Monday, November 30, 2009

Who Won In Ukraine? Bandits

LONDON, England -- As Ukraine approaches its first presidential election since the Orange revolution in 2004, disappointment runs deep. A recent survey shows that 75% of Ukrainians believe the leaders of the street protests, which overturned a rigged ballot and catapulted Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency, used it for their own ends and betrayed their supporters.

The Orange revolution aim of a democratic, 'western' economy has failed; the losers are the Ukrainian people.

One dominant interpretation of the "failure" of the Orange revolution is as the failure of the west. This view can be traced back to the erroneous idea (propagated by Russia) that the Orange revolution was actually created by the west. In this interpretation, Ukraine became "free" in 2004 from the Russian yoke – the west "won".

The subsequent failure of Ukraine to join NATO, make significant progress on European Union membership or develop European-style institutions and leadership, led one commentator, Simon Tisdall, to declare that, five years on, "in a sense, [Russian prime minister Vladimir] Putin has won".

But the Orange revolution was not primarily about defining Ukraine's future as with the west or with Russia, about leaving Russia's sphere of influence, and joining the west's (again, how Russia interpreted it).

It was about defining Ukraine's aspirations and values as western (free and fair elections, rule of law, a balanced media, limited corruption, diversified market economy) as opposed to Russian (rigged elections, legal anarchy, controlled media, rampant corruption, crony state capitalism).

If the west didn't "win" Ukraine in 2004, Putin cannot "win" it back now. The real failure of the Orange revolution, therefore, lies in the inability of its leaders to push through reforms to build a state corresponding to the western values to which the protestors aspired.

It is this dynamic that is driving the candidates' election campaigns this time round. Most candidates are focusing on economic and social issues, as well as promising strong leadership to end the "chaos" of the past five years.

The candidate who received open support from Moscow in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, now leads in polls. This doesn't reflect a dramatic shift in voters' sympathy toward Russia, but is an indictment of the domestic failures of the Orange leaders. In fact, Yanukovych hardly mentions geopolitical issues in his campaigning, and has even called for "balanced" relations with Russia and the EU.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's former ally turned bitter foe and the other leading contender in for the ballot alongside Yanukovych, says she is building "pragmatic" relations with Russia, but is also a vocal supporter of Ukraine's European integration.

If we do talk about "winners" and "losers" in the Orange revolution, the most obvious victory in the eyes of Ukrainians has gone to the "bandits" who have not been sent to jail, as Yushchenko promised.

Politicians, big businessmen (often one and the same) and government bureaucrats, remain "untouchables", as one recent television series (Ukrainian) dubbed them. They drive between parliament and their mansions in blacked-out Mercedes, running over pedestrians.

They embezzle state funds and hide behind political protection. They acquire state land and fence off beaches for their own personal use. Parliamentary deputies have immunity from prosecution, and when in one case this year it was lifted, the deputy – the prime suspect in a murder case – conveniently managed to get away before parliament passed the decision.

The anger towards politicians in Ukraine makes Britain's attitude towards MPs look cuddly. One minor candidate for the presidency has a game on his website where you can shoot characters who bear a remarkable likeness to the country's top politicians. Nothing captures the mood better than the man who has changed his surname to "Againstall" and is running for president.

This is the result of the Orange revolution – no one believes that any politician can make a positive difference to their lives. The real loser is not the west; it is the Ukrainian people.

Source: Guardian UK

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Europe's Post-Soviet Greening - Gains And Failures

DNIPRODZERZHYNSK, Ukraine -- Twenty years ago, when the Iron Curtain came down, the world gagged in horror as it witnessed firsthand the ravages inflicted on nature by the Soviet industrial machine.

This Oct. 11, 2009 photo shows smokestacks in Dniprodzershynsk, Ukraine. Today, there are two segments of Eastern Europe, one that has been largely cleaned up due to a massive infusion of Western funds and the prospect of EU membership; another that still looks as though the commissars never left.

Throughout the crumbling communist empire, sewage and chemicals clogged rivers; industrial smog choked cities; radiation seeped through the soil; open pit mines scarred green valleys. It was hard to measure how bad it was and still is: The focus was more on production quotas than environmental data.

Today, Europe has two easts — one that has been largely cleaned up with the help of a massive infusion of Western funds and the prospect of membership in the prosperous European Union; another that still looks as though the commissars never left.

The contrasting story lines are written in the ripple and flow of two rivers.

Drifting along Ukraine's Dnieper River, past this one-time powerhouse of Soviet rule, requires slicing through clouds of black and orange exhaust from a metallurgical plant.

Over a hill, passengers may catch a whiff of a burning garbage dump. Nearby fields are fenced off by barbed wire with signs warning of radioactivity. Farther along, the cruise passes the world's third largest nuclear power station.

Upstream from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, the Dnieper picks up water from the Pripyat River, whose sediment is still laced with radioactive caesium-137 from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

To the southwest, in countries that have joined the EU, another river, the Danube, is bouncing back. Pleasure boats sail past public bathing areas and people of dozens of nationalities stroll down esplanades alongside a glittering waterway that inspired the music of Johann Strauss. Protected woods and wetlands are being extended along its meandering course.

In 1989 the stretch of Danube that flowed through the communist countries was like the Dnieper — an ecological disaster of epic proportions. Oil slicks glistened in rainbow colors on the water's surface. Long stretches were empty of fish, and stinking algae proliferated along the banks. Worse than the visible pollution was the insidious invasion of microcontaminants that poisoned the ecosystem.

But at the intersection of geography and history lie insights into the rivers' contrasting fates.

Originating in Russia and ending in the Black Sea, the Dnieper flows south through Belarus, cutting southeast across Ukraine, countries that have remained, in varying degrees, almost umbilically tethered over the past 20 years to the might of the Kremlin.

The Danube, on the other hand, traces a triumphant march through the European Union's eastward expansion, starting in traditional EU heavyweight Germany and flowing through or forming the border of new member states — Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

The river ambles 2,857 kilometers (1,775 miles) from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. Some 83 million people in 19 countries live in its basin.

Five years after the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, most of the countries sharing the Danube signed a convention to manage the river, its tributaries, the basin and the ground sources. It was one of the iconic projects in a broader mission among Western powers to make billions of dollars available for a massive cleanup of eastern Europe.

In five years of peak action from 2000, the Danube countries spent $3.5 billion building wastewater treatment plants in hundreds of towns and villages along the river and its 26 major tributaries. They spent $500 million more restoring wetlands and cleaning industrial spillage and agricultural runoff befouling the water.

Chemicals that feed plant-choking algae and threaten human health have dramatically declined since 1989, although their levels remain far higher than in 1950, before the industrial buildup and growth of riverside cities.

Along with direct Western aid, many poor ex-Soviet-bloc countries had a huge incentive to throw themselves into the region's cleanup: EU membership. Racing to meet the bloc's environmental standards, they put scrubbers into coal-fired plants, built water purification stations and capped emissions that had been returning to Earth as acid rain.

It was a monumental task.

One area known as the Black Triangle at the junction of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic was notorious. A concentration of coal mines and heavy industry suffocated the region under industrial ash and gas.

Some 80 million tons of lignite, or brown coal, were burned annually, pouring 3 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the air that caused chronic breathing ailments, higher cancer rates, and heart and immunity problems. Satellite images showed half the pine forests in the surrounding hills disappeared between 1972 and 1989.

With help from the EU, the three countries mothballed factories, switched to cleaner fuels, and installed new technologies in the area, about the size of Maryland or Belgium. Within a decade, sulfur dioxide emissions fell 91 percent, nitrogen oxide fell 78 percent and solid particles dropped 96 percent, according to the UN Environment Program.

For the Danube, the cleanup was more than just an environmental project. The Danube Convention changed mindsets, breaking down barriers between former enemies, forcing countries and riverside populations to work together across previously hostile borders.

"The Danube is a living river that is bound up with the culture and the peoples who live there," says Philip Weller, the commission's executive secretary.

"It is not a wild river, in the sense of salmon jumping or white water," Weller said. "It is the lifeblood, the circulation system" that connects the richest part of Europe in western Germany to the poorest in Ukraine and Moldova.

The river is still not pristine, but "over the past 20 years much has changed for the better," said Andreas Beckmann of the World Wildlife Fund. After 150 years of abuse and the loss of 80 percent of the river's wetlands, "the Danube has significantly recovered."

With the fund's support, dikes were torn down and severed river systems were reconnected, restoring 50,000 hectares (123,000 acres) or one-fifth of the retrievable wetlands, Beckmann says.

Still, the river bears irreparable scars from the Soviet era.

Romania's Iron Gate dams and hydroelectric stations cannot be dismantled, forever blocking the migration route of the majestic sturgeon. Two of the five sturgeon species native to the Danube have virtually disappeared, though efforts are on to revive stocks in the lower Danube.

Economic progress brings modern threats: more packaging, more waste, more household detergents containing phosphorous that stimulate river-choking algae.

Sergei Rudenko, a teacher at a vocational school in Dniprodzerzhynsk, has been throwing a fishing line into the Dnieper for 50 years. Springing from the mountains of central Russia, the 2,285-km (1,420-mile) river was once rich at this spot in eastern Ukraine with perch, carp and bream.

Now its yield is miserly, he says.

"The Dnieper is destroyed," Rudenko said, casting his line from a highway bridge, from which the horizon is obscured by smoke from the metallurgical plant. "The fishing is not like in earlier times. My father always brought home many fish, many bream, and now there is none."

Dniprodzerzhynsk, a name that combines the river with that of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Bolshevik secret police, once was so crucial to the Soviet economy that it was closed to outsiders. With 250,000 people, it has 60 factories, some looming over the city in a permanent haze.

On the outskirts of town eight fields are fenced off with barbed wire, hung with yellow triangles warning of radioactivity. Nuclear waste was dumped here many years ago. Uniformed officers patrol the area, and stopped two Associated Press journalists to ask why they were there.

Next to a chemical plant is the city dump, where three decades worth of garbage is now a steaming landfill 30 meters (100 feet) deep. Dozens of trucks arrive daily, dropping more refuse into the ravine, cut through by a stinking scum-filled stream.

"When the wind is from there, I can't breathe," said Gregori Timoshenko, a 72-year-old waste site employee, nodding toward the fresh garbage. He shrugs when asked if working in such a polluted place affects his health. "I have lived my life, I have nothing to lose."

Not far away, Evgen Kolishevsky of the Voice of Nature, a local environmental group, takes a reporter to the foot a mountainous slag heap, below which runs the Konoplyanka river that feeds into the Dnieper. "This is the waste from chemical enterprises and of processing and enrichment of uranium," he said.

"Dniprodzerzhynsk is one of the most contaminated cities in Europe," he said, shaking his head.

As world attention increasingly focuses on climate change, a visit to Ukraine is a jolting reminder that the old environmental problems of air pollution, dirty water and untreated waste still exact a devastating toll.

The Ukrainian steppe, once the industrial engine for the Soviet empire, reveals a skyline of artificial landmarks: a picket fence of smokestacks and huge slag heaps looking like flat-topped volcanic hills in the distance.

At the end of its journey, the Dnieper enters the only part of the Black Sea that suffers from "anthropogenic hypoxia," a chronic lack of oxygen caused by man-made pollution afflicting 50,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles) of water — strangling fish and plant life.

Irina Schevchenko, a journalist and director of the local voluntary organization Vita, stands at the foot of one mountain of chemical ash, taller than any building in the eastern town of Gorlovka. In the 1970s, the state-owned chemical plant began dumping its waste at the edge of a nature reserve. Now, burned out tree stumps and a layer of steel-gray mud separate the dump from the woods.

In summer, smoke from chemical evaporation rises from the mound, said Schevchenko. "The wind takes it to the fields, to the houses of the people. When it rains ... it goes into these streams and gets into the underground currents. As a result, the concentration of chemicals in the soil and in the air of Gorlovka is twice as high as normal."

Victor Lyapin, a local health official, acknowledges the damaging effects.

"The first mistake of the Soviet Union," he said, "was to put factories and people shoulder to shoulder."

Source: AP

Justice For Victims Of Former Nazi SS Guard John Demjanjuk?

MUNICH, Germany -- It has taken more than 65 years, but justice could at last be about to catch up with former SS guard John Demjanjuk over the murder of 27,900 death camp victims.

John Demjanjuk is accused of helping to kill 28,000 Jews in a death camp. Now at 89 he finally faces justice.

In what may be the final trial of a Nazi brute, the 89-year-old Ukrainian will step into a Munich court on Monday to answer charges that he took part in an extermination programme at Sobibor in Poland.

And he will come face to face with one of the lucky few who survived the camp where 250,000 people died.

Thomas Blatt, whose younger brother and parents were killed at Sobibor, has travelled from his home in America to look into the eyes of the man he is certain played no small part in their deaths.

When the 88-year-old steps into the court, the awful memories of how his family were wiped out will flood back.

The acrid smell of smoke billowing from the human incinerators, images of terrified children being forced at gunpoint to the gas chambers and the stench of despair.

Thomas said: "It is important to hear the testimony of those times, for young people to truly know the meaning of the hell on earth that was Sobibor. The stink of carbon monoxide, the naked little children going to be gassed, the flames that licked out of the furnace chimney as all that you knew and loved evaporated before your eyes.

"Demjanjuk is not an old man who deserves pity but who should come to terms with what he did."

Former Red Army soldier Demjanjuk will also have to face relatives of the victims who were disposed of in a fashion never believed possible by human beings.

Dutchman David van Huiden's family were murdered at Sobibor. When the SS arrived to drag his relatives to the camp on June 29, 1943, he escaped because he was walking his dog. Prosecutors say Demjanjuk was at Sobibor at the time.

David said: "My family couldn't defend itself.

Demjanjuk must have also known the value of a human life. If he's guilty, then he should receive the most severe possible punishment.

"I have been to Sobibor, I have read about it. People who were not utilised to help in the extermination programme had roughly one hour of life left to them after arrival."

Kurt Gutmann will also give testimony. He fled Germany as a boy, shortly before the outbreak of war. But he left behind his mother Jeanette and his brother Hans who were killed at Sobibor, while Demjanjuk was there.

The 82-year-old said: "I have faith in the German justice system. I am convinced they will find him guilty and make sure that he spends the remainder of his days in jail."

Kurt is one of 35 co-plaintiffs - the largest number ever assembled for a war crimes trial - who will be allowed to tell how their loved ones died at the camp.

Demjanjuk, who moved to the US after the war, was traced by Nazi hunters after they identified him as an SS guard in a photo of the Treblinka death camp. He was deported to Israel in 1986, found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. But he was cleared in 1993 after an appeal court ruled he was not the guard in question.

Holocaust expert Hans Mueller said any punishment for Demjanjuk is "immaterial".

But he added: "It is important for younger people to see what happened and to make sure it never happens again.

"The souls of the six million dead of the Nazi holocaust require, in fact, deserve, nothing less."

The evidence

The Trawniki ID card has been subjected to the most intensive and state-of-the-art tests to gauge its validity. It has passed all those forensic tests.

Not only that, the prosecutors have a whole "deck" of Trawniki cards, each one authentic, each one the same as Demjanjuk's except for the name and the photo. The flaws on Demjanjuk's cards are mirrored in each of the other ones.

A trawl through Nazi archives in the former East Germany shows several references to Demjanjuk having been trained for a while at the Flossenburg concentration camp after spending nearly four months in Sobibor in 1943.

Demjanjuk may have hoped that the fog of war would have covered his traces. But at least two transfer orders, as well as other significant documents, have been identified as referring to him.

Finally, the slip on his application to enter the US that made him put down the hell on earth of Poland's Sobibor concentration camp as the place where he came from.

From car plant to courtroom

Demjanjuk made his first mistake the minute he arrived in America in 1952 when he put Isaeli as his hometown on his immigration card.

It was a strange choice that would later come back to haunt him as it appeared on few maps and was barely even heard of.

With his family he settled in Ohio, working at a Ford car plant before it all went wrong.

In 1977, the Justice Department wanted to revoke his citizenship for lying on his immigration form.

Demjanjuk was linked by Holocaust survivors to the Treblinka death camp, where one million people were killed.

They claimed he was Ivan the Terrible - a guard who mutilated women and babies.

Demjanjuk denied any part in it, but was deported to Israel to stand trial for war crimes in 1986. It emerged that he had served in the Red Army. He was captured in May 1942 and agreed to work at a death camp in order to save his own life.

Prosecutors used a picture of him on an ID card from the Trawniki SS training camp and testimonies from former guards to prove he was Ivan.

And in 1988 he was sentenced to death by hanging.

But in 1993, five Israeli Supreme Court judges overturned the guilty verdict after former guards at Treblinka identified another man as Ivan.

It also emerged that material sent to Israel from the Soviet Union may have been fabricated by the KGB.

Yet clearing him then to this led to this new trial. The judges said that his ID card, and the testimony of other guards, placed him at Isaeli.

He returned to the US, where his citizenship was restored in 1998. But after the emergence of more new evidence, he was extradited to Germany this year.

Case for the defence

He and his family say he was a common man enlisted into the Red Army, captured by the Germans and who served the rest of the war in captivity.

They claim the ID card is a fake made by ex-KGB officers who wanted to punish people from independence-minded Ukraine after the war. The family say witnesses have lied and evidence against him is false.

He said "Isaeli" as his hometown because someone showed it to him on a map as he sailed to the States "and I didn't want to say I was from Ukraine in case they didn't let me in." But the name only appeared on SS maps marking it as a death camp.

Source: Mirror UK

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Confusion Over 'Release' Of Greek Ship

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Somali pirates holding a Greek cargo ship Friday accused its owners of constantly changing their minds on deals reached to free the vessel captured more than six months ago.

MV Ariana

On Thursday, the pirates said they had freed the ship with its 24 Ukrainian sailors after receiving 3.7 million dollars, but the director of the Athens-based All Ocean Shipping company denied the report as a lie.

"The owners of Ariana are not dealing with us in good faith. They are changing their minds from time to time contrary to the agreements made with them," Abdu Farah, a member of the gang holding the ship, told AFP.

The shipping company's director Spyros Minas said no ransom was paid and if the MV Ariana had been freed "we would have been told by the captain."

He added that his company was ready for talks to free the ship and its crew.

"The pirates have demanded a lot of money. We are ready to negotiate but on the condition we have balanced mediators," he said.

Ukraine's foreign ministry also said it could not confirm that the ship had been freed, but a spokesman added that "all can change very quickly."

Hashi Ahmed, another pirate gang member, also said the ship owners keep changing goal posts.

"We thought the matter was over and everybody was happy when the deal was made, but the situation is changing every time because of the Ariana's owners who don't want to deal with us honestly," he told AFP.

The pirates said they were to take 3.5 million dollars of the total ransom and give Somali mediators the remaining amount.

The Maltese-flagged MV Ariana was seized north of Madagascar on May 2 while on its way to the Middle East from Brazil. It was carrying 10,000 tonnes of soya beans.

Source: AFP

Lenin Statue Vandalized In Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian nationalists hurled red paint at a restored monument to Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin moments after it was unveiled Friday, sparking a street brawl and revealing the bitter divisions over the legacy of communism in Ukraine.

Supporters of the Ukrainian Communist Party wave various communist party flags during the opening ceremony of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin monument in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Nov. 27, 2009. The monument was damaged in June 30, 2009, by activists of Ukrainian nationalist organization that has been pushing for removing all Soviet monuments from the country.

The nationalist group, Freedom, said the protest was inspired by persistent debate over the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, a major irritant in Kiev's relationship with its former Soviet overlord, Moscow.

It was the second time this year that vandals have targeted the more than 11-foot-tall (3.5-meter) granite statue of the Russian revolutionary on Kiev's central Shevchenko boulevard. In July, it was taken down for restoration after nationalists smashed its face with a hammer and tore off an arm.

A Communist rally was held Friday to welcome back the restored monument, first erected in 1946, but supporters of the nationalist group flung red paint at its base just as the Communists cheered its unveiling.

Riot police stepped in to break up the ensuing fight, which left several people dazed and bloodied. Several others were detained, including a man who was beaten by members of the crowd for throwing the paint.

"I don't regret it," he told reporters as he was led away. "They'll take this thing down eventually anyway. If we don't act, it'll just take a lot longer," he said, giving only his first name, Hryhoriy.

Statues of Lenin are common across the former Soviet Union, but they often stir emotions in Ukraine, particularly since the 2004 Orange Revolution street protests ushered pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, to power.

Yushchenko has pressed for international recognition of the 1930s famine, which killed millions of people, as genocide against Ukraine by the Soviet government of Josef Stalin, Lenin's successor. Russian leaders adamantly deny the famine was genocide, stressing that it killed many people in Russia and Kazakhstan, and asserting Ukrainians were not singled out.

In a statement on its Web site, Freedom said Lenin, who died in 1924, was responsible for the famine and urged politicians to remove all monuments honoring him and the Soviet system.

"History cannot be turned back. Lenin monuments across Ukraine will be destroyed, and communist ideology prohibited," Andriy Mokhnik, head of the group's Kiev branch, said in the statement.

The Communist Party is still a significant force in Ukrainian politics, winning roughly 1.3 million votes and 27 of the 450 parliament seats in 2007 elections. Its main support base is in the largely Russian-speaking east.

Yushchenko, who is more popular in the predominantly Ukrainian-speaking west, has stoked the famine debate ahead of a Jan. 17 vote in which he is seeking re-election. He has ordered investigators to gather evidence that the famine was planned in Moscow, and this week opened an exhibit about the famine.

The presidential front-runners — Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, both bitter foes of Yushchenko — have been far less vocal on the issue, and have focused on rebuilding damaged ties with Russia.

On Friday, state security service chief Valentin Nalivaychenko said Ukraine was not seeking to blame Russia for the famine.

"As regards third countries, be it Russia or anyone else, no one is talking about any accusations toward them from our side," Nalivaychenko said in televised comments.

Source: AP

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ukrainian Parliament Fails To Override President's Veto Of Flu Bill

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (parliament) has failed to override President Viktor Yushchenko's veto of legislation to provide more money to fight the flu epidemic in Ukraine, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

Protecting against flu in Kiev.

A total of 231 out of the 316 parliamentarians present voted to override the veto, but 300 are needed. The proposal was supported by 152 members of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, 32 members of Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, 27 Communist Party members, 19 from the Lytvyn Bloc, and one indepedent deputy.

The opposition Regions Party abstained. The Verkhovna Rada also rejected five presidential amendments to the law and returned it to the budget committee for revision.

On November 3, the Verkhovna Rada first adopted amendments to the state budget which provided for an increase of 1 billion hryvna ($125 million) for flu prevention and treatment, but Yushchenko vetoed the law two weeks later. He said he supports putting additional funds toward fighting the flu, but was against the way the government wanted to finance the increase.

He said the law could also lead to the devaluation of the hryvna. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko criticized Yushchenko for this move and said he bears full responsibility for flu casualties in Ukraine.

The number of flu and respiratory disease patients in the country reached some 500,000 and some 400 flu deaths were reported, many of them attributed to swine flu.

Source: Radio Free Europe

European Observers See Corruption, Media Bias, Public Disappointment Marring Ukraine Vote

KIEV, Ukraine -- European lawmakers issued scathing criticism of Ukraine's electoral system Thursday as they began a mission to observe a January presidential vote, saying the election will likely be marred by corruption, media bias and widespread public disappointment.

PM Yulia tymoshenko, in parliament, on November 26, 2009.

The election is being closely watched by Europe and the U.S. Five years after the Orange Revolution street protests helped propel a pro-Western leader to power over a Russian-backed rival, the front-runners - Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych - appear likely to focus on reinvigorating troubled ties with Moscow.

Matyas Eorsi of Hungary, who is leading the observer mission from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, told a news conference the election is not expected to meet the organization's standards.

Eorsi suggested democratic practices could be swept aside by the bitter rivalries among prominent candidates, who also include incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko.

"We are worried that political cynicism will be on the rise. We understand that here in Ukraine, the political struggle is widely regarded as a struggle of personalities, ambitions and financial interests rather than a competition of political ideals," he said.

Eorsi added that corruption and the media's role are serious concerns. "The media, many of the media, are also under strong financial influence, and very often this financial influence is created by the candidates," he said.

Tadeusz Iwinski of Poland, another PACE observer, said Ukrainian election laws lack transparency and urged politicians to heed the group's recommendations for reform. "The problem of electoral laws makes for a permanent challenge," he said.

A Central Election Commission spokesman, Konstantin Khivrenko, and a commission member, Mikhail Okhendovsky, declined to comment to The Associated Press on the observers' remarks.

The assessment, unusually pessimistic for observers speaking two months before the vote takes place, contrasted with comments from the head of the monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which also got under way Thursday with a news conference. Heidi Tagliavini said the OSCE mission, which will field more than 600 observers for the Jan. 17 vote, would reserve judgment until they have analyzed the situation.

"We have arrived here with no preconceived ideas or hidden agendas," Tagliavini said. "We will let the facts speak for themselves."

Claims of electoral fraud led to the Orange Revolution - massive protests that erupted after Yanukovych, who had open support from then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, was declared the winner of a 2004 presidential vote. The Supreme Court threw out the election and Yushchenko, who advocates NATO membership for the ex-Soviet republic, won a rerun.

After years of political gridlock and economic trouble, Yanukovych is leading in the opinion polls, followed by Tymoshenko - Yushchenko's ally in the Orange Revolution but now his foe.

Source: The Canadian Press

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ukraine Tears Down Controversial Statue

KIEV, Ukraine -- A statue of a politician considered to be one of the main instigators of the man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s, has been demolished.

The still-standing Lenin monument on Kiev's main street, Khreshchatyk, had its nose and one of its hands broken off with a hammer.

The authorities tore down the statue of the Communist leader of Ukraine when it was part of the former Soviet Union, Hryhoriy Petrovsky.

It as carried out just days before Ukraine commemorates the victims of the famine, known as the Holodomor, or genocide.

President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree ordering the removal of monuments to Soviet leaders, "in memory of the victims of the Holodomor".

The statue stood in Kiev's Europe Square - one of the capital's most prestigious locations.

Between seven and ten million people died in what officials say was a deliberate policy pursued by the former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry who were opposed to the collectivisation of farming.

Close ally

Hryhoriy Petrovsky was an ethnic Ukrainian and a committed member of the Bolsheviks - the movement of professional revolutionaries led by Vladimir Lenin, who seized power in 1917 and went on to found the Soviet Union.

Petrovksy saw himself as an internationalist, and rejected Ukrainian nationalism.

He fought against the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic (1917-1919), which was crushed by the Bolsheviks.

Petrovsky became the interior minister of the Russian Soviet Republic before returning to Ukraine in 1919, where he served as prime minister until 1938.

He was thought to be a close ally of Stalin, whose purges led to the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian communists.

Local historians think he and the Ukrainian Soviet Communist leader, Lazar Kaganovich, were the main executors of Stalin's policies in Ukraine.

Other historians, like Vasyl Marochko, a member of an official commission which investigated the Holodomor, say that when Petrovsky realised the extent of the famine he pleaded twice with Stalin to provide Ukrainians with more food.

His requests, they say, went unheeded.

Increasingly unpopular

Last year, the statue to Petrovsky was defaced by young Ukrainian nationalists who threw paint over it, and wrote in graffiti: "To Petrovsky, the executioner of the Ukrainian people".

Earlier this year, the still-standing Lenin monument on Kiev's main street, Khreshchatyk, was also damaged by the same group.

In that incident, Lenin's nose and one of his hands were broken off with a hammer.

Less prominent statues to Ukrainian Soviet communist leaders have been removed before.

But Petrovsky, whose body is interred near the Kremlin wall in Moscow, is perhaps the highest profile figure to have his statue demolished.

His legacy has not completely vanished, because the central industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk still carries his name, much to the annoyance of some Ukrainians.

"The city should have been renamed when Ukraine gained its independence," says Vadym Skurativsky, a leading Ukrainian writer.

Erasing the past

Ukraine has been slow to remove historical monuments to Soviet leaders, despite the country's first president, Leonid Kravchuk, issuing orders aimed at "de-sovietisation" in the early 1990s.

The process has gone much further in the Ukrainian-speaking western regions than in the industrialised, largely Russian-speaking eastern regions.

The Holodomor has emerged as a contentious issue in Ukraine's relations with Russia.

Moscow insists that other republics, particularly southern Russia and Kazakhstan, also suffered from famine during the 1930s.

It rejects the assertion from Ukraine's leadership that there was a deliberate policy of anti-Ukrainian "genocide".

But Ukrainian historians point to the widespread use of Soviet interior ministry troops to requisition desperately needed food, as well as the ban imposed on the movement of peasants to the cities.

The commemorations on Saturday will be marked by church services all over Ukraine, the laying of wreaths, and a gathering of Ukraine's leaders at a recently completed monument to the victims on a hillside location in Kiev.

Source: BBC News

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

EU Turns Away From Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- EU officials are casting a wary eye at Ukraine as it prepares for watershed presidential elections in January that look likely to spark a lurch back towards the Russian sphere five years after the former Soviet republic was supposedly set free by the "Orange Revolution".

Ukrainian Deputies fight in parliament. The EU's loss of patience with a turbulent Kiev suggests another victory for Russia in the struggle for the former Soviet republics.

The cautious approach in Brussels is again raising questions about the EU's apparent lack of a strategic vision – and political courage – in its dealing with its eastern neighbours.

Fierce rivalry between President Viktor Yushchenko, who is standing for re-election, and his prime minister and principal opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, is feeding worries about the recession-ravaged country's political and economic stability.

Yushchenko's decision this month to approve a 20% increase in wages and pensions, characterised by critics as a crude pre-election bribe, led the IMF to freeze the fourth instalment of a $16.4bn bailout package. That in turn increased credit market fears of a sovereign default.

Tymoshenko, a famously combative millionaire currently leading in the polls, accused the president of deliberately sabotaging the IMF agreement to starve her government of cash and undermine her presidential bid.

But she in turn has been accused of sucking up to the Russians, in the shape of the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who as Russia's then president opposed the Orange Revolution and is an inveterate Yushchenko foe.

After late-night talks with Tymoshenko in the Crimean resort of Yalta last week, Putin said he had agreed to waive various penalties and amend Russia's natural gas supply contract with Ukraine to avoid a repeat of last January's dispute, which led to serious gas shortages in eastern and central Europe.

"It would be very good to meet the new year without any shocks," Putin said, adding that transit fees next year would rise by 60% – a change potentially worth billions of dollars to Ukraine. Tymoshenko's response was unctuous. "You, as a strong country, are meeting us halfway," she said.

The deal was seen as both a none-too-subtle attempt to show that she, unlike Yushchenko, could do business with Moscow, and as blatant electoral interference by Putin.

Ukraine's shenanigans have even led football's ruling body, UEFA, to seek assurances that preparations and financing for the Euro 2012 championship, to be hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine, will not be affected by the elections. UEFA is also worried that visa-free travel arrangements with the EU have yet to be agreed.

All this is watched with trepidation in Brussels, where José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, recently telephoned Yushchenko to reportedly express concern over the way the IMF bailout and Europe's gas supplies have become political footballs.

According to euobserver.com, commission plans to offer €500m in economic aid are under review "because of Kiev's unwillingness to curb public spending or to clean up waste and corruption at its national gas company, Naftogaz". About 80% of EU natural gas supplies from Russia transit Ukraine.

Such is the animosity between the rival camps that EU officials fret that the election, which is also contested by the pro-Russian former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, could end in stalemate and possibly violent recriminations, as happened in 2004 when Yanukovich was initially declared the winner and then unseated.

These strains and stresses lend an air of crisis to the EU-Ukraine summit on 4 December, which is shaping up as the first big test for the untried diplomatic skills of the EU's new foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton.

Officials say the EU aims to give Ukraine a "stern warning" that substantive political and financial reform is a prerequisite for progress on issues such as visas and future association and trade agreements.

But full EU membership, on which Yushchenko set his heart, is now a receding prospect. Impatience with Ukraine across the EU is growing, with France and Germany, for example, delaying its accession to the EU's energy community treaty.

More significantly, last year's Russian invasion of Georgia, and Moscow's accompanying claims of Ukrainian support for Tbilisi, have driven home the message in Brussels that forging closer, structural ties with Ukraine could have severe, negative consequences for EU-Russian relations.

Given the much reduced appetite for further EU enlargement, it seems certain that the high watermark of EU-Ukraine ties has already passed. It's no consolation for Yushchenko that much the same applies to Georgia, Belarus and Turkey.

And for many in Europe who hoped for better, braver things along the EU's post-Soviet eastern frontier, it's galling to conclude that, in a sense, Putin has won.

Source: Guardian UK

Swine Flu Pandemic Peaks In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- After three weeks of panic, pandemonium and politics, the initial swine flu pandemic in Ukraine has peaked. In three weeks, 1.6 million fell ill, while 388 died.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko visits a hospital in the western city of Lutsk earlier this month. She has criticized her political rivals for hindering her efforts to end the H1N1 pandemic.

Today the government is expected to end a nationwide ban on public gatherings, lift travel restrictions and order the reopening of parliament, schools and universities in all but 11 regions.

But the country, with its anemic health-care system, is still reeling from having 1.6 million people fall sick with the flu, resulting in the hospitalization of 97,000 people and the deaths of 388 in three weeks.

At the height of the frenzy, tens of thousands were becoming ill each day, dozens were dying and the Ukraine navy said it could not carry out combat duty because of a lack of manpower.

The National Security & Defence Council said there were constitutional prerequisites to declare a state of emergency and politicians briefly talked of postponing presidential elections, scheduled for Jan. 17.

A rising death toll added fear to the emotions rattling Ukraine as it ran out of essential medicines and supplies.

Pharmacies looked like Soviet-era shops with long lines of customers queuing for nonexistent surgical masks and cold medicines. The Health Ministry's stock of Tamiflu, an anti-viral designed to slow the spread of influenza, was used up in days and people began to hoard lemons and garlic for homemade cures.

Ukraine's fragile health system was soon paralyzed and rumours proliferated that people were dying of a new, more lethal strain of influenza virus.

As the World Health Organization rushed a nine-member outbreak assessment team to Ukraine in early November, politicians rounded on each other, predicting mass illness and death.

President Viktor Yushchenko declared his country had been hit simultaneously by two seasonal flus and the "California" (swine) flu, and blamed his political arch-rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for failing to prepare for the outbreak.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who is running for president, provided daily television updates on the pandemic and appeared in public swathed in hospital gowns and wearing a surgical mask. She criticized her rivals for hindering her efforts to end the pandemic.

When parliament voted to spend US$125-million to fight the flu, Mr. Yushchenko refused to authorize it, saying it would fuel inflation. Instead, he launched his own appeal for foreign aid.

Not to be outdone, presidential frontrunner Viktor Yanukovich, a former prime minister and leader of the Regions' Party, pledged to use election campaign donations to buy flu medicine and 20 million surgical masks.

"Ukrainian politicians, including the two main presidential candidates, do not really care about the fate of their people," columnist Kateryna Grushenko wrote in the Kyiv Post. "They allowed themselves to turn the H1N1 epidemic into a PR show during days when educational, medical, and society-oriented coverage should have been provided to the population."

As the pandemic entrenched itself, straining hospitals and emergency rooms to the breaking point, Ukraine's panic grew. With no authoritative explanation for what was happening, bloggers and conspiracy theorists suggested the country was in the grip of a mysterious, more lethal virus.

The government and WHO were deliberately playing down the pandemic's death toll, some suggested.

When Norwegian scientists announced they had found a mutated form of the swine flu virus that could infect deeper into the airways and cause more severe disease, Ukraine's news media began reporting that doctors conducting postmortems on some patients had found their lungs had virtually disintegrated.

The WHO tried to temper the sensational reports saying "viruses with similar mutations had been detected in several other countries, including Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico, Ukraine and the United States."

"No links between the small numbers of patients infected with the mutated virus have been found and the mutation does not appear to spread," it added.

By last week, the WHO said its preliminary analysis of Ukraine's pandemic showed "the virus is very similar to other strains causing the current influenza A(H1N1) pandemic elsewhere in Europe."

This virus is the main cause of Ukraine's problems and current pandemic vaccines will provide protection, it added.

Only Ukraine doesn't have any vaccine. Short of cash and hoping to combat any pandemic with Tamiflu, it did not order vaccine.

Now, it is appealing to foreign countries, including Canada, for vaccine donationsy.

The United States has already volunteered to deliver one million vaccine doses in December.

But the WHO is recommending 10% of Ukraine's 46 million people be inoculated by January.

Source: National Post

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ukraine '10: In Presidential Race, The Biggest Billboard Wins

KIEV, Ukraine -- Size does matter. Particularly when it comes to campaign ads in Ukraine's January 17 presidential election. Here, the guiding principle is: the bigger, the better. In a country where advertising was practically nonexistent during the Soviet era, today the billboard is king.

Dueling billboards for parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn (left) and former Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in downtown Kiev.

One of the first things a visitor notices upon leaving Ukraine's main airport, Boryspil, en route to Kiev is the seemingly endless chain of billboards that escort her all the way to the capital. Currently, it's the slogans of presidential hopefuls that make up the lion's share of this type of advertising.

Vadym Karasyov, a prominent Ukrainian political analyst and director of the Institute for Global Strategies, recently made the claim that Ukrainians are not guided by political programs when they go to the polls. Rather, he argued, they vote for the slogan they like best.

So Ukraine's 18 presidential candidates have their work cut out for them -- and billboards are proving perhaps the biggest and most immediate way of bringing those slogans to the voter.

The 'She' Campaign

Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister and one of the leading contenders for the presidency, launched her billboard attack well before the campaign's official kickoff on October 18.

As early as August, signs were already appearing over the capital's streets bearing messages like: "They strike -- she works," "They block -- she works," and "They ruin -- she works." The slogans were unveiled references to the Ukrainian parliament, which has spent the good part of 2009 doing basically nothing because one faction or another was blocking the rostrum.

Despite the fact that the signs bore no identifiable copyright marks, photographs, or indication of political affiliation, it wasn't difficult to decipher that the "she" in question was none other than Tymoshenko.

Now "she" is all over the country, on billboards of all shapes and sizes. And in a clever turn, the "she" has now become more than just Ms. Tymoshenko: Now "she" is Ukraine herself. As a recent ad announces: "She works, she will win, she is Ukraine."

Some political analysts have praised the "she" campaign as memorable. And indeed, the charismatic Tymoshenko, with her ever-present braids, appears to have had little trouble solidifying her public image. Current polls put her in second place, with a healthy lead over her former Orange Revolution partner, incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko.

'For The People'

The man she trails behind is Viktor Yanukovych, someone who has had his share of negative image perception. Yanukovych, leader of today's parliamentary opposition, lost in the last presidential election to Yushchenko.

A tall, imposing figure of a man, Yanukovych is an awkward and undynamic communicator. Twice imprisoned for theft and violence in his youth, Yanukovych continues to be perceived by some as a thug, despite having his criminal record expunged.

Whether the very digitally enhanced image beaming down from his campaign billboards will change that perception remains to be seen. Where Tymoshenko has identified herself as Ukraine, Yanukovych, true to form, is simply himself.

Initially, Yanukovych's billboards boasted that each and every person's complaint, idea, and view would be heard. The next round of ads, logically, suggested the listening period was over and one of action had begun. Last but not least, a third group of Yanukovych billboards proclaimed, in a brusque and seemingly Soviet manner: "Your opinion has been heard. The problem has been solved."

Currently, his leading campaign slogan is "Ukraine for the people." In a recent call-in program with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, political analysts deemed the slogan ineffective and perilously reminiscent of the old Soviet slogan "Everything for the people." One listener even suggested that if Yanukovych really is listening to all views and all people, then he should listen to the portion of the electorate who don't want to see him become president and quit the race.

Misfires And Mystery Men

Another candidate who has taken his campaign to the billboards is the current parliamentary speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn. He plastered Kiev with bright yellow, anonymous billboards with such mysterious slogans as "Only he is worthy of leading Ukraine," and "Only he can be trusted with our future."

While no one had any trouble identifying the "she" as Tymoshenko, for weeks no one quite knew who the "he" in question could be. Some suspected it was the incumbent, Yushchenko. But then Lytvyn dispelled the mystery and, overnight, his face appeared on billboards.

The youngest of the candidates, 35-year-old former Foreign Minister and parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was initially thought by many to be Ukraine's fresh young hope in these elections. He created the Front for Change, claimed to be a new style of politician, and by spring 2008 he was pulling in 12-13-percent support.

And then he hired a Russian team to run his campaign. They devised a pseudo-military approach and message for him. An intent-looking Yatsenyuk now peers down from a billboard that proclaims "Ukraine will be saved by new industrialization." Promises extend to a battle-ready army. A productive agrarian sector. Healthy and educated people. Yatsenyuk's youthfulness and new approach have evaporated amid a misguided, khaki-colored campaign that harks back to Soviet ideas and slogans.

Billboard slogans are slowly giving way to television commercials, but the boards still continue to be omnipresent throughout the country.

Tymoshenko's slogans have even inspired witty rebuttals from another female candidate on two of the biggest billboards to date, which claim: "I will win, so she can stop working," and "I will win, so she can have a rest."

Those promises are made by Inna Bohoslovska, formerly of Yanukovych's Party of Regions, a so-called technological candidate with no chance of winning but whose sole purpose is to siphon votes from others.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ukraine: A Democracy At Risk

WASHINGTON, DC -- Five years ago this month, an orange sea of Ukrainians flooded the streets of Kiev. Protesting the attempt of then-President Leonid Kuchmas' administrative machine to falsify election results, they demanded the right to choose their country's leader.

Orange Revolution - the dream did not come true.

They demonstrated to the world their desire for freedom, justice, and democracy. They brought new leadership to power but it failed to deliver most of the promises given to the people on the frozen Maidan.

Disillusioned and discouraged, Ukrainians are coming to the polls once again this January. And now, those longing for strong-armed rule may well outnumber those who want to preserve their imperfect democracy. It's time for the West to take note.

Over the past five years, the people's desire to see political leaders held accountable for their wrongdoings remains unfulfilled. The promise of justice, which became the mantra of the Orange Revolution, was betrayed in its aftermath.

Most of the crimes of Mr. Kuchma's regime remain unpunished, while many of their alleged instigators still enjoy privileged status and material comfort. Some even received awards or promotions from the new authorities.

Moreover, Ukraine's current rulers retain immunity from prosecution and engage in corrupt activities with the same sense of impunity as their predecessors. According to a 2009 Transparency International report, Ukraine's corruption level remains on par with Russia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, showing no improvement since 2004.

Unrealized reforms and widespread corruption have had a major corrosive effect on the Ukrainian public. According to the last poll by the Pew Research Center, over two-thirds of Ukrainians believe that only a leader with a strong hand can solve the country's problems.

By contrast, only one in five Ukrainians thinks that democracy is an answer. Even though disappointment with democracy and capitalism shows in most of the countries of the former Soviet bloc, Ukraine still stands out.

Only a third of Ukrainians approve of the country moving from a state-controlled to a market economy, and a change to multiparty democracy.

From a once promising democratic leader in the region, Ukraine has transformed into an example of disenchantment for the democratic and civil society activists in neighboring countries.

Belarusian activists and Russian opposition can no longer show their followers that effective public protest can bring genuine changes to the country.

Responding to public demand and pursuing their own agenda, the front runners in the 2010 Ukrainian election are promising to restore Putin-style vertical power with centralized political control.

Moreover, they lack transparency in decision making and possess a weak commitment to fighting corruption especially in their close circles. They hide their true personal wealth and publicize dubious income declarations that have become the target of many investigative reports.

Day-by-day it is becoming harder for Ukrainian journalists to do their job. Even before the election campaign started, a Ukrainian court barred criticism of one presidential candidate, current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko The ruling was later revoked after a major outcry from civil society groups.

Still, TV reports are not covering the sharpest criticism of the front runners. The main achievement of the Orange Revolution, freedom of the press, is now in danger. Having once managed to reclaim their rights and freedoms in front of the world, Ukrainians risk losing it all over again.

The EU and other democratic nations need urgently to develop a clear constructive and principled policy with regard to Ukraine. Their calls for free and fair elections today will not have much of an effect on the Ukrainian authorities without a real commitment to hold them to their word.

Whoever will become the next president of Ukraine needs to be watched closely, and they should get that message now. Another honeymoon with a Ukrainian leader, if similar to the one with Mr. Kuchma in 2000 and with Victor Yushchenko in 2005, could lead to the complete collapse of Ukraine's fledgling democracy.

If the next leaders of Ukraine prove unwilling or unable to bring about change for the country, and instead continue down the path toward their authoritarian past, the only solution for the west will be to focus on the growing civil society and support new emerging leaders.

This, at least, will guarantee that the few gains of the Orange Revolution will not be reversed. And even if Ukrainians lose their way today, the basic democratic reforms they have earned will ensure that their destiny will still remain in their own hands.

Source: Wall Street Journal

EU-Ukraine Summit To Mark New Chapter In Bilateral Relations

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The EU aims to give Ukraine a stern warning about financial and political reform at an upcoming summit, as the two sides head into a new, more pragmatic chapter in bilateral relations.

Ukraine crisis will be first test for Lady Ashton, the new EU Foreign Minister.

In an anecdote told by one EU official, a close ally of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, Oleh Rybachuk, visited Brussels shortly after the Orange Revolution in November 2004. Following a marathon of meetings in various formats in the EU institutions, Mr Rybachuk's frustration came to a head. "He just said 'Look, who do I have to talk to round here to get Ukraine into the European Union?'" the EU official recalled.

Five years down the line, the EU has a new "foreign minister" who is preparing to attend the summit in Kiev on 4 December.

But the event is likely to be the last of its kind for the Orange Revolution hero, Mr Yushchenko, who trails badly in polls ahead of presidential elections in January.

The question of EU accession remains firmly off the agenda despite romantic ideas among some Ukrainian diplomats that the country should submit a formal application for membership next year.

The EU is equally unwilling to open up borders with its eastern neighbour: At a meeting of foreign ministers last week, only Lithuania, Estonia and Slovakia backed a plan to offer Ukraine a "roadmap" for visa-free travel in the next few years.

Even Poland, traditionally Ukraine's biggest friend in Brussels, has become fed up with its internal instability and confrontational negotiating tactics.

If Ukraine embroils the EU in a fresh gas crisis with Russia in January, as feared, or fails to hold normal presidential elections, relations will deteriorate further.

The EU is keen to keep making progress on a technical Association Agreement and to help Ukraine cope with its recession.

But European Commission plans to offer a further €500 million in economic aid are under review because of Kiev's failure to curb public spending or to clean up waste and corruption at its national gas company, Naftogaz.

Limited objectives

In this context, the union's main objective at the summit will be to "send clear messages on the need for determined and decisive action on reform," according to an internal EU paper. The union does not expect a quick reaction. "What kind of commitment can we ask from the Ukrainians in this regard even before the elections?" the internal paper said.

Ukraine's likely next president and current prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is accused of cultivating an authoritarian style reminiscent of the country's pre-Orange Revolution leader, Leonid Kuchma.

She is also building closer relations with Moscow: Her recent gas deals with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin could help Russia to gain control of Naftogaz' pipeline network. Nobody expects her to follow Mr Yushchenko's plan to evict the Russian navy from Crimea in 2017 or to steer Ukraine toward Nato.

The EU's lack of ambition to anchor Ukraine to the West is criticised by some.

"There is a lack of strategic political thinking in the EU as far as Ukraine is concerned," Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, Konstantin Yeliseyev, said on a visit to Brussels last week. "I hope the current bad weather with regard to our European aspirations does not lead to a permanent ice age."

Pragmatism sets in

But the drift away from the heady times of colour revolutions is being increasingly welcomed inside the EU.

A senior diplomat from one former Communist EU country told EUobserver that Ukraine is likely to act as a model for EU relations with other post-Soviet states. The contact envisaged that in the coming years the union will roll out trade and visa deals with Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. But it will not push for a democratic government in Minsk or for Chisinau and Tbilisi to regain control of Russian-held regions.

"Under Tymoshenko Ukraine will be more Kuchma-like. But she is a rational person. Ukraine will be more stable and more predictable if she is in charge," the EU diplomat said.

Source: EU Observer

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ukrainian Presidential Candidate Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Foreign Policy

KIEV, Ukraine -- In 2008-2009 Arseniy Yatseniuk grew rapidly in popularity and was seen as the rising star of a “new generation of Ukrainian politicians,” with some even touting him as “Ukraine’s Obama” who would inevitably prove “pro-Western.”

Ukrainian Presidential Candidate Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Evidence of Yatseniuk’s pro-Western stance was seen when he promoted Ukraine’s trans-Atlantic integration as foreign minister in 2007-2008, his election in the first five candidates of the pro-Western Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defense bloc in the 2007 elections and his signature (together with President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko) on a January 2008 letter to NATO requesting a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine.

These assumptions about Yatseniuk were not based on his statements or election program, which was only released in October. Yatseniuk’s foreign policy shift away from Brussels and Moscow is described by Ukrainian experts as “isolationist” or a nationalist third-way.

In June 2009, Yatseniuk’s main financial sponsor –oligarch Viktor Pinchuk– pressured him to exchange Ukrainian for Russian political technologists: Timofei Sergeitsev, Dmitry Kulikov and Iskander Valitov.

These political technologists had a poor reputation – they had not only worked in Viktor Yanukovych’s 2004 dirty election campaign, but also belonged to the State Duma Expert Council controlled by the Ukrainophobe Konstantin Zatulin who is banned from entering Ukraine.

Russian political technologists moved Yatseniuk away from his pro-Western orientation to a Ukrainian “third way,” isolationist-nationalist platform. In an interview in Korrespondent, Yatseniuk praised the former Russian President Vladimir Putin for bringing order to Russia.

When asked if he wanted to be a “Ukrainian Putin” he replied that he planned to be neither a “Putin” nor an “Obama,” indicating the isolationist-nationalism position he was adopting. Yatseniuk has also used the global economic crisis to become a critic of liberalism.

Since last summer Yatseniuk has abandoned the pro-NATO position that he held in 2007-2008. In a lengthy interview in Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraini, Yatseniuk stated his now often repeated phrase that Ukraine is not being invited into NATO or the E.U. and, therefore, membership in both organizations is currently not an issue for the country.

Yatseniuk’s election program, speeches and statements call for a new “Eastern European union” of countries not given a membership option by the E.U. which he defines as “Greater Europe”.

One of the first public discussions of Yatseniuk’s isolationist-nationalism took place at the annual Yalta European Strategy (YES) summit on September 25-26. YES, a pro-E.U. lobbying NGO funded by Pinchuk gave the floor to the three main presidential candidates – Tymoshenko, Yatseniuk and Yanukovych – in a live broadcast on ICTV, one of four television channels owned by Pinchuk.

Yatseniuk’s speech at the YES summit confused Ukrainian and foreign guests with voters watching ICTV unclear as to what he really stood for, and if he supported or opposed Ukraine’s membership of the E.U. (NATO was not even raised).

“Nobody to the very end understood what Yatseniuk meant when he spoke of Greater Europe,” Glavred editor and Yatseniuk sympathizer Alyona Getmanchuk observed on September 28. Yatseniuk could not answer repeated questions as to what ideological niche he represented.

Ukrainian media analysis following the YES summit was uniformly critical, stating that he was a different man the year before, when he was described as the “most progressive pro-European” Ukrainian politician. Yatseniuk’s speech shocked guests for the “aggressiveness” of its “message”.

Yatseniuk’s Greater Europe is an alternative to Western and Russian integrationist projects and would unite Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in a new union with its center in Kyiv. Greater Europe would focus on four joint projects in energy, transport and communications, industry and access to world markets and the military-industrial complex.

In Yatseniuk’s “Ukrainian Interests” he explained the roots of his Greater Europe idea as lying in the most “powerful geopolitical project in the history of mankind –Kyiv Rus”. Yatseniuk stressed the role of Kyiv as the ideological center of eastern Pan Slavism, Eastern European Orthodox civilization and the ideological kernel of the Russian empire.

Kyiv should, Yatseniuk believes, be revived as the center of a new geopolitical project and “Eastern European empire with its center in Kyiv”. “Ukraine can and should become the initiator of a new Eastern European union that I see from Uzhorod to Vladivostok. And Kyiv will be its center,” he asserted.

As Ukrainian experts noted, Yatseniuk has “borrowed” the ideas of Ukrainian right and left-wing populist-nationalists who propagated the theme of “away from Moscow and the West” in the 1990’s.

In 1993 Dmytro Korchynsky, the then leader of the extreme right-wing Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), said: “Our people have become used to living in a big state. We will make Ukraine into a large state so that the people will have no need to change their habits”.

UNA’s fusion of pan-Slavism and Ukrainian nationalism came one year after its paramilitary People’s Self Defense Forces (UNSO) fought in the Trans-Dniestr conflict on the side of separatists. Korchynsky is now head of Bratstvo, a member of the Eurasian Youth Movement.

Left-wing Ukrainian left-wing populist-nationalism was popularized by two Prime Ministers in 1995-1997: Yevhen Marchuk and Pavlo Lazarenko. This translated into political support in the in the 1998 elections in the Social Democratic united and Hromada parties respectively.

Yatseniuk’s Greater Europe is also similar to the 2003 CIS Single Economic Space that unites the same four countries with Kyiv replacing Minsk as its center.

In 2008 Yatseniuk was seen as the new face of Ukrainian politics supporting a pro-Western foreign policy; but, this was before Ukrainians and Westerners had seen his program.

Since last summer, his election program has positioned Yatseniuk as the candidate supporting an isolationist-nationalist third way, without deference to either Moscow or Brussels and Washington.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Ukrainians Hold Muted Celebration Of 2004 ‘Orange Revolution’

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians turned out yesterday in Kiev to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Orange Revolution, amid disillusionment with political leaders and a severe economic crisis.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko speaks during a reception to mark the fifth anniversary of the 'Orange Revolution' in Kiev November 22, 2009.

Several dozen people celebrated in the capital’s main square - a stark contrast to the tens of thousands who on November 22, 2004 led protests which prompted the cancellation of rigged election results.

Draped in orange, the colour of pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko, the demonstrators protested a vote that returned the Russian-backed incumbent President Viktor Yanukovich.

After three weeks, the peaceful uprising achieved its goal - the supreme court annulled the vote due to fraud, ordered a new poll and after a clear victory Yushchenko was declared president on January 23, 2005.

But hopes of prosperity have been set back by the economic crisis which saw the national currency lose 40% of its value and aspirations of political stability undermined by bickering national leaders.

“Of course I feel disappointed. (The political leaders) have betrayed the ideas of the revolution,” said Andry Avramenko, who took part in the Orange Revolution protests and had an orange scarf draped round his neck.

Source: AFP

Ukraine's `Hot Air' Bedevils Global Climate Deal

KONSTANTINOVKA, Ukraine -- Vladimir Gapor is a plumber by trade, but now he's a scavenger, prying bits of scrap steel from the ruins of his old factory and selling them for a pittance.

This Oct. 14, 2009 photo shows water pouring from rusted cooling pipes in Konstantinovka, Ukraine. In an era of climate change and carbon trading, Ukraine, ironically, is profiting from the smokeless smokestacks of its industrial shutdown.

For others beyond this manufacturing graveyard, however, Ukraine's economic collapse has produced a potential multibillion-dollar bonanza. In an era of climate change regulation and carbon trading, Ukraine, ironically, is profiting from the smokeless smokestacks of its industrial shutdown.

How well and how long it will profit is an under-the-radar issue complicating negotiations for a worldwide climate accord being sought at a 192-nation conference in Copenhagen next month.

Gapor's old factory, which made glass for the Soviet military and space program, shut down in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Private wrecking crews and desperate jobless people like Gapor then turned the town's industries, which once employed 16,000 workers, into heaps of bricks.

In the days when Ukraine was a Soviet republic, Konstantinovka was a booming town of 100,000 with 25 factories. Concert music filled its Palace of Culture, its workers were rewarded with trips to Crimea's beaches, and its children with stays at mountain "pioneer camps." Today just five workshops still operate, and the population is down to 60,000, many unemployed having migrated to Moscow, Kiev or Western Europe to find jobs, leaving families behind.

The surrounding province in eastern Ukraine, plagued by bad management and lack of investment, has lost 10 percent of its population, said Vladimir Morozov, an environmental engineer in the regional capital, Donetsk. Wealthy oligarchs, not communists, now rule the economy, he said, and they show no interest in rebuilding a wretched backwater.

The industrial collapse has been bad for jobs but good for the climate. Ukraine produces less than half the greenhouse gases it did 20 years ago, and under a trading system devised in the negotiations for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, curbing the gases blamed for global warming, it is allowed to sell credits for every ton of carbon dioxide saved.

Countries or companies that cannot meet commitments to reduce emissions can buy these "allowances" from those that have cut emissions more than required and have a surplus to sell. Point Carbon, a Norwegian-based consulting firm, estimates 9 billion allowances are available, mostly in Russia.

Earlier this year, each one-ton allowance sold for $10 when Ukraine signed a $300 million deal with Japan. The Kiev government has almost 1 billion more tons to put on the market, said Irina Stavchuk of the National Ecological Center of Ukraine.

"The hot air business is the main goal of the government," Stavchuk said.

Income from such deals is supposed to be earmarked for clean-energy and other "green" projects. But critics have questioned how well that guideline is followed.

While Western industrial powers must cut carbon emissions, and many developing nations are asked to shift to low-carbon economic growth, a few Eastern European countries have little incentive to constrain their polluting, since they're already far below emissions limits.

In a way, these nations have the best of both worlds. They can make millions selling carbon credits, while enjoying a comfortable cushion to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without worrying about energy efficiency or cleaning up their factories.

But the credits could lapse in 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. Russia, Ukraine and other beneficiaries want these pollution rights extended in the new deal to be struck at Copenhagen. Other countries want to redress what they believe is an unfair loophole. Carbon traders, meanwhile, fear the weight of hot air credits will drive down market prices sharply.

As part of a new climate treaty, Ukraine is being asked to commit to a ceiling on emissions and it has pledged to emit 20 percent less in 2020 than it did in the benchmark year of 1990. Since its current emissions are about 52 percent below 1990, it will be left with plenty of credits to sell.

Last week Russia, the biggest holder of hot air credits, increased its pledged 2020 target to as much as 25 percent below 1990 — about where its emissions are today.

"We have to get rid of this hot air problem because it really threatens the environmental integrity of the whole system," said Sven Harmeling, a climate expert for the nonprofit group Germanwatch.

But a solution will be hard to find at Copenhagen when countries have so much at stake, Harmeling said.

The billion-dollar diplomatic debate in the Danish capital seems a world away from grimy Konstantinovka, where ex-plumber Gapor chipped away at concrete blocks, plucking out steel reinforcement rods to sell at 1 hryvnia, or 12 cents, per kilogram (2.2 pounds).

"We need to survive somehow," he said.

Nearby, crusading local journalist Vladimir Berezin climbed onto a mound of rubble.

"We call this place the Cemetery of Communism," he said. A dozen 180-meter-tall (590-foot-tall) smokestacks stood like memorial obelisks over the devastation. The entrance to an abandoned building bore the slogan honoring Vladimir Lenin, founding father of the Soviet Union: "Our Aim is Communism and the Ideas of Lenin are Immortal."

"It's true," Berezin said. "Here you can see Lenin's ideas. Here you see our communism."

Source: AP

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In Ukraine, H1N1 Pandemic Sets Off Panic And Politicking

KIEV, UKRAINE -- One night at the height of the panic over what people here call the California flu, as 24-hour news stations tracked a rising death toll and politicians speculated about a mystery lung plague, Ukraine's prime minister rushed to the airport to greet a shipment of Tamiflu as if it were a foreign dignitary. Not to be outdone, the president, a bitter political foe, dispatched a top aide to meet the plane, too.

Ukraine's soccer fans, wear face masks as preventive measures against the H1N1 flu.

In neighboring Belarus, the government took an opposite tack, accusing drug companies of fanning hysteria over swine flu to boost profit. In Poland, the health minister is under fire for refusing to stock up on a vaccine, while doctors in Hungary are resisting orders to administer the shot. In Turkmenistan, the authorities have been accused of covering up an epidemic, with infectious-disease wards reportedly full and people being turned away.

As the pandemic H1N1 influenza surges with the onset of winter, the nations of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union appear particularly vulnerable to the deadly virus. Burdened with weak health-care systems, relatively inexperienced news media outlets and shaky governments that have little public trust, the region also seems ripe for panic and political strife over the flu.

The potential for trouble is already on display in Ukraine, where 1.5 million of its 46 million people have had diagnoses of flu and respiratory illnesses since the start of the outbreak and 356 have died, according to the government. The World Health Organization (WHO) suspects that most of the cases are swine flu, making Ukraine among the hardest-hit countries in Europe, including Russia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Poland.

More telling than the numbers, however, has been the widespread fear the virus has caused in Ukraine, and the outsize impact it has had on the nation's political landscape.

In the weeks since Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko announced measures against the spread of the flu -- shutting the nation's schools and banning public gatherings -- anxious residents have overwhelmed hospitals and pharmacies, buying up supplies of medicine, gauze masks and home remedies such as lemons and garlic. Rumors have proliferated that people are dying of a new, more lethal strain of the virus.

Semyon Gluzman, a psychiatrist and Soviet-era dissident in Kiev, said the fear was a rational response in a nation with a dysfunctional health-care system and a corrupt, ineffective government. Hopes soared in Ukraine after the mass pro-democracy demonstrations known as the Orange Revolution, he said, but the five years of political infighting since have undermined the public's faith in the nation's leaders and political institutions.

"What we're seeing is a normal, psychological reaction to the complete incompetence of the state authorities," he said. "People are scared, and they don't know who to trust anymore."

Ukraine's news media -- which gained new freedoms after the Orange Revolution -- have provided round-the-clock, often sensational coverage of the outbreak. The nation's leading politicians, meanwhile, are jockeying for advantage ahead of the January presidential election, accusing one another of exploiting the crisis by doing too much or endangering lives by doing too little.

President Viktor Yushchenko, running far behind in his reelection bid, accused the prime minister of failing to prepare for the outbreak, saying that she left the national flu center staffed with only one employee, put doctors in danger and allowed the H1N1 virus to mutate into a "more aggressive" strain. Aides floated the idea of postponing the election because of the outbreak.

Tymoshenko, who was a Yushchenko ally in the Orange Revolution, fought back, criticizing him this week for blocking $125 million in emergency spending to fight the flu and saying he would be "responsible for every person who is ill today or dies."

Tymoshenko, shown by the media touring hospitals, issuing instructions and delivering daily updates on the outbreak, has enjoyed a dramatic boost in the presidential race. One poll conducted last week put her within three percentage points of Viktor Yanukovych, the opposition leader and front-runner, after lagging far behind for months.

Ukraine has one of the weakest health-care systems in Europe, being a Soviet relic that has barely changed despite 18 years of independence. Medical care is supposed to be free, but quality is poor, with underpaid state doctors surviving by taking bribes and selling unnecessary drugs. Life expectancy is a decade lower than in the European Union.

The WHO says the beleaguered system has held up fairly well, because advanced equipment or training isn't needed to fight swine flu. But the organization also identified problems here that could arise throughout Eastern Europe.

Doctors have been reluctant to treat patients with oxygen because medical schools in the region emphasize the risk of oxygen poisoning, for example. Ukrainian hospitals also lack devices to measure blood oxygen levels precisely, making it dangerous to put patients on ventilators, said Simon Mardel, a member of the WHO team sent to help Ukraine.

More broadly, people often waited too long to see a doctor because they tried home remedies first, and hospitals have struggled to care for the severely ill because they admit too many mild cases, said David Mercer, head of the communicable-disease unit in the WHO's Europe office.

Conveying accurate information to the public is another challenge in the region, he said. In some countries, especially the authoritarian states of Central Asia, officials are accustomed to concealing disease outbreaks, while in others, the free press is a relatively new institution and media outlets dwell on conspiracy theories. "It's like dealing with English tabloids all the time," Mercer said.

Yevgeny Komarovsky, a pediatrician and popular author in Ukraine, said the media here so sensationalized the outbreak that "we should also be counting casualties from heart attacks and high blood pressure due to the panic." He recalled a five-hour television special in which a series of ill-informed politicians were interviewed instead of medical experts, calling it "a concentration of stupidity."

"I felt ashamed for my country," he said, noting that one presidential candidate complained about shortages of an ointment with no proven effect and another suggested that the plague had hit Ukraine.

One result of the mistrust in government is deep skepticism about immunization in general and the swine flu vaccine in particular. The sentiment is common in Eastern Europe and Russia, where people express doubts about the safety of state supplies and suspicions of corrupt deals with drug firms. But it is particularly intense in Ukraine, with parents often paying doctors to falsify their children's immunization records.

Confidence in even the WHO was shaken last year after the death of a teenager who had received a measles shot during one of the organization's immunization drives. The WHO said he died of meningitis, but the opposition blamed the vaccine. Some Ukrainian experts concurred, and a deputy health minister was arrested.

Many doctors accuse Ukraine's leaders of refusing to dispel the public's vaccine concerns. Others say the fears are justified.

"You can afford the luxury of trusting your government and health authorities," said Natalya Kolomiyets, a pediatric surgeon and leader of an anti-vaccine group. "But here, in this country of constant revolution, we can't."

Source: The Washington Post

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Russia, Ukraine Reach Gas Compromise Deal: Putin

YALTA, Ukraine -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced late Thursday a compromise deal with Ukraine on the thorny issue of gas supply, lessening the threat of multibillion-dollar fines that might cripple Ukraine's economy.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko in Yalta, November 19, 2009. Tymoshenko and Putin readied on Thursday for talks which the European Union hopes will avert a possible new conflict disrupting supplies of Russian gas to EU consumers.

Speaking after several hours of talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko, he said Russia had agreed to allow Ukraine to buy less gas next year and it would now be up to the two countries' energy companies to put that agreement in writing.

"Gazprom and Naftogaz will agree on new volumes," Putin said, referring to the two countries' energy firms after talks.

"We deemed it possible to meet Ukraine halfway and tweak several of our earlier agreements," Putin said.

Earlier this year, Russia also agreed to reduce the volume of gas Kiev must acquire this year without imposing fines. That agreement however has yet to be put in writing.

Ukraine's Naftogaz has said it is meant to buy 52 billion cubic metres of Russian gas next year but may only need 27 bcm.

It could have faced potentially crippling multibillion-dollar fines if it did not pay for all the gas it had contracted.

Russia has repeatedly warned of Ukraine's financial problems in the past weeks.

Putin also said Moscow agreed with Kiev's decision to boost the tariffs Russia pays for the transit of Russian gas to Europe through Ukraine by 60 percent from next year.

The two premiers took pains to allay fears in Europe where officials are concerned that a new gas dispute between the two ex-Soviet nations would lead to a new cut in energy supplies.

Both Putin and Tymoshenko stressed that their countries would fully meet their obligations.

"I sincerely hope that all the agreements that have been previously reached will be implemented," Putin said. "It would be good to meet the New Year without any calamities."

Tymoshenko played down the prospect of gas disruptions, saying: "We will very carefully and precisely carry out our functions of transit of Russian gas."

"Ukraine pays and will pay on time" for Russian gas, she said at the talks.

In January, a row between the two countries resulted in Russian gas being cut to much of Europe for two weeks amid freezing temperatures.

Earlier in the day Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko warned Russian gas supplies to Europe are under threat. He said in a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that current gas contracts between Moscow and Kiev had to be revised.

"Potential risks will appear for the security of gas deliveries to Ukraine and its transit to other European countries," he said ahead of the talks.

While relations between Russia and the pro-Western Yushchenko have reached crisis point, Putin and Tymoshenko have boasted of their cordial relationship.

The meeting in Yalta was also a chance for Putin and Tymoshenko to flaunt their strong relations ahead of presidential polls in Ukraine in January in which the Ukrainian premier is a frontrunner.

Putin's foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said ahead of the meeting that Putin and Tymoshenko would most likely discuss the presidential vote, set for January 17, even though the issue was not on the official agenda.

In the polls, Tymoshenko will compete with Yushchenko and more pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovich, whom Russia supported during the 2004 election.

The talks were held at the Livadia Palace in the Black Sea resort of Yalta, the venue for the 1945 conference where the Big Three, Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, redrew the postwar map of Europe.

Source: AFP

Three Candidates United By Disgust With Authorities

KIEV, Ukraine -- Those who are tired of the same old political faces staring from TV screens are introduced to a trio of newcomers, Oleg Riabokon, Vasyl Protyvsikh and Oleksandr Pabat.

This sign sums up the attitude of many Ukrainians towards current politicians. “Against All: For Life Without Ya (President Victor Yushchenko and ex-Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych) and Yu (Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko).”

Are you tired of the same old bunch of people who have dominated Ukrainian politics since the 2004 Orange Revolution? Desperately in search of alternative presidential candidates?

Well, there are a few new faces registered among the 18 candidates for the Jan. 17 presidential contest. But polls and analysts do not expect any of them to have a serious chance – at least not in this election.

Only two candidates – Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-premier Victor Yanukovych – have a realistic chance of getting into a second round runoff and becoming president, according to recent polls.

If you are not too excited about them or the other dozen candidates who have been floated for months as alternatives, three new faces have cast their hats into the race.

They are:

Oleg Riabokon, a 36-year-old millionaire lawyer;

Vasyl Protyvsikh, a 63-year-old pensioner, who hopes his new surname (Against All, in Ukrainian) will muster voter support; and

Oleskandr Pabat, a 35-year-old Kyiv City Council member and self-declared civic activist who drives a Maserati and is allied with the capital’s eccentric mayor, Leonid Chernovetsky.

All three express contempt for the current political elite, long considered to be utterly corrupt and ruinous for the nation’s future. It’s ultimately up to voters. But for now, the newcomers remain unknown on the national scene and their chances of garnering even 1 percent support are considered negligible.

In the notorious 2004 election, 24 candidates ran for president, paying Hr 500,000 to exercise this right in a 120-day campaign. This time, the three newcomers join 15 other candidates in registering and paying five times more to enter the race during a financial crisis. Yet they have only 90 days of official campaigning to deliver their messages.

Are they really out to change Ukraine for the better, or at least provide a viable alternative? Or are they destined to serve as dummy or spoiler candidates only to siphon votes from the more viable contenders?

“I don’t know what compels the majority of candidates to run for president other than serving an ulterior motive,” said Iryna Bekeshkina, research director of Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Kyiv-based policy center. “Two and a half million hryvnia is a lot to pay to satisfy one’s ego. There are much cheaper ways of doing this.”

But even a fruitless candidacy in 2010 might yield benefits in future races. “The election is a good time to gain name recognition for emerging politicians, a time when the public is more attune to politics,” Bekeshkina said.

Oleg Riabokon

A self-made millionaire, Riabokon is fed up with how things are going in his homeland. He wants to become the nation’s top public servant because otherwise he doesn’t see “any future for the country.”

His election program espouses the universally-accepted cornerstones of democracy: ensuring a vibrant civil society, an accountable and transparent government and the rule of law. He wants to see direct representation in government much like how Switzerland functions.

Riabokon facetiously refers to himself as the “technical candidate of civil society,” and claims that while he is a newcomer to politics, he has the necessary experience to change Ukraine.

A Vinnytsia native, Riabokon was educated and trained as a lawyer in the United States. Fluent in English and recognized as one of the world’s top trade lawyers, Riabokon built up the Kyiv-based Magisters law firm, expanding it throughout the former Soviet Union in recent years.

Little known outside of Kyiv’s legal circles, Riabokon’s strategy is to build a grassroots movement from the ground up. He admits it will be an uphill battle, but insists he is committed.

“In Ukraine, the people are slaves in their own country. Government owes nothing to its own people. And we need to reverse this 180 degrees,” he told the Kyiv Post.

Arguably the most educated of candidates, Riabokon said many of his rival candidates have either worked for or are currently part of the corrupt and impotent political establishment, which he likens to an “evil” swamp. “But if I break up a clear stream of clean water, all of a sudden people will reorient themselves and will come to the clean source of water,” he said.

But the onus is on the public, according to Riabokon. Every citizen has to take responsibility for what is happening in the country, from their family lives “all the way up to the state hierarchy.”

Riabokon said the public is ready for a “revolutionary change in mentality.”

Vasyl Protyvsikh

Polls have consistently shown this year that 10 percent or more of voters could choose the ‘Against All’ option when casting their ballot. Eager to capitalize on this widespread disillusionment, Ivano-Frankivsk resident Vasyl Humeniuk changed his last name this year to Protyvsikh, which means ‘Against All’ in Ukrainian.

He is no stranger to small-town politics, having served in the Carpathian mountain town of Yaremche as mayor, headed the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast’s customs service and is now heading a trade and industry chamber. But thanks to this PR stunt, his candidacy is now known nationwide and many voters could accidentally vote for him, rather than choosing the genuine “Against All” option.

Humeniuk-Protyvsikh changed his surname to “express the opinions of all those citizens that are against all candidates and the disorder that Ukraine currently finds itself in.”

He earned Hr 234,000 last year and said the Hr 2.5 million needed to register as a candidate was fronted by supporters “in the villages and by friends.”

Humeniuk-Protyvsikh has a history in recent years of going against mainstream candidates, but some of his “friends” are influential members of the country’s political establishment. In 2007, he unsuccessfully ran for parliament. Dubbed as an alternative political movement that could end the political mayhem that followed the Orange Revolution, the bloc was founded and backed by Oleksandr Volkov, a businessman and former chief of staff to ex-president Leonid Kuchma.

Oleksandr Pabat

Technically the poorest of all candidates with only Hr 245 of declared income in 2008, Pabat’s car collection may be one of Ukraine’s most expensive. It includes a Maserati Spider, Mercedes-Benz and Porche Carrera.

He claims to be the founder of independent civic activist organizations that defend residents of the capital, but opponents call him a loyal ally of Kyiv mayor Leonid Chernovetsky, whose tenure has been stained by a flurry of allegedly corrupt land dealings.

Pabat says he became a civic activist and politician in 2000 after striking success during a 10-year advertising career. In 2002, he became a Kyiv city council member and, in 2006, he joined the pro-Chernovetsky majority coalition with his Citizens Activist Kyiv Party, the same name of a non-profit organization he founded in 2005.

Apart from doling out prized city land, the capital’s council members in the pro-mayoral coalition are accused of grabbing control over the city’s public utilities.

A self-declared defender of civic rights, the Poltava native’s election program says the Ukrainian people are slaves in their own country. “The people of Ukraine live in a Latin American country slaving away to support the richest 50 families,” he told the Kyiv Post. Downplaying his ties to the establishment and alleged role in murky land dealings, Pabat calls the “oligarchic elite ‘terminators’ who know only how to steal, sell and destroy.”

Source: Kyiv Post