Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shell May Invest $1 Bln To Produce Shale Gas In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Royal Dutch Shell may invest no less than $1 billion in geological exploration and production of shale gas in the Kharkiv region in north-east Ukraine, Deputy Governor Yury Sapronov said on the regional government website on Wednesday.

"Preliminary data say the company has examined the Izyumsky district as an area for gas production. Project development may take three to five years," Sapronov said in a statement.

Ukraine, unhappy with its dependence on from Russian gas, is seeking alternative energy sources.

The government has started actively discussing the production of shale gas, with deposits possibly located in the Donetsk Basin in eastern Ukraine and the Carpathian region in the west.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated shale gas reserves in Ukraine at 1.5-2.5 trillion cubic meters, but those figures may increase, Ukraine's energy company Naftogaz said.

Source: RIA Novosti

Case Against Tymoshenko About To Collapse

KIEV, Ukraine -- The criminal case against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko seemed about to collapse Thursday after key witnesses backed her account, while President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration had suddenly exposed itself as a party orchestrating the trial.

Yulia Tymoshenko (C) briefing the press on the steps of the Kiev court house.

Tymoshenko is on trial for allegedly ordering Naftogaz Ukrayiny to sign a controversial 10-year natural gas agreement with Gazprom in January 2009.

Prosecutors maintain that Tymoshenko broke the law by issuing the order in the form of directives that according to law must be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Tymoshenko denied the wrongdoing, and said the order was issued on behalf of herself as prime minister.

Tymoshenko’s account was suddenly backed on Thursday by Tetiana Korniakova, a deputy energy minister and a former deputy prosecutor general, who had testified at the trial.

Korniakova, citing an analysis by a respectful Ukrainian law institute, confirmed the order cannot be officially considered as the directives, de-facto backing Tymoshenko’s account.

“When witnesses start giving absolutely different testimonies then those given to prosecutors during the investigation, it means only one thing: the case has collapsed,” Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Front of Changes, said in an interview with Channel 5.

The news of Korniakova’s testimony was first reported by Ukrayinska Pravda online newspaper.

The chain of events that followed suddenly exposed the Yanukovych administration as the party that had been orchestrating the trial.

An email received by Ukrayinska Pravda with an attached Microsoft Word document denied the report, and insisted that Korniakova had demanded a correction.

“Tetiana Korniakova is shocked by such speculative approach to facts by journalists and demands an immediate apology from Ukrayinska Pravda and to change the headline,” the document stated.

But an inspection of the Word document file, under ‘properties,’ shows the document was written by a ‘user’ at institution ‘STPU,’ an abbreviation that stands for the ‘Secretariat of the President of Ukraine.’

All computers installed at the presidential administration carry the same name of the institution, ‘STPU,’ as has been known from numerous documents sent out by the presidential press service.

The revelation that the Yanuykovych administration has been coordinating testimonies at the Tymoshenko trial or making statements on behalf of witnesses is shocking.

It comes despite earlier repeated assurances by Yanukovych that his administration has nothing to do with the prosecution of Tymoshenko.

The revelation will now most likely be used by opposition groups as the proof that the cases against Tymoshenko and other opposition figures have been politically motivated and ordered by Yanukovych in order to destroy his political opponents.

“The criminal case has collapsed,” Yatseniuk said. “It has stopped being legal, and has become political only.”

“The case has been lost by the authorities on all fronts,” Yatseniuk said. “It has been lost on the domestic front and on the international front as well.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ukraine Mourns 37 Dead In Mine Accidents

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will observe a day of mourning on Sunday for 37 miners killed in accidents at two coal pits in the country's industrial east.

Rescuers at the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya coal mine in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich ordered state flags to be lowered to half mast, while relatives held the first funerals for the victims of Friday's twin disasters, the country's deadliest since 2007.

Authorities also recovered the bodies of the last missing miners at the two sites.

In one accident, a suspected methane gas explosion shook a mine in the Lugansk region, killing 26 workers.

In the other accident, 11 miners were killed when their elevator collapsed at a pit in the neighboring Donetsk region.

Yanukovich has called for a government commission to investigate the accidents.

Ukraine's coal mines are among the world's most dangerous because of outdated equipment and disregard for safety regulations.

Source: Voice of America

Ukrainian Oligarch Takes To The Sky

KIEV, Ukraine -- Igor Kolomoisky, a multi-billionaire with roots in Ukraine’s lucrative industry and energy sectors, took a major step towards forming a new European airline on Friday.

Igor Kolomoisky

Shareholders of Climber Sterling, the financially troubled Danish airline, approved a share issue that will bring Kolomoisky in as a strategic investor with a majority stake.

Kolomoisky is believed to have paid just over $30 million for majority control over the debt-laden airline.

In a statement to shareholders, Climber’s management said that Kolomoisky’s arrival as a shareholder through Mansvell Enterprises, his Cyprus-registered investment vehicle, was more than a step towards keeping the Danish airline up in the air.

The management at Climber Sterling wrote in a letter to shareholders ahead of the vote approving the decision that Kolomoisky plans “to use Climber Sterling as a platform for establishing a larger Nordic airline in collaboration with the two Swedish-based airlines, Skyways and City Airline, already taken over by Mansvell.”

Control over the three regional European airlines, which operate dozens of Embraer, Fokker and MD brand aircrafts, could be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kolomoisky’s plans.

According to Climber, Kolomoisky also owns leading airlines whose routes stretch from Ukraine to other former Soviet countries, Europe and the Middle East.

“Igor Kolomoisky, who also holds interests in Ukrainian aviation through interests in companies such as Aerosvit and Dniproavia, … is also the principal shareholder of a number of Portuguese-based leasing companies,” Climber said its letter.

Aerosvit currently operates a fleet of 16 short-range Boeing 737 and seven longer-range Boeing 767 passenger aircraft.

Along with its smaller Ukrainian airline partners, including Dniproavia, the group also carries passengers on Airbus 320-class aircraft, Embraer 321, 145 and 195s, as well as Ukrainian An-148 planes.

But there could be yet more to this up-and-coming airline tycoon.

Earlier this month, a Latvian publication called NRA, reported that Kolomoisky could, after closing the Climber acquisition, be eyeing air Baltica.

Kolomoisky was not immediately available to comment on his plans. Calls to his mobile went unanswered.

And so, the question in the minds of many airline top managers is: could this Ukrainian known for having deep pockets have plans to consolidate all these regional carriers into one of Europe’s next big low-cost airline?

Source: FT

Ukraine Shows The Fastest FDI Growth In CIS

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is the leader among the Commonwealth of Independent States in the foreign direct investment growth, according to the United Nations trade and development body annual report on global foreign direct investment.

Foreign direct investment flow into Ukrainian economy increased by 35% up to USD 6,5 bln in 2010, making Ukraine one of the leading investment recipients in the CIS region.

Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan are the three leaders in the CIS region as to the amounts of the Foreign Direct Investment inflow.

Ukraine demonstrated an FDI increase in the amount of 35% which is the highest rate for the CIS countries in 2010.

Comparatively, the increase of the FDI flow to Russia in 2010 constituted only 13%, whereas Kazakhstan´s index dropped by 27,5%.

Recently, the global rating agency Fitch Ratings raised Ukraine´s long-term foreign credit rating from stable to positive.

The significantly smaller budget deficit this year has been stated as one of the reasons for the revision of Ukraine´s rating.

Also, the economic recovery and spending restraint along with parliamentary approval of an unpopular pension reform contributed to Fitch´s decision to mark Ukraine´s economic advances.

Notably, according to the World Investment Report 2011, the Ukrainian FDI flow constitutes 23% of gross fixed capital formation.

At the same time, the average rate for the CIS is 15,1% and for the world - 9,1%.

The UN report states that throughout 2010 the foreign investments continued to be affected by the recovery of industries and international trade.

Despite reports that the global industrial production and world trade approached the levels of 2008, the FDI flow at the end of 2010 still remains below its pre-crisis average and far below its 2007 peak.

Ukraine´s progress, according to the experts, is believed to be triggered by the improvement of the macroeconomic situation in the country.

The UN World Investment Reports have been published by the UN since 1991.

They focus on worldwide FDI trends, at the regional and country levels.

The reports contain recommendations as well as put special emphasis on the development implications that influence the FDI trends.

Source: WallStreet Online

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ukraine, Russia Moving Towards Clash As Gas Talks Stall: Analyst

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and Russia are drifting towards another wave of confrontation over natural gas prices as the two governments have failed to make progress in talks over lowering them, an analyst said Thursday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has cancelled plans for visiting Sevastopol in Ukraine on July 31, thus delaying indefinitely a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych.

The rescheduling of Medvedev's visit, which has been planned on July 30-31, is testimony that Kiev and Moscow are far away from a compromise in the gas issue, said Dmytro Marunich, the head of the Energy Research Institute, a Kiev-based think tank.

Medvedev was expected to arrive in Sevastopol, the home of Russian Black Sea naval fleet in Crimea, to celebrate Russian Naval Day, according to a report by the Sevastopol city government.

Yanukovych, who is currently working from his Black Sea summer residence in Crimea, was supposed to meet Medvedev in Sevastopol, according to the report.

The Ukrainian president earlier this month said he had planned to meet Medvedev before the end of July for an important round of natural gas talks.

Oleksandr Dykusarov, a spokesman at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said the two governments are working to schedule the next meeting, but it is unlikely to take place in July.

The meeting may be postponed until the fall, according to an official at the Ukrainian government who asked not to be named.

The delay underscores a major cooling in relations between Ukraine and Russia over the past seven months, which is reflected in the frequency of their meetings.

Medvedev and Yanukovych met only one time so far this year, on April 26, compared with 11 meetings in the course of 10 months in 2010.


Ukraine has been persistently seeking lower Russian gas price over the past 12 months, but Moscow has refused to cooperate.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said earlier this year that Ukraine would be able to qualify for lower gas prices in the event of joining a Moscow-led trade block, known as the Customs Union, or merging Naftogaz Ukrayiny and Gazprom.

Yanukovych has less and less time to strike a deal on lowering prices for Russian gas, Marunich said.

Obviously, all other Ukrainian negotiators have already exhausted their potential for the deal.

Ukraine's budget may have to be revised again in September unless the parties fail to agree on lowering gas prices in the fourth quarter, according to Anatoliy Miarkovskiy, the first deputy finance minister.

This may also have a major impact on the country's currency, the hryvnia, prompting its depreciation against the US dollar and triggering an economic turbulence.

The threat of the hryvnia's devaluation will rise considerably, Marunich said.

Unless the agreement is reached within the next several months, the high gas price may play a role of a trigger that will set off a new wave of economic crisis in Ukraine, he said.

Source: Platts

Massive Potential In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Viterra's European managing director Christian Joerge believes the current cropping boom in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine is only the tip of the iceberg.

A Ukrainian wheat field.

Ukraine has shot to prominence in recent years as a large scale producer and exporter of wheat and barley.

But Mr Joerg, speaking at this week’s Australian Grains Industry Conference (AGIC), said he felt there was still untapped potential in the fertile nation in eastern Europe.

“Ukraine was formerly the breadbasket of Europe, and it can do this again, and maybe fill this role for the world.”

In spite of producing close to 50 million tonnes of grain this year, Mr Joerg said yields were just 20 percent of the European average, due to a combination of a lack of investment and outdated technology.

However, the nation has a huge advantage, Mr Joerg said, due to its fertile soils and good climate for cereal production.

“A third of the fertile cropping soil in Europe is in Ukraine, they have incredible top soil up to two meters deep in places, good water retention and generally favourable conditions.”

Currently, many cash-poor Ukrainian farmers prefer barley, because it is a cheaper crop to grow, but wheat production is on the up.

However, while Ukraine is proving a key source of lower grade, bulk wheat, Mr Joerg said he expected increased global demand to mean added Ukrainian production would not drag world wheat values down.

The nation will have more of an impact on the barley market, where it is already a key player.

Mr Joerg said the end of barley subsidies in the EU meant barley acreages were down there, but Ukraine was happily picking up the slack.

“Barley is an easy crop to grow, and it requires less inputs than wheat.”

Climate change is also unlikely to hurt the nation as much as areas such as Africa and Australia, due to its temperate climate.

Mr Joerg said the Ukrainian supply chain, which has been traditionally regarded as inefficient, was also on the improve.

Source: Stock and Land

173rd Airborne BCT Soldiers Jump Into Ukraine With Paratroopers From 5 Nations

YAVORIV, Ukraine -- More than 200 paratroopers completed the first multi-national airborne operation of Exercise Rapid Trident 11 at the International Peacekeeping and Security center here, July 26.

U.S. Paratroopers of Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, U.S. Army Europe, jump into exercise Rapid Trident with soldiers from Ukraine, the U.K., Moldova, Poland and Canada.

The U.S. Paratroopers of Battle Co., 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, U.S. Army Europe were joined by soldiers from Ukraine, the U.K., Moldova, Poland and Canada.

For many of the Battle Co. Soldiers, it was the first time jumping alongside partner nations as well as their first time having a foreign -- in this case Polish -- jumpmaster.

“This is my first time working with this many partner nations and this is my first time being a jumpmaster alongside a partner nation,” said Maj. Jarrett Hunter, operations officer for 2nd Battalion., 503rd Infantry Regiment.

Though the paratroopers speak different languages, the actions remain the same.

“There are some minor differences in the way we do things, but they coordinated well with our jumpmasters and if there was any slip in the translation of anything, then our jumpmasters would repeat it,” said Spc. Harry Spore, also of Battle Co. “Actually it’s probably one of the best exits I’ve ever had.”

“We started out with rehearsals and a lot of them go through the same commands so it worked out really well,” Hunter said.

“They use the same hand and arm signals, they did a great job I thought, so it felt real good,” said 1st Lt. Colby Park, a platoon leader for Battle Co.

Pfc. Dominick Kuczynski, of Battle Co. helped bridge the language gap, translating for the Polish Soldiers.

“It was a good icebreaker for me to go up to the Polish group and introduce myself and start speaking Polish to them,” he said. “I am Polish as you can tell by my last name, so it was a pretty awesome experience talking to them and socializing with them before the jump.”

It became apparent early, however, that no matter one’s country or language, there’s an automatic sense of kinship that gets built between airborne paratroopers and it was on display from the initial brief to the drop zone.

“It was my first time jumping from a big aircraft but it was great. I liked it,” 1st Lt. Serhiy Shulilvov, of Ukraine’s 95th Airborne Brigade said.

“I think having airborne in common provides a different camaraderie,” Park said. “You have something in common that you can relate to and talk about whether that be your parachutes compared to our parachutes, how you land compared to how we land, it definitely has a lot of talking points.”

“It’s a great time, it’s motivating for our Soldiers, and for the partner nation Soldiers,” Hunter said. “It takes a unique person to throw themselves out of a perfectly good aircraft and that right there will bring different nations’ paratroopers together.”

At the end of the day, all Soldiers and countries involved were able to train together and learn more about each other.

“There’s some minor differences in the way we do things but we’re all out here to jump together and get to know each other,” Spore said. “For them show us how they train and for us to show them how we train.”

“I think it’s great because in both theaters this unit (173rd ABCT) has been deployed in we’ve had to work with different partner nations,” Hunter said.

“This gives the youngest Paratrooper on the ground a chance to understand how our partner nations work and get to understand the level of professionalism that they have, and the partner nations get to understand the level of professionalism we have.”

“It’s an excellent experience,” Kuczynski said. “I was curious to see how our allies actually work together and how they jump and the different techniques they use.”

Source: U.S. Army

Officials: 18 Killed, 20 Missing In Ukraine Mine Blast

KIEV, Ukraine -- A powerful explosion rocked a mine in eastern Ukraine early Friday, killing 18 workers, emergency officials said.

Ukrainian coal miners

Two workers were hospitalized with burns and emergency officials were working to locate 20 other miners who had worked in the area of the explosion.

The blast hit the Suhodilsk-Eastern mine in the eastern Luhansk region at about 2 a.m. local time Friday at a depth of 915 meters (0.6 miles), the ministry said.

Investigators are working to establish the cause of the explosion.

Ukraine’s coal mines are among the world’s most dangerous due to outdated equipment and poor safety standards.

Source: The Washington Post

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Democracy On Trial

KIEV, Ukraine -- Brawling broke out this week at the trial of Ukraine’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, when one of her more vocal supporters refused to leave the courtroom in Kiev.

The case against Yulia Tymoshenko (R) looks political as much as criminal.

Mrs Tymoshenko, who is accused of illegally concluding a gas-price agreement with Russia in 2009, even stood on a bench to film the incident on her mobile phone.

Such farcical scenes have become almost routine in a trial that is being watched closely in Europe and America for signs of selective and politicised justice.

Mrs Tymoshenko is no ordinary defendant.

She was a leading light in the 2004 “orange revolution”. She has twice served as prime minister. She is now Ukraine’s most prominent opposition politician.

Only last year she narrowly lost a tight presidential election to Viktor Yanukovich, a former mechanic who was kept out of power by the orange revolution.

Mr Yanukovich has used his first year as president mainly to cement his own power at home, though he has also tried (not always to great effect) to repair Ukraine’s relations with Russia.

Mrs Tymoshenko’s case, which has been heard on and off in a stuffy courtroom in Ukraine’s capital over the past month, offers a lively but disturbing insight into the country.

Mr Yanukovich’s government has framed the trial as part of a new anti-corruption drive, insisting that it is not revenge for past political slights.

Nor, it claims, is it about torpedoing Mrs Tymoshenko’s chances of competing in a parliamentary election next year or in the presidential vote due in 2015.

Yet Mrs Tymoshenko is not facing charges of straightforward graft.

Rather, it seems as if her political record and managerial competence are on trial.

Specifically, the allegations centre on her second stint as prime minister, from 2007 to 2010, when she was called on to resolve one of Ukraine’s perennial gas disputes with Russia, from which Ukraine buys most of the energy that it needs to keep its creaking Soviet-era economy going.

According to state prosecutors, Mrs Tymoshenko exceeded her authority by pushing the gas deal through without consulting her own government, committing a cardinal procedural error.

To compound her alleged sins, they accuse her of striking a bad bargain for Ukraine, losing the country almost $200m.

She is no stranger either to Ukraine’s sharp-elbowed judicial system or to gas: she spent 42 days in jail in 2001 in a standoff with the then president, and in the previous decade she was known as the “gas princess”.

Mrs Tymoshenko denies all the charges.

Endowed with a flair for the theatrical, she has called the judge a monster and the trial a farce, and merrily flouted court protocol.

For his part, the judge has seemed in a hurry, giving her lawyers inadequate time to study thousands of pages of documents.

Mrs Tymoshenko has filed appeal after unsuccessful appeal and changed her legal advisers twice.

She has likened the proceedings to a Stalin-era show trial, and accused Mr Yanukovich of trying to turn Ukraine into a Soviet-style prison camp.

Although that is hyperbole, it is hard to shake off the impression that her trial is politically motivated.

Several of Mrs Tymoshenko’s former ministers have been arrested and jailed. She faces a series of other criminal charges besides the present case.

Indeed, Mr Yanukovich’s credibility and commitment to democracy are in the dock alongside her.

If at the end of it, he is seen to have used the judicial system to settle personal political scores, his espousal of democracy will look hollow.

As it is, a trial designed to enhance his authority, risks undermining it.

Were Mrs Tymoshenko to be jailed (she faces a maximum sentence of ten years), she is likely to emerge as a political martyr.

And Mr Yanukovich would be stuck with precisely the label that he has worked so hard to shed: that of a neo-Soviet autocrat.

Source: The Economist

Ukraine Starts Upgrading Gas Pipelines, Hoping For EU Assistance

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has launched the first stage of a long-planned project to upgrade its pipelines, which carry Russian gas to Europe.

Reconstruction of the Urengoi-Pomary-Uzhgorod pipeline in Ukraine.

As the cash-strapped national oil and gas behemoth, Naftohaz Ukrainy, has no money for an upgrade costing billions of dollars, Ukraine will rely on assistance from the end consumer, the European Union, while the supplier, Russia, remains an onlooker – at least for the time being.

In order to qualify for European assistance, Ukraine will have to meet the EU condition to start restructuring Naftohaz. If this occurs, it will be difficult for Moscow to take control over Naftohaz’s pipelines.

On July 19 Ukrainian Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, attended a ceremony to launch the first stage of a project to upgrade the Ukrainian section of the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod pipeline.

Work on the pipeline, which carries gas from Western Siberia to the EU, should be completed within three years.

The Ukrainian government estimates the first stage cost at $539 million, of which $231 million is to be contributed by Naftohaz and the rest is expected from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Kiev estimates the total cost of the project to upgrade its pipelines at $6.5 billion, and it should take at least seven years to implement.

Simultaneously, Naftohaz signed a memorandum with the EBRD, according to which the EBRD and the EIB would lend $154 million each for the first stage.

A final agreement, according to which the loans should be issued for 15 years under state guarantees, could be signed later this year if the EBRD’s consultants from Mott MacDonald approve the Ukrainian government’s project for the modernization of the gas transit network, the EBRD representative Anton Usov said.

The EBRD’s London headquarters will take the final decision in September and EBRD representatives do not rule out that additional loans may be issued later for the project.

In order to qualify for European loans for the project, Ukraine has to split the gas transit, gas distribution and gas extraction businesses of Naftohaz according to agreements with the EU reached in 2009.

This is in order to improve the manageability of Ukraine’s gas sector and open the market to Western investors.

If Naftohaz is restructured, European institutions are ready to provide loans totaling $1.7 billion for reforms in the gas sector in Ukraine.

Last year, parliament took the first step toward accepting the EU conditions by passing a law, which provides for Naftohaz’s restructuring.

The government has since delayed the restructuring apparently under Russian pressure, as Moscow offered cheaper gas in exchange for Naftohaz’s takeover by Gazprom, which would not require Naftohaz’s restructuring.

However, talks with Moscow have been difficult.

It remains to be seen whether Kiev will use the agreements with the EU and the start of the pipeline upgrading project as a bargaining chip in the talks with Moscow, or if the agreements with the EU will be fully adhered to.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, speaking at a press conference on July 8, indicated that the EU would be preferred to Russia.

He said Naftohaz would be restructured by separating different activities and he added that later shares of the companies formed in place of Naftohaz would be offered for IPOs at international exchanges.

At the same time, Yanukovych said there would be no merger of Naftohaz with Gazprom, adding that Gazprom’s participation in modernizing Ukraine’s gas pipelines would nevertheless be welcome.

Yanukovych’s statement came as a response to Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller’s offer of cheaper gas for Ukraine and assistance in the modernization of pipelines in exchange for Naftohaz’s merger with Gazprom.

In theory, Gazprom could buy shares in Ukraine’s pipelines in an IPO, but this would not be the same as gaining full control over them through Naftohaz’s merger with Gazprom.

Naturally, Moscow has opposed Naftohaz’s restructuring and is reluctant to participate in upgrading Ukraine’s pipelines jointly with the EU, which would be the best option for Kiev.

While accepting EU conditions, Kiev leaves open the door to Moscow.

Azarov, speaking at the upgrade project launch ceremony on July 19, said he still hoped for Russia’s positive decision on participation in the modernization of Ukrainian gas pipelines.

He recalled that Ukraine had repeatedly invited Russia to participate.

Explaining Kiev’s motives for launching the project without reaching any agreement with Russia, he said Ukraine had no options left as Moscow proceeds with the two projects aimed at diverting the flow of Russian gas from Ukraine – Nord Stream and South Stream.

“We have to demonstrate to our partners both in Europe and Russia all the competitive advantages of our gas transit network,” said Azarov adding “For this, it is necessary to completely overhaul the gas pipeline, which was commissioned 30 years ago”.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

Carrier Set For Maiden Voyage

BEIJING, China -- China is making use of an obsolete aircraft carrier that was bought from Ukraine and is being refitted for scientific research and training purposes, a top military spokesman said on Wednesday.

The undated photo released by Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday shows the refurbished aircraft carrier which the Defense Ministry said will be used for research and training.

"The warship has no problem with sailing since it has been docked in the sea, and the time for its maiden experimental voyage depends on the schedule of the refit," Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said, referring to the Varyag in the northeastern port of Dalian.

The pursuit of an aircraft carrier program would not change the navy's strategy of inshore defense, he said at a news briefing in Beijing.

"Training for carrier-borne aircraft pilots is also in progress," Geng said.

He did not specify who would be named the Varyag's commander.

The official China Defense Newspaper earlier quoted media reports as saying Li Xiaoyan, 50, and Bai Yaoping, 49, were widely seen as top candidates for the post.

Li and Bai are both 1990 graduates of the Chinese military's first course - a three-year program, and the only one so far - to train aircraft carrier captains.

Geng's announcement came days after an article in the Study Times, the official newspaper of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, said the Varyag may soon start sea trials.

The article on Monday referred to the carrier as "China's first aircraft carrier training vessel, Shilang". Shi Lang was a 17th century admiral who reclaimed Taiwan for the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Xinhua News Agency, though, said on Wednesday that the warship is still unnamed.

It is set to receive final adjustments at a shipyard in Dalian "before embarking on its maiden voyage", Xinhua said.

The ex-Soviet Varyag, which remained incomplete when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, was bought for $20 million in 1998.

Ukraine disarmed it and removed its engines before selling the craft to China. The vessel, delivered in 2002, has been undergoing refitting work at Dalian since 2005.

China is the last permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to get an aircraft carrier. Among the other four, the US boasts 11 and the UK, France and Russia each has one in operation.

In Asia, India and Thailand each bought and commissioned an aircraft carrier - in the late 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

"China will inevitably start far behind India's level of expertise in actual carrier aviation and operation," Andrew S. Erickson and Andrew R. Wilson, professors of strategy at the US Naval War College, wrote in 2006 in the Naval War College Review.

Much to safeguard

As the world's largest exporter, second-largest economy and a massive importer of energy, China has to protect its 14,000 km of island coastline and a maritime area of 4.73 million sq km, military officials say.

Nine-tenths of all global trade and two-thirds of all petroleum are transported by sea, figures from the US navy show.

China has the largest maritime landmass among all Asia-Pacific countries. Its mainland coastline is 18,000 km long, compared with Thailand's 3,219 km, India's 6,083 km and the United States' 19,924 km.

Coastal land makes up just 14 percent of the country's land mass, but it supports 44.7 percent of the population and generates 60 percent of GDP, according to Xue Guifang, a professor at Law of the Sea Institute of the Ocean University of China in Shandong province.

Having an aircraft carrier is a necessity for the country, sources close to the military say.

A carrier would facilitate protecting China's own maritime trade and contributing to United Nations peacekeeping missions as a responsible power, said Han Bin, a student in Tsinghua University's department of precision instruments and mechanology and a self-proclaimed military fan.

Citing the deployment of the world's smallest aircraft carrier, Thailand's Chakri Naruebet, on several disaster relief operations, Zhang Xusan, former deputy commander of the Navy of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), said that carriers' "non-war applications" are playing an increasingly important role.

A slow process

The first Chinese proposal for an aircraft carrier dates to 1928. That idea was submitted to the then Kuomintang government by UK-trained Chen Shaokuan, then China's naval commander, but was rejected in 1929.

Chen made two more detailed requests between then and 1945. But his hopes faded as war, chaos and starvation dominated China's interest.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Premier Zhou Enlai and naval commander Xiao Jinguang supported the development of aircraft carriers.

An initial feasibility study was conducted in 1970, but it took decades before China started to refit the Varyag and consider building a carrier.

Prior to acquiring Varyag, China had bought three decommissioned aircraft carriers to study.

Two of them, the former Russian carriers Minsk and Kiev, have been turned into theme parks.

The other, former Australian carrier Melbourne, was bought as scrap and taken apart in the mid-1980s.

Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this month that "there can be a gap" in attempts to match the capability of an aircraft carrier against the "great symbolism" that is inherent in having one.

Chen Bingde, chief of the PLA General Staff Department, said much of China's military technology is similar to what the US was using two to three decades ago.

The Gerald R. Ford and John F. Kennedy carriers of the US, which are being built, feature a new nuclear power plant, electromagnetic catapults and improved weapons movement.

The Varyag is a steam-powered, ski jump-style, medium-sized vessel of the Kuznetsov class, developed in the Soviet era.

Recent reports have said the US navy is weighing a delay of the $10.3 billion Kennedy carrier amid mounting budget pressure.

"Being extremely capital intensive, building an aircraft carrier task force requires both long-term heavy investments and also access to advanced technologies," wrote Swaran Singh, a research fellow for the India-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

Geng, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said on Wednesday that the Varyag project embodies the capability of China's defense technology and will promote the modernization of the PLA.

The ship will be equipped with indigenous Chinese engines, ship-borne aircraft, radar and other hardware, said Cao Weidong, a researcher with the PLA Navy's Academic Research Institute.

The carrier might carry the J-15 fighter, the JT-9 naval trainer and the Z-8 helicopter, according to postings on websites including Xinhuanet, and People's Daily and China Central Television's forums.

Its first task

Aircraft carriers present large, vulnerable targets for an adversary, said Li Qinggong, deputy secretary of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies.

That was one of the forefront issues raised by people who supported development of new types of submarines, which are much more flexible in combat.

Whether it makes sense for China to develop an aircraft carrier at all was the subject of a long-running debate.

The carrier project was postponed once and again, and it took years before it was approved.

"To modernize our national defense and build a perfect weaponry and equipment system, we cannot but consider the development of aircraft carriers," Liu Huaqing, vice-chairman of the country's Central Military Commission between 1989-97, wrote in his 2004 memoir.

Liu, credited as "the father of Chinese aircraft carriers", died in January.

Debates over their utility and roles "are just a tip of the iceberg in the mounting tasks facing aircraft carriers. . . . That's why we attach huge importance to the first carrier's role as a platform for scientific research and staff training," Li said.

One of the reasons it has taken authorities so long to refit the Varyag and confirm its status with the media, he said, is Beijing's hope that major powers and China's neighbors can, over time, understand the country's need to protect its maritime interests without making anyone nervous.

The reconstruction of the aircraft carrier is a long-term project and will have a long way to go before the warship can become operational, spokesman Geng said.

"Both overestimation and underestimation of China's future aircraft carrier have been wrong," he said.

Source: China Daily

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Judge Rejects Prosecution Request To Arrest Tymoshenko

KIEV, Ukraine -- The judge in former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's abuse of power trial has refused a prosecution motion to arrest her for disrupting the proceedings.

Yulia Tymoshenko attends a court hearing in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, July 27, 2011. She can be seen twitting on her iPad.

In his decision in the Kiev court, Judge Rodion Kireyev agreed with prosecutors that Tymoshenko had disrupted and delayed the proceedings while showing disdain for the court.

But he dismissed the prosecution's request, saying the court has other methods available to maintain order and arrest should be used only as a last resort.

Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, has denounced the trial as a pre-arranged farce and accused the judge of being a “puppet” of President Viktor Yanukovych, who, she said, is trying to bar her from challenging him politically.

The 50-year-old Tymoshenko is charged with abuse of power for signing a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors claim was disadvantageous for Ukraine.

The United States has criticized the Tymoshenko trial and other corruption probes involving her and her top allies as having “the appearance of politically motivated prosecutions.”

If convicted, Tymoshenko would be barred from running in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Mr. Yanukovych narrowly defeated Ms. Tymoshenko in presidential elections last year.

Source: Voice of America

Ukraine To Be Seriously Affected In Case Of US Default, Says Tihypko

KIEV, Ukraine -- The pegging of the hryvnia to the dollar and the large share of payments in dollars in Ukraine's foreign trade may have grave consequences for Ukraine if U.S. politicians fail to reach an agreement on raising the country's debt ceiling, as the United States will have to default on its obligations, Ukraine's Vice Premier and Social Policy Minister Serhiy Tihypko has said.

Serhiy Tihypko

"If the Republicans and Democrats fail to agree, it will affect Ukraine: Half of the foreign currency reserves of the NBU in the country are in dollars, half of [Ukraine's] foreign trade is in dollars," he told reporters in Kiev on Wednesday.

"If a compromise is not found, Ukraine will feel it next day already: we have the hryvnia virtually pegged to the dollar, we may find ourselves in a very hard situation," the vice premier, who once governed the National Bank of Ukraine and lead the largest commercial bank of Ukraine.

"But I believe that a compromise will be reached," Tihypko said.

The U.S. Congress has to raise the limit on U.S. borrowing by August 2 otherwise the federal government will run out of money to pay its debts.

Source: Interfax

14 Indicted In California On Charges Of Arranging Sham Marriages For Russian, Ukrainian Immigrants

SACRAMENTO, USA — A federal grand jury in Sacramento has indicted 14 people on charges of arranging sham marriages to immigrants from Russia, Ukraine and Eastern European nations to help them stay in the United States, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said Tuesday.

Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, discusses the indictment of 14 people who were charged with participating in sham marriages to help others gain U.S. citizenship and evade immigration laws, at a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, July 26, 2011.

The indictment was unsealed after the man charged with being the ringleader, Sergey Potepalov, 55, was arrested Monday at his home in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights.

He and the others had “made a business out of marriage fraud” since 2002, arranging at least nine marriages to circumvent immigration laws, Wagner said.

They attempted at least 39 marriages, although not all were included in the indictment, said Dan Lane, assistant special agent in charge of the Department of Homeland Security investigations office in Sacramento.

“We’re not talking about downtrodden people that are looking for a way to get to a better life. We’re talking about people making a profit,” Lane said at a news conference.

“It exploits our generous immigration system that’s designed to help people with humanitarian reasons to come here, compassionate reasons.”

Foreign nationals paid up to $10,000 to Potepalov and an associate, Keith O’Neil, 44, of Sacramento, to arrange for the marriages. U.S. citizens who agreed to the marriages were paid up to $5,000.

O’Neil and Potepalov began doing business after they met at a bar in Sacramento, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel McConkie, who is prosecuting the case.

O’Neil married twice as part of the conspiracy, according to court documents: to a woman from Russia in 2002 and to a woman from Romania in 2007.

In between, he tried to arrange four other fiance visas during three trips with Potepalov to Moscow. All four petitions were denied.

McConkie said two couples married each other in Reno, Nev., in 2007 as part of the conspiracy: Marla Brennan, 30, and her boyfriend, Richard Vargas, 36, both of Sacramento, wed Dumitru Sisianu, 25, and Alina Turcan, 26, who immigrated from Moldova and now live in Jacksonville, Fla.

The grand jury issued the indictments July 14, but the charges were not announced until Tuesday to give federal authorities time to arrest the key figures.

Seven of the 14 are in custody, while the others are being sought. None had listed attorneys with the court.

The defendants include eight U.S. citizens and six foreign nationals in California, Florida and Massachusetts.

The 14 are charged with conspiring to commit marriage fraud, make false statements and induce a foreign national to remain in the U.S.

The conspiracy charges carry maximum sentences of up to 10 years in federal prison.

Prosecutors said participants would marry in Sacramento, Reno or Eastern Europe, then take wedding photos, set up apartments to give the appearance of legitimacy, and rehearse their stories for immigration officials.

“They’re saying that they love each other, but they haven’t necessarily been together for longer than their wedding day,” McConkie said.

The investigation began in 2006 after the U.S. State Department alerted homeland security officials that Potepalov was filing fraudulent visa petitions on behalf of Russian and Ukrainian nationals.

Potepalov ran an immigration consulting business called United International Inc.

None of the foreign nationals faces immediate deportation, authorities said.

Some of their applications for residency or citizenship were denied, while immigration authorities would have to prove that others were in the U.S. under false pretenses.

Source: The Washington Post

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

AIDS Meds Blocked At Customs In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian nonprofit group says the country's customs officials have blocked a shipment of medication for 5,000 patients suffering from HIV.

In this file picture, a young patient who is suffering from AIDS lies on his hospital bed at the AIDS clinic in the northern Black Sea port city of Odessa, Ukraine.

The All-Ukranian Network of People Living with HIV urged Ukrainian authorities Monday to immediately release the shipment, saying the drugs will get spoiled if not stored properly.

The Ukrainian Customs Service said the medication worth $1.9 million has been imported illegally.

The Network says the shipment is legal, but the accompanying paperwork was filled out incorrectly by mistake.

Ukraine has Europe's worst AIDS epidemic with 1.3 percent of Ukrainians above 15 infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the United Nations.

Source: AP

YouTube Keeps A Check On Unruly Sons Of Ukraine’s Elite

KIEV, Ukraine -- Some of the offspring of Ukraine’s leaders seem to be a particularly unruly bunch. Hardly a month goes by without Ukrainian newspapers reporting on their outrageous – if not downright unlawful – behaviour.

Roman Landik, the son of parliament member Vladimir Landik, filmed by a security camera, violently assaulting 20-year-old model and photo editor Maria Korshunova.

But in today's era of security cameras and viral online videos, their actions have less chance of going by unnoticed and unpunished.

Roman Landik, the son of Ukrainian media mogul and parliament member Vladimir Landik (of the ruling Regional Party), was filmed early July by a security camera in a trendy café in the eastern city of Lugansk violently assaulting 20-year-old model and photo editor Maria Korshunova.

In the course of the 14-minute-long video, Landink is seen grabbing Korshunova by the throat, yanking her out of her booth and dragging her by the hair on the floor.

The young woman suffered a concussion and nervous breakdown following the assault, and had to be hospitalized.

The argument reportedly began when Landik, recently married, tried to flirt with Korshunova.

She refused his advances, and can be seen on the video pushing away the drink he insisted on buying her.

This apparently enraged Landik, who threw himself at the young woman.

Initially, Roman Landik minimised the incident, claiming that he had just “taught the girl some manners” (this was also the version of events reported on his father’s TV stations).

But a warrant was issued for his arrest after the video was anonymously uploaded onto YouTube on July 7, prompting Landik to flee to Russia.

He was arrested there a few days later, and has been expelled from the Regional Party, of which he was an active member.

Landik’s father, whose security guards once beat up a police officer who pulled his car over for speeding, now says he failed to "properly educate" his son.

This is not the first time that the son of a high-ranking official is responsible for a serious misdemeanour.

In one of the most shocking incidents to date, Dmitry Rud, the son of a top Ukranian prosecutor, ran over three women with his car in October 2010. All three were killed.

Although witnesses say the women were standing on a road separator, Rud claimed they had suddenly stepped backwards off it to avoid traffic from the opposite lane, and stumbled in front of his vehicle.

Rud was released from prison on July 13, and although his case is still under investigation, human rights activists doubt he will receive a significant sentence.

Yaroslav Minkin is the coordinator of the human rights center “Postup” and the founder of the Facebook group “Fight against possessed mazhors” (mazhor is a Russian slang word for gilded youth).

“I think Landik’s swift arrest and expulsion from the Regional Party was probably just for show. He most likely won’t get a real sentence.

There hasn’t been a single case in Ukraine where an active official – or the close relative of an active official – has been punished for a misdemeanour in accordance with the law.

So this case is very important for Ukraine. If Landik is appropriately punished, then a top official may think twice in the future before committing a serious offence.

That’s why it’s so important to us that Landik receive the sentence that is statutory under Ukrainian law.

We’re pushing for the investigation to be made transparent, we will try to attend every court hearing and inform the public and press of everything that is going on. We really hope that, as a result, this case won’t be hushed up.

After the Landik case made headlines, we began receiving letters and calls from people who had had very similar problems with Ukrainian officials.

Some of them felt it was unfair that their situations hadn’t been equally reported in the media.

We find out about new offenses nearly every week – committed not just by government officials but also by rich businessmen with good connections within the government.

The only difference in this case is that this time, there was a video. It’s impossible, after watching the video, to ignore the fact that this man has committed a crime.

If there were videos containing such undeniable evidence in every other case, it would be much easier to punish unruly officials.

Today, people are afraid of such offenders.

You see in the video that people who witness the beating in the café don’t try to intervene, they just ignore the scene or walk away.

That’s because most people in Lugansk know who Landik is, and fear him.

People are afraid to participate in demonstrations denouncing the problem, or to openly talk about abuse they may have been victims of.

They tell us 'I work for a company owned by Landik’s father', or 'I’m just young, I don’t want any problems.'

Another factor is the deep-running misogyny in Ukrainian society.

Gender violence, especially violence against women, is considered somehow ‘normal’ by many people. But I think that factor played a less important role than sheer fear of Landik’s power.

We have created an activist group based in Lugansk, to fight against the unlawful behaviour of activists and their children.

We have branches in many Ukrainian cities. Journalists, human rights activists, men of law – everyone is sick of this situation and wants such men to be punished.”

Source: France 24

U.S., Polish, Ukrainian Pilots Train For Soccer Tournament Security

STUTTGART, Germany -- While there are some concerns in the soccer community about whether Ukraine’s soccer venues will be ready when it co-hosts with Poland next summer’s Euro Cup — one of the largest soccer contests in the world — U.S. pilots are working with the countries’ air forces to ensure they will be ready.

Air National Guard F-16Cs fly in formation with a Ukrainian SU-27 over Mirgorod Air Base, Ukraine during SAFE SKIES 2011 on Friday. U.S. pilots are working alongside their Ukrainian and Polish counterparts in preparation for the Euro Cup soccer competition next summer. The host countries are responsible for ensuring the air space is kept safe.

In a mix of English, Ukrainian, Polish and Russian, U.S. pilots and their counterparts from Ukraine and Poland are navigating the skies this week in their F-16s and Russian-built MiGs as part of Safe Skies — a mission that focuses on air space protection tactics for high-profile sporting events.

“So far, we’re helping to train and prepare, but we’ve offered to assist and are willing to, if asked,” said Capt. Jack Gaines, a U.S. European Command spokesman. “These kinds of events help everyone figure out how to work together.”

More than 50 air intercept missions are planned during the Safe Skies operation, which will be conducted in both Ukrainian and Polish airspace, according to U.S. officials.

The two-week event kicked off last week, and is the first of its kind in the region and also the first time U.S. Air National Guard fighter planes have flown out of Ukrainian territory, according to a mission spokesman.

About 130 Air National Guard Unit troops from California and Alabama are taking part in the effort.

The pilots are working on tactics that could be used in the event of a plane hijacking.

They also are working on methods for imposing a mini no-fly zone around the sites of the soccer matches, according to Lt. Col. Rob Swertfager, the mission coordinator for the United States.

“Like the Super Bowl for us, you want to make sure you’re defending the people attending the game,” Swertfager said in a telephone interview.

Planning for the Safe Skies mission began two years ago as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, which pairs state guard units with countries around the world.

For EUCOM, the State Partnership Program has become increasingly important as force levels decline in Europe and troops still stationed here frequently deploy downrange.

“The State Partnership Program is a real mission amplifier,” Gaines said.

In addition to tactics, the mission in Ukraine and Poland also helps pilots with different cultural and language backgrounds get comfortable working together in the air, said Col. Victor Hamora, deputy chief of staff for the Ukraine Air Force.

“These exercises will help us to coordinate, exchange experiences and also work on terrorism avoidance,” he said.

Source: Stars and Stripes

Monday, July 25, 2011

Multinational Exercise Rapid Trident 2011 Begins In Ukraine

YAVORIV, Ukraine -- Exercise Rapid Trident 11 kicked off, July 25, with an opening ceremony at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center here.

An international collective of military forces from Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Canada, Georgia, Poland, Serbia, the U.K., Lithuania, Estonia and the U.S. gather for Exercise Rapid Trident 2011. Rapid Trident is a multi-national airborne operation and field training exercise in support of Ukraine’s Annual Program to achieve interoperability with NATO.

"This Partnership for Peace exercise provides all partner nations the opportunity to enhance your capabilities to conduct multi-national and combined coalition operations,” said Kevin Volk, U.S. co-director of the exercise.

“This exercise will leave an impression in the history of rapid trident exercises because this year we will conduct airborne operations,” said Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Nazarkin, Ukrainian co-director of the exercise.

Rapid Trident 11 involves approximately 1,600 personnel and will consist of multi-national airborne operations, situational training exercise lanes and a field training exercise.

In addition to U.S. Army Europe, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and Ukraine, participants include: Latvia, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Canada, Poland, Serbia, the UK, Lithuania, Estonia, California and Utah National Guard and U.S. Air Force Europe.

“It is very important that during this exercise we will be visited by leadership of Ukrainian armed forces and force commanders of participating countries,” Nazarkin said.

Rapid Trident is a joint training and exercise program designed to enhance interoperability among Ukraine, the U.S. and Partnership for Peace member nations.

This exercise will help prepare participants to operate successfully in a joint, multinational, integrated environment with host-nation support from civil and government agencies.

“In this safe training environment, I want us to maximize our cultural exchanges and the opportunity to cultivate new friendships,” said Volk.

“We’re here to show them our skills, professionalism and readiness to fulfill tasks in field conditions. I wish every participant high results in the exercise and success in their military career,” Nazarkin said.

Source: Defense VIDS

Homeless Animals Poisoned To Death In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, has recently seen a dramatic jump in the number of animals poisoned to death.

Homeless dogs in Kiev

Residents of one district in Kiev are calling in between six and eight such cases to the Humane Society every day.

That's a major jump from a few years ago, when they reported only one case in three months.

Asia Sierpinskaya, President, Kiev Society of Animal Welfare says "poisoning with isoniazid has become increasingly popular. This is a drug that is freely available in all pharmacies. It is also called tubazid. For people it's a medicine, but for animals it's a terrible poison. The animal dies within 30 minutes in horrible pain: the bloody foam, terrible cramps."

It is impossible to determine who's poisoning the animals, but animal-welfare advocates blame the government for the problem.

They say that the authorities have not built additional animal shelters.

And if things don't change, animal-welfare activists promise protests.

Tamara Tarnavsky, President, Society for Animal Welfare «SOS» says "if the government does not heed the opinion of animal rights defenders and the normal citizens in this country and abroad, we will initiate a broad protest abroad at Ukrainian embassies in European capitals."

The city runs only one shelter. But animals rights activists set up and manage such facilities by themselves.

Asia Sierpinskaya has been running an animal shelter in a village near Kiev on her own for over 10 years.

And she's been footing the bill for it herself.

About 500 dogs and one hundred of cats have found a home there.

And new animals are continuously being brought in.

Asia Sierpinskaya added "often dogs dumped in the woods go towards the sound of traffic. Some get to the road and wander along it, or even crawl on the road. We stop and collect these dogs and, of course, take them to a shelter."

Here they are fed, sterilized and treated.

Asia Sierpinskaya says "we do the treatments ourselves because the shelter doesn't have the resources for a regular salary for a doctor."

Asia isn't counting on much help from city officials. But City Hall is now considering allocating land for a new shelter for homeless animals.

Source: NTD Television

Trial Puts Tymoshenko Back In The Spotlight

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Orange Revolution fizzled out, but now it is getting a second airing – in a Kiev courtroom.

Yulia Tymoshenko, seen outside the Pechersk District Court in Kiev, says the case against her involves policy matters from when she was in government, not criminal behaviour.

As the land of Nikolai Gogol and the adopted home of Anton Chekhov, Ukraine has long been enthusiastic about its playwrights.

But the theatre now gripping the country has not unfolded on the stage but in a courthouse in the capital, Kiev.

The setting is Pechersk District Court where Yulia Tymoshenko, the country's former prime minister and one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, is being prosecuted for allegedly abusing her power of office.

The drama, which resumes this morning, finished its first act on Friday when – after days of wrangling and increasingly chaotic courtroom scenes – the 50-year-old opposition leader finally heard the charges against her.

She pleaded not guilty and issued an angry rebuke to the courtroom: "This criminal case was made up on the President's order," she cried, her trademark blonde braid wrapped around her head. "The criminal charge is something to be ashamed of."

President Viktor Yanukovych suffered a bitter blow during the Orange Revolution, which saw his 2004 election victory declared fraudulent and annulled by the Supreme Court amid huge street protests.

But in a remarkable comeback, Mr Yanukovych beat Ms Tymoshenko in elections in February 2010, and Ms Tymoshenko and her lawyers now claim that the trial is payback, and part of a broader crackdown on opposition politicians ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.

Supporters have filled the courtroom shouting "Shame! Shame!".

Ms Tymoshenko herself was ordered to leave after refusing to stand to address the bench and for calling the judge a "monster".

The trial continued without her or her lawyers present to witness proceedings.

The government insists the case is part of a general crackdown on corruption.

But the charges against her are unusual as, rather than alleging impropriety for personal gain, they centre on a gas deal with the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2009 which reportedly resulted in the Ukraine losing £118m ($192 million).

It is claimed that Ms Tymoshenko forced the then head of Ukraine's state-owned gas company, Naftogaz, to sign the agreement with Russia's Gazprom without consulting her government.

Ms Tymoshenko questions why matters of policy have become a criminal case and points out that the deal was welcomed at the time by the European Union.

"We in Ukraine had experience of living in the Soviet Union when there were no liberties at all," she told The Independent. "That is why I must now fight for a county built on values: rule of law, freedom of speech, justice."

The trial has seen both the court and the prosecutors accused of a host of procedural violations, provoking stern warnings from the European Commission and the US State Department that they are now monitoring proceedings carefully.

Ms Tymoshenko and her advisers were given less than a week to read the 4,500-page documents that outlined the prosecution case and her application for a trial by jury was refused.

Her original lawyer had to resign after suffering heart problems due to the stress of handling the case.

Moreover, her legal team highlights how the case is not an isolated instance but, they argue, part of a co-ordinated assault on the opposition movement ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.

Eight members of the former government are under arrest and three others banned from leaving the country.

The former economic minister gained asylum in the Czech Republic after being harassed by the Ukrainian authorities.

Yuri Lutsenko, the charismatic former interior minister, was arrested by armed security men shortly before New Year as he stepped out of his family apartment to walk his dog.

His family are candid about the physical effect of his time incarcerated in Kiev's notorious Lukyanivska prison awaiting trial – an impact accentuated by a six-week hunger strike he undertook to try to get his case to court.

His brother Sergei Lutsenko said: "When I see Yuri he does not now look like the same man. His face is gaunt and we worry about his health all the time. The conditions are very bad. His cell is damp and mouldy."

As with Ms Tymoshenko, the charges largely focus on issues of political policy, not personal propriety.

Key to them are the claims, which Mr Lutsenko denies, that he hired a driver who was two years over the pension age and that he permitted the police an unlawful day off.

When in office, he was involved in bringing a case against Boris Kolesnikov – a close ally of Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov – as well as Evgenii Kushnaryov, the former governor of Kharkov, and other high-ranking members of Mr Yanukovych's circle.

His brother believes this is why he has now been targeted. "The only opposition President Yanukovych wants is one in his image," he said. "One he can tell what to say and what not to say."

But if the objective of the recent crackdown was to destroy Mr Yanukovych's political opponents, its effect appears to have been just the opposite.

Ukrainians were damning about the failure of the Orange Revolution's leaders to deliver on their promises.

Ms Tymoshenko's governments were mired in allegations of political infighting and inappropriate behaviour, including by Mr Lutsenko, who allegedly attacked security guards while drunk at Frankfurt airport.

After losing to Mr Yanukovych, Ms Tymoshenko could not even unify the opposition around her.

But now she is again able to portray herself as a victim of oppression and is a national figurehead once more, her face staring from myriad magazine covers.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered outside the court to scream her name, and her Twitter account jumped to 23,500 followers after she started tweeting live from the court.

Requests to interview President Yanukovych or a member of his office had received no response by the time The Independent went to press, but he made clear, when interviewed in Strasbourg recently, that the performance surrounding the Tymoshenko trial would be ended "quickly".

Then, he added, people would be able to see "who is right and who is wrong and we can make conclusions".

If Ms Tymoshenko is found guilty, she faces up to 10 years in jail and would be disqualified from taking part in parliamentary elections next year and a presidential poll in 2015.

If not, the conclusion must be that Mr Yanukovych will face a far more dangerous political opponent than if the drama now unfolding at Pechersk District Court had never taken place.

Ukraine's Turmoil

  • 23 November, 2004: Viktor Yanukovych, right, the prime minister, is declared winner of the presidential election. However, observers report widespread vote rigging and the result is also tainted by the poisoning of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
  • 3 December, 2004: The victory is annulled by the Supreme Court after huge protests on the streets of Kiev – dubbed the 'Orange Revolution'. The re-run was won by Viktor Yushchenko.
  • 4 February, 2005: Yulia Tymoshenko, nominated by President Yushchenko, is approved as Prime Minister. She is later sacked after complaints about government corruption, before being reappointed in 2007.
  • 14 February, 2010: Mr Yanukovych declared President after staging a remarkable comeback, beating Ms Tymoshenko by 3.45 percentage points. Observers said there were no major concerns with the vote but Ms Tymoshenko refused to accept the result.
Source: The Independent

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ukraine Free-rade Deal - A Test Of The EU’s Credibility

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- While events in the Middle East and the Greek financial meltdown continue to monopolise the EU’s agenda, important developments are also taking place in the EU’s Eastern neighborhood as the EU enters the latter stages of negotiating a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Ukraine.

Conclusion and implementation of the DCFTA will not only offer Ukraine a stake in the EU’s single market and significantly strengthen Kiev’s ties with the bloc, it will also send a clear-cut message that Ukraine’s course towards European integration is irreversible as it will clearly signal the geostrategic choice of the country.

Historically, the road to EU membership goes via trade and economic approximation with a free-trade area being the first and core element of integration into the EU for the nations of central and eastern Europe.

Furthermore, the related reforms will help reduce corruption and improve the rule of law thereby creating a more attractive investment climate.

Being the first of its kind to be negotiated between the EU and a country covered by the Eastern Partnership, it is also groundbreaking.

It would set a positive precedent, becoming a benchmark for similar agreements with countries such as Moldova.

The DCFTA covers a wide range of issues in trade in goods and services, as well as tackling obstacles to trade through regulatory approximation.

Due to the importance of ties with the EU, both in terms of trade and investment and the extent of regulatory reforms associated with the DCFTA, the agreement is likely to have a significant impact on the Ukrainian economy.

Over time, the DCFTA will lead to a substantial inflow of capital and expansion of domestic investment in Ukraine.

Furthermore, the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers is likely to lead to substantial expansion of trade in goods and services as well as increase trade turnover, employment and strengthen European competitiveness.

The agreement would also represent the biggest step yet to eradicating the wall that was created after the fall of the Soviet Union.

While countries such as Poland and Hungary were quickly offered a path to the EU, Ukraine was left out in the cold, which gave the impression that a new Iron Curtain had been constructed just a few hundred kilometers to the East from the old one.

Therefore the political, as well as economic, consequences of the DCFTA cannot be overestimated.

After four years of tough talks, the two parties have managed to make many compromises.

However, as the negotiations enter the crucial final stages the EU (or rather, some of its member states), is starting to move the goalposts by increasing efforts to protect certain sectors in their own markets.

Knowing the sensitivity and importance of this agreement for Ukraine, which is already coming under increased pressure, the EU’s negotiators are showing little mercy towards Kiev and continue to push for greater concessions.

While the DCFTA has had until now broad support in Ukraine, including from opposition political parties and big business, cracks are now beginning to appear.

For example, Ukrainian sunflower oil producers are up in arms, protesting that free trade conditions will kill the industry and make thousands people unemployed.

The same dissatisfaction is expressed by agriculture producers or local car makers.

The confectionary industry is also saying that the DCFTA is a one-way road that is not really opening up the EU market for competitively priced Ukrainian sweets.

Nevertheless, Ukraine has now fulfilled almost all of the EU demands and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has set a deadline for his country’s delegation to finish the talks this year, meaning the agreement could be initialed during the EU-Ukraine summit in December in Kiev.

Ukraine has taken on obligations similar to those requested of EU candidates, without demanding the same assistance or favourable conditions.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that unless the EU shows greater flexibility in talks the agreement may be jeopardised as it will become increasingly difficult to have it ratified and implemented in Ukraine.

Moreover, if the Association Agreement, which the DCFTA is an integral part, does not include a reference to an accession perspective - even a very distant one - in the preamble, the credibility of the Agreement and its attractiveness to Ukraine will be weakened.

With elections in both Russia and Ukraine in 2012 there in an urgent need to maintain momentum in the talks.

While the Polish EU Presidency has underlined its commitment to completing the talks with Ukraine, the EU as a whole needs to demonstrate far greater political wisdom and vision and not allow the negotiations to crash in tariff quotas.

Therefore 2011, the 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, will either mark the beginning of real integration between the two partners, or will be remembered as the year the EU failed to fulfill its mission to unite Europe on the East of the continent.

Source: New Europe

Hitler's Bunker In Ukraine Becomes Museum

VINNITSA, Ukraine -- Hitler’s Wehrwolf bunker in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, has become a historical and memorial museum.

A local government official has said that the aim of the exposition is to show the tragic consequences of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine during World War II.

The museum will be financed from the region budget.

The deserted bunker, where Hitler had stayed several times during the war, is drawing lots of people interested in history.

Source: The Voice of Russia

Crimea City Mayor Orders Blacks Off Black Sea Beach

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- The mayor of Ukraine's Crimean city of Feodosia, Alexander Bartenev, has demanded that black men selling souvenirs and other knickknacks to tourists be banned from the beach, the local Kafa newspaper reported on Friday.

A Black Sea beach in Feodosia.

Crimea is a popular vacationing area on the Black Sea coast.

"There must not be a single Negro there! They hit on passersby and won't let the young pretty girls get around them," Bartenev was quoted as saying during a meeting of the Feodosia city executive council.

Deputy Mayor Vasiliy Ganysh told RIA Novosti by telephone that Bartenev had summoned the heads of city law enforcement agencies and ordered them "to stop the activity of African nationals on the city embankment."

"These people - seven men - call themselves refugees; the term of their legal presence in Ukraine expires on August 12. They have already broken residence regulations in Ukraine and were fined for that," Ganysh said.

Source: RIA Novosti

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ukraine Facing Severe Shortage Of Medicine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Hundreds of thousands of hemophilia and cancer sufferers as well as HIV-positive patients are out of medication due to the delay in procuring drugs.

Ukraine has been facing a serious vaccine supply crisis.

In Ukraine, where health care is free, the treatment is provided by the state hospitals.

However - according to the Ukrainian hemophilia union's leader Oleksand Shmilo - when hospitals are facing the shortage of drugs, black markets remain the only hope for the patients.

The shortage of medicines was top on the agenda of the recent governmental meeting.

Meanwhile the health minister Oleksandr Anishchenko claimed that the main reasons behind the medicines supply crisis were non-transparent tenders and overpriced drugs.

He stressed that delays had allowed the government to invite new bidders and lower costs.

The Minister sees the recent shortage a good time to fight corruption and black-marketing in pharmaceutics.

This point is partly shared by experts and patients.

However, they stress that this goal shouldn't be achieved in cost of human lives.

The Minister of Health promises that problem with vaccines will be solved in a month.

Experts however say that the patients cannot wait for a month.

So if the drugs are not supplied immediately, essential therapies will grind to a halt.

Source: PressTV

Ukraine And The South Stream Bogeyman

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The thing that keeps Ukrainian officials awake at night in Kiev is Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline - the fear that the project will finally be constructed and remove gas volumes crossing the former Soviet republic on the way to Europe and thus lucrative transit fees.

“South Stream is more of an alternative to the Russian gas pipeline transiting Ukraine,” Pavel Sorokin, an oil & gas analyst at Moscow’s Alfa Bank, told New Europe on 20 July.

“It was one of the bargaining points with Ukraine and one of the factors which should have made Ukraine more cooperative in the gas questions because, of course, if South Stream was built it would take most of the volumes away from Ukraine which would have significantly worsened the economic situation in the country, as that would take the transit fees for gas away from Ukraine and that could have a disastrous effect for Ukraine's economy.”

South Stream, a pricey joint-project of Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI, is strongly backed by Russia, which has a strong interest in the ambitious project since it would enable larger gas sales to Europe, reinforce its position on the European market, limit access for its competitors namely the EU-backed Nabucco and thus strengthen Russia economically and politically, European analysts say.

It will also strengthen its influence on the countries in Southeast Europe.

Russia has signed cooperation agreements with Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, and Austria. Romania and FYROM are also to be included.

On 19 July, Ukraine independently launched in a symbolic ceremony the modernization of the country's Gas Transportation System (GTS).

The EU predicts that European financial institutions will take positive decisions on allocation of credit means to Ukraine for modernisation of the GTS will be made in late 2011, the EU Delegation in Ukraine said in a statement.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian officials also hope in Russian participation.

South Stream spokesman Sebastian Sass told New Europe on 22 July that their investors - including majors ENI, French EDF and German Wintershall as well as smaller companies from the Balkans - are committed to the Gazprom-led South Stream project.

But in terms of security of supply, the advantage of South Stream is that it is providing diversification of routes, Sass said.

“If you extend existing routes, if you increase the capacity of existing routes, then you will not achieve any diversification... We believe that the advantage of South Stream vis-a-vis upgrading the Ukrainian network is that we provide an additional route option.”

Sorokin added that upgrading Ukraine’s transit pipelines and Russia’s South Stream project are linked.

“I think in a way these two projects are interconnected at least politically and of course Ukraine did oppose South Stream significantly. So Ukraine is indeed engaging or once again considering refurbishment of its gas transit system with the help of Gazprom so that may indicate some agreement being reached between the two sides. We have to wait and see who takes part in the refurbishment, in what form and proportion,” Sorokin said.

Russia has also being pushing for a merger of Ukraine’s state-owned oil and gas firm Naftogaz with Gazprom.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has said Kiev is not planning such a merger.

He added that Naftogaz was interested in cooperation with Gazprom in such joint projects as modernisation of Ukraine's GTS.

Russia has said it is open to discuss modernising Ukraine’s pipelines but added that it will not abandon South Stream.

“Gazprom is definitely interested in securing a major shareholding in the Ukrainian transit and distribution entities but it is hard to say where exactly the talks stand now,” Sorokin said.

For now, Ukrainians will keep tossing and turning during these warm summer nights, worrying that South Stream will be built and, as one source privately said, “We will lose everything.”

Source: New Europe

Ukraine's Only Astronaut Sad To See Space Shuttle Program End

KIEV, Ukraine -- Leonid Kadenyuk, the only Ukrainian citizen to fly into space on a U.S. space shuttle, has expressed regret at the end of the 30-year-old space program, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

Ukrainian astronaut Leonid Kadenyuk.

"I am sorry that this period is ending. These shuttles could have done a lot more interesting and valuable work in exploring space," Kadenyuk told RFE/RL in an interview on July 21 from his home in Kiev.

Kadenyuk made his flight on NASA's "Columbia" in 1997. He said preparation for the flight and the flight itself was "the most interesting period of my life."

The space shuttle program ended on July 21 when the "Atlantis" landed in Florida, marking the last of the 135 space shuttle missions.

Kadenyuk, 60, is a former Soviet pilot who was selected for the Soviet cosmonaut team in 1976.

However, he made his first and only flight into space only after Ukraine became independent and the U.S. government decided to support a joint space mission.

While aboard the "Columbia," Kadenyuk conducted experiments designed to study how a weightless environment affects plant growth and biomass.

Kadenyuk orbited the earth 252 times, logging a total of 15 days, 16 hours, and 34 minutes in space.

Kadenyuk regrets that no Ukrainian citizen was able to follow him into space.

He puts part of the blame on the Ukrainian authorities who, in his view, are currently using only "3-5 percent" of Ukraine's space industry potential.

Commenting on the end of the U.S. space shuttle program, Kadenyuk said it was commercially unfeasible and there were questions regarding the safety of the flights, but overall "these shuttles have done an immense [amount of] work in space exploration."

Source: Radio Free Europe

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ukraine's Tymoshenko Mocks Court In Trial

KIEV, Ukraine -- She refuses to rise when addressing the court, calls the judge a "monster," and is buoyed by supporters' chants of "Shame! Shame!" The judge demands order but fears expelling rowdy spectators because they're national lawmakers.

Yulia Tymoshenko in court.

Yulia Tymoshenko's abuse of power trial is chaotic even by the boisterous standards of Ukraine, famous for its theatrical street protests and parliamentary fistfights.

The charismatic former prime minister is convinced that the trial is a government ploy to bar her from politics, and she's hit upon an unusual defense strategy: mocking the court.

Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, has faced Western accusations of political motives for prosecuting the country's top opposition leader.

But some also see Tymoshenko's antics as undermining her claims to being a champion of Western values of democracy and the rule of law.

Tymoshenko, 50, is charged with abusing her powers in signing a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors claim was disadvantageous for Ukraine.

The terms of the contract can be debated, but few in the West think it's a criminal matter.

Experts in Ukraine and abroad believe the trial's real motive is to disqualify Tymoshenko—as a convicted felon—from upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Tymoshenko has a long and bitter history with Yanukovych.

She was the heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution that sparked a wave of excitement about a new democratic dawn in Ukraine, as protesters thronged Kiev's main square to block the Moscow-backed Yanukovych, accused of stealing the presidential election, from taking office.

Those dreams faded into disillusionment as Tymoshenko, the new prime minister, and her Orange Revolution partner Viktor Yushchenko, who became president, bickered incessantly and dragged the nation into political paralysis.

Yanukovych legitimately beat Tymoshenko and Yushchenko in presidential polls in 2010, but she still remains a formidable political force with a broad support base.

Tymoshenko now accuses Yanukovych of writing her verdict in advance.

"It's not a trial, it's political repression ordered by the president of Ukraine," Tymoshenko, clad in a dazzling white shirt, black skirt and black stiletto heels, her trademark blond braid wrapped around her head, told the court last Friday.

Yanukovych has insisted Tymoshenko's case is part of his anti-corruption fight and promised the trial will be open and fair.

But the court has clearly favored the prosecution and reporters have had a difficult time covering the proceedings, occasionally being expelled from the small, stifling courtroom for no stated reason.

Judge Rodion Kireyev has been rushing the trial, giving Tymoshenko's lawyers very little time to study evidence in the case, making one attorney read 4,000 pages per day, and has rejected most motions filed by the defense.

In response, the acerbic Tymoshenko lashes out at the judge, a 31-year-old with the air of an inexperienced middle-school teacher facing a room of unruly teens.

In a recent session, he spent an hour pleading with Tymoshenko to respect the court and rise when addressing him.

Spectators laughed derisively and shouted.

"The law is the same for everybody, defendant Tymoshenko!" said Kireyev, clenching his teeth and taking deep breaths.

"This is my protest against injustice, corruption and repression," Tymoshenko shot back, staying firmly in her seat.

She also refused to address the judges as "Your Honor"—telling him that "honor must first be deserved."

Tymoshenko, who has always thrived in the spotlight, seems energized by the trial, often addressing the media, not the judge.

After being briefly booted from the courtroom for calling Kireyev a "monster" this month, she compared herself to the victims of bloodthirsty dictators.

"They will try me in absentia," she wrote on Twitter. "Neither Pinochet, nor Stalin, nor Hitler did this. Yanukovych is creating an atmosphere of jail in the entire country."

In a session last week, the courtroom was filled as usual with Tymoshenko's supporters, mostly lawmakers from her party, whose task appeared to be to disrupt proceedings.

"Mr. Judge! An illegal gang of prosecutors is present in the courtroom," one lawmaker shouted.

Ukrainian lawmakers are immune from prosecution and Kireyev has been reluctant to order out the disruptive ones.

On the rare occasions when he does, police hesitate.

One recent time he tried to expel a pro-Tymoshenko lawmaker, he pleaded with the police several times to enforce the decision.

The officers didn't move and an irritated Kireyev stormed out of the chamber.

Some experts say that Tymoshenko, who does not have immunity because she's no longer a lawmaker, is tarnishing her democratic credentials by mocking the courts.

"Both sides have turned this trial into a farce, although this was not initiated by Tymoshenko," said Valeriy Chaly, deputy head of the Razumkov Center think tank in Kiev. "This is discrediting the Ukrainian legal system and Ukraine as a whole."

Three weeks into the trial, Tymoshenko's defense strategy has focused mainly on dragging out and discrediting proceedings by changing lawyers and filing repeated requests to disqualify Kireyev.

Some experts believe Tymoshenko should focus on legal issues to prove her innocence.

"Tymoshenko would be well advised to be above this and demonstrate a completely different level of public behavior in court," said Oleh Rybachuk, a member of Tymoshenko's first Cabinet who has turned into a civic activist.

Source: AP