Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iran: Code Orange?

WASHINGTON, DC -- "Iran is now on the verge of an Orange-style Revolution." This statement is likely to elicit enthusiasm from those working tirelessly to promote democracy in Iran.

Ukraine's Yushchenko (L) and Iran's Mousavi (R).

However, the term "Orange Revolution" has become a misnomer. Yes, the Ukrainian uprising was "Orange." But it was not a revolution. Ultimately, it brought no fundamental change to Ukrainian politics and bred further corruption.

Today, less than five years later, the vast majority of those who participated in the protests no longer support their leader. If Victor Yushchenko ran for president again, he would have no real chance of winning the election.

With Iran now closer to change than it has been over the past 20 years, a Ukrainian-style transformation should not be the goal of those who seek democracy in Iran. An incomplete revolution would be worse than a full one.

As the Ukrainian case has shown, such a half step would discredit and dishearten those who believe that fundamental change is possible and very likely bring about a political relapse.

Parallels with Ukraine

As in the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, the current political disarray in Iran was sparked by allegations of electoral fraud and is characterized by the major role of young people. Like the dramatic events that took place in Ukraine, it's also a result of years of pent-up frustration, helplessness, and hope, especially among members of the young post-revolutionary generation.

It's also a product of serious organizational capacity, though significantly lower in Iran that it was in Ukraine due to the more oppressive nature of the regime. And in Iran, it's not yet clear who is doing the organizing.

The key ingredient in both episodes has been youth. Iran is a young country. The majority of the country's population is under the age of 30, with the median age now being 27. In fact, Iran's current youth population (between 15 and 30 years old) is the largest it has ever been in the history of the country.

The Iranian state has failed to meet young people's growing demand for economic opportunities, moral guidance, and even basic needs. A record number of young Iranians are consequently emigrating, marrying later in life, and turning to drugs. As one Iranian émigré has recently shared with me, there has also been a wave of conversion to other religions as a sign of protest against the clerical regime.

Young people played an important role in the landslide victory of reformist Mohammad Khatami in 1997, but soon became disappointed with Khatami's inability to deliver the promised reforms. Student protests were common in the early 2000s, but died down by the time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office.

On March 17, 2009, when Khatami withdrew his candidacy for the country's June 12 election and announced that he would support fellow reformist Mousavi, few doubted that Mousavi would spark the imagination of the young.

At the same time, experts cautioned that Mousavi's victory, like the victories of Khatami in 1997 and 2001, would be no guarantee of major change in Iran due to the Islamic Republic's power structure.

Khamenei's Blunder

If it wanted to prevent fundamental change, Iran's ruling elite made a brilliant blunder by engineering Mousavi's defeat. The defeat of Mousavi acted to mobilize the population (of Tehran) and raised its expectations of fundamental change, should Mousavi come to power.

As the regime cracked down on the protesters, it inadvertently transformed the issue of contention from election fraud to the legitimacy of the clerical rule.

However, like Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, Mousavi would not have brought revolutionary change. He has challenged the outcome of a presidential election, but he hasn't truly challenged the country's political structure and institutions. Without such a challenge, a modern revolution cannot succeed in Iran.

The Iranian government's second blunder was the arrest of members of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani's family. Rafsanjani heads both the powerful Expediency Council and Assembly of Experts, which has the authority to monitor and remove the supreme leader.

He's also the founder of the Islamic Azad University, a mega university with over a million students. In other words, angering Rafsanjani will no doubt further fuel the fire of Iranian youth discontent.

The Iranian ruling elite has learned nothing from the Orange popular uprising in Ukraine. In Ukraine, the slip-up was Russian President Vladimir Putin's premature congratulation of Viktor Yanukovych's victory.

As Yanukovych appeared to have been handpicked by the Kremlin, so did Ahmadinejad seem handpicked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In both cases the people didn't have any say, but clearly had something very important to tell their government.

The most important lesson for the Iranian opposition to take away from the Orange uprising is the realization that bringing Mousavi to power won't be enough. Yushchenko, victor of the "Orange Revolution," now enjoys a 2% popularity rating. He has no chance of being re-elected in the next presidential election, scheduled to take place in January 2010.

In fact, Ukrainian voters may pick Yanukovich. For those inside Iran and those outside, putting all of one's faith in Mousavi as Iran's best chance for democracy is misguided.

Source: Foreign Policy in Focus

EU Says Ukraine Must Reform Gas Sector

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union said Monday it will push Ukraine to reform its natural gas sector in return for an international loan package to help pay a multibillion dollar debt to Russia.


Ukraine and Russia started talks with international banks Monday, seeking some $4.2 billion to restock Ukraine's gas stores for next winter and help it pay for monthly gas imports from Russia.

An EU official said the EU and major international banks were looking at a much lower figure after a meeting with the state-owned gas companies of both countries. He spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are still ongoing.

Russia sends the gas it sells to Europe through pipelines that cross Ukraine and has cut off all supplies -- including gas intended to heat European homes and fuel power plants -- in previous disputes with Kiev.

Moscow recently warned that it could shut off supplies again if Kiev does not pay on time and in full.

In a statement, the EU's executive commission said it was seeking a solution that would guarantee uninterrupted supply to European consumers during the winter.

Europeans complain they are hostage to disputes between Russia and its neighbors, warning that this forces them to seek other sources and routes for the energy it imports. Millions of people went without gas during a January dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

"Further support to facilitate gas purchases would be conditional upon continuing reform of the gas sector," the EU said. It has long sought more transparent conditions on how gas is traded between Russia, Ukraine and others and better ways to resolve disputes.

Both Russia's Gazprom OAO and Ukraine's Naftogaz are owned by their governments, leading to charges that the trade is more about politics than commerce.

Ukraine may need help making its next monthly payment to Russia on July 7 but is also looking for a loan to refill storage tanks during the summer to use up in the winter. It says it had 19.3 billion cubic meters in early June and needs to bring that to 32 billion cubic meters.

A loan would come from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and two banks backed by European governments -- the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Ukraine has been badly hit by the global economic downturn, with its economy shrinking by 21 percent in the first quarter and its currency losing more than a third of its value against the dollar as exports dropped and investors fled emerging markets.

It has already been promised a $16.4 billion rescue package from the International Monetary Fund and must curb public spending in return.

Source: AP

Ukraine: When A Budget Crisis Looms, This Mayor Dons A Speedo

KIEV, Ukraine -- Facing a reported $1.2 billion budget deficit, accusations of corruption, and a parliamentary commission investigation, Leonid Chernovetsky, mayor of Kiev, knew he needed to give the performance of his life.

Kiev Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky

He didn’t disappoint. After jogging and doing 15 chin-ups, he stripped down to a Speedo and swam 15 meters. “I want to demonstrate to the whole world that I am absolutely fit physically and mentally,” he announced.

A millionaire businessman and evangelical Christian, Mr. Chernovetsky has gained a reputation for wacky ideas. With Kiev facing an economic crisis, Chernovetsky proposed charging fees to enter cemeteries, selling his kisses in a raffle, and selling burial plots for frogs.

When thousands gathered outside his offices to protest corruption, he entertained them with a song and announced that he was launching a singing career. “I will make millions of dollars per day. Because who sings better than I do? No one does, except God,” he enthused.

He is accused by several political opponents of selling city land to insiders at knockdown prices and of accepting bribes. He denies these accusations and likes to present himself as a defender of the poor who fights corruption.

His hold on power is maintained by his support among elderly voters – his “beloved babushkas.”

Infighting among opposition members has prevented them from mounting a consolidated challenge. After the parliamentary commission ordered him to have a mental-health check, Chernovetsky took a few weeks off on sick leave.

It’s not clear how much good it did him. One of his first proposals when he returned to work recently was to offer utility price subsidies to “those who believe in God and justice,” and a reminder that “the mayor of Kiev will always be on their side.”

Source: Christian Science Monitor

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ukraine Wary Of KGB Terror Files

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is opening up part of its old KGB archive, declassifying hundreds of thousands of documents spanning the entire Soviet period.

KGB headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine.

But the move to expose Soviet-era abuses is dividing Ukrainians, the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse reports from Kiev.

Deep in the bowels of Ukraine's former KGB headquarters there is a deathly silence. Thousands of boxes, piled floor to ceiling, line the walls. Each box is carefully numbered and each one contains hundreds of documents: case notes on enemies of the former Soviet state.

Behind each number, there is a story of personal tragedy.

Volodymyr Viatrovych, the chief archivist, pulled out a brown cardboard folder stuffed full of documents: case number 4076. At the centre of the case is a letter, dated 1940 and addressed to "Comrade Stalin, the Kremlin, Moscow".

"Dear Iosif Vissarionovich," the letter starts. Nikolai Reva wanted Stalin to know the facts about the great famine of 1932-33, when millions died as a result of the Soviet policy of forced collectivisation.

Like many at the time, Mr Reva believed that Stalin was being kept in the dark, and that if only he knew what was happening, he would surely put a stop to it.

But his letter landed him in the Gulag. He was eventually rehabilitated - 25 years later.

Many met a harsher fate.

Leafing through one of many macabre photo albums, Mr Viatrovych pointed to a picture of Ivan Severin, shot in the head by the Soviet security services. Under the picture, in very neat handwriting, is written: "Liquidated, 3 April 1947".

Criminal prosecution

Mr Viatrovych and his team are helping people to find out what happened to relatives and loved ones, often decades after they disappeared.

But the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), now in charge of the files, is declassifying them selectively.

They are concentrating on older cases, like that of the "liquidated" Mr Severin, who was part of a guerrilla campaign against Soviet rule in western Ukraine after World War II.

The authorities are preparing to mount a criminal prosecution in relation to the famine, or Holodomor, as it is known in Ukraine, though it is doubtful whether there is anyone still alive to stand in the dock.

But SBU head Valentyn Nalyvaichenko hopes this is just the beginning.

"As soon as Russia starts to open and uncover its archives, there will be more and more truth about the real history," he said. At the moment, he added, Russia is not being especially co-operative.

But there is another obstacle to complete disclosure, and that is the Ukrainian Security Service itself. They are the ones deciding which files to declassify.

I put it to Mr Nalyvaichenko that the SBU is, after all, a successor to the KGB. He came out on the defensive.

"First and most important for me - we are not a successor to the KGB. That's according to the law," he said.

Could he state categorically that no-one working for the SBU today had formerly worked for the KGB?

He could not, admitting that 20% of his employees were former KGB officers. Some analysts in Ukraine believe that is a conservative figure.

It seems unlikely that SBU officers who worked for the Soviet KGB in the 1970s and 80s will be enthusiastic about declassifying documents that could incriminate them. Even if, as Mr Nalyvaichenko pointed out, the SBU is trying to recruit younger staff.

'Not worth it'

But not all young Ukrainians have an exclusively negative view of their 20th-Century history.

In Kiev, there is a vast monument to the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany: a sprawling bronze relief of soldiers bearing guns and bayonets.

"We love our history," said Svitlana, a young schoolteacher from the southern city of Odessa, on an outing with her class.

She was not keen for the children in her charge to be forced to examine the darker chapters of Soviet history.

"The past is the past," she said. "The history of the famine, the killings, all the things Stalin did. I don't think we should bring them up. There's enough violence today as it is. If we start blaming each other… It's just not worth it."

'Witch hunt'

The idea of airing the past as part of a healing process, and excluding members of the former regime from positions of authority - a process known as "lustration" - is being actively promoted by some in the Ukrainian administration.

But it is highly controversial. Dmytro Tabachnyk, a historian and opposition lawmaker, thinks the notion is absurd.

"It's a witch hunt," he said. "To start a process of lustration after 18 years of independence would lead society to the brink of civil war."

In a forest just outside Kiev, the tree trunks are tied with thousands of white scarves.

The scarves are embroidered in the traditional Ukrainian way, with red-and-black geometric patterns, and each one symbolically represents a life lost to Soviet oppression.

Under Stalin, the Soviet secret police would bury executed political prisoners at Bykivnia. No-one knows exactly how many bodies lie buried in this wood, but some estimates put the figure at more than 200,000.

But, says Nico Lange, the German director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kiev, Ukrainians must stop blaming the Russians for their past, and start looking inward.

"Ukrainians have a tendency to perceive themselves as only victims of those historical processes," he says.

"But coming to terms with the past really starts when you start uncovering also your own involvement: the oppressions by your own state, the offenders who are from your own people. If you do this work, this very painful work, the truth will finally set you free. And you will not invite new dictators to oppress you again."

The Germans have experience of confronting their own past, both following World War II, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But it will take a lot of united political will for such a process to get under way in Ukraine.

And it may be that, for the moment, there are still too many people alive and in positions of power, who were involved with the Soviet regime in one way or another.

Source: BBC News

Ukraine Gambling Ban Is Implemented

KIEV, Ukraine -- Following the recent backdown over the presidential veto by President Viktor Kuschenko of the Ukraine, the gambling ban has been imposed with immediate effect in the Ukraine, reports Ukra News. And the ban includes online gambling.


The text of the law was published in the Holos Ukrainy (Voice of Ukraine) newspaper, on June 25, enforcing the vote of the Verkhovna Rada despite President Kuschenko's appeals for a more considered approach, and his unsuccessful attempt to exercise his veto to effect this.

The law defines gambling as the activity or organisation of gambling games for profit in terrestrial casinos, via slot machines, at bookmaker’s offices, and in virtual casinos.

It also covers any game requiring betting, allowing rewards for wins, and which fully or partially depends on the element of chance.

Exceptions include: Lotteries, art contests, billiards, and certain other games such as pickup reward machines that depend on player dexterity or those for charitable causes.

The law makes provision for punitive measures against offenders and the confiscation of gambling equipment.

Source: Recent Poker

Ukraine President's Party Wants To Leave Coalition

KIEV, Ukraine -- The party of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko called on its deputies to quit the pro-Western government coalition of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the Interfax news agency reported.

The party of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, pictured, called on its deputies to quit the pro-Western government coalition of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Relations have been strained between the two leaders, who will likely face one another in the presidential election set for January, and some lawmakers estimated the move could lead to the total collapse of the ruling coalition.

"We are ordering deputies to remove their signature from the declaration on the creation of the coalition," read a resolution adopted at a congress of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party. The measure, however, is non-binding.

"We are not in agreement with the populist policies and non-professionalism of the prime minister."

Our Ukraine lawmaker Ksenia Liapina predicted the coalition with Tymoshenko's party would collapse in the coming week, but another Our Ukraine lawmaker, Sergui Mishchenko said the party's deputies in parliament may not go along with the call by the party congress.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution, when street demonstrations forced the authorities to hold a fair election that swept Yushchenko in to the presidency, but the two have since become bitter rivals and their internecine squabbling has hobbled pro-Western forces.

Source: AFP

Friday, June 26, 2009

Constitutional Instability In Ukraine Leads To 'Legal Turmoil'

KIEV, Ukraine -- On June 28, 1996, Ukraine became the last Soviet republic to adopt a post-Soviet constitution, and that day was designated Constitution Day, a national holiday. Two years later, on October 21, 1998, the Crimean Autonomous Republic adopted its own constitution, recognizing the peninsula within Ukraine.

Ukraine's constitutional wrangling has turned President Viktor Yushchenko (L) and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from Orange allies into bitter rivals.

Leonid Kuchma's reelection as president in 1999 gave rise to Ukraine's first non-left parliamentary majority that sought to ditch the country's "semi-presidential" constitution in favor of a full presidential system.

The relevant four questions were put to a referendum in April 2000 that was not internationally recognized, and were approved by a suspiciously high percentage of voters.

But Kuchma's plans were undermined by the onset of the Kuchma-gate crisis in November of that year, when tapes made illicitly in his office allegedly proved that he ordered violence against journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who was kidnapped on September 16 and found decapitated on November 2, 2000.

Ukrainian politicians traditionally approached constitutional, and indeed all other issues, from the standpoint not of national interests, but personal advantage. Following the 2002 parliamentary elections, Kuchma shifted 180 degrees from his constitutional position two years earlier toward support for a parliamentary system.

The architect of this strategy, which had two objectives, was presidential chief of staff Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the Social Democratic Party-united.

Disarming Yushchenko

The first objective was to split the opposition by persuading the left, perennial supporters of parliamentarism, to support the constitutional reforms advocated by pro-presidential centrists.

The second was to strip popular opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, if he were elected, of the extensive presidential powers enshrined in the 1996 constitution.

The second vote in April 2004 failed after some pro-presidential centrists rebelled in protest at the change earlier that month of the election law from mixed to fully proportional. That change had been a condition of support by the left for the constitutional reforms.

Ironically, the reforms adopted on December 8, 2004, in a parliamentary vote were identical to those rejected eight months earlier. During those eight months, the authorities waged an all-out campaign to prevent Yushchenko being elected with the powers enshrined in the 1996 constitution.

The widespread fraud that marred the presidential ballot led to the so-called Orange Revolution, triggered by Europe's largest postwar mass protests, in which one in five Ukrainians participated.

Three European Union-sponsored roundtables resulted in the December 8 compromise agreement that led to a repeat vote on December 26 that Yushchenko won. In return, Yushchenko granted verbal immunity to his defeated rival Kuchma, and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine supported the vote on the constitutional reforms to come into force in 2006. The Yulia Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT) was the only parliamentary force to vote against the constitutional amendments.

Constitutional Questions

After being elected president, Yushchenko complained about, but failed to repeal, the constitutional reforms. First, between September 2005, when the Tymoshenko government was removed, until February 2007, when the Orange alliance was reconstituted, the BYuT and Our Ukraine were at loggerheads and divided.

Yushchenko and Our Ukraine did not support the BYuT's call to invoke the October 2005 Constitutional Court ruling that constitutional reforms required a national referendum. The BYuT campaigned for such a referendum in the 2006 and 2007 elections.

Second, Yushchenko did not establish his National Constitutional Council until December 27, 2007, and only presented his reform proposals on March 31, 2009. But by then he had no hope of implementing them as his popularity rating had collapsed to 2 percent and he had no support in parliament. Our Ukraine had voted to rejoin the coalition in December 2008, against his wishes.

The conflict between the president and prime minister continued throughout 2008, and the onset of the global financial crisis in the fall failed to dampen it. During that time, legal and constitutional experts and different political factions all reached the conclusion that the president's daily intervention in economic and energy issues is unconstitutional. (Under the 2006 constitution, the government reports to the parliament, not to the president.)

In an April 2008 speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Tymoshenko announced a dramatic shift within the BYuT towards support for parliamentarism.

Their second conclusion was that without presidential support for the holding of a referendum, the only way the constitution could be changed was through a constitutional majority. But two successive attempts, in September 2008 and May 2009, to form a BYuT-Party of Regions coalition with the aim of pushing through constitutional reforms that would strengthen the parliament both failed, partly due to personal mistrust but also to Party of Regions' demands to have their cake and eat it.

While supporting a president elected by parliament (i.e. full parliamentary system), Party of Regions Chairman Viktor Yanukovych simultaneously sought a "guarantee" of two presidential terms with extensive powers similar to those bestowed on the president in the 2006 constitution. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out to Ukrainians in May that parliamentary presidents are ceremonial.

Halfway To Nowhere

Two further factors are of direct relevance. "Semi" political systems, whether presidential (as in the 1996 constitution) or parliamentary (as in the 2006 constitution), are recipes for instability and conflict.

If Ukraine really wants political stability and an escape from constitutional and legal chaos, it should change the constitution either to a full presidential system or towards a full parliamentary system.

Prime Minister Tymoshenko acknowledged the inevitability of that choice in the course of a lengthy interview on Channel 5 on June 11. "Semi" systems do not divide powers clearly and are therefore recipes for "chaos," she stressed.

Nearly two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet empire, the 27 postcommunist states are divided into two groups: those in Central-Eastern Europe and the Baltic states have parliamentary systems, and those in Eurasia -- presidential systems. The two exceptions are Ukraine and Moldova, with semi-parliamentary and parliamentary systems, respectively.

Parliamentarism and democratization went hand-in-hand in Central-Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, facilitating their integration into NATO and the EU. Parliamentarism could therefore further integrate Ukraine into Europe.

Ukraine's transition from a semi-presidential to semi-parliamentarian constitution has completely overshadowed Yushchenko's presidency. Personality, ideological, and gender factors have been compounded by constitutionally unclear divisions of powers.

U.S. Judge Bohdan Futey noted this month in a Ukrainian legal journal that "these [constitutional] changes interlaced the power of the executive and legislative branches, leaving the country in legal turmoil to this day."

Yushchenko’s presidency has been dominated by political crises, governmental instability, elite in-fighting, and constitutional chaos that have combined to undermine the potential generated by the Orange Revolution.

With the constitutional question still unresolved as the Yushchenko era nears its end, Ukraine will enter the January 2010 election campaign in the same state of constitutional uncertainty as it did five years ago.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Anger Over Chernobyl Childrens' Visas

LONDON, England -- Charities who help children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster are urging the government to allow youngsters from Ukraine to enter the UK without paying visa fees.

Experts say holidays abroad can add up to two years to the life of a child.

Children from neighbouring Belarus are allowed in for nothing, but each Ukrainian child has to pay a £70 ($115) visa fee.

The charities say the money could be better spent helping the children.

The cost of bringing in the youngsters from northern Ukraine came to light earlier this year when charities were forced to temporarily turn their attention away from Belarus due to new conditions demanded by the government in Minsk.

Several charities discovered that in certain areas of Ukraine - within a few miles of the Chernobyl reactor - there were thousands of children whose lives were being affected by living in a highly radioactive environment.

Recuperation

The Chernobyl explosion in 1986 is considered the world's worst nuclear accident.

It was caused by an explosion at one of the reactors, resulting in a massive release of radiation.

The effects were felt as far away as the UK, but the worst-hit areas, which are still experiencing the consequences, are in Ukraine and Belarus.

A dozen Ukrainian youngsters - aged between 10 and 12 - and their interpreter are currently on a recuperative holiday in Lincoln.

They were brought over by the Chernobyl Children's Project which had to pay £910 ($1,501) in visa fees to get them here.

The charity plans to bring a total of 1,200 children over to stay with British families this year, which will cost them a total of £84,000 ($138,566) in visa fees.

Dennis Vystavkin, from Chernobyl Children's Lifeline, says: "These are funds that could have been used to benefit more children.

"We could have brought more children over, we could have helped them with medical help at home in the Ukraine. But instead the money is being used for bureaucracy, for buying visas."

The young Ukrainians will spend a month in Britain, away from their home-town of Ivankiv, which lies 34 miles (55km) from the Chernobyl reactor.

Such recuperative holidays, studies suggest, can add up to two years to the life of a child.

Twelve-year-old Zhenya Tolochyn, a big Manchester United fan, says most of his own family is suffering as a consequence of the Chernobyl disaster.

"Most of my relatives are ill because of the radiation," he says. "Very often I catch colds myself because my immune system is weak, but I still score lots of goals!"

His friend, Anton Mayevsky, says: "The Chernobyl catastrophe affects all people, but especially children. The radiation continues to affect us and our health needs improving."

'Disgraceful'

The UK Border Agency has defended its decision to charge the Ukrainian children.

In a statement, it said that as the disaster had a disproportionate impact on Belarus, with 70% of the fall-out hitting that country, they had taken the decision in 1995 to only offer free visas to Belarusian children.

But that argument receives short shrift from Dunfermline and West Fife MP Willie Rennie.

He is hoping to get a meeting with the Home Secretary Alan Johnson to push for the fees to be waived.

"I think it's disgraceful for the government to come up with spurious reasons as to why they should not allow children from Ukraine to come for free," he says.

"The government has played a great part over the last 20 years in contributing to the Belarusian children benefitting from recuperative holidays.

"They should also join in the benefits that the Ukrainian children could receive as well."

Source: BBC News

Russian, Ukrainian Tug Of War Over History

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian historians widely recognize June 27, 1709 as the date their country became a great power. Russia that day defeated an invading Swedish army at Poltava in Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces allied with Sweden were also vanquished. The Battle of Poltava is not just history, but another source of ongoing friction between Moscow and Kiev.

Ivan Mazepa's portrait on Ukraine's 10-hryvna currency note.

Poltava is recognized as the pivotal battle in the Great Northern War, a 21-year struggle, in which Russia replaced Sweden as the great power of Northern Europe in the early 18th century. Poltava also ended Ukrainian aspirations for independence from Russia.

"Traitor Mazepa"

The leader of the Ukrainian forces, Ivan Mazepa, remains a source of controversy between Moscow and Kiev. Mazepa was Ukraine's so-called Hetman, or leader of its Cossack military forces.

In Russia he is considered a traitor who betrayed an oath of allegiance to Czar Peter the Great, the victorious commander at Poltava. The term "traitor Mazepa" remains a common Russian term.

He was cast as a villain in works by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and composer Peter Tchaikovsky, and also excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church.

That decision is still in effect, despite recent high level requests from Ukrainian political and church leaders to rescind the move.

But Ukrainians say the Hetman was forced to side with Sweden, because Russian ruler Peter the Great failed to honor a 1654 treaty to protect their land against Polish attacks.

But until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia considered the same treaty to have been an agreement by Ukraine for an everlasting union with its northern neighbor.

Ukrainians also consider Mazepa to have been a great reformer, who built schools and publishing houses, expanded higher learning, and supported the arts, including a distinctly Ukrainian style of church architecture that dominates the modern skyline of Kiev.

Mazepa's portrait appears on Ukraine's 10-hryvna currency note, and the country will soon unveil a monument to him in Poltava. Last month, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the statue as divisive.

At a recent Poltava conference in Moscow, Vladimir Artamonov of the Russian Academy of Sciences told fellow historians the battle liberated Ukraine from Swedish invaders.

Artamanov says Poltava was not a tragedy for Ukraine, but rather a tragedy for Mazepa and his followers who sought to subordinate "Little Russia" to Poland.

Russians often use the term "Little Russia" as a synonym for Ukraine. Many Ukrainians resent it as demeaning.

Genocide issues

Speaking at the same Moscow conference, Ukrainian historian Serhiy Poltavets said it is important to consider why Mazepa allied himself with Sweden.

Poltavets says documentary evidence indicates that Mazepa's goal was to create an independent Ukraine; that his goal contradicted the political and geopolitical aims of the Russian state is something, which cannot be denied.

Moscow and Kiev are also at odds over historic assessments of an artificial famine during the period of Soviet land collectivization in the early 1930's that claimed the lives of millions, particularly in Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainians consider it an act of genocide. The Kremlin says food was intentionally withheld from peasants as a class, but not any ethnic group, and therefore cannot be considered a violation of the United Nations Genocide Convention, which does not mention class.

Another point of contention is Ukraine's World War II guerillas, who fought Soviets and Nazis after mistakenly welcoming Germans as liberators.

They are seen as freedom fighters by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and as fascist collaborators by his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev.

Last month, Mr. Medvedev announced creation of a government commission to help prevent what he said was falsification of history that harms the interests of Russia.

Mr. Medvedev says Russians are increasingly being confronted with what is known as historic falsification, and perhaps many have noticed that these attempts are becoming increasingly harsh, mean, and aggressive.

In Ukraine, President Viktor Yushchenko condemned foreign and domestic attempts to brand Ivan Mazepa as a traitor.

Mr. Yushchenko says enough to looking at history through foreign eyes. He calls on Ukrainians to look at Mazepa with their own eyes, with Ukrainian eyes.

Source: Voice of America News

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ukraine's President Harbours Fears About Hosting Euro 2012

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine President Victor Yushchenko believes acute financial problems caused by the global economic crisis could result in the country failing to co-host Euro 2012 with Poland as planned. "We are halfway through the year and haven't achieved one 11th of what is planned," Yushchenko told the Interfax news agency Wednesday.


Yushchenko accused his country's government of endangering Ukraine's planned chances of hosting Euro 2012 through its economic policies.

"What is there left for us to talk about Euro 2012?" Yushchenko asked of Yulia Tymoshenko's government, citing in particular the slow construction of transport infrastructure.

Only 10 per cent of the planned 239 million euros (333 million dollars) for transport projects in 2009 has so far been allocated and UEFA has repeatedly warned Ukraine about its progress in constructing stadiums, roads and hotels.

Yushchenko expressed his scepticism about whether Ukraine would be able to show UEFA's evaluation committee the necessary progress on November 30th as planned.

Source: DPA

Uncertainty In Ukraine Causes EUCOM To Cancel Exercise

STUTTGART, Germany -- The U.S. military has called off an annual multinational training exercise scheduled for next month off the coast of Ukraine, where political turmoil has crippled the former Soviet-bloc nation’s ability to make the necessary preparations.


U.S. European Command was forced to withdraw after the Ukrainian parliament failed to grant permission for foreign militaries to enter the country’s territory — a precondition for conducting maneuvers around Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline, EUCOM confirmed.

With no deal reached, time had run out for getting equipment in place for the start of the Sea Breeze exercise, which was scheduled to run July 13-26.

Some 2,000 U.S. military personnel, including sailors of the Navy’s 6th Fleet and a battalion of Marines were slated to take part in the exercise. It was to include servicemembers from 19 countries.

"That’s going to be it for this year," said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a EUCOM spokesman, saying that the event will not be rescheduled for later in 2009.

However, EUCOM will soon begin planning Sea Breeze 2010 with its Ukrainian counterparts.

"There are no plans to cancel. Building partner capacity and interoperability, that’s what we do," Dorrian said.

But Ukraine, which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis, is in a state of political disarray.

It has no defense minister or foreign minister in place. And, infighting and an ongoing feud between the country’s president and prime minister has ground government business to a standstill.

The country is even in jeopardy of losing its position as host of the 2012 European soccer championships because it is far behind schedule in building the required facilities, according to Ukrainian news reports.

With so much political uncertainty, it is unclear what the future holds for future Sea Breeze exercises, which first started in 1997. The 2006 exercise also was nixed because of a lack of parliamentary approval.

This year’s exercise was to have a special focus on anti-piracy techniques in preparation for Ukraine’s participation in the NATO mission off the coast of Somalia, according to Ukrainian news accounts.

The joint operations are aimed at improving the capacity of militaries to communicate and work together on missions.

Source: Stars and Stripes

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ukraine State Bank Oshchadbank Sees Improved Profit

KIEV, Ukraine -- State bank Oshchadbank, a key link in financing Ukraine's troubled energy company Naftogaz, forecasts an improved first half profit in 2009 of 600 million hryvnias ($79 million), its chief executive officer said on Wednesday.

Oshchadbank headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine

The bank recorded a profit of 180.2 million hryvnias in the same period last year.

"The state has turned towards Oshchadbank and we will have good financial results this year," Anatoly Gulei told reporters on the sidelines of a government meeting.

Ukraine's government since last year has actively used Oshchadbank, the state savings bank and third largest in Ukraine, to support financially-troubled state energy company Naftogaz.

"We are an anti-crisis bank. This is our policy and I believe it is the correct policy," Gulei said. "It enabled us to boost our assets, receive capital and support real sectors of the economy and the government."

The government owns 100 percent of Oshchadbank and boosted its capital at the beginning of the year to 13.9 billion hryvnias from 900 million a year earlier.

Gulei said the bank's capital would be further increased, partly from reinvesting profits.

Oshchadbank has regularly issued credits to enable Naftogaz to make payments for shipments of Russian gas in accordance with plans overseen by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's government.

President Viktor Yushchenko, the prime minister's former ally turned arch rival, has denounced the practice as liable to lead to the energy company's collapse. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials have suggested that Naftogaz is all but insolvent.

Despite its improved figures, Oshchadbank's credits to Naftogaz still violated rules limiting the amount of credits it can extend to a single borrower. This, Gulei said, would be corrected once the government boosted Naftogaz's capital.

"They will have their capital increased, settle their debts with us and the problem will be solved," Gulei said.

"There is a government resolution for 18 billion hryvnias. We hope the finance ministry will issue bonds which we can take ... and settle up with the central bank."

Gulei gave no figures for the amount of credits issued to Naftogaz.

Acting Finance Minister Ihor Umansky, interviewed by the weekly Zerkalo Nedeli, put the figure at no less than 18.6 billion hryvnias. ($=7.61 hryvnias).

Source: Guardian UK

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ukraine May Get IMF Loan For Russian Gas Within Days

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine’s ambassador to the European Union said today the nation may get a $4 billion loan led by the International Monetary Fund within days to pay for Russian gas.


NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy, Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, said last week it is counting on EU help in receiving credit from international financial institutions for natural-gas payments to Russia’s OAO Gazprom. Ukraine got a $16.4 billion emergency loan from the IMF last year to support its financial system amid the global economic crisis.

A dispute between Russia and Ukraine in January left more than 20 countries without gas for almost two weeks. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said this month Ukraine needs about $5 billion for pumping gas into storage this year and warned that a cut-off could be repeated unless the country pays for delivered supplies.

“We think that an additional amount of money may be given to Ukraine by the IMF in order to bridge this lack of payments for a short period, and we hope that it will end the problem,” Andri Veselovsky, head of the Ukrainian mission to the EU, said in an interview today in Brussels. “It’s a matter of days, not months.”

IMF officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Ukraine says an IMF delegation is in Kiev for the second review of the original loan.

Sleepwalking

The European Union signaled last week it was concerned about the future supply of Russian gas through Ukraine. European Commission President Jose Barroso said the 27-member state bloc “must not sleepwalk into another gas crisis.”

Veselovsky said the problem needs to be addressed. “Yes, we would like to solve it. Yes, we addressed the IMF and other financial institutions and some banks.”

Kiev-based Naftogaz got a 3.8 billion hryvnia ($500 million) loan from state-run lender VAT Oshchadbank earlier this month to ensure payment to Gazprom for fuel delivered in May. Naftogaz has a 2009 financial deficit of 27 billion hryvnias, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko said June 11.

The east European state will buy natural gas valued at $250 million from Gazprom in June and quadruple the amount next month, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko said in a statement on the government’s Web site last week.

There should be “no doubt” Ukraine will pay for supplies of Russian gas in June and the following months, Veselovsky said today. Under an agreement with Russia, Ukraine must pay for gas within the first seven days of each month.

Contracting Economy

Ukraine’s economy contracted 8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with 6.4 percent growth in the previous quarter as the global financial crisis curbed demand for the country’s exports.

“Ukraine coped with the current economic and financial crisis, and its economy was very severely hurt by the crisis, more than neighboring countries, so this shortage of money is specific for Ukraine and it needs specific assistance,” Veselovsky said. ‘

Source: Bloomberg

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ukraine’s Political Paralysis Gives Black Eyes To Orange Revolution Heroes

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine, which has suffered a roundhouse blow from the economic crisis, has had no finance minister since February. It also has no foreign minister or defense minister. The transportation minister just stepped down. The interior minister has offered to resign as well, after being accused of drunken behavior.

Orange Revolution heroes Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko are no longer on speaking terms.

The president and the prime minister are no longer speaking, though they were once allies and heroes of the Orange Revolution, which brought a pro-Western government to power in 2005. The spirit of that uprising has apparently been squandered in a country that seems permanently gripped by political paralysis.

The public appears so frustrated that the leader of the opposition, who has close ties to the Kremlin and is often portrayed as the villain of the Orange Revolution, is the early favorite to win the presidential election next January.

The mood here is reflected in the popularity of a video clip that has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times in recent days. It shows the prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who once enthralled Ukraine with her rousing slogans and peasant-braid-as-tiara hairstyle, just before she was to give a televised speech this month.

Her teleprompter suddenly malfunctions, and she snaps, “It’s all gone.”

Ms. Tymoshenko was referring to her text, but her words — which can also be translated as, “Everything’s fallen apart” — have been viewed as something of an epitaph for her political movement.

The deadlock has led the major European nations to voice growing alarm that Ukraine is incapable of dealing with its disintegrating economy.

They fear that an economic collapse here could reverberate throughout the former Soviet bloc and beyond.

On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland made an unusual joint visit to the capital, Kiev. The German, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, declared that he was “extremely worried” about Ukraine, suggesting that its politicians must stop feuding if they wanted more assistance.

European officials also warned that Ukraine had fallen drastically behind on its preparations for serving as a host of the European soccer championship in 2012, and risked losing the event.

The major cabinet posts are unfilled in part because Ms. Tymoshenko and the president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, cannot agree on replacements. Ms. Tymoshenko used Parliament to dismiss the defense and foreign ministers, who are nominated by the president.

Behind the scenes, the president’s associates have contended that Ms. Tymoshenko is untrustworthy and has Machiavellian designs on power. Her side has responded that the president is a bumbling politician who is jealous of her charisma and public support.

Optimists in Kiev said the situation had worsened largely because the political class was jockeying before the presidential election, and they pointed out that the country’s leaders had always found a way to pull back from the brink. For example, they agreed on budget measures to comply with a $16.4 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Whatever the discord, Ukraine is more free than most former Soviet republics, with a relatively uncontrolled news media and a far less repressive security apparatus.

Still, things have unquestionably soured. The popularity of President Yushchenko, who achieved worldwide attention during the Orange Revolution when his face was scarred in an attempted poisoning that remains unsolved, has sunk into the low single digits, and he is given little chance of winning re-election.

Mr. Yushchenko has been chided by even his own advisers for a lackluster bearing that has turned off the public, and it was in evidence this month at a nationally televised news conference.

He began with a statement that ground on for half an hour and was spoken without notable intensity, even when he attacked Ms. Tymoshenko.

Relations between the two have so deteriorated that Ms. Tymoshenko even tried this month to build a coalition with an Orange Revolution foe, Viktor F. Yanukovich, a former prime minister who leads the opposition in Parliament. That effort imploded in a cacophony of charges and countercharges.

Ukraine’s last finance minister, Viktor M. Pynzenyk, who is widely respected, acknowledged in an interview that the government had become hopelessly dysfunctional.

Mr. Pynzenyk said the politicians’ refusal to face up to the financial crisis with proper austerity measures had clearly worsened matters, and said they were running enormous deficits to pander to voters. He said he resigned because it was impossible to conduct the country’s fiscal affairs.

“People are disillusioned not with the Orange Revolution, but with the politicians,” Mr. Pynzenyk said.

He assailed the recent attempt by Ms. Tymoshenko to ally with Mr. Yanukovich. She had sought to amend the Constitution so that the president would be chosen by Parliament, not popularly elected.

Under their deal, Mr. Yanukovich would have been president and Ms. Tymoshenko would have occupied a strengthened post of prime minister. At the last moment, Mr. Yanukovich backed out.

“In my opinion, what happened in the last month represented a threat to establish an authoritarian regime,” Mr. Pynzenyk said. “Power has become the goal, and this is a very dangerous path.”

Ukraine has earned so much attention because it is one of the largest countries in Europe, with 46 million people, and serves as a vital transportation point for natural gas from Russia. Ukraine’s fractious politics have helped to strain relations with Russia, which has shut the flow of gas in payment disputes twice in recent years.

After the Orange Revolution, Ukraine was held up as an example of how countries, whether post-Soviet or elsewhere, could move past authoritarianism. But the problems here are now cited by Russian officials as evidence of what awaits countries that embrace a Western democratic model.

While Ms. Tymoshenko’s standing may have been damaged in recent weeks, she is considered a highly skillful politician who has mounted comebacks before, and polls indicate that she would be competitive with Mr. Yanukovich in the next presidential election.

Hryhoriy M. Nemyria, a deputy prime minister and Tymoshenko adviser, said Ms. Tymoshenko’s plan to change the Constitution was needed because lines of authority between the president and the prime minister were vague and bred conflict. Ukraine would be better off with a parliamentary system like Germany’s, he said.

He said Ms. Tymoshenko would be a formidable force in the election. “The thing she is definitely not lacking is leadership skills,” he said. “That is something that might be in great deficit in some of the other candidates.”

Oles Dony, a young member of Parliament who was active in the Orange Revolution and supported the president, said he believed that Ukrainians would not shy away from taking part in the presidential campaign, despite recent events.

“People are tired, not of politics, but of all these characters and their style of behavior,” he said. “But they are not tired of democracy.”

Source: The New York Times

US Vice President Biden Heads To Ukraine, Georgia

WASHINGTON, DC -- US Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Georgia and Ukraine next month for talks on boosting the former Soviet republics' economies and supporting democratic reforms, his office said Monday. Both trips involve political sensitivities with Russia, and the visit would come shortly after US President Barack Obama travels to Moscow.

US Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden's office says the trip will come during the week of July 20-24. More details will be released later.

Biden would be the highest-ranking US official to travel to Georgia since its war with Russia last year, while Ukraine has been embroiled in a natural gas dispute with Russia that threatens the European Union's supplies.

Biden will head to the region from July 20-24 and plans to meet with political leaders and opposition figures in both countries.

In a statement, the vice president's office said that Biden would "demonstrate US support for continued democratic and economic reforms and discuss issues of mutual interest in both countries."

In May, Biden visited Europe's Balkan region, meeting with political leaders in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.

Source: DPA

Ukraine Military Says Sea Breeze-2009 Exercise Called Off

KIEV, Ukraine -- There will be no Sea Breeze naval exercises with NATO forces in Ukraine's Crimea this summer, a source in the Ukrainian Navy command said on Monday.

U.S. sailors aboard the Guided Missile Destroyer Mcfaul take part in fire drill during the Sea Breeze-2008 NATO military exercises in the Black Sea port of Odessa July 15, 2008. Naval and air forces from 15 countries took part in the military exercises in Ukraine.

A military exercise with the participation of foreign troops requires parliamentary permission, but the Ukrainian parliament has refused to even consider the matter.

The source said the U.S. military command had informed Ukraine last week that the Ukrainian-U.S. naval exercise would not take place this year.

Sea Breeze-2009 was due to be conducted in July.

Sea Breeze exercises have been held annually in the Crimea since 1997, and have been subject to occasionally violent anti-NATO protests in recent years.

Last year's Sea Breeze drills saw protesters set up camps along the Black Sea coast, and reportedly attempt to prevent foreign warships, participating in the exercises, from leaving the port of Odessa.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine Faces 'Serious' Gas Situation

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Brussels called for talks with Russian and international monetary officials in an effort to avert a gas crisis stemming for Ukrainian economic troubles.

Jose Manuel Barroso, was confirmed for a second term as European Commission president.

Jose Manuel Barroso, who was confirmed for a second term as European Commission president, said the European Union would talk with gas and financial officials to help Ukraine pay for its Russian gas supplies, the Financial Times reports.

"We must not sleepwalk into another crisis," he said. "There is indeed the risk of a crisis in weeks, not months."

A January dispute over contracts and arrears between Kiev and Moscow forced Russian gas giant Gazprom to cut gas supplies for Ukraine. With 80 percent of Russian gas bound for Europe headed through Ukrainian territory, that row left European customers in the cold for weeks.

A settlement resolving the dispute requires Ukraine to settle its monthly gas debt by the seventh of each month, but Gazprom has expressed concern each month since January over Kiev's ability to come forward with the money.

Barroso told reporters the EU does not have the resources to meet Ukrainian requests for $4 billion to cover gas payments but said that was a matter best left to the international monetary regime.

"We don't have that money in the budget. We want to help our Ukrainian friends, but they have a structural problem," he said. "They're in a serious situation."

Source: UPI

Ukraine Finds 250 Contraband Turtles On Train

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian border guards seized 250 turtles being smuggled into the country on a train, where they had been hidden and strapped down with tape to prevent them from moving, officials said on Monday.


The turtles were seized late on Sunday at the Ukrainian-Russian border on a train from the central Asian country of Uzbekistan, the Ukrainian border guard service said in a statement.

The reptilian cargo belonged to an Uzbek conductor aboard the train, which came from the Uzbek capital Tashkent and was bound for the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.

The turtles, some of them hidden in bags, had been stashed in toilets and inside a train carriage wall.

"The turtles were initially left on the premises of the customs service to undergo veterinary control," Mykhailo Kablak, a spokesman for the regional branch of the border guard service, told AFP.

"According to preliminary information, they are all in good health and will be taken to the zoo in Kharkiv," Kablak said. He added that the smuggler had sought to sell the turtles in Ukraine.

Source: AFP

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Central European Leaders Call For Unity In The Face Of Crisis

NOVI SAD, Serbia -- Central European leaders from 14 countries have called for more regional cooperation in the wake of the global economic crisis and for a better distribution of energy resources.

Central European leaders meet for the 16th time.

At a regional summit in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, host president Boris Tadic led the calls for solidarity in dealing with both economic and energy issues.

"We cannot permit that (these matters) become a source of our division, especially in the period of crisis," he said.

The region has been battered by the global economic crisis hitting the budding economies of the formerly communist central and eastern Europe particularly hard. Measures to tackle the recession, including cuts in the welfare benefits and salaries have provoked widespread protests from Latvia to the Balkans.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said the global economic crisis remained "the most fundamental challenge," requiring multilateral cooperation.

"We must focus on the necessity to keep social balance and cohesion in our own societies. There's a special responsibility to protect the poorer and weaker," he said.

Key region in securing Europe's energy supplies

Apart from the economic woes of the global economic crisis, the summit's focus has been on energy issues. The region suffered severe shortages of heating gas last winter, when a dispute over payments between Russia and Ukraine saw supplies cut, particularly to Bosnia, Bulgaria and Serbia.

Serbian President Boris Tadic pointed out that Serbia and other western Balkan states were key to securing energy and stability for the rest of Europe.

"Our region is becoming an energy bridge leading to consumers in other parts of Europe. I am sure that we are going to succeed in this if we pursue a common energy policy."

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Ukrainian leader Victor Yushchenko joined the call for better distribution and diversification of energy resources.

Yushchenko urged European countries to adopt a "common policy and a common gas market" to minimize the risk of another gas crisis in the future.

The meeting brought together presidents from 14 countries - Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine - for the 16th time.

Source: Deutsche Welle

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Klitschko To Fight At 60,000 Seat Venue

BERLIN, Germany -- When Vladimir Klitschko steps into the ring against Ruslan Chagaev at Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday, it will be in front of the largest boxing audience in Germany since Max Schmeling fought in the 1930s.

Heavyweight boxing champions Wladimir Klitschko from the Ukraine (L), and Ruslan Chagaev from Uzbekistan (R), pose for the photographers during the official weigh-in in Dortmund on June 19. They will fight in Gelsenkirchen on June 20.

Action inside the ropes, however, might not live up to the hype.

Klitschko, the IBF and WBO heavyweight champion, was supposed to be fighting David Haye to settle a running verbal feud. But Haye bowed out earlier this month, saying he had injured his back.

Haye asked to reschedule the fight in July, but Klitschko wanted to keep the date and the 60,000-seat sellout - the biggest boxing crowd in Germany since Schmeling fought Adolf Heuser in front of 70,000 people in Stuttgart on June 2, 1939.

"It's a chance that's coming around for the first time in my entire sporting career," the 33-year-old Ukrainian said. "I'm incredibly excited about the 60,000 fans."

Chagaev, 30, was named the WBA's "champion in recess" in 2008 after withdrawing from two fights against Nikolai Valuev. After a third bout between the two scheduled for last month in Helsinki was cancelled due to Hepatitis-B antigens being found in Chagaev's blood, the WBA announced Valuev as the rightful champion and put Chagaev's honorary title "under review."

As of Friday, the WBA had not clarified whether Klitschko (52-3) will fight for a piece of that title on top of defending his belts.

Michael Ehnert, the doctor for Universum, which is promoting Saturday's fight, said Chagaev is fit to fight in Germany.

"Since getting Hepatitis B many years ago, Ruslan is simply a carrier of Hepatitis-B antigens. This has not led to an infection," Ehnert said.

Klitschko has said he has been immunized against Hepatitis B and is not worried about the fight.

In February, Chagaev (25-0 with one draw) won a technical decision over Carl Davis Drumond in Rostock, Germany. It was the Uzbekistan-born boxer's first fight in more than a year.

Source: AP

European Union: Ukraine Needs Help To Avert New Gas Crisis

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union will not help Ukraine pay for Russian gas imports but international financial institutions may help avert a looming crisis, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso listens to questions during a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels, June 19.

"That is not our responsibility, I should make that clear," Barroso told reporters when asked about EU help at a summit of leaders on Friday.

Barroso warned heads of state that Ukraine's financial difficulties might lead to Russia cutting off gas supplies next month, including gas intended for transit to Europe, just as it did in January during a mid-winter pricing dispute.

"There is the risk of another major gas crisis in weeks," he later told reporters.

Russia supplies about 25 percent of EU gas consumption and about 80 percent of those supplies flow to Europe through Ukraine's pipeline network.

Barroso told leaders he spoke on Thursday with international agencies including the International Monetary Fund and European gas companies to find a way through the impasse.

"IFIs (International Financial Institutions) and the European gas companies said they were willing... to help provide stop-gap funding," he said, according to speaking notes seen by Reuters.

Separately, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said individual consumers were paying 85 percent of their gas bills but local energy and utility companies were paying no more than 30 percent, aggravating the debts of state gas company Naftogaz.

"How can the government and Naftogaz do conjuring tricks in settling accounts with Russia for gas when within the country there are 26 billion hryvnias ($3.4 billion) in debts for gas?" she told local officials in Ukraine.

"That is the total which is to be paid for gas which we consume for the whole year and the figure is rising every month, and turning into a national tragedy."

Naftogaz says it will struggle to pay future bills and needs to raise credits worth about $4.2 billion, which it hopes will come from European banks.

But it also says large-scale borrowing can be avoided if European gas companies buy gas from Russia and store it in Ukraine to help avert a new crisis.

German utility RWE expressed interest in Ukraine's idea and said it had put proposals on the table. But Germany's biggest gas company, E.ON Ruhrgas, ruled such plans out.

European industry group Eurogas said it was still consulting its members and could not yet gauge their response.

Source: Kyiv Post

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nigeria 'Wrong' To Seize Weapons

LONDON, UK -- The owners of a Ukrainian aircraft seized in northern Nigeria with a cargo of weapons say the authorities there have no reason to hold it. Nigerian officials say they found 18 crates of weapons on board the plane bound for Equatorial Guinea.


The Ukrainian company told Russian news agency Itar-Tass the aeroplane landed in Kano city to refuel and had all the correct permits and documents.

It was initially reported that the aircraft had made an emergency landing.

The plane was flying from Croatia and Ukrainian arms export agency Ukrspetseksport said the cargo did not belong to Ukraine.

"There were all [the] permits for this flight, including from the Nigerian authorities. There were no violations regarding either the plane or the cargo, or the documents," Meridian Director-General Mykola Minyaylo was quoted as saying.

"The plane was flying from Zagreb to Equatorial Guinea and landed in Nigeria to refuel."

The seven-member crew had had their passports seized but were in good physical condition, he said.

The BBC's Mustafa Mohamed in Kano says the aircraft has been placed under guard, and security forces are continuing their investigations.

Attack on palace

Earlier this year, the authorities in Equatorial Guinea arrested a number of people in connection with an attack on the presidential palace in the capital, Malabo.

A the time of the incident, in February, state radio in Equatorial Guinea said that those detained had been operating with members of a militant group based in Nigeria's Niger Delta region.

It said some of those who attacked the palace had been killed or wounded.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) denied involvement.

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema later dismissed several government ministers.

The president has been in power in the oil-rich former Spanish colony since seizing power in a coup in 1979.

His government has long been accused of human rights abuses and of suppressing political opposition.

Last year, a former British army officer, Simon Mann, was sentenced to 34 years in jail for plotting to overthrow him in 2004.

Source: BBC News

Are Ukrainian Journalists Missing The Real Story?

KIEV, Ukraine — Merely saying the forest’s name — Bykivnya — can cause strong emotions for millions of Ukrainians. This is where the secret police of Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin buried 100,000 of their victims between 1937 and 1941 in a mass grave northeast of Kiev.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, right, takes part in a ceremony for the re-burial of Soviet prisoners of war.

President Victor Yushchenko did not mince words during his recent speech there, on Ukraine’s Day of Remembrance for Victims of Political Repression.

“Here, at Bykivnya, Stalin and his monstrous hangmen killed the bloom of Ukraine. There is no forgiveness and there will be none,” he told several thousand mourners and, of course, Ukrainian journalists.

The mourners wept, while processing through the site behind Orthodox clergy who carried liturgical banners containing iconic images of Jesus and Mary.

“Because of the national symbolism of this ceremony, the priests there may not be important,” said Victor Yelensky, a sociologist of religion associated with the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences.

“But the priests have to be there because this is Ukraine and this is a ceremony that is about a great tragedy in the history of Ukraine.

“So the priests are there. It is part ... of a civil religion.”

This is where the story gets complicated. In the Ukrainian media, photographs and video images showed the clergy, with their dramatic banners and colorful vestments. However, in their reporting, journalists never mentioned what the clergy said or did.

Mainstream media reports also failed to mention which Orthodoxy body or bodies were represented. This is an important gap because of the tense and complicated nature of the religious marketplace in this historically Eastern Orthodox culture.

It would have been big news, for example, if clergy from the giant Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) — with direct ties to Moscow — had taken part in a ceremony that featured Yushchenko, who, as usual, aimed angry words to the north.

But what if the clergy were exclusively from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate), born after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 and linked to declarations of Ukrainian independence? What if there were also clergy from a third body, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, born early in the 20th century?

A rite featuring clergy from one or both of these newer churches also would have been symbolic. After all, these days almost anything can create tensions between Ukraine and Russia, from natural gas prices to efforts to emphasize the Ukrainian language, from exhibits of uniquely Ukrainian art to decisions about which statues are torn down or which are erected.

But it’s hard for Ukrainian journalists to ask these kinds of questions and print what they learn when people answer them, according to a circle of journalists — secular and religious — at a Kiev forum last week focusing on trends in religion news in their nation. I was one of the speakers, along with another colleague from the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life.

As in America, Ukrainian journalists often assume that politics is the only faith that matters in life. The journalists in Kiev also said that they struggle to escape Soviet-era rules stating that religion was bad, irrelevant or, at best, merely private. Many journalists lack historical knowledge required to do accurate coverage of religion, while others do not care, because they shun organized religion.

“Many would say that, if we do not play the violin, we really should not attempt to comment on how others play the violin,” said Yuri Makarov, editor in chief of Ukrainian Week, speaking through a translator.

This blind spot is unfortunate, because Ukrainian journalists may have missed a crucial piece of the Bykivnya story, said Yelensky. It’s hard to understand the soul of Ukraine without grasping the power of religion.

“For many Orthodox people in western Ukraine, it is simply unacceptable to live in any way under the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, for many Orthodox in eastern Ukraine, it is simply unacceptable to not to be associated and in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. In the middle are places like Kiev. ...

“This is a division that is inside Ukrainian society. Is it based on religion? No. Is religion right there in the heart of it? Yes.”

Source: The Houston Chronicle

Ukraine: The Politics Of Hairstyle

KIEV, UKRAINE – It was one of the icons of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution”: Yulia Tymoshenko’s blond braid, coiled around her head like a crown, hit news pages the world over as she stood defiantly alongside Viktor Yushchenko at Independence Square in Kiev in 2004 to protest a rigged presidential vote.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko without her signature braid.

The traditional Ukrainian braid became a permanent feature atop Ms. Tymoshenko’s head in the run-up to the elections, underlining her patriotic credentials and appeal in the nationally minded western part of the country.

It soon became the world’s most famous political hairstyle and a central part of her image as the Orange Princess.

So when Tymoshenko, now Ukraine’s prime minister, turned up to a cabinet meeting last month with her hair combed back into a modest bun, tongues were set wagging.

“No supermodel or Hollywood actress can create such a furor over a change of hairstyles as Tymoshenko,” wrote leading news magazine Korrespondent. “Ministers, journalists, and even political analysts forgot about the agenda and started guessing what had prompted her to change her image.”

With the next presidential election approaching in January, was she trying to soften her patriotic image in an effort to appeal to Russia-friendly voters in the east and south of Ukraine? After all, she has recently been courting closer relations with the Kremlin.

Or perhaps this was an “anticrisis” hairstyle, an attempt to distract from questions about her handling of Ukraine’s significant economic woes or to present a more austere, professional image.

For her part, Tymoshenko pleaded with reporters not to read anything into her new hairdo. “A normal woman is simply obliged sometimes to change her image. I, too, continually try to be a normal woman. Unfortunately, work gets in the way.”

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nigeria: Weapons-Laden Plane, From Ukraine, Caught In Kano

KANO, Nigeria -- A cargo plane fully loaded with arms and ammunition was intercepted by security operatives at the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano in the early of yesterday. The plane and its four crew members are now detained at the Nigeria Air Force wing of the airport.


Sources said there were eight heavy crates of various weapons and ammunition on board the plane, thought to include rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, mortars and howitzers.

Daily Trust learnt that the plane, which arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday night from the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, was heading for the West African country of Guinea-Bissau, and it stopped over in Kano at about 4:00am to refuel.

The plane, with registration number UR-CAK, believed to be of Russian make, was being heavily guarded by fierce-looking soldiers at the time of filing in this report. A source told Daily Trust that the crew members were locked up in the office of the Airforce Commandant at the airport and were being interrogated by military authorities.

Apart from the armed soldiers guarding the aircraft, nobody was seen around the plane as there was an order by the airport commandant that movement of civilians and airport staff around the plane should be restricted for security reasons. Curious journalists who dashed to the airport were turned back by security operatives at the entry point into the airport tarmac.

Daily Trust learnt that the Guinea-Bissau-bound cargo plane ran out of luck after refueling when officials of the Nigeria Customs and Immigration Services noticed some defects in the information supplied by the crew in the flight discharge form.

The security operatives, it was also gathered, became suspicious of the crew's inability to declare in the form what the cargo plane was carrying, and therefore insisted that they must know the contents.

Under intense interrogation, the crew reportedly broke down and confessed that the plane was heading for Guinea-Bissau with arms and ammunition from Ukraine.

Officials of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other airport security operatives were all reluctant to speak on the matter yesterday, for what they described as "sensitive security issue".

FAAN's Deputy Director of Public Affairs Malam Ibrahim Shawai confirmed the interception of the plane, but he could not say much on the matter, since everything about it had now been transferred to the airport commandant for thorough military investigation as it involves arms and ammunition.

The airport commandant, Group Captain U. Adagbo, could not be found in his office when our reporter went there. Also scores of gun-totting soldiers right in front of the office who refused this reporter entry said the commandant did not have a second-in-command, when our reporter asked to see his deputy.

Kano Manager of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Mr. N.R. Odibikuma also confirmed the plane's detention, saying he would not discuss the matter any further because of its diplomatic implication. He however said everything would be known only upon completion of investigation by military authorities.

When Daily Trust called the Kano State Director of State Security Service (SSS) Bello Tukur Bakori for comments, he claimed ignorance of the whole matter, saying he was in Kebbi State for an official assignment. The same response was received from the police and Customs Service as their public image-makers said their bosses were all in Abuja for official engagements.

Nigeria Air Force's Director of Information Group Capt Sadiq Shehu also declined to comment, saying the Airforce would investigate the report. However, a source at Airforce Headquarters in Abuja confirmed to Daily Trust that a plane was actually detained in Kano, and Air Policemen had waded in to interrogate the crew members. The source said even though the crewmen claimed that they were going to Guinea-Bissau, there were suspicions that they were gun-running for Niger Delta militants.

Source: Africa Daily Trust

EU Ministers Warn Crisis-Hit Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The foreign ministers of Germany and Poland warned Ukraine Wednesday to end its chronic political feuding in order to receive more international assistance for its crisis-battered economy.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (R) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) meet in Kiev. The foreign ministers of Germany and Poland warned Ukraine Wednesday to end its chronic political feuding in order to receive more international assistance for its crisis-battered economy.

The unusual joint visit by Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski came as the European Union and Russia compete for influence in Ukraine, which saw its old pro-Moscow elite swept from power in 2004.

Steinmeier said Berlin and Warsaw were "particularly concerned" about Ukraine -- which has borders with four EU states as well as Russia -- as it faces a double-barrelled political and economic crisis.

"A political crisis clearly because the blockade in parliament and between the president and the government has dragged on so long, and of course an economic crisis that has hit Ukraine particularly hard," he told reporters.

The ministers, who arrived aboard a German air force plane, held talks with President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich, who are locked in a bitter power struggle.

Steinmeier and Sikorski said they hoped to persuade Ukraine's leaders to try to break their impasse to ensure the flow of international economic assistance needed for basic services including Russian gas.

The global economic crisis has delivered a body blow to Ukraine, with the World Bank forecasting a nine-percent contraction this year and production of its export-orientated industry in freefall.

It is depending on a 16.4-billion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to keep its economy afloat.

But the IMF has set conditions for Ukraine to qualify for the next, 2.8-billion-dollar tranche of the loan including instituting a measure of stability in its struggling bank sector.

"Everything is linked to everything else," Steinmeier said.

"We respect the political rivalry that every democracy needs," said Steinmeier, who is challenging Chancellor Angela Merkel in September general elections.

But he said "destructive" jockeying for power would block an IMF deal.

Diplomatic sources said Yushchenko regretted the current political stalemate was hindering a deal with the IMF, while Yanukovich said any lasting resolution of the gas dispute would require dialogue with Russia.

The EU -- which receives a quarter one-quarter of its gas from Russia, most of it piped across Ukraine -- is also deeply concerned about repeated disruptions of its supply.

Ukraine was forced to tap into its reserves this month to pay a Russian gas bill, with a summer of supply interruptions to Europe from a new Kiev-Moscow gas crisis still a real threat.

Tymoshenko said Tuesday that Ukraine wanted to borrow four billion dollars (2.9 billion euros) from European banks to pay for Russian gas to refill its storage facilities.

Russia, meanwhile, has condemned EU moves to bolster ties with countries it sees in its sphere of influence, but has urged the EU to come up with a loan for Kiev to pay for its gas.

But Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday showed Moscow was prepared to use its capacities, saying that Russia has already paid Ukraine 2.2 billion dollars for its 2009 gas transit fees to Europe.

"I hope very much that discipline within the framework of existing contracts will be maintained by both sides and in the future," he added, saying the pre-payment of the sum essentially amounted to a loan.

Steinmeier and Sikorski said Poland and Germany aimed to build on the "Eastern Partnership" extended to Ukraine and five other ex-Soviet republics by the EU in May, which offers financial incentives for crucial reforms.

Sikorski also announced a new Ukrainian-Polish agreement on opening border traffic that will come into force July 1.

"The free movement of people is important to the Eastern Partnership and we want to be helpful to the Ukrainians in that way as well," he said.

Source: AFP

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ukraine Minister Resigns Over Euro-2012 Preparations

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's transport minister resigned on Wednesday, saying Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was blocking funds needed to prepare for the Euro-2012 football championships.

Yosip Vinsky, Ukraine's transport minister who resigned on Wednesday.

Yosip Vinsky, who rivals say may run against Tymoshenko in a presidential election early next year, said the government was not doing enough to prepare for Europe's top international football competition, which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland.

"The prime minister is blocking ... the deployment of sufficient resources for the construction of infrastructure for the Euro-2012 championships," Vinsky said, according to quotes provided by his press service to announce his resignation.

The preparations were one of a series of political and policy disagreements with Tymoshenko that forced him to resign, Vinsky said.

UEFA president Michel Platini last month warned the Euro-2012 final could be moved to Warsaw if problems with Kiev's main stadium, airport and transport infrastructure were not resolved.

Vinsky is the fourth minister to leave the government this year amid political turmoil in the run up to next year's presidential election.

Source: Yahoo News

Russia Has Paid Ukraine Total Gas Transit Fees For 2009 - Putin

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has already paid Ukraine in full for its 2009 gas transit fees, a payment that effectively amounts to a huge loan to the crisis-battered country, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

"We pre-paid our Ukrainian partners for the transit of our gas to Europe to the start of next year, 2010, inclusive. Essentially this is a credit of $2.2 billion," he said, quoted by Interfax news agency.

"These are very significant resources which our Ukraine partners have effectively received from Russia," Putin said at a meeting with Alexei Miller, chief executive of Russian state-controlled gas giant OAO Gazprom (GAZP.RS).

"I hope very much that discipline within the framework of existing contracts will be maintained by both sides and in the future," he added.

Russia has warned repeatedly that Ukraine - which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis - will have trouble paying its natural gas bills and that any failure to pay could trigger a repeat of the January gas crisis.

Ukraine says it has the money to pay its bills, and it avoided a looming crisis earlier this month when it paid its May gas bill. However, there is widespread doubt about whether Kiev can pay its next gas bill for June.

In the January gas crisis, a bitter price dispute between Moscow and Kiev caused Gazprom to cut gas supplies to Ukraine, leaving more than a dozen European countries without Russian gas in the middle of winter.

Some 80% of Russian gas exports to the European Union pass through Ukraine.

Source: AFP

Monday, June 15, 2009

Heated Ukraine Polls Ahead

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is readying itself for a fiercely competitive presidential election after the collapse of a proposed coalition deal between the two largest parties that would have redrawn political boundaries.


The failed talks leave unresolved for now long-running debates on changing the constitution to make Ukraine easier to govern after 4 1/2 years of turmoil since the "Orange Revolution" swept pro-Western politicians to power.

How to resolve that depends largely on who wins the election, with the race's two frontrunners the chief players in the failed deal - Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-premier Viktor Yanukovich.

But, unlike in many former Soviet republics, the result of the contest-likely to take place in January - is far from predictable given a record of hard-fought and spirited, though violence-free, campaigns. "We are heading into a mad election campaign similar to Russian roulette, where no one knows who will win or lose," said Viktor Nebozhenko of the Ukrainian Barometer think tank.

After the election, constitutional change will again be raised. No one can run the country on his own and the oligarchs will force politicians to reach a deal. If Tymoshenko and Yanukovich can't do this, it will be done without them." Yanukovich leads polls with over 20 percent support. Tymoshenko is close behind on 15 percent, with a former speaker of parliament, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, third on 12 percent.

President Viktor Yushchenko, the prime minister's estranged ally from the revolution, trails in single figures. A deal had been mooted off and on for months between Tymoshenko and Yanukovich despite their long-running, public hostility to each other dating from well before the 2004 mass "orange" protests against election fraud when they stood on opposing sides.

It was uncertain how Moscow would have seen the deal as it has exploited constant turmoil in Ukraine. The European Union has long called for stability on its eastern border.

The accord was based on a coalition with 300 seats in the 450-seat parliament, enough to change the constitution and have the president elected by the assembly rather than by popular vote. Yanukovich would have become president and Tymoshenko would have remained premier, with the two forces dividing up key jobs.

The deal's collapse prompted the sort of recriminations that have tainted politics since Yushchenko took office in the aftermath of the 2004 mass protests promising quick reforms to bring Ukraine out of Russia's shadow and closer to the West. "What we saw was the triumph of what has become the typical logic of mistrust, suspicion and egoistic interests in Ukrainian politics," said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta think tank. "Tymoshenko and Yanukovich can now present constitutional reform as a bargaining chip in the campaign.

The deal's proponents saw a cure for the paralysis of endless rows, most pitting Tymoshenko against Yushchenko, as the financial crisis sent industrial production plunging by a third. It was also promoted as a historic chance to overcome hostility between nationalist western Ukraine, where Tymoshenko gets most of her backing, and the Russian-speaking industrial east, Yanukovich's main support base.

In the end, Yanukovich backed out, saying he could not envisage a president unelected by voters. Tymoshenko accused him of squandering a final chance for Ukrainian unity.

Yushchenko, openly derided by most Ukrainians, said he had helped counter the deal amounting to a "constitutional coup." But even with the deal pronounced dead, officials from both have suggested they could keep talking.

Yanukovich, who was backed by Moscow, was the big loser in the "orange" upheavals. Initially declared the winner of the rigged 2004 presidential poll, he lost to Yushchenko in a rerun ordered by the courts.

The deal to proceed with the new election was underpinned by heated parliamentary debate which overhauled the constitution by trimming the president's powers at the height of the protests.

All politicians agree a new revision of some sort is needed. Parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who played a key role in resolving the deadlock in 2004, said a consensus would have to be found after the election. "The main issue lies in how to preserve the country after the presidential campaign is over so that it does not disintegrate in the process of political confrontation."

Source: Kuwait Times