered huge losses; were also victims of Stalinist terror; and lost millions of individuals then - are in anyway to blame for this tragedy," he said.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev turned down an invitation to attend the Kyiv ceremonies, instead sending a letter that was posted on the Kremlin's Web site. He said that the events of the early 1930s, "are being used to achieve immediate short-term political goals," adding that, "In this regard, the thesis on the centrally planned genocidal famine of Ukrainians,' is being gravely manipulated." Still, he said, "The most difficult pages of our common history undoubtedly need to be fully explained."

Source: Voice Of America

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Russia Threatens To Cut Off Gas To Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia's Gazprom will cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine on January 1 unless a new contract is signed, a company spokesman said on Saturday, making a threat that could affect deliveries to Europe.


"We would like to avoid such a scenario, we would like to agree on everything before New Year's, but as you understand, we cannot deliver gas without a contract," spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Vesti-24 television.

Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are being held up by a large debt, he said. The comments came two days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev demanded Kiev repay 2.4 billion dollars (1.9 billion euros) of debt to Gazprom.

Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz has disputed the size of its bill to the Russian state-controlled gas giant.

Despite efforts by Gazprom to help Naftogaz obtain financing, "there has been no movement in this direction. This explains the toughness with which our intentions have been presented," said Kupriyanov.

An earlier dispute between Russia and Ukraine over gas prices led to a brief interruption of gas supplies in several European countries in January 2006. Most of the European Union's gas imports from Russia go through Ukraine.

Kupriyanov said the "full and unconditional liquidation of outstanding debts by Ukraine" was required under an agreement signed last month by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko.

"However, this has not happened so far," he added.

Kupriyanov also reiterated comments by Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller that the price Ukraine pays for gas could increase to 400 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres from the current level of 179.5 dollars.

The spokesman hinted the price hike could happen in January: "This price was not stated just for its own sake. If we move to market relations not in 2011, but now, then precisely this price will be faced by Ukraine on January 1."

Under the agreement reached in October between Putin and Tymoshenko, the countries are to move to market prices for gas by 2011. Currently, Ukraine pays much less for Russian gas than EU countries.

Neither Gazprom nor Naftogaz could be reached for immediate comment Saturday.

Moscow's latest gas dispute with Kiev comes amid the global financial crisis, which has affected both countries but hit especially hard in Ukraine.

Earlier this month Ukraine became the first country to receive emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund to help overcome the crisis, with a loan package worth 16.4 billion dollars (12.8 billion euros).

Following Medvedev's demand on Thursday, Naftogaz responded by saying it had no debt to Gazprom and that it owed around 1.26 billion dollars but only to gas trader RosUkrEnergo, an intermediary for Russia-Ukraine gas exchanges.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ordered his government to settle its debt to Russia, accusing Tymoshenko -- the president's political archrival -- of making no effort to pay up.

The government's mistakes could lead to "the colonisation of Ukraine," the president warned in a statement.

Source: AFP

Ukraine To Honour Welsh Reporter

LONDON, England -- A Welsh journalist who exposed Stalin's starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s is to be honoured with a posthumous award from its government.

Mr Gareth Jones's career was cut short by his murder by bandits in 1935.

Gareth Jones, who was born in Barry, south Wales exposed the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine caused by the Soviet leader's infamous five-year plans.

Millions of Ukrainians starved to death but news of the tragedy was suppressed.

Mr Jones was one of the few to write about it and he will now be honoured in a ceremony in Westminster on Saturday.

During his journalistic career, which was cut short by his murder by bandits in Inner Mongolia in 1935 when he was 29-years-old, Mr Jones was regarded as one of the most talented newspaper reporters of his generation.

He wrote for The Western Mail, The Times and The Manchester Guardian among others, and during the 1930s travelled through Russia and Ukraine.

On his travels through the land where his mother had once lived, he was shocked to discover the famine conditions he encountered.

Enforced Starvation

An estimated 7-10 million people, including a third of Ukraine's children, died between 1932 and 1933, an event Ukrainians call the Holodomor.

At the time the Soviet authorities - and many western journalists - denied the nation's enforced starvation was occurring and Ukrainians themselves only become fully aware of the events since the fall of communism.

However, Mr Jones announced that millions were starving in Ukraine as a result of Stalin's policies at a press conference in Berlin on 29 March, 1933.

Several foreign correspondents rushed to rubbish the story with 1932 Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty of the New York Times dismissing his eye-witness account as "a big scare story".

Fellow reporter Malcolm Muggeridge was the other reporter to expose the famine and both are now revered in Ukraine and both will be posthumously honoured at the ceremony in Westminster Central Hall.

The awards are due to bestowed upon the duo by the Ambassador of Ukraine, Dr Ihor Kharchenko, on behalf of the President of Ukraine in reward for their exceptional services to the country and its people.

Mr Jones's niece Dr Siriol Colley has written a book about his life, A Manchukuo Incident, and said: "The Ukrainian people have taken him to their hearts - they call him the unsung hero."

Fedir Kurlak, chief executive of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, said: "I'm sure Gareth would have known if he had been caught reporting on the famine that he would have faced certain death.

"As far as the Ukrainian community is concerned, anyone who has heard of Gareth's exploits will quite simply take his hat off to him, and regard him as an exemplary journalist."

Mr Jones graduated from Aberystwyth University in 1926 and from 1930 acted as a foreign affairs advisor to the then former prime minister David Lloyd George.

This led to a career as a journalist and as well as visiting the Soviet Union, he reported on President Roosevelt in the United States, on Mussolini's rise in Italy and the troubles in Ireland.

He was also in Leipzig the day Adolf Hitler was made Germany's Chancellor in 1933, and later flew with the dictator to a rally in Frankfurt and interviewed Hitler's head of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.

Source: BBC News

Scientist May Be Next Talent To Leave Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- “He should work for NASA or something,” said Charlie Babbitt about his brother Raymond in the Oscar-winning film “Rain Man.”

Ukrainian scientist and neurosurgeon Andriy Slusarchuk prepares a patient for surgery. Slusarchuk’s unconventional brilliance has him thinking of offers abroad.

In the course of the film Raymond wins a fortune in Las Vegas by counting cards in black jack and learns a phone book by heart. He cannot, however, deduct 50 cents from a dollar and is completely helpless in his daily life. His condition is known as autistic savant, with a superb recall but little understanding.

The Rain Man’s character was inspired by Kim Peek, now 58, an American man who can recite 12,000 books from his memory but cannot button up a shirt on his own.

People like Peek are exceptionally rare in the world. As one part of their brain works miracles, another one is in deep sleep. Yet there is an exception to the rule here in Ukraine.

Ukrainian scientist Andriy Slusarchuk, 35, is one of those rare geniuses who could work for NASA if he wanted. He has no trouble with his shirts, either.

He is a practicing neurosurgeon, psychiatrist, university professor and hypnotist. After becoming an orphan at the age of six, he finished school at the age of 9. Three years later he entered an institute in Moscow for a medical degree and then a post-graduate degree in neurosurgery. Then he moved to St. Petersburg to do a degree in psychology. By 27, Slusarchuk finished his medical Ph.D.

He knows 15,000 books by heart, reciting text accurately from any random page. He is a record holder in Ukraine’s Guinness Book of Records for reproducing the value of Pi to its one-millionth decimal place. It is more than the current world record of 42,195 places set by Japanese Hiroyuki Goto.

Even more impressively, he says others can learn his technique. “Imagine a doctor who keeps a whole library in his head,” said Slusarchyk. “Remember the nuclear blast in Chernobyl when an operator failed to remember instructions well and on time.” The scientist claims that he knows how to stretch people’s memories to save lives in extreme situations.

But he complains that regardless of his talents, he is ostracized from Ukraine’s scientific community. “They all look at me as if I am a clown. They clap their hands and that’s it,” he said despondently. “I get hundreds of calls from people daily who need my help. It’s hell because I have no conditions to help them.”

He said a Canadian scientific society invited him to Toronto to study in his own institute with as many students as he was ready to take on. The society discovered him through his published works and performances at international conferences. Canadians gave Slusarchuk the best deal among similar offers from the United States and Europe. His lawyers are currently studying the contract and he already has a residency permit, he said.

If Slusarchuk picks Canada over Ukraine, he will join an army of physicists, geneticists and engineers, among other top-flight talent, who started emigrating at the start of the 1990s. These are just the kind of people who build affluent societies. More than 300,000 scientists worked for the National Academy of Science before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Within a decade, their number shrank roughtly to 100,000. At the same time, official statistics registered only some 50 doctors of science who were leaving Ukraine annually. Some analysts say the official numbers underestimate the harsher reality and that Ukraine lost a third of its scientific work force.

Slusarchuk is a professor at the Kyiv Medical Academy, where practicing doctors come for short post-graduate courses. He rarely shows up there because he mostly lives in Lviv, where he also works at two medical schools and receives patients. When he is in Kyiv, people eagerly queue in the hall to see him and seek his knowledge in cases when others give up.

Maria Lysyuk from Khmelnytsky in Western Ukraine said her son was in a coma for two weeks after a car accident. “Doctors said something like most of his brain was dead and that we could only pray,” she recalled. “But after professor Slusarchuk saw him, Sasha (Lysyuk’s son) started recovering on the fourth day.”

Instead of silence prescribed by other doctors in the clinic, Slusarchuk asked to play the young man’s favorite music and talk to him. Slusarchuk used alternative treatment methods that astounded fellow neurosurgeons in the clinic and that they later noted down for future use, said Lysyuk.

Slusarchuk is confident he can revolutionize science through his study of the brain – a revolution that he says is badly needed because the existing medical paradigm is out of date. “I have discovered new ways of working with depression, psychological traumas and dependency,” he says.

Slusarchuk teaches some of these skills to his followers in Lviv. He has students whose memories work like a Google search tool, recovering masses of information in seconds.

But even these impressive results are not enough to achieve their author’s recognition in Ukraine and overcome jealousy and bureaucracy. Slusarchuk wants to have his own research institute. “I am a step away from the Nobel Prize if Ukraine wanted it,” he said. Instead, he said, he gets doubts, dogma and unreasonable demands from the medical establishment.

Mykola Polischuk, chief neurosurgeon at the Kyiv Medical Academy, said that Slusarchuk has to start lecturing at the academy to prove his uniqueness and earn the ability to do independent research. “I want to see him do it because I am interested in his theories,” Polischuk said. Slusarchuk said that he has no time to lecture.

“I need a clinic where I can see my patients. Instead, I live in a dorm, get Hr 270 in wages and wake up thinking that my own country doesn’t need me.”

Ex-health minister Polischuk says Slusarchuk only has himself to blame. “I am not an oligarch who can give a lot of money and say do whatever you want. I told him – write a precise plan and we’ll see what we can do.”

Slusarchuk explained that authorities had previously offered him only a fraction of what he thinks is appropriate for his research. “They want to take my knowledge for $1,000 a month when abroad it will cost millions,” he exclaimed.

As the Kyiv Post was going into print, Slusarchuk said he was invited to see President Victor Yuschenko, a sign that Ukrainian authorities may have developed a sudden interest in his work. Rostyslav Valihnovsky from the president’s office said they were trying to convince Slusarchuk to stay, offering to take charge of Feofania, an elite hospital outside Kyiv. Slusarchuk has not made up his mind yet.

If he rejects the offer, the term “brain drain” would probably never be more appropriate than in his case.

Sluarchuk said he hasn't made up his mind about the Canadian offer. He said his first preference is to have his abilities recognized by his own people.

Source: Kyiv Post

Tymoshenko Denies Ukraine Owes Russia $2.4 Billion For Natural Gas

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has denied that Ukraine owes Russia $2.4 billion for gas supplies. Tymoshenko issued the denial while addressing journalists in Stockholm, Sweden.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko

According to Tymoshenko, the amount of debt stated by Russia is not the amount owed by Ukraine but the amount that the RosUkrEnergo intermediary company owes to the Gazprom company (Russia).

"It is not the debt of Ukraine but the debt of this company that is not very transparent," Tymoshenko said.

Tymoshenko expressed the hope that there will be no intermediaries in Ukrainian-Russian gas relations from January 1, 2009, and that the Naftohaz Ukrainy national joint-stock company and Gazprom will cooperate directly.

Commenting on President Viktor Yuschenko's instruction that the Cabinet of Ministers resolve the issue of Naftohaz Ukrainy's debt to RosUkrEnergo by November 27, Tymoshenko expressed doubt that Yuschenko was aware of the situation.

"It is necessary to first tackle corruption in the gas sector and not shift everything to the government," Tymoshenko said.

Commenting on Russia's statement regarding the possibility of setting a price of USD 400 per 1,000 cubic meters to Ukraine in 2009, Tymoshenko said it was necessary to be patient and wait for Ukraine and Russia to sign an agreement on the terms of supply of natural gas to Ukraine in 2009.

Tymoshenko expressed the hope that such an agreement would be signed within the next few weeks and that such issues as gas debt would no longer arise after the signing of the agreement.

Tymoshenko noted that the governments of Ukraine and Russia have reached agreement that the gas price for Ukraine will be raised to the market level over a period of three years.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, Tymoshenko traveled to Sweden on Thursday for a two-day official visit.

Yuschenko has demanded that the Cabinet of Ministers resolve the issue of Naftohaz Ukrainy's debt to RosUkrEnergo by November 27.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev has said that transition to direct gas supplies from Russia to Ukraine would be impossible if Ukraine fails to pay the gas debt of $2.4 billion.

RosUkrEnergo announced on November 20 that Naftohaz Ukrainy owed it $2.4 billion for gas supplies.

Naftohaz Ukrainy earlier announced that it owed RosUkrEnergo $1.26-1.27 billion for gas supplies.

Naftohaz Ukrainy and Gazprom are presently holding negotiations on supply if natural gas to Ukraine in 2009 and subsequent years.

Source: Kyiv Post

Friday, November 21, 2008

Medvedev Wants Ukraine To Pay Gas Debts

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia turned up the pressure on Ukraine on Thursday as Dmitry Medvedev, president, ordered Gazprom to enforce payment on $2.4bn in gas debts even as Kiev struggles to weather the global financial crisis and a political crisis at home.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“We need to fully clarify our position on Ukraine’s debt and recover it either on a voluntary or compulsory basis,” Mr Medvedev told Alexei Miller, the Gazprom chief executive, in comments broadcast on Russian television.

Mr Miller later told journalists Gazprom would charge Ukraine more than $400 per thousand cubic metres for gas supplies next year, more than double the $179.5 Kiev currently pays. Analysts had expected that earlier calls for $400 would be lowered because of a more than three-fold tumble in global oil prices, which gas prices are tied to, since early summer.

Analysts warned Ukraine could find it impossible to pay down the debt as its economy is struggling to survive the global financial crisis and is locked in yet another political crisis. Kiev has received the first tranche of a $4.5bn IMF loan to help shore up its embattled economy.

The comments, Mr Medvedev’s strongest warning yet, raised fears of new cut-offs like the ones that led to reductions in gas supplies to Europe in 2006. But a Gazprom representative said “no-one is going to cut off anything. We need to figure out how to collect the money and work out the contract for next year.”

Analysts warned that a new standoff with Russia over gas debts could help tip the balance in upcoming parliamentary elections in December, which Ukraine’s pro-western president, Viktor Yushchenko, called following another conflict with his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Ms Tymoshenko has been courting Russia in recent months.

“This could well be a critical issue in the election where Tymoshenko could point to better ties with Russia,” said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Uralsib investment bank in Moscow.

“Gas relations between Ukraine and Russia are hostage to the political situation in Ukraine,” said Valery Nesterov, energy analyst at Troika Dialog investment bank in Moscow.

Source: Financial Times

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Orange Blues

KIEV, Ukraine -- It’s been four years since the Orange Revolution, and where are its heroes now? Its leaders are gridlocked in petty fights and mutual accusations of treason. Its cheerleaders are often bitter and disgruntled, while its villains are unpunished and have no remorse.

Orange Revolution

The revolution was a peaceful popular uprising against the falsification of presidential election results in November 2004. It brought millions of people from all over Ukraine to Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti to rally under orange flags that symbolized presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko.

Natalya Dmytruk, the sign-language translator who de facto started the revolution on Nov. 25, does not want to hear about it now. “I don’t talk about it anymore,” she said. This is a sad contrast to her courage and energy in 2004. This is what she gestured during a live news program on the national TV: “Don’t believe the Central Election Committee. It’s all lies. Our President is [Victor] Yushchenko. I don’t know if you’re going to see me again…”

She received several international awards for her integrity, and – ironically – lost her job half a year later when another revolution hero, Andriy Shevchenko from Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc, came to “reform” the national TV.

Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, frontman of Okean Elzy rock band, who spent days on stage in the freezing cold in December 2004, cheering the crowd, was later elected to parliament on the pro-presidential Our Ukraine party list.

He was the first-ever parliament member in 17 years of Ukraine’s independence who quit his lucrative job to return to making music last September. “The struggle for power is the Verkhovna Rada's only sense for existence,” he said.

Roman Kalyn, leader of Gryndzholy, the band that created the revolution’s anthem, says he now craves a Mussolini-type leader for the country, because the main achievement of the Orange revolution, democracy, is interpreted too freely. “Yushchenko is a democratic president, but Ukraine has not matured enough to have such a president,” he says.

The villains are doing well, though.

Serhiy Kivalov, head of the Central Election Commission in 2004, who lost his job for falsifying the results of the second vote, received an award in 2007 from the Central Election Commission “for significant personal contribution in guaranteeing the constitutional rights of Ukrainian citizens.”

He had a monument erected in his honor in Odesa. He is a member of the Party of Regions, and a parliament deputy, making regular appearances on TV and in press.

Victor Medvedchuk, who was reputedly the vote-rigging architect and the evil genius of President Leonid Kuchma’s Ukrainian politics, was in the shadows for over three years.

But he has made an impressive comeback lately. He was restored as a member of the Supreme Justice Council. Having close ties with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s child) and President Dmitry Medvedev (whose wife is the godmother), he has been reputedly helping the Orange Princess Tymoshenko to improve her relationship with Russia.

The party of Regions is now competing with Tymoshenko to get Medvedchuk's expertise. Even the president was rumored to offer him a position of the National Security Council chief.

Bandits were promised jail, but the promise has not been kept. A small consolation prize for those who rallied for justice is that they live without fear of the likes of Medvedchuk and Kivalov, at least for now and, hopefully, forever.

Source: Kyiv Post

Yushchenko ‘Poisoning’: Where Do AC Milan Stars Come In?

KIEV, Ukraine -- While President Yushchenko is still licking his wounds over the never-ending political games in Ukraine, an on-going investigation into his poisoning – if it indeed was a poisoning as he insists it was – has taken an unexpected turn.

(L-R) ex-Dinamo Kiev football players Kakha Kaladze and Andrey Shevchenko, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

As part of the investigation, which has been going on for the past four years, the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office has called in for questioning two ex-Dinamo Kiev football players: Andrey Shevchenko and Kakha Kaladze, both of whom currently play for AC Milan.

Their ex-team mate Andrey Gusin has already appeared at the Prosecutor’s Office and given testimony. Gusin himself is still puzzled as to the reasons behind his summoning.

“It is all stupid, to my mind, but I can’t do anything about it. They asked me to come and I did. Evidently there’s no logic in the move. The Prosecutor’s Office seems to have gone off the rails,” said Gusin in an interview to Ukraine’s Kommersant newspaper.

The Prosecutor’s Office, however, does see sense in questioning the players. All three of them have been linked to businessman Tamaz Tsintsabidze, who was present at a dinner at a country house of the former head of Ukraine’s security service Vladimir Satsyuk on September 5, 2004, which it is presumed was where and when the current Ukrainian president was poisoned.

However, there’s little hope that football stars Shevchenko and Kaladze will do any better than Gusin in shedding any light on this complicated story.

Source: RT News

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kiev Stressed As Population Grows

KIEV, Ukraine -- City government is drafting a new general plan, but experts said it’s not good. Teeming with people, jammed with traffic, stinky with pollution and endangered by crumbling infrastructure, Kyiv is crying out for help.


The city government is drafting a new development plan, but experts have already condemned it, saying it promises to offer little or no help in solving the city’s major problems.

Yuriy Dmytruk, a Kyiv City Council member representing Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s political faction, is one of the fiercest critics. Dmytruk said the plan under consideration would effectively endorse all the shady deals that have happened in recent years – such as opaque “land grabs,” in which huge parcels of property have been sold off for low prices to insiders without competitive bidding.

The city is trying to devise a new development strategy until 2025. The idea of a new plan was supported by 112 of 115 council members during a Sept. 18 vote. But the new detailed draft is not expected to be submitted for debate until 2010.

The existing plan was adopted six years ago and is supposed to provide a framework for the city’s development until 2020. But Denys Bass, deputy head of the Kyiv city state administration, said it’s already out-of-date and doesn’t address today’s realities.

“It was worked out for a population of two million people and half a million cars,” Bass said. “And now at least five million live in the city and the number of cars including transit is almost one million and a half.”

But the ideas in the new city plan are controversial indeed. To ease traffic congestion, for example, the city authorities want to adopt Moscow’s strategy, widely ridiculed as a disaster.

Roads account for just two percent of the city’s territory, compared to an average of six percent in other European capitals, Dmytruk said. Kyiv officials plan to visit Moscow at the end of November to discuss cooperation, according to Maryna Shapoval, spokeswoman for Kyiv's general office for city planning architecture and design.

But residents of the Russian capital know that traffic there is approaching permanent gridlock. “The situation with traffic jams is close to catastrophic. The average car speed is about 15-18 kilometers per hour,” said Moscow resident Leon Gudkov. While new roads aren’t being built, Moscow’s local government has not succeeded in limiting traffic, Gudkov said.

The Kyiv city government plans to build underground tunnels to optimize traffic flow in the central part of the city and provide parking spaces near metro stations so that people can leave their cars and use the metro. The construction of underground parking in the city center is another priority.

Volodymyr Nudelman, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Architecture, said the construction of expensive underground infrastructure is a waste of money. “Learning our neighbors’ experience is good, but not enough to solve problems,” he said. “If we begin tunnel construction, we won’t have resources for solving other problems.”

Nudelman offers a radical alternative solution to the traffic problems in the city center: move the central government institutions to the periphery.

Another major problem the city government wants to address is the reconstruction of outdated residential housing. Once again, they look to Moscow, where an extensive project is under way to reconstruct “Khrushchovkas,” the five-storied buildings named after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. They were initially built in the 1950s and 1960s as temporary housing, with a maximum life of 25 years, but are still housing millions of people today.

In Moscow, residents of “Khrushchovkas” were supposed to receive new apartments in the same neighborhoods where old residences are being torn down to make way for reconstruction, Shapoval said.

But Gudkov said that many such Moscow residents were, in fact, moved to the outskirts of the city. Also, new bigger residential houses were constructed with an existing utilities infrastructure that became overloaded.

Nudelman said Moscow’s experience with “Khrushchyovkas” should be regarded cautiously by Kyivans, since it would mean squeezing more residents into the same space.

Experts fear that some of the city’s more serious problems are not going to be addressed at all in the new plan under consideration.

Kyiv has an outdated sewage system that could spell ecological disaster. But the issue is not even of the council’s agenda, Nudelman said. The other time bomb is an outdated network of gas pipes.

But as with so many actions undertaken by city government, ulterior – and nefarious – motives are involved, said Dmytruk of Tymoshenko’s bloc.

Dmytruk said that one of the main reasons for local government’s interest in developing a new city plan is to legalize dubious land deals approved in the recent years.

Nudelman said that residents must be involved in the process if the city hopes to adopt an effective plan. The city’s budget also needs transparency and accountability. “Any strategy for changes should be voted at a referendum,” he said.

Source: Kyiv Post

NATO Rebuff On MAP Would Be No Tragedy: Ukraine Aide

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian presidential aide said on Tuesday it would not be a tragedy if NATO failed next month to put Kiev on the road to membership of the alliance.


His remarks appeared to signal that Ukraine recognises its hopes of joining NATO are receding -- at least for now -- and that it has little chance of next month securing a Membership Action Plan (MAP), seen as the first step towards membership.

At a summit last April, NATO promised Ukraine it would one day join the military alliance but opted not to offer Kiev a MAP. Despite U.S. support for Ukraine, many European states are reluctant to let it join.

The former Soviet republic hopes to secure a MAP when NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels next month but is playing down the impact of any failure to do so.

"Even if that is the scenario, I would not make a tragedy out of it. The main thing is the doors must be open," Andriy Goncharuk, President Viktor Yushchenko's political adviser, told a news conference.

"We should stress that Ukraine is doing quite well in the framework of annual (cooperation) plans. And securing a MAP does not mean joining the alliance. A decision on joining will be taken when Ukraine and NATO are both ready."

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said it was too early to predict a decision at the ministerial meeting.

"The process of MAP itself has become highly politicised," he told a briefing. "Regardless of the decision, we should not politicise it."

Some alliance member states say offering MAP to a would-be member is only a technical step and does not prejudge any final membership decision. Others say it is difficult to refuse entry to a state once MAP has been granted.

European countries opposing Ukrainian membership point to recurring political turmoil since the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests brought pro-Western politicians to power.

Yushchenko has long been at odds with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and had called an early parliamentary election for December to try to break the political deadlock. But that poll will now not take place, at least until early next year.

Opponents of Ukrainian membership also cite opinion polls showing limited support for membership inside the country -- no more than 30 percent of respondents want to join the alliance.

Russia fiercely opposes the notion of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, another former Soviet republic that is seeking to join, and said last week it would pull out of a conventional arms treaty if they were admitted.

Western reluctance to membership for both countries has grown since Russia's brief war with Georgia in August.

Source: Kyiv Post

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ukraine Cuts Traffic Violations By Upping Fines

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's new programme of drastically higher traffic fines has cut road violations substantially and piled cash into government coffers, officials said Tuesday.

Ukrainian traffic militia (police).

Road violations of all types were down some 64 per cent, according to a statement from Ukraine's DAI traffic police made public 24 hours after the new penalty system came into effect.

Ukraine's legislature in October approved laws upping fines for traffic violations from an average 5 - 15 dollars, to an average 40 to 80 dollars.

Traffic injuries and fatalities were down by a third, Korrespondent newspaper reported.

Nationwide on Monday, road police said more than 7,800 drivers had netted the state over 250,000 dollars in fines, the Interfax news agency reported.

Though low by European standards, Ukraine's new traffic fine system is in local terms a substantial change, and will hit most drivers hard in the pocket. The average monthly salary in Ukraine is some 300 dollars.

Ukraine's roads historically have been poorly-regulated by a traffic police widely considered corrupt. Ukraine has one of Europe's worst road death rates, because of drivers' unwillingness to obey speed limits, traffic signs or seatbelt rules.

Ukraine's traffic police command appealed to motorists not to pass bribes to traffic cops shortly before the new fine system went into effect.

Reduced accident and injury rates aside, the new fine system has resulted in a 50 per cent increase in the price of a bribe, Sehodnia newspaper reported.

Source: DPA

Saturday, November 15, 2008

From Ukraine With Attitude

LONDON, England -- Olga Kurylenko talks to The Globe and Mail about playing one of the new Bond girls to Daniel Craig's 007 in Quantum of Solace, the latest entry in the durable franchise.

Ukrainian Olga Kurylenko as Camille in Quantum of Solace.

Ah, the Bond Girl. Devastatingly beautiful, good with a gun (or a knife, a sports car, an atom bomb and even, in one spectacular instance of cheap 007 Freudian play, her neck-snapping thighs), devilish but gold-hearted (she really just wants to be loved), the Bond Girl is as reliable an archetype as Bond himself, if not more so.

A swell Bond Girl will enliven even the worst late-period Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton franchise wheeze. Remember Grace Jones and her tower of laser-cut hair in A View to a Kill, or scary-perky Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough? Of course you do, because the 007 movies have always been more about the exotic, ludicrous women than the personality-deprived contract killer doing the Queen's dirty work.

While the latest revival of the Bond brand has generated an enormous amount of ink about the suitability of Daniel Craig — probably because he's the first Bond since Sean Connery to take the part seriously and play against the camp factor, to wallow in Bond's dark, murderous well of self-loathing — the Bond Girls have yet to catch up.

And, yes, my post-feminist friends, the producers still call them "girls." In the Bond world, you can blow up a building, fly a cargo plane, or plug any number of goons with hot lead, but if you're female, you're still not quite a grownup. Eva Green made a valiant attempt in Casino Royale to turn the Girl into a Bond Woman, but she got bumped off in the end.

Enter Olga Kurylenko's Camille, another beautiful but damned creature with a scarred past (literally in this case) and a disarming pout. Already a star in France, Kurylenko will be familiar to North American audiences from Paris, je t'aime, wherein she played a vampire, or from her two other sexy-people-with-guns movies, Hitman and Max Payne.

While Kurylenko hardly breaks the Bond Girl mould, it's not for lack of trying. In every scene she has to herself, the energetic actress practically inhales the screen, daring to out-sulk and out-glare Craig. But then, stuff starts to blow up and she's quickly relegated to the familiar damsel in (flawlessly made-up) distress role.

Now that America has an African-American president, is it too much to ask for a Bond heroine who's not half 007's age and who wears army boots, not heels, to a shootout?

The Bond films, after 21 previous instalments, are now entertainment machines. How do you make your mark as an artist when the franchise is more important than the players?

Well, you know, it's funny, because I didn't feel that at all. For me, first off, it was my first time. Probably if you do only that kind of film, it becomes, you know, too much, and I don't want to do that. The goal is to do as many different parts as possible. But, for me, it was the first time I had to do my own stunts, and I had to learn so much, and it was so exciting! I've never done anything like this ever — why else would I do it?

Watching you do action scenes in beautiful haute couture outfits was a marvel.

Well, it was not haute couture! It was just simple.

But pretty. How do you jump out of an airplane in a bespoke dress?

In the last scene, I'm just wearing jeans, that was very handy. And in the first part of the movie, I'm wearing a skirt and I go on the boat, and what we chose is a bathing suit for under the skirt. It's perfect! It's one piece, so if I turn over in the skirt, it's not like you see my underwear! Ha! At the same time, it looks cool. This girl is always ready to fight, so she dresses accordingly, but at the same time she can't walk around in cargo pants, because she has to be attractive, because she uses her looks for charming people. She has to be in between. She goes for something cute, but at the same time very handy. No bling-bling, no diamonds, nothing crazy, because she's ready to run.

Many actresses have played Bond heroines, and some have done very well after, but some less so. There is a belief that the role comes with a curse.

No, no, I don't believe in that. I believe I'm going to keep working. I've already done a film after this, and I'm the main character. We can't generalize. It's about what you want to do. I want to work, I want to act, not just be present in movies. When you want something, you work on it.

You are Ukrainian, but most of your work has been done in French. Now you're playing a Latino secret agent. Only in Hollywood!

Yeah! Ha! But I think it's great, you know? Talk about transformation. That's why this job is so interesting, because you have to go in the skin of different people. They can be from all over the world. People ask me, when I am tanned, if I am Brazilian. I always get that. In Paris, in New York, people ask me what I am. So I knew it was something I could do, because I've heard it before.

You're taller than Daniel Craig. Did they make you stand in a ditch?

I don't think I am taller! No, no! But if I put heels on, I think I am the same height. But without the heels, he is taller.

How many films do you have to make before the press stops calling you a "model/actress"?

Ah, it's their fault! I don't know why they call me that! I think people just don't want to think, so they keep writing that. I guess they need to present that I was a model before, so they keep talking about that. At the same time, it is my past, but I don't do it any more, so what do they want me to do?

The film has a very open ending. Are you in the next one?

Ha! I don't think so! I mean, nobody has spoken to me about that. Ask the producers! There is no Bond Girl who ever came back, because each time they need new women, so I don't think it's going to happen.

Are you ready for this sudden leap into global fame?

I don't think you can ever be ready. It's all happening so fast, some days it's like a big wave coming at me. It's unbelievable. And it's fun! People say I am lucky, but it's not just luck, you have to know how to catch the luck. And it could end tomorrow, so I'm enjoying it and I appreciate it.

PARTICULARS

*Born Nov. 14, 1979, Berdyansk, Ukraine.

*What's next? Olga Kurylenko's next film is Tyranny, about a man who participates in a brain-mapping experiment and begins to see images of what may be a conspiracy to take over the world. Then she returns to the Femme Nikita thing as a prostitute/hit woman in next year's Kirot.

*Oh, those Communists! A Communist group in St. Petersburg, Russia, has accused the actress of "moral and intellectual betrayal" for starring in a film with James Bond, who of course is the arch-nemesis of the Soviet Union. Okay then.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Struggling Ukraine Braces For Tough IMF Medicine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The global economic crisis has hit with hurricane force in Ukraine, which faces turmoil as it seeks to comply with the terms of an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund, experts said.

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu (L), IMF mission chief for Ukraine, shakes hands with Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko.

As world leaders head to Washington for a summit on the crisis this weekend, Ukraine has the dubious distinction of being the first country to get IMF help this year, having been approved for a 16.4-billion-dollar loan last week.

Ukraine received the first tranche of the rescue loan Monday, boosting state efforts to prop up banks amid a broad downturn, largely caused by a drop in the price of steel, the key export of this ex-Soviet republic of 46 million people.

The Washington-based fund offered assistance once Kiev adopted a package of measures including "a prudent fiscal stance," Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, IMF mission chief for Ukraine, told reporters after the loan was approved.

Those steps included a bank rescue programme, a zero-deficit budget for 2009 and movement towards "a flexible exchange rate" for the hryvnia, Ukraine's embattled currency.

Some experts fear that could lead to a further devaluation after the hryvnia fell about 20 percent against the dollar in recent weeks.

"The purchasing power of Ukrainian consumers in dollar and euro terms will become worse. Much worse," said Dmytro Boyarchuk, the head of CASE Ukraine, an economics research centre in Kiev.

Meanwhile, the balanced budget along with reduced tax revenues from the steel sector means the government will have trouble paying social benefits, Boyarchuk said.

"Next year we can expect many backlogs in the payment of pensions," he said.

And in a move likely to cause grumbling this winter, Pazarbasioglu said Kiev had pledged "to correct the pricing policies in the energy sector," meaning an end to subsidized heating bills.

Ukrainians face a 35 percent rise in their gas bills starting December 1, according to media reports.

All this is unwelcome at a time when mass layoffs are expected in Ukraine's industrial east, work is frozen at numerous construction sites and more than 20 banks have received help from Kiev's central bank to ease liquidity problems.

Experts described the IMF's terms as painful but necessary and argued that some measures were inevitable.

"The rise in gas fees would have happened anyway," said Ildar Gazizullin, an economist at the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kiev.

The IMF loan restored confidence in Ukraine and its conditions "will force the politicians to focus and work together," said Peter Vanhecke, chief executive of Renaissance Capital Ukraine, an investment bank.

"With the IMF you get an international stamp of approval for your country," Vanhecke said in an interview.

The decision to accept the IMF's tough medicine was a sharp turnaround for Ukrainian politicians, accustomed to handing out government largesse after years of rapid economic growth.

"Politicians will have to adjust their populist rhetoric and wean the populace off the idea that the government can guarantee social benefits when the money is lacking," the Kyiv Post, a weekly newspaper, said in an editorial.

Aside from the economic fallout, some also fear the crisis could undermine democracy in Ukraine, which faces an ongoing political crisis that may lead to snap parliamentary elections early next year.

Kiev's ruling pro-Western coalition collapsed in September amid feuding between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, former allies in the "Orange Revolution" of 2004.

"The economic crisis, as well the extended political crisis... have boosted society's desire for order, for the 'strong hand' model of government," said Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst at the Penta think tank in Kiev.

That may increase the appeal of neighbouring Russia, where former president Vladimir Putin embarked on an authoritarian path during his eight years in the Kremlin, Fesenko added.

"There is some demand for a Ukrainian Putin," he said. "But it's not clear whether there is such a person."

Source: AFP

Thursday, November 13, 2008

NATO Reaffirms Close Ties With Ukraine

TALLINN, Estonia -- NATO defense ministers on Thursday reaffirmed the alliance's commitment to assist Ukraine in its goal of joining the military bloc, a move likely to further strain the West's relations with Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the meeting with Ukrainian defense officials was "productive" but that Ukraine still faced numerous obstacles before it could become a NATO member.

"It's clear that ... Ukraine still has some distance to go in being ready for membership in the alliance," he said.

Ukrainian leaders need to bolster public support for NATO membership and address budget constraints for financing military reform, Gates said.

Even the talks, designed to assess overall bilateral cooperation and whether Ukraine has met targets, is likely to anger Russia.

Russia, which borders Ukraine, is vehemently opposed to Ukrainian membership in the military alliance and generally regards NATO as irrelevant after the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.

One thing NATO members receive is a promise of mutual defense if any of them are attacked by countries outside the alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer dismissed Moscow's objections to strengthening ties between the military alliance and Ukraine.

"A country's right to freely choose its security alignments is an important principle ... and it is a principle that we will not compromise," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Earlier this year NATO leaders said at a summit in Romania that Ukraine could eventually become a member of the alliance.

However, many NATO members are tepid toward the prospect of Ukrainian membership, given the country's political turmoil and a lack of popular support among the population for the military alliance.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov acknowledged the criticism of Ukraine and that Kiev was facing an uphill struggle in integrating with the military alliance. Much of the problem, he said, boiled down to a lack of money to implement reforms.

"Sometimes in Ukraine there is a lack of funds for necessary reforms in the security sector," Yekhanurov said.

He said 19 non-governmental organizations are working with the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to bolster public support for NATO membership.

Ukraine and Russia have traded barbs in recent weeks, particularly over Russia's naval fleet in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. Russia wants to keep its warships at the base after the current contract expires in 2017, but the current Ukrainian government insists that the ships should leave.

Yekhanurov reiterated Thursday that Ukraine was unhappy with having no control over Russian ships anchored at the Sevaspotol base as this could draw the nation into an armed conflict with a third country.

Russia used its Black Fleet ships stationed in Sevastopol in its war against Ukraine's ally Georgia in August.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Nation Deeply Unhappy

KIEV, Ukraine -- Four years after the democratic Orange Revolution, most Ukrainians believe they still are not living in a democracy. They think corruption is as bad as ever and they have overwhelmingly lost faith in their political leadership.


Those are the damning results of a poll released on Nov. 11. The survey was commissioned by the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

“The Orange Revolution provided the chance for major changes to take place in the nation. But the survey results suggest that this opportunity was not utilized by Ukraine’s political elite,” said Jamie Dettmer, IFES’ director for communications and advocacy.

Of 1,218 citizens surveyed between Oct. 17 and Oct. 28, only 15 percent believe that they live in a democratic country. Ukrainians were almost unanimous in their deep disappointment with the current economic and political situation in the nation, with 93 percent registering this sentiment.

The survey suggests complete frustration in a society that once had high hopes for change. “Political standstill is stalling reforms and sidelining the development of state institutions that could help Ukraine overcome crises and reach economic growth,” Dettmer added.

The poll results were made public on the very day that Victor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s increasingly unpopular president, announced he would delay plans to hold a snap parliamentary election. If an early election happens at all, it will probably take place next year at the soonest.

“It would not be reasonable to hold elections during the year-end holidays,” Yushchenko said during a trip to Warsaw on Nov. 11.

The poll results became known a day before the Verkhovna Rada voted on Nov. 12 to oust presidential loyalist Arseniy Yatsenyuk as acting speaker. A total of 233 out of 450 members voted to get rid of Yatsenyuk, 34, as leader.

The rising public dissatisfaction comes a year before a presidential election campaign expected to feature rivals Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Party of Regions leader Victor Yanukovych.

Fed up

The polls also found that 76 percent of citizens believe Ukraine is moving into chaos. It shows the highest disappointment rating in recent years of any IFES-commissioned poll, its director, Rakesh Sharma, said.

In February 2005, just after the Orange Revolution, some 43 percent considered Ukraine to be on the way to stability. In September 2007, during pre-term parliamentary elections, some 47 percent said that the country is becoming more stable.

The picture is so much bleaker today. “It’s impossible to live and to expect that everyday life will become more worthwhile,” said Valentyna Dudenko, a Kyiv pensioner. “I don’t trust anyone in power anymore.”

While the 2004 Orange Revolution was seen as a major victory for democracy in post-Soviet Ukraine, the poll clearly shows that two bitter parliamentary elections since then have eroded public trust.

The poll indicated that citizens see corruption to be as widespread as ever and don’t believe the nation’s justice system is capable of defending basic human rights. Citizens polled by the IFES study said the most corrupt institutions in the country were parliament, police, customs and the educational system.

Citizens are feeling the pinch of inflation, and see worsening relations with Russia as one of the most serious problems.

The IFES poll shows that 84 percent don’t trust Yushchenko, 83 percent don’t trust parliament, 72 percent don’t trust the government and 63 percent mistrust Tymoshenko. The villain of the Orange Revolution – Yanukovich – was not unscathed, either. Some 64 percent distrust him, the polls indicate.

“The [political elite] killed the hopes of Ukrainians from the Orange Revolution for a better state and nation,” said Mykhailo Nodelman, a Kyiv teacher who supported Yushchenko in 2004. “The president is the first to blame.”

Its not only the president, but the entire presidential system of government that bothers people, too. In the IFES survey, only 25 percent favored a presidential system of government. A bit more, or 38 percent, would prefer a parliamentary system of government. Only 12 percent support the status quo, a mixed parliamentary-presidential system with unclear divisions of authority.

The poll showed that only 3 percent of Ukrainians think political parties serve the interests of the population, while 56 percent said parties serve their own interests. “Ukraine’s political elite don’t understand that power means responsibility. The power must serve people, not itself,” said Kyrylo Nesterov, a university student. “I don’t see any sense in voting at the elections. My vote will change nothing.”

More elections aren’t the answer, citizens say. According to the IFES poll, more than three quarters believe that an early election won’t help and a similar number believe they don’t have any influence on decision-makers.

A glimmer of hope

Despite the overwhelming pessimism, analysts do not think Ukraine is on the verge of collapse. “If you were to ask people in Western Europe what they think about their politicians, they will also be heavily disappointed,” said Sergiy Taran, the director of International Democracy Institute. “People like their political elites only in authoritarian countries.”

Taran said that Ukrainians' highly negative feelings today are a threat only to the current political elite. “This political elite has become bankrupt, just like its predecessor before 2004,” he said.

But, unless new faces emerge, voters will be confronted with the same old choices on election ballots.

Source: Kyiv Post