Friday, September 30, 2011

Ukraine Calls Strategic Pause In Tymoshenko Trial

KIEV, Ukraine -- The trial of Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on a charge of abuse of office, was adjourned on Friday for 11 days to give the political leadership time to ponder its next move in the face of fierce criticism from the West.


Yulia Tymoshenko (C) in Kiev court.

Judge Rodion Kireyev said the trial of the 50-year-old opposition leader would be paused until October 11 at the earliest, and was expected to announce his verdict soon after it resumed.

State prosecutors have asked for a seven-year jail sentence to be passed on the charismatic politician who they allege exceeded her powers as prime minister by forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia to the detriment of Ukraine.

She denies this and says the trial is a vendetta against her by her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovich.

Kireyev gave no specific reason for the adjournment. He said the court would re-convene again "round about" October 11.

But political commentators said it was clearly designed to give Yanukovich and his ruling circle a breathing space in which to consider their options following pressure from the European Union and the United States over the case.

The EU, with which Ukraine is negotiating important agreements on association and free trade, has said these will be jeopardised if Tymoshenko is jailed.

It has urged Yanukovich to push through amendments to the criminal law to re-classify the charge against Tymoshenko to allow her to go free and continue as an opposition politician.

"Yanukovich needs these two weeks to make a decision. He is in a difficult situation in that the prosecutor has asked for a seven-year jail sentence on Tymoshenko," said political analyst Viktor Nebozhenko.

"They (the Yanukovich administration) are looking for a solution ... If he (Yanukovich) puts her in jail she will become at a stroke the most famous dissident in Europe, and who needs that?," he said.

TOUGH MESSAGE

EU officials again spelled out the tough message to Yanukovich on Friday at an 'Eastern partnership' summit in neighbouring Poland.

"We have expressed ourselves very clearly to the authorities of Ukraine that the whole EU, and each of us separately, believe the bad treatment of the democratic opposition and the violation of democratic standards ... may overshadow the final stage of the negotiations (on association agreement)," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a Warsaw news conference.

"We expressed our concern about the fate of the former prime minister and we expressed our rejection of a possible selective use of criminal judicial measures against former government members," said European Council president Herman van Rompuy.

In comments to the court before the adjournment, Tymoshenko, who spoke for four hours on Thursday, said: "The sentence which Kireyev will announce will testify to whether Yanukovich wants European integration for Ukraine."

Yanukovich, who narrowly beat Tymoshenko in an election for president in February 2010, denies he is hounding Tymoshenko and says her trial is part of efforts by his leadership to root out corruption.

"LYNCHING" TRIAL

In an impassioned speech on Thursday, the fiery opposition leader said she was the victim of a "classic lynching trial" which had brought humiliation on the country.

The leadership says Tymoshenko's action in pressuring the state energy firm Naftotgaz into signing a 2009 agreement with the Russian gas giant Gazprom saddled Ukraine with exorbitant prices for gas.

The trial has polarised public opinion in the ex-Soviet republic and led to street demonstrations against Yanukovich.

Tymoshenko, a stylish dresser with a trademark peasant-style hairbraid, is idolised by many older voters, particularly women, in central and western Ukraine.

But, although she is a powerful orator and a shrewd political operator, she can be abrasive and is regarded as a divisive figure even by many other opposition figures.

All the same, many commentators say the trial has turned into a public relations disaster for Yanukovich, drawing criticism from the West and resurrecting Tymoshenko as a political force.

Hundreds of Tymoshenko supporters, with riot police stationed nearby, have been camped outside the courtroom throughout the summer, in solidarity with her.

Source: TrustLaw

Ukraine Judge To Issue Tymoshenko Verdict On October 11

KIEV — The judge in the trial of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Friday he will start reading the verdict from October 11 amid mounting pressure from the European Union for her freedom.

Yulia Tymoshenko is charged with abuse of power over gas deals signed with Russia in 2009.

"The court is going to deliberate until October 11," judge Rodion Kireyev told the court as Tymoshenko shouted "Glory to Ukraine!" to her supporters cramped into the Kiev courtroom who replied "Glory to the Heroes!".

In another of the spats with Kireyev that has marked the three-month trial, Tymoshenko accused the judge of robbing him of her last words as he refused to give her until Monday to prepare a final statement.

"He has de-facto deprived me of my last words," she complained.

Tymoshenko is being tried for abuse of power for signing gas deals with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors say were overly advantageous for Moscow.

EU officials say such accusations should never have been brought to court.

Prosecutors, who have said Tymoshenko sustained a loss to the budget of 1.5 billion hryvnia ($190 million), want a seven-year jail sentence.

Tymoshenko has said the trial is a bid by President Viktor Yanukovych to eliminate his biggest rival from politics forever while the European Union has raised concern about a possible political motivation in the trial.

A conviction would severely endanger Ukraine's hopes of signing an association agreement with the European Union this year which would be a first step towards its goal of joining the bloc.

"What is happening here is a perfect example of dictatorship in Ukraine. No-one is interested in proof, evidence or the law," Tymoshenko told the court earlier.

Earlier in one of the first hints of a compromise solution, Ukraine's ruling party said it was ready to examine the possibility of decriminalising the charges that have been laid against Tymoshenko.

Regions Party deputy chairman Dmytro Shentsev, whose faction holds a clear majority in parliament, said it would examine the move if Tymoshenko was prepared to pay back the losses she caused to the state.

Source: AFP

European Union Looks East At Summit, And Sees Trouble On Horizon

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The idea was to concentrate on closer trade ties and visa liberalization, as leaders of the European Union and six eastern neighbors began two days of talks in Warsaw.

Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych (R) with Belarus' Aleksandr Lukashenko (L).

But instead, the summit appears set to be dominated by the fading prospects for democracy in Ukraine, and the authoritarian tilt of the government in Belarus.

Awkwardly for diplomats, the meetings on Thursday night and Friday coincide with the end of the politically charged trial of Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister and a rival of President Viktor F. Yanukovich.

The trial has highlighted the difficulties facing Western Europeans as they try to coax Ukraine toward liberal democracy and away from the centralized political model in neighboring Russia.

At the moment the West is preoccupied with its debt crisis, to the point that two of its most prominent leaders, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, are skipping the Eastern Partnership Summit, as the gathering in Warsaw has been called.

The European Union has reshaped the continent in the decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall by offering former-Communist countries membership if they embrace democracy and free markets.

But enthusiasm for admitting new nations to the bloc has dwindled.

“The E.U. doesn’t really have a strategy, because it doesn’t have a final objective,” said Nicu Popescu, senior research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to the Moldovan prime minister.

“Some countries ultimately want membership for some of the Eastern partners; others do not.”

By contrast, the recession and fiscal crisis in the West has made Russia a stronger regional force, at least on the surface.

“Because of the way it is governed, it is easier for Russia to present a united front and look more decisive and influential than is perhaps the case,” said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society Institute in Brussels.

“Because the E.U. has lots of different voices, it often looks less influential than it really is.”

Ms. Grabbe said the bloc was making a mistake by grouping together six eastern European and central Asian nations — Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan — with very different aspirations.

Even so, the bloc has earmarked around $2.6 billion in aid for the six countries through 2013.

Political progress has certainly been mixed.

Of the six nations, only Moldova and Georgia show signs of movement toward a European democratic model, Mr. Popescu said: “Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus are consolidated authoritarian regimes, and in the Ukraine there is a rapidly deteriorating situation and a centralization of power. Ukraine is not yet Belarus, but it could be in the next few years.”

Belarus, which once seemed to be gradually moving away from authoritarianism, has lapsed back, with a crackdown on political opposition over the last year.

Its leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, is banned from entering the European Union; the foreign minister was invited to Warsaw, but another diplomat was sent instead.

Though Bulgaria’s foreign minister, Nikolay Mladenov, managed to obtain the release of 13 Belarussian prisoners earlier this month, most diplomats in Brussels see little ground for optimism, and European officials say they plan to step up support for civil society in Belarus.

The Tymoshenko case in Ukraine, Mr. Popescu said, is “an extremely worrying sign that Yanukovich is moving to exert a monopolistic control over politics, to replicate the example of Vladimir Putin in Russia — though actually much faster than Putin did this.”

Ukraine has tried to play the European Union and Russia off against one another, but is reaching some decision points.

It has nearly completed three years of talks on a free-trade agreement with the European Union, while Russia has been pressing Ukraine to enter its customs union instead, with an implied threat of higher energy prices and other tariffs if it does not, Mr. Popescu said.

The choice is not easy: Ukraine exports about the same amount of goods to each side.

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ukraine's Tymoshenko Expects 'Guilty Verdict'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian ex prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said at an ongoing trial on Thursday she does not expect to be acquitted.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Prosecutors on Tuesday called for a seven-year jail sentence for Tymoshenko on abuse of office charges over a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009.

She could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

"It's going to be a guilty verdict," she said.

Tymoshenko also thanked her defense team, as well as independent international rights organizations.

She said she would devote her life to making Ukraine a free country.

Tymoshenko's remarks were repeatedly interrupted by applause from her supporters in the courtroom.

Prosecutors also had demanded a ban on Tymoshenko from holding any positions in public office for three years after her release.

She should also pay $195 million in damages caused to the country by her 2009 gas deal with Russia, prosecutors said.

Tymoshenko has repeatedly denied all the charges against her, saying they are politically motivated.

The United States and the European Union have urged President Viktor Yanukovych to drop the case.

Source: RIA Novosti

Poland, Britain Keeping EU's Doors Open To East

WARSAW, Poland -- Polish and British leaders have urged Ukraine and other states to the European Union's east to embark on far-reaching democratic reforms, promising them that EU membership could be theirs, eventually, in exchange for real progress.


British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Thursday that previous enlargements of the EU have brought "enormous economic benefits" that could be replicated by opening even more eastern markets to the established members of the common market.

He said London remains a strong supporter of eventual membership for Turkey and eastern European countries that adopt EU standards on human rights and the rule of law.

"It is in the EU's clear interest to offer meaningful integration to those neighbors, including through full EU membership, where the criteria are rigorously met," Clegg said in Warsaw ahead of an EU summit.

"The UK is clear: 'no' to a planned pause after Croatia," he said, referring to the next ex-communist country set to join the bloc.

Earlier in the day Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski of Poland stressed that EU membership "at this point is distant" for the countries, some of whom have been backsliding on democratic standards recently.

But, he said, "If you become legally speaking and commercially speaking a little bit like Norway or Switzerland, then things become possible. Of course if you don't, you won't (join)."

Both leaders spoke at a conference organized by local think tanks as European leaders were arriving in Warsaw for a two-day EU summit on the Eastern Partnership that opened with a dinner Thursday evening.

The Eastern Partnership is an initiative launched two years ago by Poland and Sweden aimed at deepening EU integration with six eastern European countries: Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

A former communist country with a leading role in the 1989 revolutions that shook off Communist regimes across Europe, Poland wants to see the eastern neighbors on its doorstep build strong trade and investment ties with the West that would distance them from Russia's sphere of influence.

"This is not a geopolitical project, but it's fulfillment will have geopolitical implications," Sikorski said.

The eastern countries, however, aren't helping their own cause, with Moldova arguably the only country showing real democratic improvement.

Some countries, most notably Belarus, have instead been backsliding on human rights.

Polish leaders hope the summit, which comes during its six-month EU presidency, will spur eastern countries to embrace a pro-Western course.

They also hope to revive interest in the project in Western capitals such as Berlin and Paris, which are more focused these days on upheaval in the Arab world and the financial crisis in the euro zone.

Though Clegg's words were welcome to Polish leaders, Warsaw's officials don't expect London to throw any real weight behind pushing for democratic reforms in eastern Europe.

The summit is to focus heavily on Ukraine, which has been negotiating free trade and association agreements with the EU, a milestone for the former Soviet state in its hoped-for path toward deeper integration with its wealthier neighbors.

The landmark deals, however, are now threatened by signs of Kiev's wavering commitment to democratic standards, including the detention and trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a hero of the Orange Revolution and the main opposition leader in the country of 46 million.

EU and U.S. leaders have criticized the trial against Tymoshenko as politically motivated.

Tymoshenko, in an emotional session of her trial Thursday, accused her longtime political foe President Viktor Yanukovych of "lynching" her to remove her as an opponent.

Yanukovych met with Polish leaders in Warsaw ahead of the summit but did not comment on the Tymoshenko trial.

Tusk said at a joint news conference with Yanukovych that he told Yanukovych that democratic and human rights standards must be "very high" in countries aspiring to EU membership.

"Democratic standards will influence the assessment of the process of integration," Tusk said.

But Tusk largely kept the tone positive.

"All of Europe and those of us in Warsaw have a decidedly good assessment of the political determination of Ukrainian authorities on the issue of integration with the rest of Europe."

Source: AP

Ex-Ukraine PM Maintains Innocence In Court Speech

KIEV, Ukraine -- Choking back tears, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko insisted on her innocence Thursday during her emotional final speech in an abuse-of-office trial criticized by the West.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is seen during a trial hearing at the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev, Ukraine. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has told a court charging her with abuse of office that she is innocent of all charges. Choking back tears, Tymoshenko delivered an emotional key final speech Thursday Sept. 29, 2011, accusing President Viktor Yanukovych of orchestrating her "lynching" to get rid of a political opponent.

The top opposition leader broke with her tradition of refusing to rise when addressing the court, standing up from her seat and turning away from Judge Rodion Kireyev to address the small courtroom, packed with supporters, journalists and foreign diplomats.

She accused her longtime foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, of "lynching" her to get rid of a tough political opponent.

"The president of Ukraine considers me a dangerous political opponent -- and rightly so," Tymoshenko said. "I will devote my life to making sure that Ukraine becomes free."

Clad in an elegant coffee-with-cream dress and jacket, her blond hair wrapped around her head in a trademark braid, she said it was pointless to address the judge, because Yanukovych has already written a guilty verdict.

Tymoshenko, 50, has been charged with exceeding her authority during the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009.

Prosecutors claim that Tymoshenko had not been officially authorized to approve the deal and believe the price she agreed to was too high.

The United States and the European Union have criticized the trial as politically motivated and Brussels has warned that jailing Tymoshenko may cost Ukraine its integration with the EU.

Tymoshenko has spent nearly two months in jail as part of the trial on charges of contempt of court.

Tymoshenko is a charismatic but divisive figure, who was the driving force behind the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought hundreds of thousands into the streets of Kiev to protest fraudulent election results that showed Yanukovych winning.

Although that election was later annulled, Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in a 2010 vote to become president, as Ukrainians grew angry with constant bickering in the Orange camp.

Tymoshenko said Thursday she takes pride in the 2009 contract, because it ended a bitter pricing dispute between Moscow and Kiev that led to severe energy shortages in Ukraine and across Europe.

She says she did not need any special permission for the contract as the country's prime minister.

"At that time I acted legally, logically and effectively," Tymoshenko said. "The crisis was solved."

Her lengthy speech was often interrupted by applause from her supports, prompting Kireyev to demand silence.

Tymoshenko's trial is part of a web of corruption investigations targeting her and her senior aides.

Tymoshenko calls the probe a witch-hunt, but the government insists it is merely fighting corruption.

Earlier in the day, Tymoshenko's lawyer Mykola Siry told the court that the prosecutors' case made no sense and quipped that the people who wrote were mentally unfit.

Siry said that the prosecutors claim that the gas contract was highly unfavorable for Ukraine but that Tymoshenko concluded it in order to gain popularity was absurd.

"It's ridiculous to make such stupid statements and think that somebody will believe it," Siry said.

Source: AP

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

EU Summit Turns Focus To Bloc's Eastern Neighbors

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland is welcoming European Union leaders on Thursday for what is expected to be a key event of its EU presidency: a two-day summit aimed at keeping alive the prospect of the bloc's eastward enlargement.

Ukraine's EU aspirations are now threatened by signs of Kiev's wavering commitment to democratic standards, including the detention and trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The summit in Warsaw is to focus heavily on Ukraine, which has been negotiating free trade and association agreements with the EU — a milestone for the former Soviet state in its hoped-for path toward deeper integration with its wealthier neighbors.

The landmark deals, however, are now threatened by signs of Kiev's wavering commitment to democratic standards, including the detention and trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which EU and U.S. leaders have criticized as politically motivated.

Poland champions deeper integration with Ukraine and other countries on the bloc's eastern periphery, eager to see its post-communist neighbors evolve into stable, prosperous democracies.

Warsaw, however, is finding little passion for its eastern agenda these days among the West European members focused on the Greek financial crisis and upheavals in the Arab world.

A former communist country with a leading role in the 1989 revolutions, Poland wants to see its eastern neighbors build strong trade and investment ties with the West that would distance them from Russia's sphere of influence.

The Eastern Partnership is a Polish and Swedish initiative launched in 2009 to promote greater integration between the EU and six countries: Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.

Fearful of instability and corruption on its doorstep, Poland hopes greater integration could also set the stage for eventual EU membership for some, including Ukraine.

"All our eastern neighbors are European countries and therefore should be offered a European perspective, as we call it. They have the right to become part of the European Union," Roman Kuzniar, foreign policy adviser to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, said in an interview on state radio ahead of the summit.

"Our position, unfortunately, so far is not shared by the majority of the members of the EU."

Polish leaders hope to use the summit to remind Germany, France and other Western countries that the countries east of Poland still matter, while also pushing those countries to reverse recent backsliding on democratic reforms.

Poland had made it a key goal of its presidency to see the talks on the free trade and association agreements with Kiev completed before its six-month EU presidency ends on Dec. 31.

Invigorating the Eastern Partnership and bringing Ukraine closer to the EU are concrete goals Poland can realistically achieve during its presidency, according to Eugene Chausovsky, an analyst with the global intelligence think tank Stratfor.

Poland is not in the euro zone and has therefore been sidelined during the recent European struggle to solve the sovereign debt crisis, leaving it with little chance to assert itself during its presidency, Chausovsky said.

Progress at the summit would also be a welcome foreign policy victory for the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk as it heads toward national elections on Oct. 9.

Tusk's centrist Civic Platform party is leading in opinion polls but has seen its margin over its key rival, Law and Justice, narrow in recent weeks.

Leaders expected at the summit include Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, the head of the Europe Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych will likely face questions about a proposal for legal reforms that he published Wednesday.

Western leaders had hoped they proposed legal changes would open the way for Tymoshenko's release but it now appears they will not affect her.

Olaf Osica, director of the Warsaw-based Center for Eastern Studies, said the participation of so many top leaders attests to the importance of the summit, and said he hopes they will reaffirm that "the East still does matter."

The Eastern Partnership "is about trade, investments, energy — all sectors very important not only for us, as neighbors of the Eastern partners, but also for Western business," Osica said. "We don't have the luxury to sideline the eastern agenda."

Source: AP

Ukraine Ex-Premier's Lawyer Asks Court To Free Her

KIEV, Ukraine -- The abuse of office charges against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are unfounded and absurd, her lawyers declared Wednesday, asking the court to acquit her and release her from jail.

Supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko shouts slogans outside the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev.

Tymoshenko, now the country's top opposition leader, is accused of violating legal procedures in the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009.

Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence her to seven years in prison and bar her from occupying government posts for three years.

Tymoshenko maintains her innocence and says the trial has been orchestrated by her archenemy, President Viktor Yanukovych, in order to bar her from future elections as a convicted felon.

The United States and the European Union have also sharply criticized the trial as politically motivated and officials in Brussels have warned that jailing Tymoshenko may cost Ukraine a landmark partnership agreement with the European Union.

Tymoshenko, 50, a charismatic but divisive figure, maintains her innocence and says as prime minister, she didn't need any special permission for the deal.

She has been in custody since her arrest nearly two months ago on charges of contempt of court.

Tymoshenko's defense lawyer Yuri Sukhov said in his closing speech at the trial that prosecutors have failed to prove her guilt.

Prosecutors have also asked the court to fine Tymoshenko an equivalent of $190,000 (euro140,000) for the damages she allegedly caused the state by signing the contract at a price they believe to be inflated.

Another Tymoshenko attorney, Olexandr Plakhotnyuk, dismissed that request as absurd, saying prosecutors have failed to provide evidence for the alleged damages.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, issued yet another warning to Kiev over the case Wednesday.

"We underline to Ukrainian authorities the need for respect for the rule of law incorporating fair, impartial and independent legal process," she said.

"We also know the danger of provoking any perception that judicial measures are used selectively and we stress the importance of assuring the maximum transparency of investigations, prosecutions and trials."

Hopes for Tymoshenko's release were dimmed Wednesday after it became clear that legal reforms proposed by Yanukovych apparently would not affect Tymoshenko's case.

Yanukovych had floated the idea of decriminalizing certain economic crimes, but the text of his bill posted on parliament's website Wednesday contained no mention of Tymoshenko's charge.

Yanukovych's spokeswoman Darka Chepak confirmed to The Associated Press that Tymoshenko's case will not be affected by the proposed change.

Source: AP

Jail Ukraine's Former Leader, Says Prosecutor

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's state prosecutor has demanded a seven-year jail sentence for former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Supporters of Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko scuffle with police near a court office during a hearing of her trial in Kiev September 27, 2011. Ukraine's state prosecutor on Tuesday asked for a seven-year jail sentence to be passed on Tymoshenko in a trial which the West has warned can rebound on the country's hopes of joining the European mainstream.

Tymoshenko, 50, is charged with abuse of office linked to a gas deal with Russia in January 2009 which the leadership of president Viktor Yanukovich claims saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas. She denies all the charges.

The United States and the European Union view the trial as politically motivated and have urged Mr Yanukovich to find a way of ending the case against her.

But when the trial resumed yesterday after a two-week break, prosecutor Liliya Frolova said the charges against Tymoshenko had been "fully proven" and called for her to be jailed for seven years.

Tymoshenko, who lost a bitter campaign for the presidency to Yanukovich in February 2010 and has denounced the trial as a vendetta, told the court: "This is a continuation of political repression and I am convinced that they are doing this on the orders of President Yanukovich."

Many commentators say the trial has turned into a public relations disaster for Yanukovich, bringing criticism from the West and resurrecting Tymoshenko as a political force.

Source: News Scotsman

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tmoshenko Trial Enters Final Stage In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine began final hearings Tuesday in the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko after a two-week suspension that saw Kiev come under renewed EU pressure to release the opposition leader and ex-premier.

Ukrainian police tussle with supporters of Yulia Tymoshenko outside the Pechersk district court in Kiev. Ukraine has begun final hearings in the trial of Tymoshenko after a two-week suspension that saw Kiev come under renewed EU pressure to release the opposition leader and ex-premier.

The session began with the defence filing an unsuccessful attempt to submit new evidence clearing Tymoshenko's name and continued with closing arguments and the planned announcement of the formal indictment.

"The state prosecution believes that the defendant's guilt has been fully proven by witness testimony and the evidence," prosecutor Liliya Frolova told the court.

Tymoshenko's abuse of power trial has set the current leadership at odds with the European Union in the heat of crunch negotiations on Ukraine taking the first step towards European Union membership.

The one-time Orange Revolution leader argues that the charges against her are a political vendetta launched against her by great rival and current head of state Viktor Yanukovych -- a charge the president denies.

But a visiting EU official warned earlier this month that if Tymoshenko was convicted and jailed it could deal a major blow to Kiev's EU integration plans.

"If this issue is not being solved and if she indeed is put in prison... it would be problematic," European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said during a visit to the Black Sea city of Yalta.

"It would seem to many totally incompatible with the very values that are the basis for the agreement," Fule said.

His comments prompted Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to remark that he viewed links between his country's European aspirations and the trial as "immoral".

Tymoshenko's second stint as prime minister ended in March 2010 when she lost a closely fought presidential election to Yanukovych -- a leader who was believed to favour closer relations with Moscow.

The new government then launched a series of probes into Tymoshenko's assistants and charged the former prime minister on three counts. Hearings on the abuse of office charge began on June 24.

She was arrested for contempt of court on August 5 after repeated confrontations with the judge and has since been held in a Kiev holding cell.

Yanukovych meanwhile has been busy negotiating closer EU ties after rebuffing Russia's efforts to pull Ukraine into a Moscow-led economic union and win ownership rights of its neighbour's gas transmission network.

Source: AFP

Ukraine Is The Stake In The Eastern Partnership

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- There is a full unanimity among analysts in Europe that in a broader perspective it depends on Ukraine the Eastern Partnership to succeed, and in a closer perspective - Ukraine's success will depend on the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of the country.

Viktor Yanukovich (L) with Herman Van Rompuy of the European Union.

As Martin Simecka wrote in the Prague-based magazine Respekt, "whether Ukraine with its nearly fifty million people will end up under the control of Russia or within the EU’s sphere of influence will settle the fate of the remainder of eastern Europe’s smaller countries, like Moldova, Belarus and Georgia".

Currently Ukraine is in a very tough situation.

In Russia, next year there will be presidential elections and, as it became clear recently, President Dmitry Medvedev ceded the right to PM Vladimir Putin to run for a third presidential term.

A fact that will have a huge impact on the processes in Ukraine.

On the other hand, the European Union, who has the pretences of being a champion of democratic transformation, is somehow distant, and today it is totally consumed by its numerous problems - from the debt crisis in the eurozone and the expectations of a Greek default, via the Arab Spring and the test with the inflows of refugees and migrants, to the global feeling of an upcoming crisis.

In this entire context on September 29-30, in Warsaw the summit between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries will take place and Ukraine will be in the spotlight.

Why?

As Amanda Paul and Vasyl Belmega point out, with the European Policy Centre, Ukraine is the first country in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) that is negotiating on a deeper and comprehensive free trade agreement (DCFTA), separately from the Association Agreement.

This agreement will significantly boost Ukraine's relations with the EU, because free trade was a core element of the integration of the countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

The agreement will open the doors for significant flows of capital and investment into the Ukrainian economy and will facilitate the country's integration in the world economy.

And if this sounds seducing enough, from the east Russia is reaching out with another economically lucrative proposal - including Ukraine in the Customs Union, already established by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The authors point out that Moscow wants Kiev to end the negotiations on the DCFTA and to sign up to the Customs Union.

According to them, in the short-term, the membership in the Customs Union will bring some economic benefits but will not facilitate Ukraine's integration in the global economy.

It will rather conserve the non-competitiveness and energy dependence of its industry.

Moreover, Amanda Paul and Vasyl Belmega write that it will be strategically dangerous for Ukraine to join something which has unclear future.

Against this backdrop, the trade indicators of the relations between Ukraine and the EU are more than eloquent.

According to World Bank's data, the population of the country is 45.4 million people, and the gross domestic product was 102.9 billion euro ($138.5 billion) in 2010. GDP per capita was 2,262.7 billion euro ($3,046.3 billion) in 2010. EU exports to Ukraine in 2009 amounted to 13.9 billion euro ($18.7 billion) and the import from Ukraine amounted to 7.9 billion euro ($10.6 billion).

Ukraine exports mainly agriculture products, energy, chemicals, iron and steel, while the EU exports for its enormous eastern neighbour machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, textiles and clothing, agriculture products.

Visa Liberalisation

During the November EU-Ukraine summit last year Ukraine received an Action Plan for visa liberalisation. This is an issue of great importance for Ukraine but quite sensitive for the EU at the moment.

But the facts speak for themselves. One of every ten Schengen visas is being issued to an Ukrainian citizen.

Currently the Union is in a process of reforming Schengen's governance because of the impact of the Arab Spring and growing internal pressure.

The authors of the analysis from the European Policy Centre think that visa liberalisation must be underscored in the Warsaw Declaration that is to be adopted at the summit, because this will demonstrate EU's serious intentions for a more ambitious partnership with its eastern partners.

However, dark clouds are gathering above the visa liberalisation for another reason - the Western Balkans, who have received visa reliefs but it is getting clearer that those reliefs are being abused with.

And the latest data, presented during the Justice and Home Affairs Council on September 22nd shows that in 2010 over 17,000 Serbs had asked for asylum in the EU.

This is why the Union threatened to remove the liberalisation and restore the previous situation.

Given the internal political situation, there are no grounds to think that this will not happen with Ukraine too, if its citizens were granted easy access to the EU.

Amanda Paul and Vasyl Belmega think that the EU should not allow the negotiations on visa liberalisation to fall victim of more serious issues, because the ordinary citizens should not pay the bill of their leaders' actions.

This, however, is a mistake often made for countries in transition like Bulgaria, Romania, the countries in the Western Balkans and the Caucasus - to make a distinction between the citizens and politicians because, in the end of the day, it is the citizens who have to ask their rulers to implement the reforms that would guarantee them problem-free movement in the European Union and good trade relations.

We cannot always assume that citizens need paternal attitude, as Russia does, and the politicians to be regarded as enemies (also a Russian approach).

Mrs Tymoshenko

The biggest stake for the negotiations on the deeper trade agreement with Ukraine is the trial against former PM of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko, who is currently in detention, charged with signing a contract for gas deliveries in 2009 with Russia.

According to Amanda Paul and Vasyl Belmega, Tymoshenko can be released if Article 365 from the Criminal Code were to be decriminalised which will lead to two outcomes.

First is that the EU would be satisfied that Ukraine's leadership had taken on board its criticism, while Ukraine's leadership would save face and hopefully start to focus on more serious issues.

And what needs to be done is not little at all, the analysts write.

In its report this year on Ukraine, under the implementation of the Action Plans of the ENP, many of the planned reforms are incomplete.

The process of reform must include as many political and civil structure as possible in order to avoid past mistakes, such as the reinstatement of the 1996 Constitution and making changes to electoral law only weeks before the November 2010 local elections.

Comprehensive judicial and constitutional reform and greater efforts to fight corruption remain crucial, is another conclusion in the report.

It is these reforms that will be a big test for Ukraine and the European Union, who is expected to have learnt from Bulgaria's and Romania's failures, the two countries that were accepted in good faith to become EU members five years ago, but their frivolous attitude toward this type of reforms led to a deadlock for their accession in Schengen.

The above mentioned report of the Commission expresses concern over standards of democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

The pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, who has won the elections in 2010, is accused of eroding democracy by centralising power, while there have also been concerns about claims of intimidation of journalists and restrictions on freedom of assembly.

The EU wants to see Ukraine as a close partner

This is what EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said on September 21 at the conference "Ukraine 20 Years On: Challenges for the Future".

According to him, 2011 is critically important for Ukraine.

"The celebration of its 20th anniversary of independence will hopefully coincide with the finalisation of our new Association Agreement at the Summit in December".

Mr Fule underlined, however, that the negotiations on the agreement were only the beginning of delivering on our mutual commitments.

"Several challenges remain. I would like to emphasise specifically the rule of law, an issue which I had the opportunity to discuss with my Ukrainian counterparts at the Yalta conference last week".

Stefan Fule also said that the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit would be an occasion for Ukraine to demonstrate that it could lead the Eastern Partnership, especially in its capacity of a pioneer in the alignment with EU values and approximation with EU standards for the benefit of all its citizens.

But if we take stock of our recent experience with political transformations in Central and Eastern Europe, 20 years are not enough for countries like Ukraine, which is still wandering between the East and the West.

And what is more important, whose citizens still stand aside the political processes, probably believing that they had depleted their role with the Orange revolution of 2004.

Source: eu inside

Trial Of Ukraine Ex-PM Resumes, Pressure From West

KIEV, Ukraine -- The trial of Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko resumes on Tuesday after a two-week break with the political leadership under pressure from the West to end the case against her.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko speaks during a session of the Higher Administrative Court in central Kiev.

Tymoshenko, a leading opposition figure, has been on trial since June for abuse of office over a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009.

She could face up to 10 years jail if convicted.

The administration of President Viktor Yanukovich says the deal, which Tymoshenko brokered, left Ukraine paying an exorbitant price for Russian gas supplies.

Tymoshenko, who denies the charge, says her prosecution is a political vendetta by her arch-rival.

On the eve of the trial resuming, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced on Monday that Russia had finally agreed to review the 2009 gas contract, which Moscow has so far refused to do.

He gave no details, though a spokesman for the Russian gas giant Gazprom said in Moscow that talks were still continuing between the two sides.

Yanukovich visited Moscow at the weekend for talks on the issue with Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The Tymoshenko trial, which has polarized public opinion in the ex-Soviet republic and caused street demonstrations against Yanukovich, was abruptly adjourned on Sept. 12 after the United States and European Union expressed fresh concern over her prosecution.

Since then, the EU has hardened its position further, warning Yanukovich it could scrap planned bilateral deals on free trade and political association if Tymoshenko is jailed.

Yanukovich's government, which says integration in the European mainstream is the bedrock of its foreign policy, hopes to initial these key agreements with the EU at a summit in December.

Before then he has to face top EU officials at a "partnership" summit in Warsaw on Sept. 29-30.

The EU says the Yanukovich leadership has responded favourably to a suggestion that it reclassify the charge against her so as to allow her to go free.

But his administration comprises hard-liners who want to see Tymoshenko extinguished as a political force.

Any changes to the law to "decriminalise" the charge against Tymoshenko is likely anyway to take weeks, perhaps months, to pass through parliament, observers say.

And there are no signs of amendments to the law yet being drafted.

FURTHER ADJOURNMENT?

Commentators were divided over what might happen on Tuesday when the hearing resumes under judge Rodion Kireyev who placed the fiery Tymoshenko in police detention on Aug. 5 for "systematically" disrupting court proceedings.

Further adjournment was a possibility.

Some observers thought Tymoshenko could be freed from trial detention to lighten the atmosphere ahead of Yanukovich's trip to Warsaw.

"There could be a (political) pause so as not to upset the Europeans before the summit in Poland on the 30th.

Or perhaps there could be some symbolic action aimed at showing Europe that there is the possibility of a smooth solution to the court action against Tymoshenko," said political analyst Volodomyr Fesenko said.

"No surprises can be excluded. But the authorities seem to be buying time while they look at various alternatives," said one Western European diplomat.

Tymoshenko's supporters say Yanukovich ordered the trial to neutralise her as a political opponent ahead of a parliamentary election in October next year.

But many commentators say it has turned into a public relations disaster for him, bringing not only criticism from the West but also from Russia, with which Yanukovich's government is trying to negotiate a new price for gas.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

Monday, September 26, 2011

Platini Still Sees "Problems" With Ukraine For 2012

KIEV, Ukraine -- UEFA president Michel Platini said Monday he still had picked up on many little problems afflicting Ukraine's preparations to co-host next year's European Championships with Poland as he paid a visit to one of the host cities, Lviv.

Michel Platini (2nd R) and Borys Kolesnikov (R) examine a construction site in Donetsk.

Although he recognised that "much has changed - there are hardly any large problems" since earlier visits Platini still said he feared that "there are many little problems" even as Lviv prepares for the inauguration of its stadium in a month's time.

A new airport terminal is still being built and the runway is still being lengthened in order to be able to cope with large aircraft bringing in thousands of fans.

The new services are set to come on stream on Christmas Day, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov.

Platini later headed off to Donetsk and was also to visit Kharkiv in the east before heading to Kiev where Tuesday he was to visit the Olympic Stadium, prior to a reception with President Viktor Yanukovich.

The stadium is due to host the final of the tournament and Kolesnikov says it is now 96 percent ready but it was due to be completed last June.

Euro 2012 kicks off on June 8 next year and runs to July 1.

Ukrainian officials insist they will be ready when the time comes.

"Platini will see everything for himself," the chairman of the Ukrainian Football Federation Grigori Sourkis had said Friday ahead of the Frenchman's visit.

Sourkis had added that he believed that UEFA's initial "scepticism and pessimism have disappeared" regarding his country's ability to co-stage one of the world's biggest sporting events.

With regard to other Ukrainian venues the stadiums at Donetsk and Kharkiv are both up and running - having been privately financed.

The stadium at Donetsk has been constructed under the aegis of Ukraine's richest businessman, Renat Akhmetov, who is close to the president and a member of his party.

But the Donestk mayor is still fretting over a shortage of hotel capacity.

There have been doubts meanwhile about the use of public funds to help with preparations in a country where corruption is a byword.

"The cost of a seat in the ultra-modern stadium at Donetsk has risen to some $10,000 dollars," one high-ranking official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

At Lviv, where the state is bankrolling the venue construction, "this figure is already up to $14,000 dollars," added the source in decrying such apparent "signs of corruption".

Source: AFP

Humanitad Claims Ukrainian Judicial Process Is So Flawed That The President Should Intervene

LONDON, United Kingdom -- Humanitad, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting justice, human rights and good governance, announced today that the judicial process in Ukraine is so flawed that the President must intervene urgently to prevent serious miscarriages of justice and reform the system as it is incapable of reforming itself.


Ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko in Kiev court.

The statement came from its legal observer mission that attended the trial of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and which has reviewed Ukrainian judicial procedures.

“We have grave concerns that the prosecution and judicial system in Ukraine is so significantly flawed that the trials of Yulia Tymoshenko and other political defendants are likely to result in horrendous miscarriages of justice,” said Jerry Prus-Butwilowicz, the leader of the Humanitad observer mission.

Mr Prus-Butwilowicz, who is a barrister-at –law, in independent practice in Australia, NZ and UK and a former UK Senior Crown Prosecutor, added: “There is compelling evidence that the judicial system itself is subject to improper influence from the Prosecutor’s Office and incapable of being independent, or fair."

"Judges themselves are open to intimidation and even prosecution by the Prosecutor’s Office when they exercise their objectivity on behalf of a defendant or appellant. This is abhorrent to standards of European justice. In these circumstances it is the responsibility of the executive to take urgent and immediate corrective measures to prevent serious miscarriages of justice.”

The announcement from Humanitad follows its open letter to President Viktor Yanukovych of 21 September, 2011.

Humanitad also noted that the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, presided over by Judge Rodion Kireyev, has been marred by numerous, significant breaches of procedural fairness and breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It noted egregious breaches such as insufficient time given to prepare a defence; continuation of court proceedings in the absence of the defendant and legal counsel; unreasonable and unjustified use of detention; and refusal for medical assistance from a personal physician, etc.

It also reported that the trial judge frequently favoured the prosecution to the detriment of the defendant which supports the hypothesis that judges are influenced improperly against the interests of the defendant by the Prosecutor’s Office.

“In these unusual and critical circumstances, where lives are at risk, it is imperative that the Head of State is personally made fully aware of the deplorable circumstances of the prosecutions currently before the Ukrainian Courts. Where the judicial institutions cannot act, the “buck stops” with the Head of State,” said Sir John Walsh of Brannagh, a barrister-at-law and constitutional and human rights lawyer.

The legal observers witnessed part of the trial and monitored closely the proceedings and reports of other third-party observers, taking into account published reports such as The Danish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, “Legal Monitoring in Ukraine II.”

The observer mission asserts that the courts and prosecution are not independent and impartial and notes the following in support of its conclusion:

The selection of judges violates both Ukrainian and international law. Judges are appointed for an initial 5 year term. To become a judge for an unlimited time they must be approved by parliament, making them vulnerable to political assessment and influence. The judge in the Tymoshenko case is only two years into his 5 year term. The computerised selection of judges to cases also appears open to abuse.

The judiciary is too easily swayed to allow remand in custody as a precautionary measure – 88% of custody requests were fulfilled in 2010 – illustrating an extraordinary influence from prosecutors.

Not all politicians respect the independence of the judiciary. The latter can be influenced by statements from senior politicians, such as the President, Prime Minister, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, etc..

The Prosecutor General exerts undue influence on the judiciary. Prosecutors should not be responsible for disciplining judges.

The Danish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Report cites a case on 7 June, 2011 when Deputy Prosecutor General M. Havrylyuk, a member of the Higher Council of Justice, initiated disciplinary proceedings in the Higher Council of Justice against three appeal court judges for “having ignored the opinion of the prosecutor, unreasonably interfered with the course of pre-trial investigation, and taken a one-sided position in favour of the defendant.”

This situation highlights the fact that there is no legitimate and honest appeal system in Ukraine and judges who decide against the prosecution are likely to be prosecuted themselves.

If judicial officers in Ukraine can be influenced in such a manner, then defence lawyers are likely to be operating under similar undue pressure and influence which may impact the efficacy of their defence to the detriment of their client.

Humanitad noted a general public consensus and considerable public comment from international political leaders, supporting the opinion that the charges against Yulia Tymoshenko and the other defendants amount to the criminalisation of normal political decisions.

In summary, Humanitad concluded that the Ukrainian Courts and prosecutors have failed to be independent or impartial; preventive custody is overused and abused; the presumption of innocence and equality of the parties is non-existent; there is a lack of independence of the judiciary from political influence – courts are open to undue influence by politicians in power; the process to appoint and discipline judges is flawed and the selection of judges violates international and Ukrainian law; the Higher Council of Justice is under undue political influence; the role of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General is overly powerful and fatally undermines the separation of legal functions; and there is imbalance between the prosecution and judiciary.

“If persons such as judges and former ministers cannot expect due process, no-one can be assured of the protection of law in Ukraine,” said Paul Wilson, a Research Fellow and Honorary Professor at Bond University in Queensland, Australia.

“We therefore urge President Yanukovych, as Head of State, to serve the interests of justice and the Ukrainian people as mandated by his office and remedy the situation without delay. It is our hope that Mrs Tymoshenko and other political prisoners will be freed at the nearest opportunity.”

Humanitad welcomed reports that the Ukrainian authorities are seeking to overhaul the Soviet-era Criminal Procedure Code to bring it in line with European standards and recommended that this be done in compliance with advice and recommendations from the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission).

Source: Humanitad

Russia, Ukraine Report Gas Talk Progress

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and Russia on Sunday reported that “significant progress” in talks between their two presidents on Saturday may potentially pave the way for a deal on natural gas prices later this year.

President Viktor Yanukovych

The development comes three weeks before a deadline was set to expire for reaching the deal.

Ukraine set the October 15 deadline after Russia had refused to compromise on the issue for more than 18 months.

Few details were available on proposals that Ukraine made during the meeting between President Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev at his residence in Zavidovo near Moscow.

Yanukovych was expected to offer a 33% stake in Gazprom, on par with a stake to be offered to a European company, in a trilateral joint venture to be created to operate its natural gas pipeline network that moves Russian gas to Europe, according to a Ukrainian source.

Ukraine was hoping the plan would encourage Russia to lower price of its natural gas sold to Ukraine to about $230/1,000 cubic meters, down from about $350/1,000 cu m currently.

But Russia was expected to press for at least 50% stake in such a joint venture, in which the other 50% would be owned by Ukraine, with no stakes offered to European companies, according to a Russian source.

“The considerable progress was reached at the talks providing ground for hope that concrete results will be achieved in the near future in the interests of both countries,” the Yanukovych administration reported in a statement on Sunday.

The statement was released a day after the talks between Medvedev and Yanukovych.

Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko met Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller on Sunday to follow up on the talks between Yanukovych and Medvedev, later leading to positive comments from the Russians.

“Gazprom chief informed the Russian President that considerable progress was achieved in discussions over issues of shipments of gas to Ukraine, allowing counting on agreements in the interests of both parties,” Interfax reported Sunday citing Natalia Timakova, a spokeswoman for Medvedev.

The talks between Yanukovych and Medvedev were aimed at averting a potential showdown between Ukraine and Russia later this year after both presidents had issued several warnings.

Yanukovych in early September threatened to appeal to international courts to abrogate the “unfair and enslaving” 10-year natural gas agreement with Russia signed in January 2009.

Ukraine also suggested it would seek to reduce Russian gas imports to 7 billion cubic meters annually within the next five years, down from 40 billion cu m to be imported in 2011.

But Medvedev, in response, warned that any unilateral action by Ukraine to cancel the 2009 agreement would lead to “serious consequences” for the Ukrainian economy.

Kostiantyn Hryshchenko, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said it was in Russia’s best interest to lower the gas prices, or otherwise Ukraine would seek to switch to alternative sources of energy, such as domestically extracted shale gas and liquefied natural gas imported from Azerbaijan.

“Is it in Russia’s interests to have too high gas price?” Hryshchenko said in an interview with Inter television before the Yanukovych-Medvedev talks. “No.”

“That’s because the higher the gas price the less of it we’ll be importing from this source. And, eventually, we will switch to other sources.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

European Gas Flows Safe As Russia, Ukraine Haggle, Tihipko Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will ensure gas flows to Europe continue uninterrupted as it seeks to revise supply contracts with Russia, avoiding a repeat of cutoffs that have twice left European consumers without heat.

Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko

“We’ll pay on time for gas, and in that regard Europe needn’t be concerned,” Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko said yesterday in an interview in Washington.

“This is a slightly different government, a more responsible one, I’d say. A government that won’t allow any gas supply disruptions for its people or for Europeans.”

Disputes between Russia and Ukraine over gas pricing and transport costs have interrupted supplies of the fuel to Europe twice since 2006.

People in at least 20 countries lost heat for about two weeks in freezing temperatures in January 2009.

Russia and Ukraine made “substantial progress” during talks outside Moscow this weekend, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s press office said.

Yanukovych, who replaced his Western-backed rival, Viktor Yushchenko in 2010, is asserting Ukraine’s independence from its neighbor by rejecting an offer to hand over control of Ukrainian state gas company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy in return for a new contract.

The president is also refusing to join a customs union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, in return for subsidized gas prices, as this would jeopardize his efforts to negotiate a free-trade accord with the 27-nation EU as a first step toward membership.

Political Concessions

“I don’t think Ukraine will agree to any political concessions or economic concessions,” Tihipko said. “If we can’t reach an agreement, we’ll meet the conditions and pay the price that’s written into the agreement.”

Ukraine is paying more for Russian gas than some consumers in Europe, which “isn’t right,” Tihipko said.

The country must pay 150 percent for unused gas that it is obligated to buy in summer months and 300 percent in the winter, he said.

The current agreement between the two nations, which requires Ukraine to buy at least 33 billion cubic meters a year, was signed by then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in January 2009 to resolve the most recent gas cutoff.

She is now awaiting trial on charges including abuse of power by agreeing to overpay for Russian gas.

Ukraine announced plans this month to break up Naftogaz to force a renegotiation of the terms under which it buys gas from Russia.

Tihipko, who was attending the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting in the U.S. capital, said he wasn’t sure what progress had been made in Yanukovych’s talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

No New Topics

“I don’t think there will be any new topics,” he said.

The negotiations will revolve around the gas-pricing formula, penalties for unused gas and the “fairly modest” payments Ukraine gets for letting Russia export through its pipelines.

“These are the questions that may be up for discussion,” Tihipko said. “It would really be nice to see some sort of actual progress.”

This month, Russian gas export monopoly OAO Gazprom started pumping fuel through the Nord Stream pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

The $10 billion route was created to make European energy supplies more secure by bypassing transit states such as Ukraine.

About 80 percent of Russian gas headed for the European Union passes through Soviet- era pipelines in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s budget won’t suffer major losses from the gas flows sent through the new route, Tihipko said.

The government is seeking to lessen its dependence on Russian supplies by developing Ukraine’s gas reserves and promoting energy- efficiency programs, he said.

“We can cooperate successfully with Russia, and I would even say that we absolutely must,” Tihipko said.

“We have major economic interests there, and Russians have major economic interests in Ukraine. Inflexibility on these things never leads to anything good.”

Source: Bloomberg

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ukraine Police Detain Nationalists Protesting Annual Jewish Pilgrimage

UMAN, Ukraine -- Riot police have detained about 100 activists of Ukraine’s nationalist party who protested the annual pilgrimage of Hasidic Jews in southern Ukraine.

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a rally of protest against pilgrimage of Hassidic Jews in the town of Uman, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Ukraine’s capital Kiev, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011.

About 300 supporters of the nationalist party Svoboda, or Liberty, demanded that Hasid Jews not be allowed to gather in the town of Uman, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of the capital.

Close to 30,000 Hasidic Jews from around the world are expected in Uman this week to celebrate Rosh Hoshana at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, who died in 1810.

The protesters shouted “Ukraine for Ukrainians” at Sunday’s rally.

Source: AP

Tymoshenko Trial Jeopardises Ukraine Trade Deal, Warns EU

YALTA, Ukraine -- The EU is threatening to downgrade relations with Ukraine and frustrate its attempts to move closer into Europe's orbit unless the former Soviet republic drops a landmark case rapidly heading towards a verdict against its former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Conviction of president's rival would be 'incompatible with EU values', says minister Stefan Fule during Yalta visit.

Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's president, has been warned that Europe sees the case against Tymoshenko as a politically motivated attempt to silence his chief rival.

EU officials say a conviction would be "incompatible with EU values" and jeopardise the finalisation of a free trade agreement that would solidify the country's ties to Brussels.

Speaking in Yalta after a two-hour private meeting with Yanukovych, Stefan Fule, the EU enlargement minister, said relations would "be hardly the same between the EU and Ukraine" if the charges against Tymoshenko were not dropped.

He had made clear, he said, that the case amounted to no less than a judgment on the democratic credentials needed to forge close ties with the bloc.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said: "Clearly this particular trial is conducted under laws that would have no place in any other European country and should have no place in a country aspiring to European membership."

Tymoshenko's trial is due to resume on Tuesday, after a surprise two-week delay.

Optimists saw the delay as a sign Yanukovych was looking for a way to give in to EU demands without losing face, while cynics said he hoped to avoid the topic being raised ahead of several EU-Ukraine meetings.

Tymoshenko was charged in May with exceeding her authority as prime minister when she signed a 2009 gas deal with the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to put an end to a disruptive gas war that had left much of eastern Europe freezing.

The deal left Ukraine saddled with what Yanukovych's administration considers an intolerably high price.

Yanukovych's attempts to renegotiate the deal with Moscow have so far been rebuffed, prompting him to threaten taking the issue to an international court.

Yanukovych flew to Moscow on Saturday for rare talks with Putin and the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.

The informal visit, coming shortly after the announcement of Putin's bid to return to the Kremlin, was designed to ease tensions.

Russia's leaders are said to want Ukraine to forego closer ties with the EU in favour of a Moscow-led customs union that is the latest Russian attempt to solidify its influence in the region.

Tymoshenko has used the trial as a platform to denounce a growing democratic deficit since Yanukovych came to power last year.

She called the judge a puppet and accused the president of attacking his rivals "just like Stalin".

On 5 August she was detained for violating court rules and has been languishing in a Kiev jail ever since.

Supporters and friends, both Ukrainian and European, have been refused permission to visit her and have begun to worry about her physical and mental health.

"She will have to be quite strong in order to overcome this," said Arseny Yatsenyuk, a former parliament speaker and current opposition leader. "It's clear this is not a war on corruption, this a war on political opposition."

Ukrainian officials have denied Tymoshenko is the target of a witch hunt.

Mario David, a European MP, said during a visit to Ukraine this month: "This is too much of a political trial. When it's not only Tymoshenko, but 17 people in her government that are facing problems with justice, that is too much of a co-ordinated effort to make the opposition collapse."

Yanukovych, whose election was seen as ringing the death knell for Ukraine's western-leaning Orange Revolution, has been at pains to promote a "pragmatic" foreign policy that would balance the country between Europe and Russia, the country's former overlord.

Early overtures to Russia – including dropping attempts to join NATO and extending by 25 years Moscow's right to base its Black Sea fleet in the Crimea – have been overshadowed by Yanukovych's refusal to give up on the dream of EU membership.

Now, opposition MPs have introduced a bill that would change the law under which Tymoshenko has been charged, giving Yanukovych a possible exit.

Tymoshenko faces 10 years in prison if convicted.

There are worries she will be convicted and then pardoned, which would release her from prison but ban her from politics. EU officials say that is not enough.

"That would put Yanukovych in a situation like Burma," said Anders Aslund, a former adviser to the Ukrainian government, referring to the case of Aung San Suu Kyi.

"They want to sentence her and then ban her, but the cost is simply too high."

Source: The Guardian

Russia, Ukraine Keep Silent After Gas Talks

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia and Ukraine failed to announce any progress after talks on gas supplies and trade between Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovich late on Saturday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R), and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych talk during their meeting at the presidential residence in Zavidovo, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) north of Moscow, Russia.

Ukraine is trying to persuade Russia to change the terms of a gas supply deal between the two ex-Soviet nations, saying that it is paying too much under the current deal.

Previous disputes between the two have disrupted gas supplies to Europe.

Russia has said it could only review the deal if Ukraine joined its customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, a move that would rule out a free trade deal between Ukraine and the European Union that Kiev wants to agree this year.

Yanukovich visited Russia on September 24, hoping to reach compromise with Medvedev and his powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Yanukovich said before the talks that there were "certain concerns" regarding energy issues which he hoped to resolve.

However, neither his office nor the Kremlin made any announcements on the outcome of the talks after they ended.

A statement on Yanukovich's website simply said the talks were over and Yanukovich was heading home.

His office declined to provide any additional information.

Ukraine's economy relies heavily on energy produced from natural gas.

In 2009, Kiev agreed to import no less than 33 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia at a price linked to world oil and oil product prices.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the bill is expected to approach $400 per thousand cubic meters, a level Kiev says is unreasonably high.

Ukraine can't save by importing less gas either, since the contract has a "take-or-pay" provision, obliging it to stick to the agreed volume of imports.

Its main leverage comes from the fact that Ukraine is also the main transit route for Europe-bound Russian gas, although Russia is trying to diversify exports and has launched the new Nord Stream pipeline bypassing Ukraine.

The current deal was agreed in early 2009, after a bitter price row which halted Gazprom's European supplies for weeks.

Source: QWT News

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Russia, Ukraine Leaders Tackle Gas Row

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia's ruling tandem of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev held rare joint talks Saturday with the visiting leader of Ukraine over the two sides' festering energy row.

Dmitry Medvedev (L), Viktor Yanukovich (C) and Vladimir Putin (R).

The meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at the Russian government's Zavidovo hunting estate came just hours after Medvedev had dramatically asked Putin to take over the presidency from him in March polls.

The three men were shown strolling together in a park in their black autumn jackets and looking down from a scenic pond bridge before returning to the lodge for more talks.

"We have already managed to resolve lots of problems, and I am sure that we will take the right and constructive approach here as well," Yanukovych told Medvedev in televised opening remarks.

"I accepted your invitation and came here to be at your side on this symbolic day for Russia and for Ukraine as well, I am sure," the Ukrainian leader added in reference to the planned handover of power to Putin.

The political drama in Moscow overshadowed a visit whose importance escalated sharply with Ukraine's announcement last month that it was ready to take its neighbour to an international court over gas.

Ukraine currently serves as Europe's main link to Russia's natural gas supplies and a previous dispute over prices led to a cut-off that lasted three weeks in January 2009.

Russia has been gradually raising the price it charges the former Soviet republics for gas after spending more than a decade subsidising deliveries in exchange for friendlier relations.

Ukraine says it should be paying a price closer to $230 per 1,000 cubic metres than the approximately $400 it will be charged at the turn of the year.

The Kommersant business daily said Ukraine was preparing to lift the price it charges for Russia's gas transits to EU nations if no agreement is reached -- a move certain to anger Moscow.

Kiev has also vowed to take Moscow to an arbitration court in Brussels and refused to join a Russian-led customs union that Medvedev has set out as one of the conditions for a lower gas price.

Moscow is also willing to negotiate a lower price if Ukraine gives up control of its natural gas transmission to Russia's Gazprom monopoly.

Ukraine has rejected the offer and has been ready to make a counter-proposal that would see Russia and the EU take joint stakes in the pipeline network -- a condition rejected by Russia.

Yanukovych called the gas dispute "worrying" in his comments to Medvedev.

Source: AFP

Russia-Ukraine: The Moment Of Truth

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine will hardly manage to keep a foot in both worlds, Russian experts say about the forthcoming visit of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich.


His initiative on cooperation with the Customs Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan) may appeal to either Russia or the EU which means that the September 24 talks with Dmitry Medvedev (and maybe Vladimir Putin) will be tense.

Ukraine’s entry to the Customs Union is the main intrigue of the meeting as this step can solve all gas problems in one go, Russian political analyst Yakov Mirkin told the VoR

"The Union is primarily a free-trade area but on the other hand it creates an economic wall between Ukraine and the EU but breaks it between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Ukraine is in constant talks with the EU about free-trade zone so it will hardly get both and enjoy special conditions from Russia."

Another analyst, Kirill Frolov, believes that Ukraine will gain more from rapprochement with Russia:

"If Ukraine enters the CU, solves the issues of the Russian language and the Orthodox Church in the country it’ll get special gas prices and save its economy. I hope that Yanukovich will make the right choice."

It’s high time to make one as the Union countries will shut customs borders down in early 2012, believes Russian economist Andrey Suzdalcev.

Political expert Evgeny Minchenko also thinks that Kiev is the first to benefit from joining the Union.

"It will be hard but possible for Ukraine to combine both CU and WTO memberships: it just needs several procedures and then may gain access to the vast market of the Union."

Alexander Segal, expert in politics, states that both Russia and Ukraine need to restore industrial ties and support bilateral projects:

"Entering the Union gives some chances to restore ties broken after the Soviet Union collapse and they used to be deep indeed. The current crisis of air industry was triggered by the split of the common industry of Russia and Ukraine."

It’s hard for Ukraine to choose between the West and the East as it is geopolitically located between large economies of the EU and Russia who have their issue, which affect Kiev’s policy says Yakov Mirkin

"Ukraine will solve its problems when the EU and Russia come to an agreement but it’s a far prospective."

All experts told the VoR that Ukraine will definitely gain from entering the Union that provides for new opportunities for development, collective achievements, partnership, developed common market and century-old ties.

Source: The Voice of Russia

Ukrainian Multi-Vectorism: Satisfying Europe While Craving A Managed Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s next parliamentary election will take place in 2012. During this period the Viktor Yanukovych administration will attempt a precarious balancing act to satisfy the West.

Viktor Yanukovych

At the same time, the administration will try to put in place a managed democracy to facilitate Yanukovych’s re-election for a second term in 2015.

The first step to satisfy Western demands is to deal with the demand to halt the criminal case against Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders so that Kiev can complete negotiations with the EU for the Deep Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) under the Polish presidency by December.

The US and EU issued this demand ahead of the planned sentencing of Tymoshenko to a lengthy prison sentence in the second week of September.

The trial was postponed until September 27, not coincidentally two days before the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw, and her sentencing could be delayed until the New Year.

A second step is the adoption of a new election law within one year of the elections that is aimed at appeasing the Council of Europe.

Ukraine has routinely, as in the October 2010 local elections, changed the rules of the game months before election day.

The plan is to replace the proportional system with the mixed proportional-majoritarian system used in 1998 and 2002.

A proportional system only gave the Party of Regions a 31 percent to 34 percent plurality in the 2006 and 2007 elections while a mixed system is aimed at securing half to two thirds of the seats, thereby possessing a constitutional majority with the assistance of its allies.

In 2002, For a United Ukraine bloc received only 11 percent, but President Leonid Kuchma established a parliamentary majority.

While satisfying Europe, the authorities are seeking to satisfy their craving for political and economic monopoly of power through a managed democracy that will guarantee the next decade in power.

The composition of the 2012-2016 parliament could support or hinder Yanukovych’s re-election for a second term in January 2015.

Free and fair elections could lead to a large opposition presence that may hinder Yanukovych’s re-election.

The EU has insisted that opposition leaders be permitted to stand in elections so they can be declared in accordance with democratic standards.

But, the Yanukovych administration does not want to have Tymoshenko in parliament in the three years leading up to the presidential elections.

First, because she would receive immunity from prosecution and second because she excels in the role of opposition leader from which she will harangue the authorities and mobilize the opposition.

Moreover, it is easier to win a presidential election in opposition than in power, and 2015 could therefore provide Tymoshenko with a second opportunity to defeat Yanukovych.

In February 2010 she was defeated by a mere 3 percent even though she was in government.

Three factors may contribute to fewer voters being dissuaded from voting for Tymoshenko in 2015 than in 2010.

First, Yanukovych has succeeded in antagonizing many different social groups.

Second, Viktor Yushchenko, who in the 2010 elections rallied western Ukrainian voters against Tymoshenko, is no longer a political player.

Third, the Yanukovych administration has introduced unpopular reforms demanded by the IMF, such as raising the pension age for women from 55 to 60 and increasing household utility prices to market levels.

These have reduced the popularity of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions even in their home base of Donetsk.

Plans for parliament aim to ensure it is compliant and acts as a rubber stamp.

Of the five political parties that are likely to enter parliament only one – Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchina (Fatherland) – will not be under their control:

1. Party of Regions and the Communist Party are traditional allies drawing on the same group of voters and regions.

2. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Tigipko’s Silna Ukrayina (Strong Ukraine) party will merge with the Party of Regions. Tigipko came third with 13 percent in the 2010 elections, drawing on middle class young Ukrainians.

3. Front for Change, led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is in negotiations with Donetsk oligarch Rinat Akhmetov for a $140 million election war chest in return for 30 percent to 50 percent of the seats.

Inside sources in Kiev told Jamestown that Presidential Administration head Serhiy Levochkin and Akhmetov are in competition for Front for Change which will occupy Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine “constructive opposition” niche.

4. Batkivshchina will receive fewer seats than in 2007, when it obtained 31 percent, under a mixed election system. In the 2010 local elections Batkivshchina was obstructed from participating in two of its strongholds, Kiev and Lviv.

With Tymoshenko in jail, the authorities had planned to install Batkivshchina Luhansk deputy Natalia Korolevska as its new leader. Batkivshchina, like Front for Change, would have thereby been co-opted.

5. Svoboda (Freedom) nationalist party may enter parliament, if the threshold is not raised from three percent to five percent. There have long been rumors that Svoboda receives financing from the Party of Regions.

Of these six political forces only Batkivshchina, if led by Tymoshenko, would be the real opposition in parliament.

The US and EU demand not to imprison Tymoshenko and permit her to stand in elections therefore upsets the authorities plans for a managed democracy.

Nevertheless, the authorities have a card up their sleeves against parties who attempt to be a real opposition by pressuring big business to not provide financial support (all Ukrainian parties are supported by big business).

Batkivshchina, Kiev insiders have told Jamestown, are in dire financial straits after big business deserted them.

The authorities are applying pressure on big business to withdraw support from Front for Change whose leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was funded in the 2010 elections by Viktor Pinchuk.

Kuchma, Pinchuk’s father-in-law, was charged in March 2010 as a way to pressure Pinchuk from staying out of politics and his place as Yatseniuk’s sponsor is now being taken by Akhmetov.

As one commentary noted: “The [biggest] threat the authorities’ tactics pose to Yatsenyuk himself right now is loss of financing...forcing him to consider seeking a ‘roof’ provided by one of the Party of Regions’ oligarchs and becoming a Party of Regions-operated glove-puppet opposition (leader)”.

The EU will continue to discover undemocratic practices undertaken by the Yanukovych administration whose elites want the economic benefits of Europe, with a managed democracy at home.

This neo-Soviet multi-vectorism fails to understand the incompatibility of “Belarus-Lite” and Europe.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

USA Will Provide Technology To Ukraine In Exchange For Uranium Removal

KIEV, Ukraine -- The United States of America are ready to provide Ukrainian research institutions with new technology in exchange for removal of highly enriched uranium from the country, stated the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych on September 22 after meeting President of the United States Barack Obama in New York City.

Enriched uranium

To compensate Ukraine's loss of highly enriched uranium, the United States have offered Ukraine new technology which would enable its scientists to conduct studies on low-enriched uranium.

"Currently, the U.S. is ready to launch production of the respective equipment for Ukraine and gradually deliver it to our research centers. All the necessary documentation will be signed, which will provide guarantees to the both parties of the agreement," stated Ukrainian president at the 66th plenary session of the UN General Assembly.

The Ukrainian President highlighted that Ukraine is consistent in its efforts toward nuclear disarmament and supports complete liquidation of nuclear arms around the world.

He also urged the leaders of other countries to follow Ukraine's example and promote disarmament and proliferation by actual deeds.

In June 2011, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov declared that Ukraine has largely implemented its commitment of removing highly enriched uranium from its territory.

The country's decision to remove the nuclear substance was a great input into nuclear security of the world, stated Azarov at the meeting with Yukia Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in Vienna.

In 2010 alone Ukraine removed 106 kilograms (approx. 234 pounds) of enriched uranium, as reported by Korrespondent.net.

The decision to get rid of highly enriched uranium was first stated by President Yanukovych in April 2010 during the Washington Summit on nuclear safety, initiated by the U.S. President Barack Obama.

In the meantime it's been noted that Ukraine would convert its nuclear reactors for the use of low-enriched uranium.

The country is set to remove the rest of the high-enriched radioactive material before the upcoming Seoul summit.

Source: Worldwide News Ukraine