Thursday, September 30, 2010

Euro 2012 On Track, Say Poland And Ukraine

WARSAW, Poland -- Preparations for Euro 2012 are right on schedule, tournament co-hosts Poland and Ukraine said on Thursday.

The championships will kick off in Poland's brand new national stadium in Warsaw in June 8, 2012.

"Taking full responsibility, we can say that everything is going according to UEFA's plans, and that the matches will take place in eight cities, four in Poland and four in Ukraine," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said during a visit by his Ukrainian opposite number Mykola Azarov.

"We can congratulate each other, with a clear conscience," he told reporters.

The two leaders said that they had approved a road map for the remaining preparations for the European football championships, which are set to kick off in Poland's brand new national stadium in Warsaw in June 8, 2012

In April 2007, European football's governing body UEFA caught the pundits napping when it picked Poland and Ukraine over favourites Italy and joint bidders Hungary and Croatia to host the 16-team quadrennial showcase.

It will be the first time either has run a major tournament and marks UEFA's first serious foray behind the former Iron Curtain.

That means a far greater challenge on the infrastructure front than previous, western European editions of the tournament, last held in 2008 in Alpine-efficient Austria and Switzerland.

Amid concerns about the ability of the hosts, particularly Ukraine, to make the grade in time, UEFA chief Michel Platini cranked up the pressure and issued a string of ultimatums.

But the tone has now changed.

"I think things are progressing in the right direction," Martin Kallen, UEFA's Euro watchdog, told AFP last month.

"The decision was made in 2007 to go for Ukraine and Poland, and since then, UEFA has been pushing very hard," he said. "But this will be a fantastic tournament."

Source: AFP

Ukraine's Generous Pension System Close To Collapse

KIEV, Ukraine -- Those who think the French pension system is bloated should take a look at Ukraine, a nation which has not only preserved but enhanced generous Soviet retirement benefits -- which now threaten to bankrupt it.

Some elderly, on pension in Ukraine, are forced to beg in order to make ends meet.

Street protests might come easier to the French than they do to the Ukrainians. But the government of President Viktor Yanukovich, who is being urged to raise the retirement age to 65years for men and women, is still wary of a possible backlash.

Relatively small on an individual basis -- about $140 a month on average -- total pension expenditure is a big burden on the ex-Soviet republic's budget, making up 18 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, one of the highest rates in Europe.

Ukraine's aging population means the system's financing needs will only increase unless it is changed. There are already nine pensioners for every 10 working people paying into the pension fund in Ukraine -- and this ratio is set to get worse.

"No system can withstand those demographic trends," said Marcin Swiecicki, director of EU-sponsored think tank Blue Ribbon Analytical and Advisory Centre. "This would be a financial catastrophe."

The World Bank said in a report this month that fiscal reform, which includes an overhaul of the system, was "the most urgent priority" for Ukraine.

"The unreformed pension system and Ukraine's aging population threaten short-term fiscal stability (with growing deficits that are becoming unfinanceable) and long-term sustainability," it said.

Ukraine was taxing payrolls at 35 percent in order to finance pensions -- "one of the highest rates in the world",Swiecicki said.

GROWING BURDEN

But even that is not enough. Without reforms, by 2050,Ukraine will have to reduce its average pension to 28 percent o fthe average wage from the current 40 percent.

And if it wants to keep pensions at the same level, the nation will have to raise the retirement age to 65 years for both men and women. Under the current rules, Ukrainian men can retire at 60 while women retire at 55.

"Ukrainian women hold the world record in correlation between the length of retirement and the work period needed to obtain a pension: 7.1 years of staying retired for every 10 years of work," Swiecicki said.

That compares to 6.2 years in Italy and just 4.6 years in Germany, according to Blue Ribbon data.

Opponents of change say earlier retirement in Ukraine is justified by the fact that life expectancy at birth in Ukraine is 7.8 years shorter than in the EU for women and 13.3 years shorter for men.

Among other worries are the disparity between pensions indifferent sectors -- miners and military officers, for example,enjoy much higher benefits than an average pensioner -- and the fact that only 75 percent of workers pay pension contributions.

"BIG RISK"

In his long-term reform programme announced this year,President Viktor Yanukovich promised to radically change the pension system by switching to an accumulative system used in countries like Chile and ex-Soviet peers Russia and Kazakhstan.

But the government has so far committed only to gradually raising women's retirement age to 60, as spellt out by its $15 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund made in July.

It also plans to reduce early retirement benefits and increase the qualification period for full benefits by 10 years.

"This is not a complete solution but it represents a significant step forward," said Blue Ribbon's Swiecicki.

The plans have not been clearly articulated at home. The Yanukovich government has prudently shelved discussion of the issue until after the October 31 regional elections so as not to damage his Regions Party's prospects at the poll.

However, signaling that even modest reform plans could be reviewed, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Tigipko said this month the government would try to avoid retirement age adjustments --a policy that could displease the IMF.

"If we find ways to compensate (growing pension expenditures) without raising the retirement age, we will not raise it," Tigipko told reporters.

"If we don't find ways to compensate we must stimulate people to continue working -- by enabling them to earn more for working every additional year and so on."

Carrying out pension reform in a slowly growing economy was"a big risk", he added.

Source: FOX Business

Ukraine To Cut Gas Purchase From Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will buy 41 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia in 2011 instead of the contracted 55 billion, the Kommersant-Ukraina newspaper said on Thursday.


"We have for all intents and purposes agreed to lower the volume to be purchased," a source in the Russian energy giant Gazprom told the paper, adding however that the corresponding documents were still to be signed.

The paper quoted Ukrainian Energy Ministry officials as saying that Ukraine's record gas reserves of 27 billion cubic meters had made the government seek to cut gas purchases. The country only needs 20 to 22 billion cubic meters of gas a year, Kommersant-Ukraina said.

Ukraine's national energy company Naftogaz receives a 30-percent discount for Russian gas in exchange for the Ukrainian government's agreement to extend the lease on a Russian naval base in the Crimea until at least 2042, which was reached in April.

The Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal ruled in June that Ukraine's national energy company Naftogaz owes its former gas supply intermediary, Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo, 11 billion cubic meters of gas, which the trader says was illegally confiscated in January 2009, as well as fines of 1.1 billion cubic meters.

Naftogaz challenged the verdict, but the Kiev Appeals Court rejected the claim. The energy company now wants to appeal against the decision at the Ukrainian Supreme Court.

Source: RIA Novosti

Fewer People Smoking In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- A significant number of Ukrainian men and women have stopped smoking since 2005, two-thirds of current smokers would like to quit and more than 90 percent of the population supports a total ban on smoking in the workplace, according to the largest tobacco survey ever conducted in Ukraine.

Tobacco prematurely kills more than 100,000 people in Ukraine annually and is some 13 percent of the country’s disease burden.

“We’re happy with the result,” said Nataliya Korol, a national survey officer from the World Health Organization’s Ukraine office. “But we can’t let up.”

Released on Sept. 27, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), which was conducted between 2008-2010, provides not only detailed information about the country’s smoking habits, but also shows how they have changed since Ukraine’s parliament ratified in 2006 the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

FCTC was developed by WHO as the world’s first international public health treaty in an effort to combat the global smoking epidemic.

Ukraine was one of 13 countries that undertook a GATS study. GATS is the international standard used for systematically monitoring adult tobacco use, both smoking and smokeless, and tracking key tobacco control indicators. It is a nationally representative survey that uses standard protocol across countries.

The study showed that 28.8 percent of Ukrainian adults smoke, half of whom are men. The nation's smoking prevalence had been 37 percent in 2005.

Some 67.9 percent of current smokers said they would like to quit, while 40.5 percent tried to kick the habit in the past year. A large majority of adults, 93.1 percent, said they believe smoking causes serious illness, while 86.3 percent believe second-hand smoke is extremely harmful.

Just less than 33 percent of adults inhale secondhand smoke daily or almost daily and 34 percent are exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Two-thirds of adults surveyed said they noticed any anti-cigarette smoking information, and only 45.1 percent noticed cigarette marketing.

Tobacco prematurely kills more than 100,000 people in Ukraine annually and is some 13 percent of the country’s disease burden. Around 70 percent of tobacco-related deaths occur in the 35-69 age groups, experts said.

The drop in smoking rates has come despite a strong tobacco lobby in the Ukrainian parliament, which cuts across all political groups, said officials who presented the GATS finding at a press conference in Kyiv. In fact, the lobby has kept taxes low, making Ukraine's cigarettes among the cheapest in Europe.

“This decrease was the result of introducing in Ukraine measures which showed their effectiveness in other countries,” said Mykola Polischuk, Ukraine’s former health minister who authored the country’s tobacco control law adopted in 2005.

Lawmaker Lesiya Orobets, however, said her colleagues are still dragging their feet in approving graphic warnings that are to be placed on cigarette cartons to dissuade smokers. “They say in (parliament) that these drawings are terrible,” she said sarcastically.

Officials are concerned that cigarette companies will target young people now that adults appear to be cutting back on smoking. Indirect tobacco costs to Ukraine’s economy were about $3 billion in 2007.

To ensure the young don’t light up and adults continue to quit, experts said Ukraine must raise excise taxes on cigarettes.

“When cigarettes are cheaper than chocolate and milk, priority number one is to raise taxes,” said Hanna Hapko, the advocacy coordinator in Ukraine for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a non-profit group that has worked to get anti-smoking laws passed in parliament and cooperates with other organizations on anti-tobacco educational campaigns.

Kostantin Krasovsky, who heads the tobacco control unit at the health ministry’s Ukrainian Institute of Strategic Research, told the Kyiv Post other steps that should be taken to decrease tobacco use in Ukraine include establishing a national monitoring and surveillance system to measure the effectiveness of tobacco control policies and tobacco consumption; amending national legislation and regulations to increase coverage and improve enforcement of smoke-free policies; establishing a comprehensive national system of activities to diagnose and treat tobacco dependence; create greater visibility of messages about the various dangers of tobacco use, including nargile, cigarillos and other tobacco products and developing other informational activities.

“Legislation should be amended to remove point-of-sale, Internet, and other kinds of tobacco advertising,” he said. “These policies, when fully enacted and enforced, will reduce the burden of disease and deaths in those who smoke or are exposed to the tobacco smoke of others.”

In September 2009, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a national targeted social program until 2012 that mitigates harmful effects of tobacco on human health and monitors the effectiveness of policies for the prevention and reduction of tobacco use.

The GATS survey was based on 8,173 completed interviews with individuals 15 years of age and older from randomly selected households.

It was conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies, an umbrella organization which manages the charitable giving of billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City.

Source: Kyiv Post

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ukraine Unveils Nazi Records On Looting, Could Help Trace Stolen Works Back To Rightful Owners

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine on Wednesday made public records chronicling Nazi looting from Holocaust victims across Europe, in an online release that a prominent reparations group says could help trace stolen works of art to their rightful owners.

Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi minister in charge of occupied Soviet territories.

Ukraine's State Archives posted some 140,000 pages of documents from the Kyiv headquarters of Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi minister in charge of occupied Soviet territories.

The records cover Nazi looting from 1940 to 1944 in Belgium, northern France, the Netherlands, Italy, Yugoslavia, and the occupied Soviet territories, and relate to plunder from Jewish communal and private collections, Soviet museums, libraries and other sources.

"Sixty-five years after the end of the war, our knowledge of the extent of Nazi plunder is still incomplete," Julius Berman, chairman of the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said in a statement.

"With the publication of these records, we can help facilitate rightful restitution of looted objects and fill in the gaps in this important piece of history," he said.

The documents are currently available only through a Russian-language search engine. There are plans to translate the website into Ukrainian, German, and English, Wesley A. Fisher, the director of resesarch with the Claims Conference, said.

The Ukrainian collection is the largest stockpile of Rosenberg's records, which were scattered after the war, and are also stored in 29 locations in nine countries, including the Federal Archives of Germany and the U.S. National Archives.

By providing online access to the Nazi files, Ukraine's State Archives has joined an international project to post records related to the looted cultural property that already includes state archives in the United States, Germany, Britain and France.

Earlier this month, representatives of the Claims Conference, Germany's Federal State Archives and Ukraine's State Archives took part in a formal signing ceremony on the release.

Source: The Canadian Press

Ukraine Honors Victims Of Nazi Massacre

KIEV, Ukraine -- Hundreds of people gathered in the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday to mark the 69th anniversary of the Nazi massacre of tens of thousands of Jews.

People lay flowers to a menorah monument close to a Babi Yar ravine where the Nazi machine-gunned tens of thousands of Jews during WWII, in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. Ukraine marked the 69th anniversary of the 1941 Babi Yar massacre.

President Viktor Yanukovych, government officials and relatives of the victims laid flowers at the monument to those killed by the Nazis in the Babi Yar ravine in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

More than 33,700 Jews were shot in Babi Yar over the course of two days, beginning Sept. 29, 1941, one of the most horrific killings of the Holocaust.

In the ensuing months, the ravine was filled with some 100,000 bodies, including those of non-Jewish Kiev residents and Red Army prisoners of the Nazis.

Mourning events also were being held nationwide.

One survivor of the massacre, Viktor Stadnik, said that his mother thought they might be sent to Palestine as the Nazis rounded them up. "It would be great if we were taken to Palestine - it's warm there," he recalled his mother as saying as the Nazis were leading them to Babi Yar. Stadnik, who was seven at the time, managed to escape, thanks to his Ukrainian neighbors.

"I cannot think about those days without tears. This crime against innocent people should never be forgiven," said Tamara Kovalenko, a 73-year-old Ukrainian whose aunt was killed together with her Jewish husband. Kovalenko said that her mother had been hiding a Jewish girl during the Nazi occupation.

The exact death toll at Babi Yar remains unknown. In 1943, as the Red Army approached to free Ukraine, the Nazis ordered Jewish prisoners to dig up the corpses and burn them.

For decades, the Soviets maintained silence about what happened in Babi Yar. Only after Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko drew international attention to the massacre with his 1961 poem "Babi Yar" did the Soviets put up a monument.

Source: AP

Ukraine: Where HIV Runs Rampant

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s AIDS nightmare may be about to become worse. At the moment the ex-Soviet republic is already the country hardest-hit in Europe, with an estimated 360,000 individuals suffering from AIDS or HIV.

A doctor examines the patients of an HIV/AIDS clinic during a protest in front of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers in Kiev.

But experts say that they have been tracking an alarming trend in the past years: HIV is increasingly moving from isolated, individual niches into the general population. And both health officials and NGOs agree that the country's response is vastly underfunded.

Recently, a small, yellow bus entered a back parking area amid the crumbling white high-rises in Kiev’s Obolon bedroom community and halted in front of a small convenience store.

This is the frontline in the battle against HIV/AIDS in Ukraine. In a few minutes, its clients gradually appeared: eight men apparently in their 20s or early 30s, dressed similarly in jeans and windbreakers, with close-cropped hair.

The bus belongs to AIDS activist organization ENEY, and the young men had come to be tested for HIV. All are drug users — the sector of the population, along with sex workers, battered hardest by the disease in Ukraine. According to ENEY workers, about 40 percent of all addicts may be infected.

Inside the bus, Anton, a medical technician with Latin script tattooed up both his arms, drew blood from each in turn, and after 10 minutes delivered a verdict — seven were healthy, but one was HIV-positive.

“Today was a relatively good day — quiet. No fights, and the police did not hassle us,” said Anton, as the bus pulled away.

An estimated 1.3 percent of Ukraine’s adult population is believed to suffer from HIV/AIDS. Officially, just over 100,000 people are infected, but government officials concede that the number is probably much higher. Some 19,000 have died since 1987.

According to the United Nations’ organization UNICEF, eastern Europe and central Asia are the world regions where the HIV virus is spreading fastest.

The Ukrainian government’s response — though focusing on the right areas with the correct methods — has been insufficient. “Ukraine has all the set-up, but it needs to do much more,” said Anna Shakarishvili, the director of the United Nations’ HIV/AIDS program in Ukraine.

According to Shakarishvili, less than half of those infected with HIV/AIDS receive treatment, while only one-third of drug users have access to preventive measures, like clean needles.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Ukraine is overwhelmingly dependent on international donors for providing the funds and means to deal with the problem — while the world economic crisis means that many of these resources are being curtailed.

Ukrainian health officials agree that the government’s reaction has fallen short, but they say that they can only do so much with the money that the central government budgets them.

Svitlana Cherenko, head of the health ministry’s HIV/AIDS unit, said that they need five times the $40 million that is now allotted to combat the disease adequately. Of this sum, however, the ministry only received about $24 million.

There is one bright spot however, said Cherenko: The rate of infections has slowed considerably.

“If we were looking at a 40 percent increase year-on-year in the beginning of the decade, now it's dropped down to around 5 to 7 percent,” she said.

Ultimately, a society-wide outbreak could prove far beyond the capabilities of Ukraine’s antiquated, cash-strapped and corruption-rife medical system, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing economic crisis.

“Some projections are already available,” Shakarishvili said. “Unless Ukraine’s efforts are not upscaled, we will be seeing about 25,000 new infections every year.”

Source: Global Post

Ukraine Is Not Headed Toward Europe

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a Sept. 23 interview, "Kiev leader seeks to join EU," Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych again illustrated that the policy goals he presents abroad bear little relation to what is actually going on inside his country.

Viktor Yanukovych on his visit to Brussels.

For example, he talks about "moving steadfastly along the road of European integration."

Yet integration cannot be achieved when democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights are being threatened as a consequence of authoritarian actions sanctioned by his administration.

Just this month the EU issued a statement on the freedom of Ukraine's press, expressing its "deep concern over the disappearance of the Ukrainian journalist Vasil Klymentyev in August."

The statement said, "the EU also expresses its concerns at recent reports of violence and harassment against media professionals in Ukraine."

That statement followed a strongly worded resolution from Europe's largest political party, the European People's Party (EPP), which said it was "deeply concerned by the current situation with the democratic development in Ukraine."

The EPP cited Kiev's curtailment of media freedoms; selective use of the criminal justice system that appears to persecute allies of the political opposition; and the use of the Security Service that it said "appears to go beyond the normal functions exercised by such agencies in democratic states governed by the rule of law."

It also condemned state interference in the main opposition party's internal affairs. As regards a new law governing nationwide local elections due on Oct. 31, the EPP said that it "falls short of democratic standards."

It is time for Mr. Yanukovych to match his public rhetoric with action.

To borrow a quote from EPP President Wilfried Martens: "Democratic freedoms are not safeguarded by public relations visits to European capitals by government leaders; they are safeguarded by sincere and tangible commitments to Ukrainian society."

Without this, Ukraine's aspiration to join the European Union will remain a pipe dream.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ukraine: Don’t Ask Who Killed Georgiy Gongadze

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ten years ago Ukrainian investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze was murdered. Various officials were named as suspects, one of whom died subsequently in unexplained circumstances. The Yanukovych regime’s clampdown on freedom of speech may mean no satisfactory conclusion will ever be reached.

Georgiy Gongadze was a muckraking, enterprising journalist and co-founder of the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

On a September evening in 2000, Ukrainian investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze, 31, the married father of twin three-year-old daughters, left his colleague’s home on a central Kyiv street.

He hopped into a car, thinking it was a taxi after the driver offered him a lift and encouraged him to take the back seat. Minutes later, two men jumped into the vehicle, surrounding Gongadze on both sides. A fourth took the front passenger seat and hit Gongadze over the head with a rubber truncheon.

Driven to a forest outside Kyiv, his arms and legs tied, a handkerchief stuffed into his mouth, Gongadze was beaten and strangled to death. Fuel was poured over his corpse, which was then set on fire. The next month his body was dug up, beheaded, and reburied, only to be found weeks later by local villagers who stumbled upon a hand protruding upwards from the earth.

Gongadze was a muckraking, enterprising journalist and co-founder of the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda [Ukrainian Truth, ed]. In the weeks leading up to his death, he complained of being followed.

The men who kidnapped him, including Gongadze's alleged killer Police General Olexiy Pukach, were officers from the State Security Service (SBU), Ukraine's successor to the KGB. In 2008 three police officers were convicted of taking part in the murder. Pukach, arrested in July 2009, is expected to stand trial.

Two weeks ago, the 10th anniversary of the brutal killing, Ukraine's General Prosecutor's office announced the findings of its pre-trial investigation: that then-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko was responsible for issuing the direct orders.

The story, as it happens, is not so straightforward - and is raising more questions than answers in Kyiv. Kravchenko died in March 2005 under mysterious circumstances, an apparent suicide by not one, but two bullets to the head.

His body was found the day he was due to appear for questioning about the case. A note allegedly found close to the body said he had "fallen victim to the political intrigues of [then] President [Leonid] Kuchma and his entourage.”

Many in Ukraine claim that the responsibility for Gongadze's killing goes straight to the top and that the now-deceased Kravchenko is a convenient scapegoat for the actual organizers of the crime, some of whom still serve in government.

Valentyna Telychenko, lawyer for Gongadze's widow, is currently studying the Prosecutor's report. "I have not yet seen direct evidence that former Minister Kravchenko issued the order to kill Gongadze," she told me recently.

"I have no doubt that [former President] Kuchma and [current Speaker of Parliament] Lytvyn and Kravchenko are guilty, because they are at the very least responsible for creating the law enforcement structure used against journalists and opposition politicians."

If Telychenko is right, last week's announcement evidences a growing culture of impunity in Ukraine, which some say partly enabled the presumed murder of Kharkiv journalist Vasily Klementyev, a well-known critic of the authorities, who disappeared on August 11.

"It's worrying to see uncomfortable echoes of Gongadze's murder in Klementyev's disappearance," said Andrew Wilson, Ukraine expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in an interview.

"Klementyev was a persistent critic of the government and while it is difficult to say that the regime has had a direct hand in his disappearance, it has certainly created a climate in which the local bad guys felt that taking him out was an option - if that indeed is what happened."

Restriction on press freedoms since President Viktor Yanukovych took office seven months ago have intensified, following a post-Orange Revolution era which saw Ukraine enjoy more democratic freedoms.

Last week's announcement may have a chilling effect on journalists' desires to report on sensitive topics like corruption, spawning an atmosphere which could hamper Ukraine's democratization.

US Under Secretary of State William Burns told reporters in Kyiv earlier this month that the US had "grounds for concern" about freedom of speech in Ukraine. "People talk about challenges like fighting corruption," he said.

"How can you fight corruption unless you have a media that's independent enough to hold people accountable and cast a spotlight on that kind of behavior?"

Evidence implicates Kravchenko's higher-ups in ordering Gongadze's murder. In November 2000, one of Kuchma's bodyguards, Mykola Melnychenko, disclosed secretly recorded tapes which allegedly revealed the voices of Kuchma and some of his ministers, including head of the president's administration Volodymyr Lytvyn - today, the Speaker of the Parliament.

On at least five occasions they discussed following Gongadze closely, "crushing him," "taking care of" him, and "throwing him to the Chechens." Lytvyn allegedly suggested that Kuchma "let loose [Interior Minister] Kravchenko to use alternative methods."

The implicated men all dispute the authenticity of the recordings. In 2002 Bruce Koenig, founder of American forensic specialist firm Bek Tek and formerly supervisor of the FBI's audio/video forensic laboratory, inspected the tapes and concluded that they had not been doctored.

Conflicting conclusions from various Ukrainian and international tests have ultimately rendered the tapes' authenticity inconclusive.

In the meantime, Ukraine's president ducked last week's news. Rather than use the ten-year-anniversary of Gongadze's murder to mark the somber occasion or pledge support for Ukraine's commitment to press freedoms, Yanukovych, Kuchma's prime minister and protege, did not comment.

He did, however, find time to send condolences to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his country's plane crash earlier that week. Yanukovych also instructed Ukraine's Congress of Judges in the ways of integrity.

"In a state which aspires to the rule of law, courts must be respected, authoritative, and truly independent," the president declared. He went on to say that "judges must prove to the people of Ukraine by their actions that courts are the way to truth and justice."

The same Prosecutor General's office that issued the finding, meanwhile, is described this month by a European human rights organization as having "extensive powers" which are "not controlled or supervised by the court system" and which "far exceed European norms."

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly stated in a September report that "a crucial shortcoming in the current system is the general oversight function of the Prosecutor General, which is a remnant of the Soviet concept of the [Prosecutor] and is contrary to European standards and values." The report also calls the justice system "heavily politicized."

For their part, Kuchma and Lytvyn welcomed the announcement, effectively, as an exoneration, although Lytvyn conceded that "very influential people, including, obviously, those in Ukraine" were behind the killing of the journalist.

"The investigation confirmed my innocence in this case, despite the fact that efforts have been, are being and will be taken to make me practically the main person accused [of killing the journalist]," he said.

Kuchma, in turn, put the blame on "an international scandal designed to compromise Ukraine," saying foreign secret services were involved in Gongadze's disappearance. He added that CIA agents were present at anti-presidential demonstrations in the wake of Gongadze's disappearance.

Serhiy Lyovochkin, Yanukovych's chief of staff and Kuchma's former top aide, added flames to this fire by saying that his former boss must have had reason to suggest that foreign intelligence officers were involved in the murder. "Kuchma is a politician with a vast amount of experience. He likely had grounds to declare so."

US Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft called Kuchma's implied allegation that the US was behind Gongadze's murder "clearly absurd," saying in an interview that "the United States has consistently supported freedom of the press and rule of law in Ukraine and everywhere in the former Soviet Union." He added, "there's no basis to [this allegation] at all."

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor's findings, which are due to be followed by a trial, continue to be questioned. "It is extremely convenient to put the entire blame for this murder on Yuri Kravchenko, who is dead, and to say the case is solved," wrote Valery Kalnysh, deputy editor of Kommersant Ukraina. "But what did the interior minister have against the journalist? Nothing. I assume he was acting on orders."

Gongadze's mother, Lesya Gongadze, was similarly sceptical. "The only thing that interests the country's new authorities is demonstrating to the international community that they have solved the case."

Will the international community push back? It's too soon to tell. The OSCE's Media Freedom chief, Dunja Mijatovic, visits Kyiv on a fact-finding trip next month. Viktoria Syumar, Executive Director of the Institute for Mass Information, said that Ukraine needs active, pragmatic support from the West, not just words.

"In reality, the [Ukrainian] authorities ignore all of our statements and recommendations. Now, the media has a pro-government position which means we have no outlet for our work," she said.

Some worry that recent clampdowns on democratic freedoms in Ukraine, including lingering questions in connection with the Gongadze case, might be overlooked in exchange for political stability - a condition critics say Ukraine lacked during the Yushchenko presidency's five years of political infighting.

"Yanukovych is pushing a kind of authoritarianism-lite at the moment and he's calculating that the Europeans and other leaders will turn a blind eye to it and not interfere because the alternative would be a return to the chaos and infighting of the Orange coalition," said Wilson.

On 16 September, the evening of the 10th anniversary of Gongadze's disappearance, 150 journalists, NGO workers and other supporters gathered on Maidan square, site of Ukraine's 2005 Orange Revolution, holding candles in support of the murdered journalist.

Signs depicting Gongadze's blacked-out silhouette, inscribed, "Ukraine, are you not ashamed?" dotted the crowd. The group slowly processed up one of Kyiv's series of famous hills to Bankova Street, seat of the Presidential Administration where - just two hours short of the exact hour of Gongadze's disappearance - they chanted words of support for their murdered colleague.

Said Veronika Prohkyra, an NGO worker, "the people in power want to blame Gongadze's murder on a dead person. And we don't buy it."

Source: Open Democracy

Ukraine, Poland Honor Katyn Victims

KIEV, Ukraine -- The president of Poland and Ukraine's prime minister joined victims' relatives to honor thousands of Polish officers killed by the Soviet secret police 70 years ago in the Katyn massacre.

Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski (L) and Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (R) attend a ceremony commemorating the massacre of thousands of Polish officers killed in 1940 by the Soviet secret police.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on Saturday laid wreaths at a former prison building in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, where many of the officers were murdered.

Other officers were shot in the Katyn forest of western Russia, and the killings have become known as the Katyn massacre. An estimated 22,000 Polish officers, taken prisoner by the Soviets after the September 1939 invasion of Poland, were shot in the killings that began in April 1940.

"I would like very much for us to have the possibility here in Kharkiv, as well as in other places, to retain both personal and collective memory of those killed by this totalitarian regime," Komorowski said.

Some 400 relatives of the Polish victims joined the commemoration, which included visiting a cemetery where about 3,800 of the victims are buried.

The Nazis discovered the mass graves of the officers in the Katyn forest during their march on Moscow in the fall of 1941. Soviet propaganda blamed the deaths on Adolf Hitler and punished anyone speaking the truth with harsh prison terms.

In 1990, Moscow acknowledged that dictator Josef Stalin's feared NKVD secret police -- the precursor to the KGB -- were responsible.

Katyn inadvertently drew international attention this April when then-Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and all 94 other top Polish civilian and military officials heading for a Katyn commemoration died in a plane crash near Smolensk airport.

Source: AP

Kiev Seeks To Kickstart Free Trade Zone Talks With EU

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will soon put forward its proposals on how to kickstart stalled free trade zone talks with the European Union, which came to a halt this summer, the country's Deputy Premier Serhiy Tihipko said on Tuesday.

Deputy Premier Serhiy Tihipko

"I'm convinced that we would put forward interesting proposals on how to practically unblock the free trade zone negotiations. We already have such proposals," Tigipko said.

Talks on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, to include a free trade zone deal, stalled in mid-June.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov then cited a dispute over agricultural issues as a main obstacle.

Experts say, however, that Brussels is seeking an unequal deal which would give it full access to the Ukrainian market while retaining an opportunity to take protective measures for domestic markets.

Ukraine insists both sides should be given equal privileges.

Source: RIA Novosti

In Case Of Emergency, Please Remove Your Bra

CHICAGO, USA -- Caught in a disaster? You'd better hope you're wearing the Emergency Bra. Simply unsnap the bright red bra, separate the cups, and slip it over your head -- one cup for you, and one for your friend.

The Emergency Bra is a protective garment that transforms into two respiratory face masks in case of an emergency.

Dr. Elena Bodnar won an Ignoble Award for the invention last year, an annual tribute to scientific research that on the surface seems goofy but is often surprisingly practical. And now Bodnar has brought the eBra to the public; purchase one online for just $29.95.

"The goal of any emergency respiratory device is to achieve tight fixation and full coverage. Luckily, the wonderful design of the bra is already in the shape of a face mask and so with the addition of a few design features, the Emergency Bra enhances the efficiency of minimizing contaminated bypass air flow," explains the eBra website.

It sounds silly, but Bodnar, a Ukraine native who now lives in Chicago, started her medical career studying the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster.

If people had had cheap, readily available gas masks in the first hours after the disaster, she said, they may have avoided breathing in Iodine-131, which causes radiation sickness.

The bra-turned-gas masks could have also been useful during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and for women caught outside during the dust storms that recently enveloped Sydney, she said.

"You have to be prepared all the time, at any place, at any moment, and practically every woman wears a bra," she said. Her patented devices also look pretty, no different from a conventional bra, she added.

According to a report on tech news site CNET, there are plans for a "counterpart device for men" in the works, though the precise shape it will take has yet to be revealed.

Source: FOXNews

Activists To Stage Protest At SBU Office

KIEV, Ukraine -- A group of civil rights activists plans to stage a protest in front of the SBU security service offices on Wednesday in response to increasing pressure against journalists in Ukraine.

SBU headquarters in Kiev.

The activists plan to line up in front of the SBU before submitting formal requests to disclose whether the SBU has been recently secretly gathering any information on them.

The action comes amid reports indicating that the SBU has been allegedly secretly targeting Viktoria Syumar, a civil rights activist and a journalist, by questioning people knowing her.

“A concierge in the building told me that people had come and introduced themselves as SBU agents, showed their IDs. They asked who was living in my apartment, who was coming and when, who was leaving and when, etc.,” Syumar wrote in her blog.

Syumar has been actively campaigning for the freedom of speech by leading the “Stop Censorship!” movement among journalists that had gained momentum after the election of Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency.

The SBU on Monday declined to comment on the report.

The developments come amid reports suggesting SBU has been conducting surveillance of Democratic Alliance, a Cherkasy-based non-government organization, by investigating who was financing the organization.

Oleh Shynkarenko, a Ukrainian blogger, was summoned up to the SBU security service in July, and warned officially against posting any comments critical of President Yanukovych.

This is the first time the security service in Ukraine has taken action against a blogger for posting critical remarks about the government on the Internet.

It shows the authorities, earlier criticized by international media organizations for attempts at restricting the freedom of speech on television, have now actually expanded the pressure to new areas, such as blogging.

The SBU explained the pressure on Shynkarenko by his posting of material that had allegedly contained threats against Yanukovych.

Jean-François Julliard, the secretary general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, was in Kiev in July to investigate complaints the authorities have been putting pressure on media.

Julliard singled out Valeriy Khoroshovskiy, the SBU chief who combines his job with managing Inter media group, which includes Ukraine’s most popular television channel.

“This is a real conflict of interests,” Julliard said. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ukraine’s Oligarchs And Democratic Regression: Why Are They Silent?

WASHINGTON, DC -- The image of the Viktor Yanukovych administration continues to deteriorate in the eyes of Ukrainians and Europe, as seen in opinion polls and a September 13 statement by the Political Assembly of the center-right European Peoples Party, the most influential political group in the European Parliament.

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) Chairman, Valery Khoroshkovsky.

The EPP asserted it is “deeply disturbed by the ongoing situation with Ukraine’s democratic development”. Two days later the EU called upon Yanukovych to not destroy Ukraine’s democracy.

A central figure contributing to ending Yanukovych’s honeymoon with the West is the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) Chairman, Valery Khoroshkovsky. It is, therefore, surprising that his protégé, oligarch and Leonid Kuchma’s son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, a trailblazer in seeking to lobby a new and improved international image for himself, has remained silent.

Khoroshkovsky was propelled into Ukrainian politics in 2002 as a leader of the KOP (Winter Crop Generation) political party that Pinchuk funded as a rival to Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine.

The seventh annual summit of Pinchuk’s Yalta European Strategy (YES), an event which senior European and American elites regularly attend, had nothing to say about threats to Ukraine’s democracy. Such threats derail Ukraine’s hopes for European integration, as seen in the EPP and EU statements, and thereby make the work of the YES NGO ineffectual.

Former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and Secretary General of the Council of the EU, Javier Solana, joined the board of YES. YES Chairman and former Polish President, Aleksandr Kwasniewski, said, “With his outstanding record as the EU’s chief diplomat he is uniquely suited to further strengthen the impact of YES as the leading platform to promote Ukraine’s European integration.”

“Ukraine has a special place in my heart,” Solana said, adding “therefore, I am happy to be able to support its work towards European integration as a board member of YES. I will work with the YES board to provide concrete advice and help foster a constructive dialog on how to tackle common global challenges and pave the way to Ukraine’s EU integration”. Such statements appear to be mere rhetoric in the face of the assault on Ukraine’s democracy.

In addition to Pinchuk, Khoroshkovsky is also tied to Dmytro Firtash through media interests in Inter, Ukraine’s most popular television channel, and seven regional channels. Inter, which is the dominant channel in Russophone Eastern-Southern Ukraine, played a vital role in mobilising votes for Yanukovych in this year’s presidential elections.

Firtash, unlike Pinchuk, has no political ambitions beyond aligning with Ukrainian politicians who do not intervene in his business interests, particularly gas. Firtash has never run for parliament, unlike Pinchuk who did so in 1998 and 2002.

Pinchuk, Firtash and other Ukrainian oligarchs would not wish to see a Russian-style authoritarian regime introduced into Ukraine as it would be unpredictable in its relations with big business and would undermine European integration.

Ukraine’s oligarchs see as more important Kyiv signing a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) with the EU over the amorphous CIS Single Economic Space. Nevertheless, Ukrainian oligarchs have not followed some of their Russian counterparts (Mikhail Khoroshkovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and the more controversial Boris Berezovsky) in opposing authoritarianism, after Vladimir Putin was first elected in 2000.

Some Ukrainian oligarchs, such as Khoroshkovsky and Igor Kolomoysky, owner of 1+1 channel, have been accused by journalists of assisting in dismantling democratic gains by introducing censorship. The declining situation in the media has mostly contributed to tarnishing the Yanukovych administration’s image in Europe.

Khoroshkovsky has embarrassed the Yanukovych administration and thereby harmed Ukraine’s European credentials in his two positions as media magnate and SBU Chairman. Channels 5 and TVI have been stripped of frequencies they won in competitions.

Academics and historians working in archives have been detained, threatened or visited by the SBU, leading to an outcry throughout Europe and an open protest letter signed by over 100 Western academics on September 15.

The SBU’s July detention of Nico Lange, head of the Ukraine office of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, was embarrassing for the Ukrainian authorities coming only a month before Yanukovych’s visit to Germany. Lange was released only after the intervention of Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

A subsequent investigation of the Revival Fund, financed by George Soros, was closed after a direct intervention by the presidential administration head, Serhiy Levochkin.

Anatoliy Grytsenko, head of the parliamentary committee on national security and defence, believes –like many– that the SBU is deliberately derailing Ukraine’s European integration and thereby pushing Ukraine into a single vector pro-Russian foreign policy.

Such views about Khoroshkovsky are widespread in the foreign ministry, a senior Ukrainian diplomat confided to Jamestown, and among former SBU officers who see the SBU transforming itself into a new KGB. The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union warned that SBU officers actions “are more reminiscent of those of the KGB in the Soviet era”.

The detention of former Yulia Tymoshenko government ministers is not perceived, as Yanukovych claimed during his August 30 visit to Germany, as a serious battle against corruption because the arrests are selective against only one political force, the Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT).

Tymoshenko’s right-hand man, Oleksandr Turchynov, was interrogated by the SBU and has since gone into hiding, together with former Economy Minister, Bohdan Danylyshyn, who is wanted for questioning.

The Fatherland Party, which Tymoshenko leads, is a member of the EPP where she spoke during the EPP congress on September 15. The EPP includes leaders and governments from 15 EU members as well as EU Commission President, Manuel Barroso, and therefore will influence whether the West declares the October 31 Ukrainian local elections as “free”.

Some of Ukraine’s oligarchs have sought to change their international image, all have second homes in France, Monaco and Britain and support Ukraine signing a free trade zone agreement with the EU.

Why are they silent about the erosion of Ukraine’s democracy, particularly steps undertaken by the SBU, which undermine Ukraine’s future prospects of EU membership?

Indeed, their silence is even more contradictory as they have more to lose than Russian oligarchs who opposed authoritarianism during Putin’s first term. Russia –unlike Ukraine– has never sought NATO or EU membership.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Billionaire Russian Vodka Maker Tariko May Expand His Distribution Unit

MOSCOW, Russia -- Billionaire Roustam Tariko, the owner of Russian Standard vodka, said he may expand his liquor distribution business into neighboring countries.

Russian Standard vodka

“We may go to some other markets like Ukraine with our business model,” Tariko, 48, said in a Sept. 23 telephone interview from Sydney. “But it’s unlikely we will expand somewhere else.”

Tariko, ranked Russia’s 47th-richest man by Forbes magazine, said he will consider acquiring rival spirit makers to bolster growth. In June, Tariko announced plans to buy Nemiroff, a Ukrainian vodka maker, to add lower-priced brands to his Russian Standard portfolio.

“We have a strong competitive advantage in vodka from Russia,” Tariko said. “For me to go and enter another category, like whiskey, or something else would definitely be an opportunity, but it would be more expensive.”

Russian Standard says it is the country’s biggest producer of premium vodka, defined as costing more than 200 rubles ($6.46) per 0.75 liter bottle.

The billionaire is reluctant to introduce flavored vodka, a tactic he says rival Pernod Ricard SA has done successfully with its Absolut brand, as such a product may lack the long-term growth of traditional sprits.

Tariko had an estimated fortune of $1.4 billion, Forbes magazine said in April. His Russian Standard Corp. runs a liquor distribution business, the original source of his wealth, and owns a bank.

Source: Bloomberg

A Russian City Abroad

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- It doesn’t take long for a visitor to Sevastopol to notice evidence of the city’s historic role as a heroic defender of Russia. Souvenir stalls sell Russian flags, and monuments and street names refer to Russian naval commanders as well as cultural icons.

Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Ukrainian national symbols are confined to municipal buildings, including a conspicuously orange and blue post office on the main thoroughfare, Bolshaya Morskaya Street.

This image has been cultivated since its inception, as Mikhail Yurlov, a former Ukrainian diplomat and director of NGO Fund “Sevastopol,” as well as an advisor to the chairman of the Sevastopol City Administration, said: “Sevastopol is different to any other city in the Crimea, because it was built in 1783 as a Russian military fortress and developed as such over two centuries.”

This history, Yurlov believes, came to define its inhabitants’ mentality.

Leo Tolstoy’s first-hand accounts of the siege of the citadel during the Crimean War both reflected and added to this image in the mid-19th century. In “Sevastopol in December,” the first of Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Sketches, he describes the city under siege, noting: “The one central, reassuring conviction you have come away with is that it is quite impossible for Sevastopol ever to be taken by the enemy. Not only that: you are convinced that the strength of the Russian people cannot possibly ever falter, no matter in what part of the world it may be put to the test.”

When Sevastopol was besieged a second time during World War II, this imagery was revived and updated with new tales of heroism.

Split personality

But a number of points contradict those who see Sevastopol as a purely Russian city, not least the fact that Sevastopol is now situated in an independent Ukraine. How the October Revolution and later Ukrainian independence affected the city and its Russian identity is a divisive issue, with some saying it is as Russian as ever and others recognizing other influences.

The first threat to Sevastopol’s Russian identity came with the advent of the Soviet Union and the introduction of a new ideology. Karl Qualls, an associate professor and department chair at Dickinson College and the author of “From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II” sees the impact of Soviet thinking on the city’s identity as minimal.

“The city had been settled as primarily an ethnically Russian city throughout the 19th century, and the Soviets did nothing to change this,” he said.

Although Sevastopol faced the prospect of a Ukrainian identity in 1991, it would have had to have been created from scratch. Yurlov pointed to a subtle shift in the way Russia viewed the base after 1991, seeing it as something it leased rather than something it owned. But while various policies to Ukrainianize the city have been introduced in the last two decades, there remains resistance to certain innovations, such as changing the names of key locations: “War memorials, sacred places, etc. are all tied to Russia,” said Qualls.

“So even though children now learn Ukrainian language and history in school, their local history all points to Moscow. When they get married and take their photographs at monuments, where is the Ukrainian hero to honor? Taras Shevchenko? To my knowledge, he never even visited the city.”

Sergei Tsekhov, the spokesman for The Russian Community of Crimea and co-chairman of the political movement Russian Unity, also sees Sevastopol’s identity as something which continues to hinge on notions of Russianness.

“Not only is Russian feeling in Sevastopol not on the decline, it is stable and even increasing,” he said. “Changes in the status of a territory don’t change the spirit of a city or how the people who live there feel, which in Sevastopol is Russian.”

This is despite what Tsekhov describes as a policy of forced Ukrainianization, which is being carried out by the government in Kiev. “Ukrainianization is taking place in practically all spheres of life here,” he said.

“It is the policy of Ukraine to remove Russian from legal proceedings, education, but you hear Russian spoken everywhere. I think it is unnatural because everyone has the right to choose the language they use.”

Other potential alternative identities are represented by the Karaite Jewish community and the revival of Crimean Tatar culture. But the decimation of the former in World War II and the fact that the key sites of a newly flourishing Tatar culture are elsewhere on the peninsula make this relatively unlikely.

While the Ukrainian language has become more dominant in the city since Ukrainian independence, the weight of Russian history and myth could prove difficult to overcome, particularly while the Russian Black Sea Fleet continues to call the city its home.

Firmly anchored

For the time being, Sevastopol is still adapting to the news that the Black Sea Fleet will be housed in the city for some time. The previous Ukrainian government, under Viktor Yushchenko, had put a 2017 deadline on the Russian Navy’s presence in Sevastopol.

The new deal stipulates that the fleet will remain in Sevastopol until at least 2042, with an option to extend this to 2047. This agreement has a lot of popular support in Sevastopol, both among residents and those involved in the political and business spheres.

“The Black Sea Navy? I would like the Black Sea Fleet to stay forever,” said Yurlov. “As the Romans said, ‘if you want peace, prepare for war.’ Let it be an ingredient for the Black Sea collective security forces.”

Tsekhov also sees the extension of the lease in Sevastopol as a positive move, and not just for Russian organizations or Russian people in the Crimea. “The Black Sea Fleet is a big factor in Ukraine’s relationship with Russia. It also plays a part in the stability of our international relations. If they removed the fleet, I think that there would be a serious conflict with the local population and the Ukrainian government. It’s a big part of our lives,” he said.

Qualls describes the fleet as “a tangible symbol of Russianness in the city.” He believes that the lease extension will make the development of a stronger Ukrainian identity in Sevastopol difficult.

“I think it certainly extends the time until the city might become known as truly Ukrainian. Educating children in Ukrainian is a vital step. But until the Russian babushkas have passed away and are no longer able to undo what the Ukrainian education system is trying to do, there will remain a strong identification with Russia.”

Alongside its impact on the city’s identity, the deal struck in April could have wide-ranging consequences for the local economy. In the wake of the signing of the agreement, Medvedev ordered the Russian minister of defense to develop a social-economic plan for Sevastopol, although Yurlov notes that he is yet to see any sign of this.

The fund head also believes that the peak of Russian government investment in the city happened a long time ago. “I would be happy if the Russian government invested a lot in the city, but I don’t think it will ever be like it was before,” he said.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the scale of the Black Sea Fleet’s forces in Sevastopol has been reduced drastically. “To take just one example, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were 30 submarines and other warships, now Russia has only one in Sevastopol,” Yurlov noted.

This has had a great impact on the labor force in Sevastopol, a much larger proportion of which used to be employed making and repairing this equipment.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov is another of Russia’s key investors in Sevastopol, and he has cut a controversial figure in recent years. The mayor has invested heavily, constructing housing for sailors, a secondary school and establishing a branch of Moscow State University in the city, as well as a business and cultural center called Moscow House.

But while this helped to make him popular with the locals, it has led to tension with the central Ukrainian government. “In my understanding, Moscow has been seen by locals as doing much more for the city than Kiev. If Russia continues to be a prominent financier of development, how and why would people feel gratitude to Kiev?” Qualls asked.

In May of 2008, following Luzhkov’s assertion that Sevastopol should not have been transferred to Ukraine along with the rest of Crimea in February of 1954, he was banned from entering Ukraine. This ban was lifted two years later, and Luzhkov was in Sevastopol to celebrate Navy Day in late July this year.

During this trip he announced a three million dollar investment plan, pledging finance and support for projects including housing and education facilities in Sevastopol, to be carried out between 2011 and 2013.

Yurlov notes that the tone of Luzhkov’s rhetoric has changed, which he sees as a positive development. “The fund’s main activity is to attract investment, so when Luzhkov, one of the most important Russian investors in Sevastopol, was a persona non grata, it put Russians off further investment,”he said.

Not all Russian investment and involvement in the city enjoys such popular support, however. Yurlov pointed to Russian Konstantin Grigorishin and Ukrainian “chocolate king” Petro Poroshenko as two businessmen who have caused controversy with their investment strategy in Sevastopol.

“They bought shares in the Sevastopol Marine Plant, a large shipbuilding and repairing facility, which had always been a symbol of the town. But they weren’t interested in the traditional industry that had been based there for more than 200 years. They almost closed the factory and tried to turn it into a residential and entertainment complex. This was very unpopular in Sevastopol. Although these plans have not been implemented for various reasons, the plant now employs only 200 people, where before more than 16,000 worked there,” he said.

Beyond the water

For Yurlov, the demise of certain industries linked to the Black Sea Fleet and the rise of alternatives has changed the city significantly. “Sevastopol is already more than just a naval base,” he said. “Therefore it needs to diversify its economy and create a brand which is not just related to the two naval bases that it houses.”

To do this Yurlov and his colleagues are working on a new regional development plan for Sevastopol that they hope will retain elements of the Black Sea Fleet while also expanding Sevastopol as a city of international economy, culture, science and tourism.

The city is aiming to secure cooperation with organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to implement the scheme.

Yurlov cites Singapore as a good example: “In 1960 when the British left, the local authorities went to the UNDP, which told them to develop a special economic zone. Singapore is now one of the largest industrial-financial centers in the world.”

And the city is already benefitting from external help. A “Strategic Investment Plan” adopted by Sevastopol City Council was elaborated with the help of USAID. And Director of the EU Delegation’s Office in Ukraine Ambassador José Manuel Pinto Teixeira has also announced a € 12 million ($ 15 million) joint cooperation initiative in Crimea.

Source: RIA Novosti

Tymoshenko Ready For Battle Again

KIEV, Ukraine -- Something in the morning papers had annoyed Yulia Tymoshenko. A steely glint flashed in her eyes as she reached for copies of two newspapers she said are controlled by the Party of Regions.

Ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

She pointed to two articles that she said tried to portray her as “a has-been with no chance.”

“They are trying to show that [the] opposition has died. … But I think a cross will be placed on someone else’s political career,” she warned in typically combative language. She was clearly referring to her rival, President Viktor Yanukovych.

After her Feb. 7 election defeat in the run-off against Yanukovych and subsequent dismissal as prime minister, Tymoshenko is back in the position that many see as her strongest – that of fiery opposition leader.

Largely squeezed off national television channels, dismissed by critics as compromised by her alleged failures as prime minister, and with several of her allies under arrest or investigation, Tymoshenko now needs all the street-fighting skills she has learned over her colorful political career.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Kyiv Post earlier this month, she demonstrated that she still has the touch which helped her rally massive crowds of Orange Revolution voters, and continues to inspire millions of voters today.

In typical straight-talk, she accused the authorities of persecuting her supporters, seizing authoritarian control over the country and trying to sideline her party. She pledged to modernize her party, come up with a strategy to solve the country’s problems and fight back against President Yanukovych’s dominant Party of Regions.

Opposition leader

Tymoshenko dismissed claims that she had already had her chance to improve the country in her two stints as prime minister in 2005 and 2008-10. She said that constant pressure on her from then-President Viktor Yushchenko meant she was virtually in opposition.

She faulted other opposition figures, staking her claim as the politician with the best shot of standing up to Yanukovych’s ever bolder steps at seizing more power.

“Looking for new faces is a new dead end. We should be looking for new ideas,” she said.

She wrote off former Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk as having “no vision, no freedom.” Yushchenko “has no future,” she said. Svoboda leader Oleh Tiahnybok is “the kind of opposition Yanukovych dreams about,” as his nationalist message won’t gain popularity across the country.

She dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Sergiy Tigipko – whom polls place narrowly behind her in third, with the president in first place – as a puppet of the Regions Party.

“Strong Ukraine [Tigipko’s party] is a clone of Spravedlivaya Rossiya,” she said, referring to the pro-Kremlin opposition party, A Just Russia.

New ideas?

Following the election defeat to Yanukovych (which she still calls fraudulent), Tymoshenko suffered disappointment and exhaustion after battling the economic crisis as prime minister and fighting a tough campaign, her aides say.

Now she says she is ready to revamp her Fatherland Party. She says she’s working on creating a strategy for the country, including a package of laws and reforms and a new constitution.

According to Tymoshenko, the party will be decentralized, its ranks “cleansed” – 28 lawmakers were kicked out of her Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko on Sept. 21 – and converted from a party that is run by “leadership directives.” Elections will be held for key party posts.

But the decoupling of her party from her dominating image will be tough, as she herself admitted.

Political analysts said this is hardly likely, as leader is the fundamental building block of any Ukrainian party, and an advantage Tymoshenko holds as a charismatic figure.

Under pressure

The first moves to change her party have met with resistance. After the party leadership in Kyiv and Lviv oblasts was changed, Tymoshenko said those dismissed formed a “fictitious” party called Fatherland, which intends to field candidates in local elections.

She said this was a trick by the presidential administration to squeeze her out.

Serhiy Lyovochkin, Yanukovych’s chief of staff, said earlier this month that these were “internal conflicts” within Tymoshenko’s party.

Tymoshenko claimed Yanukovych’s power is now “absolute,” across the executive, legislative and judiciary. She said her allies are being put under pressure to join the coalition.

“They (the coalition) are people … who live by their own rules, not laws,” she said.

The presidential administration has repeatedly dismissed Tymoshenko’s claims as an insignificant blabber-mouth. But her allies claim to be feeling the pressure not only in parliament.

Several senior officials from her government are in jail and under investigation for corruption. “Yanukovych sees the opposition only in prisons, in exile, without access to media … and even without the right to carry out public actions,” she said.

Gas deals

The net is closing in on Tymoshenko. Oleksandr Turchynov, her closest confidant, was called in for questioning by the SBU (State Security Service) three times in recent days.

The former state customs chief and deputy head of state gas company Naftogaz under Tymoshenko’s most recent tenure as premier are currently behind bars over the 2009 appropriation of 11 billion cubic meters of gas from middleman gas trader RosUkrEnergo, whose Ukrainian owners are close to Yanukovcyh’s inner circle.

Tymoshenko said the complex agreement was struck with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin after RosUkrEnergo failed to settle a debt to Gazprom of $1.7 billion for gas. Naftogaz paid for it, she said. It was agreed that Naftogaz would take the gas in lieu of gas transportation fees for Russia using Ukraine’s pipelines.

Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash, co-owner of RosUkrEnergo along with Gazprom, took Naftogaz to an international arbitration court, claiming back the gas plus penalties.

The case was finally won by RosUkrEnergo, Tymoshenko claims, after “capitulation” by the Ukrainian side. Naftogaz must now return 12.1 billion cubic meters of gas, currently worth around $5 billion.

Tymoshenko repeated claims that Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko and Lyovochkin are the links in the chain between the authorities and RosUkrEnergo and its Ukrainian co-owners Firtash (45 percent) and Ivan Fursin (5 percent).

She said Firtash had overtaken Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, as the major financial supporter of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Both sides deny links.

Asked what evidence she had of Lyovochkin’s involvement in RosUkrEnergo, Tymoshenko replied: “People in politics know who is working with whom and who is carrying out business with whom.”

Lyovochkin, despite admitting friendships with Firtash and Fursin, denies any business links.

Boyko, at a sitting of the parliamentary investigative committee on the deal last week, admitted he had been on RosUkrEnergo’s board of directors, but said that he no longer is.

But he could not provide documents to prove that he had officially been relieved of these duties. Moreover, documents the committee has included as evidence show that Boyko has had business relations, of sorts, with Firtash, holding power-of-attorney over the billionaire’s assets in the past.

Roman Zvarych, chairman of parliament’s investigative commission on the RosUkrEnergo case, said: “These documents clearly indicate that there was at one time a business arrangement between Boyko and Firtash.

And this may indicate grounds for possible collusion on the part of Boyko, specifically in the Stockholm arbitration case, in the ruling on behalf of RosUkrEnergo.”

Zvarych, considered a Tymoshenko ally, added: “But this document alone would need to be supported by an entire series of evidence to prove the case. Boyko, in turn, has given testimony where he has claimed that his business relationship with Firtash and RosUkrEnergo was cut on his initiative long ago.

When asked if he remembered what year this was, he could not state with any certainty. And when asked if he could document these words, he could not provide such documents.”

With evidence building up to support Tymoshenko’s case against RosUkrEnergo and its close links with Yanukovych, the authorities appear to be taking harder shots at those close to her.

It remains unclear whether they will go after Tymoshenko herself. It’s a prospect she seems almost to relish, and she has in recent weeks dared authorities to jail her, instead of her closest allies, insisting she gave all the orders for actions which they are charged for.

“The only thing that’s stopping him is that it could increase the public's trust in me, turn me into a hero,” she said.

That mistake has been made before, when she was briefly thrown in jail under ex-President Leonid Kuchma in 2001 on corruption charges, which were eventually withdrawn, before emerging as a fearsome opposition champion.

Jailing Tymoshenko could build sympathy and invigorate supporters. Analysts say if she’s arrested, it will be her political lifeline. Instead, authorities seem inclined to cut her off from potential supporters.

“I don’t think they’ll touch her, as the same thing could happen again,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, head of political programs at the Razumkov Center. “It’s better to put pressure on her and weaken her.”

Comeback?

Can Tymoshenko launch a comeback?

The latest polls released by the Razumkov Center in late August – which she claims underestimate her support – show her party with 13.7 percent backing, down from 16.0 percent in June.

Her negative rating of people who “do not support” her is the second highest among all Ukraine’s leading politicians, after Yushchenko, at 62.5 percent.

But a ray of light for Tymoshenko comes from the plunge in the Party of Regions support, from 41.2 percent in June to 27.6 percent in August.

She will look to capitalize on the unfilled promises and any growing discontent with Yanukovych’s increased grip on power.

“[People] tasted freedom after the Orange Revolution,” she said. “Now people are being offered something different. … Fear has seized everyone. They probably won’t hit the streets, but they know how to behave toward this team – that’s where the hope is.”

“She is the only and most radical political force in the opposition,” said Razumkov’s Yakymenko. “If people become disappointed with the political and economic situation, they are likely to turn to her.”

“I haven’t yet completed my role and task in politics, because the actions of Yushchenko, after he became president, took that possibility away,” Tymoshenko said.

Source: Kyiv Post

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ukraine, Congo Pilots Freed In D.R. Congo: Red Cross

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- A rebel group released a Ukrainian pilot and his Congolese colleague kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo more than three weeks ago, the Red Cross said Saturday.

A Congolese soldier watches a UN helicopter take off from Walikale in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Ukrainian, 56, and his 34-year-old DR Congo co-pilot were freed on Friday, said the International Committee of the Red Cross, which collected the men in the Nord-Kivu province on the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

They "are very, very tired by the conditions which they have been through", a representative told AFP.

They had been held in the forest by Mai Mai militants who had agreed to free them and two unidentified injured people "without conditions", the official said.

The pilots were captured on September 1 after their plane was attacked by Mai Mai and Rwandan Hutu rebels shortly after landing at Kilambo, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the town of Walikale.

The identities of the two injured people were not known and the Red Cross could not confirm if they were passengers who were also kidnapped in the attack.

The rebels had also targeted another plane during the attack but the crew and three passengers working for an NGO fled into the jungle.

Two rebels were killed in subsequent fighting with government troops.

The Kilambo airstrip, which has been closed since the incident, is used by small planes to transport the mineral cassiterite from the nearby Bisie mine to Goma, the capital of the turbulent Nord-Kivu region.

The DR Congo government announced this month a crackdown on insurgents in the resource-rich northeast of the country, which is a major source of cassiterite and coltan, the minerals used in the West to build telephones, computers and games consoles.

Source: AFP

Polish President Visits Ukraine To Honor Soviet Victims

KIEV, Ukraine -- Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski will visit the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Saturday to commemorate the 1940 massacre of about 4,000 Polish officers by the Soviet secret police NKVD.

The mass murder of thousands of Polish officers, police and civilians taken prisoner during the 1939 partitioning of Poland by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, remains one of the most painful issues in Russian-Polish relations.

Komorowski, who was elected president following the death of former president Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in western Russia in April, will attend a memorial mass and wreath-laying ceremony along with Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

According to declassified WWII documents, Soviet leadership approved a proposal by NKVD chief Lavrenty Beria, dated March 5, 1940, to execute all members of the Polish Officer Corps.

The executions took place in various parts of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The largest massacre occurred in the Katyn forest near the Russian city of Smolensk.

In Ukraine, the Soviet secret police took the Polish officers from the Starobelsk camp near Kharkiv, shot them in the inner NKVD Kharkiv prison and buried their bodies outside of the city.

The mass murder of thousands of Polish officers, police and civilians taken prisoner during the 1939 partitioning of Poland by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, remains one of the most painful issues in Russian-Polish relations.

Source: RIA Novosti

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ukraine's Environment Strategy Worrying Brussels

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- No EU money can flow to Ukraine's state programmes for the environment unless the government opens up to input from civil society, the European Commission said on Friday, while separately welcoming Kiev's new commitment to adapt its energy legislation to EU law.

Ukraine's CO2 emission levels are 50% lower than in 1990.

According to Bankwatch, an umbrella network of enviromental NGOs working in central and eastern Europe, Ukraine's environment strategy is being drafted in an undemocratic way and is "deceptive," because it allows an actual increase in CO2 emissions by 2020.

By pledging to respect the EU target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared to the 1990 levels, Ukraine can actually afford an increase of its current levels, as due to its industrial downturn, it currently emits less than half the CO2 it did in 1990.

Adopting the strategy by the end of the year is key in securing EU aid to the tune of €35 million, and consulting with civil society is one of the conditions for the funds. After having ignored "for three years" any input from NGOs, the government held last-minute public consultations in August, but then excluded any of their recommendations from the draft submitted to the parliament.

"The commission is aware of the discussion in Ukraine concerning reported shortcomings in the public consultation process for the national strategy for the environment," Angela Filote, spokeswoman for the commission's neighbourhood policy told this website.

"We have raised this issue with Ukrainian counterparts and we have insisted that the strategy should be developed in an open and transparent fashion, taking account of the views of stakeholders. This is also a condition for the EU sector support programme to be established, and will be a precondition for any disbursement of funds," she said.

"In addition, the commission will actively continue its dialogue with Ukraine aimed at promoting ambitious measures to combat climate change.

Meanwhile, from the energy commissioner's side, Kiev was applauded for signing up to the so-called European Energy Community aimed at bringing in line with EU law the national energy legislation in the Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine.

The commission will however "assist" Ukraine in transposing the EU directives into national law and will set "deadlines" for this process, a spokeswoman for energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said during a press briefing.

This process will grant Ukrainian companies access to the EU energy market and in return it would "enhance security of supply," she said. For instance, Ukraine's state company Naftogaz, which imports all the Russian gas flowing to Europe, would have to separate its activities, as it also owns the pipelines that deliver the gas.

Some 80 percent of EU's gas imports from Russia transit Ukraine, a dependance which was accutely felt in the winters of 2006 and 2009 when Russian gas monopoly Gazprom turned off the tap due to pricing disputes with Ukraine's Naftogaz. Political divergencies between the then pro-Western government in Kiev and the Kremlin were however seen as the main reason behind these drastic moves.

The commission's focus on Ukraine's energy sector – with pledges to invest in the modernisation of the gas pipeline network in return for an alignment to EU law – seems to ignore some of its most polluting aspects, Iryna Holovko from Bankwatch told EUobserver.

"The commission seems to care only about gas supplies and not much about the environmental impact from further developing coal and nuclear sectors – as outlined in Ukraine's energy strategy."

"Since the commission has now chosen environment as a strategically important sector to be supported in Ukraine, this support should be for the benefit of the people and the environment," she said.

Source: EU Observer

Media In Ukraine: Back To The Bad Old Days?

KIEV, Ukraine -- Last week Ukrainians marked the tenth anniversary of the murder of Georgiy Gongadze, an investigative journalist who had embarrassed the government.


Prosecutors recently pointed the finger at the the late Yuri Kravchenko, interior minister at the time, but contemporary tape recordings, not yet authenticated, suggest that then-president Leonid Kuchma may have been involved. Such tactics were commonplace in pre-Orange Ukraine.

The fear is that, after years of media plurality after the Orange revolution, they may be starting to return. Two well-known journalists have been beaten by police in recent weeks. During a recent trip to Kharkiv, in the east of the country, I met Andriy Kristenko, a civil-society activist.

Pointing to the shelves in his office, he said: "all those folders are torture cases. And you want to talk about press freedom? This government doesn't care about press freedom."

Yet for most Ukrainian journalists, state-sanctioned violence is less of a concern than state control, direct or indirect, of media outlets, particularly television channels.

Journalists at all the main private channels complain of pressure from above not to criticise, and two independent stations have had their frequencies revoked.

This may have as much to do with Ukraine's corrupt and sycophantic political and business landscape as much as it does government policy. Between them, four Ukrainian oligarchs control all of the country’s major television channels.

One of them, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, also heads the security service, the SBU. Competition between the four, Mr Khoroshkovsky told me, would deliver media pluralism. The fuss, he said, was being driven by Yulia Tymoshenko's opposition block ahead of local elections in late October.

Mr Khoroshkovsky himself has not always gone to great lengths to showcase the country's media freedom. Earlier this year his Inter Media Group brought a case against the only two television outlets that Ukrainian media watchdog Telekritika deems genuinely independent, claiming they had obtained their terrestrial frequencies illegally.

Inter won, and the two channels have lost a large chunk of their distribution. Inter may have had legitimate business reasons for its case. Yet the effect on Ukraine's reputation has been damaging.

Many journalists and activists believe it suits the authorities for journalists to feel afraid. At Telekritika's headquarters in Kiev, Lesja Ganzha, who belongs to an anti-censorship movement, compared the current Ukrainian policy to that pursued by Russia in the early Putin years. "It's not just a comparable policy, it's exactly the same policy," she told me.

This may be a stretch. As Mr Kuchma once wrote, Ukraine is not Russia.

Ms Tymoshenko, for example, can still appear on Ukraine's most popular talk shows. Ms Ganzha agrees that Ukrainian civil society is still strong, and that President Yanukovych, who took power this February, is far less popular than Mr Putin at a comparable stage in his presidency.

Yet Ukrainians only have to look back ten years to know that things can get a lot worse.

Source: The Economist

Russia Quietly Takes Over Ukraine

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- In recent years, Russia and Ukraine have not been good friends. The Orange Revolution in 2004 swept Ukraine away from Russia forever and into the open arms of the West — or so it seemed.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych look at an old Soviet car during their meeting in Glukhiv, 500 km outside Moscow, on September 17. The two leaders celebrated their nations' increasingly warm ties by driving vintage cars from Russia to Ukraine.

Now, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich drive vintage rally cars together to highlight what good buddies they are.

The Orange Revolution has been reversed, or rather, more than reversed. Ukraine is now more firmly in Russia’s grip than it was in 2004, when pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko came to power.

Throughout Yushenko’s presidency, Russia did all it could to discredit Ukraine’s new pro-Western direction. Russia appears to have had an easy job — with all their petty squabbling and infighting, the leaders of the Orange Revolution seemed to do a good job of discrediting themselves.

Moscow’s chance to formally take back Ukraine came on February 14, with the election of Ukraine’s new president. Russia’s puppet, Yanukovich, won, albeit by a very slim margin of only 3.48 percent.

Winning by such a small amount would usual lead to an unstable and impotent coalition government. However, due to some almost certainly unconstitutional maneuvers, Yanukovich manage to take a firm grip on the government.

He persuaded parliament to change its regulations to allow the government to form coalitions by making alliances with individual members.

Before, only parliamentary blocs were allowed to form coalitions. Yanukovich was then able to persuade enough members to defect from their parties and join his coalition to form a sturdy government.

Russia’s puppet was firmly in charge of Ukraine, and so Russia’s agenda began to roll out.

On April 21, Yanukovich and Medvedev signed the Khariv accords, which allowed Russia to station its Black Sea fleet in the Crimea, and in return Ukraine was given a substantial discount on gas imported from Russia.

The agreement, however, is heavily in Russia’s favor and ensures Ukraine’s dependency on Russia for decades to come. After the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko wanted to kick the fleet out of the Crimea in 2017. The Kharkiv accords guarantee that it can stay at least until 2042.

“The Kharkiv accords … have significant geopolitical implications,” writes James Sherr, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, an independent think tank based in the UK. “Not only do they signify a reversal of the policies adopted since 2005 by former President Viktor Yushchenko, they amount to a fundamental revision of the course that Ukraine has pursued since acquiring independence in 1991.”

The accords put Ukraine firmly within Russia’s sphere of influence. The accords “could preclude any further integration into the Euro-Atlantic security system for many years,” writes Sherr.

This change of direction for Ukraine will be very hard to reverse. If a future government decides it wants to kick the Russian fleet out of the Crimea, it will have to repay all of the gas discounts Ukraine has received.

Just as dramatic is Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s military and security services. The pro-Western head of Ukraine’s Secret Service (SBU) was replaced by one who is more friendly to Russia.

Russia’s secret services have been given free reign to operate in Crimea (though in reality, they’ll be operating all over Ukraine) under the guise of protecting its Black Sea fleet, U.S. intelligence group Stratfor reports.

On May 19, the SBU and FSB—successor to the KGB — signed a cooperation agreement. As part of this agreement, the SBU switched its main target from Russia to the U.S.

On April 2, Ukraine tore down the six departments that coordinate Ukraine’s integration with NATO. Even before the Orange Revolution, Ukraine worked with NATO. But now Ukraine is burning the bridges that connect it to the alliance.

Instead it has invited the alliance set up by Moscow — the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — to set up offices in Kiev. The government has established a commission to investigate the potential for Ukraine to join the organization.

Russia is also undertaking an economic assault against Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly urged a merger between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz—a merger that would give Russia control over Ukraine’s gas industry and nuclear power generation.

Sherr writes that “Steel, chemical, shipbuilding, aviation and nuclear enterprises are now under pressure from Russian buyers, ostensibly private, but backed by state lines of credit.”

As all this has happened, Ukraine’s government has expanded its power to the point that Ukraine is looking more and more like the Soviet state it once was. Ukraine’s government have been carefully eroding the country’s democracy. Sherr writes:

Outright violation of the law by the state evokes outrage, but its selective and bias application might not. Punishment creates heroines and martyrs, but bribery and kompromat [putting pressure on a person using compromising information] create accomplices.

Censorship provokes defiance, but the reallocation of broadcasting frequencies provokes technical arguments. The suborning of judges arouses condemnation, but not so emphatically when one’s predecessor has done the same, even if less brutally and with an arguably superior purpose.

Perhaps most insidiously, the battle for the hearts and minds of Ukraine’s people (highlighted by the Trumpet last year) has gone to Russia. In 2006, only 10 percent of Ukrainians wanted to give concessions to Russia in return for cheap gas.

In May this year, 58.7 percent said they had a generally positive view of Yanukovich’s gas agreement. As Ukraine slides toward authoritarianism, there has been no mass outcry.

Here too, Russia’s assault continues. “Russia is conducting a massive cultural-cum-religious offensive in Ukraine designed, inter alia, to liquidate the Kiev Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church (with Yanukovich’s apparent support),” writes Sherr.

After Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 1998, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote that Ukraine “is the breadbasket of Russia, and surely it [Russia] is willing to wage war over that as well.”

He was right. Russia has waged war over the area — the kind of quiet, total war that Russia excels in. It involves security services and big business; political maneuverings and blockbuster movies. The Russian state has marshaled everything it can to take part in the assault.

Ukraine appears to be a major success for it. “For their part, Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, without international opprobrium or loss of life, have secured greater geopolitical dividends than were realized as a result of victory in the Georgian war,” writes Sherr.

Another country quietly falls to Russia, though this time without the world watching the 24/7 news coverage of the takeover — though you can be sure Europe is paying attention. For more information on Russia’s goals in Eastern Europe, see our article “Russia’s Attack Signals Dangerous New Era.”

Source: The Trumpet