Monday, February 28, 2011

The Bubble Bursts For Ukraine's 'Champagne'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian winemakers will be forced to stop labelling their sparkling white wines as "Champagne" as part of a free trade agreement with the European Union due to be signed later this year.

Sovietskoye Shampanskoye

The head of the EU delegation to the country said last week that the issue is a "non-negotiable" part of the deal, which is expected to come into force in 2013.

Since Soviet times, the vineyards in the southern Crimea region of Ukraine have produced a syrupy sweet sparkling white wine, which is known as shampanskoye.

It is often unpalatably sweet for Western European tastes, but is very popular in Ukraine and Russia.

From next year, however, producers will have to come up with another way to describe it. "Alternative names must be adopted," said José Manuel Pinto Teixeira, the head of the EU mission in Ukraine, last week.

There are nearly 3,000 food and drink products which must be made in a particular area for the name to be used in the EU, including Parma ham, Roquefort cheese, and – as of last week – the Cornish Pasty.

But in Ukraine, there are a whole range of products, first marketed in the Soviet era, that copy Western names.

Aside from shampanskoye there are also the brandies known as konyak and sweet red wines called Madeira, not to mention local cheese brands marketed as Feta.

All of them would fall foul of the EU's rules.

"I don't know what they should call shampanskoye but I have an idea for Ukrainian Madeira," said Mr Teixeira.

"The wines are produced in a place called Massandra. Why not call them Massandra wines, and who knows, maybe in a few years from now, tourists will travel to Massandra especially to drink the wines."

Mr Teixeira said that Spain is an excellent example to Ukraine that rebranding products can work. When the country joined the EU, they were forced to rename "Spanish champagne" as Cava. "Now everybody knows what Cava is," he said.

The trade deal with Ukraine, which both sides want to sign later this year, will ease trade barriers and bring the former Soviet state a step closer towards eventual EU membership.

The branding issue has been one of the hardest for the Ukrainians to accept, said Mr Teixeira.

Government ministers have now accepted that it is the end of the road for shampanskoye, but other Ukrainians are not convinced.

"I haven't heard about this, but I can't imagine anyone is going to stop calling it shampanskoye," said Marina, a cashier at a Kiev supermarket.

Source: The Independent

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ukraine Ambiguous On European Missile Defense System

KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made an official visit to Ukraine on Thursday in an attempt to persuade Ukraine into participating in a European anti-missile system.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (L) and Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich attend a news conference in Kiev.

Although both sides agreed to set up an expert group to assess the issue, analysts said this was only a delaying tactic adopted by Kiev and whether Ukraine joined the system would completely depend on Russia.

NATO INVITATION

NATO invited Russia and Ukraine to be part of its missile shield in Europe in November 2010 at the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

Before traveling to Kiev, Rasmussen told reporters that he hoped to reach consensus with Ukraine on this issue.

After his talks with Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryschenko, Rasmussen told reporters in Kiev that Ukraine was interested in the European anti-missile system.

He said the European anti-missile system was still in its infancy. "We have not yet completed the final design of the architecture, and we are at the initial stage of this process. Only two or three months have passed after NATO decided to develop a system on the basis of NATO," he said.

Recalling that Russia has also been invited to cooperate in this project, he stressed the future architecture of the anti-missile system would depend on contributions of Ukraine and other partners.

Yanukovych took office in February last year and completely discarded the bid of former President Viktor Yushchenko to join NATO.

The parliament has passed a law, ruling out the possibility of the nation joining NATO and declaring the country's non-aligned status.

But Ukraine does not refuse to cooperate with NATO in order to maintain normal relations with the United States and Europe, attract more foreign investments and have a say in European affairs.

Analysts said there was a huge gap between "willingness to join NATO" and "willingness to cooperate with NATO."

Ukraine now wants to work with NATO within the existing framework, but it is not interested in raising bilateral relations to a new level.

As it is still unclear how to build the anti-missile system in Europe and Russia's stance on this issue is unknown, Ukraine has to take a wait-and-see stance, analysts said.

NOTHING NEW

Rasmussen and Yanukovych talked for more than two hours instead of the planned 30 minutes.

After the meeting, Yunukovych told the press that Ukraine was willing to strengthen effective cooperation with NATO under the existing mechanisms.

He welcomed NATO's bid to make bilateral partnership more specific and results-oriented.

Yanukovych said Ukraine pays great attention to NATO's reforms under the new situation.

"Ukraine regarded participation in creating a new European collective security system as its obligation," he said.

Analysts noted that the collective security system in Yanukovych's words is different from NATO's plan.

Ukraine believes that the new European collective security system should include all European countries in the principle of equality and security of every country in the region.

In fact, Ukraine's stance is identical with Russia's plan to construct a new European security architecture.

Although aware of that Ukraine has lost its enthusiasm to join NATO, Rasmussen stressed that NATO respected Kiev's non-aligned position, but NATO's door remained open to all democratic countries.

He pledged to continue to help Ukraine in its military reforms and its integration into the European Union, calling on Kiev to take an active role in combating terrorism, piracy, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other transnational crimes.

He also asked Ukraine to send more military instructors to Afghanistan.

Experts pointed out nothing new really happened during Rasmussen's visit to Ukraine and that the main issues concerning NATO were not responded by the Ukrainian side positively.

RUSSIAN ATTITUDE IS ESSENTIAL

Ukraine's foreign policy underwent a profound adjustment after Yanukovych took office.

To enhance good ties with Russia became a key priority of Ukraine's diplomacy.

Kiev is, of course, willing to develop relations with the European Union, the United States and NATO to pursue maximization of national interests, but at a premise -- no damage to relations with Russia.

After the Lisbon summit, Moscow found that NATO's plan on the anti-missile system in Europe was deviating from Russia's expectations.

During his meeting with Russia's permanent representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, President Dmitry Medvedev warned of a new arms race if it was not given an equal say in creating the missile shield for Europe.

In fact, the alliance plans to create separate but coordinated Russian and NATO missile defense systems, but the Kremlin seeks an integrated European missile shield.

Experts believed it was very difficult for NATO and Russia to reach a compromise on this issue due to each side's concerns on safeguarding its own strategic interests.

Ukraine is acutely aware of its own situation in the squeeze, so the best choice is to keep its attitude ambiguous, analysts said.

Source: Xinhua

Human Trafficking Suspect Appears In Federal Court

DETROIT, USA -- A former fugitive accused of being a member of a violent ring that lured Eastern European women to the United States and forced them to become strippers was brought to Michigan to face charges.

Human trafficking suspect Veniamin Gonikman

Veniamin Gonikman appeared Friday for arraignment in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

A judge ordered the proceedings to resume Wednesday after an attorney for the naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine said he needed an interpreter who understood and spoke Russian.

Defense lawyer Wally Piszczatowski told federal Magistrate Mark Randon that Gonikman "can converse in the English language," but needs an interpreter for more detailed discussions about the case and charges.

Randon also ordered that Gonikman remain in custody pending a separate detention hearing Wednesday.

Gonikman, 55, consented last month in a New York courtroom to be sent to Michigan to face the charges.

Court documents allege Gonikman was using a fake Russian passport while living in Ukraine in recent years. Officials there arrested him in on immigration violations and ordered his deportation.

He was taken into U.S. custody after landing at Kennedy Airport in New York.

The Associated Press reported on the case involving Gonikman last year in a lengthy investigation of the exploitation of a U.S. cultural exchange program that provides foreign college students temporary visas to live and work in the United States.

Some women were beaten and sexually assaulted, threatened with guns and forced to work 12 hours a day, six days a week at the Cheetah's strip club in Detroit, according to court records.

Gonikman faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of human trafficking, money laundering, extortion and other charges.

Source: AP

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gadhafi's Ukrainian Nurse Says She's Going Home

KIEV, Ukraine -- Embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is set to be deserted by another close ally after his Ukrainian nurse said she was heading home.

Moammar Gadhafi

Galyna Kolotnytska, described in a diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks as a "voluptuous blond" who "travel[s] everywhere" with Col. Gadhafi, called her family in Kiev on Friday to say she intends to return to Ukraine, her daughter told daily Segodnya.

"Mom got in touch yesterday. She said she was now in Tripoli," Tetyana Kolotnytska said. "She spoke in a calm voice, asked us not to worry and said she'd soon be home."

According to the cable from September 2009, contacts in Tripoli told U.S. diplomats that Col. Gadhafi "relies heavily" on Ms. Kolotnytska, then 38, as "she alone 'knows his routine.'"

The cable also reported claims from unnamed sources that the eccentric Libyan leader and the nurse, part of a retinue of four Ukrainians, "have a romantic relationship."

Ms. Kolotnytska's daughter said her mother had been in Libya for nine years, originally employed in a hospital before starting work for Col. Gadhafi.

"Other Ukrainian women also work for him as nurses. Mom is one of them," she said. "For some reason, he doesn't trust Libyan women with this matter."

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Ukraine-NATO Cooperation Is Getting Stronger

KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen praised Ukraine's participation in a number of NATO missions.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Rasmussen made this statement during his two-day visit to Ukraine."I would like to sincerely thank Ukraine for its participation in NATO missions at Balkans, Afghanistan, and maintaining maritime security.

These missions strengthen peace and stability," said Rasmussen at the meeting with Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

The current scope of Ukraine's cooperation is quite large. Since 1996, Ukraine has sent a significant number of servicemen to Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 2010, Ukrainian corvette Ternopil participated in NATO's Operation Active Endeavour for the fifth time. On top of that, Ukrainian peacemakers are currently stationed in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary General mentioned that the Alliance does not impose on Ukraine's decisions to be a part of any alliance and respects Ukraine's non-aligned status.

He made a special note that he was happy "to visit a country, where people have a high privilege of expressing their thoughts freely."

Currently, Ukraine takes practical steps in reorganizing the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in order to create a professional army by 2015. NATO supports the reform process in Ukraine and has agreed to continue providing expertise and resources for it to continue.

As of today, NATO assists Ukraine with social adaptation and re-qualification of the dismissed former military personnel, and with management of the consequence caused by the defense reform.

NATO is also eager to assist Ukraine and Poland in providing security at the upcoming EURO 2012 the two countries will host.

Ukraine has set a course towards conducting a dialogue with NATO during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005).

His successor Victor Yushchenko (2005-2010) nurtured the idea of Ukraine becoming a NATO member, but it wasn't supported by the majority of the population.

Ukraine, therefore, kept its non-aligned status. In the recently enacted law on Domestic and Foreign Policy, signed by the President-in-office Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine is to continue on having a constructive partnership with NATO.

NATO-Ukraine relations were formally launched in 1991, when Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (now the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council).

The 1997 Charter on a Distinctive Partnership, which established the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC), has become the formal basis for NATO-Ukraine relations.

Source: Worldwide News Ukraine

Friday, February 25, 2011

Experts Say Yanukovych Instituting ‘Neo-Soviet’ Rule In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- He's destroyed his country's democratic institutions and reduced quality of life for most of his compatriots. That's the verdict against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych by many of the country's political experts one year into his presidency.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Not that major change in Ukraine was completely unexpected. When Yanukovych took power a year ago to the day after an election that repudiated five years of rule by the Orange Revolution's leaders, he said they'd left his country is a state of "ruin."

He promised what he called a "course of deep reform and systematic modernization in every area of public life" that he said would "carry out a new wave of much-needed socioeconomic transformation."

At the top of his list was fighting corruption and reforming the state bureaucracy. But one year on, political experts say his policies have been either incomplete or regressive, aimed at canceling the Orange Revolution's democratic gains.

A survey of expert opinions about Yanukovych's first year in office by Kiev's Democratic Initiatives Foundation found most of those polled say his main accomplishment is to have concentrated power in his own hands, says its director, sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina.

"Yanukovych built a full vertical power structure with himself at the top," she said, "holding all levers of power, including ones that are formally independent."

Selective Justice

Bekeshkina said Yanukovych has undermined parliament -- where his Party of Regions holds a majority -- by turning it into a "vehicle for the presidential administration's bills." She said he's also used law enforcement to carry out "selective justice" against his rivals.

Prosecutors have targeted opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and her allies in what the government says is part of a campaign against corruption.

Tymoshenko -- a former prime minister who narrowly lost the election to Yanukovych last year -- is under investigation on charges of misuse of funds. She's been barred from leaving Kiev.

Her ally, former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko, is in jail on charges that his driver embezzled $45,000. Both deny the allegations, and Tymoshenko says Yanukovych is really using the drive as an excuse to jail her supporters.

Speaking last month after New York-based Freedom House downgraded its rating of Ukraine from "free" to "partly free," Tymoshenko said Ukraine has regressed a decade.

"That's the result of the new president's first year in office," she said. "All those who hoped for freedom, justice, and rule of law have nothing to hope for anymore. Now that's recognized not just by the Ukrainian opposition, but by the whole world."

Regressive Policies

Besides marginalizing the opposition, human rights activists say the government has moved to censor the media. The European Union and other European organizations have also criticized the government over journalists' complaints about censorship and physical attacks.

Political expert Vadim Karasyov calls Yanukovych's rule "neo-Soviet" for undercutting pluralistic politics.

"The president's power is based on personal factors, not institutions," he said. "The political system has been transformed into Yanukovych's personal regime."

As for their effectiveness, Karasyov said that Yanukovych's policies have been "either half-baked, retrograde, or simply unfulfilled."

Among his policies, experts say his legal overhaul has made the judicial system dependent on the president by giving him the power to hire and fire judges.

And although the government has reduced the number of bureaucrats, Karasyov said their fewer numbers haven’t reduced corruption, lessened red tape, or improved the climate for business.

In economic reform, Bekeshkina said the government has reduced its budget deficit mainly by slashing pensions and social welfare. "Reform has been paid for by the population's falling standard of living," she said.

Instead of creating greater transparency, Bekeshkina said, Yanukovych's tax reform has pushed small and medium-sized businesses -- seen as the opposition's backbone of support -- further into the grey market.

She says those developments have changed, not lessened, what's seen as the country's worst problem: corruption. "If it was chaotic and unsystematic before," Bekeshkina said, "now it's becoming part of the power vertical system. It's allowed only for those in power and no one else."

Russia Ties

The main factor holding Yanukovych back from instituting a fully "Russian model" of authoritarianism, Karasyov said, is the presence of his arch-rival Tymoshenko.

The embattled opposition leader was an icon of the Orange Revolution in 2004, when street protests helped overturn Yanukovych's victory in a rigged presidential election.

Tymoshenko has been especially vocal about Yanukovych's decision to end Ukraine's drive to join the European Union and NATO in favor of re-establishing close relations with Moscow.

Yanukovych extended Russia's lease for a former Soviet naval base at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. In return, Moscow gave Ukraine a discount on the amount it pays for Russian natural gas. The deal helped roll back the previous administration's policy of minimizing the influence of Moscow.

Such moves have been popular in Ukraine's largely Russian-speaking east, which overwhelmingly backs Yanukovych, but have alienated people in western Ukraine, the opposition's main base of support in the deeply divided country.

Yanukovych's policies have also strained relations with the West. The European Union last month blocked millions of dollars in aid to protest changes to regulations on public tenders it said would make them less transparent.

But despite Ukraine's clear reorientation away from the West, Karasyov criticizes Yanukovych for having "no real strategy" in foreign policy. "It's just tactical zigzags," he said.

Downplaying Ukrainian Identity

Other domestic policies, such as reversing decisions to honor Ukrainian nationalists who resisted Soviet authorities, have angered many in western Ukraine.

New history textbooks have also downplayed the anticommunist resistance, measures that Bekeshkina says have impeded the development of Ukrainian national identity.

"Ukraine is a very young country, it will be only 20 this year, and needs to develop its language and own view of history," she said. "But now that's being cut back because of many scandals, including the shutting of Ukrainian schools."

One year on, has Yanukovych managed to roll back the gains of the Orange Revolution? Not yet, says Karasyov but adds that this year will be pivotal.

"It will show whether Yanukovych will be able to turn Ukraine around completely by driving Tymoshenko out of politics, scattering the opposition, and taking the political system under his control," he said, "or whether Ukraine's democratic development can’t be turned around."

Karasyov says Yanukovych has so far been unable to crush Tymoshenko because he governs not in his own interest, but in the interest of a handful of powerful billionaires who financed his campaign.

However the political conflict plays out, Bekeshkina says it's unclear how the country will emerge. "For now," she said, "we're walking away from European values."

Source: Radio Free Europe

Viktor Yanukovich Turns Eastward

KIEV, Ukraine -- One year after his inauguration, the Ukrainian president has taken the country in a more authoritarian direction.

"I won't drink if it smells of oranges..."

In 2003 Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s president, published a book called “Ukraine is not Russia”. Just over a year later the “orange revolution” broke out in Kiev, depriving Viktor Yanukovich of his rigged victory in a presidential election.

Although Mr Kuchma’s book was mainly about history and culture, after the revolution its title was projected onto politics, becoming a mantra to both Ukrainians and the West. The rejection of Mr Yanukovich’s election was seen as a new stage in the eastward expansion of Western values.

The contrast was striking. As Russia slid into authoritarianism, Ukraine was revelling in its newly-won freedon. Just over a year ago, the ineffectual Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the orange revolution, lost a presidential election to Mr Yanukovich.

The return to power of a man who had tried to steal it five years earlier was a disappointment. But the peaceful transition also suggested that democracy had at least been consolidated in Ukraine.

Today, however, Mr Kuchma’s democratic credentials are looking more doubtful. The concern is not that Ukraine has lost economic or political independence, as many Western observers feared it might. Mr Yanukovich is too beholden to Ukraine’s tycoons and too tight-fisted to share the spoils with Russia.

It is rather that he is emulating Vladimir Putin’s methods, albeit without Russia’s imperial zeal. The free spirit that once characterised Ukraine is evaporating as quickly as it did in Russia a decade ago. Ukraine, until recently rated by Freedom House as the only free ex-Soviet country (apart from the three Baltic states), has been downgraded to partially free.

Mr Yanukovich has consolidated more power than any of his predecessors enjoyed. He has forced through constitutional changes to restore old presidential powers and add new ones. As in Russia in the early Putin years, the influence of parliament, prime minister and government has been cut back.

Decisions belong in the presidential administration. Prosecutors, the constitutional court and the central bank have lost any semblance of independence. As Viktor Pshonka, a new prosecutor-general chosen by Mr Yanukovich, told a television interviewer, “I am a member of [Mr Yanukovich’s] team, implementing all the decisions taken by the president…[He] is a very objective man.”

Centralising power, say Mr Yanukovich’s aides, was necessary to re-establish order after years of chaos. Sergei Levochkin, Mr Yanukovich’s chief of staff, says the president is determined to pursue administrative and economic reforms.

Red tape has been cut, he says, gas prices raised and the government is preparing to push through a pension reform and open up a market in land.

Yet as the experience of Russia shows, weak institutions mean government actions carry more weight than laws. The reforms have yet to appear but the thuggery and cronyism are in place. The first local elections fought under Mr Yanukovich were dirty.

The air of intimidation has thickened. Investors complain of businesses being shaken down by Mr Yanukovich’s men. Alexander Lebedev, a Russian businessman who owns hotels in Kiev and Crimea, says his properties have been raided.

Mr Yanukovich has taken a leaf from Mr Putin’s book by exploiting a right-wing nationalist party in western Ukraine to serve as an easily defeatable opposition that can also be presented in the West and in Kiev as an ugly alternative to his moderate Party of Regions.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who was Mr Yanukovich’s main challenger at last year’s election, says some of her party members have been intimidated into giving up their parliamentary seats.

Several of her former ministers, including Yuri Lutsenko, who served as interior minister, are in detention for crimes allegedly committed in office. She herself is unable to leave the country, or even to travel within it.

To give its attack on Ms Tymoshenko an air of legitimacy, the government hired an American law firm to investigate her behaviour in office. But it turned up little. She now stands accused of spending money received from the sale of greenhouse-gas quotas on pensions rather than on reducing pollution, and of buying ill-equipped ambulances.

In a country where billions of dollars are siphoned off in shady gas deals, these charges seem not only political but flimsy. What really sets Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Lutsenko apart, says Yulia Mostovaya, editor of Zerkalo Nedeli, an independent weekly, is their experience in organising mass street protests. Mr Yanukovich, say some, is still haunted by memories of the orange revolution.

Meanwhile, corruption continues unchecked. Last year Ukraine set quotas for grain exports, half of which ended up in the hands of three domestic firms. “There was no logic for this restriction…apart from graft,” says one foreign economist.

There are still many ways in which Ukraine is not Russia, says Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank. It does not have Russia’s natural resources, its economy is less reformed, it has no imperial hangover and no tradition of a strong state.

It is also more dependent on foreign financing, which gives outsiders greater sway. Yet few of Mr Yanukovich’s actions have attracted serious criticism in the West.

One reason for this is fatigue with Ukraine; the appearance of stability has brought Mr Yanukovich relief from Western pressure. America, which was crucial in preventing the use of force during the orange revolution, has other things to worry about.

Mr Yanukovich’s agreement to relinquish Ukraine’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium, one of the few tangible results of Barack Obama’s summit on nuclear material last year, makes it harder for America to criticise him.

After an initial honeymoon, relations between Mr Yanukovich and Mr Putin have soured. But as the example of Belarus shows, this should be of no comfort to the West. There is little love lost between Belarus’s president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and the Kremlin.

Even so, Mr Lukashenka’s brutal crushing of protests after a stolen election in December lodged him deeper in Russia’s sphere of influence.

Ukraine is in a different league from Belarus, and still freer than Russia. But the trend is clear: the eastward expansion of Western values in the 1990s has been replaced by the westward creep of a post-Soviet model.

Source: The Economist

Ukraine: Free Speech Versus Firtash

LONDON, England -- Journalists, writers and media freedom campaigners are, not surprisingly, delighted with the decision of a British judge on Thursday to throw out a libel claim filed by a Ukrainian billionaire against a Ukrainian newspaper.

Dmitry Firtash

Business people should be equally glad: the ruling will make it more difficult for foreign litigants to take advantage of Britain’s tough libel laws. Since these laws have often been used to suppress allegations of financial wrongdoing, it is in the interests of business people everywhere that journalists working in Ukraine and elsewhere can breathe a little more easily.

The advance of corporate transparency depends critically on the advance of media freedom.

As the Press Association reported, High Court Master John Leslie dismissed the case brought against the Kyiv Post by businessman Dmitry Firtash, saying that the link to the English jurisdiction was “tenuous in the extreme”.

Firtash had sought to sue the newspaper over an article it published which he said suggested corruption at RosUkrEnergo, a company he owned jointly with a Ukrainian partner and Gazprom, the Russian state gas group.

He wanted to bring the case in London even though the Kyiv Post article was thought to have been accessed on the internet by only 21 people in the UK.

PA reported that Master Leslie dismissed the case, saying, “There is no substantial connection to this jurisdiction.”

Brian Bonner, the Kyiv Post editor, told beyondbrics, “This is a tremendous victory for us. It’s a tremendous victory for free speech.”

The paper’s solicitor, Mark Stephens, said after the hearing, “This is one of the worst cases of libel tourism I’ve encountered in recent years. This is a dispute between a Ukrainian oligarch and a Ukrainian paper about matters in the Ukraine. It has no connection with the UK and the learned Master Leslie quite rightly threw the case out.”

Firtash’s legal action, launched late last year, prompted the Kyiv Post to block access to its website from the UK in protest. Bonner said on Thursday that the block would remain in place until it was clear that all the legal processes – including any possible appeal by Firtash – had been completed.

The case draws attention to the popularity of Britain’s far-reaching libel law with wealthy foreign litigants, who are attracted by the tough conditions imposed on journalists and their publishers on supporting the claims they make.

The US has passed legislation (the Speech Act and Libel Terrorism Acts) to protect authors and publishers.

As well as paying heavy damages, publishers who lose UK cases face huge legal bills as they are often obliged to cover the litigants’ costs on top of their own. Bonner estimated that for the Kyiv Post and its owner, businessman Mohammed Zahoor, the legal bills could have reached $1.5m compared with £39,000 spent on the Kyiv Post’s own costs.

But change is in the air. Nick Clegg, the UK’s deputy prime minister, has committed to bringing forward legislation to end libel tourism by May 2012, after lobbying by the Libel Reform Campaign.

The Libel Reform Campaign welcomed Thursday’s decision. Mike Harris of Index on Censorship told journalists:

A Ukrainian billionaire tried to drag a Ukrainian newspaper all the way to London to fight a libel case here.

Master Leslie has rightly thrown this case out. We can’t have our courts used to chill free speech in foreign countries. But it’s up to the government to bring our libel laws in the 21st century with reform in this Parliament.

However, the reform proposals still have a long way before they become law. The British Parliament includes among its members many lawyers, some of whom will be loathe to see the end of a very lucrative business.

Source: Financial Times

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ukraine Pushes For Russian Role In NATO Missile Defence

KIEV, Ukraine -- Senior officials from Ukraine and NATO gave their support on Wednesday to cooperation on a plan for a missile shield, with Ukraine insisting on Russian participation.

Anatoly Hrytsenko

Anatoly Hrytsenko, chairman of the national security committee in Ukraine's parliament, said he supported integrating Ukraine into a pan-European air defence network but stressed that Russia should play a role in any such plan.

'Of course, this can only happen if Russia is a participant,' he said after meeting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the Ukrainian capital.

Rasmussen said that cooperation in the missile defence system, designed to prevent attacks by rogue states, would be in 'Ukraine's interests.'

Hrystenko emphasized the economic benefits.

'This would develop our technologies and create jobs,' he said. 'We have a more valid basis for direct cooperation (with NATO on missile defence) than most of the four dozen (NATO) members.'

The Kremlin has repeatedly insisted that a missile shield can be constructed only if Russia participates, and has fiercely criticized the current NATO plan to develop missile defences by incorporating participant countries into the programme one by one.

Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said in early February that 'any defence system built solely by NATO would be directed at Russia.'

A number of top Russian politicians have said that NATO should scrap its plan and, instead, set up a joint NATO-Russia missile shield which would be able to fire only if both sides agreed to it.

Rasmussen has rejected such an idea, though NATO leaders have talked about sharing information with Russia.

Ukraine has cooperated with NATO in training exercises since 1994. Joining NATO was a top priority for Ukraine's previous pro-Europe government, but the election in 2010 of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych halted the accession programme.

Source: DPA

NATO Asks Ukraine To Send Military Instructors To Afghanistan

KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday the alliance has asked Ukraine to consider allocating military instructors to help train Afghan security forces.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The NATO chief arrived on a visit to Ukraine on Thursday. He is expected to meet with President Viktor Yanukovych, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and other senior officials.

Rasmussen told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko that the alliance's training mission in Afghanistan was short of staff.

The mission aims to train the Afghan security forces to be able to take full responsibility in the country.

Ahead of the visit, Rasmussen said NATO plans to step up cooperation with Ukraine to tackle common problems.

Source: RIA Novosti

Newspaper: Ukrainian Mercenaries Flying Libya Air Force Planes

KIEV, Ukraine -- Mercenary pilots from Ukraine are flying Libyan air force planes supporting the regime of embattled Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi, a major newspaper reported Thursday.

Embattled Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi.

The Ukrainian pilots, some of whom hold senior rank in the Libyan air force, operate MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighter jets as well as An-12 and An-26 cargo planes, the Segodnya newspaper said.

Stratfor, a private firm that does political analysis, reported on Tuesday that Ukrainian mercenaries piloted planes that had bombed hundreds of protesters near the Libyan capital Tripoli.

A spokesman at Ukraine's embassy in Tripoli denied that report.

The pilots receive between $2,000 and $8,000 dollars a month, Segodnya reported, citing Ukrainian combat flyers.

A Ukrainian aircraft repair and overhaul facility reportedly has provided maintenance support for Libyan air force aircraft since 2008.

Ukrainian military professionals fighting on other nations' behalf have landed the former Soviet republic in hot water repeatedly.

The most controversial recent incidents involved Ukrainian helicopter gunship pilots attacking Albanian rebels for the Macedonian government in 2001, and Ukrainian missile gunners shooting down Russian aircraft for Georgia during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

Source: DPA

Ukraine: A Democratic Revolution In Reverse

KIEV, Ukraine -- NOTE TO EGYPT et al: Democratic revolutions, even when successful, must be defended for years after the euphoric crowds leave the streets.

Independence Square - Site of the 2004 "Orange Revolution".

Autocratic forces can regroup and even use democratic institutions to make a comeback. Freedoms can erode as old habits return. Malign neighbors can intervene.

Take Ukraine, whose Orange Revolution in 2004 was as thrilling in its own way as Cairo's Tahrir Square - but where all those forms of backsliding are underway.

While Western attention is focused on the exciting upheavals in the Middle East, a strategic European country of 50 million people may be creeping out of the democratic camp.

The retreat is led by Viktor Yanukovych, the same politician whose victory-by-fraud in a presidential election touched off the Orange rebellion.

Mr. Yanukovych, a champion of Ukraine's ethnic Russian population and the eastern industrial regions where it predominates, won a fair election for president in 2010, thanks to the bumbling and infighting of the democratic governments that took over after 2004.

He claimed to have embraced democratic principles and distanced himself from Russian ruler Vladimir Putin, for whom he had played puppet; he said his government's main aim would be to integrate with the European Union.

The government has, in fact, pursued a free-trade treaty with the E.U. as well as other economic reforms. It has trimmed government bureaucracy and red tape and invested in infrastructure; economic growth was a relatively strong 4.5 percent last year.

But Mr. Yanukovych also has made major concessions to Mr. Putin, such as granting the Russian Black Sea fleet basing rights in the port of Sevastopol for another 25 years.

Meanwhile, the government has begun to move against the Orange Revolution's leaders. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is under criminal investigation by a government prosecutor on dubious charges of malfeasance - spending environmental funds on pensions is one count.

Her former interior minister was arrested in late December and charged with hiring an official driver who was too old. The former minister of the economy has been granted asylum in the Czech Republic.

Journalists say free media are under pressure from the government. Local elections held last year were marked by serious irregularities.

Meanwhile, a court ruling greatly increased Mr. Yanukovych's power by reversing a reform that he himself had favored when he was out of office.

The Obama administration has not ignored these problems. In a strong statement in December, it said the prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko and her aides "gives the appearance of selective prosecution of political opponents."

But during a meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did not publicly mention the political abuses, even as she signed an agreement under which the United States will help Ukraine develop shale gas.

The United States should be pressing harder to stop the democratic erosion.

One way to do so is to explicitly link further progress in economic relations with Ukraine to improvements in human rights - and to urge the governments of the European Union to follow suit.

Source: The Washington Post

Ukraine Needs Reforms Before Wrapping Up EU Association Pact

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine needs to reach agreement with the European Union on issues such as agriculture quotas and product names before an association agreement can be reached, said the head of the EU delegation to Ukraine.

Jose Manual Pinto Teixeira

EU delegation chief Jose Manual Pinto Teixeira said at a briefing in Kiev today that the two sides can close the association agreement, which has been the subject of talks for four years, as early as this year.

He said reforms still are on the table and it is up to Ukraine to wrap up the agreement.

Ukraine has been negotiating with the EU on the deal, which would ease trade barriers, move the former Soviet republic closer to the rest of Europe and bring it a step toward eventual membership in the Brussels-based bloc.

“Ukraine has a choice, to live in the old Soviet world” with an uncertain rule of law, “or to move into the European western model, based on democracy, minority rights freedoms and free economies where there are rules,” Teixeira said.

Among points that are yet to be agreed on, Ukraine’s government has to accept the EU’s so-called geographical designation, which bans companies from using product names such as Champagne and Madiera not operating in those geographical areas.

“This is not a negotiable issue for the EU,” said Teixeira. “Alternative names should be adopted.”

He also said that about 30 million euros of a 100 million in budget support for Ukraine this year is being held up as the country still needs to adopt an acceptable procurement law.

“The country has to improve its public finance management,” he said. The money flow would be resumed once the government passes a law “that is acceptable” to the EU.

Source: Bloomberg

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Save London From Libel Tourists

LONDON, England -- The practice of intimidating and silencing journalists and authors from other countries under British libel law has earned the UK a reputation for being the “Libel Capital of the World.”

ARTICLE 19 activists with banner outside London landmarks.

To coincide with the upcoming pre-trial hearing of the libel case against Ukrainian newspaper, Kyiv Post, ARTICLE 19 will be holding a silent protest outside the Royal Court of Justice, on Thursday 24th February, to highlight the silencing effect the increasing use of UK courts has on investigative journalism in countries, including Ukraine.

“Libel tourism”—a term coined to describe the practise of forum shopping for laws and courts that are particularly plaintiff-friendly—has emerged as a serious transnational threat to free speech.

Given the dramatic chilling effect of such libel laws and the prominence of British courts in this phenomenon, ARTICLE 19 is very concerned by the latest case brought against the Kyiv Post.

On 22 November 2010, Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash filed a claim with the High Court in London against four defendants: the Kyiv Post publisher, owner, chief editor and the author of an article which Firtash claims to have damaged his reputation in the UK.

The article in question, published in July 2010, discusses the outcome of an international arbitrage concerning a dispute between RosUKrEnergo, of which is Firtash is a major owner, and the Ukrainian national gas company and Government.

This is the second time that the Kyiv Post is being sued for defamation in the UK in relation to a published investigative journalism piece.

“The UK - with its democratic values and traditions - should not be a place where rich and powerful Ukrainian oligarchs come to silence and retaliate against the criticism made against them. In countries such as Ukraine, free media is already in a vulnerable situation. ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns using UK courts to silence critical voices abroad, ” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director ARTICLE 19.

Although not a new phenomenon, “libel tourism” is gaining traction and putting greater pressure on the free exchange of ideas worldwide.

The combined effects of the rules on jurisdiction and of global publication on the internet with the UK’s image as a paragon of high jurisprudential standards makes UK courts an attractive venue for overseas plaintiffs seeking to silence critics in their home countries.

In addition, these types of court cases have dire financial implications for the media outlets, as they have to not only pay the damage, but also for the court proceedings in London.

In some cases these sums exceed £100.000 ($162,000), which often results in bankruptcy for media outlets.

Source: ARTICLE 19 - Mona Samari

Ukraine Wants To Restore Gas Exports To Poland

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian cabinet of ministers is currently preparing a resolution which will allow the country to restore its gas exports to Poland, the Kommersant-Ukraina paper said on Wednesday citing own sources.


Ukraine halted gas exports to Poland January 1, 2011. Under a contract between Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftorgaz, Ukraine is not allowed to export Russian gas abroad.

On the other hand, a decree, dating back to 2001, obliges Ukraine to sell gas recovered at home only on the domestic market.

"The cabinet is preparing an amendment to this decree which will allow the country to export up 300 million cubic meters of gas to Poland this year, and up to 3 billion cubic meters the next year," the paper said.

In light of the fact that the Polish prices on gas will hit $290-300 for one cubic meter this spring, Naftogaz could gain up to $90 million.

Gazprom is concerned by these plans, the paper said. "We can agree a small flow of gas at the level of 100-200 million cubic meters; the capacity of the Polish gas market is 14 billion cubic meters, an export volume higher than $1.5 cubic meters is the tenth of this market," the paper cited a senior Gazprom source.

Gazprom will try to persuade Ukraine to export no more than 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas, the source said.

Source: RIA Novosti

PM Azarov: Ukraine, EU Complete 90% Of Documents On Free Trade Area

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and the European Union have completed 90% of documents on the creation a free trade area, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has said at a meeting with representatives of the European Business Association.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov

The prime minister said that there remained a number of “sensitive positions, first and foremost, quota principles in the agricultural sector."

Azarov noted that Ukraine was interested in there being a balance between exports and imports with the EU and establishing a transitional period with respect to agricultural products, which Ukraine wants to export to the EU.

In his opinion, such a period should be about ten years, during which it will be necessary to completely abandon the quota principle.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych instructed the government to take the necessary measures to intensify the negotiating process on signing an association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, including a provision on the creation of a free trade area.

The Cabinet of Ministers was also ordered to review risks for the Ukrainian economy and possible concessions in talks with the EU on the creation of a free trade area.

As UKRINFORM reported, the head of the European Commission's negotiation group on the creation of a free trade area, Philippe Cuisson, said on February 10 that a free trade area agreement between Ukraine and the European Union would be signed in 2011.

Source: BSANNA News

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ukraine To Pay USD $280 Per Thousand Cubic Meters Of Gas In 2011

MOSCOW, Russia -- Interfax reported that Ukraine will pay an average of USD $280 per thousand cubic meters of gas in 2011.

Anatoly Podmyshalsky

Mr Anatoly Podmyshalsky head of the Russian gas giant department for CIS countries said the price of gas for Ukraine is USD $264 this quarter and it will rise to USD $275 in Q2 2011

He said that Gazprom will pay USD $2.7 billion to USD $2.75 billion in fees for gas transit across Ukraine. He added that "Oil isn't falling so there'll be some growth. The average forecast is such."

Mr Podmyshalsky said during a roundtable on European energy issues that Gazprom planned to supply around 40 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine in 2011 up by 9.7% from 36.463 billion cubic meters in 2010.

He said Gazprom paid Ukraine USD $1.2 billion for gas transit in 2009 and USD $2.6 billion in 2010.

Ukraine 2011 budget envisages an average imported gas price of USD $269 per thousand cubic meters.

According to Russian-Ukrainian gas contracts signed in January 209 for the period to 2020.

The price of Russian gas is based on a formula that takes changes in the price of fuel oil and gas into account.

Source: Interfax

Ukraine’s First President Kravchuk To Lead Constitutional Reform Efforts

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich invited the country’s first President Leonid Kravchuk to lead the constitutional reform work.

Leonid Kravchuk

A new constitution will become a result of reforms in the country, Yanukovich said on Monday, February 21.

“The constitution should protect human rights, create conditions for harmonious development of the country and build an effective system of public administration,” the president said.

He suggested that Kravchuk should coordinate preparations for constitutional reform in Ukraine.

Kravchuk, in turn, proposed to create a Constitutional Assembly as an advisory body under the head of state.

He did not rule out that constitutional amendments would be considered by a new parliament to be elected in 2012, and stressed that the assembly should be depoliticised.

In his opinion, the assembly should have 100-150 members – lawyers, political scientists, political philosophers, and public figures. “There is the opinion that politicians should make up no more than 20-25 percent of the total number of members in order to avoid opposition,” Kravchuk said.

The assembly will meet 2-3 times a year, while its scientific and expert group will work permanently.

“At its first session the Constitutional Assembly will discuss the concept of the first edition of the constitution that will be further worked on after that,” Kravchuk said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is drafting a new constitution.

“We will continue the government reform. A Constitutional Assembly will start working in order to draft a constitution,” Yanukovich said earlier.

He believes that the assembly will bring together representatives of all interested political forces and public organisations that are ready to engaged in a serious and professional discussion on constitutional problems.

“The authorities will not impose upon the country a new vision for constitutional changes and will prepare conditions for independent and public work of the Constitutional Assembly,” the president said.

“The public administration reform will continue and the bureaucracy will be cut further. Government officials' activities will be monitored constantly as part of anti-corruption measures,” he said.

According to Yanukovich, “an important element of strengthening democracy will be public broadcasting and additional guarantees of government openness and access to important information for independent mass media.”

“Our chance not in calls for storming barricades, destroying and razing things to the ground, but in the opportunity to consolidate, develop democracy and supremacy of law, and move towards subsequent integration of the East and the West,” he said.

“As head of state I will do everything I can for the citizens of Ukraine to feel like one family,” Yanukovich said.

He promised to “firmly adhere to the development of democracy” and “work will all those who share these principles and can place national interests above their own ones”.

Source: ITAR TASS

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gazprom To Fill Ukraine Gas Pipes If Naftogaz Merger Goes Ahead

MOSCOW, Russia -- Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said Monday that Russia would make maximum use of Ukraine's pipeline capacity and provide its neighbor with gas at Russian domestic prices if national energy company Naftogaz Ukrayiny agrees to a merger with the Russian gas giant.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller

"If the merger takes place, we'll load the Ukrainian gas transportation system to the maximum. If shipments currently are around 95 billion cubic meters [per year], it could transport some 120-125 Bcm," he said at a press conference, adding it could potentially carry up to 140 Bcm/year of gas.

"Russian industrial customers have much lower gas prices than their Ukrainian counterparts, so if Ukraine agrees to the merger with Gazprom it will receive a stimulus for economic development," Miller said.

The merger would not affect Gazprom's plans to build the South Stream pipeline, which is to supply Europe via a line that would bypass Ukraine, traveling from Russia to Bulgaria, Miller said.

Miller said that Ukraine's gas transportation infrastructure requires serious investment over the mid-term and so it should decide how to develop the industry soon.

"In the next seven years, Ukraine needs some Euro 6.5 billion ($8.88 billion), with Euro 3 billion as a minimum to keep the system functional, so Ukraine doesn't have much time to decide what direction it wants to go in," he said.

Miller added that Gazprom had boosted gas deliveries to Ukraine above its contracted volumes this winter because of the unseasonably cold weather.

Russia is pushing for an eventual merger of Gazprom and Naftogaz.

But Ukraine has so far rejected such a move first proposed by Russia's prime minister Vladimir Putin last April.

Source: Platts

Ukraine Cooperates With The United States In The Energy Sector

KIEV, Ukraine -- Governments of Ukraine and the United States discussed further cooperation in the nuclear energy sector and signed a memorandum of cooperation in the field of shale gas exploration in Ukraine, as reports the press service of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine.

Yuriy Boyko

The issues of the Ukrainian energy sources diversification such as LNG-terminal construction and exhausted gas fields rehabilitation were also discussed during the second session of a Ukrainian-American working group on energy security.

The Minister of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine Yuriy Boyko emphasized the necessity to further develop Ukraine's cooperation with the U.S. in the nuclear energy sector in the area of nuclear plants' safety enhancement, extending life of existing reactors, nuclear fuel supplies and building storage facilities for the depleted fuel.

He noted that Ukraine is interested to continue implementation of the International Nuclear Safety Program, the ten-year long (1993-2003) U.S. Department of Energy initiative in safety improvement of nuclear power plants built in the Soviet time.

In addition to nuclear safety, the minister also discussed the ways to diversify Ukrainian energy production. One such method could be the increase of shale gas production, which has recently changed the situation at the world gas market.

According to the preliminary scientific studies, Ukraine has significant potential for its shale gas bearing formations.

Both Ukrainian and the U.S. governments plan to implement projects aimed at rehabilitation of the exhausted gas fields in Ukraine. Yuriy Boyko noted that the Ukrainian state-owned companies such as Naftogaz and Ukrnafta need technological cooperation to increase gas recovery in the insufficient or exhausted fields.

Yuriy Boyko also spoke of the steps undertaken by the Ukrainian government in order to diversify energy resources and natural gas suppliers. "Ukraine is interested in cooperation with American energy companies in order to complete the LNG-terminal project," said the minister.

Furthermore, Ukraine hopes to diversify the supply of liquefied natural gas from North Africa, Middle East and Azerbaijan. So far, Azerbaijan has confirmed its intention to sell Ukraine five billion cubic meters of LNG per year.

The construction of the LNG terminal in the Black Sea region with the capacity of 10 billion cubic meters is planned for 2014.

Source: Worldwide News Ukraine

Ukraine To Develop Its Own Modern Missile Complex

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will build its own up-to-date missile complex called Sapsan. The new multi-functional missile complex is expected to combine the features of a tactical missile complex and a multiple rocket launcher.

President Viktor Yanukovych

This was announced during the visit of the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Kharkiv City, Eastern Ukraine.

The missile range stated by the developer (the Pivdenne Design Bureau in Dnipropetrovsk) is up to 280 kilometers. The new weapon is expected to be tested in 2012-2013 and enter service in 2015.

The estimated construction cost of the new missile system is 3.5 billion UAH (USD $440 mln.)

When asked about the readiness of the modern Sapsan missile complex, Viktor Yanukovych reassured that the government is set to carry out this plan within the shortest time frame as well as to make sure the project is properly financed.

The president has referred to Sapsan as to the "most up-to-date" missile system to be constructed in Ukraine.

In addition, the Ukrainian president highlighted that the government plans to back up Ukraine's participation in preparation of the space launching site in Brazil and support such major projects as Dnipro, and Cyclone-4.

In recent years Ukraine has occupied one of the world's leading positions among the countries that produce rocket launchers.

Another world-known achievement of Ukraine is production of the ecologically sensitive rocket complex Zenit, one of the best rocket carriers with a fully automated preparation and launching process.

The carrier is produced by Pivdenne Design Bureau.

Zenit will serve as a base for creating an entire family of prospective space carriers.

Moreover, Kharkiv based design bureau Khartronis a leading think-tank of Ukrainian missile construction industry.

Khartron is among the three design bureaus in the world, capable to produce sophisticated missile control systems.

Ukraine is one of the three successors of the Soviet Union's space industry potential.

Moreover, Ukraine is one of the five countries in the world, which has a complete rocket production cycle.

Ukrainian companies that work in the space industry utilize most of the known space technologies and participate in 50 international space projects.

Source: Worldwide News Ukraine

Ex-Minister Danylyshyn Believes Criminal Case Against Him Was Ordered

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshyn believes that the criminal case against him was ordered by former leaders of the Tender Chamber of Ukraine.

Bohdan Danylyshyn

"I think that the criminal proceedings against me were ordered. I think that former leaders of the Tender Chamber had a hand in these orders," Danylyshyn said in an exclusive interview with 1+1 TV Channel broadcasted on Sunday night.

However, he refused to give their names. "Why should I name them, everybody knows them already. Who was the head of the Tender Chamber [at that time]," the former minister said.

"One of the top officials of the Tender Chamber threatened to have me dead in my office," he added.

Danylyshyn, who served as economy minister in the government of Yulia Tymoshenko in 2007-2010., was put on domestic and international wanted list in August 2010. On October 19, 2010, he was detained in the Czech Republic at the request of Interpol.

The Czech Republic has granted political asylum to Danylyshyn. Ukraine insists on his extradition.

Source: Interfax

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nabucco Pipeline Still In Limbo

VIENNA, Austria -- With construction of the EU's ambitious Nabucco gas pipeline slated to begin in less than a year, huge question marks remain over its financing and the actual supplies of gas it is supposed to transport.

The aim of Nabucco is to bring gas from central Asia to Europe, bypassing Russia and Ukraine.

The aim of Nabucco is to bring gas from central Asia to Europe, bypassing Russia and Ukraine where repeated squabbles over prices have in the past left the 27-nation European Union without vital supplies of gas, sometimes in mid-winter.

Nevertheless, the consortium that will build and operate the major new energy corridor has yet to sign a single contract with any of a number of potential supplier countries.

Agreements "will become more concrete very soon," the head of the Nabucco consortium Reinhart Mitschek told AFP in an interview.

The consortium is made up of OMV of Austria, MOL of Hungary, Romania's Transgaz, Bulgaria's Bulgargaz, BOTAS of Turkey and RWE of Germany.

Last month, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso secured the support of Azerbaijan for the project. But no details have been agreed as yet with regard to either volumes or timeframe.

Furthermore, Baku recently redealt the cards by also promising billions of cubic metres of gas to Russia and Iran.

For Azerbaijan to supply 31 billion cubic metres of gas each year to Nabucco, "the Shah Deniz 2 gas field would have to be producing, but that has been set back until 2017," said Societe Generale analyst Thierry Bros.

As a result, the scheduled date for the pipeline to enter operation has been set back once again, this time until the end of 2015.

"Nabucco is not racing against the clock or against any other projects. So it doesn't really matter whether we're ready three months late or three months early," consortium chief Mitschek said.

But with supplier countries hardly queuing up, Nabucco is now considering approaching Russia, Mitschek said, even though the original aim was to reduce Europe's dependence on Moscow.

For the initial phase of the operation, put at 8.0-10 billion cubic metres annually, Nabucco is counting on other Azerbaijan gas fields and on Iraq.

But re-routing the pipeline to Iraq and away from Iran -- in view of the long-running international stand-off over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme -- "will add a further 550 kilometres (340 miles), meaning it will measure 3,900 kilometres (2,400 miles) in total," Mitschek said.

And that will push the costs, already estimated at 7.9 billion euros ($10.7 billion), even higher.

"Without a final decision on investment, all this remains purely theoretical," said Zoe Grainge, European gas analyst at international consultants IHS Global Insight.

"Nabucco doesn't have a single commercial supply contract in place and you need that to provide assurance to investors. There are all sorts of questions about where Nabucco is going to get the gas from if Russia doesn't participate," she said.

Earlier this month, EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger urged the consortium to press ahead and start building the pipeline.

"We at the Commission have worked the best we can. The preparations have now reached the stage where the companies can make their investment decision. It is now up to OMV and others to have the courage to move," Oettinger said.

Nabucco is seen as a rival to another pipeline, South Stream, backed by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom and Italy's ENI, which aims to pump Russian gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and then onto other European countries.

Source: AFP

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Many Blackbirds Found Dead In Ukraine

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Mass deaths of blackbirds in the Crimea are puzzling Ukrainian scientists.

Blackbird


Dozens of the migratory birds have been found dead on the Kamyshovskoye highway in Sevastopol, along Kazachya Bay and in other coastal areas, ITAR-Tass reported Saturday.

Ornithologist Alexander Grinchenko of the Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds said it is not yet known if the blackbirds died from infection or poisoned food.

They probably flew from North Africa, where no bird epidemics are reported.

The first examinations by the Sevastopol state veterinary center suggest frost as a cause. A recent storm brought heavy snow and frigid weather to the Crimea.

Tissues from the dead birds have been sent to a veterinary clinic in Simferopol, and a diagnosis is expected within a week.

The mass bird death is the first reported in Ukraine, and it is not known if there is any connection to recent incidents in the United States and Europe.

Source: UPI

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ukraine's Tymoshenko Says Twitter Mobilisation Stopped Police Raid

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's ex-prime minister and opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, on Friday said messages she sent on Twitter saved her office from a raid by police - a claim flatly denied by her opponents.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Followers of Tymoshenko's account received a message from the her early Friday alleging agents from Ukraine's national intelligence agency the SBU were attempting to break into her office and remove a computer server.

Parliamentarians from Tymoshenko's Motherland party, which opposes Ukraine's ruling pro-Russia coalition, left parliament's morning session to protest the alleged assault.

However, officials at the SBU and Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs said their officers never approached Tymoshenko's offices, which are located in a densely-populated Kiev central district.

'The party (Motherland) is faking a scandal,' said Oleksander Efimov, leader of the pro-Russia Regions of Ukraine party. 'An attack like that is impossible.'

Tymoshenko in a follow-up Tweet said 'The information war worked. We called and they ran away. The first attack has been beaten off.'

A leader of Ukraine's 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko has since been accused of misdirecting some 400 million dollars in state funds, and of using tax money to purchase government vehicles for use in an election campaign, while she served as prime minister from 2005 - 2009.

Prosecutors have questioned her almost daily about the allegations since late December.

Tymoshenko has denied the charges and alleged Ukraine's government headed by President Viktor Yanukovych is engaged in a campaign to repress the opposition, and that interrogations sometimes lasting eight hours a session a state tactic to prevent her from participating in parliament work.

Source: DPA

Rasmussen Plans To Discuss Ukraine's Participation In NATO Missile Defense System

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that during his visit to Ukraine, he plans to discuss Ukraine's possible participation in the NATO missile defense system.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

"What I would like to discuss during my visit to Ukraine is the question of Ukraine's possible contribution to the Euro-Atlantic architecture of a missile defense system," he told Ukrainian reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

He said that the decision to create such a system had been made relatively recently.

"We have not yet completed the final design of the architecture, [and] we are at the initial stage of this process. Only two or three months have passed after NATO decided to develop a system on the basis of NATO," he said.

Rasmussen recalled that Russia had been invited to cooperate in this project at the alliance's summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

"What we've done during the summit is initiate a joint analysis of Russia-NATO relations as to how we can realize this practical cooperation. If other Euro-Atlantic partners offer their participation and their potential to the architecture of the missile defense system, then, of course, we will take this into account. It is too early to give a definitive answer to how this architecture will develop, and this will depend on the contribution of Ukraine and other partners," he said.

As reported, Rasmussen said that he would pay a one-day visit to Ukraine on February 24.

Source: Interfax

Ukraine President Promises $4.4 billion For Euro 2012

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday promised some $6.1 billion dollars in government and private funds would be spent on preparations for the Euro 2012 football championship by January.

Viktor Yanukovych

'Euro 2012 is not just a wonderful sports event, it is jobs and our GDP,' Yanukovych said, speaking at a meeting with government officials in the southern city Odessa.

The Ukrainian government has budgeted some $1.2 billion dollars towards preparation for the championship to be spent by the end of 2011, and private industry is likely to contribute another $3.2 billion dollars in investment credits over the same period, he said.

The money would go towards improving airports, roads, railroad, and developing hotel infrastructure, he said.

Opposition politicians have criticized the Yanukokych administration for allegedly spending too lavishly on getting ready for Euro 2012, and for planning to slash pensions and raise taxes to help pay to co-host the championship.

The UEFA in 2007 named Poland and Ukraine co-hosts for Euro 2012.

Ukraine's preparation effort thus far has been mixed with delays in stadium construction, transportation infrastructure overhaul, and hotel development the worst headaches.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, Yanukovych's top lieutenant, on Monday said work to get ready for Euro 2012 would be 'practically complete' by the end of 2011, according to an Interfax report.

Source: DPA

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Viktor Yanukovych: Yulia Tymoshenko Should Be Allowed To Move With No Restrictions

KIEV, Ukraine -- Viktor Yanukovych believes that Yulia Tymoshenko should have an opportunity to go to Brussels. "If she has a desire to go, then she shouldn't be denied the right to move with no restrictions," said Ukrainian President to the journalists.

Yulia Tymoshenko

When asked by reporters about the situation with the criminal persecution of the former prime minister of Ukraine, and now an opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych expressed his concern about the decisions made by the Prosecutor General's Office that investigates allegations of misuse of state budget funds.

Viktor Yanukovych told journalists that he particularly voiced his concern during a recent meeting with an Attorney General.

"I am frustrated with the choice of the Prosecutor General with regards to his sanctions against Yulia Tymoshenko. The fight against corruption should be conducted regardless of political views and colors of the party flags. This investigation should be respectful of those people whose activities are being investigated and should impeccably follow the letter of the law," - said Victor Yanukovych.

The Ukrainian leader stressed that fighting corruption should be devoid of politics. He also mentioned that this case should not allow for the public to have an impression about the selective criminal persecution.

Victor Yanukovych said, that he had talked to some leaders of European institutions, who would be willing to see Tymoshenko in Brussels. "I believe she should have such an opportunity. If she has a desire to go, then she shouldn't be denied the right to move with no restrictions," highlighted the Ukrainian leader.

Suffice it to say, that the investigator at the Prosecutor General's Office did not grant the request of Yulia Tymoshenko to allow her to travel outside Ukraine based on sanctions against her - the recognizance not to leave.

Tymoshenko is accused of misappropriation of hundreds of millions of dollars received by Ukraine under the Kyoto Protocol, which should have been invested into environmental programs.

In addition, Yulia Tymoshenko is charged with embezzlement of state funds while procuring ambulances at inflated prices.

Earlier, an international audit of Tymoshenko's government has revealed numerous financial irregularities including failure to follow proper tender procedures while making state procurements.

Source: Press Office of the President of Ukraine

How To Turn A 'Partly Free' Ukraine Into A 'Not Free' Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Some Western policymakers continue to argue that Ukraine's political system is unlikely to evolve into a full authoritarian system along the lines of Russia and Belarus, President Viktor Yanukovych will slow down his authoritarian blitzkrieg, they argue, and the system will stabilize into a semi-authoritarian system.

President Viktor Yanukovych has returned Ukraine to its authoritarian ways.

In other words, Ukraine will stabilize at "partly free," the semi-authoritarian status that Freedom House gave it throughout the Leonid Kuchma era and to which it returned in 2010 after Yanukovych's first year in office.

An alternative viewpoint that's gaining ground is that Ukraine will decline further to "not free," the full authoritarian status that independent Ukraine has never held. If this were to take place, Ukraine would join the eight authoritarian CIS countries (Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and the five Central Asian states) that are classified as "not free" by the U.S.-based rights watchdog.

The Yanukovych administration has moved farther down the path of authoritarianism in only one year in office than Kuchma did in a decade. Both administrations resorted to taking political prisoners.

Under Kuchma, members of UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People's Self-Defense) were imprisoned for their alleged involvement in the March 2001 riots. Under Yanukovych, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her former cabinet members are either under arrest or threatened with criminal charges.

Under Kuchma, elections were falsified in 1999 and 2004 -- on both occasions with the assistance of Yanukovych at the local and national levels. Under Yanukovych, local elections were falsified last year.

Free elections can only be trusted to democratic forces such as Yushchenko, under whose watch high-quality elections were held in 2006, 2007, and 2010. Yanukovych is destroying the institution of free elections that brought him to power.

In the 2002, 2006-07, and 2010 parliaments, Kuchma and Yanukovych both sought to bribe, coerce, and blackmail opposition deputies to defect to the ruling coalition. Usually these were business leaders in the opposition, whether members of the Liberal Party in 2002 led by Volodymyr Shcherban or the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs led by Anatoliy Kinakh in 2007.

The Communist Party (KPU) never entered government under Kuchma, but has joined both coalitions established by Yanukovych: the anticrisis coalition in 2006-07 and Stability and Reforms since 2010. The neo-Stalinist KPU is anti-reform and anti-Western, and therefore any coalition that includes such a political force cannot honestly be described as "reformist."

There has also been regression on national identity questions. The KPU and Yanukovych's Party of Regions voted against the 2006 law on the 1933 artificial famine (Holodomor) and the pages on the famine on the presidential website were removed on February 25, 2010, the day Yanukovych was inaugurated. In 2003, by contrast, Kuchma launched an international campaign to support the designation of the Holodomor as an act of genocide.

Collapse Of Independent Institutions

Parliament became a rubber-stamp institution under Yanukovych for the first time in its history, because Kuchma never had a stable majority. Yanukovych's Stability and Reforms coalition has bought in 50 opposition deputies, giving it more than 260 in total in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.

The courts are in far worse condition today than under Kuchma. Supreme Court Chief Justice Vasyl Onopenko told the "Kyiv Post" that "courts as judicial bodies and judges have lost their independence. This is a direct threat to the judicial protection of human rights."

After the summer 2010 reform of the judiciary. "the Supreme Court has been denied the ability to perform its constitutional function," Onopenko said. "No one guarantees the unity of case law and equal application of laws in state courts. The Supreme Court, which previously did it, is now deprived of such powers."

Yanukovych has marginalized the Supreme Court as personal revenge for its December 2004 annulling of his second-round election victory. In a February 11 interview with the BBC, Yanukovych again repeated that the Supreme Court had infringed the constitution in 2004 when it annulled his election and that he had won a "free election."

Under both Kuchma and Yanukovych, the unreformed "siloviki," or security forces -- the Security Service (SBU), the Interior Ministry (MVS), and the Tax Police -- have been used against the political opposition and independent media.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov led the Tax Police throughout its first seven years of existence (1996-2002). The SBU under Yanukovych has adopted authoritarian tactics against academics, NGO activists, politicians, and journalists for the first time since under its predecessor, the Soviet Ukrainian KGB, in the pre-Gorbachev era.

In the 1990s the MVS was more under democratic control than today, as its Internal Troops had been taken away in 1991 and transformed into a National Guard. But these were returned to the MVS in 2000 and have, like in other postcommunist systems, become the president's praetorian guard.

On November 28, 2004, the MVS troops were ordered to Kiev by Prime Minister Yanukovych, over Kuchma's head, to violently suppress the Orange Revolution. But they were turned back by the army.

Journalists Disappear

Under Kuchma the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze became an international scandal after a tape recording was released in which the president allegedly ordered Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko to violently beat Gongadze.

What is less well known is that journalist Ihor Aleksandrov was also killed in 2001 in Donetsk when Yanukovych was governor of the region.

Last month, "The Washington Post" asked Yanukovych about Kharkiv editor Vasyl Klymentyev, who disappeared only seven months after Yanukovych was elected. The MVS assumes he has been killed.

Yanukovych nonchalantly replied, "Many journalists disappear all over the world."

Media censorship took place under Kuchma, but the situation is worse today. What differentiates the Kuchma and Yanukovych presidencies was that total censorship under the former was impossible because of the strength of the opposition, inside and outside parliament, and pluralism within the ruling elites.

Yanukovych claims that "mercenaries" in the West have been bought to write negatively about Ukraine and that the Czech government was bribed to grant former Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshyn political asylum.

Yanukovych's worldview exports Ukraine's domestic situation -- where Ukrainian journalists are often paid to place articles and politicians and cabinet ministers are often corrupt -- to the outside world. This worldview does not see either the legitimacy of Western criticism or the legitimacy of domestic criticism by the opposition and media.

Yanukovych refuses to acknowledge that democratic regression is taking place on his watch and, in this, he is similar to Kuchma. But, in five areas -- political repression, parliamentary independence, media censorship, the use of the "siloviki," and quality of elections -- democratic regression is worse under Yanukovych than it was under Kuchma.

If it continues, it will lead to Ukraine becoming ranked as "not free" by the end of Yanukovych's first term in office, following Kyrgyzstan, which dropped after its 2005 Tulip Revolution from "partly free" to "not free" in 2010.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine Needs To Improve Business Environment, Says IMF Resident Representative

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine needs to take steps to improve its business environment, Resident Representative of the International Monetary Fund in Ukraine Max Alier has said.

Max Alier

"…An important issue, which needs to be considered but doesn't receive enough attention, is the business environment. At the macro level, the indicators seem to be positive, and this can be seen in several sectors: demand is reviving, consumption is resuming, the economy is emerging from crisis. However, problems are being exposed, ranging from tax legislation, management, administration, laws, and customs. In agriculture, there are quotas on grain exports that are allocated absolutely non-transparently," Alier said during the 4th Annual Summit "Ukrainian Real Estate and Construction" organized by Adam Smith Institute in Kyiv on Wednesday.

According to Alier, the business environment in Ukraine is not getting better, but worse.

He noted that without improving its business environment, the country would not be able to realize its full potential and significantly speed up its economic growth.

Alier also stressed the need for structural reforms in the country.

There are some structural reforms that are currently lagging behind in Ukraine, compared with other countries, but it is very important that they should be carried out, he said.

Source: Interfax