Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Senator McCain And President Martens Urge For The Release Of Yulia Tymoshenko

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Senator John McCain and the President of the European People's Party (EPP) Wilfried Martens, jointly called on Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office to release on bail Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the Batkivshchyna Party and former Prime Minister, following her dubious detention on August 5, 2011.

Senator McCain (L) and President Martens.

Ukraine has just celebrated twenty years since its independence from Soviet rule.

During these years, the Ukrainian people have been working hard to consolidate democratic freedoms and to anchor their country in Euro-Atlantic structures.

For example Ukraine's membership and current chairmanship of the Council of Europe - the pan-European organization that promotes human rights, democratic development, and the rule of law - is a great achievement of the Ukrainian nation.

Yet, today we are witnessing certain practices from the Ukrainian authorities that are reminiscent of pre-independence rule.

The current trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the judicial practices surrounding this trail, is increasingly seen as selective prosecution of members of the opposition in Ukraine.

Thus, we jointly call on the authorities to release on bail Yulia Tymoshenko.

We expect that her bail conditions will be on par with the bail standards of countries of the European Union, which Ukraine seeks to be associated with.

Furthermore, we urge the authorities to allow Yulia Tymoshenko to exercise her constitutional right to be examined by a doctor of her choice.

The EPP is the largest and most influential European-level political party of the centre right, which currently includes 74 member-parties from 39 countries, the Presidents of the European Commission, European Council, and European Parliament, 17 EU and 6 non-EU heads of state and government, 13 members of the European Commission and the largest Group in the European Parliament.

Source: EPP Press Release

Ukraine Must Pay For 33 Bcm Of Gas Regardless Of Delivery - Gazprom

MOSCOW, Russia -- Kiev must pay for 33 billion cubic meters of gas a year regardless of actual purchases, as stipulated by the contract between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Ukraine's national energy firm Naftogaz, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said on Wednesday.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller.

His comments came in the wake of Ukraine's request for 27 bcm of gas next year, well below this year's 40 bcm.

"Gazprom may supply Ukraine with 26, 27 or 29 bcm of gas in 2012 or supply nothing if Ukraine wants," Miller told reporters.

"In any case Naftogaz of Ukraine will pay for supplies on the basis of no less than 33 bcm. These are take-or-pay terms under the current contract and they will be used this year and for the duration of the contract."

Ukraine has been seeking a revision of its 2009 gas deal with Russia since last spring, saying that the gas price formula is unfair.

Russia has tied the price for gas to the international spot price for oil, which has been rising strongly recently.

Ukraine's presidential administration head Sergei Lyovochkin has said Kiev had set an October 15 deadline for trying to revise the contract, UNIA agency reported.

The date is the start of the heating season in Ukraine.

The 2009 contract was signed by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko who is now on trial for signing it.

Last week Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the contract must be fulfiled but added that discounts were possible if Kiev joined the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and agreed that acquisition of its Naftogaz energy company by Gazprom.

In January 2009, a pricing row between Moscow and Kiev led to a stoppage of Russian gas flows to Europe for about two weeks, tarnishing Moscow's image as a reliable exporter and spurring a European quest for new suppliers.

Gazprom's clients have long been complaining about its long-term contracts which include the 'take-or-pay' principle, saying prices were lower on the spot market.

Italy's Edison recently won a court ruling which helped it cut gas prices.

Germany's E.ON, one of Gazprom's key Western clients, has also gone to court over prices.

Gazprom has recently had to cut prices for Greece.

Source: RIA Novosti

Tymoshenko Arrest 'Obstacle' To Ukraine's EU Bid

JURATA, Poland -- President Bronislaw Komorowski said after his meeting with Viktor Yanukovych in northern Poland, Tuesday evening, that the arrest and trial of Yulia Tymoshenko could be seen as “an obstacle” to Ukraine's further integration with the European Union.

Viktor Yanukovich (far left) with Bronisdlaw Komoerowski (far right) in Jurata, Tuesday.

The two leaders met in the presidential seaside retreat in Jurata on the Baltic coast, where talks ranged over issues connected with Ukraine's bid to complete negotiations on signing an Associate Agreement, free trade and visa waiver deals with Brussels.

President Komorowski told the TVP public broadcaster last night, however, that though Ukraine has made significant progress in some areas in recent years, "There are also obstacles”.

“Undoubtedly, the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko is an obstacle [which] spoils the image of Ukraine abroad and may constitute a major problem to the advancement of Ukraine to the Western world," the president said.

Poland remains a “good friend and role model” for Ukraine, Komorowski added, however, and Kiev's incorporation into the EU and western structures remains one of the priorities during Poland's six-month EU presidency, which began on 1 July.

The Ukrainian newspaper Kommersant writes this morning that President Yanukovich's trip to Poland is the first to a western country since former prime minister Tymoshenko's trial began in Kiev, where she is charged with abusing public office in 2009 when making gas deals with Russia during her term of office.

The newspaper writes that a source close to Yanukovich said that the arrest and imprisonment of Tymoshenko, after she called the judge a “puppet” of the president's regime, was brought up at the meeting with Komorowski.

Tymoshenko claimed yesterday in court that more than 200 pages are missing from a Russian natural-gas contract at the centre of her trial in Kiev.

"You have not provided access to the materials of the criminal case. You gave only 1 1/2, two days to review the materials when you had much more than two days," said one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

US Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain joined a growing list of politicians in America and Europe calling for the release of Tymoshenko amid concerns that the charges are politically motivated.

Source: TheNewsPL

Ukraine General Claims Ex-President Kuchma 'Ordered Reporter's Murder'

KIEV, Ukraine -- The main suspect in the notorious murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000 has alleged that former President Leonid Kuchma ordered the killing.

Leonid Kuchma

Olexiy Pukach, who has confessed to carrying out the killing, testified in court on Tuesday that he was acting on Kuchma's orders, according to a witness in the trial that is closed to the public.

Pukach, a former general at the Ministry of the Interior, was arrested in 2009 after six years on the run and was said by Ukrainian prosecutors to have confessed to personally strangling and beheading Gongadze.

"He clearly said: it was Kuchma," the witness, Olexiy Podolskyi, told RIA Novosti.

Gongadze, an outspoken critic of then President Kuchma, was kidnapped and his headless body was found months later in a forest in September 2000.

The slaying shocked Ukraine and sparked massive street protests.

Three policemen were jailed for the murder in 2008.

Vyktor Petrunenko, Kuchma's defense lawyer, denied the allegations, saying he has firm evidence to confirm the former president's innocence.

Pukach, the head of the ministry's surveillance department at the time of the killing, said Kuchma was in collusion with current parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, now dead.

Prosecutors said last year Kravchenko "instigated and ordered" the crime.

In a separate investigation in March, Kuchma was charged with abuse of power over the murder.

Secret tape recordings were released soon after the killing, in which Kuchma is heard discussing with Kravchenko ways of removing the reporter.

Kravchenko was found dead in 2005, with two bullets to the head, and was said to have committed suicide.

Valentyna Telychenko, a lawyer for Gongadze's widow, Myroslava, said Pukach claimed he had "saved Ukraine" by preventing a government coup that Gongadze had been allegedly plotting with two other journalists.

Source: RIA Novosti

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

PM: Ukraine Plans Two-Thirds Cut In Natural Gas Imports From Russia Due To Price

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Mykola Azarov says Ukraine is planning to reduce imports of Russian natural gas by two-thirds because the price is too high.


Prime Minister Mykola Azarov

Azarov said Tuesday that Ukraine has no choice but to increase coal production over the next few years to make up for Russian gas shipments.

Kiev is seeking to revise a gas agreement with Moscow, signed by the previous government in 2009.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is on trial for abusing office in signing the contract.

She denies the charges, claiming they are politically motivated.

Ukraine is Russia’s key route to export gas to Europe, but Moscow has been anxious to cut its reliance on Ukrainian pipelines.

Kiev’s move could prompt Moscow further to pursue other export routes.

Source: The Washington Post

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry Denies It Started Rumor About French Ambassador's Recall From Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has stated it had nothing to do with rumors about the alleged recall of French Ambassador to Ukraine Jacques Faure due to his support for former Ukrainian Premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

French Ambassador to Ukraine Jacques Faure.

"The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine is surprised by such an interpretation of the situation. We've stated numerous times that we do not know the reasons for which the French president decided to recall the [French] ambassador from Ukraine," Director of the Foreign Ministry's Information Policy Department Oleh Voloshyn told Interfax-Ukraine on Monday, commenting on the situation.

According to him, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry highly appreciates the contribution Faure made to the development of relations between the states.

"During all of his years of work in Kiev he was a real friend to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. And we really hope that his successor would also actively contribute to strengthening the partnership between Kiev and Paris," Voloshyn added.

As reported, in an interview with Ukrainsky Tyzhden Magazine, Faure said that the rumors of his recall from Kiev were started by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

In early August there appeared a report on Faure's recall from the position of the ambassador of France to Ukraine, and among the possible reasons behind the decision to recall the ambassador from Ukraine was the dissatisfaction in Paris with the fact that Faure recently made public comments on the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry confirmed that France had recalled its current ambassador Jacques Faure from Ukraine, but did not mention the reason for the decision.

However, the Foreign Ministry of France refuted the reports about the withdrawal of the country's ambassador from Ukraine and the embassy said that the French ambassador had completed his three-year mission.

Source: Interfax

Ukraine Still Seeking Deal On Trade With Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will seek a compromise trade deal with ex-Soviet overlord Russia, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said Friday after Moscow told Kiev to either join its regional customs union or risk a trade war.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R), and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych greet each other at a presidential residence outside Sochi, Russia's Black Sea resort.

President Dmitry Medvedev last week ruled out a special deal with Ukraine that could allow Kiev to pursue free trade pacts with both the European Union and a customs union comprised of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Medvedev urged Ukraine to become a full member of its customs union, a move that would doom Kiev's plans to sign a free trade deal with the EU.

"Every side has its position, but we certainly must look for compromise," Yanukovych's office quoted him as saying on a visit to Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region.

"The policy of compromise is a policy that allows one to defend his national interests while making concessions on some issues. But these concessions will never come at the expense of Ukraine's sovereignty."

After coming to power in February 2010, Yanukovych tilted Ukraine's foreign policy back toward Russia by canceling Kiev's application to join NATO and signing a deal that extended the stay of Russia's Black Sea navy in Ukraine.

However, Yanukovych declared European integration to be Ukraine's strategic goal, a position he reaffirmed this week in an article written for the Wall Street Journal.

A free trade deal and an association agreement could become his government's first steps in that direction.

But such prospects worry Moscow, and Medvedev has said Russia could use different customs regimes with regard to Ukraine if it refused to join the post-Soviet trade bloc.

Ukraine also depends on Russia for its energy needs and has been trying for over a year to negotiate a discount on the natural gas it imports.

Moscow, however, says this could only happen if Ukraine joined the customs union and allowed Russia's Gazprom to take over the Ukrainian gas pipeline network, which transships most Russian gas bound for Western Europe.

Former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is still in detention in Kiev, having been arrested on Aug. 5 on charges of contempt of court as part of a trial in which she stands accused of violating official procedures when signing a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009.

Source: The Moscow Times

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ukraine Is Losing Its Way

KIEV, Ukraine -- Since President Viktor Yanukovych’s election in 2010, Ukraine has experienced a significant and alarming deterioration in its democratic framework.

Democracy, in Ukraine, is on a decline since Viktor Yanukovych came to power.

Fundamental tenets of a democratic society —freedom of expression, assembly and the press — are increasingly coming under pressure.

Moreover, the prosecution of opposition members, culminating in the arrest and detention of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during a trial that most of the West has deemed politically driven, seems to confirm that the rule of law is being brushed aside.

Given Ukraine’s strategic importance, particularly with regard to European energy security, the country’s fate has become an urgent matter of concern for the West.

Among the most worrying factors underlying Ukraine’s anti-democratic turn are the following:

1. Consolidation of power. After Yanukovych’s election last year, he pressed the Constitutional Court to rescind constitutional changes made in 2004 as part of the settlement that brought about a peaceful end to the Orange Revolution.

By doing so, Yanukovych reversed a consensus to reduce the presidency’s powers and move toward a more parliamentary system.

Instead, Ukraine’s president is now increasingly consolidating his control over the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

2. Corruption. Corruption is endemic in the government. Efforts to combat it are at best half-hearted, and inaction is now having an economic impact.

Foreign direct investment is falling, and the European Union has currently frozen $100 million of financial assistance as a direct result of the administration’s failure to curb graft in public-sector procurement.

3. Increased activity among security organizations. Individuals, nongovernmental organizations and journalists have been either overtly threatened or placed under surveillance.

4. Harassment of opposition parties and independent media. The ongoing criminal proceedings against opposition politicians, including Tymoshenko, together with the impact of changes in the electoral law to favor the president are weakening opposition forces.

Harassment of the independent media ranges from administrative obstruction to much worse.

The disappearance of Vasyl Klymentyev — editor-in-chief of Novyi Styl, a newspaper that focuses heavily on corruption in the Kharkiv region — has never been fully investigated.

Most television channels are in the hands of four groups that have close links to the ruling Party of the Regions.

Valery Khoroshkovsky’s continued ownership of Yanukovych’s Inter Media Group, in addition to his roles as head of the country’s security service and as a board member of its central bank, is an obvious conflict of interest.

5. Oligarchical rule. Large elements of Ukraine’s economy — including exports, energy and the media — are controlled by a small number of people who often have overt criminal connections or direct links to the Party of the Regions.

Such individuals have little incentive to change the status quo, much less commence the much-needed fight against corruption.

6. A weak civil society. While observers believe that further harassment of NGOs is constrained by the administration’s wariness of international reaction, particularly from the EU, the operating environment for civil society organizations remains extremely difficult, and they have no opportunities for genuine inclusion in policymaking.

Ukraine has reached a crossroads. One signpost points toward democracy, while the other toward autocracy.

A clear majority of Ukraine’s citizens favors EU membership, but their enthusiasm is tempered by the absence of a clear EU policy toward Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Yanukovych administration proclaims its willingness to join the EU but has failed to introduce the changes needed to meet the qualifying criteria.

As a result, Ukraine is unlikely to be invited to start membership negotiations anytime soon.

Worse still, the 2010 extension of Russia’s lease on its naval base at Sevastopol in exchange for cheaper gas is indicative of a growing Moscow-Kiev rapprochement with obvious implications for many EU countries’ energy security.

It is in the EU’s vital interest to strive for a far more active policy toward Ukraine.

The current Polish EU presidency should hark back to the origins of Poland’s thriving democracy and recall the essential support that it received from the West a generation ago.

A similar effort is needed for Ukraine today, and that effort should not be set aside for reasons of political expedience or simple economic self-interest.

Source: The Moscow Times

Tymoshenko Unlikely To Avoid Prison, Experts Say

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian political analysts have said Ukraine's former prime minister and leader of the Batkivschyna party Yulia Tymoshenko will probably be sentenced to imprisonment.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (2nd R) attends a court hearing at the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev.

"Judging from the way the trial and the internal political situation around the trial are evolving, the sharp criticism of Yulia Volodymyrivna [Tymoshenko] is increasing," Director of the Penta Center for Applied Political Research Volodymyr Fesenko said at a press conference on Monday.

According to the analyst, the charges brought against Tymoshenko are such that the ex-premier is unlikely to get a mild sentence.

He noted that it was impossible to grant an amnesty to Tymoshenko for the crimes she has been charged with.

Fesenko predicted that there are two ways out of the current situation - either to change the charges, or return the criminal case for further investigation.

At the same time, he stressed that to return Tymoshenko's criminal case for further investigation was theoretically possible, but would require "political will."

"As for Tymoshenko being convicted - this is quite possible," the analyst said.

Director of Kiev Center for Political and Conflict Studies Mykhailo Pohrebynsky disagreed.

According to him, the Criminal Code clearly states that a judge may impose a sentence less than that envisaged by a relevant article of the Criminal Code.

"I believe this is the best option both for the authorities, and for Tymoshenko. I think it is quite possible," Pohrebynsky said.

In turn, director of the Ukrainian Barometer Sociological Service Viktor Nebozhenko said he believed that Tymoshenko would get a prison sentence.

"As for Tymoshenko, it's obvious she'll go to prison," Nebozhenko said.

In this regard, the expert said that there might be a threat to Tymoshenko's life.

"At this point we have to ask whether the same thing that happened to Georgy Gongadze could happen to her," Nebozhenko said.

According to the expert, if this happens, it will lead to a political crisis similar to that faced by Ukraine's second president, Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005), and current President Viktor Yanukovych will be accused of not being able to guarantee Tymoshenko's safety in jail.

Source: Interfax

Tymoshenko Ally To Face Criminal Charges

KIEV, Ukraine -- he authorities will press charges against Oleksadnr Turchynov, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s closest ally, opening a criminal case on Monday, Segodnia daily reported Saturday citing a senior police source.

Oleksadnr Turchynov with Yulia Tymoshenko.

Turchynov is the key person in charge of the Tymoshenko party campaign, and any potential imprisonment may disrupt the party’s preparation for parliamentary elections in October 2012.

Tymoshenko, the chief political rival of President Viktor Yanukovych, has been imprisoned since August 5.

She is on trial for negotiating a controversial natural gas agreement with Russia in January 2009.

“I think they will not stop at Tymoshenko, and will continue to imprison more people,” Mykola Katerynchuk, the leader of the opposition European party, told Liberty Radio on Saturday.

Anatoliy Lazarev, the chief of staff at the Internal Affairs Ministry, said Thursday that Turchynov may be accused of leading a peaceful march of about 3,000 protesters on the Independence Day.

The march was stopped by massive riot police force several blocks from the original place of an opposition rally, and was later dispersed.

Meanwhile, the developments come amid controversy over actions by police that had stopped the protesters on route that had been earlier approved by court.

Also, despite earlier assurances to the contrary, police on Saturday admitted that they used a strong tear gas against the demonstrators.

Lazarev, at a press conference on Thursday, denied any allegations that police may have used tear gas against the protesters.

“Police have not used any special means,” Lazarev said. “There were instructions made prior to August 24, and decision approved that police officers will not be issued means of personal defense.”

But an investigation by Ukrayinska Pravda online newspaper discovered a picture and a video showing that a police officers has been using the tear gas against the protesters.

Confronted by the picture and the video, police had later issued a statement stipulating the tear gas had been used legally.

“The investigation showed that the police officer has acted in line with law,” Volodymyr Polishchuk, the head of public relations department at the Interior Ministry, said.

He explained that the office used the tear gas to defend a fellow police officer that had been allegedly attacked by the protesters.

But opposition leaders vowed to sue police for stopping the peaceful march on the Independence Day.

“We will get to the bottom of this and will sue the police,” Katerynchuk said. “We will bring everybody to justice.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Seeks Azeri Gas To Cut Russian Imports, Kommersant Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is seeking to buy natural gas from Azerbaijan and boost its own output to cut Russian fuel imports in five years, Kommersant-Ukraine reported, citing an unidentified official from the Energy and Coal Ministry.


The country may buy 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from Azerbaijan that would be shipped via a planned liquefied natural gas terminal, the newspaper said.

Gas produced on the sea shelf will help reduce imports by 7 billion cubic meters a year, according to Kommersant.

Shale gas will help reduce imports by 5 billion cubic meters and coal-bed methane by 4 billion cubic meters, the newspaper said.

The power and steel industries will cut gas imports by 8 billion cubic meters a year by switching to coal, according to Kommersant.

Ukraine plans to cut Russian gas imports to 12 billion cubic meters a year by 2017, the newspaper reported on Aug. 23. That compares with about 40 billion cubic meters this year.

Source: Bloomberg

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

VALLETTA, Malta -- Ukraine is a relatively unknown quantity for many Western Europeans. Yet this country is the second largest European country with a population of over 46 million predominantly ethnic Orthodox Christian Ukrainians with a significant presence of ethnic Russians.


Its history is variegated and, due to its geographical location, the country was for centuries subjected to foreign domination be it Polish, Austro-Hungarian and more recently Russian.

Its dream of self-determination had been a long-standing issue that was only realised, almost by default, 20 years ago when the Soviet Union unceremoniously fell apart.

Yet Ukraine’s transition to independence has been anything but smooth.

Its strategic position, contiguous to Russia and at the crossroads of Central and Eastern Russia has made it a country riven by outside interests. Once the food basket of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has swathes of fertile, arable land.

It also has many raw materials and decades of industrial experience. Despite all this, its transition from a planned economy to a market economy has been shaky to say the least.

The first decade of independence saw the average Ukranian’s standard of living plummet while oligarchs emerged to gorge on the nation’s resources. Ukraine’s transition has not been particularly successful for a number of key reasons.

The country seems divided on one central issue.

While it appears that the majority of Ukranians favour a closer union with the West, many forces and interests would rather hang on to their traditional ties with Russia. These economic, political and cultural ties have been forged over many decades of Russian domination dating back to the 18th century.

Neutralising these influences are proving immensely difficult. The transition process was and remains mired with many claims and counter claims of unbridled corruption at the centre of a fragile and delicate political process dominated by a few key but politically strong figures.

Among the personalities were individuals such as Presidents Viktor Yuschenko, Viktor Yanukovych, Leonid Kuchma and twice Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine is back on the international news with the sudden and controversial arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko is a fiery female politician whose sudden rise to political power is the stuff of prime time political intrigue.

The 51-year-old Tymoshenko, an economist by profession, is in a way a product of both pre and post-independent Ukraine.

Starting off as a non-descript state employee she is claimed to have amassed a significant fortune when along with her husband Oleksandr she was involved in the gas distribution trade during the 1990s state privatisation process.

This controversial image as a successful businesswoman during the shady nineties has continued to haunt her and is continuously used against her by her political adversaries.

Tymoshenko entered politics in 1996 and enjoyed a stellar rise. From parliamentary member she rose to Deputy Minister for Fuel and Energy and then leader of her own party (Batkivshchina or ‘Fatherland’ Party).

The economic and political turmoil of the turn of the century led to the Ukrainian Orange revolution − a bloodless uprising that sealed Tymoshenko’s political career. In the last 11 years, Tymoshenko has been Ukraine’s Prime Minister twice; the first for nine months in 2005 and then for three years until 2010.

Yulia Tymoshenko has proved to be a tough political adversary and has survived many attempts to undermine her popularity and tarnish her image in the process.

At one point Tymoshenko even attributed a freak car accident to dark forces operating in the background.

Yet with all this she remains a highly visible figure and enjoys a lot of popularity with the average Ukrainian. Her arrest has now changed the dynamics of the end game.

Tymoshenko was accused of abusing power in 2009, when as Prime Minister she signed unfavourable natural gas contracts during the supply crisis that had engulfed not only her country but also much of northern Europe’s energy supply.

Many, including Tymoshenko, saw this as another attempt by her arch rival, President Yanukovych, to silence her and remove her once and for all from the political scene.

Tymoshenko was eventually arrested on 5 August for contempt of court and remains incarcerated up to this day.

These actions have undermined not only Ukraine’s fledgling democracy but has undermined Yanukovych’s credibility. After all, this was the last of a series of decisions that highlight the President’s almost absolute monopoly on controlling Parliament, the Cabinet and the presidency.

All this has added more pressure on the already strained ties Ukraine has with the European Union, which are jointly formulating a Customs union with a view to eventual EU membership.

The EU has already made it clear that the latest actions against Tymoshenko risk undoing all the hard work that has been achieved so far.

Although in jail after having been refused three applications for her release, Yulia Tymoshenko remains resolute and promises to fight on.

In her recent interview with the EU Observer she condemns the judicial process against her. She speaks of ‘lawless legality’ and attempts at show trials reminiscent of the Stalinist ways of the past.

Clearly, the situation is increasingly explosive and it is yet to be seen what is in store for Yulia Timoshenko and the political process in Ukraine.

Source: Independent Online

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ukrainians Fighting For Gaddafi Captured In Libya, Say Rebels

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Libyan rebels said on Friday they had captured a group of Ukrainian nationals during a battle for a Tripoli district controlled by forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi, a report questioned by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.


Some 200 people were captured during clashes in the Abu Salim district, including several dozen snipers, among whom were 15 Ukrainians, a representative of the opposition Transitional National Council, Yahya Saleh, said.

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday the ministry had “no information” confirming the report about the capturing of Ukrainians in Libya.

“If the capture took place, we would have learned about it from reliable sources,” Oleg Voloshin said, adding that the Ukrainian Embassy in Tripoli also had no information about the allegedly captured Ukrainians.

“If our nationals were found there, we would protect their rights,” he said, stressing that under Ukrainian laws, mercenary activities are considered a criminal offence.

The ministry has also put under question previous media reports that Ukrainian mercenaries were fighting for Gaddafi in Libya, but said it was investigating the information.

In March, the ministry denied media allegations that more than 20 Ukrainian pilots could have been involved in military operations in support of Gaddafi.

Earlier on Friday, Libyan opposition forces said they had established control of the entire Libyan capital.

Abu Salim remained under control of pro-Gaddafi troops for several days since rebel fighters entered Tripoli and seized Gaddafi's residence.

Rebels believed that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, one of the embattled Libyan leader's sons, could have been hiding somewhere in Abu Salim.

But Saleh said after Friday clashes that the whereabouts of Gaddafi's son, as well as Gaddafi himself, still remained unknown.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine's Sich-2 Earth Observation Satellite Sends First Shots Of Earth's Surface

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian Sich-2 earth observation satellite, which was put into a geostationary orbit by Dnepr launch vehicle on August 17 from a Russian launch base, has successfully conducted its first scheduled survey of the Earth's surface.

Ukraine's Sich-2 earth observation satellite.

As Interfax-Ukraine learned at the State Space Agency of Ukraine, the survey was carried out in line with the program of the flight development tests of the Sich-2 spacecraft on August 25 (on the 9th day of the flight).

On the whole, the program of flight development tests is designed for 35 days and envisages the survey of different regions of the Earth, as well as holding various scientific measurements in the frames of the Potential space experiment.

The information received by an onboard sensor was sent from the spacecraft to the ground satellite data receiving and processing centre in the town of Dunaivtsi, Khmelnytsky region.

The survey was taken and processed by the ground equipment, the space agency said.

According to the spokesman, they have already checked basic and backup sets of onboard equipment of Sich-2.

"The checks have been made in full, onboard equipment is functioning properly," he said.

The Ukrainian satellite Sich-2 was successfully launched with a Dnepr carrier rocket from the Yasny launch base in the Orenburg region on August 17.

The satellite Sich-2, weighing 175 kilograms, was developed by the Dnipropetrovsk-based Pivdenne design bureau at the Ukrainian State Space Agency's order.

It is intended to film designated areas on the Earth surface in the visible and infrared ranges.

Ukraine plans to deploy an Earth-monitoring satellite grouping of two-three satellites to work in orbit simultaneously.

Source: Interfax

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ukraine To Seek Trade Compromise With Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will seek a compromise trade deal with ex-Soviet overlord Russia, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said on Friday after Moscow told Kiev to either join its regional customs union or risk a trade war.

Viktor Yanukovych

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this week ruled out a special deal with Ukraine that could allow Kiev to pursue free trade pacts with both the European Union and a customs union comprised of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Medvedev urged Ukraine to become a full member of its customs union, a move that would doom Kiev's plans to sign a free trade deal with the EU.

"Every side has its position but we certainly must look for compromise," Yanukovich's office quoted him as saying on a visit to Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region.

"The policy of compromise is a policy that allows one to defend his national interests while making concessions on some issues. But these concessions will never come at the expense of Ukraine's sovereignty."

After coming to power in February 2010, Yanukovich tilted Ukraine's foreign policy back towards Russia by cancelling Kiev's application to join NATO and signing a deal that extended the stay of Russia's Black Sea navy in Ukraine.

However, Yanukovich declared European integration to be Ukraine's strategic goal, a position he reaffirmed this week in an article written for the Wall Street Journal.

A free trade deal and an association agreement could become his government's first steps in that direction.

But such prospects worry Moscow, and Medvedev has said Russia could use different customs regimes with regard to Ukraine if it refused to join the post-Soviet trade bloc.

Ukraine also depends on Russia for its energy needs and has been trying for over a year to negotiate a discount on the natural gas it imports.

Moscow, however, says this could only happen if Ukraine joined the customs union and allowed Russia's Gazprom to take over the Ukrainian gas pipeline network, which transships most Russian gas bound for Western Europe.

Source: Yahoo News

Ukraine Does Not Need Next IMF Tranche Says PM

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine does not need a new tranche of an International Monetary Fund loan, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Friday, the day after the fund said it would delay its mission to Kiev because of its failure to fulfil loan conditions.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

"Do we need it now? My answer is: we do not need it now," Azarov told journalists.

On Thursday, the IMF postponed its mission to Ukraine to unfreeze a $15 billion loan program from late August to October, as Kiev, which has already received two tranches of more than $3.4 billion each and expected to get another one in September, delays an increase of the retirement age and a rise in household gas prices.

The IMF launched its program for Ukraine last summer but froze it later because of Kiev's refusal to implement unpopular austerity measures.

Since then the government has only met the IMF's budget deficit target.

Plans to increase the pension age to 62 from 60 for men and to 60 from 55 to women were met with rallies.

In July, parliament passed the pension reform bill but parliamentary speaker Vladimir Litvin later said it would not become valid from September as expected for technical reasons.

Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko warned in June that without the IMF loan Ukraine may face a Greek-style crisis.

Source: RIA Novosti

The Ukrainian Blues (And Yellows)

KIEV, Ukraine -- This week a blue and yellow flag appeared on my building. Twenty years ago this flag was illegal here. Ukraine was still part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the flag was a symbol of independence.


On Aug. 24, 1991, thousands of Ukrainians gathered around their parliament building.

They held up a huge blue and yellow flag and chanted pro-independence slogans.

Inside, parliamentarians debated what to do in the wake of a failed coup in Moscow. Late in the afternoon, the parliament declared independence.

The pro-democracy deputies then went outside and took the flag, brought it into the chamber and draped it over the large Lenin statue at the head of the room.

This week Ukraine celebrated the 20th anniversary of its independence, but there is little celebratory spirit going around.

Most Ukrainians are disillusioned with the results of the last two decades. Opinion polls put support for independence from Russia at roughly 50%, from about 90% in 1991.

Malaise and a sense of powerlessness are pervasive among ordinary Ukrainians.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the charismatic co-leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution with the braid, has been behind bars for weeks.

When a government throws a member of the opposition into jail for corruption, in a country rife with corruption on all levels, citizens are reminded of just how vulnerable they are.

Dinner with a high-ranking judge on Tuesday night both horrified and inspired me. My dinner companion, who is known to refuse bribes, calmly explained how the entire legal system is easily manipulated to protect the powerful.

One recent Friday, she told me, she left the office early. While driving home she received a call from her assistant.

The computer system that randomly assigns judges to cases had displayed her name on a high-profile case. She turned her car around.

By the time she returned to the office, the computer system had crashed. On Monday morning another judge's name appeared on the case.

A lot has changed over the past 20 years.

The country introduced some market reforms, though the economy went from being controlled by a few powerful politicians to being controlled by a few powerful politicians' friends—"businessmen," better known as oligarchs in Ukraine.

This coterie also controls most of the country's mass media. More recently, President Viktor Yanukovych's 18-month-old government has begun to roll back the free-speech protections that were introduced by his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko.

Most Ukrainians remain far more free than they were 20 years ago, though many are still poor.

The country is both wealthier and more socio-economically stratified than it was and the cost of living has soared, in some areas to European levels.

But parts of Ukraine also look and feel European, with charming streets, nice cafes, bookstores, restored monuments, gleaming golden-domed churches and 24-hour supermarkets and gas stations.

A graduate student was late to meet me this week because she got stuck in traffic. Graduate students now own cars. A far cry from 1991, when even members of parliament took public transportation and all the flags were red.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ukraine’s President Calls For Closer Ties With Europe

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, says the country's historical connection with Russia is important, but its future depends on closer ties with the European Union.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, foreground, and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych walk during a meeting at a presidential residence outside Sochi, Russia's Black Sea resort on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.

Mr. Yanukovych made the comment in an editorial published in the Wall Street Journal Thursday, one day after Ukraine marked its 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union.

President Yanukovych said he intends to set Ukraine on the path to becoming a member of the European Union.

He said the country's economy is picking up after a difficult recession, with foreign direct investment increasing by 35 percent in the past year alone.

Mr. Yanukovych said his decision last year to remove weapons-grade uranium from nuclear reactors shows Ukraine is serious about global security.

He called his country a “reliable pillar of stability” in eastern Europe.

He also said Ukraine must focus on improving relations with neighboring Russia, describing current relations between the two countries as “unpredictable.”

Mr. Yanukovych added that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, must replace the remnants of Soviet corruption with transparency in government administration, business and the judiciary.

He concluded by saying Europe cannot afford to leave Ukraine behind. He said he wants to see Ukraine become a full-fledged member of the EU.

Supporters of Mr. Yanukovych say he has brought stability to Ukraine since taking office last year.

Critics say he is pushing the nation in an authoritarian direction by restricting freedom of the press and persecuting political rivals.

Source: Voice of America

Yulia Tymoshenko's Trial: Persecuted, But No Martyr

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine celebrated the 20th anniversary of its independence yesterday. But the festivities weren't much of a showcase for freedom.

Ukrainian riot police officers block opposition activists as they try to march on the 20th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union and protest the arrest of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011.

With protests calling for the release from prison of Yulia Tymoshenko, an opposition leader and former prime minister, central Kiev saw a security lockdown.

Metal fences blocked the demonstrators' planned route, and riot-police vans stood on every corner.

The authorities' plan worked: only about 200 demonstrators had made it to Independence Square by the time Ukraine's military orchestra struck up the overture to a night of anniversary pop concerts.

Orange Revolution part two, so longed for by Ms Tymoshenko, would not take place tonight. That did not stop her PR machine from kicking into action.

"Dozens" of demonstrators were injured in clashes with police, they claimed (although later they said simply that there had been a "skirmish").

They wanted to slot into an emerging narrative in western Europe.

Earlier Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, had voiced concern over the rule of law in Ukraine.

Many Western leaders have condemened the treatment of Ms Tymoshenko, who is on trial for abuse of office in signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

Ms Tymoshenko may be pushing her luck, though.

At the weekend she complained of a mysterious illness. Her party allowed the rumour to spread that she may have been poisoned.

Her health was "worsening dramatically", said anxious-sounding members of her press team. Senior European figures, including Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign-policy chief, expressed their worries.

But on Tuesday Ms Tymoshenko's personal doctor gave her a clean bill of health, and there was no further explanation.

Ms Tymoshenko's website is now using the word "torture" to describe her treatment.

Ukrainians are generally less willing than Westerners to see Ms Tymoshenko as a martyr for democracy.

The approval ratings of Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovich, have sunk this year, but hers have not risen.

At its peak yesterday's protest drew no more than 5,000 demonstrators. All this makes the administration's apparent persecution of Ms Tymoshenko hard to understand.

It has catapulted her back into the limelight quite unnecessarily, and drawn international criticism even as Mr Yanukovich reiterates his commitment to Ukraine's eventual EU accession.

One theory is that his government wants to test Europe's resolve on Ukraine, to see how far they can tilt towards authoritarianism before the so-called Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, due to be signed later this year or early next, comes under threat.

An alternative view is that one of Mr Yanukovich's wealthy backers is insisting on Ms Tymoshenko's punishment.

Some have mentioned Dmytro Firtash, co-owner of RosUkrEnergo, the intermediary company that Ms Tymoshenko cut out of gas dealings with Russia. There is no direct evidence for this, however.

Or perhaps it is simply about personal animosity.

"At first they didn't arrest her because they knew [it] would have bad international implications", notes Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta Center For Applied Political Studies, a think-tank.

"But then it seems they just got too annoyed by the way she was behaving in court." Ms Tymoshenko was taken into custody on August 5th, six weeks into her trial.

On Kiev's central Khreshchatyk Street, outside the courtroom where Ms Tymoshenko's trial continues, there are two camps.

Supporters of Ms Tymoshenko wave flags bearing pictures of her and her red-heart logo. Their camp resembles a market: two lines of gazebos and stalls, with various opposition forces represented.

Down the road, the "counter-demonstration" takes place inside two enclosures of black fabric adorned with anti-Tymoshenko slogans in large white lettering. Loudspeakers alternate between atrocious music and recorded speeches.

The sinister black drapes conceal the demonstrators, who are small in number and do not have the appearance of authenticity.

Mostly wearing earplugs, they stand in neat formation, wave their huge flags in unison, and recite their lines to journalists only upon presentation of a press card. "We're here to fight corruption and for justice to be done in this trial", they chant.

Source: The Economist

Israel, Ukraine And The Mysterious Case Of Dirar Abu Sisi

LONDON, England -- Palestinian engineer Dirar Abu Sisi vanished from a train in Ukraine earlier this year. He turned up in an Israeli prison nine days later, but is he really the brains behind Hamas' missile programme, as Israel claims?


Israel accuses Dirar Abu Sisi of hundreds of counts of attempted murder, and of being the brains behind a missile programme run by Hamas.

On the evening of 18 February, a Palestinian engineer boarded a train in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov.

Dirar Abu Sisi was the manager of Gaza's main electricity power plant. He hoped to obtain Ukrainian citizenship, and was travelling on the overnight sleeper to Kiev.

He spoke to a friend on the telephone just as the train was pulling out of the station. All was well, he said, he was settling into his bunk for the night.

But when the train arrived in Kiev the following morning, he was nowhere to be seen. Somewhere along the line, Dirar Abu Sisi had vanished.

'Agents, Secret Service'

"It was strange," said Andrei Makarenko, a young Ukrainian who shared a compartment with Mr Abu Sisi on the train.

Shortly after leaving Kharkov, Mr Makarenko says, three men entered the compartment.

They wore plain clothes. One showed an ID badge claiming to be from the Ukrainian Security Service. They checked Mr Abu Sisi's documents and took him away.

"It was like in a film, like in a book: agents, secret service," Mr Makarenko says. It was the last he or anyone else saw or heard of Dirar Abu Sisi for more than a week.

Nine days later Mr Abu Sisi's Ukrainian wife, Veronika, received a phone call. It was Mr Abu Sisi. He was in prison, in Israel.

It took several weeks for the Israeli authorities to issue an indictment.

When they did, it accused Dirar Abu Sisi of hundreds of counts of attempted murder, and of being the brains behind a missile programme run by Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza.

The Israeli court has since released partial transcripts of Mr Abu Sisi's interrogation sessions, in which he apparently admits to helping Hamas increase the range and accuracy of their rockets, as well as helping the movement set up and run a military academy.

His lawyers, and his wife, say he has nothing to do with Hamas, and knows nothing about rocket technology.

They say Mr Abu Sisi's confessions were obtained under duress while in Israeli custody, and are meaningless.

The Israeli government has refused to comment on the case.

But according to the indictment Mr Abu Sisi acquired his skills as a rocket scientist while studying in Ukraine in the 1990s, in the city of Kharkov.

Mr Abu Sisi did indeed study in Kharkov during that period.

That is where he met his wife Veronika. But at the National Academy for the Municipal Economy, where he studied for his PhD, staff said the curriculum was exclusively concerned with civil engineering.

There were military educational facilities in Kharkov at that time, but the Ukrainian ministry of education says it can find no record of a Mr Abu Sisi having attended any of them.

Link to kidnapped solider

Indeed, in the Israeli transcripts of the interrogation, Mr Abu Sisi is quoted as saying he only visited the military academy on four occasions, for a couple of hours at a time: hardly enough for a rocket scientist.

In Gaza, Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for Hamas, was cautious in his defence of the engineer.

"According to his family, he was not involved in any military actions," he said.

"He was just working in his field in electricity and normal things, but not with rockets or something like that."

But when pressed, he could not rule out the possibility that Mr Abu Sisi had been involved with Hamas' armed wing, without his family's knowledge.

Israel takes attacks on its territory extremely seriously.

Hundreds of rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel in recent years, causing numerous civilian casualties.

But even if Mr Abu Sisi was involved in developing rockets for Hamas, would that be enough for Israel to conduct an international abduction?

Yossi Melman, security correspondent for the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, is dubious.

"Dirar Abu Sisi is not that important," he said. "It's a mystery. I think he was chosen because he was an easy target. It's as simple as that.

"Sometimes the bureaucracy is looking for the lost coin, not where it was lost but where there is a light."

But there is another possibility.

In 2006, Hamas captured a young Israeli soldier in a cross border raid. More than five years later, Corporal Gilad Shalit is still presumed to be held prisoner at a secret location inside Gaza.

Israel has an almost sacred covenant with its service personnel: it does not abandon its soldiers. The Israeli government is desperate to get him back.

The Israeli authorities have never publicly made any connection between the Abu Sisi case and the ongoing efforts to secure the release of Gilad Shalit.

But Mr Abu Sisi's lawyers say that the initial focus of his interrogation did concern the whereabouts of the kidnapped soldier.

Warning from Hamas

So is Dirar Abu Sisi simply the unfortunate victim of mistaken identity? Did he really have no contact whatsoever with Hamas, as his wife and friends claim?

That seems unlikely for an engineer in his senior position, given the fact that Hamas controls Gaza.

The transcripts of his interrogation point to the possibility that Mr Abu Sisi was getting more involved with Hamas than he wanted.

"I tried to cease my assistance to Hamas regarding improving missiles' range," he is quoted as saying.

According to the court transcripts, Mr Abu Sisi mentions one particular member of Hamas' armed wing on a number of occasions: a man by the name of Raed Sa'ad, who apparently tried to dissuade him from backing out of his work with Hamas.

"Raed Sa'ad's answer was that there are many fighters or many people who are killed in strange missions.

"When I asked him what he meant he said: 'Understand that any way you want to,' and added that a man who has children should be afraid for them."

A number of different sources have told the BBC - off the record - that Mr Abu Sisi was detained by Hamas shortly before he left Gaza for Ukraine.

These sources say he was told not to make the journey. Hamas has declined to comment on the matter.

The official Ukrainian response to Dirar Abu Sisi's disappearance has been one of ignorance.

Ukraine's Security Service, the SBU, has denied any role in, or prior knowledge, of his abduction whatsoever.

But Ukraine has made no official complaint against Israel through diplomatic channels.

Security experts believe it is highly unlikely the Israelis could have abducted a man on Ukrainian soil without at least tacit permission.

It is not impossible that Dirar Abu Sisi was in fact a secret and senior Hamas operative.

However, the evidence uncovered in this investigation suggests that - whatever his dealings with Hamas may or may not have been - he was not nearly that important.

Source: BBC Radio 4

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Medvedev Calls On Ukraine To Join Customs Union

ULAN UDE, Russia -- Russia wants Ukraine to become a fully-fledged member of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, President Dmitry Medvedev reiterated on Wednesday.

Dmitry Medvedev

"The Customs Union is the highest form of integration, and we are interested in involving Ukraine, a large European country, a fraternal and friendly state, in the process," Medvedev told journalists.

"But we cannot agree with Ukraine's joining under some kind of 'three plus one,' or 'we'll sign 20 documents and would not sign 30 documents' schemes," Medvedev said.

"No! They should either join bag and baggage, sign in stages, become full members of the Customs Union, benefit from all advantages and incur all obligations or - but that is a different way, it'll create a corresponding atmosphere."

Russia has long been urging Ukraine to join the Customs Union whose members agreed last year to introduce a single customs tariff, an equivalent of Europe's common customs tariff applied to the import of goods across external borders of the EU, tempting its neighbor with the prospect of cheaper gas supplies.

Medvedev said if Ukraine rejected joining the Customs Union, Russia would "use other customs regimes in relation to Ukraine".

"And our Ukrainian partners understand it," he said.

Ukraine is reluctant to become a full member, because such a deal would rule out signing a free trade agreement with the EU, and has suggested cooperating with the union under a 'three plus one' scheme, which would not mean full membership.

Medvedev reiterated he had discussed Russian-Ukrainian relations, including integration prospects, during his recent meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich at the beginning of August.

"The conclusion is that our partners decided to take a pause to think about the current situation," Medvedev said.

The Customs Union is seen by Russia as the first step on the way for the three former Soviet republics to create a common economic space by 2012, which could be compared to the EU's common market for goods, services, capital and labor.

Source: RIA Novosti

Protests For Ex-PM On Ukraine Independence Day

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of opposition activists on Wednesday protested the arrest of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, clouding official celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of Ukraine's independence declaration.

Ukrainian riot police officers block opposition activists as they rallied to mark the 20th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union and protest the arrest of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. The former Soviet republic marks the 20th anniversary of its independence.

Over 5,000 demonstrators, many of them clad in traditional Ukrainian white embroidered shirts, attempted to march on the president's office in Kiev, but were held back by police in riot gear who flooded the city's center.

Smaller groups of protesters were later allowed onto the capital's main avenue.

Tymoshenko's abuse-of-office trial and arrest this month on charges of contempt of court have galvanized Ukraine's notoriously fragmented opposition.

Wednesday's rally attracted a broad spectrum of government critics opposed to President Viktor Yanukovych's government and a trial they see as selective prosecution meant to bar Tymoshenko from upcoming elections.

Tymoshenko issued an appeal from jail, urging unity among the opposition.

She vowed that current authorities will be prosecuted for what she called the crimes they are committing today.

Five years from now, "real, and not political, prisoners will be in jail; today we know their names," she said in a letter posted on her website.

"Happy holiday, my dear ones! This is our holiday! We will prevail, we will win! I promise!" she wrote.

She was arrested Aug. 5 on charges of contempt of court as part of a trial in which she stands accused of violating official procedures when signing a natural gas import contract with Russian in 2009.

Tymoshenko denies all the charges, and the United States and European Union have condemned the arrest and trial as politically motivated.

Yanukovych says the criminal cases against Tymoshenko and a number of her senior allies are part of a government effort to fight corruption.

Tymoshenko's arrest has threatened the prospects of Ukraine's integration with Europe, but Yanukovych maintained Wednesday that Ukraine was on a pro-Western course.

"Our history is inseparably linked with modern Europe," Yanukovych said in a statement on his website. "For centuries the best sons and daughters of Ukraine have dreamt of an independent country which is based on freedom, humanity and democracy. And their dreams have come true."

Ukrainian lawmakers declared the Soviet republic independent on Aug. 24, 1991, days after a failed hard-line Communist coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Ukraine's voters overwhelmingly approved the decision in referendum that December, and it became independent later that month when Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

Source: AP

Ukraine’s Opposition Leader Yulia Tymoshenko Writes Letter Of Hope From Her Prison Cell

KIEV, Ukraine -- "At 5.00 am I am sitting in front of the window 'in a cage' on an iron bench, covered with an old newspaper…” The former prime minister of Ukraine and opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, wrote in an open letter of hope from prison, addressing millions of ordinary Ukrainians and the international community.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (C) greets her supporters as she attends a court hearing at the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev August 23, 2011.

Although she promised an addendum would soon follow, she has since acquired a mysterious illness, the symptoms of which have included vomiting and the explosion of blood vessels across her body, and severe drowsiness.

The court has refused to allow Tymoshenko's doctor to examine and diagnose her.

The heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution was arrested on August 5 and has been held in detention ever since.

Her alleged crime was exceeding her authority in 2009 when, as prime minister, she ended a damaging gas dispute with Russia that saw gas supplies cut off to many households in the European Union.

Indeed, the US and Canadian governments, the European Union, along with other governments around the world, including the Russian government, have criticized the lack of proof towards this allegation and the manner in which the trial has been conducted.

Yulia Tymoshenko's letter describes conditions in the prison, saying that “the cell block is critically over-crowded.” She shares a 15 square meter cell with two other women. She says the “walls of the cell block are smeared with some strange white residue from cockroaches; behind one someone is swearing loudly and vulgarly.”

In her letter she praises those who protest outside the court, sleeping on the streets and even other prisoners who leave messages of support on the prison wall where she takes her exercise.

Ukraine’s “Iron Lady” shows a humble side saying, “Forgive me, those dear to my heart, if somewhere I did not think things through, did not work hard enough, or did something wrong. There was never a double standard in my heart and there never will be.”

Today, Ukraine’s most revered academic, Miroslav Popovich in an interview warned that, if the West is not to intervene in a dramatic fashion, there is what he considers to be a 50/50 chance that the country will become a dangerous, emboldened totalitarian regime.

Seeing as nearly all other Soviet states have already come under one level of authoritarian rule or the other, this would implicitly mean, according to Popovich, mean the dawn of a new and much more destructive Cold War than that which politicians, including Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher took so much pride in having ended for good in 1991.

Message of Hope

Mrs. Tymoshenko says there is hope for the future because the fractious opposition parties have united to support democracy in the region. She thanks her fellow democratic opposition leaders and those abroad for their support.

“We are NOT ALONE in the fight to alleviate neo-Soviet tendencies. I am thankful to the international democratic community,” says the former premier whose party enthusiastically supports closer integration with the EU. “I have been moved by the strong, active, and earnest response of the world,” she added.

Mrs. Tymoshenko ended the letter with a message to the Ukrainian people: “For now I am behind bars, but, with all my heart, standing beside you.” Finally, she thanked those who had gathered flowers for her, “they have forbidden them to be given to me. But, I know they are there.”

Notes

Yulia Tymoshenko leads the Batkivshchyna Party, a pro-European moderate centre-right party promoting free market policies but with a socially responsible agenda. It represents Ukraine’s largest opposition force.

Mrs. Tymoshenko was a key leader in the 2004 Orange Revolution in which Viktor Yanukovych was the loser. In 2005 she became Ukraine’s first female prime minister under President Viktor Yushchenko and served a second term as prime minister 2007-2010, narrowly losing out in the presidential election in February 2010.

Mrs. Tymoshenko’s government ensured media freedoms (now under attack); raised public sector salaries and repealed over 5,000 acts to reduce government bureaucracy.

It fought smuggling and corruption and enacted legislation enabling Ukraine to join the World Trade Organization.

It also spearheaded Association Agreement talks with the EU and presided over Ukraine’s largest transparent privatization.

Her government also began to repay to citizens bank deposits lost when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Since Viktor Yanukovych became president,media censorship has returned and the security services are used to suppress dissent.

This year, the democracy watchdog Freedom House downgraded Ukraine from the list of “Free” states to “Partly Free.”

Source: Democracy4Us

Disappointment In Ukraine Widespread 20 Years After Independence

EDMONTON, Canada -- Twenty years ago this week, the Ukrainian parliament declared independence, following a failed putsch in Moscow. The dramatic move virtually guaranteed the end of the Soviet Union, as Mikhail Gorbachev admitted.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich.

It also raised hopes that the new state of 52 million people would emerge as a democratic and strong country through its strategic location in Central Europe.

The late 1980s saw a cultural revival and a popular movement led by leading writers who spearheaded the move to independence. Catalyzed by the U.S.S.R.'s failure to respond to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, it revisited "blank spots" of the past, such as the tragic famine of 1932-33 and Stalin's purges.

Fuelled by activists from a plethora of informal associations — environmental, political, and religious — it signalled real hope for Ukraine, a resource-rich country endowed with valuable agricultural land. The future seemed bright.

However, two decades of independence have brought deep disappointment. Ukrainian intellectuals are virtually falling over each other with cynical remarks about the rates of corruption, alcoholism, infectious diseases and lack of freedoms.

Conversely, Western analysts seem slightly more upbeat, if only because they compare Ukraine favourably with other former states of the U.S.S.R. like Russia and Belarus, or the monolithic dictatorships of Central Asia.

Despite difficulties, the economy has returned to positive growth. And, the mere fact of survival is an achievement, the longest period of independence in modern Ukrainian history.

It is impossible, however, to avoid an impression of fading optimism.

On the eve of Independence Day, the government banned any public demonstrations other than the official celebration.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and a co-leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution, remains on trial for making a 2008 gas deal with Russia, despite coming down with a debilitating illness.

Her one-time ally and former president Viktor Yushchenko testified against her at the trial, further testimony to the disintegration of the democratic forces.

The president, Viktor Yanukovych, has filled the cabinet with cronies from the Donbas region, few of whom even speak Ukrainian. He appears every inch the Soviet bureaucrat, thuggish and vindictive, and actively using the security forces against his enemies.

The failure to live up to early expectations can be attributed to several factors.

First, there were inevitable teething problems. The parliamentary chair, Leonid Kravchuk, former ideological secretary of the Communist Party, became Ukraine's first president in December 1991.

By declaring independence on August 24, the Communists managed to retain power and remained strong during the following years, paralyzing government and opposing their former mentor, Kravchuk.

Second, Ukraine's eastern cities were a stronghold of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev made his political career in Donetsk; Leonid Brezhnev was born in Kamenskoe — today known as Dniprodzerzhinsk after the founder of what became the KGB, Felix Dzerzhinsky.

These cities fought for supremacy after independence, struggling for control of vital resources in coal mining, ferrous metallurgy and chemicals. The Dnipropetrovsk group triumphed in the mid-90s with then-prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko and deputy energy minister Tymoshenko.

But the notoriously corrupt Lazarenko looted an estimated $200 million from Ukraine in 1996-97 and was eventually tried and convicted in the U.S.

Today it is the Donetsk group that wields power. It suffered a severe setback with the Orange triumph, but the leniency of the Yushchenko presidency ensured its recovery.

There is a notable continuity from former Soviet bosses to the current "clan" leaders of the region. Backed by magnates like Rinat Akhmetov, the Yanukovych regime is interested in empowerment rather than democratic ideals.

Above all it wishes to prevent a return to the Orange movement of 2004.

Third, and crucially, the Yushchenko presidency (2005-10) became mired in fractious disputes and failed to build on the energy created in the streets of Kiev. Not only did it avoid addressing corruption, it failed to bring to trial the main transgressors, and restored Yanukovych to eminence by, improbably, making him prime minister in August 2006.

Fourth, neither the European Union nor Russia under Putin and Medvedev has supported Ukraine adequately. The EU failed to live up to its promises for early membership during the Orange Revolution, whereas Russia started a war over gas prices with the Yushchenko administration, and today is an uncomfortable and intrusive neighbour that seeks much tighter integration with Kyiv.

Critically, the government of Ukraine has failed to enunciate a national vision for Ukraine. On the contrary, Yanukovych and his associates encourage regionalism, divisions, and extremism in order to pose as the voice of moderation.

The growing authoritarianism poses a serious threat to democracy that can no longer be ignored by European leaders or by Ukrainians themselves.

Source: The Edmonton Journal

Official Blames Yulia Arrest On EU Foes

KIEV, Ukraine -- The arrest of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko may have been masterminded by “forces” seeking to avert Ukraine’s integration with the European Union, a senior official at President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration said Monday.

Hanna Herman

Hanna Herman, the top policy advisor to Yanukovych, did not identify the forces, but suggested the plan may have been to “weaken the government” and to push Ukraine in an opposite direction from the EU.

“The whole idea of this story is very simple: to change Ukraine’s pro-European direction towards the opposite direction,” Herman said at a press conference.

Although Herman did not name the opposite direction, many understand that this would be Russia.

Herman drew parallels with a scandal in 2003 when then-President Leonid Kuchma’s bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko had accused Kuchma of selling sophisticated radars, Kolchuga, to Iraq.

The allegations had never been confirmed, but had seriously deteriorated Ukraine’s relations with the US at the time.

Some politicians later questioned Melnychenko’s close ties with Russia’s security services.

“I think that the Yulia Tymoshenko story is very well used by those forces that had wanted to repeat the Kolchuga story,” Herman said.

This is the first time that a senior Ukrainian officials has suggested the possible link between Tymoshenko’s arrest and the attempts to reverse the country’s foreign policy.

Tymoshenko is tried for negotiating a controversial natural gas agreement with Russia in January 2009 as a result of which Ukraine is paying some of the highest gas prices in Europe.

Russia has repeatedly said that the agreement was signed in accordance with both countries’ legislation and cannot be changed.

The developments come amid cooling of relations between Ukraine and Russia over poor progress made in natural gas talks.

Russian leaders, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly called on, or even threatened, Ukraine to change its foreign policy towards greater cooperation with Moscow.

Putin, for example, promised up to $9 billion in annual savings from cheaper natural gas if Ukraine abandons talks with the EU and joins Russia-led Customs Union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The failure to change the policy would force Russia to retaliate and introduce prohibitive trade barriers against many Ukrainian goods, Putin said.

Ukraine planned to sign a free trade and political association agreement with the EU before the end of the year, but the Tymoshenko arrest may delay the process.

“I have one hope that the West begins to understand that the European integration is important for Ukraine,” Herman said.

“One cannot put the fate of one person, even if this is a distinguished and good person as Yulia Volodymyrivna, against the fate of the country, against the direction where the country is moving.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Yatseniuk Registers Bill On President's Impeachment

KIEV, Ukraine -- Front for Change Party leader, Ukrainian MP and former Parliament Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk has tabled in the Verkhovna Rada a bill on a mechanism for the impeachment of the Ukrainian president, reads a statement posted on the party's Web site on Tuesday.

Arseniy Yatseniuk

The bill was registered in parliament on August 23 as No. 9066.

"Over the entire period of Ukraine's independence, the Ukrainian presidents who were elected by the people were above the people, rather than being together with the people. The institution of the president has turned into an institution of benefits, privileges, money and corruption, rather than responsibility, and hard and dedicated work for Ukraine and Ukrainians. The people should finally have a mechanism of control over the president," he said, while explaining the need to pass a law on impeachment.

He said, "the law on the mechanism of impeachment was a way to make every president do what he promised before being elected, and think about Ukraine and its future, rather than about himself and his entourage."

The bill envisages that a fifth of the constitutional composition of parliament (90 MPs) can initiate the impeachment of the president, justifying such a need in written form.

To continue, the procedure will require 226 votes, as stipulated by the Constitution of Ukraine.

The law clearly defines the mechanism of the activities of an ad hoc investigatory commission regarding the impeachment of the president, the legal status of a special prosecutor, special investigators, the chairman, deputy chairman, the secretary and other members of the ad hoc investigatory commission involved in the procedure for the impeachment of the president.

The bill proposes ensuring the openness and transparency of the process of the president's impeachment.

The ad hoc investigatory commission conducts its work in the form of open meetings, while respective decisions are taken by people's deputies in an open roll-call vote.

Yatseniuk noted that Article 111 of the Constitution of Ukraine stipulates that the president can be removed from the post by the Verkhovna Rada in the order of impeachment if he commits treason or another crime.

Article 111 of the Criminal Code defines the term "treason" as an action "deliberately committed by a citizen of Ukraine to the detriment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, defense, public, economic or information security of Ukraine."

"Let's analyze the actions of President [Viktor] Yanukovych as president for the last six months. The decision by Ukraine to reject an independent security policy and declare its non-aligned status, the unconstitutional extension of a lease on the stationing of a foreign military base - the Russian Black Sea Fleet – on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the usurpation of power through the Constitutional Court's decision to return to the old constitution without the will of the people of Ukraine, the unconstitutional creation of a coalition in the Verkhovna Rada in 2010, the extension of the term of the Verkhovna Rada's powers, and the criminal prosecution of opposition leaders and dissidents. Isn't this direct damage to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, defense, public, economic or information security of Ukraine?" Yatseniuk asked.

The explanatory note to the bill says that under the current legislation, the practical realization of impeachment is unlikely and may be considered illegal.

Thus, the adoption of a single normative act aims to eliminate these legal conflicts and loopholes, and to harmonize the provisions of the existing legislation determining the procedure for impeaching the Ukrainian president.

Source: Interfax

Show Trial Continues Despite Health Concerns - US Judge Calls Trial A Circus

KIEV, Ukraine -- The trial of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko continued yesterday despite concerns about the deterioration of her health and the refusal by the authorities to allow her to be examined by her personal doctor.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (C) is seen during a court hearing at the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev.

Meanwhile, the judge again refused to lift a restriction that would release Ms Tymoshenko from custody.

Outside the court a visiting US Federal Judge slammed the trial, branding it a circus.

The twice former premier’s health has deteriorated whilst held at the Lukyanivka detention facility.

There were reports of her vomiting and suffering from a hematoma with bruises appearing on her body, the cause of which is unknown.

However, the party declined to make a definitive statement about the cause of the illness until Ms Tymoshenko has undergone an independent medical examination.

Despite prosecutor Lilia Frolova saying the, “defendant looks quite fine,” Ms Tymoshenko still complained about the mystery ailment that started last week. “I want to inform you as the judge that I have symptoms of an unknown disease which are deteriorating,” said the former premier.

Last Thursday the court was forced to adjourn until Monday because of Ms Tymoshenko’s ill-health.

At the time, Oleksandr Turchynov, the first deputy head of Batkivshchyna told journalists that her health began to deteriorate for unknown reasons.

“Bruises from burst blood vessels appeared all over her body,” he added, “her condition is so bad that she can’t take the short walks that she’s allowed in prison.”

Whilst there has been speculation that Ms Tymoshenko may have been poisoned, party officials have played down these rumours, stressing the importance of an independent medical examination and tests before reaching any conclusion.

So far the authorities have denied her permission to see her family doctor.

Her lawyer, Yuriy Sukhov, said, “Yulia Tymoshenko insists that her health should not become a subject of speculation in connection with the trial.”

He said that the defence demanded that her family doctor of the past 10 years take blood tests to determine the reason for the deterioration in her health.

The former prime minister is being held behind bars for contempt of court.

She stands trial on charges of exceeding her authority when she was prime minister and causing damage to the state of UAH 1.5 billion ($190 million), by signing a gas agreement with Russia in 2009.

The agreement ended a damaging standoff with Russia which saw gas supplies disrupted to EU states.

At the time, Ms Tymoshenko was praised widely for resolving the dispute and removing from the gas trade the controversial intermediary company RosUkrEnergo, while transitioning Ukraine to European market prices for gas with a hefty 20% discount.

The charges are regarded widely as politically motivated.

Many in the international community have expressed alarm at the willingness of the authorities to criminalise what was a political decision.

The goal of the authorities is to crush President Viktor Yanukovych’s main political rival and prevent Ms Tymoshenko from running in the 2012 parliamentary and 2015 presidential elections.

Source: Tymoshenko Party News Release