Thursday, March 31, 2011

Catching Kuchma: What Lies Behind The Charging Of A Former President

KIEV, Ukraine -- The gruesome murder of Georgi Gongadze, a Ukrainian journalist who was abducted by the police, beheaded and dumped in woods outside Kiev 11 years ago, seemed more a demonstrative punishment than a plan to silence a critical journalist.

Former president Leonid Kuchma.

It was treated as a political symbol, not just a crime. Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s president at the time, lost first his reputation and ultimately his job over the murder. He was allegedly implicated in tapes secretly made by his bodyguard, although he insists they were doctored.

The murder inspired a popular movement against Mr Kuchma in 2000 that became a precursor to the “orange revolution” of 2004. Viktor Yushchenko, who was swept to power then, pledged to bring the people behind Mr Gongadze’s murder to justice.

But, like so many of his pledges, this one disappeared. Things got more mysterious in 2005 when a former interior minister, suspected of ordering the murder, shot himself in the head — twice!

On March 24th Ukrainian prosecutors charged Mr Kuchma with involvement in the murder. Few Ukrainians, apparently including Mr Gongadze’s relatives, believe that Mr Kuchma actually ordered the killing.

But he did create an atmosphere in which a murder could take place and not be properly investigated. Ukrainians are divided over whether he will ever come to trial. But they agree that this case is not about justice so much as Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s current president.

Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the main opposition party, argues that Mr Kuchma’s arrest is no more than a PR stunt designed to distract people from their economic woes and to prop up Mr Yanukovich’s sagging popularity.

“In a month the whole thing will turn into smoke. The question is whether there are enough former presidents [to bring charges against] to cover up for his own failures,” she says. Ms Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, is herself under investigation for alleged abuses of office.

The charges against Mr Kuchma may be designed to show that the law has not been applied selectively. Or Mr Yanukovich could be driven by the desire for revenge on Mr Kuchma, who has often humiliated him and who refused to use force to stop the orange uprising in 2004.

Mr Yanukovich’s “display of justice” could also be aimed at winning credit from the West, which has criticised him for usurping power and squeezing out democracy.

Mr Kuchma has hired Alan Dershowitz, a prominent American lawyer and Harvard professor, to argue his case not so much in the Ukrainian courts but in the eyes of Western governments. Mr Dershowitz says that “cases which are brought to show off the system will always bring unjust results.”

Yulia Mostovaya, editor of Zerkalo Nedeli, a weekly, compares Mr Yanukovich’s government to a hot-air balloon that is starting to lose heat. “He needs to get rid of extra weight, and is starting to throw some extraneous people overboard.” Mr Kuchma may be only the first of several high-profile sacrifices.

None of this will affect the corruption and redistribution of assets going on in Ukraine, or break the nexus between political power and business. Nor will it improve the living standards of ordinary citizens.

What it may do is empower the security services and prosecutors, giving Mr Yanukovich and his henchmen even more reason to stay in power as long as they possibly can.

Source: The Economist

Leaked Cables Show U.S. Was Wrong On Ukraine's Yanukovych

KIEV, Ukraine -- The U.S. Embassy cables from Ukraine leaked recently by the website WikiLeaks prompt two observations.

Diplomatic cables leaked from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine show the embassy believed prior to the 2010 presidential election that Viktor Yanukovych (L) had changed and that he was a better option than Yulia Tymoshenko.

The first is that the embassy believed Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych had changed from what he was during the 2004 election, when he sought to come to power through election fraud.

The second is that U.S. officials believed Yulia Tymoshenko was not a better option than Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election. One cable quotes former President Leonid Kuchma as saying the 2010 election was one of "choosing between bad and very bad" -- with Tymoshenko allegedly being the latter.

Both of these positions were fundamentally wrong -- especially as seen from the hindsight of Yanukovych's first year in power.

The WikiLeaks cables critical of Tymoshenko were a reflection of her own mistakes and of lobbying by U.S. political consultants working for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions since 2005. One of the main criticisms was that Tymoshenko is a "populist," a claim that ignores widespread populism among all Ukrainian politicians.

Indeed, Yanukovych was the most populist in the 2010 elections and the prize for the most populist billboard goes to former President Viktor Yushchenko, who promised to place a 20 percent tax on yachts, limousines, and villas.

The U.S. Embassy bought into the accusation that Tymoshenko was beholden to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Tymoshenko was allegedly the biggest threat to Ukraine's sovereignty and willing to be Russia's pawn, according to a cable quoting oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

Evidence to back this conclusion was her supposed concessions on Georgia during Russia's 2008 invasion and Moscow-friendly positions on the Holodomor and the Black Sea Fleet.

In reality, Yanukovych has caved in to Russia on all three issues. During the Georgian crisis, the Party of Regions and the Communist Party (KPU) supported Russia's dismemberment of Georgia. Likewise, the Party of Regions and the KPU did not support the 2006 law on the Holodomor, and Yanukovych has adopted Russia's position that it was a Soviet (not Ukrainian) famine.

As president, he has extended the Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol until 2042-47. A January 2010 U.S. cable reports Yanukovych telling the U.S. ambassador that he was ready to extend the base in exchange for economic preferences from Russia.

Yanukovych, The Pro-Russian Candidate

All this led to the mistaken impression that Russia supported both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych in the 2010 election, as they were both "pro-Russian" and Moscow would be satisfied with either winning the election.

Yushchenko made this argument during the campaign, calling for his supporters not to vote for either candidate in the second round of balloting. That decision probably cost Tymoshenko the election, since she ended up losing by just 3 percentage points.

Other cables claimed it made no difference whether Yanukovych or Tymoshenko were elected as both are authoritarian and would allegedly seek to build a "Putinist vertical power." Such analysis contradicted the reality that Tymoshenko did not have the political machine, ability to blackmail deputies, or control of television stations necessary for such a project.

In addition, since 2008 Tymoshenko has consistently argued for the need to move toward a full parliamentary system. The authoritarianism of the Party of Regions is well documented among Ukrainian sociologists and has been plain to see during the transformation of parliament into a rubber-stamp institution and the return to a presidential constitution.

U.S. cables also buy into the argument of a "pragmatic" wing in the Party of Regions that supposedly desires to unify Ukraine and is pro-European, even possibly willing to compromise on NATO. Such views were intensely lobbied by U.S. political consultants working for the Party of Regions.

But the pragmatic wing of the Party of Regions was not evident in 2005-08 when the party voted with the KPU against legislation to join the WTO. Ukraine's 2008 WTO membership paves the way for the signing of a Deep Free Trade Agreement with the EU, a process the pragmatic wing of the Party of Regions allegedly supports.

These cables also ignored the anti-NATO stances of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, arguing that this was election rhetoric to mobilize eastern Ukrainian voters that would be ignored after the voting. Again this was wrong, as President Yanukovych is the first of four post-Soviet Ukrainian presidents to not support NATO membership.

The party has also adopted contradictory positions on Ukraine's participation in NATO's Program for Peace exercises, opposing them when in opposition (leading to the cancellation of the Sea Breeze exercises in 2006 and 2009) and supporting them when in power.

U.S. cables from Ukraine also claimed that Yanukovych, if he won the 2010 election, would not be a Russian pawn and would defend Ukraine's interests, even if only in the economic sphere. Although Yanukovych defends his economic interests from Russia, he has adopted domestic, national-identity, and foreign policies that are in Russia's national interests.

Russia successfully lobbied for the four candidates who became the chairman of the Security Service (SBU) and ministers of education, foreign affairs, and defense. Russian citizens illegally control the president's bodyguards and the media-analytical section of the presidential administration.

The Real Yanukovych

U.S. cables from 2005-06 were more critical of the Party of Regions, but in 2008-10 two factors changed. First, public-relations efforts by U.S. consultants persuaded many in the West, including the U.S. Embassy, that Yanukovych had changed.

This ignored his unwillingness to concede the election fraud of 2004 and his continued contention that he won that election. A December 2005 cable quotes Yanukovych as complaining that a "putsch" and "Kuchma's machinations" had denied him the presidency. One cable analyzed the Party of Regions' "heavily pro-Russian campaign rhetoric" in 2006, attributing this to its co-option of Communist voters.

A second factor that changed the tone in the U.S. cables by 2008 was Western fatigue with the feuding Orange political leaders, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. The pair had squandered the five years of opportunity given to them by the Orange Revolution.

All four elections held on Yanukovych's watch -- two as governor in Donetsk in 1999 and 2002 and two as prime minister and president in 2004 and 2010 -- have been criticized as unfree.

U.S. cables from 2005-06 showed that senior members of the Kuchma government who were involved in abuse of office and election fraud were embedded in the Party of Regions, which is described as a "cover for Donetsk criminal circles and oligarchs."

These cables continued to be skeptical about the new face of the Party of Regions and express concern it would abuse state administrative resources, tamper with election laws, and seek to close media outlets they do not control. This is precisely what Yanukovych has done in his first year in office.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Chernobyl: A Nuclear Accident With No End?

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine -- As nuclear workers in Japan struggle to contain radiation from the Fukushima reactor, world attention is turning back to Chernobyl, Ukraine. There, people prepare to mark the 25th anniversary of the explosion that blew the roof off Reactor Number 4.

A general view of the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Soviet planners designed Chernobyl in the 1960s to become the largest nuclear power station in Europe.

Instead, Chernobyl is remembered today as the site of the largest nuclear disaster in the world.

Late on the night of April 25, 1985, Yuri Andreyev left his shift as an engineer at Nuclear Reactor No. 4. Ninety minutes later, a safety experiment went awry. The fuel rods melted down, an explosion blew the roof off, and a raspberry-colored light spewed into the night sky.

When Andreyev returned to work, he saw a scene of devastation. After stepping over the discarded boots, jacket and helmets of fire fighters, he stood in the ruined computer control room and looking up saw blue sky.

Twenty-five years later, Andreyev runs Chernobyl Forum, a political lobby for Ukraine’s 100,000 surviving "liquidators" or clean-up men and women. After weeks of heroic work, the liquidators had succeeded in sealing the plant in an improvised steel and cement "sarcophagus."

But that was not before Chernobyl leaked 10 times the radiation of the Hiroshima atom bomb into the environment.

Authorities mapped out the area of the highest contamination - and closed it to human habitation. About 350,000 were forcibly evacuated from a largely rural area slightly larger than the American state of Rhode Island. Still living in this area are sprinkled about 300 largely elderly holdouts, now called ‘forest people.’

After a quarter century, biologists call this zone "Europe’s largest wildlife refuge." With the presence of humans gone, the new colonists are thriving populations of gray wolves, brown bear, elk and wild boar.

In January, Ukraine opened the area to short, controlled visits by tourist buses.

Twenty five ago, a convoy of 1,000 buses evacuated the entire population of Pripyat. A bedroom community for nuclear power workers, it had once been a Soviet model city - home to 50,000 people.

On a recent afternoon, a lone tour bus made the reverse commute, moving slowly down a deserted Lenin Avenue. A recording of the original evacuation order played to a bus filled with Russian and Ukrainian tourists.

Dense forest covered what once were neatly tended playgrounds. Sturdy trees grew up between rusting swing sets. Bushes and trees made driving down side streets impossible. Through the branches, visitors could make out fading communist slogans - hailing the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union and calling for ‘Atoms for Peace.’

Alexander Sirota lived in Pripyat, until he was 10. Now as a 35-year-old tour guide equipped with a walkie-talkie and digital Geiger counter, he shows tourists - some wearing face masks - his old apartment.

Surrounded by peeling paint, sagging strips of wall paper and light fixtures dissolving in rust, he said he is happy to visit his old home, a place where he spent "the happiest days of my childhood."

Boots crunching over broken glass, Sirota later takes tourists to the gutted cafeteria where he and his mother used to go for breakfast. Then, we go to his elementary school. There, 25 summers and 25 winters have taken their toll, causing a front wall to collapse, exposing old Soviet classroom murals.

For these tourists turned archeologists, the walk takes us below a rusting hammer and sickle sign atop the old administration building and then on to a frozen Ferris wheel - the centerpiece of an amusement park built for May Day festivities that never came.

Maxim, a young man from Donetsk, drops his face mask long enough to say Chernobyl tourism is ‘cool.' But he admits that none of his friends would join him. They said he was crazy to come here: "Insane. They are afraid. Afraid of radiation."

The tour bus rolls on to Chernobyl nuclear power station, stopping 200 yards from Reactor Number 4. Due to high levels of ambient radiation, we have only 20 minutes to pose for souvenir pictures in front of the old sarcophagus of decaying cement and rusting steel.

Laurin Dodd, an American engineer, has come to the site to talk to VOA. He is directing an American-led project to build a new, modern sarcophagus.

"The structure itself is almost a house of cards," says Dodd. "It was built with some robotics and under extreme conditions. And there are large gaping holes. If you go inside, you will see holes the size of picture windows with small mammals going in and out, birds flying in and out."

As scaffolding props up the old ventilation stack, Dodd races to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle.

"There is almost 200 tons of radioactive material still inside the old sarcophagus," said Dodd, who has worked here off and on since 1995. "And the existing sarcophagus was built in six months in 1986 under, I should say, fairly heroic conditions and it had a design life of 10 years - that’s almost 25 years ago."

Built on rails and rising high enough to cover the Statue of Liberty, the new containment structure is to be the largest moveable structure in the world. On April 19, Ukraine officials will hold a donor conference in Kyiv to raise $1 billion to build a structure designed to contain Chernobyl’s nuclear mess for another century.

As authorities in Japan may soon discover, big nuclear accidents have a defined beginning. It is unclear when they ever end.

Source: Voice of America

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Due West: The Kuchma Sensation

MOSCOW, Russia -- Former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma probably never expected what happened last week. He is accused of ordering the murder of his staunch critic, journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000.

Accused Leonid Kuchma

When Gongadze's body was found, his head severed from his body, many people, mostly from the opposition, were pointing a finger at Kuchma as the one who benefited most from the journalist's death.

That same year, Maj. Nikolai Melnichenko, one of the officers serving in Kuchma's personal security detail, ran away to the Czech Republic. But before leaving, he gave the Ukrainian Socialist Party leader Alexander Moroz tapes with hours of conversations between the president and his closest confidants.

Melnichenko recorded them by hiding a tape recorder in Kuchma's study.

Moroz promptly revealed the contents of the tapes. Among the many interesting things, like the alleged Ukrainian government’s complicity of selling arms to Iraq (which was under UN sanctions at the time), the recordings seemed to show that President Kuchma ordered the Ukrainian Security Service chief Leonid Derkach to “deal with” Gongadze.

As long as Kuchma was in power, there was no chance of any serious investigation of the murder. When, in 2005, Kuchma's former PM-turned-opponent Viktor Yushchenko became president in the wake of the 2004 “orange revolution,” many expected that a proper investigation would be conducted.

It was promptly opened but never came even close to indicting Kuchma – probably because Yushchenko felt a sort of personal loyalty to the former president who launched his political career. So no one expected that Kuchma would be charged with Gongadze’s murder while his other protégé, Viktor Yanukovych was president.

There are many theories regarding the reasons for such a scandalous move. One is a bit conspiratorial. It says that Kuchma will be found not guilty and the case, which haunted him for more than a decade, will be closed forever.

Another says that the current president wants to fend off accusations of corruption and cronyism by sacrificing his political godfather. Maybe. However, the mere fact that such a thing could happen proves once again that, as the title of Leonid Kuchma’s book says, “Ukraine is Not Russia.” It is not Kazakhstan, Belarus, or any other post-Soviet country for that matter, with the possible exception of Moldova.

It is only in Ukraine that a former head of state has to come to the court as a mere mortal and explain himself to reporters who pelt him with awkward questions. The Ukrainian society shows a very un-Soviet irreverence for authority.

Despite all the traditional post-Communist ills – cynicism, corruption, clannish politics – Ukrainians seem to be more autonomous, personally responsible and resilient than citizens of other former Soviet republics. And the political class has to take notice of this.

That is why President Yunukovych, elected under the famously misleading slogan of “stability,” has to constantly prove to his own people and the world at large that he is not trying to set up some kind of authoritarian regime – although he probably dreams of it.

During my trips to Ukraine over the last few years, I have always admired the Ukrainians’ openness about their life and country and their willingness to discuss politics.

Even those who say they are disillusioned find a way of explaining their position rather than just primitively saying: “All politics is dirt and all politicians are bastards!” I do not know why this is.

Does it have anything to do with the fact that Ukraine was not an empire, and people have more time for themselves rather than for messianic ideas? Is it because Ukrainians tend to be more bourgeois and property-conscious – which is reflected in a score of non-PC jokes about them in Russia?

Or maybe it is the proximity of Central Europe? Or the fact that Ukrainian politics is the arena for several powerful regional clans, which try but never can achieve a monopoly?

Probably, it is a combination of all these factors. But Ukraine (and Moldova, which is a case of its own) is unique in gradually developing a healthy democratic political culture, providing for competition and balance of interests at the same time.

Certainly, it will take decades for this to mature. But it would be nice if societies in other post-Soviet states (including even Georgia, that darling of the West) start taking notice of Ukrainian experience.

Source: RIA Novosti

UEFA Says Ukraine Has Broken Euro 2012 Promises

MANCHESTER, England -- UEFA’s Euro 2012 operations director Martin Kallen says that not all the work promised by co-hosts Ukraine will be completed before the tournament in June next year. But he insists that “all key football assets” will be ready.

Martin Kallen spoke about Euro 2012 preparations in a panel discussion at Soccerex today.

Speaking at the Soccerex European Forum in Manchester, Kallen dismissed suggestions that UEFA may still strip Ukraine of its right to co-host the tournament

“We have no other way, we have to be ready in 2012,” he said, praising the commitment of the country’s authorities to deliver projects in time for the June 2012 kick-off.

“If I speak with the people from the authorities – from the government, from the cities – they are very committed and motivated,” he said.

“For them it is very important to show to Europe and the world that they are a very modern country, that it’s a country where people can invest.

"It’s even more important from their side to show Europe and also the world.

“They are doing their utmost to arrive, but I think that not all of the projects that were promised will be completed to 100%.”

Asked to elaborate on which aspects of Ukrainian plans would not be ready, he revealed that not all of the 2,300km of Ukrainian highway would be completed, while some of the promised tram systems would not be ready.

“All key football assets will be complete,” he added.

UEFA dismisses Euro 2012 hooliganism fears

Kallen played down concerns about football hooliganism, saying that he did not think it would be an issue at next year’s tournament.

Last Friday, around 200 Polish fans were involved in rioting before a friendly match against Lithuania in Kaunas.

Kallen said he was optimistic the tournament would be played in a good atmosphere, emphasising that security was UEFA’s “number one priority.” But he admitted that having enough private stewarding posed a challenge.

“We have the legal ground to work, now it’s to have enough private security stewarding,” he said.

“It is a real challenge. It is not a subject that is easily happening to have 7,000 people in each country trained for events. That’s a major challenge we have in both countries.”

Marcin Herra, president of the Polish local organising committee, said that €19 billion of infrastructure work was under way in Poland, making it one of the biggest building sites in Europe.

He said that 87 per cent of projects were on schedule.

Herra admitted that on taking his job three years ago the status of the tournament “wasn’t very optimistic”, but claimed Poland was now on the “safe side"

He foresaw Poland’s biggest challenges over the next 14 months coming with the commissioning of new airports early next year.

Herra added that Poland had benefited from the economic crisis, which had had a deflationary impact on costs.

“This may be a little provocative, but the crisis was very good for us because we had a more competitive market for construction companies,” he said.

“Prices were a little bit more competitive than before the crisis, so we can build with more quality.”

Source: World Football Insider

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ambassador: Japan Grateful To Ukraine For Its Support And Understanding

KIEV, Ukraine -- Japan is grateful to Ukraine for its support and understanding, Japanese Ambassador to Ukraine Tadashi Izawa said in Kiev on Tuesday.

He said that Ukraine was one of the first countries to offer its condolences to Japan over the devastating earthquake, and to offer its assistance.

"I wholeheartedly thank the government and the Ukrainian people for the kindness and sympathy they have shown in this situation," Izawa said.

As reported, the Ukrainian government has allocated nearly UAH 20 million ($2.5 million) in humanitarian assistance to earthquake-hit Japan.

The National Bank of Ukraine, in turn, simplified the mechanism of sending charitable aid to the victims of natural and manmade disasters in Japan.

On March 11, a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake (according to Japanese seismologists) was reported 130 km off the northeastern coast of the Japanese island of Honshu. The earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami.

The latest figures from the National Police Agency of Japan confirmed the deaths of 10,901 people.

The list of those missing includes 17,649 people, whereas the number of those injured has reached 2,776 people.

The earthquake damaged one of the world's largest nuclear power plants, Fukushima 1, 250 km northeast of Tokyo.

Several more earthquakes, with magnitudes of 6.1 to 6.5, have been recorded in the northeast of Japan since March 11.

Source: Interfax

The Long Arm Of Mossad: A Palestinian Disappears In Ukraine

BERLIN, Germany -- A Palestinian engineer vanishes from a train carriage in Ukraine -- and reappears later in an Israeli jail. He's being held without charge. In Western intelligence circles the suspicion is mounting that the man is a Hamas insider with vital information.

Veronika Abu Sisi, Ukrainian wife of Palestinian engineer and alleged Hamas member Dirar Abu Sisi.

It was a crisp cold day in February when Dirar Abu Sisi was last seen alive. The Palestinian engineer from Gaza was in Ukraine in preparation for moving there with his family: He, his Ukrainian wife Veronica and their six children wanted to leave the Gaza Strip. While Abu Sisi, 42, dealt with the paperwork, he lived with his in-laws in the eastern town of Kharkiv.

On Feb. 18 he boarded a train for Kiev. He wanted to see his brother, who had lived in Amsterdam for years and who flew out just for the reunion. But Abu Sisi never arrived in Kiev.

The exact circumstances of what happened in between are not fully known. Two men in civilian clothing stepped into Abu Sisi's carriage on the night of Feb. 19, according to a train conductor and a porter who were interviewed after Abu Sisi disappeared.

At around 1 a.m., they said, the strangers escorted him off the train. However, the train employees later retracted these statements. Since then they've claimed to have seen nothing.

Their sudden forgetfulness could have a simple explanation: In Western intelligence circles it's been claimed that Ukrainian agents kidnapped the Palestinian. A short time later, the Europeans supposedly handed their victim over to the Israelis, who had requested the kidnapping.

One informant says Israel had considered Abu Sisi a high-ranking Hamas man who knows a number of secrets. "If Mossad goes to such an expense, and interrogates the man for six weeks, then he must know something Israel absolutely wants to hear," says the source, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. If Abu Sisi was just an "irritant," he would have simply been killed.

Jerusalem may believe that Abu Sisi had information relating to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped four and a half years ago by Hamas, according to another source. Since Shalit, now 24, was captured, Israel and Hamas have discussed a prisoner exchange, partly with German mediation.

Hamas wants 1,000 Palestinians freed from jail in exchange for his freedom. Jerusalem has not wholly given up hope of liberating him with a commando mission. But Israeli forces would have to know exactly where he's held (presumably in the Gaza Strip) -- information they appear to be hoping to obtain from Abu Sisi.

A Wall of Silence

Veronika Abu Sisi knew nothing about any of this in mid-February. She was worried when she heard her husband had failed to reach his brother in Kiev. When he still hadn't turned up a day later, she raised the alarm with officials from the UN and with Israeli human-rights groups. She asked them to find out what had happened.

Her deepest fear was that he'd fallen victim to a political killing. The case of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas weapons dealer, is still a fresh memory among Gazans.

A separate story, concerning another man who vanished almost without a trace only to turn up in an Israeli jail, could have rattled her, too: In May of last year it became known that a so-called Mr. X had been held for years in a high-security Israeli prison -- wholly without charge.

But the fear that her husband may have been assassinated proved to be false on Feb. 27. Eight days after he disappeared, Abu Sisi made contact with his wife. In a short phone conversation he told her that he was in a jail in Ashkelon, on the Israeli coast.

Now Veronika thought she understood: Her husband was kidnapped by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, she told reporters and human-rights activists, and dragged back to Israel.

To find out what exactly happened, Veronika Abu Sisi took a dangerous trip. She left her six children in the care of her mother-in-law in Gaza and crawled through a smuggling tunnel from the Gaza Strip to Egypt. From there she flew to Kiev -- only to run up against a wall of official silence.

A spokeswoman at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry admitted in early March that Abu Sisi disappeared "under unknown circumstances." But the nation's intelligence service, the SBU, claimed to know nothing. The word, week after week, was that the agency had noticed nothing unusual.

The first ray of light came on March 20, when Israel admitted to having Abu Sisi in its custody. Until then a news embargo had forbidden local media and correspondents in Israel from reporting on Abu Sisi; but a legal case brought by a human-rights organization ensured that it was partially lifted.

Some aspects of the case are nevertheless still covered by the embargo. Official charges against Abu Sisi are therefore still unknown.

Heart Problems and a Kidney Infection

Dirar and Veronika met in 1998. She was 19 years old, a violin student at an academy in Kharkiv; he studied next door for his doctorate at an institute of agricultural science.

They married the following year, and she converted to Islam. They moved to the Gaza Strip and lived there for 12 years. He worked as a manager at the territory's only power plant; she raised their growing brood of kids.

They would have been happy except for the everyday dangers in Gaza -- Israel's blockade, rockets, bombs, the makeshift economy.

When the Gaza war started at the end of 2008, she'd had enough. "On Thursday our sixth baby was born, and on Saturday the war started. We decided to go back to my home," the 32-year-old told the Kiev Post newspaper. She described her husband as "absolutely apolitical."

Veronika recently moved back in with her parents. She sits in a pre-fabricated apartment building in Kharkiv and worries. Last week her husband met two Israeli lawyers she had hired for him.

"They say he has problems with his heart. He has a kidney infection and elevated blood pressure," she says. He also, apparently, has lost 13 kilograms (29 pounds).

No one knows how long she or her children will have to wait for him to come home. On Sunday, an Israeli court rejected a motion by his lawyers to release him.

Source: Der Spiegel

IMF: Ukraine Needs Pension Reform, Market Prices And Prosperous Naftogas

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is lagging behind other countries in the region due to structural weaknesses and problems with reforms, IMF Resident Representative in Ukraine Max Alier has said.

IMF Resident Representative in Ukraine Max Alier.

"It's extremely important to ensure that pension and sector reforms are conducted, the tariffs reach market levels, the budget is balanced, and that Naftogaz is a prosperous company," he said at a conference in Kiev on Tuesday.

Alier said that the attempt to carry out pension reform had not succeeded because additional discussion is required in Ukraine.

He rejected the view that the IMF had set too soft conditions for Kiev, which is leading to the delay in conducting reforms.

"I don't think that we did not set rigid terms. We have to wait until they [Ukraine] fulfill these measures," Alier said.

He said that sometimes in order to make progress, it was necessary to move a step at a time.

Alier praised Ukraine's fiscal consolidation, the first stage of the rise in tariffs, the reduction in inflation, and the resumption of economic growth - albeit at a slower pace than it could be.

As reported, the IMF decided to renew its loan partnership with Ukraine in the summer of 2010 through a new stand-by program.

The approved stand-by program for Ukraine is 10 billion in special drawing rights (SDR, worth around $15.6 billion), which is the IMF's third biggest assistance program following those for Greece and Romania.

In late July 2010, Kiev received the first tranche of SDR 1.25 billion.

The IMF decided in December to allocate a second tranche worth SDR 1 billion.

The program foresees the future quarterly allocation of tranches, each worth SDR 1 billion, with the exception of the last tranche, which will be worth SDR 750 million.

Source: Interfax

Monday, March 28, 2011

Buoyant Italy To Test Euro 2012 Co-Host Ukraine In Friendly

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will be looking for its first win since September when the Euro 2012 co-host takes on Italy in a friendly on Tuesday.

Italy coach Cesare Prandell leads a training session of the Italian national soccer team ahead of Tuesday's friendly match against Ukraine, at the Coverciano center, near Florence, Italy, Sunday, March 27, 2011.

Having qualified automatically for next year's European Championship, which it is co-hosting with Poland, Ukraine is struggling to find its form in friendly matches.

It won a friendly tournament in Cyprus in February on penalties but has recorded four draws and a defeat since beating Chile 2-1 on Sept. 7. Coach Yuriy Kalytvyntsev has been in temporary charge since last August.

Italy's fortunes have meanwhile been lifted by coach Cesare Prandelli, with his side's 1-0 victory over Slovenia last week putting the 2006 World Cup winner six points clear in Group C.

After a loss to Ivory Coast in his first match in charge, the former Fiorentina coach has reinvigorated the side by bringing in new players and a new approach.

Italy has won three and drawn three since the opening defeat and started to put memories of its first round exit from the 2010 World Cup to the back of the mind.

"I don't think I am necessarily the man who started this new chapter, but at certain times I've had to have the courage to try something," Prandelli said.

"We are at an important point on our journey," he said. "What makes me happy is that this Italy shows the desire to play football and have fun. Quality, courage, management. They are our watchwords."

Prandelli was happy to highlight the contribution of Thiago Motta, who hit the winner against Slovenia. It was his first Italy goal since the Brazilian-born midfielder was given clearance to play for Italy.

"Thiago Motta isn't a victory for me," Prandelli said. "Foreign players with Italian origins aren't a problem for me, but a chance. Sixty per cent of children in Italy have origins, or were born, overseas. It is simply the future.

"He has Brazilian technique and a European mentality."

Prandelli has resisted the temptation to recall Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City striker and Daniele De Rossi were both left out of the Slovenia match under the terms of a new team code of conduct that means players under club suspension aren't called up.

"Balotelli is a phenomenal talent. When he starts showing his quality on a regular basis he will be considered," Prandelli said. "That said all the players wanted to stay and this is a great sign."

Prandelli is changing seven members of his lineup from Friday's win over Slovenia.

Alberto Gilardino and United States-born forward Giuseppe Rossi replace Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in attack, while Emiliano Viviano will play for Gianluigi Buffon in goal.

Ukraine will be without injured central defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy and midfielder Yevhen Konoplyanka.

"The Italian team has been rejuvenated with quite a few young players," Ukraine captain Andriy Shevchenko said. "The Italian team is always a very serious opponent."

Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Ukraine's most capped player with 103, said Italy remains a strong opponent, even though it is currently going through a "change of generations."

"What weapon works against Italy? It's long shots, fast attacks on the wings and individual moves in the penalty box," Tymoshchuk said. "Our opponents will go on the attack, so it's important to take our chances on the counterattack."

Kalytvyntsev said he was hoping for a full stadium to give maximum home advantage for his side.

"In preparations for Euro 2012 we've chosen meetings with traditionally strong teams and in all these matches we'll be counting on active support from the fans," he said.

In six meetings with Ukraine, the Azzurri has won five and drawn once. One of the victories was a 3-0 win in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup.

Source: AP

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ukraine Opposition Warns Of Setbacks

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine is hovering between oppressive authoritarianism and European integration, and a failure to address corruption and safeguard democratic institutions could lead to the country reversing the advances it has made since the end of Soviet rule, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said.

Yulia Tymoshenko

"There is a risk of backsliding, including the rise of authoritarian tendencies," Ms. Tymoshenko said in an interview in Brussels. "If those negative tendencies are not confronted then Ukraine might come very close to the situation we observe in a number of countries in the Arab world where the government is oppressing, and fighting with, their own people, and the opposition put in jail," she said. She said latter was happening in Belarus.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who was twice prime minister before losing the presidential election last year, had a government-imposed travel ban lifted to allow her to travel to a meeting of European center-right party leaders ahead of the European summit here.

She faces corruption charges, which she says are politically inspired by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Speaking before the meeting with the leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she reiterated the need for domestic reform and her desire for further European integration and, eventually, European Union membership. She also called for greater cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"The current government still believes the doors to Europe are closed from the side of the European Union, but ... it is the responsibility of Ukraine, first of all, to make sure these doors will be open," Ms. Tymoshenko said.

She stressed the need for fair and competitive privatization, an effective legal framework to fight corruption, and a free trade agreement with the EU.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who ran several Ukrainian energy companies in the 1990s before entering politics, said the elimination of corruption from management of the country's energy resources was another important aspect of this process.

Ukrainian gas transit systems are only operating at 80% of their capacity, she said. She said Russia's proposed South Stream pipeline would be bad for Ukraine as it would bypass the country, transporting gas directly from Russia to Europe via an alternative southern route.

She also said that North African and Arab countries in the midst of revolution should learn from Ukraine's experience after the Orange Revolution, when opportunities to reform were missed.

"As we're painfully learning now, it's not enough just to have a revolution," Ms. Tymoshenko said, speaking through a translator. "It's important to have a strategy, and to implement this strategy after the regime change has been achieved."

Asked about her mistakes, which she mentioned in a recent blog post, she said she regretted trusting then President Yushchenko in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, when the regime soon returned to "old corruption with new faces."

As well as meeting center-right leaders from European political parties, she has meetings scheduled with EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule, while Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will visit Kiev on April 19.

Ultimately, Ukraine's fortunes since the Orange Revolution may serve as a warning to countries now in the midst of revolution. If the democratic freedoms won since the end of Soviet rule are eroded, "Ukraine, from being a great hope, will become a great problem," Ms. Tymoshenko said.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Strengthening Ties Between Vietnam And Ukraine

HANOI, Vietnam -- Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych affirmed they would develop bilateral ties of comprehensive cooperation and partnership between the two countries.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) and Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet sign bilateral agreements.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is paying an official visit to Vietnam from March 25-27 at the invitation of Vietnamese State President Nguyen Minh Triet.

President Triet welcomed his counterpart Yanukovych and affirmed that the visit is an important landmark in the friendship and cooperative relations between the two countries.

He asserted that while it is pursuing a foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, diversification, as well as multilateral international relations and integration into the region and the world, Vietnam always attaches great importance to its ties with traditional friends, including Ukraine.

President Yanukovych said Ukraine has always considered Vietnam a close friend. He praised Vietnam’s achievements during its renewal process, notably raising its position and prestige in the international arena, and congratulated the country on the success of the 11th National Party Congress.

During the talk, the two presidents briefed each other on the political and socio-economic situation and foreign policies of each side and discussed issues of mutual concern.

They agreed to develop bilateral ties of cooperation and a comprehensive partnership and to devise an overall plan to develop ties in all fields to fully utilize the strengths of each side.

They also agreed to complete the legal framework for bilateral cooperation and create policies to increase bilateral trade turnover, which only reached US$256 million in 2010 as well as the feasibility of a free trade agreement between the two countries.

Both leaders agreed to focus cooperation on sectors and industries, such as energy, manufacturing, hydroelectric power plant equipment, shipbuilding, agriculture, and aviation.

They also agreed to organise a cultural day in both countries in 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

President Triet praised Ukraine for opening the direct air route between Kiev and Ho Chi Minh City. He urged Ukraine to continue creating the best conditions for the Overseas Vietnamese community there to work and study.

President Yanukovych said that his country always offers favourable conditions for Vietnamese people there on par with the fine relations between the two countries and peoples.

In the spirit of mutual understanding and trust, the two sides expressed their delight with their close coordination and support at international forums, especially the United Nations.

Vietnam acknowledged the Ukraine’s proposal for Ukraine to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) in 2016-2017 term while Ukraine recorded Vietnam’s proposal of support of its seat on the UNSC in the 2020-2021 term.

President Yanukovych expressed his desire for Vietnam to be a bridge for his country to strengthen ties with ASEAN and Southeast Asian countries. He also invited Mr Triet to visit Ukraine.

After the talk, the two presidents signed a joint declaration on building cooperative relations and a comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and Ukraine, thus laying a historic milestone in the friendship and cooperative ties between the two countries.

They witnessed the signing ceremony for cooperation documents between the two Governments in diplomacy, agriculture, banking, investment, culture, and standards for measurement and quality.

President Yanukovych and his entourage laid wreath at the Monument to Heroic Martyrs and President Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hanoi.

President Triet will hold a banquet honouring President Yanukovych and his entourage in the evening of the same day.

The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Ukrainian embassy in Hanoi held a Vietnam-Ukraine Trade and Investment Forum in Hanoi on March 26 under framework of the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s visit to Vietnam.

President Nguyen Minh Triet and his counterpart attended the forum along with representatives of nearly 200 businesses from the two countries.

At the forum, Mr Triet emphasized that Vietnam and Ukraine have a long traditional relationship. Ukrainian people supported Vietnam during its past struggle for independence and the current national construction and development.

He called on businesses from both countries to foster cooperation in economics, trade, and investment as well as other fields in line with the strengths of the two countries.

President Yanukovych said Vietnam is Ukraine’s the most important partner in Southeast Asia. Ukraine is now improving its investment environment, simplifying procedures for granting licenses and strengthening dialogue between the Government and businesses to attract more foreign investors, including those from Vietnam.

He said he hopes that many cooperative agreements will be signed through the forum, thereby enhancing cooperation between the two countries.

Vietnam currently has four projects in Ukraine with a total investment capital of US$27million, primarily in food processing, packaging and restaurants.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung also met with President Yanukovych in Hanoi on march 26. He affirmed that the Vietnamese Government will work with the Ukrainian Government to build a comprehensive cooperative programme to deeply, practically and effectively develop the bilateral relations between the two countries.

PM Dung expressed his delight at Presidents Triet and Yanukovych signing the joint declaration on cooperation development and comprehensive partnership as it will provide a legal framework to negotiate a comprehensive cooperative programme.

President Yanukovych said that the two countries have great potential for cooperation and Ukraine is willing to cooperate in all fields.

PM Dung and President Yanukovych agreed that the two governments will organise the second session of Inter-Governmental Committee and business forums soon, create favourable conditions for businesses in both countries, devise a plan to increase two-way trade and negotiate a free trade agreement.

Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in manufacturing energy equipment, automobile assembly, education and training, scientific technology, agriculture, shipbuilding, and culture.

Source: Voice of Vietnam

Palestinian Who Mysteriously Disappeared In Ukraine Still In Israel

JERUSALEM, Israel -- In the latest chapter of an unfolding story that reads like a spy thriller, a Palestinian engineer who was allegedly abducted by Israeli intelligence services in Ukraine over a month ago will be kept in custody for at least another week after an Israeli court ruling.

Palestinian relatives of Dirar Abu Sisi attend a Gaza demonstration calling for his release from an Israeli jail.

After being held for over 30 days in an Israeli jail under mysterious circumstances, Dirar Abu Sisi's incarceration will last at least one more week after a judge in a Petach Tikvah court Thursday granted an Israeli government request to keep Abu Sisi behind bars in order for the state to produce evidence against him.

"This request means that Israel does not have, even after 34 days of interrogation, sufficient evidence to indict Dirar Abu Sisi with any offense under Israeli law and under these circumstances we argue that he should be released, " Abu Sisi's attorney Smadar Ben-Natan told CNN following his court appearance.

"I hope that he will be released after these eight days. I expect that after these days, the prosecution might present an indictment. We plan to argue against the future indictment saying that the circumstances of this person's arrest give him the defense of abusive process," his lawyer added.

Abu Sisi is the director of operations at the Gaza power plant.

He disappeared in Ukraine on February 18. Speculation he was being held in an Israeli jail was confirmed March 21 after Israeli authorities admitted Abu Sisi was being held and questioned by Israeli intelligence following a partial lifting of reporting restrictions.

But just why the Palestinian engineer was being held and what charges the Israeli government intends to bring against him remain unclear. So far, not even his lawyers have been granted access to the results of his interrogation, they say.

"We know about the suspicions only generally. The material from the interrogation is still not being disclosed to us and there is a gag order over that, too," Ben-Natan said after the Gazan engineer appeared in court on Thursday.

The details surrounding the case are no less mysterious than how Abu Sisi landed in an Israeli jail in the first place.

The 42-year old went missing on February 18 when he boarded a train in Krakow, Poland headed for Kiev, where he was to meet his brother at the airport. But the Palestinian engineer never arrived, leaving his family scrambling to ascertain his whereabouts.

"My brother in Holland called me and told me that Dirar did not show up at the airport. I told him this was not possible and that he should be there. Later I called his wife and told her Dirar was not answering his mobile phones. His wife called his friends and they confirmed they had taken him to the train station and that he boarded the train," Abu Sisi's sister Susan told CNN.

Abu Sisi's wife is from Ukraine and the couple had traveled to the country on January 27. According to his wife and lawyers, Abu Sisi was applying for residency for himself and his six children because they were planning to emigrate from Gaza.

"He was previously in Ukraine asking for residency and planning to stay in Ukraine," Ben-Natan said.

His wife Veronica said, "I returned to Gaza because I finished all my paper work and because of my children, and my husband remained in Kiev to continue his paper work."

Soon after his disappearance his wife returned to Ukraine looking for her husband, but her pleas to authorities fell on deaf ears.

"I tried everything; I did not leave out any office. I met everyone from the president to lawyers and all told me the same thing, that they did not know anything," said Veronica Abu Sisi.

Prior to the Israeli government's public acknowledgment that it was holding Abu Sisi, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs said it was actively trying to locate the missing engineer.

"The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs from various state and public institutions and organizations received applications for assistance in establishing the whereabouts of 42-year old Palestinian citizen Abu Sisi Dirar, who disappeared in unclear circumstances in February 2011," read a ministry statement.

It said further that Ukrainian authorities were undertaking all measures in order to locate Abu Sisi and that ministry personnel as well as border and customs officers were trying to ascertain his whereabouts, by "checking for existing e-mail, police, hospitals hotels and others."

After myriad attempts to locate her husband it became clear, Mrs. Abu Sisi said, that he was not being held by the Ukrainians as the family initially thought. Once that had been ruled out, their suspicions fell on Israeli intelligence.

Though the Israeli intelligence services have not admitted to the alleged kidnapping of Abu Sisi, the Palestinian engineer reappeared several weeks later inside an Israeli prison.

In fact the Israeli government has denied all comment on the case citing the gag order preventing the release of details.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human rights (PCHR), a Gaza based human rights organization, one of its lawyers met with Abu Sisi in a prison in Ashkelon, Israel on March 20, where Abu Sisi related the circumstances of his abduction.

"Abu Sisi said that three persons, two in military uniforms, entered his room on the train when he was about to meet his brother Yousuf from Amsterdam. They asked him to show his passport but he refused. Then they threatened him and forcefully took his passport" reads the PCHR's account of the conversation.

"They forced him to get off the train at the nearby station of Poltava. At this time he was handcuffed and hooded. He was transported in a car to Kiev. Once in Kiev, he was held in an apartment where there were another six persons who introduced themselves to be members of the Mossad" Israel's foreign intelligence organization.

"Abu Sisi said that the Mossad members immediately questioned him and then flew him by plane. The flight lasted between four and five hours before landing in a place unknown to him. Approximately thirty minutes later, they took off again and the flight lasted for approximately one hour. Upon landing Abu Sisi found himself in Israel," according to PCHR.

Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that he was denied contact with a lawyer for 14 days. "This denial was extended for another 11 days. He said that he was placed under intensive interrogations and that he was denied his legal rights," according to a PCHR new release posted on the organization's website.

Abu Sisi's wife said she received a phone call from her husband on February 27 in which he told her and his brother that he had been in Israel since February 19.

"Dirar called me and said he wanted to talk to me in Arabic. I gave the phone to his brother who was standing next to me. He told him that he has been in Israel since the 19th of February and that he should look after our children," she told CNN.

Family members of Abu Sisi in Gaza held a sit-in protest this past week in front of the United Nations headquarters in Gaza demanding his immediate release.

Abu Sisi's sister, Susan, told CNN that she believed the Mossad was behind his disappearance because he is the only one who knows how to operate the power plant in Gaza.

"Dirar is the main operational manager for the power plant in Gaza. If it wasn't for Dirar, the power plant would not operate. He is not politically involved in any political party. The plant used to work on the Israeli solar or petrol. Dirar managed a way to make the turbines work and operate on the Egyptian solar or petrol," Susan Abu Sisi told CNN.

Ben-Natan rejected the idea that Abu Sisi might have anything to do with Hamas and claims that his extended interrogation is aimed at coercing him into admitting to something he is not involved with.

"He is very exhausted after what he has been through. He sees the interrogation as meant to break his spirit and make him confess things that he did not commit. He was not part of Hamas leadership. He was holding a civil position in the power plant of the Gaza strip and this interrogation is trying to portray him as something that he is not," he said.

His lawyer also argued that should it emerge that Israeli intelligence abducted Abu Sisi from Ukraine, they will have many questions to answer to as their acts will have been in contradiction of international law and treaties between Ukraine and Israel.

"There is an extradition convention between Ukraine and Israel. The European extradition convention applies and both states are party to it and the procedure which was going on in this case was contrary to that convention and to international law," said Ben-Natan.

Source: CNN

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ukraine Sells Fixed-Line Operator To Austrian Investment Company

KIEV, Ukraine -- On March 11, the government privatization agency State Property Fund (SPF) signed documents selling 92.8 percent of the fixed-line operator Ukrtelecom shares to ESU, the Ukrainian daughter of the Austrian company EPIC (European Privatization and Investment Corporation).

This is the biggest privatization deal since 2005, when the country’s largest steel plant Kryvorizhstal was sold to the international company Mittal Steel. The Ukrainian government views Ukrtelecom’s sale as the start of a large-scale privatization campaign to be completed in 2014, in which big assets such as energy companies, mines and ports should change hands.

However, Ukrtelecom’s sale can hardly serve as a showcase for serious investors. There have been questions concerning the transparency of the privatization process and suspicions that its conditions were shaped in order to suit a particular buyer as ESU faced no competition.

Ukrtelecom’s privatization has been a prime example of the inefficiency of several Ukrainian governments. Ukrtelecom was on the SPF’s lists of assets slated for privatization for more than a decade but the sale was delayed while its market price was falling with the declining importance of fixed telephone lines in an era of mobile communications.

Ukrtelecom failed to adopt international accounting standards, earned no international credit rating and borrowed at high interest rates both at home and abroad.

As a result, it has been in the red during the past several years, and in early 2010 it almost defaulted on its debts to Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Standard Bank.

At the same time, although Ukrtelecom’s equipment is outdated and its management is poor, it is a big landowner and its cable networks and the many Ukrtelecom offices across Ukraine should be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

As soon as President Viktor Yanukovych was elected in February 2010, his team made it clear that Ukrtelecom would be finally sold. Early last fall, newspapers listed Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, as well as Japanese, Chinese and South Korean companies among the potential buyers.

Had Ukrtelecom been sold to any of these, serious Western investors would have turned their attention towards Ukraine whose non-transparent privatization has thus far attracted almost exclusively local and Russian oligarchs.

However, the government narrowed the circle of potential buyers, stipulating in October 2010 that companies where the state’s share exceeds 25 percent and those whose share of the Ukrainian communication market exceeds 25 percent would not be allowed to participate in the tender for Ukrtelecom.

This eliminated Deutsche Telekom from the competition and prompted rumors that the privatization conditions were drafted to suit a particular buyer. Local experts named the Russian Sistema and the SCM holding of the well-connected Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov among the main contenders.

However, on December 21, 2010, the SPF announced that only one bid was submitted for the tender for Ukrtelecom which had been scheduled for December 28. The bid was from ESU. The SPF explained that other potential buyers thought the offer price was too high. Consequently, there was no tender and ESU and EPIC agreed to buy Ukrtelecom for slightly more than the offer price of $1.3 billion.

Along with Ukrtelecom’s price, EPIC will have to pay Ukrtelecom’s debts exceeding $600 million and invest at least $200 million in the company’s development. EPIC is not allowed to cut Ukrtelecom’s oversized staff within the first three years.

It is not clear where a small investment company like EPIC will find funds for that or how it will manage a giant company which employs tens of thousands of people across Ukraine. Several Ukrainian newspapers have speculated that Ukrtelecom’s real beneficiaries are probably linked to Yanukovych’s administration.

Former SPF chief Oleksandr Bondar also suggested, without identifying anyone, that an individual linked to Yanukovych would be the real owner of Ukrtelecom. Ukrtelecom’s current chairman Georgy Dzekon had difficulty in denying the rumor that he personally was linked to EPIC, speaking in a newspaper interview early last month.

Former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, said that as soon as she returns to power Ukrtelecom would be re-nationalized. Tymoshenko also claimed that Ukrtelecom’s market price must be $3 billion to $4 billion higher than the price paid by EPIC.

This is an exaggeration, but reports about Ukrtelecom’s non-transparent privatization make the government vulnerable to accusations of corruption. The opposition caucus of Our Ukraine demanded that parliament should set up an investigation commission to examine the deal with EPIC.

The influential weekly Zerkalo Nedeli cited its sources as saying that EPIC, which it referred to as an intermediary, will resell Ukrtelecom within the next few years. Prior to that, the sources said, the company management may be improved and an initial public offering (IPO) may be conducted.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Ukraine Ex-Leader Charged Over Reporter's Murder - Update

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine on Thursday charged ex-president Leonid Kuchma over the 2000 murder of a journalist, its most notorious post-Soviet crime, amid doubts he could be jailed even if found guilty.

Leonid Kuchma (L) addresses journalists as he arrives at the general prosecutor's office.

Ukrainian prosecutors confirmed they had presented charges of "abuse of power" to Kuchma as he attended a second session of questioning after a criminal probe was formally opened earlier this week.

The headless body of 31-year-old Georgy Gongadze -- the founder of the liberal Ukrainska Pravda website and a virulent critic of Kuchma -- was found in 2000 after he was abducted from central Kiev.

"I have been served with charges," Kuchma, Ukraine's president from 1994-2005, told reporters outside the prosecutors office.

"I have not yet read (them) from beginning to end," he said, adding he would have another session with the investigators on Monday.

He declined to elaborate on the nature of charges, only saying it was "nothing new".

The spokesman for prosecutors, Yury Boichenko, later confirmed to AFP that Kuchma had been charged for abuse of power under an article in the Ukrainian penal code from 1960.

Ukrainian press reports have said the statute of limitations under this article was 10 years, meaning that even if Kuchma is found guilty he could escape jail. This was not confirmed by prosecutors.

"Leonid Kuchma is not threatened with jail," wrote Sergiy Leshchenko, one of the main writers for Ukrainska Pravda which even after Gongadze's death remains one of the most vibrant voices in the national media scene.

Prosecutors announced earlier this week they had opened a criminal probe against Kuchma on suspicion that he gave the orders that led to Gongadze's brutal murder.

The prosecutors stopped short of saying Kuchma was suspected of personally masterminding the murder, saying the former president was suspected of abuse of power and giving illegal orders to police that led to Gongadze's death.

The announcement caused a sensation in Ukraine, coming after a decade of pressure from Kuchma's opponents to have him face trial for the killing of the journalist.

Previously, prosecutors had appeared to draw a line under the case last year by saying that former interior minister Yury Kravchenko -- who committed suicide in 2005 -- ordered the murder.

Given that Kravchenko took his evidence to the grave, the move prompted accusations from Gongadze's family that the authorities were seeking to pin all the blame on a dead man to protect someone of greater importance.

Former interior ministry employee Olexy Pukach has been in custody since 2009 in connection with the murder. He has confessed to personally strangling the journalist with his belt and beheading him with an axe.

Kuchma said he had personally confronted Pukach, who had been summoned to the prosecutors office earlier in the day.

"I can say that there was a confrontation with Pukach," local news agencies quoted Kuchma as saying.

"Pukach, I believe...(acts) according to a principle -- no man, no problem," he said, suggesting that Pukach was seeking to pass the buck to deceased Kravchenko.

Also present as the prosecutors office Thursday was Mykola Melnichenko, a former bodyguard of Kuchma who recorded tapes where voices -- including one alleged to be of Kuchma -- could be heard speaking about eliminating Gongadze.

Crucially, prosecutors ruled that the tapes were admissible evidence, for the first time since they were made public in 2000.

The tapes, whose publication at the time prompted mass protests in Ukraine, contain a voice resembling that of Kuchma suggesting to have Gongadze "kidnapped by Chechens".

Melnichenko left the prosecutors declaring he was still hoping for a formal confrontation with Kuchma to air his allegations but this had been postponed until the coming days.

Source: AFP

EU Commissioner Warns Ukraine Against 'Political' Justice

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A top European Union official on Thursday warned Ukrainian authorities against using justice 'for political ends.'

Stefan Fule

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule made the comment after meeting former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, now an opposition leader who says corruption charges brought against her are politically motivated.

Tymoshenko is alleged to have misappropriated some 380 million dollars in state funds and improperly used official vehicles during her 2009 unsuccessful presidential election campaign.

'I reiterated to Mrs Tymoshenko the need for criminal law not be used for political ends,' Fule said in a statement.

Fule said Tymoshenko agreed with him on the need to 'play a constructive role' over government plans to reform electioral rules, the constitution and the judiciary.

Prosecutors allowed Tymoshenko to travel to Brussels for a meeting of the European People's Party, an umbrella group of European conservative parties.

Earlier this year, her two previous requests to visit the EU capital had been rejected.

Tymoshenko has argued that she and her allies are the victims of a state campaign to repress the opposition.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has denied the allegations, saying his government is cracking down on high-level corruption without regard to political associations.

Source: DPA

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baby Traffickers Caught Trying To Smuggle Girls Over The Border From Ukraine To Hungary

KIEV, Ukraine -- The French parents were trying to sneak the twins out of Ukraine into Hungary because, they said, France refused to issue the children passports, as it does not recognise surrogacy.

This shocking picture show twin surrogate girls hidden under a mattress in a van, as their “parents” tried to smuggle them out of the country.

The mother said: “We are not child traffickers, we are their parents. We tried to cross the border out of despair and love for our little girls.”

Ukrainian border guards took the pictures on Monday and a criminal investigation into illegal transportation of minors abroad has been launched while the babies, named Vicky and Kim, have been taken to hospital.

The French couple, held in Ukraine, visited the girls on Wednesday and the mother said: “I want to write to all the countries in the world and ask them to give my girls any passport just so that I can take them with me.”

Parents adopting surrogate children face legal hurdles in European countries that do not recognise such arrangements.

A gay Belgian couple waited more than two years to be reunited with their son – born to a mother in Ukraine – after Belgium initially refused to issue him a passport.

They also unsuccessfully tried to smuggle the boy out of the country by car.

Source: Mirror UK

Ukraine: Ex-President Charged Over Editor's Murder

KIEV, Ukraine -- Leonid Kuchma, the former Ukrainian president, has been formally charged over the murder of a journalist in 2000 and could be jailed for up to 12 years if convicted.

Leonid Kuchma (L) and Georgiy Gongadze (R).

Mr Kuchma, who was leader of independent Ukraine between 1994 and 2005, is accused of involvement in the killing of Georgiy Gongadze, one of his sharpest public critics.

The death of the journalist, who was also well known on television talk shows, became emblematic of the sleaze and violence of post-Soviet Ukraine under Mr Kuchma and led to street clashes in Kiev between protesters and riot police.

Emerging from questioning in the prosecutor's office, Mr Kuchma, 72, told reporters: "I have been charged. On Monday we will meet here again and we'll see how things develop further."

The general prosecutor's spokesman, Yuri Boichenko, confirmed that Mr Kuchma had been charged with abuse of office, leading to the death of the journalist, which carries a jail sentence of between five and 12 years.

Mr Kuchma has denied any role in the murder of the 31-year-old campaigning editor.

Gongadze was found beheaded months after being abducted in September 2000, when Mr Kuchma was in power.

"I categorically disagree with every charge, except the part which says that I am Leonid Danilovich Kuchma. This is beyond question," he said yesterday.

Source: The Independent

Falling Ukraine Hotel Facade Crushes Pedestrian To Death

KIEV, Ukraine -- Masonry falling from the wall of a Ukrainian hotel needed for the Euro 2012 football championship crushed a pedestrian to death on Thursday, eyewitnesses said.

Kazatsky Hotel

A portion of the brick exterior of the centrally-located Kazatsky (Cossack) Hotel in the capital of Kiev killed a man walking on a sidewalk nine stories below.

The accident took place in one of the most heavily-walked regions of Kiev, adjacent to the city's Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square (Independence Square), a proposed site for a fan zone for Euro 2012.

Ukraine, which co-hosts Euro 2012 with Poland, is still some 25 per cent short of hotel rooms needed to handle a predicted one million visitors expected during the tournament, according to media reports.

Euro 2012 accommodation has long been a headache for Ukrainian tournament planners, who have been tasked with upgrading a Soviet- designed hospitality industry to international standards.

Ukrainian buildings completed during the late Soviet era have a particularly poor reputation for quality because of shoddy construction standards and rampant theft of construction materials.

Old balconies or wall sections fall into the street regularly in Ukrainian cities, although deaths are extremely rare.

The worst incident took place in 1989 when a section of the national post office building in Kiev, only a few hundred metres from the Kozatsky hotel, collapsed, killing 11 people.

Source: DPA

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pressure Builds To Close The 100-Year-Old Kiev Zoo After Hundreds Of Animal Deaths

KIEV, Ukraine -- An Indian elephant called Boy, the pride of the Kiev Zoo, collapsed and died in his enclosure. Around the same time, Maya the camel succumbed to a digestive illness and Theo the zebra died after crashing into a metal fence.

In this file photo, Boy, a 39-year-old Indian elephant lies in his pen covered with a cloth after it collapsed and died. The animals just keep on dying at the Kiev Zoo.

And there’s more, much more.

The animals just keep on dying at the Kiev Zoo, a place some have likened to an unkempt warehouse for those with fur and feathers.

Animal welfare groups say dozens if not hundreds of animals have died at the zoo in recent years due to malnutrition, a lack of medical care and mistreatment — and some suspect that corruption is at the heart of the problem.

Naturewatch, a British-based animal welfare group, is among the organizations calling for the 100-year-old zoo to be closed and its animals sent elsewhere in Europe.

“The Kiev Zoo will never attain any basic standards, it’s so far removed from any zoo in Europe,” said John Ruane of Naturewatch. “The conditions have been absolutely horrendous and no matter how many more directors were appointed the situation still remained the same.”

New managers appointed in October said that nearly half of the zoo’s animals either died or mysteriously disappeared over two years under their predecessors, and a government audit found that thousands of dollars were misspent as animals were illegally sold and funds earmarked for their food and care disappeared.

Ukrainian prosecutors have also opened an investigation.

But despite the management change, the zoo’s animals are still dying.

Some activists suspect a secret real estate deal is in the works — that the zoo is being deliberately decimated so it can be closed down and the prime land that it sits on in the center of Kiev can be sold.

Other violations included the purchase of medication for already deceased apes, paying for hyenas that were never shipped to the zoo, the illegal sale of 12 macaques, the unrecorded sale of zoo tickets and the misallocation of funds earmarked for feeding zoo animals.

The violations totaled 1.6 million hryvna ($200,000 or €140,000), according to Irina Parkhomenko, spokeswoman for the government auditing agency.

Once the jewel of the Ukrainian capital and a favorite weekend spot for families, the zoo began to deteriorate after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the years of poverty that followed.

Animals were kept in cramped, poorly lit and poorly heated enclosures, fed improperly and left unattended, according to watchdogs.

The Kiev Zoo gained international notoriety in 2007 when it was expelled from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria after the tragic death of a female bear.

The elderly brown bear named Dinara had been moved from a small enclosure where she had spent all her life to a bigger pen with a male Malayan sun bear.

Stressed by the new premises and her new companion, Dinara began to bang her head against the concrete walls of the enclosure, leaving blood stains on the walls and floor. After days of this, she was euthanized.

On a recent visit, the zoo looked desolate. The elephant’s pen stood empty, a lonely wolf paced an open-air enclosure, a collection of farm animals was closed to visitors and two giraffes were locked in two small indoor cells.

The zoo’s problems grew worse under the leadership of the city’s eccentric mayor, Leonid Chernovetsky, who has been widely accused of mismanagement.

Under his appointed zoo director, Svitlana Berzina, about a quarter of the animals died and another quarter disappeared in the two years before she was ousted in October, according to the new zoo director, Oleksiy Tolstoukhov.

Boy, the biggest Indian elephant in a European zoo, collapsed in his enclosure and died in April at age 39. Berzina denied any wrongdoing and claimed the elephant was poisoned.

Others disagree.

Serhiy Hryhoryev, a zoo worker who has set up a group to protect the animals, believes that Boy was killed by a yo-yo diet.

He said zoo staff considered Boy to be overweight and put him on a diet of mainly water and hay, causing him to lose more than a third of his weight in four months.

“By the end, his ribs were sticking out,” Hryhoryev said.

Then Boy was put back on beets, carrots and apples, which caused rapid weight gain, which Hryhoryev said led to the elephant’s heart failure. An autopsy was inconclusive.

A month later, Maya the camel died.

Hryhoryev said zoo workers failed to treat her for abdominal bloating after a sudden diet change.

The zoo, however, blamed the death on a mysterious poisoner, a middle-aged man with an earring who just happened to resemble the whistle blower Hryhoryev.

He was fired from his job but then reinstated through a court order late last year.

Theo the zebra died in late March after being separated from his female companions, as the animals were let outside after spending the winter in cramped indoor quarters.

The male zebra threw himself into a metal fence in a desperate attempt to reach the females.

Officials are having a hard time determining exactly how many animals died or disappeared under the previous management.

The zoo now has 2,600 animals from 328 species.

Oleksandr Mazurchak, deputy head of the Kiev city administration, said about 250 animals died due to “problems” during two years under Berzina.

The government audit last year also found that 131 other animals were missing.

Mazurchak said 50 animals have died since Tolstoukhov took over, though most from old age.

But some deaths could have been avoided, like those of the three fish that died in late December when a power outage stopped the flow of oxygen into their tank.

Defending his record, the new director said the zoo has not purchased any new animals in recent years due to funding shortages and 60 percent of the zoo’s animals are approaching the end of their natural life span anyway.

“It’s not as bad as they say,” Tolstoukhov said. “In all the zoos, including in Europe, animals don’t live a million years. They also die and get sick.”

But Volodymyr Boreiko, an ecologist who has monitored developments at the zoo, said in a report last week that the number of animals that have died since the new managers took over in October is closer to 250 and includes a penguin, a crane, turkeys and mongooses.

The zoo said his findings are falsified.

Tolstoukhov said the zoo hopes to attract funds to restore existing enclosures and build new ones, and to repair the heating, air conditioning and electric systems.

The zoo also plans to acquire new animals, including two young female elephants and 12 blue sheep.

He denied any plans to sell the 34 hectares (84 acres) of land the zoo occupies in central Kiev.

Luisa Kuznetsova, 26, who came to the zoo last week with her 2-year-old twins Kolya and Karina, hopes it can be saved.

“I want there to be a beautiful zoo here with all the beautiful animals because the kids are growing and the zoo helps them develop,” Kuznetsova said as the twins watched a giraffe attempt to kiss them through a glass wall.

But Tamara Tarnavska of the Kiev-based SOS animal rights group believes the zoo must be closed to protect its animals from further abuse.

“The zoo is in such a condition that it’s no longer a zoo, it’s a concentration camp,” Tarnavska said. “When I look those animals in the eyes, I am ashamed to be a human being.”

Source: AP

Ex-Ukrainian President Denies Involvement In Brutal Slaying Of Reporter

KIEV, Ukraine -- A former Ukrainian president is denying involvement in the brutal slaying of an investigative reporter 10 years ago.

Leonid Kuchma

Leonid Kuchma appeared at the prosecutor’s office for questioning Wednesday and vowed to prove his innocence.

Prosecutors have launched criminal proceedings against the 72-year-old leader who served as Ukraine’s president in 1994-2005 on suspicion that he gave orders that eventually led to the reporter’s killing.

Heorhiy Gongadze, who exposed high-profile corruption, was kidnapped in September 2000.

His headless body was later discovered outside Kiev.

Opponents and rights groups have accused Kuchma of involvement in the slaying based on tape recordings in which a voice that sounded like Kuchma’s is heard conspiring against the journalist.

Source: The Washington Post

Cross-Country Auto Rally In Ukraine Protests Taxes

LVIV, Ukraine -- Critics of a new Tax Code in Ukraine are taking part in a cross-country auto rally to protest the code's impact on small businesses, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

Cars line up to make the drive to Kiev in Luhansk.

The auto rally -- under the slogan "Take the country back from oligarchs and return it to the people" -- started on March 21 in the western city of Lviv and the far eastern city of Luhansk.

The protesters' main demands are for officials to preserve the simplified system of taxing businesses and make changes to the Tax Code adopted in the fall.

Some 90 cars left Lviv for the town of Kaymanka Buzska, where a rally was held before nine cars continued on to Kiev -- about 500 kilometers from Lviv.

One participant, Lviv entrepreneur Roman Oleksevych, told RFE/RL he was unhappy with the business climate in the country.

"After the Tax Code was adopted, the number of inspections of businesses increased," he said. "I do not have employees but still have to file reports each month. Too many reports."

Along with street traders and small-business owners, the protest action is also supported by miners and teachers demanding that their wage arrears be paid.

As the cars left Lviv, seven of them started driving the 600 kilometers from Luhansk toward Kiev.

Rally participants told RFE/RL they were stopped by police in the eastern part of the country several times on the suspicion that their cars had been involved in traffic accidents, but were allowed to continue their journey.

Protesters hope to gather more supporters on their way to Kiev and hold a demonstration with all of the participants of the rally on March 25.

Last fall, the Assembly of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses of Ukraine was a leading initiator of the protests against the new Tax Code, which were attended by tens of thousands of people in various cities across the country.

Under pressure from the protests, President Viktor Yanukovych vetoed the first bill adopted by parliament and later signed an amended version of it.

But critics say the changes made to the tax law are unsatisfactory.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ukraine Readies Marines, Warship, Aircraft For Libyan Deployment

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian marines, aircraft and a warship were preparing for deployment to Libya on Tuesday to aid in the evacuation of Ukrainian nationals and to provide humanitarian assistance, officials said.

The Kostiantyn Olshansky warship.

The forces could arrive in a week, officials said. They provided no details about the nature or scope of their mission.

The landing ship Kostiantyn Olshansky was taking on board infantry and supplies in the Black Sea port Sevastopol, and a pre-departure inspection of troops and equipment was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, officials at Ukraine's Ministry of Defence said.

The Olshansky could reach Libyan waters within a week via a route passing the Bosphorus and Dardenelles straits, said Oleksander Dikusar, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

A Ukraine air force Il-76 cargo jet and An-26 were also loading humanitarian supplies and would be sent to an international relief effort to Libya in coming days, Defence Ministry officials said.

President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday ordered Ukraine's military to ready forces for travel to Libya in response to a Friday request from the UN Security Council for participation in a humanitarian aid operation in the region, Dikusar said.

The Ukrainan forces are not intended to participate in combat operations, officials said. Rather, their main mission will be the evacuation of Ukrainian nationals and others wanting to leave Libya.

Some 500 Ukrainian nationals are believed to be in Libya, the Foreign Ministry estimates.

The Kostiantyn Olshansky is a warship, but it is designed primarily for the transport of troops and equipment directly to or from a beach without the need for a conventional port.

Ukraine is an active participant in international military operations. Since 2000, it has deployed military forces to Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq.

Source: DPA