Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ukrainian Opposition Claims Local Elections 'Invalid'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's opposition claimed serious irregularities in Sunday's local elections, which are seen as an important test of President Viktor Yanukovych's commitment to democratic freedoms.

A boy holds a ballot paper during voting in Brovary.

The vote, the first since Yanukovych was elected in February, is being closely followed in the West due to concerns over restrictions on democratic rights under the new government.

"There are sufficient reasons to recognise that the local elections are invalid in many areas," Olexander Turchynov, a key ally of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said in a statement.

According to Turchynov, there were serious concerns over voting irregularities in the regions including Kiev, Luhansk and Lviv.

Turchynov pointed to unusually high levels of postal voting and voting in hospitals, as well as generally poor organisation that prevented people from casting their ballots.

In an ill-tempered campaign, the opposition led by Tymoshenko has accused the president of planning to manipulate the results in favour of his Regions Party, while the authorities in turn have accused the opposition of "provocation."

US Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the "importance of free and fair elections on October 31 and media freedom" in a recent phone call with Yanukovych.

Opposition candidates have been targeted in criminal probes, a printing house was discovered to have printed extra ballot papers and the electoral commissions are dominated by members of Yanukovych's party.

"In the regions, the officials understand that they risk losing their jobs if they do not ensure a good result for the party of power and they are trying to do their best," said independent political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.

The presidency rejects these accusations.

"There are no systematic violations," the head of the presidential administration, Sergiy Lyovochkin said Friday, adding that Yanukovych had ordered the authorities to ensure the vote was "free and fair."

Around 2,400 observers were following the election, among them 500 international observers.

Polling stations closed at 2000 GMT. Three hours after they opened, observers, parties and police reported dozens of minor violations.

In 2004, popular protests that came to be dubbed the Orange Revolution led to the reversal of a rigged election which had been claimed as a victory for Yanukovych. Fresh polls elected pro-Western politician Viktor Yushchenko, then an ally of Tymoshenko.

Yushchenko's term of office in 2005 to 2010 was chaotic and marked by political wrangles but saw unprecedented respect for democratic rights.

Ironically, the president was ignominiously voted out in January, while Yanukovych made a comeback in a tense presidential race.

Electors were voting to choose mayors and local and regional assembly members.

Following traditional allegiances, the Russian-speaking east and south of the country were expected to vote for Yanukovych's Regions Party, while the Ukrainian-speaking west was expected to back pro-Western parties.

Experts predicted a poor showing for the bloc of Tymoshenko, who is now in the opposition after losing the presidential election to Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko garnered 45 percent of votes in the presidential elections but her party was expected to scrape only 12 percent on Sunday, versus 30 percent for the Regions Party, according to a recent poll.

Source: AFP

Ukraine Vote Is Test Of Yanukovich's Standing

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine voted on Sunday for local councils and mayors in an election which should provide the first real clues to President Viktor Yanukovich's standing at home since his election last February.

Women leave a voting booth during local elections at a polling station.

The Regions Party, backbone of the parliamentary majority supporting Yanukovich, is taking on a host of rival parties for local councils which will be responsible for implementing his economic reform policies.

But, in a hark-back to the fraught run-off last February in which Yanukovich beat former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the air was thick with accusations of imminent vote-rigging.

Tymoshenko herself, who heads the Fatherland party and remains Yanukovich's bitter foe, said on the eve of the vote: "There is no limit to what these people will do. They will falsify the vote. You can depend on it."

Iryna Bekeshkina of the Democratic Initiative political research foundation told Reuters the elections would be the ruling party's first test of democracy. "But the danger these elections represent for democracy is very high," she said.

Some opposition parties say thousands of forged ballot papers have turned up in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, as well as in other parts of the country.

They also accuse the Regions of exploiting an unfair advantage by using the resources of the ruling administration -- such as official vehicles -- to mobilise voters on their side.

"There will be a big temptation for the new authorities to use administrative resources. This is a big danger for future elections," Bekeshkina said.

Yanukovich's Regions Party is strong in the highly-populated Russian-speaking east, which forms the president's power base, and in Crimea. Tymoshenko is strong in the Ukrainian-speaking west and centre.

Some opinion polls showed that support for the Regions has dipped since Yanukovich took power in the ex-Soviet republic.

Commentators say a failure to deliver on campaign pledges, such as improving the local business climate by granting tax breaks to small businesses, has played a part in this.


There is also widespread resentment at a big hike in domestic gas prices -- at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund -- and the government's pension reform plans which will raise the retirement age to 65 years for men and women.

Tymoshenko's party is not the only one girding for a fight with the Regions Party.

The Communists have levelled charges of "dirty tricks" against the Regions. A fierce battle for votes was in prospect in Crimea where the two sides are disputing seats in the peninsula's autonomous parliament.

Andriy, a 46-year-old engineer in the Crimean town of Simferopol, complained of high charges for housing utilities, poor roads and decrepit buildings.

"I am against the Regions Party wanting to seize power here and put into Crimea a single leading man," he said in a reference to Yanukovich. "They've been in power in Crimea for almost 10 years and the situation is not getting any better."

In the eastern city of Donetsk, most voiced support for the Regions. But Tatyana Kozak, a 70-year-old pensioner, expressed nostalgia for the Soviet period and was voting communist. "I worked for 50 years and I get 720 hryvnia ($90 dollars) a month. It would be better with the Communists."

In Lviv in western Ukraine, Ivan Baranych, a 54-year-old driver, dismissed the elections as "complete filth" and said he would vote for the fringe nationalist party Svoboda. "I hope it (Svoboda) will be able to defend the national interests of Ukrainians not only in words but also in deeds."

Source: Kyiv Post

Ukraine Goes To The Polls Under A Cloud

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians vote in a regional election on Sunday that will test the democratic credentials of their president, Viktor Yanukovich.

A man reads voting papers during local elections at a polling station in the village Muzychi, about 30 km (19 miles) south-west of Kiev, October 31, 2010.

Even before the first ballots were cast today, the election is being dubbed as a setback.

“It’s looking like a step backwards,” said Oleksandr Chernenko, head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog.

The election of mayors and lawmakers to provincial and municipal legislatures is the first election being held under Mr Yanukovich.

In the months leading up the vote, criticism has mounted against Mr Yanukovich, who took over as president in February.

He is seen as rolling back on democratic gains that followed the 2004 Orange Revolution. Back then a presidential vote rigged in his favour was overturned.

Mr Yanukovich has pledged to uphold democracy and improve relations with Russia while keeping Kiev on a path towards European Union integration.

But he is accused of monopolising power by trampling on Ukraine’s constitution, repressing oppositionists, cracking down on democracy and press freedoms.

Mr Yanukovich denies such accusations, and boasts of establishing the “stability” that is needed to fix Ukraine’s ailing economy. Critics say he is attempting to copy Vladimir Putin’s success in establishing “managed democracy”.

A handful of violations were reported in the early hours of Sunday’s vote, but results for the more than 15,000 separate contests under way are not expected for several days.

Few election watchdogs expect the massive vote rigging that occurred in 2004. But opposition politicians and pro-democracy activists insist that the pre-election process has already been unfair, tilting the final result in favour of Mr Yanukovich’s allies.

Mr Yanukovich brushes aside such allegations, saying the only threat to a fair vote is “provocations”.

But fears that election fraud will be prevalent are shared by 58 per cent of citizens, according to an October survey released by Kiev’s Razumkov think-tank.

With concerns mounting, the US and European Union have urged Mr Yanukovich to ensure a fair vote and free press. But criticism from both sides of the Atlantic remains soft, fearing that a harder stance could push Mr Yanukovich closer towards Moscow.

Oppositionists could stage protests and are desperate for the international community to condemn the vote.

“The threat of authoritarianism to Ukraine is real and it is against this backdrop that policymakers across Europe and in the US should scrutinise the fairness of the October 31 elections,” said Yulia Tymoshenko, a leading opposition figure.

Source: FT

Nuclear Weapons: Can Ukraine Be N. Korea’s Future?

SEOUL, South Korea -- Back in 1991 when Ukraine gained independence in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union, the Eastern European country possessed the world’s third largest nuclear stockpiles following the United States and Russia.

Now, Ukraine is a non-nuclear state and emerging market economy.

Some pundits here wonder if there are any lessons that South Korea could learn from the Ukrainian denuclearization process to enlighten its northern neighbor that its future would be better if it disarms.

Defense experts and the Ukraine ambassador to Korea are skeptical about the prospect of the “Hermit Kingdom” following the path that Ukraine took in the 1990s.

They noted that the two nations have few things in common when it comes to motives and circumstances, making it difficult for the Ukrainian case to be a realistic option for North Korea, which has pursued nuclear ambitions for five decades.

In an interview with The Korea Times in early October, Volodymyr Belashov, Ukrainian ambassador to South Korea said there was a certain period of time when denuclearization became a political football in domestic politics there.

“Different points of view as to whether the nation should keep holding the weapons program or give it up erupted among journalists, lawmakers and even Cabinet members. Prominent academics and analysts presented their views in an effort to search for a right decision,” he said.

The heated debate began shortly after the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) adopted the non-nuclear status resolution in Oct., 24. 1991.

The stockpiles that Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union included 222 strategic nuclear weapons carriers that included 130 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). There were 176 silos of strategic missiles on its soil as well.

“It is true that back then, the temptation to keep the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal or part of it was pretty big,” the ambassador said.

Driving forces

Despite the diverging views, Belashov noted the vast majority of Ukrainian people believed that the nation would benefit a lot from denuclearization.

“Certain types of ICBMs were designed and constructed in Ukraine, but nuclear warheads were made and assembled in Russia. We needed to design and build warheads if we decided to possess them, which would have required the government to pay a lot of money,” he said.

“Ukraine also had to endure the bad image of a rogue state, if it didn’t disarm ... Being a new independent country, we felt the need to get international recognition and support to revive our economy.”

Although having a consensus on the need to be a nuclear-free nation, Ukraine was in desperate need to get economic assistance, a security guarantee and expertise that could help transfer the facilities out of the country.

The actual process of warhead removal to Russia didn’t follow until the United States concluded the trilateral statement with Russia and Ukraine.

On its website, the U.S. Department of Defense said “critical to the success of these negotiations was the United States’ promise of Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) assistance.”

A U.S. Congressional initiative spearheaded by Senators Richard Luger and Sam Nunn, CTR was designed to dismantle nuclear production facilities in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and has been implemented since 1991.

The threat reduction policy involves programs redirecting former weapons of mass destruction, production facilities, nuclear engineers and scientists to civilian purposes.

Under the program, partner governments worked closely to dismantle nuclear production facilities and help build alternative industry infrastructure.

Starting in 1991 and until 2005, the U.S. government had invested $7 billion in CTR programs in the former Soviet Union, leading to the removal of 6,600 nuclear warheads.

Also more than 470 long-range missile silos have been destroyed and over 1,800 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, submarines and strategic bombers eliminated.

With the comprehensive support plan, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan agreed to transfer nuclear stockpiles to Russia.

CTR program in NK?

Due to effective results in the three Eastern European nations, some experts called on the six-party nations to consider a CTR program to help North Korea disarm.

In December 2005, a group of North Korea experts at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) — Joel S. Wit, Jon Wolfsthal and Oh Choong-suk –- co-authored the recommendation report.

The three North Korea experts projected that somewhere between $200 million and $500 million would be needed to come up with a similar CTR program in the North’s nuclear facilities.

They proposed that the five nations — South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia — consider sharing the financial burden.

Opponents said the proposal was not realistic, given that North Korea would not open its nuclear site to the world.

Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at Rand Corporation based in California, was skeptical about the prospect of North Korea giving up its nuclear ambition, even if offered a CTR-like program.

“Nuclear weapons serve different purposes for different countries,” Bennett said in an email interview with The Korea Times Tuesday.

“Ukraine never had a role in determining whether or not to build nuclear weapons, how much they were willing to pay for them, and how they would use those weapons. The Soviet Union did all this, and then left Ukraine with nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union collapsed.”

Bennett noted North Korea made all of these determinations by itself and decided to pay a huge percentage of its gross domestic product over decades to develop nuclear weapons.

Never give up hope

“Nuclear weapons are symbolic of North Korea’s ability to counter U.S. threats, demonstrating leadership empowerment to the internal audience,” Bennett said.

His observation came following the media report that American satellites had detected unusual activity lately at a nuclear testing ground in North Korea.

During the National Assembly’s annual audit of the Ministry of Unification, Minister Hyun In-taek told lawmakers that he would not rule out the possibility of the North conducting a third nuclear test but that the chances of it being this year seemed to be low.

Hyun made the remarks after Rep. Park Sun-young of the minor Liberty Forward Party raised the possibility of a third nuclear test in the North in the very near future.

The lawmaker speculated that the North may conduct it either during the Nov. 11 and 12 G20 Seoul Summit, or at the year’s end, or early next year.

The North’s leadership could calculate that the provocation timed precisely would help magnify the effect of the provocation as the bellicose act would get maximum international attention, Rep. Park added.

North Korea watchers predict that the communist state would bolster nuclear activity until Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s third son and heir, is in full control of the communist state.

“Without nuclear weapons, the North Korean regime would have little ability to demonstrate empowerment to its internal audiences.... If the regime really did look so weak, it could be subject to internal overthrow, especially by the military,” Bennett said.

Ambassador Belashov forecasts that a wise policy mix of economic incentives and sanctions would help South Korea and other nations involving six-party talks achieve “desired results” regarding the North’s nuclear ambitions.

Given the reality, the envoy said denuclearization in the North might be wishful thinking but that a joint and coordinated action at international level could lead North Korea to rethink its nuclear program in the future.

Source: The Korea Times

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ukraine's Middle Class Ready To Revolt Over Onerous, Unfair Tax Code

KIEV, Ukraine -- Social tensions are growing in Ukraine. Thousands of small businesses across the country have come together in recent weeks, in various cities across the country, to protest the government’s proposed tax code. The situation is highly explosive.

The International Labor Organization, a body of the United Nations, put Ukraine on the list of the countries with a high risk of social instability. In contrast, France and Greece, where direct confrontations with police are taking place, are now rated as moderately instable.

The same can happen in Ukraine. But how has Ukraine’s government responded to our protests? The government shut their eyes to it, insisting the protests were politically motivated. To see the truth, all they need to do is open their eyes and see who is taking part in the protests.

People flocking to the protest also come from the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine which have been traditionally loyal to Viktor Yanukovych, his Party of Regions and helped elect him as president this year. In fact, the largest protests have materialized in Yanukovych territory.

It comes as no surprise, because voters in these regions truly believed Yanukovych’s promises as a presidential candidate to deliver on “tax-free holidays” for small and medium-sized business for five years. He promised it. He is failing to deliver it. And as you know, it’s just one small step from love to hatred.

This step has already been made by many financially struggling voters who see their personal well-being at risk.

It’s hard to list all of the Yanukovych’s mistakes during his first eight months as president.

Here are a few:

Attempting to adopt the tax code now, so late in the year, is illegal.

According to Ukraine’s tax legislation, any changes to the size of taxes and the order of their collection have to be made at least six months prior to the beginning of the budget year.

But laws like this didn’t prevent Yanukovych’s government from introducing payments to the pension fund, angering many private entrepreneurs who are already pensioners and promising to adopt the new tax code two months prior to the new year.

Dubious moves like this plunge Ukraine to the lows in international ratings in terms of the ease of doing business in a country. Such action strengthens the perception that Ukraine is a country with unforeseen regulatory policies.

The government’s policy on businesses with private entrepreneur status is bad and will backfire.

About 80 percent of private entrepreneurs that paid taxes within the flat tax system were not, until the recent Oct. 20 deadline, required to make payments to the pension fund.

For the majority of small private entrepreneurs who operate in the small town or rural areas, the extra Hr 300-400 payment that they will now need to make to the pension fund on monthly basis eats up one third of their monthly income. With such action, the government is simply pushing them into the shadows.

The government doesn’t understand the consequences of their policies to Ukraine’s economy.

That’s the only way to explain tax changes they plan which would freeze cooperation between small businesses that operate on a flat tax system and businesses that operate on the general taxation system. The function of the small business is to create the work places and to quickly meet market demands.

But the government does not seem to understand or care. The proposed tax changes will severely hit small businesses. All the small cleaning and catering companies, self-employed lawyers, human resources specialists, auditors and marketing specialists that didn’t ask anything from the government will be brutally squeezed out of the market.

The biggest absurdity is that the proposed new tax code won’t bring more money to state coffers. What they will “achieve” is to destroy six million workplaces created by small businessmen that operate on the flat tax system.

Does Ukraine need this huge army of unemployed? Will people just sit idle when they see how their well-being is destroyed? I doubt it.

Small business has made many attempts to express its opinion in a less radical way. Since the draft of the Tax Code was made public, thousands of amendments have been proposed. But most of them fell on deaf years.

The president and the government have very little time to stop their flywheel. Otherwise, on the eve of the regional elections, Ukraine will face a wave of the mass protests. A victory of the Party of Regions would look very strange on the background of such events.

And all of this would occur on the backdrop of the 6th anniversary of the Orange Revolution, which was empowered and motivated by the same middle class that the government now ignores.

If Ukraine’s government is not feeling the deja vu already, they will soon face it.

Source: Kyiv Post

Election In Ukraine Seen As Test For Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- Local elections in Ukraine on Sunday will be a test for Viktor Yanukovych and his understanding of democracy. Accusations are already flying about fraud and possible election rigging.

Almost 50 percent of Ukrainian voters do not rule out manipulation.

Just a few days before regional and local elections in Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych addressed governors in a TV show in order to make sure they will work to ensure a fair election.

"I will prosecute any attempts to tamper with election results with the utmost severity," Yanukovych said.

But Yanukovych already had to react to accusations when members of the opposition Fatherland party discovered 130,000 allegedly forged ballot papers in a printing house in Kharkiv, a city in Ukraine's East.

Yanukovych told federal prosecutors to investigate the case.

The ballot papers were a "special reserve" which had to be printed as required by law, said prosecutor Yevhen Popovych later. According to the director of the printing house, however, the ballot papers were simply part of a test print.

Accusations fly

Yulia Tymoshenko, the head of Fatherland, said no one could rule out that fraudulent ballot papers like the ones in Kharkiv might turn up in other areas of Ukraine as well.

"There is no limit to what these people will do. They will falsify the vote, you can depend on it," she said.

Several opposition parties have announced that they found tens of thousand of forged ballot papers in two other towns in western Ukraine.

They also warn about the use of "administrative resources" by Yanukovych's party, called Party of the Regions, including using state-owned vehicles to increase voter turnout or mobilizing voters, who work in government institutions and businesses.

The communists are also raising concerns over Yanukovych, although they are technically in a coalition with his party and a bloc headed by parliamentary leader Volodymyr Lytvyn.

Members of Yanukovych's party could interfere with communist party candidates in the eastern regions of Donezk and Luhansk, according to communist leader Petro Simonenko.

He said he suspects that on orders from Kiev, "devised reasons" are found to block communist candidates, thus ensuring that Yanukovych's party gets at least 60 percent of the votes.

Yanukovych has said his party is so far ahead in the polls and its record so solid that there would be no reason to tamper with the election results.

Opposition votes

But opinion polls show that Yanukovych's party has lost support since the presidential election at the beginning of this year.

Experts at the Open Society Institute put the blame on campaign pledges that have not been fulfilled. Yanukovych had promised to improve transparency and give tax benefits to small company owners.

Ukrainian voters are also resentful of a drastic increase in the price of gas, which in turn has led to higher prices for staple foods and public transportation.

Therefore, opposition parties like Tymoshenko's bloc are expected to gain votes. According to the Open Society Institute, other parties, such as Strong Ukraine and Front for Change, will also benefit from voter dissatisfaction.

Voters expect manipulation

According to a poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Ukrainian NGO, almost 50 percent of those interviewed do not think the elections will change anything.

Positive change is expected by one third of the interviewees, while four percent expect a drastic change for the worse. Only two percent believe that the candidates are going to fulfil their campaign promises.

Still most of the interviewees - three quarters - will go and cast their vote. But only 8.5 percent believe the election results will not be manipulated.

Source: Deutsche Welle

Harper Accused Of Exaggerating Ukrainian Genocide's Death Toll

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being accused of exaggerating this week the extent of the 1932-33 famine that was declared a genocide by Canada's Parliament two years ago.

President of the Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych (L) and Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper walk in front of their national flags prior to a joint press-conference following talks in Kiev on October 25, 2010.

Harper indicated on both days of his first-ever journey to Ukraine that "almost" 10 million people died in what is known as the Holodomor — or "death by starvation."

Critics, while stressing that the death toll of the famine caused by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's policies is massive and remains one of history's great crimes against humanity, said the true figure is roughly a third of Harper's.

"I find it regrettable that Stephen Harper and other leading Western politicians are continuing to use such exaggerated figures for Ukrainian famine mortality," University of Melbourne historian and demographer Stephen Wheatcroft told Postmedia News in an email.

"There is absolutely no basis for accepting a figure of 10 million Ukrainians dying as a result of the famine of 1932-33. No reputable demographer accepts this," stated Wheatcroft, who puts the figure at around 3.5 million.

"None of the Ukrainian, Russian or Western historians, who are experts in this area, who have looked at the detailed evidence and have an ability to understand numbers, would support such a figure."

Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said Friday "nobody" can be sure how many died.

"To minimize this act of genocide by claiming exaggeration is quite sad because there are a number of published estimates," Soudas wrote in an email.

Harper made two references to the famine while in Ukraine.

"Some 10 million people, up to 10 million people, and we'll never know the numbers for sure, (were) killed, and killed through the deliberate plans of their own government," he said at the joint news conference in the capital city of Kyiv while sitting next to President Viktor Yanukovych.

On Tuesday, Harper raised it again while speaking to students at a small Catholic university in Lviv, in Ukraine's nationalist heartland.

"Now as you know almost as many — or you may know — almost as many Ukrainians died in the Holodomor during the 1930s as there were Canadians alive at that time," he told them.

During the time of the famine there were approximately 10.6 million Canadians, according to Statistics Canada.

Ukrainian Canadian Congress president Paul Grod sent out a statement after Tuesday's event that actually exaggerated Harper's claim.

"Harper emphasized the genocidal nature of the Holodomor and commented that more people were killed during that horror than were alive in Canada at that time," Grod wrote.

Grod referred Postmedia News to University of Quebec historian Roman Serbyn, who in the introduction to a 2008 essay referred to estimates ranging from three to 10 million. But attempts to reach Serbyn were unsuccessful.

Yale University historian Timothy Snyder said most "scholarly estimates" range from 2.5 to four million. He estimates that 3.3 million ethnic Ukrainians died in the entire Soviet Union during the 1932-33 famine.

Snyder, author of the newly published book Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, said he found Harper's estimate "surprising" given that a January report commissioned by the previous Ukrainian government concluded there were 3.9 million deaths.

University of Alberta historian John-Paul Himka wrote in a 2008 academic journal that the 10 million figure is arrived at only by including the children who would have been born if not for the famine.

The true victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's brutal policies, should be "unsullied by falsehood" and inflated figures not be used as a "political tool," Himka argued.

"I find it disrespectful to the dead that people use their deaths in a ploy to gain the moral capital of victimhood. To this end, they inflate the numbers."

Source: Montreal Gazette

Friday, October 29, 2010

Old-School Mayor Battles Ukraine's Ruling Party

ODESSA, Ukraine -- The incumbent mayor of the Black Sea port of Odessa faces the political battle of his life this weekend in an election showdown against Ukraine's pro-Russian president.

Odessa Mayor Eduard Hurvits

Polls show mayor Eduard Hurvits is on track to obtain 13 per cent of the popular vote on Sunday, with the candidate nominated and heavily financed by Ukraine's ruling Party of Regions, Aleksy Kostusev, likely to gather in some 32 per cent.

Despite long odds, Eduard Hurvits says he may yet still win. If not, he vows to go down swinging against President Viktor Yanukovych, the Party of Regions head.

'I am a patriot, and these people will destroy Odessa,' Hurvits said in an interview with the German Press Agency dpa. 'I will fight to the end for my city.'

Hurvits, 62, is one of Ukraine's few surviving old-school regional politicians. He entered high politics in the early 1990s and has managed to hang on right up through the present, without having to rely on the support of any of the country's major political parties.

Mayors and city councils in Ukraine's heavily industrial Russian-speaking east and south answer, overwhelmingly, to Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Elected officials in the more rural and Ukrainian-speaking north and west are, as a rule, loyal to one or more of the country's opposition parties.

Odessa, a multicultural city proud of its Yiddish-tinted dialect of Russian, and with a long-established tradition of ignoring the capital's orders if they interfere with local commerce, is an exception, rejecting both camps to remain loyal only to itself.

Hurvits has been the leading cheerleader of Odessan independence over the years, stymieing central government efforts to gain control over Odessa customs duty revenues. He has even bypassed Ukraine's Foreign Ministry to advance trade links between Odessa and neighbouring states.

One recent row between Kiev and Odessa is over the central authorities' plan to ship 8,500 tons of state-owned hazardous chemicals to England via a railroad line running through the centre of the city. Odessa's city hall's has flatly refused to let the train cars through.

With one week left before the mayoral election in Odessa, Party of Regions billboards and television spots outnumber those of other candidates by roughly three to one. The Regions ads hammer a simple theme: For years Hurvits has embezzled city funds, associated with organized crime, and done little for average Odessans.

Hurvits denies all accusations of wrongdoing and argues Yanukovych and Regions are unhappy with Odessa's traditions of independence and freedom.

Kostusev, a former economics minister, laid out the Party of Regions plan at a recent Odessa railroad managers' meeting.

'My goal is to give, finally, our beloved city the professional government it deserves, a leadership that will work to the public good,' he said. 'Enough of old-boy politics and inside deals!'

Railroad staff applauded politely, although some in the auditorium back rows chatted on mobile phones during a subsequent question-and -answer session. But if some Odessans are lukewarm towards Kostusev, others say that Hurvits 14 years in office should be enough for any man.

Hurvits devoted most of his last Saturday before elections to making stump speeches next to apartment buildings in a working-class neighbourhood and meeting with hundreds of low-income fellow Odessans.

He braved a barrage of unpleasant questions.

'Why is my electricity cut off all the time?' shouted a sailor.

'Can't you do something about cars driving through our courtyard to get around traffic jams?' demanded a housewife.

'How am I supposed to live on a pension of 90 dollars? My utility bill alone is more than that!' complained a pensioner.

Twice groups of potential voters surrounded Hurvits and his three bodyguards to register loud and irate complaints.

'I understand them, they're frustrated, things are difficult, the government doesn't have much money,' a visibly tired Hurvits said later.

'I don't know what I will do if I lose this election,' he said. 'I just don't know.'

Source: DPA

Ukraine President to skip traffic in helicopter

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych isn't letting traffic on the way to the office get him down any more. He's rising above it. Literally.

Viktor Yanukovych

In the coming months, a helicopter will begin chauffeuring Yanukovych to the center of Kiev from his suburban residence and back.

Yanukovych's chief of staff Serghiy Lyovochkin says the president is doing the capital a favor by unclogging the streets that he currently travels in his motorcade.

Police close off entire avenues for that.

The move may anger ordinary Ukrainians who accuse the government of corruption and wasting state funds, especially if Prime Minister Mykola Azarov also gets a chopper, as Lyovochkin said might be the case.

Lyovochkin refused to say how much the presidential helicopter would cost.

Source: AP

Watch Out For The Bus: Ukraine's Deputy PM Is Driving

LVIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's deputy prime minister may have a hard time moonlighting as a chauffeur in another life, after crashing into a police car while driving a bus in the western city of Lviv.

Ukraine's Deputy-Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov.

Charged with overseeing the Euro-2012 football championships which Ukraine is organising with Poland, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov arrived in Lviv to examine buses manufactured by a local factory to be used during the matches.

Minutes after taking the wheel for a spin around the area, Kolesnikov hit a police car parked nearby, dragging it some 20 metres (65 feet).

Although the police car was empty and nobody was hurt, a bumper was mangled and a light smashed in the incident.

"What happened?" Kolesnikov asked, in the presence of several reporters.

"Nothing serious, drive on," a factory executive replied.

The chauffeur of the bus, however, was not amused.

"How can anybody drive like that?" he asked. "One must take the size of the bus into account."

Source: AFP

Ukraine Vote Will Test Commitment To Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians vote Sunday in local elections that are viewed as a test of President Viktor Yanukovych's commitment to democracy. Already his critics are crying foul.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko (L), at a protest in Kiev in early October.

Opposition leaders have accused the government of printing fake ballots and pressuring their candidates not to run. Opora, a nonpartisan observer group, said some doctors, teachers and other state employees had been threatened with dismissal if they ran against Mr. Yanukovych's Party of Regions for mayor and municipal council seats across Ukraine.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the chief opposition leader, said she wouldn't recognize results in three of the country's 24 regions because the authorities there have registered defectors from her party as candidates while, she says, refusing to allow her genuine supporters to run.

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden spoke to Mr. Yanukovych by telephone this month to stress the importance of a free and fair election in the former Soviet republic. About 500 American and European observers, along with hundreds from Ukraine, are to monitor the voting and ballot counting in 15,000 localities.

Mr. Yanukovych has pledged to ensure fairness. "These are my first elections as president of Ukraine, and there's no one more interested in their proceeding democratically and honestly," he told journalists. Any interference by government officials, he added, is "inadmissible."

He rejected Ms. Tymoshenko's accusations, saying her party was "attempting to blame someone else" for its internal divisions.

Democratic elections appeared to take root in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution of 2004, when hundreds of thousands of street protesters forced the annulment of an allegedly fraudulent presidential vote in which Mr. Yanukovych, openly backed by Russia, had been declared the winner.

Mr. Yanukovych lost the repeat vote to a pro-Western candidate. He made a comeback in February this year, winning the presidency over Ms. Tymoshenko after years of squabbling between her and other Orange Revolution leaders hamstrung their government programs.

The February vote, although contested by Ms. Tymoshenko, was widely judged to be fair. But Mr. Yanukovych's critics say he is trying to re-impose authoritarian rule—by sending security forces to investigate civil society groups, limiting press freedom and moving to strengthen presidential powers.

"This campaign has been much less competitive and transparent than the presidential election," said Olha Aivazovska, head of Opora. "We haven't seen such an uneven playing field at all levels since 2004."

Local elections were supposed to take place in May but were postponed for lack of financing because parliament had not yet passed the annual budget.

During the summer Mr. Yanukovych's ruling coalition pushed through a new electoral law that gave its pro-presidential constituent parties a dominant role on local election commissions.

An opinion poll conducted this month by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation said 30% of voters across the country intended to cast ballots for Mr. Yanukovych's party, compared to 12% for Ms. Tymoshenko's party.

That could translate into gains for Mr. Yanukovych's supporters in municipalities across the country, even if the electorate remains geographically divided. The president's supporters are stronger in the south and east, while Ms. Tymoshenko's are stronger in the west.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Large Crowds Turn Out To Protest Proposed Tax Code

KIEV, Ukraine -- The largest crowds gathering ahead of the Oct. 31 local elections are not in support of any political party, but rather they are protesting against the government’s proposed tax code.

Private entrepreneurs take to the streets to protest against the increase in taxes and payments to the pension fund on Oct. 19 in Sevastopol, Crimea.

The demonstrations, which are still gaining steam, come from politically non-aligned small- and medium-sized companies, whose representatives say the draft code could squeeze them out of business.

What’s more, some of the biggest protests have broken out in regions which strongly supported President Viktor Yanukovych in this year’s presidential contest.

About 5,000 citizens gathered in the southern shipyard city of Mykolayiv on Oct. 13 to protest the proposed tax code, which Yanukovych’s government hopes to adopt in November.

Further protests have sprung up in other cities since then, including western Ukraine’s largest city Lviv and the eastern outpost of Lugansk.

More than 1,000 gathered last week for a protest in Kyiv despite rain.

Momentum is growing ahead of what is anticipated to be the biggest protest yet, to be held in Kyiv on Oct. 30, one day ahead of regional elections.

More protests are scheduled by the loosely held group of small businesses and their advocates in November, and could build upon or merge with crowds organized by the political opposition, which fears the election could be rigged.

“This tax code could force small businesses into the ghetto,” said Oleksandr Danylyuk, one of the protest organizers and head of the All-Ukrainian Center for Business Support.

Warning that a wave of protests and civil unrest could break out as happened in France in recent weeks against government plans to raise the pension age, Danylyuk said citizens have little choice but to take to the streets.

After a first botched attempt at tax reform early this summer which was strongly opposed by foreign investors for making businesses powerless against tax authorities, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s government produced a second draft tax reform plan this summer.

Azarov has dubbed the proposed tax system as “the best in Europe,” while other top officials call it among the most “liberal” in the region.

But the protests point to growing and nationwide voter anger at a tax reform plan that experts say threatens to cut taxes sharply for big business, while increasing the burden on smaller firms and individual entrepreneurs.

Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst, described the recent wave of protests against the proposed tax changes as an obvious sign “of rising dissatisfaction with government and its economic decisions.”

“But it hasn’t turned into a single, consolidated social protest yet,” he added.

Danylyuk said consolidation and larger crowds will start on Oct. 30, and will be followed up by more protests in November.

“Businesses did not choose Oct. 30 by chance as the date to commence radical action,” he added.

Employing six million people, two million Ukrainians are small businessmen that operate on a single flax tax. A single private entrepreneur generally pays a set monthly fee of around Hr 200, in addition to social taxes in the order of Hr 210.

The proposed tax code would push many of them out of this privileged haven, forcing them to pay higher profit and income taxes, buy cashier equipment, pay accountants and charge value added tax upon the sale of their goods or services.

Kostyantyn Poddubny, 29, who earns about Hr 50,000 annually running an internet-based tire sale service, says such changes will put him out of business.

“I lose all the advantages I used to have relative to big companies – lower prices, free delivery. … I just don’t understand why I have to be equated with a big company when, really, my shop is no different from a shack at a street market,” he added.

Natalia Korolevska, an opposition lawmaker allied with opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, said: “If the tax code is adopted in its current version, many people will lose jobs and become a burden for society – the government is just oblivious to this.”

Vitaly Khomutynnyk, a pro-presidential lawmaker who chairs the committee in parliament overseeing tax reform, said he feels the pain of small businesses.

But he insisted that the changes were needed to “prevent tax evasion.” Many businesses, he said, abuse the current system by “hiding revenues on the pretense of ordering services from private entrepreneurs.”

Separately, Khomutynnyk said sharp tax cuts envisions for big business may need to be adjusted upon request from Ukraine’s main lender, the International Monetary Fund. The IMF fears that the reduced tax rates could widen Ukraine’s budget deficit.

Source: Kyiv Post

UEFA Opens Legal Case Against Official Over Euro 2012 Bribe Claim

LONDON, England -- UEFA has opened legal proceedings against a Cypriot FA official who has alleged that the decision to make Ukraine and Poland joint hosts of Euro 2012 was rigged by payments of more than €9.15m (£8m) to at least four members of the European governing body's Executive Committee (ExCo) who voted on the matter in 2007.

The president of UEFA, Michel Platini, visits the half-built National Stadium in Warsaw two weeks ago. He is following the story 'very closely'.

Uefa had set Spyros Marangos, a former board member of the Cypriot FA, a deadline of Wednesday to provide evidence to support his claims. He failed to do so, and with Cypriot sources saying the claims are nothing more than a mischievous ploy in a local power struggle, UEFA has started legal action on two fronts: a defamation action, and what is effectively a "put up or shut up" action to force Marangos to provide evidence.

"We are in the process of opening legal proceedings against him to protect the corporate image of UEFA and also to force his hand to show us what evidence he has," said a UEFA spokesman, Rob Faulkner. "He said it was too short notice for him to travel to Switzerland [by Wednesday] and he wanted us to go there [to Cyprus]."

Two European newspapers, Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Germany and Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, have run articles this week giving more detail of Marangos's claims, including that some of the cash allegedly paid to corrupt officials was stuffed inside teddy bears for the handovers, on Cypriot soil.

There are 15 members of UEFA's ExCo, and 12 of them voted on the hosts for 2012, the others being excluded because their nations were involved in bids. Italy were the pre-vote favourites to win, and another bid, jointly from Croatia and Hungary, was also in the running.

But Poland-Ukraine emerged the winners, 8-4 over Italy. Polish and Ukrainian officials have described the allegations as "slander" while reaction elsewhere has alternated between scepticism about Marangos and a desire for a full investigation into the claims.

Marangos says he attempted to turn whistle-blower at various points over the past few years by writing to UEFA officials with his allegations, but that UEFA had not taken him seriously.

An Italian government official – Rocco Crimi, who is a cabinet undersecretary and sports delegate – yesterday entered the fray by calling for an Italian judicial investigation into the allegations that his nation had effectively been robbed of hosting the tournament.

Crimi said Italy's judicial authorities should intervene and that "if crimes emerge they should be prosecuted". He added that Italy would be ready to host Euro 2012 if needed, although there is no suggestion from any party that the tournament will be staged anywhere but Ukraine-Poland. Separate concerns earlier this year that those countries would not be ready have now been dismissed.

The Italian Football Federation president, Giancarlo Abete, says he has full confidence in UEFA to deal with the issue. "UEFA have opened an investigation and there's the will and the need to have clarity," Abete said. "[UEFA's president] Michel Platini is following the issue of Euro 2012 closely and we have full confidence that there will be clarity in this situation.

"As a member of the executive committee of UEFA, I had been informed of the request made by the Cypriot treasurer with problems relating to Euro 2012. Now we hope that the solution to this ugly story arrives quickly. Certainly, if it's not possible to verify or prove his accusations, it's right that the Cypriot should be prosecuted for the doubts he has raised."

Gazzetta ran the alleged bribes story on its front page yesterday under a headline saying "Corrupt", and detailed that Marangos had claimed one ExCo member received a bung of €3.15m (£2.75m) for his vote, while three others received £1.75m each, and a fifth member received an unspecified inducement to vote for the eventual winners.

"I have three documents, but it only takes one to open the case," Marangos was quoted as saying. "I'm ready to give all the information, but only here [in Cyprus] and in the presence of a public authority of Cyprus." Marangos claimed in Gazzetta that revealing the documents to anyone but authorities who could act on them could endanger the lives of witnesses, as well as his own family and other contacts.

"I want there to be justice," Gazzetta quote Marangos as saying over the airing of his claims. "Euro 2012 should be reassigned to Italy."

Gazzetta has also published correspondence purportedly from Marangos to UEFA officials over a two-year period, including a fax sent directly to Platini in June 2009, and a letter sent to UEFA's well-regarded head of discipline and compliance, Peter Limacher, in July this year.

Marangos says Limacher was meant to meet him but that meeting was cancelled. Limacher is currently suspended pending a UEFA investigation into unsubstantiated claims he was the source of a story in a German magazine alleging match-fixing against Bayern Munich.

Euro 2012 bid process

On 8 November 2005, UEFA's Executive Committee whittled down prospective bids for Euro 2012 from five to three, eliminating Turkey and Greece from the process. At this stage, Ukraine-Poland was in third place behind the bids from Italy and Hungary-Croatia. Below is how ExCo members voted then, but when the decision was made in Cardiff on 18 April 2007, they had changed their minds.

Italy: First-round votes: 11

The Italians were the clear favourites ahead of the final vote. Led by Luca Pancalli, the Football Federation's commissioner, their bid was by far the best on paper, as the country had already hosted the competition twice, in 1968 and 1980, and had the best stadiums. However, Roma fans' attacks on Manchester United supporters just days before the announcement in 2007 were blamed for Uefa overlooking them.

Hungary & Croatia: Votes: 9

The violence in Italy coupled with the Serie A match-rigging scandal of the previous season gave Hungary and Croatia hope they could prevail, as they had won the second biggest number of votes in the initial phase. When they too were overlooked, there was outrage with Croatian FA president, Vlatko Markovic, demanding compensation from Uefa.

Ukraine & Poland: Votes: 7

Despite trailing in third after the 2005 vote, Ukraine-Poland's bid presentation in Cardiff impressed UEFA. It was fronted by Andrei Shevchenko and Jerzey Dudek, then of Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. What reportedly swung the vote was Uefa president Michel Platini's desire to end western Europe's hegemony of hosting the competition.

Source: The Independent

Putin 'Black Eye' Sparks Rumours In Russia And Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The famously macho politician, 58, seemed to be wearing heavy make-up when he was photographed with a dark patch around one eye on a visit to Ukraine.

The sight of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with apparent bruising to his face has sparked rumours he is ill or has undergone cosmetic surgery.

Some suggested Russia's best-known black belt had suffered a judo injury.

But his office denied the mark was a bruise, putting his looks down to a busy schedule and poor lighting.

"Ukrainian, Russian and Western journalists... talked only of one thing - how did the Russian prime minister get a bruise under his eye?" wrote Andrei Kolesnikov, the Kremlin correspondent for Russia's Kommersant business daily.

"Could it really be the result of some tough sparring? It may have been carefully covered up, but nobody could fail to notice it."

Mr Putin arrived for his talks with Ukrainian leaders in a "bad mood" and with "something like a big bruise on his left cheekbone", according to Ukrainian television channel TCH.

"He also had on his face a very noticeable swelling... badly covered up with make-up," it added.

According to the Associated Press news agency, the news conference in Kiev was cut short and a planned dinner was cancelled.

Mr Putin's face looked normal when he was photographed in Moscow on Tuesday, suggesting the change in his appearance occurred within the following 24 hours.

Source: BBC News

Russia May Grant Ukraine Access To Glonass For Military Use

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia is ready to consider giving Ukraine access to high-precision targeting signals provided by the Glonass satellite navigation system, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Wednesday.

Glonass satellite navigation system.

Glonass is the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS, and is designed for both military and civilian use. Both systems allow users to determine their positions to within a few meters.

"If the Ukrainian government shows interest in gaining access to a [Glonass] high-precision signal, we will readily consider this issue," Ivanov told reporters in Moscow.

Russia earlier proposed setting up a joint venture with Ukraine for the development and implementation of the Glonass system.

Ivanov said Russia has been successfully cooperating with India on the use of the Glonass system for defense purposes after Moscow and New Delhi signed a relevant agreement in March.

Russian-built Glonass receivers for aiming and target acquisition are used, in particular, on Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles. According to Indian sources, the receivers have so far performed reliably and consistently.

Russia currently has a total of 26 Glonass satellites in orbit, but three of them are not operational.

Three more Glonass-M satellites are scheduled for launch by the end of 2010, allowing Russia to operate a complete Glonass network of 24 operational satellites and have 3-4 satellites in reserve.

Source: RIA Novosti

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Putin Oversees Uranium, Shale Gas Deals On Ukraine Visit

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday signed a raft of agreements including in shale gas exploration and nuclear cooperation amid concerns by Ukrainian opposition over increasingly closer ties with Moscow.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (R) welcomes his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The accords signed by visiting Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin included a deal by Tvel, Russia's nuclear-fuel state producer, to set up a joint venture to build a uranium processing plant in Ukraine.

The plant could start operation in 2013 and will have capacity to process 400 metric tonnes of uranium per year, according to a statement from the Russian government.

"Ukraine will be building a plant to produce nuclear fuel and this plant will use Russian technologies," Tetyana Amosova, director of Ukraine's state concern Nuclear Fuel told reporters.

She said the two state companies will create a joint venture in which Ukraine will hold a 50 percent plus one share.

BP's Russian joint venture TNK-BP signed a preliminary agreement with the Ukrainian government to explore for shale gas in Ukraine.

TNK-BP executive director German Khan told reporters ahead of the signing that his company hoped to begin exploring for gas in eastern Ukraine and the company could invest up to two billion dollars in the project over the next 25 years.

In other deals, Ukrainian plane maker Antonov agreed to create a joint venture with Russia's United Aviation Corporation, a holding company for aircraft makers.

Russia and Ukraine are stepping up cooperation in energy, aviation building and agriculture.

On a visit to the ex-Soviet neighbour in April, Putin caught Ukraine's leaders off guard by proposing a merger between Russia's Gazprom, the world's largest gas firm, and Ukraine's gas company Naftogaz.

After coming to power early this year, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has promoted closer relations with Russia.

In April he agreed a landmark deal to keep Russia's Black Sea fleet based in Crimea at least until 2042, a decision condemned by the opposition as selling out Ukraine's national interests.

Source: AFP

Topless Protest Against Putin's Ukraine Visit

KIEV, Ukraine -- Activists from Ukraine's women's rights group FEMEN went topless in Kiev on Wednesday in protest against visit by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

FEMEN protesting Putin visit to Ukraine.

"Ukraine knows why he visits, he wants to tear away pieces from Ukraine. We won't let him do this. The entire Ukraine will not allow that. And we simply reflect the opinion of the whole of Ukraine," one of the topless activists, Alexandra Shevchenko, said.

Putin is visiting Ukraine to discuss economic cooperation.

The group is infamous for its topless activism.

In March its activists went topless outside the Cabinet Ministers' office to protest the formation of an exclusively male cabinet in Ukraine''s new government.

Source: AP

Yushchenko May Have To Answer For Illegal Arms Sales To Georgia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s ex-President Viktor Yushchenko has every chance of becoming a prime suspect in the ongoing criminal probe into illegal arms sales to Georgia.

Viktor Yushchenko

At least that’s the opinion of Valery Konovalyuk, who heads a parliamentary investigation commission looking into the matter.

As to the Prosecutor General’s Office, it denies having any new such cases on its radar.

In 2005 Georgia received six Buk-M1 missile complexes, which the Russian military insists were used to shoot down all the four Russian jets lost during the August 2008 war in South Ossetia.

Basing on the information obtained by his commission, Valery Konovalyuk insists that the sale was illegal, that the Buk missiles were taken off combat duty in Ukraine thus baring the country’s airspace. If this allegation proves to be true, Yushchenko will be in serious trouble.

According to members of the parliamentary commission probing the whole matter, by authorizing the sale of the advanced weapons to Georgia at a fraction of their real cost to boot, ($200 million instead of $2 billion they were really worth) the President did a great deal of harm to national defense.

Many MPs suspect that someone had his palms very well greased in that shady transaction that was personally overseen by the then President.

The commission submitted its report back in 2009 but with the new leadership now in place the MPs hope that the whole thing can finally get some traction.

In Kiev political analyst Vadim Karasev says that there’s been a whole bunch of statements by Viktor Yushchenko and his defense minister Yuri Yekhanurov that Ukrainian arms sales to Georgia, effected until August 2008, were fully in line with the laws of the land and pertinent international agreements.

In any case, chances of Tyshchenko’s case ever reaching the court floor are next to nil, believes another Ukrainian political analyst Vitaly Kulik.

Facts obtained clearly point to the Ukrainian law having been bent, namely where it comes to the Buk missiles that were taken off combat duty and sold to the Georgians.

However, it looks like the only one who is going to suffer is an obscure official who, responding to a verbal order from his superiors, authorized the delivery of the Buk missiles and other weapons to Georgia.

On the other hand, we are talking about the moral and political responsibility of the country’s previous leaders for arming Georgia ahead of the conflict in South Ossetia… Unfortunately, this does not entail any criminal prosecution for either Viktor Yushchenko or any other top official of his government.

The shady arms deals made as part of the Yushchenko-Saakashvili brotherhood cost the Ukrainian state both money and prestige. That’s the opinion of the parliamentary commission and something the ex-president should be held personally accountable for.

Source: The Voice of Russia

Sending Harper To Ukraine Sends Message Of Concern

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Ukraine this week has offered some clear signals that Canada is concerned about recent developments in Ukrainian politics, particularly violations of human rights, a pro-Russian orientation, and the growing accumulation of power in the hands of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Canada PM Stephen Harper

In taking such a clear stance, Harper's position departs from that of countries of the European Union, which appear to be concerned primarily about regional stability and favour warmer relations with Russia. The EU's motivation, ostensibly, is the need for reliable imports of Russian gas and oil, which were disrupted frequently during the administration of Yanukovych's predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko.

The Canadian prime minister seemed more at ease during his visit to L'viv on the second day of his tour than during official meetings in Kyiv. At the latter, he was addressed in Russian by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

During an emotional visit to the memorial to the Famine-Holodomor of 1932-33, Harper referred to the horrors of that event without using the word genocide. Yanukovych, perhaps relieved, acknowledged the enormity of the famine, but referred to it as a crime that also affected Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

In short, the Ukrainian leader repeated the perspective offered regularly by the Russian leadership.

In L'viv, however, Harper could be more forthright. In the capital city of Western Ukraine there is little affection for the Yanukovych government.

The prime minister made a point of visiting those directly affected by the authorities' clampdown, including historian Ruslan Zabilyi, an employee of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) who was detained when alighting a train from L'viv to Kyiv, interrogated for some 14 hours, and accused of passing on classified information to third parties, reportedly documents pertaining to Ukrainian dissidence movements of the 1960s.

Zabilyi works at the Lonsky Prison, now SBU property, which was used both by the Soviet NKVD and Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Historians worldwide have signed a protest letter against the detention of Zabilyi and the SBU's intent to launch criminal proceedings against him.

Harper also met with Borys Gudziak, Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University of L'viv, who was also approached by the SBU last May and warned that students taking part in protests against the government would be prosecuted. In his talk at the university, Harper did describe the famine of 1932-33 as genocide.

The impact of the his visit to Ukraine is hard to determine. It received little publicity in the Ukrainian media other than on the Internet. However, in Canada, there was a positive response from the Ukrainian community, which has expressed its concern with the latest developments in Ukraine.

Canadian Ukrainians, in contrast to their American counterparts who protested the visit of Yanukovych to New York last month and refused to meet with him, have continued to be critical of the new Ukrainian government while maintaining a dialogue.

Yanukovych's public statements claim that he is committed to democratic reforms and open to advice. His comments are echoed by U.S. analyst Adrian Karatnycky, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, who notes that Yanukovych is "responsive to criticism" and "is aware of the potential of society, which was the lesson of the Orange Revolution."

Dominique Arel, Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa, states that it is unclear which direction Yanukovych will turn in the future, implying that a pro-Russian direction is by no means certain.

However, overall the signs are not too promising. On Oct. 1, Ukraine's constitutional court annulled the political reform of 2004, meaning that the country returned to the status of a presidential republic, in which the president chooses the prime minister and cabinet.

In theory there is some logic to the move, in that the 2004 amendments amounted to something of a backroom deal to prevent bloodshed during the Orange Revolution and left Yushchenko lacking in authority.

Yet the return to the 1996 constitution means that Yanukovych has formidable powers. Moreover, such a major constitutional reversal should be accompanied by a new presidential election, but there is no question of such an eventuality in Yanukovych's Ukraine. The municipal elections scheduled for this weekend similarly have been carefully engineered to ensure a victory for the ruling Regions Party.

Ukrainian analyst Mykola Riabchuk makes reference to what he terms the "KGB-ization" of society, with a powerful SBU and a cabinet dominated by what might impolitely be called "the Donetsk Mafia" bending rules whenever it suits them and curbing the media.

Yanukovych claims to be open to reforms and supportive of Euro-Atlantic structures, but has rejected NATO membership and accepted a proposed renovation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Moreover, the attitude of some of his team -- most notably Azarov and Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk -- is closer to a Soviet than a democratic mentality. The irascible Tabachnyk in particular does not consider the western regions part of Ukraine and denies that the famine was genocide.

Thus it is to be hoped that Ukraine heard Canada's message loud and clear. It was one of concern for a formerly close friend that seems to have taken some very wrong steps indeed.

Source: The Edmonton Journal

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Law On Lobbying May Merely Legalize Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- A new kind of business may soon officially appear in Ukraine: Lobbying services. But whether such a move will clean up the nation’s notoriously corrupt politics or make it even dirtier – if that’s possible – is actively being debated.

Billions of dollars gets spent the world over to influence decision-making in parliament, government and among local authorities.

Legislation to regulate the practice was registered in the Verkhovna Rada on Oct. 19 by Party of Regions lawmaker Valeriy Konovalyuk.

Authors say the law is aimed at fighting corruption and giving stakeholders’ influence on law- and decision-making in Ukraine a legal basis.

But some experts say the draft concept is more likely to legalize corruption than create the opportunity to establish civilized lobbying in the country.

In countries with developed democracy, the lobbying market gives the public not only instruments to influence state decision-making, but also tools to control such influence.

“This draft law can be called the law on the lawmaker’s release from the responsibility for taking money in exchange for laws,” said Serhiy Teryokhin, an opposition lawmaker.

The draft law allows any private individual or legal entity to become a lobbyist.

A lobbyist needs to open a business, then register on the state lobbyists’ list and obtain accreditation from the government body to be influenced. Accreditation is valid for a year.

“The fact that this law doesn’t prohibit government workers or lawmakers from becoming lobbyists gives them the opportunity to provide such services and take money for it,” Teryokhin said. “This, in fact, legalizes the corruption.”

Denys Bazylevych, director for the Institute of Professional Lobbying and Advocacy, said lobbying is part of democracy.

“Lobbying is an option for various groups of interests – business and public – to form and implement state policy on a legal basis,” Bazylevych said. “Lobbying doesn’t imply any encouragement to public officials for their support of somebody’s interests. Otherwise, it is corruption.”

According to lawmaker Teryokhin, the draft law has a lot of loopholes that give wide opportunities for corruption because many terms about what lobbying is and who can do it and how are defined incorrectly.

“This law suggests that the lobbyist has the right to contact government officials and deputies in person or in written form, while abroad it is completely forbidden for them to have any kind of direct contact with decision makers,” Teryokhin said.

Konovalyuk’s draft law suggests that lobbying means “fulfillment of legal influence on government bodies and local authorities during the development and approval of legislative acts” in return for payment from the customer.

“Legal influence” means approaching and contacting government officials and lawmakers for necessary information, organizing and holding public meetings and hearings and taking part in the development of legislative acts. The draft law also allows freedom to visit state authorities’ offices.

The law forbids lobbying regarding questions of the system of state authority and basis of public service, national security and defense, judicial system and territorial system.

Lobbyists also are prohibited from influencing the National Bank of Ukraine, the State Tax Administration, State Customs Service, judicial authorities and police and Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Anyone can pay for assistance from lobbyists, except government and local authorities, state institutions and organizations that are financed from state or local budgets or companies where the state share exceeds 20 percent. Foreigners are not allowed to use lobbyists’ service in relation to land questions.

Lobbyists can’t receive money or any other rewards from state of local budgets, from unregistered unions or organizations and anonymous sources.

Bazylevych from the Institute of Professional Lobbying and Advocacy explains that, with the proper work of lobbyists, the public can actually benefit. Lobbyists help pry open information – such as which organizations are influencing politicians and state authorities, which lobbyists they are using, and how much it costs.

Lobbying is big business in many nations. For instance, in the United States, the lobbying industry almost reached $4 billion in 2009 and it employed 13,000 people.

If this law is approved in Ukraine, the first to register themselves as lobbyists should be organizations involved with government relations, in particular, representatives of commercial organizations, consulting companies, business associations and unions, think tanks and non-governmental organizations.

Source: Kyiv Post

Is Ukraine Moving Back Into Russia's Embrace?

KIEV, Ukraine -- When hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest an allegedly fraudulent presidential election in 2004, the resulting revote was supposed to herald a new era of democracy in the former Soviet republic.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych speaks at the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Sept. 22.

Six years after the Orange Revolution, the object of all that public rage, Viktor Yanukovych, is in power, using heavy-handed tactics that he insists are crucial to getting the country's government and economy under control. But critics fear he is reversing Ukraine's path to democracy and turning the nation back toward Russia.

Ukraine, a nation of 46 million wedged between Russia and the European Union, was trumpeted as a beacon of democracy in a region of authoritarian leaders when demonstrations against Yanukovych's 2004 victory forced another election, which went to pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.

But Yushchenko's term was widely considered a failure, marked by his inability to overhaul the country's suffocating bureaucracy and overregulated economy or to tackle endemic corruption. Any potential progress was also hampered by constant squabbles with his former Orange ally, then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

At this year's election in February, Yanukovych — once tagged a Russian stooge — scored a stunning victory to become Ukraine's fourth President. He pledged to bring an end to political wrangling, stabilize the country's wobbly economy and repair relations with Russia while seeking European integration.

Since his triumph in a vote widely acknowledged as free and fair, Yanukovych has been quick to stamp his authority. In the past seven months, he has consolidated power by installing a loyal government, appointing allies to key posts in state structures like the state security service (formerly known as the KGB), and, earlier this month, he welcomed a constitutional-court ruling that handed him even more sway, including the power to hire and fire the government at will.

"Ukraine and society is tired of life in those conditions ... [which] resulted in economic collapse and poverty," Yanukovych said.

He has pledged to use these new powers to push through much needed overhauls. To be sure, his main achievement so far has been to stabilize the economy, which suffered a catastrophic 15% plunge in 2009. He has also put an end to destructive infighting, which in turn has sped up decision making.

But opponents claim he is also undermining the democratic gains of recent years, monopolizing power, clamping down on the opposition and curbing press freedoms. They accuse him of getting too cozy with Moscow and attempting to follow the pattern of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who crushed his opponents and muzzled the media during his two terms as the country's President.

"[Yanukovych's] political culture is to grab more and more power," Hryhoriy Nemyria, a top aide to Tymoshenko, tells TIME. "He is mimicking Russia."

In the months since Yanukovych took office, a number of former senior officials from Tymoshenko's government have been put in detention or under investigation on charges of corruption and abuse of office. The former Prime Minister says the charges are trumped up; the government counters that it's fighting graft.

Journalists complain of their managers cutting reports that may be critical of the administration, while media monitors say press coverage of Ukraine's government is becoming more deferential. As a result, the country has dropped 42 places to 131 on Reporters Without Borders' annual press-freedom index, which was released on Oct. 20.

But while many analysts see ominous signs that Yanukovych is heading down an authoritarian path, others suggest things aren't so clear-cut, pointing out that the President these days cannot ignore Ukraine's newly active civil society.

"It's not a steamroller; he's responsive to criticism," says Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. "He's aware of the potential of society, which was the lesson of the Orange Revolution."

There's no denying, however, that Yanukovych has swung his country toward its former Soviet overlord. Since taking office, he has declared Ukraine a nonaligned country, putting an end to longstanding efforts to join NATO — a goal of all of his predecessors that had enjoyed mixed popular support and irked Moscow.

In April, he signed a controversial deal to extend the stay of Russia's Black Sea fleet on Ukrainian territory until 2042 in return for cheaper gas supplies. Yanukovych says the previous administration's failures forced him into the gas trade-off to keep Ukraine's crucial steel mills and chemical plants pumping.

Strong leadership and good relations with Russia bring much needed stability, he says, but European integration remains the main strategic goal.

Critics, however, claim the President's commitment to Europe is illusory and say that he has given the Kremlin too much too quickly, edging Ukraine toward the point of no return. "Russia views the Black Sea fleet deal as an appetizer," Oleh Rybachuk, Yushchenko's former chief of staff, tells TIME.

"They are now trying to get the maximum, which for Russia means total control." Now Moscow is pushing hard for further integration, including mergers of the countries' nuclear-energy, aircraft-building and, most crucially, gas industries.

The West, one of the most vocal celebrants of Ukrainian democracy's victory over Russian-backed authoritarianism in 2004, has been more subdued in its reaction to criticisms against Yanukovych.

Senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have only gently nudged him on press freedoms, leaving some opposition leaders and civic activists to worry that the U.S. is trying to preserve friendly relations with Russia by treading lightly in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Europe, beset with its own internal troubles, professes satisfaction at the stability of Ukraine's current government after years of infighting. "Ukraine is seeing a period of political stability, based on a strong parliamentary majority," said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, after meeting Yanukovych in September. "This enables Ukraine to move forward with important reforms."

Yanukovych is adamant that he doesn't have to choose between the West and Russia. But right now he is negotiating with the E.U. on a deep free-trade agreement at the same time that Russia is pushing him for more industry tie-ups. Soon it could become clearer where Ukraine's President has decided to put most of his chips.

Source: Time

Monday, October 25, 2010

With Ukraine's Blessing, Russia To Beef Up Its Black Sea Fleet

MOSCOW, Russia -- Moscow's upgrade to its Black Sea Fleet – headquartered with Ukraine's blessing at Sevastopol – could make waves around the Black Sea, where NATO has a strong presence.

The Russian missile cruiser Moskva sits anchored in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Just a year ago Ukraine was insisting that Russia would be required to vacate the Crimean naval base of Sevastopol when its old lease expired in 2017. That would have posed serious problems for Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, which is headquartered there.

But today, after pro-Moscow President President Viktor Yanukovych took office in February, Russia appears completely secure in its military foothold on Ukrainian soil until at least 2042.

In a quiet announcement Monday, Moscow revealed that – with Ukrainian consent – it will "upgrade" its Black Sea fleet over the next decade with at least 18 new warships, including six new frigates, six submarines, two giant troop-landing ships, and new squadrons of naval aircraft.

"I am quite sure that the Russian Black Sea fleet will stay in Ukraine till doomsday," says Kirill Frolov, an expert with the official Russian Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Russian naval upgrade is likely to cause waves around the Black Sea, which is bordered by NATO members Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, as well as Ukraine and Georgia.

The NATO aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, had stirred strong concerns in Moscow. But with NATO rules stipulating that member countries may not host non-NATO foreign military bases on their soil, Mr. Yanukovych's agreement to prolong Russia's grip on Sevastopol would seem to block Ukraine from even considering joining the alliance for decades to come.

The tilt toward Moscow

Since the narrow electoral victory Mr. Yanukovych in February, Ukraine's previous pro-Western drift has gone into sharp reverse. The Slavic neighbors now seem headed into a full strategic embrace.

Under former President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine was committed to quickly joining NATO, but Mr. Yanukovych put an end to that last April by quietly closing down the government commission that was preparing for the move.

According to an agreement last week between Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his Ukrainian counterpart Mikhail Yezhel, Kiev is now on board with Moscow's wish to restore the potency of its Black Sea naval arm.

Until now, the Black Sea fleet has been mostly rusting at anchor in Sevastopol since the collapse of the USSR almost two decades ago.

Russia says fleet protects Ukraine, too

When Russia and another NATO aspirant, Georgia, fought a brief summer war in 2008, Ukraine – which sympathized with Georgia – complained about the use of Black Sea fleet warships deployed against Georgia from Ukrainian territory without Kiev's permission.

Russia now says it will inform Ukraine about any future movements of the fleet in advance. Some Ukrainian analysts say that's not enough.

"If the fleet is situated on Ukrainian territory, any actions it makes should take Ukrainian interests into account," says Andrei Yermolayev, director of the Sofia Center, an independent think tank in Kiev. "I think Ukrainian military specialists, security experts and politicians have to be given facts about the modernization. We have a right to know what are Russia's plans, goals, and strategy."

Last week the two defense ministers also agreed to broaden military cooperation, including holding joint war games in Russia's southern region next summer.

"We think that modernizing the Black Sea Fleet is beneficial for Ukraine as well as Russia," says Mr. Frolov of the Russian Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States. "First, Russia is paying an enormous rent for the use of this base. Secondly, the fleet not only protects Russia but also Ukraine."

Popular among Ukrainians

Last April, when Yanukovych agreed to extend the Russian Navy's lease on Sevastopol by 25 years in exchange for a 30 percent discount on Russian natural gas, the Ukrainian opposition in parliament hurled smoke bombs and denounced the deal as "a black page in Ukrainian history."

But protests Monday were muted, with Ukrainian analysts pointing out that the bargain to retain the Russian fleet in Sevastopol remains widely popular among Ukrainians – polls show that about 60 percent approve – and many hope the Russian presence will yield further economic benefits.

"I don't think anybody is very indignant about the Russians modernizing their fleet," says Viktor Nebozhenko, director of Ukrainian Barometer, an independent Kiev think tank.

"It's their own business. It would become intensely popular among Ukrainians if they decided to build some of those new ships in [the languishing Soviet-era military shipyards near the Ukrainian port of] Nikolayev," he adds. "We need the jobs."

Source: Christian Science Monitor

UEFA Demands Evidence In Euro 2012 Corruption Claim

LONDON, England -- European football's governing body, UEFA, has called for proof in response to allegations of corruption in the bidding race for Euro 2012.

Former Cyprus football official, Spyros Marangos, has claimed that money changed hands before Ukraine and Poland were awarded the championship.

UEFA says the claims are unsubstantiated but will be investigated if evidence is provided.

It has given Mr Marangos two days to provide "tangible elements of proof".

Lawyers for Mr Marangos, a former treasurer of the Cyprus Football Association, told the BBC that he had tried for the past two years to draw UEFA's attention to the allegations for which he had witnesses.

They said that Mr Marangos had been due to meet the head of UEFA's disciplinary committee in August, but the meeting had been cancelled by UEFA four days beforehand.

The allegations come at an unfortunate moment for UEFA, as world football's governing body, FIFA, is investigating allegations of vote selling in the race to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022.

In a statement, UEFA said it took the fight against corruption very seriously and threatened to start legal proceedings if evidence was not submitted by 27 October at the latest.

Mr Marangos' lawyers said he wanted the truth to come out and would decide how to respond.

Source: BBC News